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Level 0 Perspective

She cuts me into a thousand beautiful pieces.

Author: DopSillypant

Incorporating Genres Into MMOs

Posted by DopSillypant Monday April 20 2009 at 5:03PM
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MUD, MOG, MMOG, MMORPG, MMORTS, MMOFPS, PWNS? (Don’t ask, really, don’t.)

 

This post is not game specific, so here's another cute picture.

 

Genre-mixing, for lack of a better term, is the incorporation of other game genres into MMORPGs. Some games adopt all aspects of the second genre, some adopt a little. The path of a current MMO studio is a treacherous one; If they stick too close to the original formula, they get coined “uninspired” or “another WoW clone”. If they stray too far into another genre, they risk scaring away the close-minded or introducing a difficult learning curve. When it comes to MMO customers, some (or a lot) of us are arrogant enough to believe that we hold the secret to making America’s Next Top MMO. Admittingly… I’m one of them, oh if only those goofy developers would listen!

Most of the current NA/EU genre-mixing MMOs have only assimilated a small portion of another genre, and it’s reflected in the studios’ and publishers’ hesitance in using new and fancy acronyms. Better to deliver a seemingly traditional MMORPG with unique new “features” than to be a MMOFPS that fails to deliver…right? For the companies? Maybe. For the bored MMO veterans? Absolutely not.

Luckily for us, WoW. It’s no surprise to anyone that has kept up with MMOs, developers are getting bolder and more venturous when it comes to crossing over into other genres. The explosive success of WoW has advanced this movement in two conflicting ways; By expanding the MMO audience and awareness, niche genre-mixed MMOs have a much larger exposure rate to potential customers, and with WoW’s firmly rooted claws in the market, new games are forced to innovate by genre-mixing or otherwise, to distinguish themselves as an interesting alternative.

There are many, many disgruntled MMO veterans, impatiently waiting for an unique, revolutionary "Perfect Game" to blow WoW away. Realize however, that WoW is only an extremely good iteration of the traditional MMORPG genre, dabbling in other genres as features are added over the years.  If MMORPG is classical music, Blizzard is Bach, he didn't invent classical music, he excelled at it.  When another game takes over the top subscription spot, it will most likely be a better iteration of the same genre. Millions of people don’t change tastes overnight, it takes years, sometimes decades.  In the mean time, look for studios that are willing to mix genres, that are willing to take risks and push the boundaries, give them your support and money and let them know their endeavors are appreciated.

I am a Perfect Game

Posted by DopSillypant Saturday April 18 2009 at 4:13PM
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I’m a perfect game.
I’m a perfect game.
I’m a perfect game.

I’m a perfect game,
A game for the next generation, optmized and bug free.

A multifaceted focus-tested user-generated unoriginal tabula rasa.
A narcissistic egotistic satisfactory experience that leaves you wanting more.

I’ve been upgraded and downsized.
I’ve gained subscriptions but lost revenue.
I’ve been featured and ignored.
I’m free to play, no need to pay, my servers will stay in shape.

I’m liked by the masses, and cater to the niche.
I get updated often, but no downtime.
I’m easy to learn, and hard to master.
I’m customizable, interchangeable, fully capable, and easily forgettable.

I’ve been prepurchased,
Preloaded,
Prepaid,
Preauthorized,
Premade,
Preexperienced,
Preoptimized,
And I’m overly pretentious.

I appeal to the casuals, and reward the hardcore.
I’m made for all ages, but suited for yours.
I’m innovative, interactive, not overreactive.
I’m graphically intensive, visually impressive, and I run on your cellphone.

I’m overused,
Overlooked,
Overgeneralized,
Overcomplicated,
Overdeveloped
Overrated,
Overambitious,
Overhyped,
And my fans are overzealous and overobese.

I’m revolutionarily traditional,
I’m innovatively uninspired.
I don’t force a grind, so that you don’t whine.
I want your attention, no need for devotion.
I’m a completed product, still in development.
I start on a high, with no end in sight.

User commented,
ESRB rated,
Statistically proven,
Market researched,
Work of pure perfection.
 

This is inspired and tributed to the late George Carlin and his work "I'm a Modern Man".  I strongly suggest Youtubing said work, it is a marvelous blend of comedy and sadistic presentation of the brutal reality of the modern age.

My opinion is that you have no right to your opinion

Posted by DopSillypant Monday April 13 2009 at 4:43PM
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As the late George Carlin says, “I have the right to my opinion, and my opinion is that you have no right to your opinion.”

Anyone familiar with internet gaming boards ever since their inception will have no doubt seen and felt the ego volcanos erupt into filthy explosions of angst and self righteousness. George could not have pinpointed the root of such meaningless and directionless arguments any better.

Play what you like, and let others play what they like. Debate and criticism is healthy, but not when done by people that have nothing to offer beyond their personal opinions. Let’s say my imaginary friends Tom and Jeff were arguing about WoW and War and which game they should buy together. Tom claims “Well WoW has much better PvE content, so it’s better” to which Jeff replies “No, War has much better PvE content.” Neither of the two considered what the others’ needs and standards are; what justifies better PvE? Does it have more monster varieties? More dungeons? More complex encounters? How do the two players weigh each factor in determining PvE quality? Tom might love boss encounters that take dedication and time, but Jeff might only have 30 minutes to play. They will not determine the quality of PvE by the same standard. Who is wrong?… the answer is it doesn’t matter; Tom might stand on the side of the mass majority, but that doesn’t mean anything for Jeff if his playstyle is not that of the majority.

There is no definitive ranking when it comes to personal enjoyment of a game, don’t correlate magazine and website ratings with how much you would enjoy it. Hello Kitty Adventure Island might get rated into the abyss on HardCoreGamer magazine, that means absolutely nothing to the little girls playing and enjoying it. Take "rankings" as what they really are, opinions of writer(s). I encourage everyone to try every game and make up their own opinions. Since the majority of MMOs now have free trials, it is truly silly to base your judgement on what other people say, or videos and screenshots. Videos and screenshots only show you a snapshot of an experience that is supposed to last months and years. It is incredibly easy to find 5 minutes of epic, heartpounding action and 5 minutes of dreary boredom within the same game.

That’s just my opinion, and as George says, you have the right to opinion that I have no right to it.
 

 

 

Something reminded me, I always see people in game discussions that confuse a game's "graphics" with its "art style". Games can have great graphics but uninspired art style, or very poor graphics with a creative and unique art style. They're different parts of the same beast.

I really want to do a bit of research and write about that topic in the future.
 

Aion (Combat - PvE)

Posted by DopSillypant Saturday April 11 2009 at 5:24PM
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I specifically stated PvE in the title because I have no PvP experience to speak of in Aion. PvP and PvE combat are vastly different experiences in most MMOs, therefore I wanted to make a clear distinction before delving into the details. 

 


 

Combat in Aion is really in one word: traditional. You have your auto attack, and a list of special abilities that activate when you press the corresponding keys. Aion introduces new factors such as movement-combat-benefits, combo chains, and limited flight form into the mix, but the core of the combat system is still Dungeons & Daevas 1.0.

I can’t defend Aion in this respect, if you’re looking for genre-mixing, genre-defying, or genre-evolving PvE combat, Aion doesn’t offer it. It’s the same old cake with an extra layer of caramel on top, enough to keep some customers happy, but not enough for others. Still, let’s look at the Aion cake and what the extra layer is composed of.

  1. Movement Combat Benefits, if you have seen the recent GDC’09 Aion presentation you already know what I’m talking about. When you’re in combat, moving forward gives you a slight damage bonus, moving backwards gives you a slight defense bonus, strafing gives you a slight evasion bonus. These bonuses do not kick in the instant you move, there is a second delay, although I can’t be sure if that’s caused by my high latency connecting overseas or not. These bonuses are not significant, but definitely noticeable over the long run.  In PvE there are so many speedy ways to recover your HP that I don’t see a major benefit in utilizing the movement bonuses, at least not at low levels.
  2. Combo Chains, using certain level 1 abilities unlock level 2 abilities, then level 3 and so on. Don’t confuse this with the Warhammer or Spellborn mechanics though, not all level 1 abilities unlock all level 2 abilities; it’s not a tiered system but specific, predefined combos.
  3. Limited Flight Form, limited in terms of flight time, you can’t stay airborne forever, at least not in the regular PvE areas.  There are skills and equipment that can increase your flight capabilities but your aerial prowess is always limited. Flight form in Aion has no control limitations, you move in true 3 dimensions, and you can do combat the exact same way in the air as you do on land. The flight is nicely implemented so that it feels like an extension of your character’s abilities, and not some awkward flying machine that you struggle with. I have not spent enough time with the game to see how flight impacts the PvE combat, but the PvP implications are obvious.

 

 

If you take a look at the numerous PvE gameplay videos of Aion on the web, let’s face it, they’re boring, nobody wants to watch someone else’s character wave a sword around, make pretty colors in front of a crab and get experience and loot that has no relevance to the viewer. If I look at videos of the first few levels of PvE in any current MMO, the vast majority of them would bore me to tears, yet when I play these same games, the sword waving and color flashing gained sudden significance. I was stabbing the crab, I was causing the flashes, I was gaining the 5 gold that this crab somehow acquired and kept under his shell. So the next time you try to judge a game based on gameplay footage, check what portion of the game you’re watching, and remember that for MMOs, there is a connection to the character that you can’t experience vicariously.

As Paul Barnett puts it; most console games are “lean-back” games, while most MMOs are “lean-in” games. Console games are built around entertaining everyone in the room, be it the player or the viewers, they all lean back in their chairs and watch the show. MMOs are “lean-in”, they pull you into their game and try to immerse you in their world. You’re not controlling a predefined character, you’re controlling you.

Now that I’ve successfully grossed out everyone with the glorious romantisization of MMOs, I’ll end by saying this: Although not revolutionary, Aion’s systems are so polished and modernized that I don’t think the traditional combat style would be a detriment to the overall game. I’m always one to push for innovation, but if given the choice between innovation and Aion’s level of polish, that caramel-topped cake looks mighty delicious.


Will probably talk about graphics and art next.

Aion (Movement)

Posted by DopSillypant Saturday April 11 2009 at 1:20AM
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A year or two ago, before any detailed Aion info came out, the first thing that worried me was the movement controls, Korean MMOs have an absolute requirement that says the game must be playable with click-to-move.  What I had read was that since most asian MMO players play from web-cafes, they usually have one hand on the mouse and another with a cigarette, a drink or food.  Hence the click-to-move requirement.

 

 Elysean City, Sanctum

 

I won't lie: I hate click-to-move, I don't feel in control of my character because I can't control the direction he faces and the direction he travels independently of each other.  If Aion was mainly designed around click-to-move, then it was definitely not going to be my cup of tea.  A year passes and more gameplay videos appear on the web, from the earlier videos it was obvious that Aion allows keyboard movement, but I was still uncertain if it was responsive and smooth instead of some afterthought for the western market.  Until a few days ago. 

Not only does Aion use keyboard movement, it is perfectly responsive, has smooth direction transition, and separate animations for diagonal running, forward running and backtracking.  Now this sounds like a standard that every MMO should have, and most western MMOs in recent years do meet this standard of smooth movement and seamless animation transitions.  In all honesty though, eastern MMOs do not have a good track record of such, so I was happy and relieved that Aion did not fall short in this department.  For anyone that has played WoW, Aion's movement control is 99% identical to it.

Of course, using CryEngine instead of the same old tweaked out Unreal 2 engine certainly helps!

 

Next up will probably be concerning combat, since movement in Aion ties in closely to combat efficiency.

Aion Random Features and Tidbits

Posted by DopSillypant Friday April 10 2009 at 7:13PM
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I've decided to update this specific entry with random, small features that I notice in Aion, small, arguably insignificant info that will be difficult to find elsewhere.

 

 

- The initial load and zone load times are very, VERY fast, I have an above average PC but nowhere near the bleeding edge of commercial technology, yet when I log in and load the first zone it takes literally less than 2 seconds.

- The default interface can be switched to a "HUD Top" mode, or as I like to call "WoW mimicry" mode, where it puts the individual components of the UI into that of the WoW style.

- Lots of purely cosmetic animations.  Such as taking out a leaf-umbrella when it begins to rain, or splashing the water when you stand in a lake.

- Background music switches to Battle BGM when you engage in combat, or simply take out your weapon.  Battle BGM can be turned off.

- Each spell cast is invoked by a small chant, as L2.

- 4 voice sets for each gender, the voice sets apply to casting chants, grunts, or general emoticon voices.

- Personal bazaars as with most Asian MMOs.

- When swinging a weapon, each strike briefly stops the swinging animation to simulate actual contact with the enemy, again a small addition apparent in some Asian MMOs.

- Armor type proficiency is not mutually exclusive but encompassing, if you can wear Chain then you can wear anything lighter than Chain.

- No collision detection (at least for PvE), you can walk through enemies.

- Personal Banks and Guild Banks ("Warehouse", "Legion Warehouse"), and a separate Account-wide Warehouse.

- You can take a piece of gear, and change it's appearance to that of any other equal slot gear that you own, this service costs a small fee and you must be level 30+.

- Your radar shows friendlies and enemies with green and red dots respectively, however the dots only show up if they are within your character's view of approximately 120" peripheral.  If enemies were coming up from behind you, your radar would not show them.

A Leaping Start (Nah, let's just talk about Aion)

Posted by DopSillypant Friday April 10 2009 at 4:30PM
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"Do people realize that they can quit a MMO without declaring legendary hatred for it?"

I wanted to start my entry by explaining what I meant by that statement, but hell, that's boring and who really cares what I think about MMOs right?

So let's talk about something more definitive and recent, Aion.

 

Aion Main Background

 

Since NCsoft released the first Aion trailer back in 07, it had always stayed within my gaming peripheral vision, mainly because of the graphics and art style.  Vain, I know, but why fight instinct and nature.

My interest in Aion resulted in frequent searches for information with the tenacity of a starving chikadee during a snowy winter.  Tidbits of concept art and screenshots pop up here and there, with some information about game mechanics, classes, the usual.  Come April 8th and the Chinese open beta started.  I'm able to read and write Chinese,  so ecstatic is an understatement.

 

Taking a break

 

A couple of hours later, Aion was up and running.  The character creation is a marvel to behold.  There are the usual options such as hair, face, color.  The head and body geometry of your character can be manipulated.  The geometry manipulation is very pronounced, allowing you to create monstrous giants, tiny knee-high people, fat bastards or Calista Flockharts.

I'll get into the actual gameplay and game mechanics in the next entry.