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Monthly Archives: March 2013

According to the BBC news, someone has built an RPG-like game that is actually an Excel spreadsheet

You may add your own cheap joke about EVE Online at this point.

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We have a GW2 dev blog describing the upcoming WvW changes which are far from a massive overhaul of something that seems far from broken (based on the fact that almost seven months after launch plenty of people are still happily playing in there… unlike, say, SWTOR’s Ilum). The updates at this point aren’t anything massive like new maps, revamped siege mechanics or objectives or a move away from the server ladder system. They boil down to an alternate advancement system that’s earned through completing events and killing enemies in WvW (and penalises farming the same poor sap repeatedly), titles that can be seen by the enemy faction even though your character name can’t so they at least have some idea how experienced their foe is, and a UI revamp to support these features and give a better overview of how the war’s going.

In other words, minus the UI change we’ve got DAoC’s realm ranks and realm abilities.

Almost.

The almost is that as far as I can see, the WvW ability points give abilities that are only useful in WvW. The examples given are things like being able to carry more supply to build siege engines, or an increased resistance to siege weapon damage. None of these will make even the slightest difference in PvE (absent some horrific coding error that applies the siege resistance to certain PvE damage sources), unlike DAoC’s realm abilities which were far too useful not to have even if RvR wasn’t really your thing. So there’s no incentive for PvE players to feel “forced” into WvW to optimise their character.

On the whole, I’m cautiously optimistic that these changes will be for the good. They’re nothing like what a lot of voices on the forums have called for – but then, no sane dev should EVER be swayed by most of the voices on a PvP forum. My only concern is that they move the balance of incentives in WvW away from the objectives of your server as a whole (take/defend keeps and make sure your supplies flow while denying them to the enemy, all of which are rewarded as dynamic events) and give a personal incentive to engage in mindless slaughter whether it supports your side or not, which is what RIFT’s Conquest matches rapidly devolved into and spawned the endless zergs of Emain Macha in classic DAoC. This is mitigated somewhat because at least you can also advance by doing the events, but if people decide they can level faster by just forming zergs and slaughtering each other repeatedly whilst their server’s score falls into the crapper then people, being the self-centred min-maxing little assholes so many of them are, will do just that.

Note to Mark Jacobs – watch how this one plays out when you’re designing the incentives in Camelot Unchained.

Somebody’s GW2 guild got deleted for having an offensive name and they’re not happy about it. For anyone following the link wondering what all the “kittens” are doing in his post, that’s what the ArenaNet forum filter substitutes for bad words, because it’s hard for a frothing ranter to claim an aura of I-don’t-give-a-shit hard-edged cool when what everyone sees him saying is “kitten, kitten, kitten”.

While I’ve got a certain, small amount of sympathy for the poster having lost the money and effort invested in the guild, I would suggest the take-aways from this little lesson are:

1) Swearing and screaming at people rarely helps, it’s more likely to make you look like a dick.
2) Only Terry Pratchett’s Death gets to talk in ALL CAPS, anyone else doing so looks like a dick.
3) Joining a guild with a name so obviously offensive that it draws official action is a bad move – it just means that when official action does get taken it will impact you, and meanwhile you’ll be running around in-game with a tag over your head that makes you look like a dick.
4) Cross-posting rants to multiple forums is also a dumb idea, nothing gets official forum action on your ass faster than breaking the forum rules not just once but in a whole slew of sub-forums. Also, it makes you look like a dick.

Richard Bartle has a fairly decent analogy of different ways of pricing MMOs (subscription, F2P, charge per hour) over here and comes to the conclusion that charging people for the time spent online is the fairest way to pay for playing. I can’t say I disagree with him, although I have a natural distrust of people using the word “fair” – everybody has a different definition of what’s “fair” and at least in politics it far too often boils down to “he’s got something I haven’t got so I should have it too, regardless of what he did or didn’t do to get it”. Anyway, regardless of the fact that I’m a flint-hearted conservative, a per-hour charge seems equitable – you want to play, you pay. When you don’t play, you don’t have to pay. And paying doesn’t buy you any advantage over other players apart from letting you play more, and most of us are OK with letting people who play the game more earn more in-game.

However, I don’t think charging per hour is a good idea. It’s fair, but it sets an incentive for regarding time as precious. Impatient players yelling “GOGOGO!” in PuGs are bad enough without them feeling aggrieved that your mana break is costing them 10 cents each and every hour it lasts. Your DPS being 4% lower than the benchmarked optimum means the dungeon run lasts 4% longer (assuming the entire party is 4% below optimum, and that the instance run is continuous combat…) – that’s real money! Stopping to chat or look at the scenery is wasteful profligacy of the sort that created the banking crisis, and of course any waiting for a world boss or event to spawn is obviously an evil conspiracy by the devs to fleece us of our money. You can just imagine the reaction if GW2 ran on this model and the Claw of Jormag waited until the end of his 75 minute spawning window – that would be twelve and a half cents stolen from each player by this cynical mechanic.

No, I’m sorry. Pricing per hour might be fairer, but the way gamers would react would just show why we can’t have nice things.

Not a lot to say here. When getting advice from a friend make sure your friend is really a friend. Friends don’t tell friends that Alt-F4 is an in-game shortcut 🙂

I hadn’t planned on playing in any of the Neverwinter betas. It’s not that I’ve got anything against the game – I’m not part of the rabid anti-Cryptic pack, but despite having lifetime subs running for both Champions Online and Star Trek Online (and not actually regretting either of those purchases thank you very much) I’m not a raving fanboy of Cryptic’s either… except in so much as I don’t think they’re that bad a developer, which is enough I think to get branded a “fanboi” by the rabid antis. Cryptic turn out serviceable MMOs in a playable state, or at least with about the industry standard level of bugs and service interruptions at launch, and as an armchair designer I’m somewhat impressed by how they’ve used the same underlying tech to produce three MMOs now which are each very much their own creature even while you can see the common heritage. That’s the sort of engineering approach we’re going to need to see if we want the development costs of MMOs to come down… and we need those costs to come down if we want more entrants in the market and to get away from new MMOs having to try and be “WoW beaters” in order to justify their budget.

That aside though, while I had maybe half an eye on Neverwinter as a game in development it weasn’t one I was goibg to rush to play. It’s Cryptic’s stab at making yet another generic fantasy MMO (Dungeons & Dragons is, after all, the gold standard for generic fantasy that all of the other games out there have drawn on). If I want that particular itch scratched then I’m already playing GW2, I’ve got a Rift subscription still active when I get the occasional urge to go run around and look at the Storm Legion expansion, and of course I still have a lifetime LotRO subscription if I can ever get the damned game re-installed successfully. So I don’t need Neverwinter. But when Cryptic sent me an email telling me I had access for the next weekend as a STO lifer, I went ahead and downloaded the client anyway. Because I’m weak. And curious… but mostly, I suspect, weak.

Now, I didn’t actually get to play all that much. I created two characters and took them through the tutorial and a little beyond. That was enough to get a bit of feel for the gameplay and a little look around. Graphics were decent enough, and character appearance customisation was very good – that’s the Cryptic engine, as used to make a wide variety of superheroes, new alien species and Klingons with a choice of nineteen different sorts of cornish pasty slapped on their foreheads. Gear customisation was on the other hand extremely limited – Neverwinter takes the WAR path of having each class locked to a single type of armour and style of weapon, making all drops class-specific and making all characters of the same class similar in profile.

Game mechanics are fast and action oriented, and are best described as “inspired by” 4th edition D&D rather than being an attempt to faithfully port the mechanics from the tabletop game as DDO did with 3rd edition. Your character has three sorts of skills – ‘at will’ powers, mapped to the mouse buttons, can be used pretty much without restriction (some have a generous pool of rapidly recharging uses, so they can’t QUITE be spammed indefinitely); ‘encounter’ powers which are on a short cooldown (say, 10 seconds); and ‘daily’ powers which fortunately can be used a BIT more often than that – you have a power meter that you charge up in normal combat and when full allows to use one daily power as a crowning moment of awesome. Combat is fast, with trash mobs dieing in two or three hits of my at will powers, and has all the hallmarks of an action MMO, such as having to get out of the red cricvles or cones laid on the ground to indicate a decent sized enemy attack. Each class seems to have its own active defence mechanic – my rogue could dodge very much like a GW2 character, while the guardian fighter has a block ability that lets you take a certain number of hits on your shield before your block bar needs refreshing. Outside of combat, the game was less Gw2 and more WoW standard, with NPCs displaying glowing “I’ve got a quest!” markers over their heads on every street corner. Not new or innovative, but I guess it’s a form of gameplay that has been proven to work. Some of the voice acting on the NPCs was of questionable quality (as in, even compared to GW2’s uneven voice work) and I groaned when I enhcountered yet another bloody dwarf with yet another over-baked Scots accent, but on the whole what I saw of the game was fun.

At the end of the day, though, Neverwinter is another generic fantasy MMO in a market that’s glutted with them. Would I pay for the game, or pay a subscription? Probably not, although that’s not because it’s a bad game, it’s because it doesn’t satisfy any unfulfilled need I have and these days I don’t have money to throw around like confetti. Would I play for free? Probably – but, at the moment, only if the GW2 servers were down. If GW2 took a significant turn for the worse (and by that I mean, Star Wars Galaxies NGE turn for the worse), or if a bunch of friends started playing Neverwinter and invited me to join them, then yes I probably would play it, and probably would enjoy doing so. It’s not revolutionary and its not going to overturn the genre, but it’s a serviceable-looking MMO. That’s what Cryptic does.