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The staff of gets together to bring you some behind the scenes insights on stories, the industry and the site itself.

Author: staffblog

Contributors: BillMurphy,MikeB,garrett,SBFord,Grakulen,

You Can Never Go Home Again

Posted by BillMurphy Wednesday March 31 2010 at 6:20PM
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I’ve been playing a lot of Warhammer Online lately, among pretty much every other MMO I own or have an account for, but never one exclusively at the moment.  The last game I played as if it and I were in a committed relationship was WAR back when it first launched.  I played it and nothing else (not even single player experiences I don’t think) for nigh on six months.  I used to truly invest in each MMO purchase I made.  Since then I’ve bounced around like many of us do from betas to old games to new releases and back again, and I’ve come to this conclusion… I may never find a virtual home again.
I know a lot of the cynics would say that this is because none of these games are good enough to call home.  Or that the communities aren’t there to help us invest the way we used to in games like Ultima Online or Asheron’s Call.  But I’m not convinced that’s the case.  I’m not saying that the lack of vibrant and tight-knit communities isn’t part of the problem.  But I think there are a myriad of reasons I simply can’t stay in one virtual world for longer than a week at a time before needing to visit other locales.
Here are a few of the reasons for my recent MMO-ADD fits, and I’ll let you tell me if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms as well:
  • There are too many choices!  Granted a lot of the games on offer share quite a few similarities, but there are so many choices for what kind world I want to be a part of that I have a hard time picking just one.
  • Ennui.  Tying a bit into the first symptom, while there are a bevy of games for us to play they all do sometimes blend together.  It all creates this feeling of unrest and discontentment that leads me to the “Grass is Greener” train of thought and the next thing I know I find myself dropping a nearly level-capped character in one game to start anew in another.
  • Nothing will ever be as good as the first game you fall for.  My first love, as I professed a long time ago, is no longer running.  It was a faulty game, but I remember AC2 very fondly.  And while there are certainly games which play and perform miles ahead of Turbine’s forgotten son, I can’t help but miss it from time to time.
And as I’m writing this, I’m starting to think that this game-hopping isn’t such a bad thing.  I will always crave the days where I was tied deeply to my community and the game I played, and maybe someday a new game will inspire that type of devotion again.  But until that happens, I should probably stop complaining about the good ol’ days being gone, and instead be glad I have so many games to bounce between giving me the luxury to complain at all. 
And besides, I’m monogamous with my future bride.  I don’t have to be with my leisure activities.  At least not right now… I’m sowing my nerdy oats.  I just hope I don’t make any of these games pregnant… I don’t want no baby digital-daddy drama.
I apologize for that last sentence.  Someone in the office is blaring Maury Povich right now and it seeped into my stream of consciousness.

PAX East - The End

Posted by garrett Tuesday March 30 2010 at 12:16PM
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So PAX East ended for me with a bang on our Future of Online Games Panel. Before I start I want to thank Bob Ferarri, Curt Schilling, Craig Alexander, and Paul Barnett for getting up in front of the fans and fielding questions.

The panel bought up a lot of great points in our industry. With questions about how you define an MMO to free to play, to what will be the WoW Killer, we had a lot to discuss.

I will say that putting game executives and developers in with fans makes for a great atmosphere. I often say that devs are just the DMs of our friday night games, and why wouldn't they want to make their players happy.

The one resounding message from all of the guys is that they are listening to their players. They are making decisions based on player feedback in Betas as well as in live games. This is a comforting thought as MMOs grow and age, the audience becomes much more about the service of the developers rather than the levels and games that they initially produce.

I spent some time with Matt 'Positron' Miller on Saturday night and the City of Heroes crew at their player meet and greet and was happy to see the loyalty between both players and developers on that game.

The more I think online games grow in popularity the more I think they will become a service industry for players.

In the end everyone wants a great game. I am happy to report that devs are really starting to listen to players, at least, from what we saw this weekend. Let's hope this trend continues.

PAX East - Day One

Posted by garrett Friday March 26 2010 at 9:34AM
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Badges check....

Coffee check.....

Gaming check....

Pax East inBoston starts today and the lobby of the Sheraton already had Magic Duels, D&D games in the restaurants, and people talking games.

Ah a game convention where the dudes wear black and the chicks wear cosplay...YaY!

PAX East looks good so far. We picked up our badges and got a chance to walk around. Ran into the Fallen Earth Team at the hotel and found out that someone knitted a scarf for Paul Barnett to go with his badge. The games industry is just that type of place. I was online for coffee talking to some Korean reps from a game company, when the German guys behind us started asking questions as well, they were from a hardware company in Germany...all this happens right here in the most American of cities, Boston. The global feel of the game market is very inspiring and fun to see people from all over the world excited about games.

Last night we took in the Made in Boston Party over at MIT. Turbine and 38 Studios was on hand talking to students and developers alike. It all makes for a great atmosphere.

We'll be checking in each day with pictures and news to give you guys a great view of the show. Post any questions you have and we'll do our best to answer them.

And don't worry our ace photographer Joe is here to take all your booth babe and cosplay chick photos :)

Check back tonight or tomorrow morning.

Community Spotlight: What Does "Dumbing Down" Even Mean?

Posted by MikeB Thursday March 25 2010 at 12:48PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on the thread “Just what the hell does ‘dumbed down’ even mean anyway?” by Jimmy Scythe. The phrase is tossed around a lot, but what does it even mean? Jimmy’s take:

“Seriously! Look at the phrase. LOOK AT IT!!!!

The implication being that at one time a particular game was "intelligent" but has undergone some unholy voodoo and been turned into a version of Chutes and Ladders or, even worse, Ludo. This term is normally used in reference to a multiplatform game that was made for consoles and PC at the same time.

What's so confusing is when the term is applied to a brand new franchise that plays exactly the same on all platforms. How can you "dumb down" something that didn't even exsist previously? You can claim that one control type is less efficient than another, but that isn't the same as watering down the core mechanics.

Let's take Command & Conquer 3 as an example. Both the PC and console versions of the game use the exact same maps, the exact same factions, the exact same unit caps, and the exact same units. What exactly was "dumbed down?" Same thing with Morrowind. Both the PC and XBox versions had the same maps, the same kind of first/third person minimal interface, the quests, the items, the same NPCs... If it's the exact same game at it's core, how can it be "dumbed down?"

You might be able to say this about a game that started out on the PC and was poorly ported to a console, like CiV 2 being placed on the PSX near the end of it's life cycle, but If it was developed for both the PC and consoles or it was a one-for-one port....

And while we're on the subject, was Assassin's Creed "smarted up" by being ported to the PC?

I'm calling bullshit on this term and it's use.”

Huge_froglok offers the most obvious definition with regards to MMORPGs:

“I don't know what it means on those games.. Probably refer to the fact that the interfaces became simpler because they have to use a controller? The controls would definitely be dumbed down.

In terms of MMORPGs though, it refers to the fact that older MMORPGs used to require you to use your head. For instance, older MMORPGs didn't have minimaps, didn't have arrows taking you straight to where you need to go. They didn't give you directions all the time, keep you taksed.

MMORPGs are definitely dumbed down, so much to the point they are no longer fun. What is next? Will the game play itself? Maybe a game that plays itself would become more popular than WoW”

Rayx0r offers an interesting take, perhaps the game’s aren’t being dumbed down, perhaps we’re just better at them now?

“dumbed down:

Usually used by people who are not challenged by something. More times then not, its when a gamer is migrating from one game to another.

Almost always, its a term used by noobs. New gamers who havnt yet figured out that nearly all games that fit into specific genre follow the same formula (whether its UI, quests, AI etc.). This new formula the noob has previously figured out from the game he just migrated from. Therefore, he/she thinks the game has been "dumbed down" because they no longer feel the challenge they felt when they first entered the particular gaming genre.

Like it or not, games borrow from one another. You become better at these game aspects. Nothing is being "dumbed down", your just too dumb to realize you're becoming better at them.”

Comnitus disagrees that the streamlining of content and game mechanics constitutes dumbing down, if anything, it’s to the contrary:

“"Dumbed down" generally refers to two things when it comes to MMOs, one of which is good and one of which is not.

1. Streamlining/coalescence of content, game mechanics, etc. For example, adding a right-click option to crafting multiple items so that you don't get carpal tunnel. Or, a better example, what Blizzard is doing to WoW's stats in Cataclysm - removing unnecessary ones and simplifying (in a good way) talent trees, supposedly making every talent useful in some way. This is not dumbing down, this is improving the game.

2. Instant gratification/making content more acceptable. This one may be valid, depending on the situation and the severity. Usually, I'm against instant gratification people - I agree you should have to work if you want to earn something - but I disagree that you must work for 23 hours of the day for two months to get one super-epic sword. These are games; we must never forget that. I'll work for my goal, but make it as fun and painless as possible. If a developer decided to make content more accessible by reducing the difficult level or entry requirements, it could be considered "dumbing down", and I have no stance on it. Mainly because I don't care if other people get what I get or not. I'm not selfish or vain, and I'd be perfectly fine with everyone experiencing that awesome, epic fight that the devs obviously worked hard on. What good is it if only 10% of the population actually sees it?

Assassin's Creed is good on PC. The controls aren't crap like other console-to-PC ports, the graphics are stable and nice, and the gameplay is fun. I don't know if it's "smarted up", though.“

I consider the complaint of games being dumbed down to be a fairly legitimate one, but I don’t feel games that are simplified or streamlined don’t have a place in the marketplace. The reality is just that a lot of us old timers are still interested in new games, but we appear to be at odds with the people making them as they want to (naturally) reach a broader audience and this often results in what many gamers feel is “dumbing down.” The trend has been around on consoles for a long time, but since the PC market was still strong we didn’t experience it as much.

Nowadays, games are often designed towards the console audience and it sometimes feels like the PC gaming crowd is the red headed step child. The rift was most recently experienced with the whole Modern Warfare 2 vs. Bad Company 2 fiasco. On one hand, gamers felt slighted by Infinity Ward’s stance towards the PC version of Modern Warfare 2, and on the other we got Bad Company 2 from DICE who appeared to go out of their way to target PC gamers, which they in turn responded to by purchasing the game in droves, resulting in an active player population that is larger than both the PS3 and XBOX 360 versions combined.

The reasons this is boiling over to the MMO market even though MMOs are fairly secure as PC exclusive for the moment are the same, and are necessitated even further due to the fact these projects are often huge risky undertakings. The best way to recoup your investment is to maximize your chances of reaching a broader audience. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality.

What does “dumbing down” mean to you? And do you agree that MMOGs are trending towards being “dumbed down”? Let us know in the comments below.

Do We Really Want To Game On Smartphones?

Posted by BillMurphy Tuesday March 23 2010 at 4:43PM
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I finally joined the wonderful world of smartphones yesterday. I decided to ease into the trend with a Palm Pixi. I know what you’re thinking. No Droid? No iPhone? I love my Verizon service (no iPhone), and the DROID sitting at $199 was not an investment I felt like making right now. So the Palm Pixi it was. It doesn’t have the sheer number of apps available, nor the pure unadulterated technological strength of more expensive gadgets… but for a newbie to the whole scene? I’m definitely digging it. For the price, it’s a perfect starter kit and I’ll simply switch to the DROID next year on my upgrade date if the Pixi ends up not being enough for my tech-nerd ways.

I spent the better part of yesterday evening shopping the app store for the Palm OS, playing around with my long-dormant Twitter account, linking e-mail accounts to my phone, and testing its processing speed by seeing how many different apps it would let me run at once. Needless to say, I forgot to let the dogs out and wound up picking up little nugget-sized droppings around my office chair… as if they knew exactly the reason they weren’t being let outside and how to make sure their message got across.

I played around with a few of the free games available for the Palm, and while I wasn’t disappointed, considering the platform, I began to wonder just how much the trend in mobile gaming is going to affect us MMO gamers. We’ve already seen Blizzard release an app for their armory database, and Fallen Earth is next in line with a pretty handy little tool which will let you manage crafting queue and craft items, deal with the auction house, interact with clan members (via chat I’m assuming), view character profiles, and view the world map.

That right there is pretty much everything I’d want to do MMO-wise with my phone though. I can’t see ever really playing these games on the phone… the interface is just too limited. But then the same thing has been said about console MMOs and developers are finding new ways to break down that barrier all the time. When I think about some of my go-to MMOs (WAR, Champions, PotBS, and LotRO at the moment) I have trouble thinking of anything I’d really need to do in the game from my phone. But when I start to ponder it, watching the status of the capital cities for WAR in semi-real time, or the contention status of different ports in PotBS would become a pretty addictive practice. Being able to play the auction house from my phone would also be extremely enticing.

I’m the kind of player who doesn’t really use the AH that much in most games because I’m usually too busy adventuring and with precious little time I don’t want to spend it filtering through the thousands of items on offer. But if I was given the chance to do my bidding and selling from the office on my phone? Or during a long queue at whatever store I’m at? I’d jump on the opportunity to flex my under-selling prowess.

A twittering friend of mind recently posted that it’s an amazing world we live in when you can upgrade your DSL service with a tweet, and I’d have to agree. Our phones aren’t just for calling anymore. In fact I barely use mine for calling at all. I’m nearly out of battery life today already because I’ve been using it to stalk people on Facebook and look at ridiculous videos on Youtube instead. But will our phones ever be used for more “hardcore” gaming than Plants vs. Zombies? And if so, how will that look? MMOs are very much akin to graphical representations of spreadsheets as it is, but how could the action and actual exploration ever translate? And do we need it to?

All it will take is some clever developer to make us all into believers. But for now, I’ll just look forward to making my virtual fortune from my phone. Or losing it all. Probably the latter. I’m too impatient to be auction house rich.

PAX East - Yes we have a Panel!

Posted by garrett Tuesday March 23 2010 at 7:10AM
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Hi All,

Quick Blog today on the PAX East Convention this weekend.

Mike B and I are heading out in full force to Boston for the show this weekend and hope to meet up with everyone to talk MMOs!

If you have not seen this already:

Future of the MMO Scene -
Naga Theatre
Sunday, 1:00pm
Millions of players have joined the virtual worlds to fight, interact, and adventure together across countries and continents. This panel brought to you by brings together a wide variety of personalities interested in speaking about the past, present, and future of this online medium.

Panelists Include: Bob Ferrari [Sanrio Digital / Typhoon Games], Craig Alexander [Turbine Entertainment], Paul Barnett [EA / Bioware / Mythic], Curt Schilling [38 Studios]


We have a pretty insane panel!

This show and the panel is all about the fans so get your questions ready. We look forward to seeing you all up in Boston this weekend!

Community Spotlight: Means-Based Game Design

Posted by MikeB Thursday March 18 2010 at 3:14PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on the thread “Means-Based Game Design” by SirBenedict. The post is SirBenedict’s first post, so he has certainly gotten off to a good start! While it’s still early, and there are not many responses at the moment, I found the content of the original post to be quite thought provoking and I’d like to highlight it this week.

In the thread, SirBenedict wonders why we don’t see more “means based” game design, I.E. design based around enjoying the ride, instead of rushing to the destination:

“What if there were a game about means rather than ends, the experience rather than the completion. It appears to me that "leveling up" "beating the game" or "killing the monster" are not the inherently rewarding components of a game. Take sports as an example. People don't play sports just because they want to win. Rather, they play sports because the mere experience of engaging in them is rewarding on a level far below the abstractions of status and hierarchy. Sipping hot chocolate or smelling a frangrant flower are engaged in because the experiences themselves are rewarding, not because once you've drunk the cocoa you get "cocoa xp" or because you "leveled up your flower-smelling ability." In short, I think that the whole concept of designing games around "success" or "end" should be exchanged for games which focus on the experience of the game or means to its "end".”

Kaiser3282 is definitely feeling what SirBenedict is saying, and relates by stating he currently gets this feeling while playing certain FPS games:

“Would be great if games were designed more along those lines, but instead 99% of the market insists on trying to clone WoW and giving us more and more of this repetetive boring ass gameplay that consists of tab targeting and pressing your most useful hotkeys. I definitely get more of the feeling youre describing when playing FPS games vs othe rplayers because the fight itself is actually exciting, wether you win or lose. Same goes for single player RPGs where theres some real depth to the game and the story and more innovation behind the combat systems to make them unique instead of the same tired crap weve been using on MMOs for like 10 years and theyve all become about getting to end game and being the highest level with the best gear, not about actual fun & skilled combat.”

GreenChaos really loves to prolong things, as he knows once he hits the end game, well, it’s a bit more of a literal end game for him:

“It really depends on the person not the game. I played City of heroes for 5 years and never reached endgame, because I like the process of getter there and creating new characters. But many people rushed to end game, said there was nothing there and quit.

So it really depends more on the player not the game.

What what you really want to talk about is means base game playing not game design. I played WoW for 2 years and never got to end game. When I do hit end game I stop playing the game. For me end game is END GAME.”

SirBenedict’s words strike a particular chord with me, as I’ve been pretty much saying the same things to friends for many years now. I could never get into many MMOGs because it did not matter what metagame options the game offered, as I often felt the journey itself was uninteresting. This is why I too, was into Age of Conan initially. SirBenedict brought up the combat, which is one area I particularly agree with him on. Combat has always been one of those issues for me with MMOGs, and it was impossible for me to “enjoy the journey” when the combat gameplay of most MMOGs tended to be pretty damn archaic, falling way behind the standards players could expect in their traditional game counterparts. Conan, however, offered a more interactive and visceral combat system, which is why I was, admittedly, such a fanboy early on with the game. Of course, the game launched and we all know the story there, it’s not important to go over that. I don’t agree that Conan was about the journey, but I am not sure that SirBenedict was making that point. I think what he was really getting at is that the combat gameplay itself was engaging, which for the most part it was.

I think SirBenedict will have a lot of fans in sandbox gamers as well, as sandbox games tend to inherently be about the journey, after all, there isn’t really an endgame so to speak, other than one you create for yourself. I mention Star Wars Galaxies a lot in my blogs, and while Star Wars Galaxies didn’t have the most exciting or intuitive combat in the world, it offered many gameplay options, including interesting combat options, and this really prolonged my interest in the game.  

How about you? Are you the rush to the end type or the enjoy the journey type? Let us know in the comments below!

Roper Moves On... To Where?

Posted by BillMurphy Wednesday March 17 2010 at 4:29PM
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It’s very fashionable to hate Bill Roper these days. After the underwhelming performance of Hellgate: London and Champions Online, folks are pegging him as some development villain out to rape their wallets and soil the good name of gaming. I wonder though if someone else who wasn’t so highly admired by fans of the Diablo series (which Roper helped refine) would be receiving the same backlash that Roper has endured over the past couple years.

Maybe my standards are simply lower than most, but I greatly enjoyed both Hellgate and Champions. I still play the latter now and again, and I’m anxious to see how Hellgate is resurrected under new direction later this year. I agree with the general consensus that Champions was certainly light on content at launch, and I still wish that there was more than one path to take when leveling, but the gameplay itself is entertaining. The same can be said of Hellgate. Whatever flaws the game had, I found the combination of FPS and Action RPG really compelling. Gearbox later took the concept and perfected it with Borderlands, but Hellgate is still the first game to try it.

Is the immense hype and subsequent letdown behind both titles due to Roper? I don’t think so. Hype is a willfully engaged-in practice by consumers. Sure enough advertisers help push it along, but we’re the ones that fall for it time and again. I’m dying to see Kick-Ass next month, largely in part due to the previews and online marketing campaigns… if the movie sucks, I’ll definitely be upset (especially since Mark Millar actually helped write this adaptation). Also, if you don’t what I’m talking about go forth and Google.

So now months after release, Bill Roper is leaving his role as executive producer on Champions Online in the capable hands of Shannon Posniewski who has been with the company since Cryptic’s CoH days. Champions itself seems to be headed in the right direction both as a game and as a service with a focus on communication and smaller content releases for the title. I’m sure I’m not the only person who wonders just how much Revelation will bring to the game when it launches at the end of the month. And with Champions on a fairly steady path towards improvement, Mr. Roper is moving on to “other design responsibilities” within Cryptic.

But what exactly does that mean?

The state of the game in which he announces his departure doesn’t specifically say where he’s headed and I think he would have said so if his intent was to join the development of Star Trek Online. This is likely a sign of things to come from Cryptic. We’ve known for a while now that they have multiple titles in development outside of their two recently released games, we just don’t have any concrete info on what said titles are. One unsubstantiated rumor is that the next project from the studio could be a Neverwinter Nights MMO.

If such a game is actually in development, will it be similar to Champions Online and Star Trek Online in format and design? A charge folks are laying against Cryptic is that all three of their titles thus far have basically been the same product with minor veneer changes. I wouldn’t go that far, but the similarities are certainly there and I’m not sure the same features would be well-suited to a Neverwinter Nights MMO. I think such a game would wind up being a little too much like Turbine’s Dungeons and Dragons Online, and we all know that DDO needed to move towards a Free-to-Play model to find success.

A better indicator of what Bill’s now working on might be the images found on the studio’s In Development Page. The images there seem more along the lines of supernatural, post-apocalyptic, and steampunk-themed titles. But hey, it’s convention season in the gaming world again. Maybe we won’t have to wait too long to find out what’s coming next from Cryptic. Who knows… maybe there will be nothing MMO about the new project. And despite the bad rap he’s been seeing of late, I’m still curious to see anything Roper puts his hands on. After all, I still have him to blame for many lost hours making boss runs in Diablo II. That allows me to cut him a little slack.

GDC Impressions

Posted by garrett Tuesday March 16 2010 at 8:59AM
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With all the talk of MMOs going free to play and changing into social games on Facebook it has been hard to see the light of a good solid MMO for all us hardcore players.

GDC did show us that the days of regular MMOs are still very much alive and soem good games are on their way to prove it. I just want to give a short list of some games that impressed us during the week, and games you should definitely follow in the coming months.

1. Star Wars: The Old Republic - Okay, this one is a given. I got the chance to demo the game and also chat with some of the team and the horizon is bright for this title. The hype is huge as everyone is looking to this game to end WoW dominance of the market. Without looking at insane Star Wars fan expectations this game looks and plays solid. At least from the small demo we played. If it remains solid and fun as an MMO with some great end game elements and new ideas for players, Star Wars will do very well.

2. TERA - The team from Lineage 2 has reformed to bring us TERA. The game looked great and with its action play style it really impressed us in combat. The world is a bit more westernized fantasy than anime which is a trend in several eastern MMOs we saw, but overall TERA looked good. It delivered and we had no expectations going into the preview. This is definitely a title to watch!

3. The Secret World - While we still cannot talk about the game until later this month. I can say that you have to wait for our preview article, still it made this list for a reason.

4. Aika - This game is surprising. While the Asian style may turn off some western players, the PvP element is similar to Dark Age of Camelot. The Beta will be the place to check out how the PvP holds up. It also offers a single player the ability to become leader of the realm for one week. Cool stuff, let's hope it lives up to the great ideas it has.

5. Vindictus - Nexon gave us MapleStory, but now they are hacking their way into a more grown up MMO with some serious heavy combat. I only saw the trailer, but it looked awesome.

We saw a lot at the show and overall everything looked good. There is a lot of changes going on in the MMO industry right now with Free to Play and social games trying to make money. How that will play out, time will tell.


Community Spotlight: Five Things You'd Like to See

Posted by MikeB Thursday March 11 2010 at 4:30PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on the thread “Sooo… The Future for MMO’s? – 5 Things you would like to see” by Breezeycouk. Breezeycouk’s thread is an attempt to channel a lot of the dissatisfaction and negativity many of us are feeling into a positive discussion on what five things you would like to see in future MMOGs.

Breezeycouk kicks things off with the original list:

“1. Sandbox

2. Missions that mean something - I go here - I kill bad boss - He doesn't respawn or You ask me to save something and then my friend IM's me to ask for my help to do the same mission...  (I know this is dificult but can't someone design a intelligent spawn engine that resets locations / names of enemies or promotes others...)  The same goes with area grabs - If I / We beat off an attack from Something / Someone then give us some terriority for new exploration / bonuses etc or if someone comes in and kills our bosses then they are dead until we elect new ones....   This goes for instances too..

(How much of a bummer would that be to spend an evening on a quest and come back and find your quest giver dead ???)

3. Permadeath - If I F**k up enough to die then I should feel some pain for that - It would slow down people and make them think.

4. Game stability / longeivity - Don't change it drasitcally half way through on knee jerk or allow people to level up in a matter of weeks - give serious thought to the dev program / releases / new features.  - A sea and people with no boats is a great way to stop people doing crazy stuff in new lands - although you could also build in the Aztec / Spanish thing - Great - Loads of gold but then everyone dies as they have no resistance to European disease....

5. Stop the Gold / EXP / Credit sellers & super levelers - Just stop em dead like a virus - You must see their ingame messages / mails. “

Comnitus offers a well, interesting list:

“1) No levels. This is sandbox's greatest strength; horizontal progression rather than vertical.

2) Dev-fostered player interaction, such as a dynamic economy. Players can do all sorts of things, but only if the devs give them tools. I'm not against things like Auction Houses, as long as there are other services that can be performed only by players (for example, you can buy your new sword in the Auction House, but you need another player to enhance it). The economy would be stimulated by mostly non-PvP means. Yep, you heard it right. I don't want FFA PvP in my MMO. Faction vs. Faction or Guild vs. Guild PvP, with limited player looting and item degradation, would be more like it. Players would get resources from the environment, either through harvesting or killing PvE mobs, rather than running up behind a noob with an inventory full of ore, stabbing him, looting him, and snorting maniacally the entire time.

3) Shifting territorial control. I always liked this feature because of DAoC. You take it, you keep it. Obviously, this would apply to PvP.

4) Good graphics. Hey, I know gameplay > graphics, but it doesn't hurt if the game looks good. Fortunately, bad graphics don't seem to be much of a problem anymore. The game would have to run smoothly, though, especially in combat. Smooth, engaging combat is crucial to a good MMO, unless you want to make it more tactical like EVE. Nothing wrong with that, but many people have ADD and will not be satisfied unless there are shiny lights and pew pew everywhere. IT'S EVERYWHERE!

5) Girls. Make it more girl-friendly by offering non-combat social activities so it isn't such a damn sausagefest. Let them dress up or have a tea party or cuddle cute little animals (as long as those animals never set foot in my battlefields).

I know I kind of ran out of steam for 4 and 5, but I'm serious about more non-combat activities (including good crafting, because crafting can be fun if done right). The more versatile your game is, the more options you can offer your players, the more subs you'll get. “

I’m sure many of the guys would like to see more (real) girls in their MMOG travels, but I am not so sure the lack of females has much to do with the lack of cute little animals to cuddle.

And while Drago_pl is a bit cynical, he offers his take nonetheless:

“I'm aware my wish list will never be implemented by big company because this will not cater to masses but here we go:

1) Skill based system. No classes at all. Maybe some form of specializations to prevent everyone being same but FFS don't force me to relog if I want to be crafter/healer instead of melee guy when I'm in other mood. Darkfall is trying to do it right now, we will see the effect soon.

2) One instance world. It can be done and it's done by many games and I see no reason why there shouldn't be more games where you actually fell it's living and changing world instead of some multiplayer game.

3) Fully deformable environment. Looking at Wurm right now. It's fun and really makes exploring exciting. Players will always do things no dev would imagine if given right tools.

4) Deep player housing. Want to make house? Find a spot and build one. Want to make city? Bring buddies and work on it. Castle? Clans would love it. As much customization as possible (something like A tale in the desert boosted)

5) Real meaningful economy. EVE done it right. No other game even close. Why? You need to think about game economy before launching game. Adding auction house 2 weeks before release is not implementing economy in your game dear devs.

That's my wish list but as you can see all points are already made in some games. I just need company with enough balls to create such a game, company without Must Be Blizzard II mentality.”

There are tons of other great responses, but this week’s entry is getting a bit long as it is! I’ll round it out with five things I personally would like to see in future MMOGs:

  1. Character Customization: I’m a stickler for this stuff. The rest of the game becomes moot to me without robust character customization. And no, 800 sliders that barely make a difference doesn’t count. ;) I’d love to see APB levels of customization in every new game, but hey, that’s why this is a wishlist!
  2. A game designed with the end-game first: WAR was the closest to achieving this in my opinion so far. The game was designed around the campaign and the culmination of that campaign in the sacking of a side’s capital city. While the execution turned out to be a mess and unsuccessful, you definitely got the idea that they had a top down vision for the game. Many MMOGs launch with enough (sometimes not enough) content to get you to their level cap, and then there is nothing to do. Anyone can do the level grind; let’s see some innovative end-game designs.
  3. Graphics: Yes. I know, I’m breaking Breezeycouk’s rules here but it must be said. MMOs definitely have potential for more reach by designing their graphics to run on anything up to toasters, but I have to say, believable worlds require believable graphics and we’re not going to push the envelope by continuing to cater to people who won’t let go of their GeForce 2’s. Powerful rigs won’t run you $3,000 like they used to, that argument doesn’t hold anymore. There is simply no excuse!
  4. That sandbox feeling: I don’t need the ultimate sandbox experience, but I’m a bit biased given my first MMOG was Star Wars Galaxies and I’d like to see games where the world feels more like a world, and not just a regular RPG with persistent gameplay and many users. MMOG’s don’t do the regular RPG better than real ones (typically), so they should play to their strengths – creating believable virtual worlds. This shouldn’t come at the cost of gameplay, however. I definitely think hybrids can exist.
  5. Improved AI:  Crappy AI is an issue in all games, but it’s particularly disconcerting in MMOGs. Beyond improvements to combat AI, I’d love to see NPC’s with daily routines a’la Oblivion.


What are the top 5 things you’d like to see in an MMOG? Let us know in the comments below!

Here Comes the Sun... It Burns!

Posted by BillMurphy Tuesday March 9 2010 at 4:23PM
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I didn’t wear a coat to work today. I know for some of our readers that might not sound like a very big deal. But I live in Ohio. It’s March. We’re supposed to still be covered by snow until the Cleveland Indians have to cancel off their home opener. That’s how it works here. And yet here I am in the office wishing our engineering department hadn’t disabled the outlets from which our air conditioners draw power. Spring might actually be coming to Ohio on time this year. But I’m not holding my breath. Still the coming of spring signals something every hype-addict can appreciate: convention season! We’ve already sent Jon and Garrett off to San Francisco for GDC. PAX and E3 are just around the corner, and all manner of other conventions are sure to titillate every manner of nerd and geek around the globe.

Already we’ve heard that 38Studios has nabbed EA as a publisher to their first title, currently going by the codename Project Mercury. While we know little of how the game will play we know that it will be set in the same universe as Copernicus and is being developed by Big Huge Games (Rise of Nations). It’ll be released on the X box 360, PS3, and PC and is apparently not an MMO. When BHG was acquired by 38Studios there were knee-deep in development on a single-player RPG whose creative staff included legendary designer Ken Rolston (The Elder Scrolls III and IV). The lover of all things RPG in me hopes that Project Mercury is a repurposing of that game now placed into the Copernicus world. A single-player RPG is the perfect way to introduce players to the universe being created by R.A. Salvatore.

We’ve also learned today that players who buy Final Fantasy XIII for the PS3 (out today on the Xbox 360 as well) will get an extra shot at beta access for the forthcoming MMO Final Fantasy XIV. And for gamers in a shopping mood, you can get Star Trek Online from Amazon for a mere $27.99 today too. Lastly, it seems the LEGO Universe beta has begun for those lucky enough to have been accepted.

Why am I writing all this? It’s simple really. All this news has me scouring the internet for details, balancing my checkbook, and thinking about rushing out to track down a copy of Final Fantasy XIII or ordering STO to finally give it a shot… instead of getting out and enjoying the sunshine. I’ll probably fight the urge to spend though, mainly because I should put that money down on a photographer, the cake, or the limo for my forthcoming wedding. This is a rare case where I can say I’m thankful to be an adult with financial responsibilities. If I can just pull myself away from the internet, I might actually take my dogs out for a walk or in general use my butt for something other than sitting.

As I said, I live in Ohio. It’s March. I know more snow is coming. I’d better take advantage of this warmth while I can. And if the cold doesn’t come back? All the gaming news of the next few months will keep me indoors more than I should be anyway. Yep, it’s time to take that walk. There will be plenty of time for reading and surfing after the sun goes down.

Traditional Story = Poison for MMOs

Posted by Stradden Friday March 5 2010 at 6:53AM
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Story, for me and many other gamers like me, it’s been the holy grail of video games as many of us have searched for games that really and truly encapsulate the interactive storytelling ideal that we keep being promised.

Having played a fairly wide variety of games in my time, I can honestly say that in the games industry overall, there’s actually been a huge and noticeable improvement. Games like Dragon Age, Mass Effect 2 and Heavy Rain, as examples, all do a great job of telling an interesting story that players interact with on a meaningful level.

The problem is, and to be honest this just occurred to me this morning, the storytelling ideal that developers across the video game industry have been shooting for, especially in RPGs, just doesn’t hold water in MMOs, even if they’re done well.

You see, the focus for story in games has always been to put the player in the role of protagonist. The story is about them, and its events unfold as though they are the single most important thing in the universe. This is a great technique for single player games, and even to a lesser extent for small scale multiplayer games like Left 4 Dead. Unfortunately, it’s poison for MMORPGs.

Let me try to explain:

By trying to make every single person in an MMORPG feel like the game’s hero, which has been the predominant mode of thinking in recent years, developers are ensuring that almost every player has the exact same story experience from level one to the cap and while that works really well in single player games the idea that “I’m a hero, just like everyone else who’s doing exactly the same thing as me” strips away the feeling that I’m a part of a large virtual world, and replaces it with the feeling that I’m playing those same single player games along side a bunch of other people.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that story should be stripped out of our MMORPGs. What I am saying, however, is that the approach to the story needs to be dramatically changed to reflect the uniqueness of the genre. Where single player games are about the story of the individual, MMORPGs should be about the story of the world, or the universe. Where single player games make players into the protagonists of the world’s story, MMORPGs should concentrate on allowing players to become the protagonists of their own stories within the larger story of the game’s world.

Now, it’s all fine and good for me to sit here and philosophise, knowing that I’m not going to be the one who has to come up with a cost and time effective way to develop stories this way, but in the end, it’s going to have to be done or else MMORPGs are going to pale in comparison to large scale single player or small group multiplayer games, and people are going to begin to wonder what it is they’re paying a monthly fee for. Heck, it’s already happening. I just hope that someone steps up and changes the way that stories are approached in MMOs.


Community Spotlight: Your Most Epic MMOG Boss Fight

Posted by MikeB Thursday March 4 2010 at 3:29PM
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This week’s Community Spotlight focuses on the thread “What is the most epic boss fight you ever fought in an mmorpg?" by user TwilightAdy. A pretty straightforward topic, TwilightAdy asks the community about their favorite boss fight experiences, and shares his own:


I just thought I would start this topic, as the title said, asking what the most epic boss you fought in an mmorpg was, and more importantly, why.

I've been a hardcore WoW player for about 2 years now, and I've seen all of the content, and while I don't have any other mmorpg to compare it to, I think the game has some pretty immense encounters. The four that defined the game for me:

C'thun: Possibly the strangest boss I have ever come across in any game, let alone in an mmorpg. A giant eyeball that fires constant beams of death everywhere (you can easily get one shotted in this fight), spawns tentacles all around the room you fight him in, and, weirdest of all, you have to get swallowed by him and attack the inside of his stomach in the second phase to take him down. But what was most epic about this encounter was the voices, the whispering: "Your friends will abandon you", C'thun whispers on a number of occassions. This made the encounter epically creepy and all the better for it.”

User Ravanos shares a few of his favorite boss fights from EverQuest II:

“I liked Venril sathir from EQ2 because he was a fight more about paying attention than pure DPS power. basically at a certain percentage of his HP everyone in the raid would have to get thier power between 30% and 60%. If you were above or below that at anytime he would wipe the raid, plus he would put a power drain on people that could not be cured so they would have to call out to be powerfed. as well as random debuffs that would make people expend twice the amount of power for spells.

best thing is if you drop below or go above allowed amount a BIG RED message would be sent to everyone in the raid ..."BECAUSE OF RAVANOS'S LACK OF WILL VENRIL SATHIR WAS ABLE TO GAIN AN ADVANTAGE"

*BAM* raid wipe (it was something to that extent probably quoting it wrong but you get the idea)

Maestro in EQ2 was also pretty nasty putting bomb debuffs on people in raids that if they stood near someone they would kill them instantly. had to have people clicking a special item from the zone or he would wipe the raid. debuffing the tank so they couldn't do anything ... making the guild constantly switch tanks. And of course his Curse debuff that made healers damage those they are trying to heal. “

Khrymson responds to Gravarg’s claim that Absolute Virtue, an FFXI boss, is the most epic boss in any MMOG:

'Originally posted by Gravarg

By far the most epic boss in any mmo has to be the encounter with Absolute Virtue in FFXI.  He is 99.9% fail rate.  As far as I know only gms have beaten him lol.'

Pretty much, I don't think anyone has reported a successful defeat yet!  Even with the video the FFXI devs released hinting at how to defeat him.  Lets see, he's been in the game for what 3+ years now and still nobody has defeated him, and on top of that it takes months of preparation just to try and usually fail...LOL

Keep in mind though to others that havn't played FFXI, this boss is entirely optional and not required by any means to fight.  He's just an optional very very hard boss... “

Calind0r shared some screenshots and video of Antharas and Valakas of Lineage II, as well as some details as to why these two were the most epic fights ever:

“The bosses have a small spawn window, in which they can randomly spawn in. Before they spawn, clans will camp the entrance to their lairs to control it, massive PvP will happen with all the best clans on your server trying to win...when the boss spawns, it is asleep at first. Once the first person teleports inside to the lair (you can teleport with an item after doing a special repeatable quest)...After that moment the boss wakes up in 20 or so minutes, after it is awake you can no longer teleport inside and it won't go back to sleep until 20 minutes after everyone inside is the winners of the PvP will get to kill the boss...but if they wipe they get kicked out, have to repeat the quest, and contend with their enemies who also want the boss.

So the bosses are kind of a big deal, usually after each raid boss fight and kill theres a multiple paged thread that lasts on your server's community forums discussing (flaming) what happened. When the bosses first came out they took hundreds of people to kill...enemied clans would have to form an alliance just for the sake of defeating them...but as the game grew, people got better gear, strategies,etc...the amount of people dropped dramatically. I think and have pretty much proved that too many people on those bosses just makes it harder...Theres a sweet spot you need to hit for each 4-6 parties (36-50 people) for the best efficiency. I've done Antharas with 27 people in ~30 minutes, and I've also tried Antharas with 90 people and failed.

They're just overwhelming bosses at sometimes. They can 1 shot a whole party of people if you aren't paying attention (resurrections in L2 happen all the time...its normal to have a 50 vs 50 PvP last  over 10 minutes because healers keep resurrecting at all cost (1 class has a skill to resurrect all nearby clan members) and it drags on until each site is fatigued and totally out of mana and consumables (target choice and strategy is very important when its like that). Antharas will slap his tail on the ground and send everyone nearby it flying in the air and stunned...he'll cast fear and if you get it you'll run away for like 30 when your healer gets feared. He'll stomp and rocks will fall from the cave on to ranged attackers, at low HP he goes into berserk and bites the ground causing spikes to rise up in front of him, and they can often 1 shot anyone caught in them.”

Personally, I haven’t had many raid experiences in my years playing MMOG’s so most of my favorite encounters are kind of smaller affairs scattered across the various MMOG’s I’ve played thus far, but none nearly as spectacular as some of the stories users have shared in this thread.

If I were to judge these fights based on what I’ve read, I’d say it’s probably a tie between the above encounters described by Calind0r and the Pandemonium Warden from FFXI. Some of you may recall the failed attempt by FFXI guild Beyond the Limitation on Pandemonium Warden in 2008, which lasted 18 hours and had players getting physically ill, even vomiting. I don’t think it gets any more hardcore than that, though I can’t say I’d have wanted to be part of that experience either.

What was your most epic boss fight in an MMOG? Let us know in the comments below!

All You Need is the Internet

Posted by BillMurphy Tuesday March 2 2010 at 4:03PM
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There are few things a person truly needs in his or her life. Food, drink, shelter, and the Beatles would throw in love for good measure I’m sure. All other things in life could probably be summed up as luxuries. But I’ve come to realize over the past few days that there’s something else which should be added to the list of bare essentials: the Internet. My fiancée and I just moved out of a condo and into our very own house (hooray for no shared walls!). Originally my internet service was supposed to be installed on the very day that the move occurred. But as I’m sure many of you are aware, cable companies don’t always come when they’re supposed to.

We had al ofl our stuff moved in and most of it unpacked by Saturday. By this time, I’d spent roughly sixty hours without the soft glow of the internet warming me through and through with its Youtube, Hulu, and Facebook. More so, I’d spent this much time without the reliable safety of my online worlds. Now of course I’m exaggerating here, but when I had several hours to kill without a decent book to read, or TV to watch, or even a fiancée to spend some quality time with… I found myself incontrovertibly bored.

I don’t know about you, but I actually just surf the same handful of sites when I’m bored, and next thing I know I’m not bored anymore. Or at least I’m less bored. What’s more important is that all my true timewasters are bound to the internet. Most of my gaming is attached to the stipulation that I simply must have an internet connection at my disposal. The recent DRM fiasco over Ubisoft’s decision to require an internet connection to play their PC offerings (and daring to call the monstrosity a “services” platform) only further causes me to shudder when I think of what life would be like if I didn’t have an internet connection.

What else do I need the internet for? I own the Xbox 360 and even to enjoy that fully I need to have my internet connection running smoothly. We don’t have cable TV by choice, and instead do most of our viewing through Hulu and Netflix Instant… both services that require an active internet connection. In my new town I’m lost. I am one of those folks who eventually knows the ins and outs of a place better than born and bred natives, but in a new place I’m perpetually adrift among the unfamiliar roadways. More to the point, my TomTom needs the internet to stay most up to date. Yes, I’m one of those people who updates his GPS every night. Better prepared than sorry, people!

I finally managed to have the cable company to come out this afternoon, after nearly a week without service, I can check my ridiculous (yet addictive) farm in Farmville. I can stalk my friends on Facebook. I can creep the forums here as much as I’d like. I can watch last week’s episode of Lost. I can log into Allods, WAR, PotBS, Global Agenda, and play as much L4D as I want. Oh yes, it is good to have my trusty sidekick and series of tubes back at my disposal. I never want to be without him/her/it again.

Oh sure, if I really had to I could play offline games. I could use a map. I could actually call my friends instead of seeing how many times in a day they poop and tell us about it on Twitter. I could (gasp!) actually spend time socializing and dig up a few old books that always deserved a second read. I could even sit down and have a conversation with the woman I’m planning on spending the rest of my life with. But there’s plenty of time for all that! The internet is now! The internet is Peanut-Butter Jelly Time! The internet is LOLCatz! The internet is a pickle that has more fans than Nickelback! If I didn’t have the internet, how would I know when celebrities did something stupid? Okay, so maybe we could all do without that last part.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my gibberlings are calling. They’ve missed me.

A trip down Gaming Lane

Posted by garrett Monday March 1 2010 at 7:46PM
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I wanted to talk about the Non-MMO world of RPG style games for a minute this week. Next week it will be full on GDC for Jon and I so we will bring you all the goodies then.

For now, I thought to talk about the gaming landscape from the old school. By old school I am talking 70s, 80s, and 90s. These three decades, while not having much to do with MMOs, had a ton to do with RPGs. So lets go on a journey through gaming past.

1974 - I was 2... However, in this year a movie called "The Golden Voyage" of Sinbad came out. If you have not seen it, you should. It is bad ass, even with the Ray Harryheusen effects. Why is this obscure Sinbad movie so important. Well, the movie plays out like a clear D&D adventure. In 1974 the early stages of D&D were formed. Chainmail was launched and the concept of the RPG was born. Oh to live in those days again.

As big as Warcraft is now, D&D was it's Dark Lord Grandfather back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. By 1982-1983 there was a saturday morning cartoon and a TV movie called Mazes & Monsters, with Tom Hanks no less, playing a game like D&D and going crazy because of it. Movies like Dragon Slayer and Krull topped off the rise of fantasy as we know it today, did I mention a small movie named Conan in there? Oh, sorry. My other old time favorite is Beastmaster. Not the lousy TV series, the 1982 movie.

This goes down as one of the big three in my opinion. The biggest of the three. D&D made it all possible. D&D set the stage. D&D is still fun on a weekend night with your friends.

The second game of the 1980s that remains a major influence was Warhammer and Warhammer 40k. The idea of RTS battles on a table with miniatures was nothing new in the 1980s, the early gaming groups were doing it a ton back in the 1970s which led to D&D. Somehow though a group of guys in England came up with this game that had a sense of humor, despite being set in a brutal, unforgiving, medieval setting. There are many great table top miniature games, but Warhammer in fantasy or future takes the cake. The Squig cake actually. 

Last but not least, 1994, I was in college by now and drinking far too much to care about gaming. Then one weekend on a trip home I went to a game store with a friend. I asked at the counter for a game that did not take too much time and was fun to play. Enter Magic The Gathering to the scene. CCGs were pretty much invented at that point and  the world had never looked back. I was so addicted to Magic my senior year in college I spent every dime building decks upon decks. Gosh, my White/Blue deck would be worth over $10k now. Yes I had all of the power nine with the exception of the Mox colors I did not play. I sold my deck and collection for almost $2k at a game convention in NJ. I used the money to pay bills back then. Quite an investment when you look at it. I wish I kept that deck.

So that rounds out the big three games that had major influence on me growing up. I did fail to mention some of my other all time favorites: Awful Green Things from Outer Space, O.G.R.E, G.E.V., Barbarian Prince (solo mini-game), Star Frontiers, Gamma World, and Demon Lord.

If you have the time, research some of these old classics and see where our virtual worlds had come from. It is always cool to take a trip down memory lane. So I ask you this many of you still play any of these games?