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Game by Night

Game by Night regularly provides entertaining and thought provoking content for members of the MMO community. Don't forget to visit the official site at gamebynight.com and subscribe to the feed!

Author: GameByNight

So you've decided go casual

Posted by GameByNight Wednesday September 30 2009 at 1:07AM
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Greetings fellow casuals and welcome to your first lesson in the wonders of casualhood. It's a strange game we play, you see. Some feel that we're “doing it wrong” or “wasting our time” or that we should “go back to WoW.” To these people, we flip the bird. Seriously, they can screw off.

You see, you and I have a secret, an equation if you will, that they can only guess at. It goes something like this: real life + family + money = important. Let me break that down, we don't live with mom and dad. Heck, most of us probably are moms and dads (except me, I don't have the hips for it) and that means we're stuck at work before we can get online. Or maybe we're married and the other half gets pissed when we yell obscenities at our incompetent group mates. That's live. C'est la vie or some crap.

But we still want to play video games! I mean, what do you think we are, grown ups? To hell with that. We grew up in the video game age and will die with a paddle in our hands. As my dear grandmammy would say: fiddlesticks'll fry.

So, now that you've got your bindle stick packed, slung, and ready to roll, let's go over a few of the most important facts of life every casual must eventually face.

You're going to fall behind

It's true. There's about no chance of you ever being on top again. You're raid ladder is now the corporate ladder and Onyxia is now something you read about when you should be working. As your guildmates level up and start raiding and PvP'ing, you're probably still going to be grinding through Thousand Needles and mining copper. My suggestion? Learn how to fly solo and only turn on vent when you want inspiration. They'll tell you all about what you're missing, rest assured.


The two kids thought they were hardcore.

Grouping is for sissies

Yeah, you heard me. Here's the guy who just wrote an article about how he likes grouping telling you not to group. Well, I have a confession. Sometimes I like to wear high heels too but it's still not socially acceptable. You're a casual and grouping is for people a little more hardcore than you. Those guildies are just going to out level you anyways.

I should probably make myself clear here. I'm not telling you not to group. I'm telling you not to plan on grouping. That clever one liner about your guildies out leveling you? It's probably going to be true unless you find someone equally as casual to play with. In which case... L2P noob.

It's best not to fight it

That's right. Take it in stride because if you don't, well, you're a lost cause. If you're casual, it's because either you want to be or you need to be. There's no in between. If you want to be, then you're probably already self-actualized, in which case, why the hell aren't you writing this article? If you need to be, it's because be happyyou have priorities that are more important than gaming. Too bad. Real life kicked in and this is the hand you're dealt. Move on, grind boars, and smile. In the words of Bobby McFerrin, don't worry, be happy.

It's not all bad...

I don't want to send you away thinking your MMO career has gone carebear. It hasn't. Even though you're no longer “hardcore” you still have some “core” left in you. Your games are going to last way longer for you than they ever have before. Seriously. That 1,500 hours you dropped into your first three toons? That's like 5 years for you now. Think of it this way, playing MMOs can now be in your 10 year plan and if that's not some kind of “core” I don't know what is. You're hardcore with an outlook...

And that's it for our first lesson. There are your three key things to know before you continue on in Chris' School of CasualCraft. And yes, we're calling it CasualCraft because if Crimecraft can do it, so can I.

Congratulations recruit, you'll never have to worry about burn out again. We've moved you from the Mustang to the Oldsmobile of MMO gaming, from the passing lane to the carpool lane, so sit back and enjoy the ride. Ahh.... that sweet, sweet, leg room.

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Always looking forward

Posted by GameByNight Tuesday September 29 2009 at 12:33PM
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One of my favorite things about following MMOs is the excitement that comes from looking forward to a new title. This year, it was Aion. Last year, it was WAR. Neither title could live up to the massive amount of hype it received even though both are fun games in their own right. As a result, people feel let down, burned, and jaded. I know that happened to me after WAR. It leaves a bitter taste, not unlike getting a sweater on Christmas morning.

Yet, after the fact, I don’t regret falling that far down the rabbit hole. It was fun and it gave me something to look forward to during the doldrums of my WoW career. And that’s why, even though some people might not understand it, I find myself now looking at games like SW:TOR and All Points Bulletin that I really didn’t give a wit for before Aion’s release.

As an MMO fan, I think we have a unique place amongst the gamer community. When we care about something, we get invested in it; it can be a class, profession, playstyle, whatever. I seriously doubt as many Xbox fans can say the same thing. Which leads me to wonder, do MMO bloggers occupy an even more unique place in how we look forward to games? I don’t know whether the average player cares enough about the genre as a whole to have that “always looking forward” attitude.

We know that MMO players follow trends, hence the WoW tourist effect. I would be willing to wager, though, that most of those players only find look into those games within the month before they come out and probably from the more “hardcore” players in their guild. I, on the other hand, make it a habit to check sites like Massively everyday.

I love the little pieces of meat the developers throw to us. I love having something to look forward to and wonder about. It gives me that “night before Christmas” feeling more often than I could ever expect to otherwise because I love these games that we play. I’d imagine that most general MMO bloggers are the same, otherwise, why put up the effort to write?

I’m having a great time in Aion, as my review probably suggests. When I look back over my front page, I see that screenshots from the game make up the bulk of what catches the eye. I don’t see it as a problem but we’re not an Aion blog. I plan on staying with Aion but, like always, I’ll be looking forward while I’m doing it.

 

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My early Aion review

Posted by GameByNight Saturday September 26 2009 at 7:12PM
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Aion’s been out for about a week now and people all over are posting their impressions. As a fan, I think it’s only fitting that I post mine. A little caveat before we skip the potatoes and hit the meat: I’ve played Aion for some time but I’ve yet to hit the Abyss or any high level content. This “review” will be based on my experiences within the first 14 levels. An actual “Should I Buy” style post will come later on down the line.

Combat:

Combat in Aion is immediately familiar to those of us who’ve played other keybar based MMOs. Despite being familiar, the game adds extra depth in several ways. First, as I’m sure you’ve read about by now, you have combo attacks that fill up your skill buttons when they’re ready to go. Second, and lesser know, are abilities that operate exclusively on DP (destiny points, Daeva points, what have you). These skills are interesting because they tend to be very powerful but extremely limited in use. Like XP, you earn DP when you kill things and, also like XP, it accrues slowly. Deciding to use a DP based skill can push your towards a win at the moment but, when you’re without it later, you may find yourself regretting that you used it. I can only imagine that this is more impactful in Abyss PvP than in PvE.

Since the game went live, I’ve been playing an Assassin where the skill rotation you use can make or break your damage output. Between managing cooldowns and using the right buffs at the right times, there’s a certain amount of complexity to playing effectively. I wouldn’t call it difficult but, like most things, you get better as you go.

Combat is fast paced and responsive, more or less so depending on what class you decide to play. If you’ve played WoW, expect a similar feeling if not even a little faster pace. Sounds and animations during combat are top notch. The eyes of Asmodians glow red and, as an Assassin, I’ll often see my weapons burn bright as I land crits (which have a nice explosive sound when they hit). Combat in this game may spoil you. Be warned.

Graphics:

Unlike most people, I’m not enamored with the graphics in Aion. Sometimes they look great, like the character and monster models, but other times they’re plain out ugly. The game makes heavy use of textures, which helps its performance, but, like any game that does so, suffers at times because of it. Still, on the whole, it’s nice to look at and is no worse than our loveable little Warcraft. Use that a basis for comparison to how poor some textures can be and you’ll have an idea for what I mean.

Bad texture compared to most

The art style is great. Some things are anime-ish but I find that I don’t really mind. It’s a nice mix of East and West and both blend well with the world NCSoft has tried to create. Despite how others may feel, I don’t think either influence greatly overpowers the other when taken as a whole.

I personally love some of the small touches in the game. For example, chapels have swirling clouds along the top of them that give a very mystic vibe that I really like. The architecture is neat and the zones have a very cohesive and “done” feel to them. All of the little touches are there, from the birds flying in the forests to the balls of light that swirl above some of the lakes (or ghost fish if you’re Elyos). I’ve yet to find a place that feels unfinished or lacking.

A small note: much like LotRO, the mining resource nodes just don’t seem to fit. A lot of times, iron deposits look tacked on to the landscape and silver has a very spider’s leg feel to it. I’ve yet to find a game where mining resources really look “right” though, so maybe it’s just me.

Another small issue I’ve noticed, at least early on, is that a lot of the armor is fairly bland. I’ve gotten to level 14 on my Assassin and noticed very little change in how I look, despite going through three sets of armor (most pieces, anyways). Some of the upper end gear looks great but I wish that there were a little more variation.

Animations:

Animations are, hands down, excellent. I’ve talked about the combat animations above but I can’t say enough good things about them. They just feel right.

Apart from combat, the much criticized walking/running animations are right on task too. The gait and speed of your avatar is just as you would expect it to be and doesn’t seem off at all.

NPCs and mobs still roam and meander as they do in all MMOs. Nothing new there.

The only thing I really don’t like about the animations is when you’re talking to an NPC. Your character will mirror the NPC’s movements to a tee. You nod when they nod, gesture when they gesture. It doesn’t feel right and even a little timing difference would be much appreciated.

This cutscene features less epic and more nag

Performance:

The game runs great but it does get choppy at times. On my desktop, I have a 260GTX and I’m almost always at 80-100FPS on max settings (no AA), except when I’m in Pandemonium. However, a better measure is probably with my laptop that’s running an 8600GTM and a 2.1GHz dual core processor. My laptop, on second to highest settings and no AA and pull an average of 35FPS. I’ve dropped as low as 25 and spiked as high as 45. A lot of it depends on how populated the area is with both mobs and players. Pandemonium though? Forget it. Both machines run that at about 15FPS, even when I drop the graphics to their lowest.

I should note that I can turn the “important” graphics all the way up on my laptop and compensate by turning shadows down to half and the water effect to the second highest step.

I’m interested to see how my laptop will fare in the Abyss. It handled Alterac Valley wonderfully in WoW, and most other games like a charm, so I have high hopes.

The game isn’t a beast but it looks like it should run a lot harder than it does.

Questing/Story:

I haven’t been impressed. There’s no getting around it. Don’t get me wrong, some quests are great and have some neat cutscenes attached to them. Most are very routine kill/collect quests. The writing is better than normal but is somewhat diminished by the fact that you can skip 90% of it and still know to kill those five Mosbears.

With that out of the way, why don’t more games have cutscenes? Even the little fly over/voice over bits they do before quests seem like a natural thing that should have been part of MMOs for years and just hasn’t been. Some are better than others but all are better than none and I’m happy they’re in the game. A few are downright epic, especially the one that ends the Ascension quest line.

[Aside: Does anyone know what the hell Odella is? I’ve had to stop these mole-things from growing it multiple times now and I can only assume odellaJuiceit’s some kind of lettuce tobacco or something. I think I missed something early on but, either way, I’m tired of doing quests around it. Enough with the Odella.]

Anyhow, and most importantly, quests are more difficult and offer less reward than a lot of other games. At first, you’d think this was a bad thing but I’ve come to feel otherwise. When I say they’re more difficult, I say that for the sole reason that mobs are harder to kill. They fight more and aren’tafraid to smack you around a little bit when you step out of line. I was frustrated the other night because I died three separate times trying to kill a mob that was two levels higher than me. But you know what? Good. Mobs should provide a challenge. The alternative is mobs that don’t and I’d rather have to think as I fight than turn off and wait for the XP to roll in. Mobs in Aion fight level appropriate, so if you’re trying to take on a mob that’s “elite” you’d better be prepared for an elite fight.

When I say that quests are also less rewarding, I mean that both in terms of experience and equipment rewards. Most of your gear from 1-15 will probably come from drops, private stores, or the auction house, unless you have a friend that crafts. {Update: Keen reports that at 18, he's getting some really excellent level gear from drops. The color quality he's talking is exceptional and would cost a pretty penny kinah to buy} They do provide more potions, which help you complete future quests. Since the game requires far more experience to level than other games at these early levels, it can seem rough. This is countered, however, by the fact that killing a mob your level is likely to give you about 1000xp a piece, sometimes more, sometimes a little less. The dreaded “grind” so many people bitch about is a non-issue too, in the fact that 1) you don’t have to do it often; and, 2) when you do, it’s not for long unless you choose to. Players who grind have a definite advantage over those that don’t, however. Mob trash sells very well, so these players are earning extra money, crafting materials, and experience which will in turn make their questing that much easier as they move forward.

Oh, and yeah, the death penalty. It’s there. It’s also easy to dismiss and, honestly, easy to not even notice until you’ve died multiple times without fixing it.

Extra Stuff:

Fluff

The game has a lot of polish and, yes, fluff. I was surprised to find that one of the first quests after you leave Altgard (your first stop after leaving the newbie zone) gives you a reward that lets you turn into an angry cornstalk. How very appropriate for our Halloween season.

Some call it fluff, some corn. Both are edible but only one goes well with butter.

Private Stores

Interesting feature. I like carousing these to find the best deals because private sellers will often try to beat the auction house. Besides, private stores aren’t ran by ferrets with female voices and hats.

Ferret thing that loves you

Still, you see a fair share of spam as a result of them and I suspect that they’re a big reason for the lag in Pandemonium.

Crafting

Crafting is interesting. I enjoy doing work orders because it’s an easy, repeatable, way to raise your skill level. I haven’t taken it too far (mainly because I’m trying to keep up with the Jones’s in terms of leveling) and I’ve spent most of my time gathering so I can power level it up later on. Aion’s crafting is interesting because you can level every skill up to 399/400 and “master” two all the way to the max. As far as I know, all of the skills require some form of gathering but I haven’t looked to far into this. As a tailor/weaponsmith, I’ve been collecting iron and animal pelts to prepare, both of which are every where. Mining nodes are everywhere if you look for them, at least at this stage of the game. They also don’t seem to be randomized, so it’s entirely possible to create a little circuit and run it indefinitely.

Conclusions

I’ve been having a great time in the game so far. Dying to PvE is something I haven’t done this much since I first got started in MUDs and it’s strange to find these limitations again. I find questing all the more exciting because of the challenge, however, and feel all the more powerful when I truly lay waste to mobs.

Aion isn’t a perfect game. It’s not innovating and making a new box outside of the one most MMOs fall in to. It’s a fun game, though. Leveling has all of the charm of WoW and more, which is saying something. I’m looking forward to continuing with the game and seeing what it was to offer and it looks like I’m not alone. If the rest of the game lives up to the standard I’ve seen so far, Aion really will take the #2 spot just behind WoW and may just set the subscription bar higher than the other AAA games that came before it.

Should you buy it?

Like I said, I’ll hit on it later when I do a complete review. For now, if you need a second or third opinion, I’d say yes. Absolutely.

Rating right now: 9/10

And... because I like them...

Thaaaaat's all folks!

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The problem with grouping

Posted by GameByNight Wednesday September 23 2009 at 4:07PM
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For the longest time, I wasn’t a fan of grouping. I played solo, talked in guild chat, and was happy with only teaming up when it was time to run a dungeon. It stands in contrast to how I’d played MUDs beforehand. I had been social before and would meet up with friends I’d made in-game to adventure often. Yet, when I made the jump to a “real” MMO that disappeared. I became a voice in guild chat and the occasional raid buddy.

Nowadays, things are much different. I love grouping, talking in vent, and generally being a community member instead of just a player. So, I ask myself: what happened?

I think it all comes down to opening the door on the MMO genre. The difference between then and now is that I had been playing WoW and now I’m not. Warcraft jumped into the field and proclaimed themselves to be the MMO for the non-MMOer. It was the game that opened doors except that, in doing so, they closed others in the process.

For some reason that I’ll never fathom, they decided that people who group to complete quests should be punished. Maybe it’s that that they want to “guide your experience” and leave less to chance. But why punish? At the end of the day, unless Blizzard tells you to group up, and sometimes even when they do, you’re going to get less xp per kill and progress slower than if you went it alone. If that’s not the nail in grouping’s coffin, I don’t know what is.

For a single game, the “solo to level-cap” ideal wouldn’t much matter. The problem is that game studios and, more importantly, publishers want to emulate WoW’s success. So, we see this model repeated until soloability becomes the expectation. No big game “forces” you to group. They might encourage it. But there are always ways to advance, even if it’s plain old grinding. Yet, that fact is one that gets lost in the complaints that players shouldn’t be “forced” to do things that “aren’t fun.” As a result, games release more “casual” content so people can play by themselves in these massively multiplayer worlds.

I didn’t realize the bubble my playstyle had been in until I escaped the WoW-trap and hopped between games for a while. I don’t like feeling like I have to do something any more than the next guy but I found out that taking risks and trying something new can actually wind up being a lot of fun. Darkfall, for all of its hardcore-i-ness was one of the single most fun MMOs I’ve ever played for the simple reason that it was the single most social game I’ve ever played. Yet it stayed true to its MMO roots. I’m not talking Free Realms social with Darkfall, I’m talking get together and overcome social.

Even though I’m not playing WoW anymore, it’s still the industry trend setter. It’s the Big Daddy of the MMO world and when it moves, people turn and look. And if, one day, it wears a blue shirt, it’s not unlikely that the other kids will start to wear blue shirts too.

You know, for all of the good WoW has done the industry, I kind of wish they’d never taken up a leveling model. I know, it’s the natural move, but doesn’t level separation create walls that’re hard to overcome? Someday, it’d be nice to have a game with all of the MMO bells and whistles that will let you hop in and group with from the get go. Levels don’t let you do that.

For the time being, I’m contented. I can solo when I want and group up when the mood strikes me. That’s something I really like about Aion right now. The K&G and Havok community are active and fun and a pleasure to talk to on vent. They say that community makes or breaks a game and I’ve found that true. As we move forward, I hope the WoW approach to grouping is something we leave behind. Keep the option, drop the penalty, and we all win.

 

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The first day of Aion revisited

Posted by GameByNight Monday September 21 2009 at 12:41PM
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Even though I was stuck at work for far too long yesterday, I was still able to spend a decent chunk of time in game when I got home. I arrived home at about 9PM EST and was able to login to the Lumiel server by 11:30. That was the worst part of the experience, bar none. I was lucky though. Some people were reporting random D/Cs but, once I was on, I stayed on. My connection was rock solid, too. I had a ping that fluctuated between 120 and 220ms but that’s acceptable during a head start.

My first spin out with my Scout, Syeric, was fun. The leveling curve is vastly lower than it was in previous versions and I was able to hit level six much quicker than I have with any characters before him. It’s slower than WoW, to be sure, but it doesn’t feel painstakingly slow like it did at this time with WAR. The beginner zone was crowded but not as much as I’d been hearing about. The only real competition I found was with herb nodes, since they are part of a very early quest. Once I moved past this area, even that dropped out and I was able to level up in ease.

I did manage to die, twice, and found out that the death penalty is still in the game. I’ve never played as Scout past the first few levels, so it took some getting used to. The class is very much a glass cannon and you take damage easily. A fellow guildmate and I were chatting in vent about how often you’re forced to rest between fights. I still found it a lot of fun to play, though. There’s something about stringing together criticals without even trying that I find very satisfying.

One thing that I found a little bit confusing was the combat arrows. These are also referred to as movement modifiers on various boards. Aion’s combat is augmentable in that you can give yourself a temporary buff by running in a particular direction. Running forward increases damage, backward increases mitigation, and side to

side increases avoidance. What was confusing is the most of the people in chat seemed to think that you got the buff by running after you saw the

arrow and that there was no indicator if it was actually up or not. As a Scout, that would mean to get the full benefit of the buff I would need to constantly be moving forward. As I’m sure you can imagine, that was more than annoying to have to run in circles non-stop for every mob and it didn’t seem like a decision any reasonable developer would make. A little testing and chatting with other guild mates revealed that, no, once you see the arrow the buff is up. If you’re not moving that direction, it drops quickly but you’re not stuck mouse turning 15 times a fight.

The community seemed fairly good. People were talkative and, yes, they talked a bit about WoW. For the most part though, I didn’t find that to be the majority the conversation. It’s easy to make your own chat tab and ignore it anyways.

So, on the whole, the first day of head start was a great success. Server stability and lag were top notch on Lumiel I didn’t see anyone complaining about either the whole time. The biggest issue was about the queues but, apparently, CM Ayase is of the belief that they’re better than server consolidations, so they’re going to stay until it’s sure than another server will remain populated even after the initial hype dyes down. Hopefully, the official launch day will go as smooth as this one did.

To finish off today, I’ll leave you with some pictures of your first introduction to the Abyss. After one of your early missions, you get a glimpse of your future. It looks something like this…

 

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Aion: Queues or Consolidation?

Posted by GameByNight Sunday September 20 2009 at 9:35PM
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The Aion head start began today as of 3pm EST. Trumpets blared, banners were dropped, and courts across England exploded in applause. And even though I was (and still am) at work, I couldn’t help but peek into the interwebs a little bit to see how things were going.

From the sound of it, things are going a little shaky. When people are able to connect, they’re finding themselves in zones that are absolutely flooded with people. More troublesome for players, however, is the fact that most of them can’t connect. One forum posted complained that he had place number 2060 in a 5+ hour queue.

Both of these things are to be expected less than two hours after the launch of an MMO but that doesn’t do much to make players feel better about it, especially when the game’s been live across the world for the last year.

The whole thing has got me thinking though, what would players really prefer: no queues and better performance now or more servers and forced mergers later?

I look at this kind of thing as testing period, post-beta. Closing servers looks bad. It scream failure to people who don’t know any better. Understandably, companies want to avoid this and NCSoft is opting to open with fewer servers and (I hope) open more as needed.

Still, multi-hour queues suck and there’s something not right about “testing” something that should have been prepared for sooner. This kind of thing harkens back to the woefully low QA standards across the board for the MMO genre. Yet, the reality of the situation is, despite what I as a consumer may want, it’s not possible for MMOs to have the same standard as, say, Xbox 360 games. They’re whole different beasts with massively different network demands.

MMO launches effectively have three outcomes: lose/lose/luck out. If you don’t have enough servers, there are queues. LOSE. If you have too many servers, you soon find them empty and have to “consolidate.” LOSE. Or, you do things just right and avoid either. LUCK OUT. Not many people luck out.

So that’s what I’m wondering, what loss would be the better?

 

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Clearing up the 'Aion doesn't want you to PvP' rumor

Posted by GameByNight Friday September 18 2009 at 1:02AM
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As the launch of Aion looms ever closer, more and more people are coming out of the woodwork to voice their opinions on it. That’s all well and good except for when people spread little bits of misinformation left and right.

The current doom and gloom is all about endgame PvP. Some people would have you believe that Aion’s endgame rewards you for not engaging in Abyss PvP but wants you to grind quests instead. The logic is that, since you can lose abyss points (think honor in WoW) when you die, at higher ranks you stand to lose more by PvPing than PvEing.

This is true. We’re all chipper here, same page in the same book. Except, when we look a little bit deeper we see there’s a little extra context to the story.

Look at the date

The main place people are getting this stuff from is this interview. Look at the date on that. May 31st, 2009. Not only is it far outdated but the guy is obviously going on a shady memory. He says that “After 400k I killed a 3rank soldier and only got 350 pts. If I die I lose 5,000 AP.” According to the chart I’m posting below, that would have put him at a 3rd rank officer and he should have earned over 3k AP for that kill. Yeah, it’s not that relevant anymore. I re-read this and didn't take into account the rank difference. The fact remains, he would have lost gained more/lost less in the current version of Aion. You'll also see that he claims to play solo more often than not while PvPing in the Abyss. Since Abyss is based primarily on group combat, he would have far more potential to die often than the average player in a group. His risk/reward ratio is skewed.

Only the Highest Ranks

Have a look at this wiki article. Hell, wild man that I am, I’ll just include it here.
 

Now, unless I’m reading this wrong, only the top four PvP ranks stand to lose more abyss points than they’d gain if they die. Now, have a look at the “Req’d Positions” column. By my math, it looks like that’s only 44 people on the entire server at any given time. Let me repeat, 44 people. No offense, but big freaking deal. If 44 people on any server in any game decide to PvP or PvE or dance naked on mailboxes, it makes no difference whatsoever in anything. To put that in perspective, that’s less than 2% of over moderately ranked PvPers and far less than that for all combatants.

Sorry, that’s probably not us

The other fact that bears repeating is that you and I will probably never see those ranks. At least I won’t. Special PvP ranks tend to be reserved for the more hardcore among us. Unless you’re holding on to you’re Abyss Points for the sole reason of hitting those top notches, you’ll probably find yourself lower in the “Req’d Points” than you’d need to be. And even if you do,

Those positions will change hands often

Abyss Points are won and lost when as you kill or die yourself. On top of that, you use those points to buy armor and other rewards. Your total amount of points will rise and fall with the tides, so unless those “top performers” now grinding PvE quest decide to sit on their points and never log off, they’ll be back in the fray sooner rather than later.

There’s more to it than just the above for both sides of the argument but these are the core holes in their argument. If there’s 3000 people on at primetime and 500 in the abyss, who cares about those 44. They’re still targets no matter where they are.

Now, I'd be remiss not to address a counter argument to my own. But, the amount of AP you get depends on the other player's rank, so it's less reliable even earlier! That's true, the amount does drop if you're killing people of a far lower rank than you and you still lose the same amount if they kill you. There's a couple points I'd like to make regarding that though. First, Aion is a gear game. The people of far lower rank are probably also going to be of far lower level, too. If you lose to them you deserve to take more of a hit the same way you should if a level 25 killed your 50 in WoW. Second, the game's PvP is based on group combat. If you're going it alone all the time, yeah, you're going to lose more AP. The other side of that coin, however, is that you're also going to earn it much slower and will probably have a lot harder time doing most things in the Abyss. When you're with a group, you should be making more kills than you're taking.

The fact is, the end-game of modern day Aion revolves around PvP. NC Soft isn't stupid. They're not going to break the core of their game right off the bat. It's worked fine in the eastern part of the globe and it'll work fine, if not better, here too. It's version 1.5, a game minus the Korean grind, and with more options than ever before.

If you want insightful commentary on Aion, go where people have followed the game a little bit. Or at least look into things before they make blanket statements.

 

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WAR guild leaders hold conference on leaving the game

Posted by GameByNight Wednesday September 16 2009 at 9:22AM
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The crew at Keen and Graev's are in a bit of a dilemma when it comes to Aion Online. The situation goes like this: they decided a while back that they'd like to roll on the unofficial RP community since it tends to be more mature in nature. Unfortunately, many of the biggest and worst guilds from Warhammer Online's Pheonix Throne server (consistently the biggest RP server) have decided to leave WAR in exchange for Aion.

The WAR PT group stands apart from the already established Aion Roleplayers community. As a result, they've decided to choose an opposing server than the one the ARPers had agreed on. Due to their larger size, they will likely put ARPers server choice to rest and win the official poll in a landslide. So, the K&G boys have to decide: do they go with a smaller population and a better community or a big population and a worse community. It's a crappy choice.

Personally, I'm fine with either choice. RP will happen on either and I'm more than happy to add some deserving few to my ignore list. The bigger issue, in my opinion, is why so many guilds are planning on leaving WAR.

Have a look at this screenshot.

Pheonix Throne GL conference

(Pheonix Throne GL conference)


Mythic has had a shaky last year with this game. With several big releases on the horizon, they need to plan ahead for now for how they're going to handle the fluctuations in their community.

It's almost pointless to try to get their players to not try out the new games on the market. Even WoW isn't immune to player exodus when big titles release. For the sake of the game, I hope they have a few cards up their sleeve to bait these players back once they're gone.


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Should MMOs be made from books?

Posted by GameByNight Tuesday September 15 2009 at 10:03AM
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I love to read. Books have the power to take you away to another time and place and make the impossible possible. Not to mention, the scope of a novel is greater than any movie or TV show could possibly encompass, so we find some of the most epic and enthralling entertainment in a literature.

Given this, it’s not surprising that MMO companies have turned to books as settings for their games. The biggest one is, of course, Lord of the Rings Online. Most people would admit that the game has done fairly well for itself. Players, myself included, like the idea of running around through a world they fell in love with long before.

Another game that picked up the literary stick and ran with it was Warhammer Online. Most people would attribute that game to its tabletop roots but there’s definitely parts of the game derived from the authors that made the world their own. Warhammer, though perhaps not as successful as some of us had hoped, is another title that pays homage to the written word that formed it.

Yet, part of me wonders whether or not books have much place being turned into MMOs. In many ways, they’re bound to disappoint.

Story

MMOs are not known for their ability to tell a good story. Actually, their better known for telling fragmented and shallow stories, which is why SW:TOR is getting so much attention for including Bioware’s “fourth pillar.” Compare any series of quests in LotRO to Tolkien’s own work and you’re bound to walk away feeling let down.

MMOs right now simply don’t have the means to deliver story in a way that can touch the emotions of most players. 100 words of quest text can never compare to the battles of the fellowship in Moria. Nor can any battleground come close to the ferocity of Malus Darkblade facing off against a group of Skinriders.

Limits of Scope

A good book simply has more room to move. It’d be great if an MMO could bring to life a world true to the author’s description but that’s not realistic. Instead, hobbits can run 900 mph through the hills and barrows.

Modern day design can’t capture a “world” in the same way an author can. The end result is that fans of the book wind up coming into the game and finding the place they’d imagined shrunk down to five minute runs and pvp zones.

Hindered Development

One of the biggest reasons I have doubts is the simple reason that most books are never designed to be games. When development companies pick up existing IPs, they’re limited by the setting of the tale. If dragons never existed in the world, they can’t just go and make a new “Dragon Lands” zone. It wouldn’t fit.

Both Warhammer Online and LotRO are limited by this. I’d imagine that they have to check their Ps and Qs before they take any risks implementing new stuff into their games. If they break the rules of their borrowed world, its true owners aren’t going to be very happy. On top of that, a minority of the players will be happy to give them hell for breaking the lore.

In the end, my doubts settle with the fact that books can simply do things better. Players that come for the books eventually feel the novelty wear off and are left with only the cropped down vision of the world they cherished. Those that do stay will do so because they enjoy the game.

The way I see it, using literature as a basis for a game is a shaky decision at best. The fact is, developers may find themselves having to ignore good decisions for the game because the limits of the IP. It’s a delicate balance. I want a world but that doesn’t mean much if the game doesn’t play well. Make a new IP and a game that’s fun to play and you’ll find that sales will follow, even without making A Song of Ice and Fire Online.

Now, making a book from an MMO is a different story

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I can't get no -- satisfaction?

Posted by GameByNight Monday September 14 2009 at 8:49AM
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For some reason, whenever I think of that song all I can think about is Aretha Franklin belting out sock to me! (just a little bit) over and over again. It’s my little earbug from the queen of soul.

Music references aside, I’ve had a strange thing happen to me this last year. I’ll be playing a game and on one hand having a good time but, on the other, feel like there’s something missing all the while. It’s good but not as good as it should be.

Have you ever had that feeling? It’s like you’re playing something to get by or kill time instead of having the experience you’d like to have. In other words, you’re not getting the satisfaction you know you’d have if you were really enjoying yourself. One word defines this: shallow.

For me, I first experienced this when I left WoW. As my first true MMO, nothing else seemed to fill its shoes once we’d parted ways. Even WAR, a game I had a vested interest in, didn’t totally get rid of it. I finally conquered the feeling by playing some Darkfall with the Keen and Graev community.

Yet, like most bad feelings, it has a penchant for rearing its ugly head now and then. I thought I had it beat, most of a year past leaving WoW, but over the last two days that feeling has sunk in again when I’ve consider playing LotRO. I’d been having a good time playing my Guardian but all of the sudden my gamer side seams to be heaving an enormous ‘meh’ towards the idea of logging back in.

I’ve put a lot of thought into this topic this past weekend and it’s all related to the home game philosophy. The idea is tied to the notion that no MMO can equal your first because, well, you can never go home again. The “firsts” you had there have come and gone and, even when things are shiny and new, there’s no returning to the innocence you started with.

That’s why one of the main times I tend to feel unsatisfied in any game is when another one I’m excited about is about to launch. New games have the potential to emulate those first feelings and give us the chance of finding a new “home.” Maybe this time you’ll feel the hook again. Maybe it’ll even make you want to invest yourself into it more than the ones that came before (funwise, anyways). You really don’t know and that not knowing breeds anticipation and excitement. Hell, that’s the reason why I’m looking forward to Aion even though I really don’t expect a ton from it.

That feeling of dissatisfaction ultimately comes from not doing what you’d rather be. In the end, it’s really too bad we can’t be newbies forever. That childlike sense of wonder is something to behold and I consider the people having it lucky. Kids and noobs alike have a unique outlook on things and I’d bet they find themselves a lot more satisfied than most of us vets a lot of the time.

So let’s keep looking forward! The cure for these issues is to find something to be excited about, even at the risk of being a fanboy/girl for whatever it is. There’s so much negativity out there these days that blogs like Frank’s Overly Positive are a breath of fresh air. And look, Frank’s happy.

The motto for this Monday? Be like Frank.

Happy Monday everyone!

 

 

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So your spouse hates video games: part 1 - dropping your threat

Posted by GameByNight Saturday September 12 2009 at 7:12AM
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If you live with your significant other, you’ve probably experienced the disturbing phenomena known as “Spouse Aggro”. This behavior is usually typified by exasperated comments, sideways glances, or the ever popular guilt trip (”You’re always on the computer…”) however, it has been known to escalate to yells or even physical violence.

Fear not, you’re not alone! Across the country, nay, across the world men and women are forcing their way through spouse aggro into the lairs of evil dragons and forelorn wizards. You can do the same.

Want to get your Waaagh on? Want to strut through Stormwind? Then read on!

Step 1. Diagnose the Problem:

Let’s face it, gaming is a prejudiced hobby. If you’re spending your time playing a video game, you’re #2 on the threat meter and approaching the number #1 slot fast. The first thing you need to do is figure out what her problem is. Why doesn’t she like gaming? Is it a blanket prejudice? Bad gaming experience? Misinformation? Or, are you just playing too much? Listen to what she says and then use that to level your avoidance.

Take her words and learn from them. Educate her if need be. Remember, success if based around a level head. It’s a situation that requires more DoTs – but you must also know when to stop the DoTs. Under no circumstance do you blow your cooldowns. I repeat, do not use burst damage. If this is your first encounter, use it to build your strategy. You two can come to a reasonable conclusion but don’t expect epic loot your first run through.

Scenario: But Chris, she says I play too much and I know I don’t. A few hours a night isn’t a lot to ask!

Answer: Actually, it is. To the non-MMOer, three hours a night makes you as hardcore and negligent as they come. If your spouse is throwing this at you, the first thing you need to do is evaluate your priorities. If you know she’s blowing things out of proportion and her needs are being met otherwise, then figure out a schedule that works. Play more when she’s not home or is, you know, unconscious. You’re an MMO player. Sacrificing sleep is in your nature. Think of it as stealth. If you can’t, however, set a time to get off the computer. Reach a consensus.

Step 2. Educate Don’t Berate

To the non-gamer, MMOs tend to look pretty darn stupid. I mean, seriously, what are we doing killing boars all the time? And why is some kobold more important than spending free time with her? Just let her know that you happen to find boars exceptionally tasty and elven women very attractive.

Now, if she’s a common spouse, now’s the time for a threat dump. First, tell her you were kidding. Your sense of humor should be able to help her see that there’s something more to gaming than that. Or maybe, if she’s a rare elite, you should just avoid joking all together. Explain to her, in non-fantasy-gamer terms, what you like about the game. Focus on the social aspects, so she realizes there’s lots of other people you’re interacting with. Downplay the spell-casting and up-play the aspects of the game that she could relate to – or that she could see you relating to in a real life way, for example, engaging storylines. Don’t explain the stories, if you can help it. Glass Eyes is a debuff that negates your previous 10 attacks. The aim here is to appeal to her sense of reason and humanize the enemy without exposing it.

Scenario: I tried to tell her but she just thinks it’s pointless! Guh, she just doesn’t get it!

Answer: Well, what’s the point of any video game? Fun, enjoyment, relaxation. Explain to her what the game does for you. You’re at home, so you obviously want to be near her, so you’re trying to get what you do from your hobby while being close to her. The truth, that sweet frosted Cinnabon of relationships, will set you free.

Step 3. Join Forces

We all know that two healers are better than one, so come together with your partner and get those HPs back. This can happen in two ways, first get her to try the game out as a means of spending time with you and doing something together. If you’re lucky, she’ll bite and run away with the proverbial worm. You can be a Tauren and Gnome in love, spreading steak and rainbows to the kiddies.

Failing that, join her in her disdain for the game. If you’re invested enough in the game to want to play it despite aggro, you’re probably invested enough to recognize its negatives and other silly aspects. Use this to your advantage. Sometimes an unconventional strategy is the one that leads to the purplest of epics. If she thinks you’re only playing for “something to do” or until something better comes along (a little less demanding on your time, perhaps?), the crystal face of “video game addiction” will start to crack for her. And let’s be honest, if something as much fun as your current game came along, and actually took less time, most of us would be down for it. I’m still waiting on that game myself.

Scenario: Chris, you doorknob! I tried to get her to play and she got offended! Now what do I do?!?

Answer: You have a few options. You can apologize. Or, you can turn it around. You were just trying to spend time with her, after all. We’ll get to guilt tripping in the next article in this series though, so stay tuned. For now, placate the dragon. Be nice and she may come to see your true intention.

And that’s it for this installment of “So Your Spouse Hates Video Games”. Hopefully, you’ll find yourself better equipped to manage that aggro and maybe even get a boost to some of your stats. Until next time, equip your sword and board, build up your resists, and get ready for that incoming tank and spank.

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Taking a fellow blogger to task about Aion

Posted by GameByNight Friday September 11 2009 at 3:32PM
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Usually, I like to keep to myself when it comes to disagreeing with other bloggers. I don’t like conflict and I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion. Yet, if we think back to Eurogamer’s initial review of Darkfall, was that just? People were upset because a reviewer on a big name site was trying to drive people away from a game that he hadn’t even given a fair shot.

Well, Ardwulf is the new Ed Zitron. After playing Aion for only 45 minutes, he’s now filled with “rage” towards a game that really has no impact on him. Like I said, usually I’d keep quiet and maybe leave a brief comment. Ardwulf has a decent readerbase though, so I’d like to clear up a few facts he featured in his venomous attack.

Let me be clear about one thing before I begin. I like Ardwulf. I usually enjoy what he writes and more often than not agree with him. There was just too much in this last post for me to not vent a little of my own hot air.

“The controls are imprecise and clumsy and the interface is awkward. You can move with the mouse… forward. You can’t steer with the mouse alone, nor could I figure out how to get mouse movement to work in a sensible way without enabling Asian-style click-to-move – which I despise, and this isn’t any better. It’s all very clumsy. WoW, EQ2, Champions Online, LotRO and Vanguard all have better “touch” for lack of a better term.”

The controls are different in some ways, yes, but they’re not different enough to label them clumsy by any means. Not to mention, if the interface is awkward then we’d better condemn WoW too because not only are they nearly identical in functionality and design. Maybe it’s a matter of being too used to addons making or breaking the UI. If being able to move by holding both mouse buttons is a game breaking issue for you, you came in ready to hate it, which leads me to wonder why’d you bother downloading it in the first place?

“The localization is bad enough that race descriptions – the very first pieces of text you see when coming into the game – are broken English of the “all your base are belong to us” variety.”

Again, I don’t know where you’re getting this from.

“Questing is totally undistinguished. All the enhancements that a game like Warhammer laid on top of the standard model are missing.”

Probably because they game was nearly finished when WAR came out. PlayNC/NCSoft has been great with releasing patches that put in many thing a lot of other MMOs *cough* WAR *cough* are missing. Keep the empty PQs, I’ll take functional end-game and quality leveling any day of the week.

“Quests send you to find somebody, with no description of where the guy is, and no map pointers unless you go through a popup box to put one on screen – for some quests – and all the old ones stay as well unless you remove them.”

The vast majority of quests give you a detailed description of where to go to complete quests. On top of that, in many cases, you can click on locations and NPC names to get more information on where to go and what to do. Yes, some are little more abstract but I was of the belief that we didn’t want to be spoon-fed everything in the game. We want more challenge, not less, no? There’s no Questhelper, Lightheaded, or big red circle to tell you where to go.

“The symbols over questgivers’ heads are hard to spot and harder to distinguish at a glance.”

They’re not big yellow question marks. I didn’t realize big blue diamonds were that much worse.

“Character customization is good, but in a bad way. What I mean is that there are lots of sliders that let you modify your appearance, to the point that you can create freaks that are two feet tall with two-foot diameter heads. This falls into the “bug, not feature” category…”

What would most players care to have, five or six stock templates or the ability to really choose who their character will be? Perhaps they’ll scale back how much you can customize but, honestly, I doubt it. And let’s remember, most people are not going to want to look at a freak of a character through the whole of their character’s life. You’ll see more silly stuff in the beginning sure, just like you see it in the beginning of any game. If Champions is better, tell me, is it exempt from silliness too?

“…in a game like this, as far as I’m concerned; one bobblehead doll of a character ruins the immersion of everyone around them.”

A subjective opinion and you’re entitled to it; however, most people will simply move on and not worry about getting hung up on the ten year old. Again, this stuff will happen in any game.

“The landscape graphics are extremely weak, with none of the sprawling vistas we’d see in a Vanguard, or even a WoW. Zones are bordered by plain impassable cliffs. Clipping errors are rampant, even in the character creator.”

I was under the impression from the masses of other reports (not to mention my own opinion) that the graphics were pretty good. Now, I’ll agree with you on one point here. I don’t really like the painted backdrops in the Asmodian starting zone, nor the linearity of the 1-10ish experience. It’s a common complaint. Whereas WoW has it’s directed newbie experience, Aion does too except they do it on a large scale for a longer period of time. Is it ideal? No. Do I care for it? No. Does it last very long? No.

And if we’re nitpicking about the clipping of armor and other such trivialities, have a look at your cloak next time you ride a horse on WoW or you weapon in LotRO. Hell, have a look at the character creator in Vanguard where you can zoom, literally, behind the eyeballs and into the leg of your avatar. Let’s not place too much weight on something that by and large goes unnoticed.

“Which leads me to another point of outrage; this is going to be the next big MMO? Aion is like World of Warcraft in its level of polish? You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s okay to offer nothing notably new, but to offer an amateurish and unpolished experience on top of that?”

If you think AoC, Vanguard, WAR, or even WoW launched with the level of polish they all show today than you’re delusional. Aion is ahead of all of the above, and is ahead of WAR in it’s current state. But you didn’t play enough to see that and it’s really your loss. I have and I can attest to what I’ve seen and experienced.

“It felt like a punishment to play. I stopped midway though my half hour, and had to force myself to continue. Another fifteen minutes was enough to get me logged out and working on cleansing my hard drive of this blight I’d unwittingly afflicted on it.”

So, let me get this straight, you come out and try to drive people away from a game that you only played for forty-five minutes? What exactly makes you think you know enough to drive others away when you experienced only the slightest iota of what the game has to offer. I get it. It’s not WoW. It’s not LotRO or WAR or Vanguard.

Yet, someone who claims to feel “rage” at a game after playing it for less than an hour is somehow expected to believe…

“And you know, something I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned here is that I’ve written a lot of reviews of movies and games; some professionally. I’ve studied the work of critics as they break down and analyze a work.I think I can detach myself enough to tell the difference between something I dislike and something that’s actually bad.”

Here’s the thing Ardy, those reviewers tend to watch more than the first scene of a movie before telling other people not to go to the theater. You just did exactly that.

To end this little diatribe, I’ll reiterate. Ardwulf can have whatever opinion he wants and I personally don’t consider this anything more than him venting. That’s fine. I’m also fully aware that he was asked to explain why he didn’t like it.

The problem that caused me to respond thus was simply that the article was presented with blanket statements and with an air of supported fact. A lot of it was subjective and based on his personal taste. Maybe if someone comes across his article in a Google search, they’ll come across this one too and not throw out their chance at enjoying a game.

I’ve never understood how people can feel rage towards a game. It’s a game and is meant to be fun. If you don’t like it, go back to another one you do. But the chances are, someone else will come along and have a good time with it even still. Why anyone would want to break away from that and push other people away from a game that they could enjoy is beyond me. I know we’re supposed to be all about opinion here but there’s something to be said for having a level head at the same time.

You know, I say this every time, but I’m not expecting Aion to be the end-all be-all of MMOs. I’m not expecting it to have revolutionary systems or the most engaging questing. The fact remains, I do believe that it has a lot to offer players from all walks of life and I do believe that it’s bringing more to the table than any of the other recent MMO releases we’ve had in terms of quality and polish. I don’t think Aion is better than WoW in many ways, nor than WAR in others. But the fact that we’re running on lack of quality AAA releases makes this game the next best thing right now and it has the lasting power to do fairly well in the long-term. That’s all.

Now, I’m off to class.


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MMO first dates

Posted by GameByNight Friday September 11 2009 at 8:17AM
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Sweet lady WoWThis article is all in fun. Take it with a grain of salt ;-)

Gordon’s right, MMOs are a lot like women and, *stretch*, you might say that I’ve been around the block once or twice. Yes, I’ve tapped on many a keyboard and wiggled a fair share of mice in my day. But, when we’re talking gaming, it’s all about the risk. Before we can get sweaty at our keyboards, there’s something that must always come first. The introduction.

First dates are usually a little awkward. You order the steak before finding out that she’s a vegetarian. She picks her teeth when she thinks you’re not looking. The works. But, if all goes well, you might find yourself a love to last you the through the night. Or at least the next year.

Only a few of these firsts stand out to me now. Let’s see…

World of Warcraft: Ah, sweet lady WoW, how you vex me. Spoiler of other women games. Like a limbo stick, you set the bar low. But…. you dressed up all pretty and made me like it that way. You came on strong pulling kobolds from your cave but it was your look that really hooked me. Sure, you wore a little too much make-up and your mascara was a little smeared but you wore it with style. And when you let me into you Ragefire Chasm on the first night, WoW, you turned a boy into a nerd through and through.

Warhammer Online: Now here’s a game that really makes you wonder. A party girl, she was, and at her best in big groups. The first night, she hooked me with her humor. What with her dwarves in barrels and catapulted orcs, she was the life of a party filled with drunk people. When the people left and daylight hit, the night before’s beauty left and I was left with an old woman that smoked one too many cigarettes. Just like Seinfeld, WAR was a beauty in one light and a hag in the other.

Lord of the Rings Online: LotRO was a big woman. I mean, this chick had an expanse you couldn’t belt a boom-a-rang around. Still, she had a kind of beauty about her. The first time I scaled her mountain, I did it as a dwarf. Except, I kept running into the same three goblins over and over again. Sure, she talked too much the first date when all I wanted was a little action but I got a story that made me come back for another date the next night. LotRO’s the kind of date where you think you’re done and decide to go back for one more later in the week. Thankfully, this baby got back and makes it worthwhile.

Aion Online: Before I met Aion, I spent a lot of time getting ready. I wanted to look my best, but I admit, part of me wanted to look really bad too since I’d just come off a rocky string of game-ationships. There was something about her that reminded me of WoW. Too much makeup, maybe. Or maybe that she wore the same damn dress as her. Either way, Aion had class. She didn’t let me down her boss the first night. She made me wait and at the end of it, baby, she gave me wings. Yeah, sure, maybe I just used them to eye her up a little better on the next couple dates but still. You don’t turn down the milk when you’re holding the cookie. She’s on a trip right now but when she comes back, she’s coming back for good and we’re talking about getting an apartment together. The only problem is what to do about that third faction…

So, there’s a few to last you through the long night. Me? I’ll be going back to LotRO. She’s got the girth to earn her worth and that’s enough for me. Besides, we’re not monogamous. I bought the lifetime with her and it’ll keep me coming back until that weight problem gets to her. You know the sad thing? I don’t even want to help her with it. I like my games big.

How about you, do you remember any of your first dates?

 

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Is DDO for me? What do you think?

Posted by GameByNight Wednesday September 9 2009 at 3:23PM
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Since DDO is now officially Free-to-Play, my mind predictably floats towards downloading it again. I participated in the beta, if you care to call it that. Unfortunately, at the time I was also actively playing Aion and one of them had to be cut; the choice was obvious. What I did play, I liked. The couple of dungeons I checked out were polished and fun, which is a definite mark in it's favor now that it's stacked up against the likes of Runescape. Given a choice between the two, I'm pretty sure I'd choose DDO 3 out of 5 times.

As I grew up, I never took part in any of the tabletop D&D sessions my older cousins did, so having this new option is especially intriguing. I'd actually looked into the game before I started playing WoW but gave up on the idea solely out of the pay to play aspect. A little known fact about most college students is that they're po'. Not poor, not needy, just po' and the result is the need to make sacrifices.

Now, however, I have this shiny new option. So will I get it? Probably, yes. I'm impulsive when it comes to games. I have to wonder whether or not I'll actually login though. Unlike other F20 games like Free Realms, DDO doesn't have that "in and out" factor for the new player. It may later on but I'm not sure. As a gamer with limited playtime, I like to get the most out of the few hours I get to spend.

I guess the purpose of this post is to ask, is there any hope of a quick hook with this game? I'm a fan of Turbine's Lord of the Rings Online but DDO is going to be subject to the bumper effect. In my minds eye, I imagine Aion and LotRO as two sumo wrestlers and DDO as a little guy with taped up glasses trying to push in between them. Something is going to have to give and I'm betting that it won't be man-boob. What do you think?

 

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Is DDO for me? What do you think?

Posted by GameByNight Wednesday September 9 2009 at 3:23PM
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Since DDO is now officially Free-to-Play, my mind predictably floats towards downloading it again. I participated in the beta, if you care to call it that. Unfortunately, at the time I was also actively playing Aion and one of them had to be cut; the choice was obvious. What I did play, I liked. The couple of dungeons I checked out were polished and fun, which is a definite mark in it's favor now that it's stacked up against the likes of Runescape. Given a choice between the two, I'm pretty sure I'd choose DDO 3 out of 5 times.

As I grew up, I never took part in any of the tabletop D&D sessions my older cousins did, so having this new option is especially intriguing. I'd actually looked into the game before I started playing WoW but gave up on the idea solely out of the pay to play aspect. A little known fact about most college students is that they're po'. Not poor, not needy, just po' and the result is the need to make sacrifices.

Now, however, I have this shiny new option. So will I get it? Probably, yes. I'm impulsive when it comes to games. I have to wonder whether or not I'll actually login though. Unlike other F20 games like Free Realms, DDO doesn't have that "in and out" factor for the new player. It may later on but I'm not sure. As a gamer with limited playtime, I like to get the most out of the few hours I get to spend.

I guess the purpose of this post is to ask, is there any hope of a quick hook with this game? I'm a fan of Turbine's Lord of the Rings Online but DDO is going to be subject to the bumper effect. In my minds eye, I imagine Aion and LotRO as two sumo wrestlers and DDO as a little guy with taped up glasses trying to push in between them. Something is going to have to give and I'm betting that it won't be man-boob. What do you think?

 

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You got your duck sauce in my soy!

Posted by GameByNight Wednesday September 9 2009 at 1:06PM
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One of the things I love about blogging at MMO Voices is that I get to hear the opinions of people that are passionate about the same type of game as I am. We share our thoughts on game design, systems and mechanics, and relate recent experiences we may have had while playing. It also makes the perfect environment for discussion, since everyone has invested a part of themselves into the genre. Sometimes, however, we have disagreements.

For example, one that comes to mind is a recent post by Alik Steel. For some reason, Alik has a grudge against mini-games. He doesn’t want them sullying the good name of MMOs with their casualness. Many of the MMO Voices writers are big fans of Free Realms, so you can imagine that many people disagreed with his points.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do see his argument. Mini-games have homes all across the internet and generally stand in a whole separate biosphere than the usual MMO would. On top of that, MMOs tend to be single player, so it’s not hard to imagine people playing alone instead of grouping up.

Still, I don’t see any problem in making mini-games part of an MMO. I mean, in a lot of ways they already are. After all, the Bejeweled and Peggle addons are officially endorsed by Blizzard and are enjoyed by, literally, hundreds of thousands of people. Saying mini-games have no place in an MMO is also ignoring the fact that gathering and crafting is, in itself, a mini-game.

Plus, certain systems could be vastly improved by pulling in more mini-game aspects. Take Leala’s ideas on fishing for example. How anyone can think of “click…. watch tv…. click" as fun is beyond me, which is probably why only masochists and the incredibly bored bother leveling it. By bringing in more of a mini-game, fishing might actually be worth something, other than to occasionally turn into a pirate. ARRRRRmirite me mateys? Sorry, I’m not feeling it.

I don’t think anyone’s proposing making that the Free Realms model is the wave of the future. I think that it’s more about people wanting options. In education, we talk a lot about differentiating how we deliver content and that’s all this would really be. Imagine if I took the crotchety approach to teaching.

ME: Alright kid, you’ve got a choice: Three Little Pigs or Fox in Socks. Which one do you want?

STUDENT: But… Mr. Chris… I, I’d kind of like to read Cat in the Hat too…

ME: Screw that kid, this is how it works. Deal with it.

And then maybe the next day the student’s Mom calls in and has him change subscriptions or something.

Anyways, the point I’m trying to make is there’s nothing wrong with a little change. When things don’t change, that’s when there’s a problem. I’m not for throwing out what works and reconfiguring the genre. Some things should stay and some were even better before they got changed. But we pay by the month for a reason, and I don’t think it’s so we can all be Conservative Charlie of the Everquest Nation.

Change is inevitable and I don’t plan on being the old man on the porch shaking his cane at the whipper snappers with their fancy do-hickeys and whoozits. Or maybe I will. But not about games.


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Thoughts and images from Aion’s open beta

Posted by GameByNight Tuesday September 8 2009 at 1:40AM
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I had a chance to log in to the open beta twice since they’ve opened the doors. My experience has, so far, been very good. Since I’d played in the Chinese version, I wasn’t expecting too much different from what I’d already experienced but as someone who’s been following the game pretty closely, I had to take the chance at checking out what we’re going to be getting.

Now, before we get too far down, I’d like to introduce you to a couple of people.

First, meet Syeric.

Syeric, fresh from battle with his eyes still glowing

Syeric is the original, the spiritual pre-cursor to the character that will be born on release day. In other words, he’s my boy blue!

Now, meet his little brother, Slurp.

Big hands, big feet, big gut

You'd let him take you on a date, wouldn't you?

Slurp is a good creature but, in the words of Hank Hill, the boy just ain’t right. Yet, I fully intend to level him into Abyss range just to see his scraggly overweight body commit mass slaughter. With a face like that, would you expect anything less?

Now, moving onto to the important stuff.

I haven’t been able to play a whole lot but I’m happy to report that FPS seems to be better this go round than in the Chinese version. I haven’t changed anything with my computer, so I can only assume it’s related to the recent couple of patches they’ve released.

Ping and network performance was mixed. When I logged on last night, I didn’t notice any lag or rubber banding, however lots of people were complaining about it over regional chat. This morning was a whole different story. I started off with 800ms latency and moved up to about 1100ms pretty quick. Using the netstat function in command line, I was able to determine the ports the game uses to connect but even after adjusting my firewall and configuring my router, I didn’t notice any difference. Rubber banding was a serious problem.

Now, it should be pointed out that I chose to play on a high population realm which may have something to do with this. Also, we musn’t forget that this is the first day of open beta and things things are far from uncommon. Even playing across the ocean was better than it was this morning though. Many players are also experiencing issues with GameGuard. I was, thankfully, free of these issues but, to be frank, GameGuard sucks and is a horrible addition to the game. A quick Google search should yield some possible fixes though, since this was also a big issue for our overseas friends.

I’ve elaborated on some of the more important issues but here are some of things I made note of as I played.

* Leveling is quicker than the Chinese version by a long shot – at least early on. Quests give far more experience that they provided previously.

* You must be level five to use the regional chat. On one hand, this is great because gold spam was a serious problem in the live version (worse than any game I’ve played, actually). On the other, it stops newbies from asking for help. Thankfully…

* The tutorial is great. Tooltips blink at the bottom of your screen and when you open them a short video, complete with a voice over, shows you exactly how to perform the basics of the game. The voice reminded me of the woman that did Free Realms.

* The best way for a newbie to regen is to rest. This is done by hitting your comma (,) button.

* /tell soandso results in the entire tell being announced as a /say. I knew this before but made the mistake again almost immediately. Use the T button to perform a reply.

* Help your lag. Open/forward ports 7777 and 10241. And don’t forget to allow the game through your firewall. If that doesn’t help, check out our latency guide.

* There’s dancing and people made sure to do it in the roads.

* The community seemed very helpful and open to people’s questions. Hopefully it stays this way after launch.

* The westernized quest text and voice overs are mostly well done. On some quests, I didn’t notice much of a difference at all but others were almost totally re-written. There’s some good stuff here guys, none of this “we write out quests in 100 characters or less business”. NPC voices seemed to be pretty good but some of the voices just didn’t seem to fit the speaker. Maybe I’m nitpicking.

* The graphics are good and FPS is great even on highest settings. I have a 2.4GHz Intel Core Duo, 800MHz FSB, and an nVidia 260 GTX, and with everything maxed out (except anti-aliasing which was at 2x) I was still hitting anywhere from 50-110FPS.

* Even though I really like the art style, I don’t like how obvious it is that the distant background is just another template. It’s pretty and everything but it stands out as distinctly 2D when the rest of the world is 3D. I like to believe I can get to any point I can see, template backgrounds like that make me feel like I’m playing in a bowl. Thankfully, it’s fairly easy to ignore since you have to tilt your camera up to see it.

With all of this out there, I’m not planning on putting too much more time into the Open Beta. I have a lot of fun with the game but since I’ve already played through these early parts once already, I don’t want to disenchant myself before I actually buy the game. There’s not too much more I’m really expecting to get out of it that I can’t wait for. I’ll be checking in and eagerly reading the reports that come out but, in full disclosure, I’m not the biggest fan of betas. It’s kind of like peeking at your presents the day before Christmas morning.

Still, on the whole, I’d say the game is coming along. If the biggest issues this game faces are latency on second day of open beta, I think we’re in a good position for launch.

 

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Exploration: may you rest in peace

Posted by GameByNight Tuesday September 8 2009 at 1:36AM
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I had a lot of fun when I played WoW seriously. Coming from a history steeped in MUDs, the idea that I could run and meet any object I saw on the horizon was extraordinary. The prospect of actually being able to climb up a mountain is something a good friend of mine was giddy about. It was that sense of “open world” that we’d never experienced before that made the game exceptional.

Yet, for all of the things I found amazing, I was let down by the exploration. WoW offered very little to the explorer. Even before the release of The Burning Crusade (about when I started), the world chests were the best reward a fledgling explorer had to look forward to.

I believed, and still do, MMOs should be worlds with a lot to discover. By looking behind the waterfall, maybe you’d find a little known cave or treasure chest. Or maybe you’d find a hidden catacomb at the bottom of a castle. Yet all of that was missing from WoW and it left me wanting.

Streamlining our games killed exploration. The proof is in the pudding. Which games still promote exploring in a meaningful way? Ones that aren’t after mass market success. Most games looking to dethrone WoW work on a rapid reward, low investment philosophy. Exploration requires time and effort, so developers don’t bother with it.

Maybe it’s all related to theme park vs. sandbox design. Games like Vanguard and Darkfall are huge rich worlds with a lot to discover, yet, both are sandbox. Theme park design creates a game on rails, where the developers point the carrot wherever they want you to go. Wanderlust let’s you direct your own adventure and isn’t something companies want to design for. Instead they try to actively engage players in quests or raids.

And that’s fine. Quests and raids are fun but I can’t help but feel that these worlds are shallower than they could be. There’s something to be said for fighting your way through a hidden cave after some powerful item. There’s a little thrill that comes from that, just like running an instance, but that stands apart by its open-world setting. Oblivion is a prime example how this works.

The final nail in the coffin is success itself. We gamers are information hungry. When a game becomes a hit, websites pop up to capitalize on that fame. Take Curse’s database sites. They’re great tools but prove that the internet is the enemy of the unknown and of exploration as a gaming mechanic.

The fact is, meaningful exploration is probably dead in the mass market. Diabloized loot (a Ferrelism!) and treadmill progression stand against all that would make exploration meaningful to your character. As Keen talked about some articles back, I think it’s a piece of what MMORPGs have lost over time. And sometimes it’d be nice to find an area that’s something more than a quest target, farm point, or blank mountainside.

 

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Breaking news: top WoW PvPer actually a lifeless hobo

Posted by GameByNight Tuesday September 8 2009 at 1:35AM
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If you’ve been reading WoW Insider (WoW.com now) for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of a guy named Serennia. He’s one of WoW’s forerunning PvP’ers and a quick Google search will pull up lots of fun PvP videos and SK Gaming . But all is not as it seems in Serennia land. Take a moment to read the transcript included in the article. I'll wait here.

Apparently, to achieve his lofty PvP ambitions, he lives out of a LAN. When he’s not pwning noobs in Arena, his offering his teammates Hershey bars in exchange for a night at their place. Nights which, coincidentally, happen to begin at 3AM when the LAN closes and he, oh so politely, calls you repeatedly to entice you with that sweet, sweet chocolate.

When you watch those videos, you see a guy who’s got drive. When his apartment isn’t undergoing spur of the moment renovations that force all of the tenants to live on the streets, he’s got his bag in order, baby. He’s not the kind of guy that would steal his friend’s iPod, where are the honor points in that? So don’t bother believing this very believable account of the kind of loser he is.

I’m not the kind of person to kick someone when they’re down. In truth, I feel bad for the guy, what kind of life is that? He’s obviously ashamed of it, or else he wouldn’t be lying to the people he was counting on to help him. This guy has a track record for being abusive and derogatory to other players. I’m glad this reality check hit him, sometimes honesty is the best kick in the butt a person can get. With any luck, maybe he'll get his life together to prove the "haters" wrong.

 

 

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Ten things to know about Aion Online

Posted by GameByNight Tuesday September 8 2009 at 1:33AM
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With the release of Aion Online looming ever closer (and open beta starting tomorrow), I thought it might be a good idea to get some kind of basic points out there for people that a teetering on the edge of joining. If you’ve been following it for some time, you may have heard some of these points before. Without further adieu…

1. You make your own race. Alright, that may not be exactly true but for most people, it will be. You start off the game choosing either Elyos (good) or Asmodians (evil). By default, they look human; however, the character creator is powerful enough to let you customize them to your hearts content. Want a dwarf? Make one. Want a goblin? Make one. Want Orlando Bloom? Yeah, you guessed it. Make him.

2. Sorry, no talents here. Without any outside factor, all characters of the same race/class will be exact duplicates. However, Aion’s answer to WoW’s talents are stigmas. Stigmas are slottable abilities and ability modifications that will commonly be found as drops. Each character will have five slots for “normal” stigmas and three for “advanced” stigmas.


3. Before level 25, Aion is a PvE game. If you’re getting into Aion solely for the PvP, prepare to wait a while. The main PvP zone (and endgame) is the Abyss and is level bound to only those above 25. Before that, it’s possible to engage in PvP through rifts (portals) that open throughout the world and transport players into enemy territories. Aion has a solid PvE aspect to it. If you liked WoW’s leveling game, you’ll probably like Aion’s.


4. Aion is not just a PvP game. It’s PvPvE. Most readers can break down the acronym into its parts but may not be familiar with how such a system will actually work. Imagine this, you make your way into a dungeon through a tunnel from the south. You’re running along and all of the sudden an enemy group of players bursts out from an intersecting tunnel, heading towards the same boss as you. Only one group can make it there and battle ensues. That is PvPvE. Players fight each other for strategic control of resources and dungeons. There’s also the added issue of the Balaur…


5. The third NPC faction is there to hold you down. Apart from fighting amongst ourselves, Aion also features a third computer controlled faction known as the Balaur. This guys jump into battles throughout the Abyss. Typically, they target the winning side to keep things balanced. Expect them to come for you at one point or another. This faction also has hold of a very cool PvPvE dungeon known as the Dredgion.

6. Flight is easy to do, hard to master. It’s one of those beautiful little systems that you anyone can use but few can use well. I’ve read reports from some top PvPers out of Korea and China and the ability to use flight well can make or break a fight. Don’t expect to be a master a flight based PvP based on wafting around the earlier zones. You’re going to die and probably a lot to begin with.

7. Choose your class with grouping in mind. If you’re planning on PvP’ing, plan on playing in a group. Some roles are more effective within groups than others. Like most games, very few can play well alone in PvP. As you’re leveling, consider the skills, abilities, and stigmas that will help you maximize your potential while playing with other people.

8. Collecting Abyss points is like collecting honor. You earn Abyss points when you kill other players and Balaur. These points determine your PvP rank, which is effectively your badge of honor. There are a limited number of slots for each rank, so not only do you have to earn enough points to qualify, you need to remain competitive while you’re playing to keep the rank. On top of that, Abyss Points can be exchanged for new gear, in turn lowering your rank. Check out this article for more details.

9. The higher your PvP rank, the more you have to lose. When you die in the Abyss, you lose some of your Abyss points. At the lowest Abyss rank, you’ll have to die five times to lose the value of a single kill. At the highest rank (of which there can be only one person) dying twice loses 140% of the points a single kill will earn you. As you can see, dying is meaningful and something you’ll want to avoid. Hence, playing solo is a lot more dangerous than playing with a group.

10. You can learn every available profession. This is a big selling point for me; however, even though you can learn everything it’s going to be hard, if not nearly impossible, to max everything out. If you do become a master crafter however, you receive a special title and stat bonuses depending on what craft you’ve mastered. On top of that, crafted items have a chance of being created with special attributes over the base item, somewhat like LotRO’s crafting system.

Hopefully these points help some of you decide whether you’d like to try the game and inform some of you that haven’t already heard them. The game is lot deeper than this list might imply but it should give you some basic insight into how things work.

Oh,  I almost forgot. Take the game for what it is. Similar to WoW in many ways, different in others and a melting pot. Unreasonable expectations will only lead you to be let down with this game for the sole reason that it's core focus is not revolutionizing the genre.

 

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Darkfall: The Destiny of Indie MMOs?

Posted by GameByNight Tuesday September 8 2009 at 1:27AM
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You know, there’s a lot of great things I’d like to say about Darkfall. Like, how they’re setting a new precedent for patch releases and content upgrades. How they’re the premiere competitor for any MMO company releasing patches. How they’re more of a true MMO than any of the current crop of Disneyland games overwhelming the market. Unfortunately, I can’t.

The fact is, no one really cares what Darkfall’s up to. It doesn’t matter that they’re introducing systems into their games the likes of which we’ve rarely seen before. It doesn’t matter that they’re taking existing systems and features and making them their own. Or that it’s perhaps the best sandbox world this side of EVE. Not one bit.

I honestly think that if a game like LotRO or WoW were to introduce naval combat or a working weather/season system, it’d make the news for every big MMO site out there. If Blizzard started cranking out meaningful patches at the rate Aventurine is, well hot damn, we’d have a new industry standard.

People write it off for two key reasons: it’s a PvP game and it’s made by a small developer. I think that most places, especially outlets for gaming news, throw the game out right off the for the sole reason that smaller amounts of money will be invested into it. Never mind that that doesn’t make much sense, just look at the facts. Darkfall is up to very interesting things and the amount of coverage it’s gotten has been miniscule at best.

There’s a lot of really interesting up and comers out there. The fact is, none of them are “AAA” and are therefore destined to earn less. At least initially. And a game that earns less generates fewer page views for the companies that run our news sites.

By following that logic, any indie game that intends to go somewhere had better have a big marketing budget available for after they launch. Sites like Massively will tear upcoming games to bits with the amount of coverage they’ll provide but once the game launches and performs as expected, the amount of articles plummets to sad levels. The MMO explorer is then forced to Google fan pages and blogs, which isn’t the most consistent resource for any company with something to sell. Sometimes that reader might find a great resource in the battle reports from someone like Syncaine. The next person might stumble across the boundless cesspool that is Darkfall Goons.

In my opinion, even the best, most cliché, indie MMO is probably going to stay that way. They’ll have a small audience and smaller reporting across the net. That’s one key reason why developing an MMO is a risky endeavor unless you’re a multi-billion dollar company. Hey Aventurine, pool your money together and hire Ozzy. Maybe if he’s on board some of the more touristy writers will jump back on board.

 

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Appreciating the little things

Posted by GameByNight Tuesday September 8 2009 at 1:26AM
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You know, when we’re playing a game, a lot of times we take little details for granted. I know that I’m guilty of that, instead focusing on issues like PvP, questing, spells, and the rest of the store front systems we’re so used to discussing. Today, I’d like to take a moment and look at some of the little details I’ve really appreciated in games.

The thing that got me thinking about this was the latest episode of the MMO Fo’ Show podcast. The hosts, Syp and Snafzg, decided to do a retrospective on World of Warcraft and one of the things they commented on was how cool they found some of the smallest details, like seeing your breath puff out in front of your character, outside of Ironforge. I appreciated the comment because I also found those things very cool when I first started. Yet, I stopped noticing them within about two days.

Like so many other things, you start noticing them again when they’re gone. In my case, this happens the most when I’m dabbling in several different titles. Thankfully, my ADHD gaming style has let me see some of the nicer touches the different game studios have tossed into their MMOs. Here are some of my favorites:

* Seeing your breath in cold areas
* Leaving footprints in the snow or sand
* Seeing stones go flying as slide down a steep incline
* Ambient sounds, like birds or the creaking of trees in the woods
* Pulling a leaf out to hide from the rain in Aion
* The way your griffon’s wings flutter in the air in WoW
* The drunken haze effect when you’ve had one too many, especially in LotRO, which left me a little dizzy in real life after completing the Inn League quest line
* Realistic NPC dialogue, not related to your character
* Being able to climb up hills and mountains
* The “ping, ping, ping” sound of mining
* The fact that water current actually pushes you in Darkfall
* Realistic buoyancy, when you jump from high cliffs, also found in Darkfall
* The fun pet animations in Free Realms

These are just a few amongst the hundreds, if not thousands, of little flourishes found in our favorite games. It’s these little details that turn an MMO from a playground into a world and give it the breath of life it takes to really immerse.

On the other hand, when a game lacks some of these features it can be a little jarring. For example, it always bugged me that characters couldn’t jump in Guild Wars. Does it really damage game play? No. Still, I feel like something’s missing without that ability whether it really serves a purpose or not.

Another one that I really missed was the lack of footprints in many games outside of WoW. This bothered me especially much in WAR. Their graphical style tended to look like things were wrapped in a protective plastic coating. Your character not leaving footprints where they so obviously should made it feel like I was climbing hills made of plastic instead of dirt and stone.

It’s easy to forget about these things but when you really stop to take notice, you see how many small moving parts these games really have. It can really be awe inspiring.

 

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How WoW saved my hide

Posted by GameByNight Tuesday September 8 2009 at 1:25AM
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I haven't had much time for gaming the last couple of days. My wife and I secured a two-bedroom half house, so yesterday was spent packing and today moving. A couple of good friends came and helped out too, both of which are big Warcraft fans.

One, Orin, is a friend I've played with in almost every MMO I've tried, so we spent a good amount of time talking about the upcoming WoW expansion, Aion, LotRO, and the various other games we've been following. Overall, it made for a good visit, even though we spent most of the day moving furniture.

Midway through the day we took a detour to my college to pickup the textbooks I'd been avoiding. Since my car was still filled with boxes, Orin offered to drive. When we were done, he dropped me off at the old apartment to pick up my car, my books still in his backseat for lack of room in my own. Sure enough, they were still in his backseat when he left. A couple of hours later, and after a few panicked moments of searching, I called him to discover a truth I'd hoped wasn't the case.

Now, for most of my friends, I'd just take the drive out to their place to pick them up. And so arises the problem. At this point, it's 7:30PM and Orin lives a good 90 minute drive away. On top of that, there's not putting off the pick-up since I needed the books for an assignment. I called him to see if he's meet me somewhere in between. As luck would have it, he was short on gas and waiting on a paycheck for his next fill up. Checking my wallet and finding only a debit card, I resigned myself to making the full trip.

About half way there, it hit me. I called him right away and asked, “Hey man, I can't offer you cash right now but what would you think about 1000 gold in WoW instead?” Sure enough, that clicked his trigger and convinced him to make the extra drive. Twenty minutes later, we met in a parking lot and I had my books.

Right now, I'm feeling pretty freaking grateful WoW decided to go casual. If epic flyers still cost 5000g, I'd still be scrounging at my current 3000. Instead, I find myself with a 2000g surplus with enough to offer my buddy a good starter fund for his newbie. Thank you part-timers!

So, tonight, I say thank you to Blizzard for getting me home before 11 o'clock. This is probably the only time in my life where WoW will save me time. Now that I'm home, mostly unpacked and well worn out, I think it's time to relax with a good game.

Maybe I'll even be able to get a start on that, right after I read this chapter on literary theory. Oh college, you old rascal!

Tomorrow awaits folks, until then!

 

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Enough with this WoW clone crap

Posted by GameByNight Tuesday September 8 2009 at 1:23AM
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I’ve heard this thought echoed across the internet for months now and it’s getting a little old. Aion Online is not a “WoW Clone.” By repeating that little bleet, all you’re doing is proclaiming your ignorance of what the game is even about.

What is it that makes a game a clone of WoW anyways? That is has quests? Classes? A UI? You’d might think that if you believe claims like these. Well, let’s get this straight, any MMO worth it’s merit has these things. Stop proclaiming any game that doesn’t re-imagine the UI is a clone of WoW. LotRO and WAR both got the same rap and, you know what, neither of them are clones of the golden god of 800-lb gorillas.

You know what I’ll cop to? The game is reminiscent of WoW in the questing/PvE progression model. The added truth behind that? That makes up less than half the game if you play it to max level, unless you explicitly choose to make it your main game.

At level 25 you get to the core of the Aion Online experience and that’s the Abyss. And, guess what, the Abyss is not Lake Wintergrasp.

If you’re going to grasp at straws the game has more in common with DAoC than WoW, but most of the people throwing these criticisms wouldn’t know that. These are the people that probably started and will finish their MMO careers with World of Warcraft. To those people, let me point this out, WoW is an Everquest clone dumbed way down. Every new fantasy game that comes out is a “WoW Clone.” Well, WoW didn’t reinvent the wheel anymore than other games out there.

You know the sad truth of the argument? At it’s core, Aion does have a big similarity to WoW. You know what it is? That it’s taken the ideas of other successful games and made them their own. It’s taken that melting plot philosophy to heart and added to it. The questing model is similar to WoW. The story delivery echoes of LotRO. The leveling grind echoes of Final Fantasy XI. The PvPvE takes the best parts of DAoC and WAR.

Tell me how combining all of these things together and polishing it to a gleam is a bad thing. Games forever have borrowed from one another. And, you know what? At this point, it’d be pretty hard to be totally unique anyways. Try to write a book or a song that hasn’t already been imagined some way before. You won’t be able to do it.

All of this WoW Clone crap just reeks of bitterness. WoW is a PvE game with a PvP option. Aion Online is a PvPvE game. They’re all tied. If you’re yelling about Aion being WoW in a new setting, you haven’t played it long enough or are reading the wrong sources. Leveling =/= clone.

- Chris

PS: If you’re looking for what’s similar and what’s not, check out these articles:

- Q&A: Aion vs. WoW – Keen and Graev
- Comparing Aion vs. WAR – Keen and Graev
- Extendable Weapons – Aionic Thoughts (this is just cool, does WoW have these too?)

 


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The real impact of cross server dungeons

Posted by GameByNight Tuesday September 8 2009 at 1:21AM
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One of the lesser known tidbits of information to come out of Blizzcon is that WoW will soon support cross server dungeons. This is an update they plan to release before the expansion hits in one of the few remaining major patches headed our way.

When I first read about this, I was ecstatic. As a daytime player, one of the most limiting factors in my play is that it's nearly impossible to raid. Even five mans can take forever and a day to put together, especially if you're short on a healer or tank. Admittedly, this technology will only support five-mans at first but, according to Eurogamer, it's made to support 10 and 25 man raids as well. The five man roll out will let them test the waters and work out the kinks in the system before opening it up to the more complex raid pairing system.

At first glance, one would think that the key impact of this addition is “hey, it'll be easier to find groups now!” and you'd probably be right. But I think the effects will be a little bit more widespread than that. Let's look at some of the bigger possibilities, as well as some changes we might expect to see as a result.

(For those looking for the TL;DR version, I've bolded the key points)

* Anytime raiding: Probably the biggest breakdown of the current structure will be what I touched on above. If players have dozens of servers to be matched through, it won't be necessary to have scheduled raid times for the casual player. That's right, no more “7-12AM MWF” unless that's what you'd like to do. It's one more step to make raids accessible to all players and the one I would have liked they implement long ago. I think the key to opening up the raiding game lies in giving players options on how to address it, not making it easier for everyone. This is a step in the right direction and I applaud it.


* Cross-server friends list/chat: If we're going to be allowed to take on challenges with folks from all across the server-sphere, it's only natural that we'll be able to add some of them to our friends list. Likewise, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to think that we might be able to send whispers back and forth. WoW is, at it's core, a social game and becomes more so with each successive patch. This would be a great move to expand that.

* Advanced LFG/LFM tools: You can't rely on the current match making system to give you a working group for every situation. It doesn't take into account spec, class, or really anything other than the “role” the player chooses. Ideally, this system will get a revamp when they make these changes.

* Guild-free organizations: Now, I know what a lot of people would say to my first point, you're still going to be stuck with scheduled raid times unless you want to PuG everything. And there you'd probably be right. Raids require organization and the every-day PuG will struggle through all but the easiest encounters. Yet, with the rise of cross-server raiding, I think we'll also see more organization outside of guilds. Guild-free organization isn't common but it can work. Take Earthen Ring's SASU. There you have lots of guilded and unguilded alike working together to arrange raid times that work for them. And all it takes is a forum.

* Decline of server firsts: If people are allowed to work together regardless of server, individual servers are going to matter less. It's not going to mean so much that Pep Boys on Twisting Nether downed Blackwing first if that rag tag group of multi-server ruffians can do it the next day. I'd expect to see some outrage from the elitist raiding community if this turns out to be the case but I think it's fairly evident that Blizzard isn't catering to them anymore.

* Dungeon gear devalued: How long will it take players to get all the 5-man gear for their class if they can attack every heroic, every day? One of the self-limiting factors of the current system is that it's almost impossible to get a group for every dungeon. I see no reason why this should be the case after cross-server queuing gets dropped. Yet, does it really matter? Purple is the new blue and we'll see an influx of players geared for raids as a result.

* Rampant ninja looting: This will probably be the biggest issue you hear complained about on the forums. It'll be awfully easy for less-than-stellar players to grab gear and run when they don't have anyone to answer to once they drop group. As a result, I think we can expect Blizzard to crack down. Anonymity is well and good but enabling ass-hatery isn't something I think they'll be endorsing more than they currently do.

* A community too far: In Warhammer Online, players and developers alike decried allowing cross server battlegrounds because it kills server community. You stop seeing the same names popping up again and again and instead find yourself fighting against the anonymous in every battle. It's no different with dungeons. In a game like WoW, we have to ask, does it really matter? People are separated out by playstyle in many ways now. Players tend to find guilds and make their friends there. Everyone else is like a worker amongst honeybees, with the occasional gnat buzzing a little louder than the rest. For the average person, it won't mean much, yet, it's undeniable that server communities will become further spread out as a result.

On the whole, I think the positives here outweigh the negatives by a long shot. It's a change that opens more doors to more people and moves us away from that “only 1% see the content” mindset. It may be a while before we see support for full raids, even after they allow 5-man queuing. Still, for a dungeon fan, this a real plus and shows that, despite their quietness, Blizzard pays attention. I give them props for that, even if I don't stay with the game in the long-term.

 

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Why should some roles by more difficult than others?

Posted by GameByNight Tuesday September 8 2009 at 1:19AM
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During my World of Warcraft days, I heard an interesting description of the three trinity roles. It went something like this: DPS is a game, healing is a challenge, tanking is a job. That's a pretty poignant assessment of the classes most of us play if you think about it. The description holds water pretty well too. When you're in a PuG, what are the roles you probably wind up filling last? There's a good reason for that. When you strip everything away, healers and tanks are just less fun to play for most people. If the next WoW expansion is going to launch without a hero class specializing in healing, this is an important part of the game to look at. Is class a barrier?

Let's make the leveling game our starting point. I usually play both a DPS and a tank in most MMOs, so I can speak from experience when I say leveling as DPS is quicker and easier to level up. The experience is a lot more gratifying because dishing out lots of damage makes you feel more powerful right from the get go. A warrior, on the other hand, generally does less damage, uses more defensive abilities, and spends more time swinging his sword at each mob. It's slower and, because of the higher health pools and lack of healing usually results in more down time. From talking to my healer friends, it's a very similar experience. They do less damage, so the fights are longer, and wind up feeling like they're grinding more often than not.

See the problem here? Is it any wonder why more tanks and healers don't make it to the level cap? I don't see a good reason why either role has to play that way. Why should their game be less fun because they don't blow things up from a distance? Is the best way to make sure tanks and healers don't out-DPS the DPS to gimp them for the first few dozen levels of the game?

Group play also lives up to the assessment. If the tank messes up, the group wipes. If the healer messes up, the group will probably wipe. If the DPS messes up, the group may wipe. Each role has less responsibility than the one before it. Out of all in the trinity, the tank has to be the most on game. They have to know they skills best and have enough knowledge to know when to push what hotkey. Healers are in the same boat. And if the worst happens and a wipe does occur, more often than not the tank or the healer is going to get blamed. It's stressful and, I don't know about you, but I don't play MMOs to be stressed out.

Why should it be harder to hold aggro than to deal damage? There's no good reason for it. None.

It all ties back to the days of pen and paper gaming. Somewhere along the line, a game maker decided that to excel in one role each class must be gimped in another. And frankly, that's lazy design. Classes should be able to excel in their role so that they're needed in groups without making the rest of the game less fun. We're locked in a cycle of repeated ideas playing over and over again like a tired movie.

These ideas also fly in the face of accessibility. Eurogamer recently posted a couple of great articles on why WoW caught on with the mass market. The key word in that part of the article was accessibility. Yet, for all that it did right, it made the two most important group roles substantially harder than the third and brought on five years of “LFM tank of healz only!” They opened up enough doors to explode the MMORPG market but for some reason clung to the idea of tanking as a prestigious instead of a fun role. Since then, they've been playing catch up by making off specs more viable, yet the after taste that's left is that you're a second rate impression of Class Y.

More damaging is the fact that modern day game design pushes players away from fulfilling their optimum role. The trend right now is to allow players to work through games at their own pace and with their favorite style. What winds up happening though is that healers and tanks get to the level cap with very little group experience and don't develop the skills required of them until they're under the gun. And when inevitable mistakes are made in this process, their group are likely to get frustrated because, after all, they should have learned to play their class before hitting cap. The end result is a frustrated group and a frustrated tank/healer that decides DPS is a funner way to play.

The response from some is simple: “if you don't like it, play another class/game.” That's well and good but I would have to ask why any one role should be less fun than another? Is it because the people who play it well should be proud they made it to the end? I tend to think that anyone playing their class well deserves respect for it, no matter what role they're filling. Or is it to hold up an old flame from the roots of MMOs?

The answer, in my opinion, is to 1) make tanking easier for all tanking classes and give players practice in this throughout leveling. 2) make group success more dependent on DPS, and 3) bring healer and tank leveling up to par with their DPS counterparts. I don't like it when classes get nerfed unless there's a bug being exploited, so why not simply bump up the power up healers and tanks to compensate? Make damage output dependent on group status, so if you're solo you'll do more damage than when you're in a group with actual DPS classes. These are just a couple of solutions to bring class accessibility up to par with game accessibility. What do you think?


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MMORPGs: Adult Playgrounds

Posted by GameByNight Tuesday September 8 2009 at 1:16AM
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When an elementary teacher gets certified, it's done with the understanding that they've been taught how to teach the four key subject areas: math, science, social studies, and language. Bear with me here, because it gets around to games. When the time came for me to tackle my Methods in Science course, one of the requirements was that I do a two-week+ observation and analysis on a behavior of my choice. I had a heavy workload at the time , so I'm not ashamed to admit I was looking for an easy way out. I chose to study play in my two cats (something I could do passively), how they played together as well as independently and the behavioral impact of when they were deprived of play (don't worry, I wasn't cruel about it). Tobold's recent “Why Do We Play” series brought my mind back to this exercise. The results of the study, while not surprising to those with pets, relate directly to we as gamers. There's more to it than that though and that's what I'd like to look at today.

Stimulation

At it's most basic level, we play for something to do. For the cats, it gave them exercise but, more than that, it gave them a break in the mundane that it is their life. In much the same way, games provide that for us. They are an escape, a refuge, and represent the potential for the unexpected.

Be it a mouse or string, my play with the cats revolved around exploiting their instinctual urges to chase and attack. What is it then that games exploit in us?

From the time we are born, play is of incredible importance. We want to manipulate our environment because, through that, we grow our minds and build our understanding. This continues all throughout childhood; the way in which we play changes yet the purpose remains the same. As we get older, the necessity of play is thought to decrease as we prepare for adulthood.

Yet, instinctively, we are hard wired to explore and imagine. Society, however, is not kind to this schematic and, more often than not, tends to shun it. Creativity isn't the key to a successful future and, when it is, it's the supreme rarity.

What's left is a deficit in what we need to satisfy our minds. People fulfill this in many ways but for us, it tends to be games. They give us the unexpected and visualize what it is that we used to imagine. In short, games call out to our inner children while requiring the skills of an adult to complete. It's a beautiful dance of imagination and coordination that touches on our inner selves in a direct way; this inner part of our self is that inner child, which may well be why non-gamers don't understand our love for gaming; we are, after all, out of that phase of life now, as their own hobbies probably indicate.

Making Sandboxes from Theme Parks

MMORPGs in particular call out to our inner children because they provide us with a world of perceived possibilities. When we're young, we don't know the world well enough to differentiate all that is possible from all that is not. MMORPGs remove the reins from our hands so we're left with a similar blind spot; we can never know what may or may not happen in a game because we don't control it and can never fully understand it.

The most successful MMORPG out there makes us feel free while also providing us with a tailored experience. Perhaps a key limitation of most adult minds is that we can never fully achieve the imagination of our childhood selves once we have moved past it. When I was a kid, I remember playing Spy in my backyard and pretending that I was being hunted by soldiers. When the time came, I could almost see them coming after me. In games, though they provide us with a world where we know the possibilities are nearly endless, a little hand holding helps us move past the valleys in our own imaginings. They give us an experience and set it in a world. Those two facts create the illusion of a sandbox without actually making us build all the castles. Games that do require that are a rarity these days because, simply, they're harder for most people to have fun in.

Socialization and Progression: The Real Challenge in MMOs

For an animal, play represents practice. There is purpose behind it, even if they're not aware of it. When they attack that mouse on a string, they're readying themselves for the hunt. Does an MMORPG represent anything like that for us?

In some ways, yes.

Why is it that we choose to play MMOs instead of console games? After all, many console games provide worlds of consistency and, if we're being honest, generally provide better “game” experiences than those we favor. At the core, I believe that most of us turn to MMOs because they are a social outlet. Even if we choose to never talk to another person the whole time we play, we still derive something from being around other players.

Inside ourselves is a social desire. For some of us, we may log in and tackle challenges solo while talking to our guild. Others might join a PuG and run through a dungeon. Still others might grind quests quietly, all the while knowing that they're part of something, this group of people playing the game, even if they do so alone, when they may not have that in their day to day life. On the latest Spouse Aggro, Beau made an excellent point that it probably doesn't take much to make a person feel better about themselves. Simple interactions, positive remarks, and good moments, can give us a boost and make us feel better, even if our lives aren't bad to begin with.

So, what practice do these games provide? Interaction, teamwork, organization.

I've talked about challenge in MMOs before, so I won't rehash that topic here. I don't believe we stay with this genre because they're hard or require great intellectual throughput. I think we stay here because, well, we like doing something with other people, actively or passively.

Anticipating the Future

Finally, the last point I'd like to discuss is the simple act of anticipating something. We become emotionally invested in our games, more often than not, because of the social connections we build within them. Even if the social connections fail, there's still the association that's been built around the game those connections were created within.

It's not surprising then that we care when things change. We get excited about patches and expansions and new releases. We look forward to all of the little things that may be coming down the pipeline. It's the potential to be awed that keeps us baited; the potential for experience (and not XP). All that is tied up in these games, the fact that they are our equivalent of a child's play, makes them the perfect outlet for our imaginings. We read blogs, check out websites, and listen to podcasts to fulfill our desire for information on something we care about.

At it's core, it's hope. We hope that next game or patch brings us something incredible. That's what the game companies try to sell us, after all. We hope that it's a step forward towards immersion and towards a real virtual world. We hope for innovation, even though it usually doesn't work (and isn't that the way of all innovation?), because even if it doesn't and we're let down or frustrated, in our hearts we know that it moves us one step closer to what it is that we are looking for. And maybe that thing is a little different for all of us.

We're built to look forward. When my cats were derived of play for a day, they became restless. They cried out and looked to me with eyes that asked me what their voices could not. And I felt bad for them. If that were to continue, to make them devoid of hope, they would lose interest in their play and also lose an intellectual output that was important to them.

As we would. MMORPGs are not static things. They do not exist in a vacuum and must always move forward or else risk losing their base. In their own way, they are creatures of anticipation. They give players something to look forward to through all of the possibilities and opportunities they provide. If there was no anticipation, there would be no MMORPG as we know it today.

In Closing

I know this article is a bit lengthy but it's something I've been kicking around for a while. As a blogger, I spend a decent amount of time thinking of things I'd like to write about. More often than not, I get grandiose ideas that humanize the inhumanitable or draw connections that are difficult to articulate. I hope that, despite its length, this article might shed a little light on what it is I see in MMORPGs and the perspective I write from. Why do I play? Because someone gave me a world of toy soldiers and said do with it what you will.

I read a book recently called Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Though I'm usually not a fan of Science Fiction, I read this book as a kid and decided to come back to it. There's a revolving image in the story around a “fantasy game” the main character plays in. Though the book was conceived before the first graphical MMO ever saw release, it still captures exactly where it is games are heading: freedom of experience and choice and, really, everything. The “fantasy” game let the player do whatever they wanted exactly how they wanted to, as if they were in the game themselves. It is our passion for gaming that has brought these conceptualizations where they are today and, with any luck, will continue to push them forward.

Diversification is inevitable and not a bad thing. I've felt let down by games in the past-- and it usually wasn't much to do with the game and more to do with what I sought from it -- but I'm excited looking ahead. Aren't you and shouldn't we all be?

 

Welcome to Game by Night!

Posted by GameByNight Tuesday September 8 2009 at 1:11AM
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Hello and welcome to Game by Night, a blog about gaming, media, life, and roses, presented to you with a refreshing, candid, perspective. Some of you may be coming here from another blog. Others may have stumbled through the webbing of your favorite search engine's nets. In either case, we hope you'll stay for a while and be our guest.

Why would you do that, you ask? Well, honestly, because I really really want you to. Really though, we're here to offer you our opinion on anything and everything we come across in the gaming world, and the geek and not-so-geek media. Myself, I'm a veteran of several MMORPGs and have a passion for the genre. Yet, myself and others are also involved in the console communities, so you can expect articles on that as well. We aim to provide you with insightful topics for your mental digestion. We intend to provide reviews and guides. We're even planning on providing short, serialized, fiction for those of you that enjoy it.

More than anything though, we want to entertain you. I know personally the dreariness that is the day-to-day work-a-job life. Isn't it nice to have something else to think about while you're shackled to your cubicle or stripper pole? I thought so. Hopefully, this place and the discussion we bring forth will provide that for you. And, if not, we hope it can be a brief interlude for the pleasant times, an escape for bad times (like when the wife/husband is getting your goat), and a resource for every other.

As our tagline suggests, we've been gamers for a long time. Hopefully, that means we can put our years of experience into our posts here, and come out with a refreshing look at the topics of the day. I'm not going to promise we'll write about any one thing more than the other but our central focus will always be gaming.

If you're interested in finding out more about the writer's of this site, click on the Contributors link over to your left.

We hope to see you again!

-- Chris