Friday, January 29, 2010

Are we all casual?

I subscribe to Borderlands on Facebook. Not so much because I am addicted to the game anymore, but I enjoy what the developers did and the posts they put out. Recently they did an interview with Adam Sessler of G4 which can be read here

The article gives great insight into how the game was developed but there was one key phrase that really stood out for me.

Matthew Armstrong: “When you look at a role-playing-game you see something that's deep and more complicated and more tricky. What Diablo did was Diablo took the role-playing-game and made it accessible. Randy [Pitchford, president of Gearbox] often says that the skill used in playing the game is the same as opening an application -- it's mostly clicking, it starts very simple, it evolves and you learn.”

To me this is an obvious epiphany. I never considered it until Matthew said that but it is very true. Diablo took the very standard RPG game and blended it with an action game then made the interface so simple opening the program was the tutorial. One of the most popular games of all time was created out of simplicity and targeted mass market appeal.

I’ve always considered myself more or less a gaming snob. I’m willing to try out a variety of independent projects and give them a fair shot. The funny thing is this one quote has made me realize I’m just another average gamer. The Diablo series is one of my favorite gaming franchises of all time, a franchise designed around simple mass market appeal. Doesn’t this make me no better than the average gamer, and if so is that a bad thing?

The more I think about it the more I want to fit in with the crowd. As Keen has shown me lately I’m not going to get the MMO I want that blends old school elements with the ease of the game play and casual accessibility of the current MMOs out. The more I try to find this game the more I’m going to be let down. My elitist perfect game isn’t going to be made for numerous reasons. People don’t want to play that type of game and odds are I won’t even like it… because I want to believe I like that type of game rather then what I actually like. I actually like the games with blended genres and the mass market appeal.

This is something everyone has to do as they age. The world doesn’t stay the same and we must learn to adjust. Jon Stewart on the Daily Show did a segment last week about the various News Reporters on some major networks claiming that America is going down hill and it isn’t what it used to be. The point of his segment was to prove that when we are young we view the world with rose tented glasses. To a child the world is always a happy place because it is simple and they have nothing to compare it too.

I don’t think video games are changing for the bad. I just think they are changing and we aren’t realizing that this change could be good because we still remember our childhood fondly. So this makes me wonder, is Final Fantasy 3 really my favorite game because it was an amazing Role Playing Game or is it because I was a child.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I hate Win7

I just got a new laptop and I hate Windows 7. For being the most user friendly version ever it is the worst. I'll write a more in depth review early next week assuming I just don't return my laptop... yes it is that bad.

What you should be watching and aren’t!

This is a short post. It is just some other things on the internet I check out daily.

You Tube Channels
Like Totally Awesome
This is a great show about techy stuff. It has a lot of community created content and the viewers get to vote on who keeps posting stuff and who doesn’t. It’s is made by Phil DeFranco.

This show by Ray William Johnson airs two or three times a week. It covers viral videos of the week with funny commentary.

The Escapist
Ben “Yahtzee” Corshaw has a sick and twisted view on all video games. He hates pretty much everything but it’s always good entertainment.

Not so much watching but reading…
Keen and Graev’s Blog
The majority of the posts are done by Keen who has a fantastic writing style. He normally falls in love with new games quickly then grows tired of them in 2 months or so but it’s always a good read.

And last but not least Tobold’s MMORPG Blog

Tobold is more or less my idol with blogging. I enjoy his style and insight into the development of games. He is what inspired me to start blogging and I sometimes ask him to check out my site to give me feedback.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Beta is not an excuse.

I understand the purpose of Beta is to refine a game. I also understand that during the various phases of a beta test there will be unforeseen bugs, errors, and other glitches with a game. However once a gaming developer decides that their game is ready for an open or public beta and they drop their Non Disclosure Agreement with their existing testers, all apologies get checked at the door.

The purpose of an Open Beta is just as much to advertise the game as it is to test it… in many ways I would say it’s more about advertisement than testing. The only real test usually accomplished during an open beta is a server stress test.

So my personal opinion is that once a game reaches its final stage of beta, the game is done. You can form a valid opinion about the game and decide if it is good or not. Open beta’s are basically free demo’s of the game. If you are going to try and wow me during this early beta then you have to accept the criticism as well as the accolades.

When I was in Warhammer Online closed beta they had a lot of bugs. I forgave most the bugs though because we were still in closed beta with the NDA up and a good 6 months until launch. However once the game reached open beta and those bugs were still there I should have realized something was amiss. I was one of those people who tried convincing others, and myself, that it was still beta and it would be fixed… sadly it never was. The same thing had happened to me a few months before with Age of Conan and now people are repeating the trend with Star Trek Online.

When a game reaches a certain point in development it becomes near impossible to fix certain technical issues, for instance the game engine. If a game was developed using flawed code or an antiquated game engine no matter how much you patch the game it’s always going to have issues. These things can be pointed out early on in beta but are often dismissed because of the “It’s only beta” umbrella.

Once a game announces its release date and begins advertising in magazines and on Del Taco soda cups it is at the point where we as a gaming community are fully entitled to critique it. No one can make excuses for any errors in the game at that point. Beta is not an excuse, patching it down the road is not a solution.

You cannot pick and choose what reviews are valid about your game by hiding under the veil of Beta. If people raved about a game no one would claim that those reviews were invalid because it is still in Beta, how come we do the opposite when they are negative reviews?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Laptop Shopping

I’m currently shopping for a Laptop, which is interesting since I hate Laptops. Everything is so much more expensive to get it in Laptop form than it is compared to your standard desk top PC. The reason I’m getting a Laptop is my other one is 5 years old. Wait if I hate Laptops why do I have one to begin with? Remember I’m in the Army Reserves, so I travel a lot.

I use a Laptop for work as well as play when I travel. I am in communications in the US Army and I am heading to a 7 week course next month for my CCNA certification along with other advanced networking classes, enough about the boring why. Bottom line is I need a decent Laptop.

I am a huge fan of Best Buy. I bought my last Laptop there and I’ve gotten the majority of my electronics from them. They have an excellent return and service policy as well as fairly knowledgably people considering what they are paid. The guys in the computer department don’t feel like social outcasts either, the ones at Fry’s Electronics give me the creeps. The problem is Best Buy is overpriced when it comes to most… well all PC related sales. Sure the products are good, but you are also going to pay 15-20% more than if you shopped around.

I’m fruggle, sometimes. When it comes right down to it I won’t buy a piece of junk, but if I can get a good toy for cheaper I’m all about that. That has lead me to the social outcast cave of Fry’s Electronics. I don’t know if it is just the Fry’s I go to or if it is all of them but the employees creep me the hell out. This is coming from a guy who goes to Games Workshop Stores, yeah I should have a high thresh hold for socially inept people. (No disrespect to the Employees at Games Workshop they are by far the nicest people I’ve ever met at any comic/collectible store)

I think I just got distracted. Anyways I think I’m going to go back to Fry’s Electronics later today and pick up a Laptop. This Laptop is going to probably last me another 3 years and through a deployment to Afghanistan so I don’t want it to be too cheap, but on the other hand no matter what I buy it will be outdated in 6 months.

The worst part is I would rather just not buy one. I know I’m going to have huge buyer’s remorse no matter what Laptop I get. If I buy the best it will be that I spent too much and if I set my budget to low I will feel that I settled for an already obsolete machine.

Favorite Classes of all Time

I was thinking the other day about which classes I enjoyed the most out of all the MMOs I’ve played. Other than my number one choice I struggled to come up with a top three. From one MMO to the next most classes are extremely similar and offer little variety in the form of role or how they perform that role. Never the less I want to list my three favorite classes of all MMOs and why.

Number 3 is the Barbarian from Age of Conan. The Barbarian Class was more or less what I had always wanted to play in a MMO. You were a melee DPS class that could use two one handed weapons or one two handed weapon. The class was designed around dealing damage so it wasn’t some poorly implemented add on mechanic like a lot of MMOs do to their tank classes. The Barbarian Class allowed me to wield large weapons to mash, slash, and chop my enemies. It was the perfect DPS class for me.

Number 2 on my list is the Warrior Priest from Warhammer Online. At first I was very skeptical as to how a melee healer would work out but the Warrior Priest was one of the funniest classes I ever played in a MMO. You had utility and moderate damage and you could heal. It was a true hybrid by filling multiple roles of the Holy Trinity at the same time. The Warrior Priest is truly one of those class ideas that a developer really went out on a limb to try something new and it worked well. Kudos to Mythic for being different and still making it work.

My favorite class of all time is the Enchanter from EverQuest. I played an Enchanter for about 5 years nonstop. I loved the idea of the class. You have the best buffs in the game and are able to control an unlimited amount of mobs, your skill being the only restriction. One could really tell the difference between a good Enchanter and a bad one in EverQuest. In most MMOs a certain amount of classes are required no matter how skilled they are due to game play limitations. With an Enchanter in EverQuest you could bring one or two Enchanters and if they were good enough they could support a raid of 100 people or more with no downtime. I use to refer to the Enchanter as a melee caster because you were always going to get hit due to the high threat generated from your spells. You were always the first to die after the tank and the one class who could truly prevent a wipe, no matter how bad it appeared to be.

The Enchanter was one of those classes that were truly hard to play. It took skill and finesse to master your abilities and excellent time management and organization to keep dozens of mobs mezzed for the duration of a fight. I wish more classes were as difficult to master as Enchanters were.

Friday, January 22, 2010

WoW... Again, now Level 66!

I’ve been playing for over a week now. My play times have lasted anywhere from 1 hour to 3 hours, with the typical play time being 2 hours a night.

I’m currently about 75% of the way through completing the main quests in Hellfire Peninsula. I’ve been doing quests in between dungeons and I have constantly been queued for a dungeon at all times that I have played. The longest I have yet to wait is 18 minutes and that was after the group tried to form 3 times and of all things we couldn’t find a 3rd DPS.

I just dinged level 66 last night. At this rate I think I will be done with Hellfire Peninsula about the same time I’m ready to leave Outlands. This means while leveling from 57 to 68 I will have only visited 1 of the 7 possible Outland zones before I can move onto Northrend.

I love Dungeons, so this isn’t a huge deal to me. I’ve also leveled a Priest through Outlands and Northrend via Quest grinding when both expansions were released. However it just amazes how one feature such as Dungeon Finder can completely wipe out the use of so much content. Dungeon Finder has essentially made 85% of the work Blizzard has put into this game pointless, because I won’t see it.

It’s weird because I love dungeon grinding so much this doesn’t bother me; however I can’t help but feel that in another 6 months or year this is going to be a huge mistake. I feel like I’m at the edge of a cliff that is about to crumble and I don’t know how or when it’s going to happen.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Quick Thought

Why do I blog? No one reads it. Same reason people write every day in a note book they don’t show anyone. It’s a creative outlet. I use to do a lot of creative writing when I was younger. I didn’t learn to read or write until a little later in my childhood because the State of California decided I was a good test subject for 3 years of experimental reading programs. That meant I couldn’t read or write basic words until the end of 2nd grade and I wasn’t able to read a full book by myself until the beginning of my 6th grade year. Ironically I made it to the advanced reading group by the end of my 6th grade year.

I enjoy writing. I’ve been meaning to write some sort of book or play for a long time. I would actually really love to write a play. I started watching Glee on Fox this year and fell in love with it. The show prompted me to go to San Francisco with my wife and see Wicked, which was an amazing musical.

So I blog because I like to write, and I have an opinion. Like most people with an opinion I think mine is right.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Dungeon Finder

Lets try something different. I’m going to talk about what is bad with World of Warcraft 3.3 before I’m actually tired of it. It seems like my opinion would be more impartial if I’m criticing it while still enjoying the content.

Dungeon Finder is amazing. That being said I can see some potential pitfalls with it. With the new feature Dungeon Finder I can queue up for a 5 man PvE instance anywhere in the world. I’m then grouped with 4 other people from random servers and ported to the instance. I don’t know these people, I don’t really talk to them, and after the instance is done I probably won’t see them again.

This entire feature reminds me of the opening scene in Fight Club with the Narrator (Edward Norton) talking about “single-serving” friend. I meet people for the sole purpose of beating a dungeon as quickly as possible then I never see them again. It really breaks up the lack of community that would have normally existed if the group had been comprised of people off your own server.

Another issue I’ve found is that after a wipe, some people don’t know how to get back to the instance. As amazing as that sounds some people are still playing WoW their first time through. Going into Hellfire Citadel after a wipe one Hunter, yes it was a Hunter, got lost on the way back to the zone in.

People are experiencing less of the world, though they get to participate in the dungeons more. It’s a trade off, I guess everything in a MMO or video game is a trade off. You cannot have solo content and group content that is equally rewarding, because one will always be easier and players flock to the easiest way of progression. You cannot have instanced groups and retain a sense of “world” within the game.

I’ve been back to WoW for nearly a week and my Warlock is now level 63, started at 57. I love instancing and Dungeon Finder gets me to the group faster than anything else. However the game doesn’t really feel like a MMO as much. The world feels more like a chat room while I wait for a group to pop. I’ve spent some time questing while I was waiting but more often than not I find myself sitting around in the Undercity waiting for a group… a glorified chat room.

I think all MMOs that come out from now on will have to consider implementing a Dungeon Finder type feature. The problem is it makes the world disjointed. I think Dungeon Feature is one more step towards all MMO combat being instanced with just graphical chat rooms we hang out in. (Cities)

This is one of those features that is going to start out great, and in the end I think its going to be one of those things that we reflect back on as a temporary fix that just caused more issues down the road. The problem is that it will be perceived as a huge benefit to the game, and genre, other games will be forced to implement it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

What I'm doing

It’s interesting when I look back. At the beginning of the month I was dreading the upcoming absence-ness of a new video game or MMO. Two weeks later I’m completely content with the games I’m playing now. Borderlands has run its course, and while the downloadable content was a good idea it came just after I was burnt out on it… at least the latest DLC. I picked up Dragon Age Origins and fell in love with the game, it’s everything a RPG really should be. I started playing World of Warcraft again and despite not wanting to, I’m having a blast.

I really don’t want to post everyday about how much fun I’m having, but I don’t know what else to write. WoW and Dragon Ages are amazing right now and I can’t wait to play them. The hardest thing I have to do is pick which one to play.

Friday, January 15, 2010

WoW is the best... the end

This is going to be a short post. Star Trek Online is in Open Beta and will launch in 2 weeks. There are a few other MMOs out that I’ve never played; Champions Online and Fallen Earth are just two.

That being said I have chosen to go back to a MMO that is nearly 6 years old, World of Warcraft. I’m not even playing the newer content because I’m playing my level 58 Warlock who is just about to enter Hell Fire Peninsula, which that content is about 3 years old.

It says a lot about the other MMOs that have been released in the past 6 years that I would rather play WoW than any of them. I guess it says a lot for WoW too. World of Warcraft is by far the best MMO out there. No ifs, ands, or buts.

You may no longer play it, or like it, but odds are you did at one time. More PC gamers have played WoW than haven’t and most have at the very least liked it. I’m excited to log in tonight and run some instances.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Back to WoW

So I’m playing WoW again… not full time but I’m playing again. I re-subscribed Wednesday night and I’ve done 3 instances since then. I’m playing my 57 Warlock, which is now my 58 Warlock. For the first two instances I was Demonology spec’d and the last one I did I respec’d to Destruction.

Honestly the Dungeon Finder feature Blizzard created is amazing. I love being able to be anywhere in the world and join a queue for a group, find a group, then port to the instance. It makes leveling up fun again because I can do it grouping.

Of the three instances I’ve done, one was Dire Maul and two were Hellfire Citadel. You can really tell the difference in the quality of the dungeons when you go from a Vanilla WoW dungeon straight into a Burning Crusade dungeon. It’s night and day. The Burning Crusade dungeons are just done with such a better understanding of flow and forethought that they make the Vanilla WoW dungeons feel very… confusing.

The Dungeon Finder hasn’t kept me waiting for more than 10 minutes for a group. That is ironic because it took me longer to join a Battleground than it did an instance. I’ve done 2 instances between 7PM-9PM PST and I did one at 4AM this morning.

WoW is fun again for me. I haven’t played in over 6 months and I have no idea what I’m doing on a Warlock in a group but that doesn’t matter, its fun. I’m avoiding the theory crafting sites so that I can enjoy the purity of being a “noob” in the game. Once I get a little higher I may look into what spec is the best, but right now I’m just taking the abilities that look fun.

I’m doing 1 instance a night right now because the run only takes about 45 minutes and then I’m playing Dragon Age for another hour or two. It feels like a good balance between two games I really enjoy.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dragon Age Origins

I’ve been playing Dragon Age for about a week and a half now. I’m not going to dance around my opinion of Dragon; it is one of the most amazing games I have ever played. The beautiful thing is I don’t have to qualify that statement with any exception other than I haven’t finished the game yet.

Dragon Age is the first Role Playing Game where I really felt my decisions mattered. In most RPGs I’ve played you are typically living out a story that has already been laid before, much like a book. That doesn’t make a game any less any entertaining because of it, much like a book. However in most RPGs since I know my decisions matter very little I typically make intentionally stupid decisions just to see the outcome with no fear of negative repercussions. Dragon Age is not that way.

After about 6 hours of play I hadn’t really experienced any point where I felt I could ruin the game… until I left a town to go buy more potions somewhere else. When I came back the down had been burnt down and everyone killed because I didn’t stay and defend it. That is when I realized I needed to consider my decisions carefully in this game.

A few hours later I was in my main camp talking to my ally NPCs and I ended up taking a conversation in the direction that nearly made one of my favorite party members walk out on me. Each member in your party has influence points and if they get low enough they will leave your group.

This could all be an elaborate blanket Bio Ware is pulling over my head to fool me into thinking my decisions matter but guess what, it worked. In the end that is all that really matters, the illusion of control. Even if I’m not really altering how the game is playing out I feel as though I am and because of that I’m considering every decision I make more carefully.

Bio Ware has succeeded in drawing me into Dragon Age in a way I don’t think I’ve ever been drawn into a game before. I love the game so much I’m intentionally not rushing through it. I’ve gone out of my way to play Left 4 Dead 2 a few nights this week with some friends just to ensure I can enjoy this experience longer.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

MMOs aren't what they use to be

The MMO community is starting to fracture and tear it’s self apart. The problem is that historically the MMO game model has been solely used in coalition with RPG style games. More to the point the original term was MMORPG and the RPG was dropped simply to shorten the term, not as a sign of where the games were going to go. That isn’t the case anymore.

MMOs in their selves have become a type of game play execution rather than a genre anymore. For example many first person shooter games have employed RPG character building elements. It’s safe to assume when you pick up any FPS game that you know how you are going to view the game, but the actual game could be vastly different depending on if you picked up Halo or Oblivion.

MMOs have become a style of presenting a game more so than a game in its self. We can see this very clearly with the game Second Life, I’m not sure we should even call it a game. Second Life is an online constant world that thousands of people can enter and converse in. It offers no main game play but some customers have developed user made content with in it that could be described as games.

RPGs are heading towards a sub group of MMOs. I’ve heard rumors of a Modern Warfare MMO and with the moderate success of Second Life it’s only a matter of time before another persistent world is created for online socializing, imagine if Facebook had a graphical interactive feature where you could walk to other people’s houses or pages. This would be a MMO, but share no core gaming features.

It’s going to be a hard hurdle for the old school MMORPG gamers to adjust to. We were there at the birth of this technology and now it’s being morphed into other media forms that are seeing how successful it can be.

Just because something is a MMO anymore doesn’t mean it is also a RPG. The sooner the gaming and blogging community comes to terms with that the fewer arguments we are going to have.

PS I get total dibs and credit for thinking of a MMO Facebook.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Blizzards Future MMO

I like prediction posts. I understand they are mostly inaccurate but considering that all video games are based on imagination I think they let us consider the what if’s using our own imagination.

One of my bosses went to school with a Blizzard dev working on the new MMO. Last spring we were talking about Blizzard in general and he gave me a few leaks ahead of time… each one was accurate. The only one he told me about that hasn’t been announced yet is that Blizzard’s next MMO will be FPS related. That news… or I guess it’s still a rumor at this point, is all over the net lately.

Massively has been compiling all the rumors of Blizzards new MMO and it got me thinking. Based on what they have said and what I already know and suspect I have an idea of what Blizzard should do, if they aren’t already.

Let’s cover a few facts. Second Life is a success. It took the MMO game model and altered it for a social environment. The largest group of current WoW subscribers is casual gamers; in fact the majority of all people playing video games are casual. Social internet sites have been dominating the internet for the past 5 years in the same way WoW has dominated the MMO market. Steam is the primary method PC gamers purchase video games and Xbox Live is the most popular console community.

What does all this mean? Simple really; when you put everything together. Blizzard does not want to cannibalize players from World of Warcraft for its new game, that makes no sense. Why would they compete against themselves? This means the new MMO has to be truly different.

I think Blizzard is creating a community much like Second Life and the failed Playstation home. Users will log into a virtual world where they will be able to live. They will be able to a house and decorate it, these houses will facilitate the same uses that Facebook is used for. It will be their main point of access and contact to their friends, different groups, and various other personal areas. It will be a modern aged virtual world… or city more than likely.

To bolster this city Blizzard will add in a FPS game portal. You can jump into a FPS style game with RPG elements and play with friends. This will be a game within their created world. The beauty is Blizzard can launch the FPS game with minimal content because the selling point of their game will be the virtual community. This game will be for the Hardcore gamers, while the world its self will be for the social butterflies.

This will also permit Blizzard to link in all of their current games and future games with the same support and features Steam provides. You could launch all of your Blizzard games through this online world, thus adding to the perceived content of the world. It would also enable Blizzard to bundle multiple game fees together when customers may have only purchased one before.

If Blizzard truly wishes to expand this world even more and possibly dominate the entire gaming market Activision could pull all their titles off Steam and move them to this virtual world Blizzard creates.

The virtual world with no games would get a lot of people not interested in games to log in, and then from there as they become familiar with the controls they could be convinced to buy other Blizzard or Activision products.

If Blizzard and Activision do this, and it works, it would overshadow all other gaming communities.

Friday, January 8, 2010

So this is what I want?..

So after 4 days of looking back on MMOs what have I learned?

To be honest I don’t know if I have an answer to that. I know I like games that offer some form of Player versus Player; however I don’t know if I like that being the focus of the entire game. I enjoy voice acting from NPCs and quest logs that are filled with entertaining lore but I don’t like quests that are chores. I prefer quests that are truly epic, that take more than five minutes to complete and require some thought and work. I despise the yellow ! above the NPC’s names now.

I want the world around me to change in a meaningful way like phasing. I want an entertaining tutorial that provides a solid foundation for how the game is going to be played and a look at what the end game will really be like so I can better understand if this is really the class I want to play.

I want grouping to be the first choice of every person playing and solo content to be something you do when you don’t have enough time to dedicate to a group. I want real challenges, not just stay out of the fire. I want the game to push my limits of how I play my character and force my friends and I to think outside the box.

I want to be my own unique snowflake. I want to design my class around how I want to play it. If I want to specialize at something I want to be better than someone who is balancing out their skills, but I want us to both have a viable place in a group setting.

I want the game to feel like a world and not a game. I want to feel as though I belong here, that what I do makes a difference and that I am a part of the community. I don’t want to play an EQ, WoW, AoC, WAR, or DAoC clone. I want to play a new game that has taken these ideas and improved upon them. I just don’t know what that game is.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

MMOs... the bad Part 4?

Of all the games I’ve talked about this week each also held features I did not like. I think it’s only fair to identify the short comings of each game if I’m going to praise their successes.

EverQuest only had one drawback in my opinion. It required far to large of a time commitment to do anything in the game. If I didn’t have 4 or more hours to commit to something it was typically useless to try. I’m sure if I played today I would find other issues but at the time I played EQ that was my only complaint. The only nice thing was most players understood the time commitment and when you joined a group you had a fairly good idea everyone else was going to be around for awhile.

World of Warcraft has a lot of little things I could complain about, but I don’t think that’s fair. Simply because I’m burnt out on a game doesn’t mean it’s a failed game feature. The few complaints I’ve had since my best days in WoW are that the quests always felt like chores. Collecting 10 of something or killing 8 of something isn’t a quest, it’s a chore for a lazy NPC. It wouldn’t be bad if they were rare but for 80 levels that is the primary type of quests you complete.

My other compliant is one I think a lot of MMOs are going to face and that’s gear inflation. The item quality in World of Warcraft is increasing so fast that it makes older gear trivial to fast. For comparison in EverQuest you could still use items that were 2 years old and they were considered good through a few expansions. My last complaint is that World of Warcraft has simply too much solo content. The primary method of leveling from 1-80 is by yourself. That doesn’t feel like a Massively Multiplayer Game to me.

Warhammer Online had a few issues too. I’m going to avoid the pitfalls of hardware issues because this is about game features, not technical difficulties. The major issue Warhammer Online had was the balance of power. WAR had two armies and one of them had to lose. As one army started to lose, more and more people would defect to other servers, causing a greater imbalance and thus losing even more.

WAR also suffered from class synergy balance. I know many games suffer from class balance but in a PvP game it is so much more pronounced. Certain classes, such as Bright Wizards, when stacked in a group could produce an unfair amount of damage. I’m sure it has been changed by now, or I hope so, but this was the case for 9 months of me playing the game. Certain group make ups synergized to well that they easily became over powered. My final complaint with WAR is just the lack of replay. You had to clear nearly all of the content in your given level range to advance. This left nothing new for you to play if you rerolled another race on the same faction.

Dark Age of Camelot only lacked one thing when I played it and that was a solid PvE experience. I never played through any expansions and I’ve heard horrid things about the PvE they did release but that was my only complaint while I played. When there was no one to fight we lacked many options at the higher levels for PvE.

Age of Conan lacked for lack of a better description the entire game past level 20. There just wasn’t enough mid to end level content to keep a lot of people entertained. Tortage had should us what could be done and the rest of the game just felt inadequate afterwards.

So there you have it. What I liked in a MMO and what I don’t like. Now let’s try and figure out what MMO would appeal to me the most.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Figuring out MMOs Par 3... Triple Play!

Sorry for not having this prewritten, I’ve been busy. Today I’m actually going to cover 3 games. Two of these games I played for just under a year and one I played for 2 months. I played Dark Age of Camelot for 6-9 months off and on after release and I played Warhammer Online for more or less 12 months off and on plus 4 months or so of beta. I am also going to talk a little about Age of Conan which is the game that I feel had the most squandered potential, I played it for 3 months.

Dark Age of Camelot was my first real experience of MMORPG Player versus Player combat. Frontier’s made Dark Age of Camelot what it was. When you left the “safe” zone of your PvE area you felt like you were walking through the gates that held King Kong at bay. You knew from this point on dangerous things were out there trying to kill you. The driving factor that kept people out there other than PvP was that the best exp spots in the game were in the frontier. This provided our enemies with guaranteed prey and us with exp at a real risk. We could be safe for hours then have one ranger start picking us off one at a time. It provided a constant sense of fear and awareness.

Upon an EXP spot getting raided our realm would normally rally together to hunt down the culprit. It provided an excellent sense of community. The other great feature was that sense DAoC had 3 Armies no one was every truly out numbered. More often than not the two weaker armies would team up and attack the strongest. It provided a self controlled population and power balancing system.

Warhammer Online was suppose to be DAoC 2 to a lot of people. It missed the mark in some aspects but it did do some things better than the rest of the MMOs to date. Due to the detailed world Games Workshop created WAR had the most detailed and fluid Lore in a MMO I had ever experienced. A lot of the quests really felt like you were acting out events that would have occurred in a book. WAR was the first MMO were I ever looked forward to reading a quest log, even if it was a glorified chore at times.

WAR also stepped up the PvP and PvE unification by making most of their abilities have duel purposes. An ability that was often thought of as PvE only was given an alternate effect when used on players. Thus the tank classes could still use Taunt on other players rather than on just enemies. It solved an excellent situation of splitting your abilities up between PvE and PvP. Nearly every ability could be used in both portions of the game.

WAR also created an entirely new way to quest, called Public Quests. You could walk upon an area were a constant battle was going on between players and NPCs. You could join in at any stage of the quest and still have a chance at getting an item at the end. The longer you stayed at the PQ the better your chances got at winning one of the higher level items, until you won one. It was a great idea and during the games early stages it worked very well.

The last game which I played the least was Age of Conan. Age of Conan truly tried to set its self apart. The graphics were amazing and the AoC tried to reinvent combat. You got to choose where you attacked your enemy rather than just picking a type of attack. It was refreshingly different. That being said the thing that made AoC great, if even for a time, was the tutorial.

AoC offered the most in depth and well executed tutorial of any MMO ever. You entered the town of Tortage and got to experience voice over NPCs, a progressive story line, and adult plot themes. During this entire tutorial you had the option to solo or group through it. Level 1 -20 of Age of Conan is the best intro to any MMO I have ever played.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Figuring out MMOs Part 2... WoW

This week’s series of posts was supposed to be just one, but it grew too long. Please bear with me as I am trying to be as fair and rationale as possible with analyzing what I liked about a few specific MMOs that I played for 3 or more months. Today I’m delving into the powerhouse that is World of Warcraft, by far the most influential MMO of all time and arguably most influential game of all time.

I didn’t play WoW at launch; I actually played EverQuest 2 at that time. Two months after they both launched though I was mobilized to Iraq. Upon returning all of my friends were playing WoW so I decided to give it a try that was January of 2007 so it was only a few months before Burning Crusade came out.

In so many ways when I first started playing World of Warcraft it just felt like a continuation of what EverQuest was trying to do. They game was designed in a way that the moment you logged on you knew what you had to do. It was very straight forward which was refreshing.

As I leveled up I discovered a few things that I loved about WoW. The skill tree’s that WoW used was a lot like those found in Diablo 2. You could really feel all of Blizzard’s other games influence on WoW. The different skill tree’s offered a way to play the game in various ways with one character. My hope was that this would give me 3 play styles to fulfill essentially the same role, being a priest I wanted to heal. It offered variety and I could change my priest so he was a little different than all the others.

World of Warcraft took the dungeons I had loved in EverQuest and turned them into something amazing. I am still a huge fan of EQ’s open dungeon system but WoW made each dungeon feel like a real adventure. It was just your group in the zone so the dungeon became personal. You got to experience all the content the dungeon had to offer without worrying about being killed by other places uncontrolled mobs or fighting over rare mobs. WoW also designed the dungeons in a way to utilizie various class builds and group make ups. The holy trinity was there but the DPS roles could be varied more often than in EQ.

World of Warcraft would do one more thing that amazed me, and it wasn’t even their idea. Blizzard took an idea I believe Lord of the Rings invented with “Phasing”. With phasing the player could experience a change in the world without altering the world for everyone. A certain area of the map would alter or change based on what quests you had completed and the other players would still see the old area.

The one thing Blizzard is notoriously good at is polishing. They can take anyone’s idea and make it better. That’s not to say Blizzard hasn’t come up with their own good ideas, they have. It just seems to me that the best ideas Blizzard has implemented were taken from other games, not just other MMOs, and improved upon.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Figuring out what I want in a MMO Part 1 of ??

Over the past 10 years I have played a large number of MMOs. Last summer during a gaming lull I went out of my way to try the free trials of the few major MMOs I had missed. The only one I have yet to play that I consider “major” would be Lord of the Rings Online.

Out of all of these MMOs only four have held my attention for more than 3 months and only two of those have held me for over a year. Of the two that held me for over a year they each held me for multiple years, so if a MMO can keep me for 12 months then they can keep me for 24 or 36 rather easily.

I played Dark Age of Camelot of 4 months at release plus 1 ½ months during beta. I played Warhammer Online for 11 months off and on after release and 5 months of beta. I played World of Warcraft for 2 ½ years starting 3 months before the launch of Burning Crusade and I played EverQuest for 5 years starting at launch.

Considering how many MMOs I have played I’m an currently trying to figure out why I liked each MMO and to come away from this with a better understanding of what I’m looking for in a MMO. This isn’t a blog about what I think the perfect MMO should have. This is a list of things a I’m going to look for in an existing MMO to better make a decision on purchasing and playing it.

Let’s start with EverQuest and what I loved about that game. Obviously it was my first MMO so the first one always gets a little extra helping of love when looked back upon but EQ really did have some good qualities. EQ was by far the most immersive MMO I have ever played. There were times where I would get lost in the game for hours just being an Iksar or High Elf wandering around your home city and exploring. When you went to a foreign city you really got a sense that you didn’t belong. Depending on your race and faction the guards would kill you out right and most merchants would ignore you at the very least or attack you.

Every race had their own home city. You leveled up in this area and it was extremely difficult to travel anywhere. Most low level areas were surrounded by areas with much higher level monsters that could kill you in one shot. In a way you felt trapped early on in the starting areas but it fostered a kin ship with other players. If you were a Gnome the first few levels were spent exclusively with other gnomes. You developed pride in your race as the first challenges you overcame were always with your own race.

It wasn’t just the feeling of immersion that fostered my long time love for EverQuest, it was the challenge. EverQuest was an unwritten rule book of how to play a MMO. Prior to it we had no basic training on how to conduct a raid, manage threat, how to conserve mana or do healing rotations. There was no boss walk through web sites to go and refer to. Each and every raiding guild kept their strategies a secret because raiding was hyper competitive. We had to die countless times to learn what a raid bosses abilities were, how much DPS he did, how much threat we could manage and so on. No one told us how to beat the bosses so when we finally did down one it was that much more of an achievement.

EverQuest didn’t just provide difficult raid encounters, the 5 man group content could be just as difficult at times if you cared to challenge yourself. In EQ we really did dungeon crawl. You had to move your group as a whole unit through tunnels avoiding respawns and killing deeper and deeper to get to whatever goal you had set, be it an item or rare quest piece. You could take a 5 man group and attempt some raid level content as well, I remember the first time we broke Plane of Fear with 5 people. Breaking a zone means clearing enough mobs to make it safe to enter. (PoF was one of the hardest zones to break in the game)

EverQuest provided a deep and never ending list of challenges for a truly dedicated gamer. You had to think outside the box to overcome challenges simply because we didn’t yet have a box. It also provided you with a sense of belonging, where everybody knows your name. You could run a pick up group every night of the week, it would be successful, and you would recognize friends from other guilds.

EverQuest fostered everything that I loved about online gaming. Community, evolving challenges, and immersion.

Note tomorrow will be on World of Warcraft. This is going to be a series of what I liked about certain MMO’s and next week I will do what I disliked about each one. By the time we are done I should know what I’m looking for in a MMO in the future.