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Julian's Ranting Corner

Most mmorpg devs out there would like us to believe that it is fine to pay monthly for half-baked babies because, you know, it's all so complicated. Well, if they were to listen and learn from past experiences, they would make products worth p(l)aying.

Author: jaubourg

Just Love

Posted by jaubourg Sunday March 14 2010 at 8:31PM
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Are you as much in awe as I was when I saw this?

Hope, people, this kind of project gives me hope.

Don't miss the website, watch some awesome videos about the gameplay and the tools behind the magic among others, download the beta client to see if it works okay on your config (just the landscape behind the menu but you'll get an idea) and just support this work of art made by the hands of a single man once it's released in March 25th.

Just Love.

(more screenshots here)

Pirates of the Burning So-So

Posted by jaubourg Saturday March 13 2010 at 4:26AM
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Following the prequel to the blatantly lacking re-review of Pirates of the Burning Sea, I decided to give it a try seeing as I finally cancelled my CO sub (see my previous post), I am level-stagnating while toying with the Architect in CoX and I just can't get into Allods like I (and my guild-mates) would like to since it's really really more of the same (I stopped playing WoW for a reason).

Anyway, FLS has some minimal feedback thingy on SurveyMonkey and I decided to try & post some "constuctive" criticism. Here I copy/paste the text I sent FLS, verbatim.

Character creation is so-so. You can easily do something "in flavor" but choices are too limited (especially eye patches and patterns for the different clothes), setting the correct hue is something of a guess work because of existing colors on the textures and most female faces are horrible. Also, why oh why is the skin color attached to the face? At least, you could provide different skin variations even if you ensure chinese faces have yellowish colors... and only *1* female black face?

Still, I can make characters with style.

Naming is too short and there is a definite need for a nickname between the first and last name: for instance,
- "Mad" Marry Thompson could be called Cpt Thompson, Mary or "Mad" Marry by NPCs given the context
- Tom "One-Eye" Sharks could be called Cpt Sharkes, Cpt "One-Eye" Sharks, Tom or "One-Eye" by NPCs given the context.
Would also be nice to have nobility titles too as a possibility. Those names lack flavor.

Avatar animation is truly awful. I create this nice character and then I see it painfully clanking around, like some broken robot. Also, self-shadowing is broken, especially on the face and upper body. Oh, and centering the view around the head is bad. I like to turn around my character and admire him/her, get a feeling of what the character is and make up stories between endless questing. With the centering on the head, zooming in means I only see a small portion of my avatar and I can't look at the details of his/her boots for instance.

The stance system is interesting, but having it reset everytime I enter an instance (that is every minute or so) is a real real inconvenience (and it doesn't make sense anyway).

Also, targetting in combat is a pain in the ass. Auto-targetting should happen with every attack to the closest opponent, even if he's behind you, and your avatar should always face its target: that would turn a completely senseless and confusing scene into a real action sequence.

UI could need some loving. Lots of unnecessary clicks all around. For instance, do I really need to click twice to get another quest after I accepted one? All that for 2 lines of NPC dialogs I'm sure nobody will ever read.

Ports are claustrophobic at best. Is the 3D engine so demanding you had to occlude everything past 10 yards? Seems to me you have some low-grade engine and unless you're targetting very old configurations, you could expand the view quite a lot. All onland maps feel like a tiny little maze and it really doesn't help immersion. Also, instances for every buildings in town is a no-go. They serve no purpose at all: open those doors and bring some life to your ports.

Introduction tutorials are so-so. It's cool that they are different for each nation but they should also be different for each class. It's also quite obvious they are just a mean to an end. Wouldn't it be a perfect spot to introduce the solo storyline more extensively, step by step? I mean rather than just with the map being always handed to you by your dying captain in the end? Talking about the solo storyline, I was quite disapointed when I realized dialogs had no impact on what the NPC was replying. Whether I'm rude, polite, prudent or reckless, I always get the same reaction.

Music is awesome. Let me repeat: music is AWESOME. Same with sound effects. Fits the theme perfectly. POTBS is the first game where I set music to play constantly in a looooong time. Congrats on the guys and gals behind all this.

Learning curve is really steep. Why put the economic system, the avatar combat system and naval system in the face of the player all at once? I mean, I started with a pirate and I expected to take a boat and start raiding ships. But I get these quests about building factories and all that (which is nice, mind you, but a pirate paying people to chop wood? Really?). I thing the game should differentiate more between classes. Merchants should be merchants, militaries should accompany convoys and defend ports and pirates & corsairs would fight the "dirty" war, looking for preys or bounties. What's really missing is a swashbuckler class that would specialize in onland combat and/or boarding (but that would necessitate the possibility for a player to embark on another player's boat). I can see why you chose to allow everybody to be a captain, swashbuckle and building his/her own Indian Company at the same time, but it should be harder and a conscious choice for a pirate to get into construction and for a merchant to get into commanding ships. And whatever the decision, all economic growth of the pirates nation should come from piracy and/or questing. They should not be able to build a proper economic system.

It could be interesting to have more than one character for the same ship. That way, you could have a captain, a merchant and a swashbuckler and play the relevant one given the situation.

Though naval combat gets extensive tutorials, fencing doesn't and it's a shame. I can feel there is tactics in there but I'm not taught it like I am taught naval tactics. That's really really really missing.

Naval combat is nice, though I think it would gain to be a bit faster paced (a simple 1.5x time acceleration would do). Changing amunition is really not easy and I'm sure a drop-down menu (with no icon to help you spot ammunition type right away) is the worst UI system you could have come up with. I feel what's missing is some kind of orders stack. You could initiate orders, cancel them, re-prioritize them by drag and dropping in the list and determine the % of the crew that works on each of them. Also, I dunno if I'm a fan of manually turning the ship around. Would be nice to click on where you want to go or have "move" orders. If you have a "trained skipper" advantage, you get there faster because the skipper plays with the wind but you would still have to take the wind into account when issuing your orders anyway. Also, with an orders stack and movement orders, having less crew would also mean not getting movement changes handled as quickly if you're recharging cannons for instance even if your sails are intact: there is so much you can do when you have 10 men left out of a 30 men crew: speed and reactivity are two different things. Also, I would turn repairs into orders and have them take of the crew to realize (slowing everything else down), though I didn't control if it wasn't already implemented that way.

Side cannons shouldn't have auto-targetting. You should be required to get the angle right and fire at the right moment. Would make it more difficult to cripple a ship so quickly while making it easier to target multiple ships at once (like one on each side).

Anyway, the idea would be to make naval combat less of a keypress experience and more of a tactical/high-level battle. Still, what you have in that department is engaging.

I'm using the free trials and, though I can understand some limitations, not being able to talk into every channel is more crippling than limiting: how am I supposed to ask for help/advice in a highly instanced game when I can only speak in the local channel? I'm pretty sure I would understand and enjoy far more of the game if I could get some guidance. Without such help from the community, the free trial is a sure way to get rebuted by the overall complexity.

Couldn't test the economy properly or extensively yet. I've read it's good and it seems so from what I saw in-game. At least, it's complex and varied though I have a feeling it all boils down to building ships in the end.

My 2 cents though. It is my understanding the game gets less and less servers (which surely means less and less subscribers as a cause) and my impression is that the game is slowly dying. If you happen to make another pirate-oriented MMO, I'll be sure to check it. Get a decent 3D engine to limit instancing onland, enhance character creation and animations and strengthen naval combat & economy. There is potential here and you got it quite right when it comes to naval combat and sound from what I can see.

 

All in all, I'd give the game a 4 out of 10 though it is hard not to like it. That's weird really. It's like the game came that close to being a work of genius but crumbled under bad design decisions and poor technical execution (especially when it comes to graphics).

Oh, and I now have access to the closed beta of All Points Bulletin... but shush! I can't talk about it.

 

Oops! I did it again!

Posted by jaubourg Thursday March 4 2010 at 5:28PM
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ooopsYep, got caught renewing my subscription to a "game" I grew up hating, just because I so wanted to love it (<3 k? olol²).

So must go for a lot of gamers these days, I'm guessing, seeing how current MMORPG offerings are sadly reminiscent of the Barrens or of Nezebgrad: as dull as it can get.

Anyway, here I am, teleporting around in Millenium City, inventing stories of might and adventures in my silly head, while the geniuses behind Champions Online only deem my super-brea...heroine worthy of the most repetitive, senseless, tasteless, least immersive and most menial tasks.

Beware IRL experience: it can only grow

I think there is a blunt fact MMO devs didn't get quite right yet. Though communities like the one we have on this very site are kind of marginal when it comes to subscription numbers, it doesn't mean their views on games are marginal on their own or that they should be taken lightly as "yet other hardcore players whining" (and this fringe is not necessarily made of the most hardcore gamers, but that's another story).

It's simple logic, really, to think that the oldest, most disrespectful and most vocal MMO players will only grow in number as years pass. And there is no secret that the ones in action today became so cynical and demanding through time and bad experiences, not because of some gene that would make them impermeable to discussion.

So my advice to those about to release a MMORPG in the decade to come is to be aware they do so at the risk of seriously crippling their market-share if and when they try to pull off the kind of transparent and, let's say it, plain insulting fraud Cryptic presented us in the form of Champions Online.

In the beginning, every MMO has problems but...

Being one of the poor fellow who had to endure the release of Age of Conan, I know that a MMO has hicups when it is first released. I still think this is all due to poor testing and merchantile innuendo. When I see how smooth Allods Online closed and open beta have been going so far, I can't help but to think some studios simply have no clue what they're doing.

However, what I wanna talk about is much more dubious.

When I fired up Champions Online for the first time it all seemed very reminiscent of CoX (the umbrella acronym for City of Heroes and City of Villains for the few who wouldn't know). Reminescent to a point you had the exact same limitations and bugs.

The character creator especially comes to mind: same pre-selection of shaders, same forbidden combinations, same parts, same limitations, same everything indeed. Then, later on in the game, the exact same UI system with the exact same usability and technical issues. Then the same group of enemies, always linked by 3 (or 2 if you have a tougher one in the mix). Then a copy-pasted crafting system (and, as a consequence, as unexciting and pointless as in CoX). Then...

Hang on a second

So Cryptic advertised a lot on their new 3D engine, a slow and clunky engine by the way, that confuses cell-shading and "drawing a black line here and there" (a black line that is drawn after anti-aliasing and, thus, makes the most seamless rendering look like crap). One of these engines we've been fed for years now. On the pretense that 3D rendering in a MMO is oh so much more demanding and challenging than in a single player game, we have to accept low-grade "5 years in the past" solutions.

Anyway, we have a new 3D engine, all-right, but I slowly came to the conclusion that everything else in Champions Online is most probably a verbatim copy of the CoX source tree.

Come to think about it: isn't that an ideal solution? You re-dress an old game with new assets, put in new mechanisms with new characteristics and powers (which descriptions in-game actually gain Cryptic its very name) and release it for great dollars. After all, Microsoft did pull this kind of acrobatics before when they released Vista, a poorly re-dressed Windows 2003 server... with the success we know.

Is it a crime?

Not at all. One of the game developper I respect the most, John Carmack from id software, actually works this way quite often. But the thing is he always pushes it to a point where the next game is an entirely new (and enhanced) one. Such is not the case with Champions Online.

If I'm right, then Cryptic tried and conned us. If I'm wrong, and in any case, Cryptic decided to ignore feedback from the CoX player base and to reproduce the exact same game down to its worst (a feat on its own). If you happen to read through the Champions Online forums and if you've been a regular on the official CoX site, you'll feel strangely at home: same requests, same questions, same frustrations, nearly down to the wording.

Well, is it such a big deal?

One would expect a company like Cryptic to be smart and to share code between games to enhance productivity. But, see, that's their problem. What we do also expect as monthly subscribers and initial box buyers is enhancements from games to games. The thing is, with MMOs, that you quickly end up not paying attention to the gfx any longer (though the ceiling of Karazhan's library did have me looking up with pleasure the first few times), you rather concentrate on your actions, your health and your energy-whatever bars. So I'm talking fun-factor and gameplay-related enhancements here, not just some (not so) fancy 3D effects.

Sadly, what Cryptic added on top of CoX to concoct Champions Online is rushed, pointless or just plain wrong.

The new game is even more instanced than CoX. You have a handful of disjointed regions each managing to feel (and actually being for some of them) smaller than in CoX. You get back to the same zones over and over and over again which gets old as soon as you hit level 10. Beside, add auto-generated missions to the mix and, while the idea was to have everybody in the same big virtual world, you get one of the least community friendly and least immersive game I ever played.

Talking about the auto-generated missions, they are now served by civilians rather than you having to listen to a radio or to read a newspaper... big deal.

The "marvellous-super-extra-great-unique" feature, the Nemesis, is a sad joke. Not only do you have to wait to be level 30 to get it (a point a lot of players will never reach, out of boredom), but it's also as limited and impersonal as it can get. It's as if, back in the Burning Crusade days, Blizzard had granted you the right to edit the skin of Kael'Thas and his minions but would have fed you the exact same dungeons and quests anyway. Nothing fraking more. The few non-graphical decisions you take in the design of your nemesis have, at best, marginal effects on in-game dialogues. If you defeat your first Nemesis, you have 17 more to go... that is 17 times more of the same content. And that was the uber revolutionary feature, remember?

The free-style power system is also a let-down. Not only are there synergies within the same categories that will make most powers useless when taken alone, but you'll need a degree in "crypticness" to make sense of what specific stats or powers do exactly and under which conditions (that, in a big part, is due to the obtrusive interface from CoX). Rather than designing a real skill-based system, Cryptic thought it would be cool to actually make classes but to allow you to choose any power from any of the classes (imagine that in your favorite class-based MMO and you'll immediately see why it is completely wrong and cannot work). Still too early to know if this is fixable but I admit I have no confidence in the future of the system at this point.

Travel powers are as unbalanced as they were in CoX (take flying or, better yet, teleportation or be doomed) and the ultra-advanced power "customization" is a hue slider, period. So much for animations, sounds or anything remotely interesting for that matter.

And then... wait... that's pretty much it. Though I'd like to mention what CoX has that Champions hasn't: the Architect, the only thing that didn't make me quit CoX earlier than I did, that is before I realized how limited it was, a usual flaw of anything Cryptic it seems.

So why still play it?

Because I love super-heroes. I want to play one. I want to have fun... if only by teleporting around in a dull shell of a game. I could go back to CoX in all honesty, but that would be to toy with the Architect and be limited to 3 story arcs (unless they raised the bar, I didn't check).

See, I've been a pen-and-paper RPG player for nearly two decades now and I have played with awful game masters at times. So I know how to evade into my own little world with the faintest of support. I have backstories for all my MMO characters and, though I think MMOs are in no way a proper channel for role playing, I still add purpose and reasons to what I do in game... just like I did for this little triangle in Space Invaders back in the days.

Thing also is that I'm waiting for DC Universe Online to which Cryptic opened a boulevard by not learning and by taking its users' ignorance for granted. I also play a little Allods Online but, as technically stellar as I find it so far, it's just really more of the same. Beside, I payed for my Champions Online box, right? Good thing I didn't went the lifetime way as I was tempted to.

In the end

From what I heard, Star Trek Online is also a poor game. I'll keep as far as I can from it, though I'm a Star Trek fan. After this "let's get ripped off of fifty dollars to buy the exact same game over again" experience, I decided to never buy any product from Cryptic anymore.

They say "never say never again" but the MMO phenomenon is getting to a point where studios won't be able to trick their audience without consequences. Like I said at the beginning of this rant, the more time goes, the more aware the whole MMO population will get. Something to ponder if and when you decide to copy/paste a MMO for quick cash.