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The Disgruntled Pony

Attempting to get his opinions across, one hoof at a time. Not guaranteed to be 100% honest and factual all the time and can be bribed with sugar lumps. Do not stand behind it.

Author: DarkPony

Tera: Hitchhiking the 7 Day Trial Train: 1st Impression

Posted by DarkPony Saturday June 16 2012 at 9:07AM
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After getting wind of Tera's new seven day free trial offer with some additional handy tips from helpfull peoples (1, 2), I jumped right to the chance.

In hindsight I should have named this blog the Freeloading Pony, I guess, considering the two last entries were based on free offers too. But I am not ashamed of being a penny pincher in this age of the Online Gaming Deception. Yeah, go ahead and call me out on that one while I solemnly stare at my plastic bucket and scoop catching dust in the corner of my room.

But let's move on.

Tera has been on and off my radar in its past years of development and porting work. Some aspects looked appealing, others not so much: it was to be another quest based themepark and it had some very obvious anime roots and "AZN" design choices in some of its playable races. Even though its real time aiming and tactical combat managed to interest me, I never really got truly hyped for the game so I very consciously skipped on preordering or jumping in at launch. I reckon that's a stance shared by many in our community.

Anyway, to cut the intro short: I'm very grateful for this opportunity for skeptical fence sitters like me because this game has managed to positively surprise me in more than a few aspects so far and I will tell you why;


The good stuff:

Quality perception:

It is polished like your grandmother's best silverware. They haven't saved a dime on Brasso in Korea.
World design and layout:

The game has wonderful and inspired surroundings; the natury bits but the cities and villages too, scoring high marks on my immersion index. Most of the interiors are a sight to behold as well.
Next to this it seems many zone transitions are seamless and despite the use of restricted teleporting, the real time traveling on Pegasii and mounts helps to preserve a wholeness in your perception of the gameworld. All this more than makes up for the only clear negative in world design I encountered so far: the bleeping invisible walls you will encounter on cliffs here and there. I guess they are very keen on virtual suicide prevention at Bluehole.


The noob island is very sugar-coated like. Later on zones are more realistic.

Client performance:
The 36 gig client is a nimble wonder; my rig is mediocre at best but it doesn't even break a sweat and I can only hear my fans speed up to an annoying level on some of the cut scenes. Something that happens during regular gameplay for me in many other games.
The attention to detail in most of the interiors is a sight to behold.


If graphics were crisps these are about the most crunchy I ever ate. The level of detail is astonishing on just about anything; there's virtually no untouched spots in the game world; everything has been thoroughly designed and the game's award worthy crispness makes sure it stands up to close examination. Also the way the Unreal 3 engine handles distances and fast camera movement are marvels. I'm almost tempted to blurt out "omg next gen garfix!" on this bit.

Lighting, crispy textures and attention to detail are all outstanding.



Like everyone and their chipmunks who got some hands on time with Tera probably already told you: the combat is great. I'll go as far to say that it delivers such a compelling core gameplay that it makes up for the majority of my personal themepark related gripes (!). It simply makes the game fun to play despite its conventional nature in many other aspects. The real time aiming, tactical use of movement and distance in combat and obvious but satisfying strategy in skill rotations really hold up.

I wouldn't mind it at all if other developers would take this system as an example to replace the tab-target, spammy faceroll kind of combat which we might as well put out with the trash as far as I'm concerned.

If I have to single out a negative aspect in Tera's take on combat it would be some of the skills stopping you dead in your tracks when you use them. It's not like no other games do the exact same thing but because of the fluid and free nature of the rest of the combat system, it simply stands out more.


What do you mean, "Are you two related?"


Partial to the combat fun are the care and vision that went in the design of your npc opponents: there are really big, hulky ones that require careful handling and there are masses of grouped critters which are very satisfying to wipe out with AoE abilities which you'll find in many classes. It's pretty clear that this game is an AoE farmer's wet dream. I am actually enjoying a sorceror at the moment, despite my life long preference for melee dps and archer classes (having virtually no downtime as a sorc in Tera helps with that).


The iffy bits:

Character and class design:

The most obvious iffy bit is the typical design flavor of some of the races, armors and gear. You'll either love it or hate it. Personally I found myself having a hard time settling on a class and race combo because each one had at least one aspect which I didn't like so much; the huge weapons from Lancers and Berserkers, the 100% anime look of the Elin, the weird, forward pitched running animation from Castanics, the monochrome color schemes of the Aman, the alien features of Baraka and the "purty boy band member looks" of most of the male versions of the "realistic" races.
I started four characters and ended up settling on a Popori sorceror. I used to play a gnome in WOW so I kind of felt at home with the small, clumsy, runt aspects of this race. The few things I didn't like about it so far were its armor designs and how it giggles like a maniac at each succesful harvesting attempt. Anyway, your mileage may vary in this regard as it is a hugely subjective point.


Me being outraged for getting another romper suit as a quest reward.


The Prequel:
Another iffy bit to me was the "prequel" which you have to play through on your first character: it's short, linear and didn't do much other than confuse me because you'll start out at level 20 with a ton of skills and you feel like you're being tossed right in the deep end of the pool. Thankfully it can be skipped after your first character made it through. Later on people pointed out the benefit of this feature: you get to test most of the skills and animations for the race-class combo you picked. So in hind sight it isn't such a bad thing at all.
Female character art; not a negative in my personal opinion pants.
Themeparky nature:
Tera doesn't hide its themeparky nature. It is a typical quest based mmo so it's back to the good old "not reading pop-ups and hitting accept like a mofo" on this one, at least for me it is.
World pvp mechanics:
Tera has no separate cities and infrastructure for factions: if you play on pvp servers it's pretty much ffa with an added flagging mechanic. Personally I didn't mind getting one shotted as soon as I activated my "outlaw" status for the first time this morning, but it doesn't help you much when trying to get some levels under your belt as a lowbie.
I much prefer WOW's take on world pvp with factions who will generally run into eachother in the middle of zones and don't share hubs. The systems needed to make this factionless design work (flagging + safehavens), make world pvp a bit artificial in my opinion.
On the up-side: there are mechanics in place to declare war on other guilds(!) and you are able to host your own multiplayer death matches anywhere in the world.
I haven't dabled long enough in pvp to truly get the gist of it though and I'm curious about its value at higher levels.
War-decs and gankers, not the only similarities with EVE online.
Wrapping up:
So far for my first impression. I didn't get to the BAM part yet but I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of the first boss fight at the end of the starter island so I have a hunch this will make the pve even more fun than it already was for me. Also apart from harvesting I haven't looked at crafting yet and as previously mentioned my pvp experience was very short and brutal.
All in all my first experience was positive but too short for a final verdict. If real life allows it, I will play it some more in the coming days and maybe do another write up. But it in the meanwhile I can recommend anyone that's even remotely interested in this game to give this trial a go.
Thanks for reading!

Freeloading on the Torchlight 2 beta: a long and hard look.

Posted by DarkPony Saturday May 19 2012 at 2:44PM
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After hoof-stomping all over the Path of Exile beta, this weekend it was Torchlight 2's turn to see whether it would bend or break.

The original Torchlight is a game that I never played but it was quite the indie success with half a million of people buying into it. (edit: make that over a million, currently!) After reading up on it to get myself acquainted with the IP, it becomes clear that Runic games has a pretty honest and likeable CEO in Max Schaefer:

"... just from a business perspective, when you make these $50 million games, it’s so hard to make your money back that publishers are very conservative about what sort of games they’ll green light. So you get a lot of sequels, copycat games and conservative plays. When you come down to a rational budget and a rational team size, you really are freed to take more risk and do more creative things. I think Minecraft is a perfect example. I’m obsessed with Minecraft. I can safely say that Minecraft will slightly delay the shipping of Torchlight 2 [laughs]." (source)


"... Obviously, we have a lot of respect for Blizzard and what they’re doing with Diablo III, and we really respect the fact that they’re going to take the time to do it right. Obviously, we’ll be day one purchasers of Diablo III, and it’ll delay whatever we’re working on at the time, but at the same time we’re glad we don’t have to do it. They have incredible expectations, and there’s almost no way that they’ll be able to please everybody with what they do. It’s a scale and a level of responsibility and a situation that in some ways we’re glad we’re not in". (source)

That's cool, Max.

But without further ado, lets see how your game takes risks and is more creative than an AAA game with a truckload of funding and manpower. And also how it shaped up while you were so busy playing all kinds of other games during its development, you indolent man!


Character creation & opening cinematic:


There's four interesting, nicely animated, steampunky classes. There's also freedom to pick gender and your preference out of a range of presets for faces, hair styles and hair colors. When you are done with that you also get to choose a pet out of a wide selection of appealing ankle biters and a name for it too. All this choice makes it quite a bit more RPG'ish than the average hack & slasher even though it still pales in comparison with mmorpg character creation. But still ... kudos here.

Right after creating your character you get to see the intro cinematic. Probably they thought the game's art was pretty cartoony so they took the opportunity to offer you some truly stunning visual eye candy make this even more cartoony?! Seriously?

The "Three crayons left in my box and only 100 frames to animate the whole damn thing" kind of cartoony, that is.

I can see it has a certain campy value though, and it does poke fun at all the expensive render farm work which other developers use to falsely advertise their products with.

Anyway, probably this was sneaked in when Max was busy building a record breaking phallus in Minecraft for a few days. I'm not impressed nor immersed, but cinematics be cinematics so let's move on to the actual game itself.


Graphics & art style:

The three stages of Torchlight 2 art appreciation I went through:

Stage 1, the first few minutes: "Yup, it's cartoony. Not sure if I like that so much."

Stage 2, after 15 minutes: "But it's pretty painterly too ..."

Stage 3, after an hour: "Actually it is rich and deeply inspired."


Interactive environments: I accidentily hit an oil lamp and saw this farm go up in flames.


I think this is a game that "graphically grows" on you. The cartoonyness quickly fades away in your immediate perception and makes place for an immersive and appealing kind of pseudo-realism. At least that is how I experienced it. The well done animations, coloring, lighting and weather effects help with this.

This is probably the same psychological mechanic that made WOW's graphics age so well for so many people.

If there's one caveat in the graphics and art department I'd have to mention it would be the design of some of the mobs you'll encounter. Being attacked by floating blue beach balls somehow doesn't tickle my imagination. There's a lot of insignificant critters too. Then again ... there's also funny and remarkable monsters, like the "Mimic" killer chests. Or well animated ones: humanoids that casually sit around on the dock of their hideout until your arrival (and their imminent deaths) startles them.


In Torchlight 2, rare chests find you!


World design & dungeons:

TL2 cleverly hides its linear hack & slash roots with randomized, wide and open outdoor zones and dungeons with multiple paths branching off. Some of those zones and dungeons are satisfyingly large. But what's more; the overall design and attention to detail of all environments are impressive; the game world feels very interactive and rich. A lot of love, inspiration and skill went into this game. Dungeons feel unique, you never notice the random map generation and there's all kinds of unexpected little things going on. I couldn't help myself making a ton of screenshots. More kudos here.


Example of a large, branching dungeon map.


Sound & music:

Both very well done. Apart from the lovely soundscape there's an orchestra of ominous cellos, subtle droplets of sitar and at times pumping electric guitars enhancing the atmosphere. Very akin to Diablo II and in the case of the acoustical guitar and sitary bits almost lawsuit inducingly similar.

No surprise really, as it's made by the same composer, Matt Uelmen. If I had to pick one aspect to call this game a "diablo clone" it would be some parts of the score, and that's not a bad thing at all.


Pretty smooth graphics scaling: Scaled slice of a scene, 100% crop at maximum zoom range,

100% crop at minimum zoom range.


Combat and gameplay:

The lowest difficulty level is "casual", followed by "normal", "veteran" and "elite". The game lets you choose between them at the start but there's also the option to continue playing a character at higher difficulty levels or to make it a hardcore character. Being somewhat of a hack & slash vet I skipped "casual" and started at "normal" right away. I didn't regret that. In my 7 hour playthrough of the first act I never died once, although I came pretty close a few times.

I played an Engineer up to level 21, the beta weekend's cap, and the combat with this class is the one-shot kind with some extra Chuck Norris juice on top. Your character is a powerhouse, a natural disaster to anything crossing its path. Many abilities are AoE abilities or at least have an AoE side effect, combined with the frequent spawns of numerous critters and trash mobs, this results in heinous crimes against monstrosity.

It's clear they went the "over the top heroic" route with combat and it is indeed very typically hack & slashy. But despite the first 12 or so levels being too easy for my liking at normal difficulty, the actual feel and pacing of combat gameplay is excellent: your movement speed is fairly quick, your abilities have a satisfying visual and audible "oomph" and you feel like a tornado, rampaging through each map; never a dull moment. I found it's actually hard to stop playing; the action drives you on and on.

Skills themselves are sometimes very fun and inspired too: in the engineer class the combat bots you get to learn out of the Construction tree stand out.

I'm curious to experience how it feels when there's a bit more challenge involved at harder difficulties but having played through Act 1 on normal, I kind of wonder why they are bothering with an even easier "casual" setting anyway.


Somehow I feel I should have been the one with a question mark over my head. "The f*cks that?! Can I deflate it?"


Skills & customization:

The core is your run of the mill skill system with three trees per class and points to put into stats each level. Next to that there are spells you'll find as loot which can be learned and used like any other ability. Also there's secondary mechanics like fish to catch for your pet which will buff it and change its appearance, gem slots in some of your gear to put gems in (some of the gems you'll find are rare or unique) and there's enchants for your gear to get at enchanters (hidden out in the world).

Each attempt at enchanting an item might add new or improved stats and/or sockets or it might do nothing. Every item can hold multiple layers of enchantments and each attempt costs gold. Higher tiered attempts cost a lot more. Items can be disenchanted as well. Enchanting is obviously TL2's main gold sink as it might take you a while and a ton of cash to get the ones you like best. It's something every min-maxer will be compelled to do on every newly acquired upgrade.

Vanilla drop, enchanted once and enchanted twice.

Character development is fairly standard hack & slash style but serves its purpose in giving you choices to make every level but it isn't as refreshingly free and open as Path of Exile's "free to slot the skill gems you want + bloated passive skill tree" system.

disclaimer: Not sure if I missed out on aspects in this department. It was kind of a limited beta ride after all.



The UI is top notch and a lot of care went into it: shift clicking to swap stuff from your bags to your pet bags, for instance; if you have both bags open you'll see items fly over your screen to the other side. The UI feels very fluid and intuitive. Your pet can also be dismissed to "shop" for stuff at town or to sell all items in its inventory. A nice extra functionality but in my single player experience not much needed as town portal scrolls are just as convenient.


Performance & stability:

Nothing to complain about. As smooth as a buttered eel in olive oil.


Meet Furl the Gem Smasher and Gorn the Gem Saver.


Wrapping up:

From what I've seen this game has completely outgrown its indie roots and is second to only a few games in polish. It's compelling, fun to play and despite it being kind of a cookie cutter hack & slasher which doesn't really turn previously proven mechanics upside down, the design of what it does is clever, inspired and made with a lot of love and care.

These people seem to know what makes a game in this genre tick and TL2 is above all an effort in perfecting the formula while enhancing on it in small doses here and there, within an inspired, original IP.

And at only 20 bucks its a friggin' bargain.

All in all it seems hack & slash fans are spoiled rotten in this Age of the Second Coming of the Action RPG: Diablo III, PoE, TL2 ... despite everyone having their own preference, we should only be fighting over which is "best" after being very aware of our first world problem in this regard as they are all proper additions to the genre.


Oh hi ... did anyone ever tell you that you have wonderful polygons? I mean .. it's just a few of them but still ...

Path of Exile: a first, thorough look.

Posted by DarkPony Sunday May 13 2012 at 11:38AM
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I signed up for the Path of Exile beta some weeks ago after reading some positive posts here on the forums. It seemed Grinding Gear Games were already running a beta but sadly you could only access it by prepurchasing packs of ingame currency and/or other goodies to help fund the project. All the way up to $ 1000 "Diamond Packs" (0_0). That's pretty ironic, because Path of Exile is intended to be a completely free game apart from "ethical micro transactions".



Many people have been willing to support them so far, (they raised around 250k USD in the first 6 days alone) , but I am a terrible cheapskate and waited patiently for an opportunity on a free beta ride just like I did with GW2 and D3. That moment came this weekend with a public beta event for all sign-ups and I hopped on the beta train right away.

The fact that they are a loveable bunch of independent kiwis with an idealistic project "for the people by the people", doesn't mean I am going to treat them any differently than AAA developers though; no more mister gullible, nice pony in these times of sugar lumps being on a ration! Not even when the developers are on the list of endangered species.

That said, the hours just melted away for me while playing the PoE beta this weekend and I will kindly repay my debt with this blog on

Compared to my D3 beta experience the difference in sheer development effort is obvious: I bet the Diablo 2 sequel got around 10 more design passes on every single pixel and had a dedicated taskforce and an art-director assigned to it, discussing various aspects of said pixel in weekly team meetings and having to get approval from their appointed assistant lead-designer for every proposed change too.

In contrast; these guys, a bunch of hack & slash enthusiast from various walks of life, got together with a plan to make their own game, managed to keep it in development for nearly 5 years and did everything themselves with a company the size of a professional rugby team. But you'd be wise to not underestimate rugby teams ... especially not if they are from New-Zealand.

Here's the shocker:

Despite the huge differences in resources, funding and man power somehow PoE has much more in common with Diablo 2's core values than Diablo 3. And the things it does different ... are actually improvements on the formula. It transcends the hack & slash model at times and has some aspects in common with games like the original Guild Wars.


Of course, the PoE beta is a bit rough around the edges and there is a distinct indie odor to it; a smell you pick up as soon as you visit their website; "Eew ... 90's style frame borders!". This also is prevalent ingame with a similarly retro'ish UI design which feels a bit oversized and clunky at times. Also there are no voice-overs for the few npc's which can be interacted with and some minor bugs and glitches here and there, but none of those things really got in my way of becoming very compelled by this game and playing it non-stop for hours.

The good stuff:

- A more social hack & slash experience! (Even when just going at it single player style): Towns aren't private instances but shared hubs, similar to GW1. It also has a lively global chat (which can be hidden).

- Challenging gameplay! No more "faceroll your way through the first 10 levels". This game can be quite brutal and I found myself dying a few times as well as running away and employing kiting tactics to deal with some opponents. Even some of the normal mobs are just nasty: necromancers which try to sneak away from you to resurrect fallen undead, for example. Yeah, we've seen those before but in PoE, when you leave them unchecked, the buggers will merrily keep evading you whilst softly humming their incantations and revive the entire friggin' map!

- Open map design and world layout: Much more wide and open compared to what I saw in Diablo 3 so far. Also some maps have multiple adjacent maps: it's not so much of a linear experience like other hack and slashers, or at least they hide it well. Maps are randomly generated too. I think there's even multiple "zone paths" into the second Act but I am not 100% sure about it. (I got there through the "Cave of Woe" but the Act 1 map had other zones that seemed to be leading there that I didn't even visit yet).


- Smart mechanics:

+ Some monsters (as well as yourself) have an "energy shield" which functions like a short immunity buffer that recharges when you or the monster, doesn't get damaged for some time: neglect finishing the monster off and you'll have to rework your way through its buffer again before you can kill it.

+ Health and mana flasks are permanent items that recharge. But better yet: your flasks aren't generic: there's tons of better ones to find, some with extra modifiers.

+ Agro range beyond your screen: attack a monster and his friends will come to its aid from beyond visual range sometimes. This and the occasional difficulty makes it less of a tank and spank fest but urged me to play more carefully: you never really know what's around the corner.

+ Free to use the skills you want: like many hack & slashers, itemization is randomized with a ton of possible pre- and suffixes, but next to this, most items have one or more sockets for skill gems, these gems are precious quest rewards or rare drops and determine your character's special abilities. Using the associated skill will level the gem up and they can always be taken out of an item and even be traded. There's an interesting depth to mico managing your skills and gear in this game as it allows for a lot of freedom and choice. This micro management is part of the core of the game at any level and not limited to rare quest rewards or hard to get rune words.

There's no predetermined, linear skill progress in this game and skills don't seem class restricted: there's a myriad of choices to make and the list of skills available to you seems to grow exponentially when you level up.

+ Multifunctional currencies: there's no gold in PoE but a variety of multifunctional currencies adding more value to apparently secondary items and consumables; Your cookie cutter Portal Scroll is next to its obvious function also a bank note, able to buy your certain stuff at vendors. Selling loot nets you "scraps" of these currencies and the kind of currency you get depends on the kind of item you sell. Some currencies can be exchanged for one another too. Consequently, every item you find is worth selling. (Which does make your limited bag space kind of a b*tch).

- Grim and foreboding atmosphere: akin to the Diablo prequels. There's some blood and gore too.


- Visceral and tactical combat; you need "to work" your character to overcome foes and use the right skills at the right time. Combat animations are a bit glitchy sometimes but they feel real and "weighted". The most remarkable thing: due to skill, mana and health management as well as the level of challenge, combat overall feels much less simple and dumbed down compared to most hack & slashers (!)

- Client is very stable and the game runs like a charm on my mediocre system: I did have a few dc's but no item loss whatsoever. It's not much of a resource hog either.

Last but not least:

- Freedom in character development due to an absurdly bloated free for all passive skill tree. Next to the great "free to slot the skills you want" system I described earlier, this completely overrides the strict class restrictions which we are so accustomed to in this genre.

Very lastest but not leastest:

- It's going to be free. To download AND to play.



My list of negatives and concerns are mostly minor:

- Still needs some polish (beta + indie game, durr).

- You never know exactly how "ethical" micro transactions end up being in the launched game and since they have plans for massive pvp too (!) that suddenly kind of matters.

- No voice overs (they might plan to add them later, not sure). I hope so because the VO work and writing in the class videos are pretty damn good and gritty.

- The trading mechanics of the UI feel a bit awkward. (Separate menu's for buying and selling).

- Most of the UI and all pop-ups have "90's" written all over it.

- WTB more bags! (Plenty of in-town storage though).

- Sometimes mobs behave a little dumb and disregard you or shoot into obstacles.

- Visually decent but in Act 1 dull and grey and never really breathtaking. Things get much more sunny and attractive in Act 2 however.

- There's no character creation: just base class picking. Even gender is predetermined.



The bottom line questions you should ask yourself for each Action RPG:

Is it fun to play and is it compelling enough to keep playing?

To me that's twice a resounding "yes" and frankly I am pretty amazed by what this company has pulled off: a proper addition to my short list of hack & slash classics and taking the formula to a next level in combat, skill systems, utter freedom in character development and clever mechanics. Very curious how this game will shape up further along the line.

Thanks for reading <3




Posted by DarkPony Thursday May 10 2012 at 1:44PM
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(Disclaimer: this has been written with people who haven't played EVE in mind. For vets it might be a bit explanative at times and probably a tad amateurish too. The player names are fictive).

Once upon a time in a virtual galaxy located in a London based server park everyone in our small corporation was a bit bored doing their own thing around our home turf near Dodixie, when our CEO suggested how it would be cool if we got together to do a specific plex in Otomainen, over in Caldari space. (Complexes are EVE's take on open world dungeons)
Supposedly it was just a medium difficulty level one and in safe high-security space but still very rewarding because it was situated behind Ihakana, a single low-sec system and passing through it happened to be the only way to reach Otomainen. Traveling through low-security systems in EVE means there's a much higher chance of being attacked by other players as the almighty Concord space police won't protect you there so CCP had adjusted the rewards for that plex accordingly.
But it was just a single low-sec system on our route anyway and our CEO told us appealing stories about guaranteed faction module drops. We all liked some of that pie. If not for using, then for selling.

We reckoned it would just come down to the right timing; bring a cloaked scout into Ihakana, wait for a moment without obvious evildoers in local channel and the gates being clear, jump in with our small gang and fleet warp it right on top of the exit gate. The only vulnerable moment would be the ten or so seconds it takes to get into warp with some of our battlecruisers and even slower battleships. But other than that? No big deal. We had roamed around in low-sec in our neck of the woods before and it was mostly pretty dead anyway.
As some in our gang were still very fresh EVE players, we weren't looking to find pvp encounters this time around and planned to avoid them when they were finding us instead. So the eight of us equipped our ships with typical pve load outs: active tanking modules,  armor hardeners for the right types of npc damage and some remote repair mods to help eachother deal with the steady amount of relatively low dps from the npc ships in the complex.
I made my alt jump in his covert-ops frigate and sent him ahead to scout out our route. It was a pretty long haul of at least half an hour for the fastest ships and the gang including my main character in an Armageddon had already departed when my scout was still underway.
Anathema, cov-ops frigate
When I reached the final high security system before Ihakana everything looked fine. The gate was clear so I jumped through, cloaked up and moved away from the gate. I took a first look at the local channel and it didn't look good. Around ten players with a deep red security status in system and all from the same corp. In a well known pvp alliance too.
Before I had a chance to assess the situation or say "Hmm, ... guys?" over vent, hell broke loose all around me.
Right behind me a hauler had entered the system and as soon as he became visible a sizeable pirate gang warped right on top of him. It took only seconds for the poor oaf to be scrammed, jammed and ripped to shreds. The pilot's escape pod was popped soon after.
They were flying three battlecruisers; two Hurricanes and a Harbinger along with a Tengu and two other fairly small ships which I don't remember. The biggest of their bunch an Abaddon battleship.
A pirate hauler zoomed in, collected the loot and the gang warped off before the npc gate guns could do them any significant damage. It was all over and the gate clear maybe 20 seconds after it started. As if nothing had ever happened. They had even salvaged the wreck.
In the fifteen following minutes I witnessed the exact same scenario happen at the expense of five other players on their oblivious way through Ihakana: the toughest encounter a duo of two Raven battleships but even that didn't take them long. All engagements timed and executed to perfection. No escape possible. Warning their victims in private tells would have been completely in vain, I could only watch them die.
Their warp ins were so perfectly timed (and on multiple gates too), that they must have had covert scouts in all high-sec systems bordering Ihakana, sitting cloaked at the other side of the gates and warning them for incoming prey. Their kill crew poised at a safespot and able to warp in on their victims within seconds of the feeding buzzer sounding over voice coms. The fact that two of the gates were so close to eachother in this system made it even more convenient for them as it greatly reduced their time spent in warp.
This was like a gang of Somali pirates with an official buccaneering license for the Suez channel except they didn't even bother with ransoms; warp in, kill, loot, hurry back to get in position, warp in, kill, loot, ... rinse and repeat. A complete routine. Probably the station on scanner near the gates was theirs too. Giving them a place to run to when things would get too hot. These guys clearly had Ihakana on "farming status"
When I informed our gang who had already been traveling for a good while, the first reactions were glum. We reckoned they might be scared off by our group size but our load-outs were paper thin for pvp and most of us were pretty fresh in EVE. We considered just stocking up on warp core stabs and run past them like chickens but they'd probably still be able to pick off one or two of us.
Then my CEO suggested to stand up to them.
Some players objected very strongly to this. One of the more experienced of us, I'll call him Squik, had lost a few expensive ships in pvp the previous days and he was near bankruptcy. Losing his Typhoon now would probably make him rage quit right away.
I eventually sided with my CEO. The alternatives were all sucky: run like chickens loaded out with warp core stabs with only a glimmer of hope of everyone making it safely past them into Otomainen, or head back to Dodixie after wasting more than an hour preparing for this. Everyone finally agreed and we decided to pull through.
And so it began.
Within 10 minutes we had plundered the local high-sec markets and bought all remotely useful modules for pvp available. After a heated discussion we convinced our gloomy, unhappy Squik that he would make the best possible bait in his Typhoon as it can pack a surprisingly deep buffer tank despite it being a fairly lightweight battleship. Next to tons of plating we kitted him out with scramblers, webs and disruptors to prevent the attackers from getting away too fast once they realized there was a small relief fleet on its way. We essentially turned his Typhoon into a massive flying brick with a lot of hooks and barbs, and at the helm; one very unhappy Squik.
Finally we were all equipped with improvised pvp fits and undocked. Knowing they had eyes on the gate, my CEO warped everyone except Squik to a nearby moon. Once we were in position, we aligned ourselves to the gate and urged Squik to get moving. We knew this moment was critical: if their scout would use his ship's scanner now he'd probably notice a sudden concentration of ships in his end of the system. But Squik's imminent arrival on their doorstep would hopefully distract him soon enough.
This was also the moment when adrenaline started to kick in; my hands started to tremble slightly and my stomach tried to twist itself into a knot. Always happens at moments like that. The prospect of a near certain pvp encounter in EVE is as unsettling as it is exciting and addictive somehow. Probably because there's so much to lose and so much to gain but also because there's often so much preparation and intel gathering involved that there's this gradual building up of suspense that only surfaces when your nerves suddenly start malfunctioning.
But we didn't have much time for contemplating: as soon as we were aligned, Squik in his lone Typhoon warped from the station directly to the Ihakana gate. Landed on top of it, triggered all their alarm bells and without lingering much he blundered through.
I alt tabbed to my alt who was still sitting cloaked inside of Ihakana. And sure enough, their trap sprang into motion like a clockwork. As soon as Squik's phoon materialized the killing crew landed op top of him, a flaring disco of red names on my overview.
Squik's excited voice over vent: "They are here ... they are ALL here ..."
"They engaged! Come help me guys, QUICK!!!"
My CEO had already initiated our fleet warp. His voice too broken to mask his feint composure; "We are on our way, Squik ... Just hang in there ..."
The seconds pass by painstakingly slow while we are in warp. The audio of my other account leaving no mistake that there is a battle raging next door.
Typhoon, battleship
"On our way, Squik ..."
Warps at moments like that seem to last forever but finally we land on the gate.
Fumbling for the right click > jump through command on the gate. I'm nose breathing like a horny rhino now. The swooshsy sound of making the jump.
"Soon into hull ..." Hopelessness in his voice.
As soon as the system loads, I frantically click in space to start moving. Oh man, the overview is one big red mess. Targeting the top few names.
"Deringor in a Hurricane is primary! Deringor in a Hurricane is primary! Buggernaps in a Hurricane is secondary!" Crap, had been targeting some other guys. Targeting the canes now too.
Too far out of optimal! I tell myself to stop shaking. Breathe in, ... breathe out ...
Defying orders and unleashing my mega pulse lasers on the nearby Harbinger I had already locked. Beams of righteous light surge forth, tearing down his shields in a single volley.
Somehow the moment when you start dishing out actual damage is a huge relief. And a Geddon equiped for dps in favorable conditions can really lay down some hurt on a battlecruiser.
Am I in optimal range? Close enough. Disruptor, ON, web, ON. The Harbinger is going down fast now with the help of some torpedoes from my CEO, who had also started to remote repair Squik with his other ship.
Harbinger IS down!
Switching to the primary cane while trying to get my Geddon's fat ass a little closer. Overloading its mods for a few seconds while blasting away. The first cane had already been receiving a pummeling from most of my corp mates and soon bites space dust.
Two down.
"Primary is Buggernaps in a Hurricane, Secondary is Lara Manfield in an Abbadon".
The second Hurricane attempts to get some distance but all the webbing and scrambling makes sure he's going nowhere fast. Our combined dps rips him apart in moments. A surge of euphoria. Dear gods, this is working out!
"Primary is Lara Manfield in an Abbadon, secondary is Hermandez in a Tengu."
"Tengu is getting away, POINT the Tengu! Web the Tengu! Guys!"
Crap too late. Too far out already. The juicy Tengu got away. Unloading together on the Abaddon now. The only enemy ship left on the field. Working through its huge armor buffer takes some time but eventually the helpless beast collapses.
Abaddon, battle ship
We frantically start looting the wrecks and move back to the gate, huddling together near the emergency exit like a bunch of schoolboys who realize they just defied their sixth grade bullies.
Four kills, zero losses. Everything else managed to get away. The whole engagement lasted maybe 5 minutes but somehow you lose all sense of time.
In hindsight I was just managing one ship and had my hands full with that, my CEO was flying two at the same time, had barely saved Squik with remote repairs and had to give orders too, for him it must have been twice as hectic at least. The reason we didn't get the Tengu is because we were ordered to first take out as much enemy dps as possible to help save Squik which was a good call, but I think we could have easily performed better if we had spread out our warp disruption and webs a bit more.
From a grumpy bunch of corp mates going for a plex, we ended up outwitting a nest of pirates who had much older (and thus better skilled,) characters than our own. We turned their trap around, got kills and loot without any losses and felt damn good about ourselves. Especially when talking to some other neutral players who were using the opportunity to travel through the system safely; "Yeah, we just killed four of them right here, should be safe for a while. Have a good day, man.", "No really, don't thank us, ...  it's what we do."
Everyone was exhilarated for the rest of the day. Especially Squik couldn't stop yapping and laughing over vent. I don't think we even bothered with the plex anymore. At least I don't remember we did.
TL:DR; A nooby highsec corp baits some pirates. Good times were had.
This was just a fairly amateurish, but for me very memorable example of how amazingly engaging games can be when players have the freedom to provide eachother with content and objectives which adds a huge sense of unpredictability to a game world.
Thank you for reading if you made it all the way here.


A delayed message for AAA mmorpg developers

Posted by DarkPony Saturday May 5 2012 at 2:35AM
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Dear Sir or Madam,

I come to you with a grave matter. It looks like your development department has missed a couple of memos addressed to you over the past years. We found them on the bottom of a mailbag which was collecting dust in the cellar of our office. Please accept our apologies for the delayed delivery.

I sincerely hope we didn't cause too much of an inconvenience!

With kind regards,

Your postman.

As a kid of 6 years old I was really happy to get a toy car at my birthday but at 16 years old I would have severely frowned at such a gift to say the least.

To me it seems that what the mmorpg industry is doing (at least the "AAA" branded part of it), is consistently developing the gaming equivalent of toy cars, or dolls, if you will, but not realizing that their audience has grown older, more experienced and more able. Even the younger generations are more proficient and more intelligent gamers compared to us older folks when we had their age.

Then why is it that it seems the industry is mainly catering for inexperienced, juvenile gamers?

Why is all content in AAA releases of the "ready made" kind and all player freedom severely restricted except in designated, clearly marked areas?

Why is the writing in mmorpgs catering for the lowest common denominator? (i.e. "For ages 8 and up")

Why is character development and a player's entire ingame property limited to a character name, a few slider settings at character creation, possibly a list of generic "accomplishments" and the gear you happen to amass?

Why does the industry keep falling back to cookie cutter battleground and instanced pve models and effectively taking out the "massively" aspect out of large chunks of their games?

Why do worlds have to be of the static kind, varying only due to respawn timers or event cycles and where no player influence is truly persistent?

Why do character deaths in most games mean so little to people that they don't feel really compelled to avoid it (even tempting players to use it as a means to fast travel), and with that, effectively taking out most of the excitement out of pve and pvp encounters?

Why is an aspect like crafting always limited to making gear, gear upgrades or potions?

Why aren't players given the freedom and mechanics to pick the role they see fit? And why are roles in general a non-existent factor in these games? (Apart from the predetermined profession based ones).

... I can only guess.

Might be that the industry is still looking at WOW as their main example of a successful mmorpg and "being like WOW" as a strong USP to get funding. (Even though they consistently forget about WoW's strong points like a seamless world and the ability to attack the opposing faction, even in its capital cities).

Might be that the industry is simply too slow to react; developing these games takes years, add in a little conservatism to attract funds or get the stamp of approval from your non-gaming CEO and you have a recipe for games that are outdated in gameplay values even well before they launch.

But more than anything I think "offering convenience" is the true infection plaguing our games these days: insta-participation, level scaling, clearly marked objectives, catering for casuals in terms of accomplishment per session, no real set backs, linear progression, premade rides that adhere to the strictest safety standards ...

It seems as if the last thing they ever want to do is offering players a true challenge (in whichever aspect) or proposing them the daunting prospect of more open-ended and diverse gameplay options. As if they are mortally afraid of having to deal with a single rage quitter who missed out on a dose of instant gratification.

Whatever the reason (feel free to add your own), this tendency results in a complete lack of AAA games that truly break the themepark mold ...

Games that put players back in control as an unlimited source of creating content for each other.

Games that challenge and appeal to our talents, intelligence and creativity.

Games that excite us and give us an adrenaline rush at times.

Games that are compelling and tempt you to dive in deeper, to find the role and niche that fits you best.

A common misconception I read often is that a game like that can only be a full loot, free for all pvp, sandbox like EVE or Darkfall, but even the area somewhere in between the ends of the spectrum is uncharted territory for AAA developers. And there is much more to be found in sandbox country than just a "ganker's paradise"; extensive building, crafting and rich economies with a myriad of opportunities for trading to name a few things.

Sure, the most renowned developers offer fresh shades and hues of existing aspects like questing becoming "dynamic-" or "public events", "offering story as an extra pillar", "action based combat" or by adding "meaningful world pvp" (yet only over designated objectives and in designated areas), but at the very essence they are still the exact same type of game.

Now that The Elderscrolls Online has been announced and the first available information we got makes it look like it will be yet another reinvention of the themepark formula, I kind of lost faith in the industry to really break the mold. It feels like there's a vast potential target group being completely left out in the cold by top developers.

And like in the past decade, those who are truly looking for something more deep, open, challenging and exciting, are still forced to look out for (often low budget) indy developments, or yeah, ... revisit good old EVE.

For me, at this particular point in time there's only one developer shining a beacon of hope, and it's shining from the far east, (despite my personal dislike of some of the design aspects that are branded "Asian").

ArcheAge, it isn't by choice, but may you blossom and come to fruition. Without you as a prospect, things would have really looked bleak for the likes of me.

*neighs solemnly and trots off*