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Quote of the Day – MMO Content Delivery Pacing May 2, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online, EverQuest, Guild Wars 2, Quote of the Day, World of Warcraft.
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12 comments

Every patch has tons of content for nearly every aspect of the game. It’s exciting — there’s almost too much to do. When a new patch releases, we’re in WoW heaven.

Then months go by and that content grows stale. Blizzard doesn’t give us new content at that point, but peeks at future content. We’re starving for a delicious content meal, but we can only look at pictures of the food.

-Scott Andrew, article Blizzard should rethink their content release model

I know that being in WoW right now, this is something that a lot of people are probably mulling over.  The Siege of Orgrimmar update came out way back in September and players are not set to get anything new until the patch that will precede the Warlords of Draenor expansion sometime this fall.

See you guys in the fall?

Lazy Warlords!

Blizzard gets its share of flak for its long expansion cycle.  Ironing things out to smooth averages, we’ll see the 5th WoW expansion around the 10th anniversary of the game, so we get one about every other year.  This is actually kind of amazing when you consider how much Blizzard studied EverQuest during WoW’s development, because SOE appeared to be convinced that they needed to ship two expansions a year to keep subscribers happy and paying the bills.

Even after watching WoW in return for a few years, SOE felt that they could only relax their pace to an expansion a year.  So we are at 20 EverQuest expansions in just over 15 years, but I may not live long enough to see 20 WoW expansions at their current pace.

The flip side of this has been GuildWars 2, which went through a long stretch of dropping new content every two weeks.  I have no first hand experience as to how that felt as a player, but a number of bloggers writing about it managed to transmit a sense of frenzied exhaustion that I am not sure that ANet’s solution was the best of all possible worlds.  If fans seemed a bit frazzled, I can only imagine how the devs felt working at that pace.  And, in the end, a select group of players experienced a lot of one-time content that is likely never to be seen again.

They could run something like Super Adventure Box again I suppose, but storyline stuff that comes to a resolution would be jarring under all but the most specific circumstances, so becomes throw away content.  And you won’t find many devs who like to write throw away code, so I am going to guess the attitude about throw away content would run about as strong amongst game designers.

And then there is what is going on with EVE Online and expansions.

With all the talk about players being content, you might not think that expansions are all that important.  But, if you go look at the population graphs, subscriptions always surge after an expansion.  It turns out we like new stuff and the promise of such will get us to spend money.

CCP is going from their “every six month” content vehicles to what I have always called the “train” method.  Basically, you lay out a series of delivery vehicles… trains if you will… and as teams finish up features, they just assign them to whatever train is leaving the station next.

The CCP Train Schedule

The CCP Train Schedule

I have work with this system before.  We failed badly at it, but that was primarily because the product group that was told they needed to adopt this method was responsible for software that was wholly unsuited to it.  Enterprise software costing hundreds of thousands of dollars does not need six distinct releases a year.  No IT department I have ever encountered wants to roll an update to anything more than once a year.

Were that not enough, we also managed to shoot ourselves in the foot repeatedly.  We would have a big feature that would span many departing trains in progress, and some small features going out, but the big feature would depend on aspects of the product that the smaller features would end up changing every freaking time, thus making it nearly impossible to ship a feature that couldn’t be done in under six weeks.  You need strong leadership, discipline, and good communication for that. (As opposed to my project, which was an acquisition into our group and then had most of the team laid off. We were a mess.)

And then there is still the content question.  The train schedule sounds great in theory, but what happens if you end up with a delivery vehicle where no features are ready?  I am going to predict that there are going to be some uneven releases here, with some seeming amazing and some having us asking why they bothered to have a release at all.  As any child who has gotten a filler gift like pencils for one of the days of Hanukkah can tell you, sometimes it seems like a good idea to save everything up for one big surprise.

Add in how CCP generally handles content releases… which from the outside looks like three months of development followed by three months of fixing what they just shipped… and it will be interesting to see how their new plan plays out.

In the end, I am not sure which one of these methods is the “best,” or even if any of them are optimum in any way for the company using them.  All I can guarantee is that we’ll complain about them all no matter what.

Back to looking at pictures of food.

SOE’s New All Access Plan Up and Running April 29, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Sony Online Entertainment.
2 comments

After a couple of false starts this month, Sony Online Entertainment has finally launched their new SOE All Access plan, which was announced back in late January as part of some big changes to their game lineup.

For what was once the price of a single Gold subscription you can now have premium access to a range of SOE games.

The new SOE All Access pricing

The new SOE All Access pricing

There was a time when this would have been an “OMFG must have this” deal.  Despite closures, both recent and pending, SOE still has a few games in its stable and more on the way, each of which delivers its own set of benefits should you go with the SOE All Access plan.

Not coming soon: EverQuest Next

Not coming soon: EverQuest Next

The problem, for me at least, is that my complex relationship with SOE and its games is at a point where I now get my limited fill via free.  EverQuest II is a strange place for me now, EverQuest is best left as a happy memory (at least until they launch a new progression server… maybe some day), while neither PlanetSide 2 nor DC Universe Online ever really lit a spark.  I have some mild interest in where Landmark might end up, but that is out in the future.  And H1Z1 is… I don’t know… somebody is going to have to sell me on that.

So while I applaud SOE continuing to be a leader in this area, there isn’t really any call for me to subscribe to their brand new plan at this time.

Maybe when EverQuest Next makes the “coming soon” list.

Quote of the Day – Never Shutting Down EverQuest April 2, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, EverQuest Next, Quote of the Day, Sony Online Entertainment.
7 comments

EverQuest and EverQuest II? We hope they never die. We have no intention of ever shutting those games down.

-David Georgeson, interview at IGN

I was just picking on Georgeson this week because of a quote from a year back about the idea that MMOs should never die.  Of course, this week we saw SOE shut down two of them, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures and Free Realms.

CWA is understandable.  That was a tie-in with a TV show and clearly had an expiration date.  But Free Realms, that was all SOE’s to do with as they pleased.  Ah well.

Still, I am more likely to take him at face value when it comes to talking about the EverQuest franchise, the bedrock on which SOE rests.  SOE without Free Realms is still SOE.  SOE without EverQuest though?  I am not sure that is an actual thing that can survive in our universe.  We’re fifteen years in and the game is still playable and getting new content.

Valmont Mounted

My new char, 15 years into the game

So EverQuest forever and all that.  At least I expect to see EverQuest hit 20.

But I still wonder how things will play out once we have EverQuest Next in the house… probably about when EverQuest hits 20 if we keep getting updates about it at the current rate.

Two EverQuests on the scene I can fathom, but three?

I suppose it depends on what the plan is.  I am pretty sure SOE figured people would move from EverQuest to EverQuest II and they would shut that down in a couple of years.  Instead, people either stayed with EverQuest because they were invested or, as like as not, ended up in WoW.

Is EverQuest Next expected to coexist with its two direct predecessors?  Given recent history, how long can that last?  And who goes into the night first?

Maybe they can recreate EverQuest on the EverQuest Next platform.  You can say that it won’t be the same, but when has EverQuest ever stayed the same for long in the last 15 years?

Picking My 15 Most Influential Games March 21, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Diablo II, entertainment, EverQuest, Pokemon, TorilMUD.
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28 comments

Jackie at Kitty Kitty Boom Boom, prompted by lvling life, put up a list of her top 15 video games.

There was a methodology by which you were supposed to generate that list.  It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal.  You were not supposed to spend a lot of time with it.  And, of course, I tossed that aside.  Rather than a quick list of 15 special games, I ended up with my list of the 15 most influential video games in my gaming career so far.

And what do I mean by “influential?”

I mean that they opened up new idea, new genres, or new points of view for me when it came to video games.

Influential does not mean that they were my favorites, the games I played the most in a given genre, or even all that good in a few cases.  So, for example, I have played a LOT more World of Warcraft than EverQuest at this point in my life, and I am not really all that keen to go back to EverQuest.  But EverQuest is the more influential of the two.  Without it, there would be no WoW, and without me playing it in 1999, I might not have made it to WoW.

Anyway, on to the list.

1. Star Trek (1971) – many platforms

Star Trek in vt52

Star Trek in vt52

I have covered this as the first computer video game I ever played.  While incredibly simple, this game showed me the way, let me know that computers were going to be an entertainment device

2. Tank (1974) – Arcade

Tank!

Tank! In Black and white!

This was the game AFTER Pong.  Not that Pong was bad.  Pong was new and fresh when it came out, but I must admit that it did become a little dull after the first pass or two.  And then Tank showed us that man need not entertain himself with virtual paddles alone.  I wouldn’t touch Pong after a while, but Tank was always good.  You just needed somebody to play with.

3. Adventure (1979)  – Atari 2600

This Castle is Timeless!

This Castle is Timeless!

Yes, I got that Atari 2600 for Christmas way back when, but then there was a matter of what to play.  It came with the Combat cartridge, which included Tank.  And I also had Air-Sea Battle and a few others. But the problem was that these games were all unfulfilling unless played with two people.  And then came Adventure.  Not only wasn’t it the usual 27 minor variations on three two-player themes, it was specifically, unashamedly single player only.  Here, loner, good luck storming the castle!  And it had odd behaviors and minor flaws.  I tried putting that magic bridge everywhere and ended up in some strange places.  It also had a random mode, that might just set you up with an unwinnable scenario.  And there was an Easter egg in it.

It was both different and a harbinger of things to come.

4. Castle Wolfenstein (1981) – Apple II

Graphics - 1981

Graphics – 1981

This was the first game that I saw that indicated that I really, really needed to get a computer.  An Apple II specifically, because that was what Gary had.  And he also had Castle Wolfenstein.

It was not an easy game.  You lost.  A lot.  The control system left something to be desired.  You really needed a joystick to play.  And there were so many quirks and strange behaviors that somebody created a utility program a couple years after it came out that basically “fixed” a lot of the worst annoyances.  I bought it gladly.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

But this game was the prototype for many that followed.  You’re in a cell and you need to escape.  You need make your way through the castle, picking up guns, keys, ammunition, German uniforms, and grenades.   Oh, grenades were so much fun.  There were other, later games I considered for this list, but when I broke them down, I often found that Castle Wolfenstein had done it already, in its own primitive way.

5. Wizardry (1981) – Apple II

Apple ][+ The Upgrades Begin

Apple ][+ and Wizardry

Basically, the party based dungeon crawl in computer form.  Monsters, mazes, traps, treasure, combat, and death.  Oh, so much death.  NetHack was a potential for this list, but I realized that randomness and ASCII graphics aside, Wizardry had pretty much everything it did.

And I spent hours playing.  I mapped out the whole game on graph paper, including that one level with all the squares that would turn you around.  The one with the pits of insta-death.  It also taught me the word “apostate.”

6. Stellar Emperor (1985) – Apple II

The GEnie version of MegaWars III at its inception, it was my first foray into multiplayer online games.  I have written about the game, even about winning.

Emperor of the Galaxy

Emperor of the Galaxy

But it was the online, playing with other people, usually the same people, making friends and enemies and having ongoing relationships that sold the game.  Again, it was primitive, even in its day, with ASCII based terminal graphics.  But there was magic in the mixture.

7. Civilization (1991) – Mac/Windows

The flat world of original Civ

The flat world of original Civ

Sid Meier was already something of a star by the time Civilization came out, but this cemented things as far as I was concerned.  I was considering putting Civilization II on the list rather than this.  Once I got Civ II, I never went back and played the original.

But that wasn’t because the original was crap.  That was because the sequel built on what was great in the original.  It was purely an evolutionary move.  But it was the original that hooked me, so that has to get the nod for influential.

8. Marathon (1994) – Mac

Spooky

Spooky

For me, this was the defining first person shooter.  There was a single player campaign.  There was a multiplayer deathmatch mode.  There were a variety of weapons.  There was a map editor and some mods and an online community that built up around it.  Everything after Marathon was just an incremental improvement for me.

Marathon on my iPad

Marathon on my iPad

There have been better graphics, better rendering engines, different weapons, plenty of variety on arena options, all sorts of updates on match making and connectivity, but in the end those are just updates to what Marathon already did.  To this day, I still sometimes say “I’ll gather” when creating a game or match for other people to join.  That was the terminology from 1994.  I wonder what Bungie has done since this?

9. TacOps  (1994) – Mac/Windows

Before video games I played a lot of Avalon Hill war games.  Those sorts of games made the natural transition to the computer, which was ideal for handling much of the housekeeping chores.  However, in the transition, some old conventions got dragged along as well, like hexes.  And I hate hexes.  Yes, on a board game you need to use that hexgrid for movement.  I could accept that for Tobruk set up on the kitchen table.  But a computer was fully capable of handling movement without such an arbitrary overlay.  A couple of games tried it, but they tended to fall into the more arcade-ish vein, which wasn’t what I wanted.

And then I picked up a copy of TacOps.

Giving orders on an open map

Giving orders on an open map

I bought it on a complete whim, picking up the very rare initial boxed version off the shelf at ComputerWare before it went completely to online sales.  And it was a revelation.  Hey, terrain governs movement.  And cover.  And visibility.  That plus simultaneous movement phases rather than turn based combat meant wonderful chaos on the field.  The game was good enough that the military of several countries contracted for special versions of the game to use as a training tool.

I originally had Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin on my list.  That is where Battlefront.com really came into their own with the Combat Mission series.  But aside from 3D graphics, TacOps had done it all already.

10. TorilMUD (1993) – various platforms

Have I not written enough about the last 20 years of TorilMUDPrecursor to the MMORPG genre for me.  Without it I might not have understood that camping mobs for hours at a stretch was “fun.”

11. Diablo (1996) – Windows

A simpler time... in HELL

A simpler time… in HELL

I have written quite a bit about my fondness for Diablo II, while I haven’t gone back to play the original Diablo since the sequel came out.  But I wouldn’t be still talking about Diablo II or comparing the merits of Diablo III, Torchlight II, and Path of Exile had the original not been something very, very special.

12. Total Annihilation (1997) – Windows

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation was not the first RTS game I played.  I am pretty sure I played Dune II and Warcraft before it.  It is not the RTS game I have played the most.  I am sure I have more hours in both StarCraft and Age of Kings.  But it was the first RTS game that showed me that the genre could be about something more than a very specific winning build order.  All the units, on ground, in the air, on the water, were amazing.  The player maps were amazing, and player created AIs were even better.  The 3D terrain and line of sight and all that was wonderful.  And new units kept getting released.  And you could nuke things.  I still find the game amazing.

13. EverQuest (1999) – Windows

Fifteen years later and nothing has made my mouth hang open like it did on the first day I logged into Norrath.  I can grouse about SOE and the decisions they have made and the state of the genre, but that day back in 1999 sunk the hook into me good and hard and it hasn’t worked itself loose since.  Pretty much what this whole blog is about.

Froon!

Froon!

14. Pokemon Diamond (2006) – Nintendo DS

Before we got my daughter a DS lite and a copy of Pokemon Diamond, Pokemon was pretty much just a cartoon on TV and a card game somebody’s kid at work played.  Sure, I knew who Pikachu was, but I had no real clue about the video game.

And then in watching my daughter play, I had to have my own DS and copy of the game.  Make no mistake, despite its reputation as a kids game, Pokemon can be deep and satisfying.  It tickles any number of gamer needs.  My peak was in HeartGold/SoulSilver, where I finally caught them all.

Back when 493 was all

Back when 493 was all

While I have stopped playing, that doesn’t mean I don’t think about buying a 3DS XL and a copy of Pokemon X or Y and diving back into the game.  It is that good.

15. LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (2006) – many platforms

Filling this last slot… tough to do.  There are lots of potential games out there.  For example, I like tower defense games, but which one sold me on the idea?  But for a game that launched me into a lot of play time over a series of titles, I have to go with LEGO Star Wars II.

LEGO Star Wars II

LEGO Star Wars II

That is where Travelers Tales really hit their stride.  The original LEGO Star Wars tried to hard to be a serious and difficult game.  With this second entry, they realized the power of simply being fun and irreverent.  That was the magic.

And I only have to look at the shelf of console games we have to see that LEGO games dominate as a result of this one title. They have evolved, and in some ways I think they have lost a bit of their charm by trying to do too much.  We got the LEGO Movie Game for the PS3 and it didn’t have the joy of LEGO Star Wars II.  Still, 8 years down the road, the influence of LEGO Star Wars II got us to try it.

Fools Errand?

Of course, putting limits like an arbitrary number on a list like this means it must ring false in some way.  And what does influential really mean?  I know what I said, but I can look back at that list and nitpick that, say, Castle Wolfenstein might not belong.  And what about genres I missed, like tower defense?  I could make the case that Defense Grid: The Awakening belongs on the list.  What about games like EVE Online?  Actually, I explained that one away to myself, seeing EVE as sort of the bastard child of Stellar Emperor and EverQuest or some such.  And while TorilMUD is so powerful in my consciousness, would I have played it had it not been for Gemstone? Where does NBA Jams fit?  And what other Apple II games did I miss?  Should Ultima III be on there?  Lode Runner Karateka?

And somehow this all ties into my post about platforms and connectivity options I have had over the years.

Anyway, there is my list, and I stand firm behind it today.  Tomorrow I might change my mind.  You are welcome to consider this a meme and take up the challenge of figuring out your 15 most influential games.

Others who have attempted to pick their 15, each with their own history:

Level 85 in EverQuest… Now What? March 17, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, World of Warcraft.
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15 comments

these new boost 90s are ruining the game

-Search term of the day

Last week we got insta-level boosts in both EverQuest and World of Warcraft.

In WoW they are a $60 option, though you get one “free” with the purchase or pre-order of the Warlords of Draenor expansion.

In EQ they are a $35 option… or maybe less, depending on how you acquired your 3,500 Station Cash… and you can get one that is actually free for a limited time.  The offer for that ends on March 26.

So I had to go try these out.

I went for the WoW option, boosting up a Death Knight, which I covered in another post.  There were quirks.  Some of them have been addressed.  You no longer get dumped at Timeless Isle when starting out, which is probably good.  But there are still points where you wonder how a new player is going to handle an insta-90.

I had to go look up how to play my Death Knight now that he had all of his skills and access to all of his talents and would be expected to have glyphs in group content.  I went to Icy Veins this time around, which has a nice set of class guides.  A new player might do that as well.

However, I did have a serious advantage over a new player in that I knew what I wanted this character to do at level 90.  He is already out and exalted with the Tillers so I have another farm for trillium when I need it.  I have him on a couple of other faction hunts and running through some content that benefits me overall.  I never hit the “so what do I do now?” question.   Of course, he got through some of the things I wanted so fast that I’ve gone back to another low level alt that I am leveling up.  But that is more a matter of being boosted to level cap where there is only end But he is also my third 90, so things like LFR are no longer fresh and new.)

I did wonder how it would feel if I didn’t really have a goal, what the game would be like if I got that insta-level character and was facing a world in which I had no real plan.  I couldn’t do that in WoW.

But EverQuest looked like it might be a different story.  While I have played plenty of EQ over the years, I have never had a character past level 60, so most of the last decade of new content is completely unknown to me.  So I was curious to see how the EQ insta-level plan, which gives you a fully equipped level 85 character, would guide me.  Time to take advantage of that free boost.

Heroic for Free

Heroic for Free

More after the cut because verbosity.

(more…)

Firiona Vie’s Quinceañera – Happy Anniversary EverQuest March 16, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest.
4 comments

Fifteen years of EverQuest.

This is usually the day every year when I drag out the nostalgia, along with a few appropriate pictures, and reflect on my history with the game and whether it remains relevant to me or not. So why should this year be any different?

10 Years of EverQuest

Some EverQuest Stuff

SOE as well has seen fit to mark the anniversary of the launch of EverQuest at various times.  They have saved some key things for the anniversary.  Back on its 13th birthday the game became an annoying free to play teen (and continues to pop up “Have you gone gold yet?” alerts all the time).  Last year they used the anniversary to announce that they were removing some of the paid unlocks from the game on things like the quest journal.  This year we got free insta-85 characters and a couple other things mentioned in Thom Terrazas’ Happy Birthday Producer’s Letter.

And a 15 years later info-graphic.

How much has changes in 15 years?

How much has changes in 15 years?

Though they have done the info graphic thing a couple of time in the past.  At least one I linked to in past days has disappeared though, as SOE finally decided to delete the Station Blog at WordPress.com, destroying some more history in the process.

StationBlogGone

You can find bits of it at the Internet Archive, but you can’t really navigate it because all the links resolve to the site not the backup.  And ironic thing to happen during a celebration of history.

The EQ Dev blog, untouched since 2010, remains for the moment, so I was able to grab that Secrets of Faydwer timeline that then producer Clint Worley posted for the EverQuest Nine Year Anniversary.  (Expect that link to die as soon as SOE notices I guess.)

A Nine Year Timeline for EQ

A Nine Year Timeline for EQ

As for my reflections, I am still fond of the game in a happy memory sort of way.  I am still interested in seeing how it progresses as time moves on.  And I wonder at this point if it will make it to 20 years.  SOE, or its representatives, have spoken about keeping games going for small core audiences even after the age of expansions or frequent updates has passed.  But given more recent events, it is clear even SOE has a limit.

But for now, the world continues to turn and the fires in Norrath still burn.

Insta-Levels Come to EverQuest March 10, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, Sony Online Entertainment.
Tags: , ,
5 comments

Paid boosts to higher levels were pretty much a given for EverQuest at some point.  The only real question I have is why it took this long.  After all, EverQuest II got its own insta-level scheme… erm, “heroic character” plan… way back in October of last year.

My guess is that they wanted to wait for the game’s 15th anniversary to roll this out.

So here we are.  The anniversary is this coming Sunday, and starting Wednesday of this week you can get a level boosted character.  Per SOE:

Players should find it much easier to begin their adventures in Norrath when they start at level 85 with a full complement of gear, Alternative Advancement Abilities, and a unique mount. Regardless if you’re a veteran player that wants to try a new class, a new player that wants to get caught up to your friends, or a player that hasn’t visited Norrath in a long time, Heroic Characters are a great way for you to get in the game!

And, from this Wednesday through to Wednesday, March 26th, the first one is free.  The second, or the first after March 26th, will run you 3,500 Station Cash, which translates into $35 if you leave aside any possible discounts or stipends.  You can apply this boost to a new or existing character.

$35 is the same price as EverQuest II charges for their version of the boost, which was somewhere near the possible price range for Lord of the Rings Online’s experiment with insta-levels (depending on how you value Turbine Points), but is considerably less than what Blizzard is planning to charge for a level 90 character in World of Warcraft.

That last bit makes you think.  After all, the prices of other services… realm transfers or race/faction/name changes… even expansions… for these games run about the same.  But a boost to a high level character? $35 vs. $60.

What ever your particular market can bear I guess.  Or maybe it depends on the target audience for the offer.

Otherwise, the deals are similar enough.  You get a boost up into what the company considers the current/best/optimum/most up to date content.  You get some good gear and whatever else goes along with the being at that level.  In the case of EQ that means Alternate Advancement points, one of those things that went from a way to keep people busy after they hit level cap to “you must have n AA points to join our very serious guild.”  And there is even a special mount for you.

Not at all awkward on that mount

Not at all awkward on that mount

I remain somewhat indifferent to insta-levels.  They are still something I would only pay money for under very specific, and pretty rare, circumstances.  But I get the appeal.  And in the case of EverQuest, the idea probably makes as much sense as it ever will.

After all, the content in EverQuest has evolved a lot in the last 15 years.  And the bits and pieces of Norrath that I think I “know” represent a tiny fraction of that content.  What I might call “my” EverQuest adds up to the original content, much of Ruins of Kunark, the areas around Crescent Reach up to about level 50, the tutorial, the Plane of Knowledge, and a few lower level locations scattered around the game.  Anything above level 60 or that was added after, say, Planes of Power, is pretty much unknown to me and likely to remain that way.  I mean, I didn’t even find a “lost” dungeon (2003 content) until about two years ago.

If I want to see anything new in Norrath, an insta-85 is probably the best way, as I have long since lost my ability to level up over time in the game, even with reductions in the level curve, mercenaries, and some attempts at directed content.  And I suspect I am not alone in that.

And then there is the cash shop in EverQuest.  SOE was extremely sensitive to what they put in the cash shop in EverQuest II.  In EverQuest though, the felt much less constrained.  Things that would make people’s collective heads explode in EQII… like actual gear or trade skill supplies… are readily available for Station Cash in EQ.

Gear packs available

Gear packs available

But in EverQuest gear acquisition, and the constant flow of gear upgrades, is not as obvious or ingrained as it is in EverQuest II, where you have to pretty much change out everything every 10 levels.

And then there is the whole “this game is 15 years old with a lot of uneven content between character creation and level 85″ aspect.  It might make sense to just put people into the newer content and leave West Karana and Butcher Block to those with a yen for nostalgia.  Of course, you might ask why they chose level 85.  That puts you into the House of Thule content.  If I recall right, that is about the peak before you have to start buying expansions again, so perhaps that is the right point to put people.

So I will likely go and get my free boost to level 85 later this week, and maybe even run around to see what there is to be seen these days.  If nothing else, having a character at that level will make touring the world a little easier.

Actually, I will probably boost a level 85 on both of my accounts.  One curious little tidbit:

For accounts created before Nov 8, 2013, the free Heroic Character option is available one time per account.

For accounts created on or after Nov 8, 2013, the free Heroic Character option is available one time per household.

I seem to recall this “one time per household” thing coming up with the free boost EverQuest II.  I suspect that people were angered… SOE has a knack for angering customers that boggles the mind some days… and now they have spelled it out in a very specific way while grandfathering older accounts into past rules in order to limit the rage level.

Meanwhile, I am wondering who will offer character level boosts next?  Which games have enough content for this sort of thing to make sense.

Is PvP a Requirement for All MMOs? February 24, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, EverQuest II, MMO Design, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, World of Warcraft.
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One of my gripes about the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter campaign was about PvP.

PvP was a stretch goal, but I was annoyed that it was on the list in any form at all.  The promise of Pantheon seemed, to me at least, to be getting back to a difficult and dangerous PvE world that required grouping to take on.  The early days of EverQuest were invoked in this regard.  For a game being made by a small team that declared it was not trying to be “all things to all people,” the mention of PvP seemed like a step in that very direction.

And you should not get me wrong on this.  I am not saying there shouldn’t be PvP.  I play EVE Online, right?  But does every PvE focused game need to spend time developing a PvP mechanism as well?

Going back to the dawn of the first massive successes on the MMO front, Ultima Online was PvP from day one.  But EverQuest was derived from TorilMUD which had no PvP at all.  In fact, the dev staff at TorilMUD split over the idea of PvP, which the PvP faction moving off to follow their dreams with Duris MUD.  But SOE eventually felt that EverQuest needed PvP and so the Rallos Zek server was born.

This moved was widely viewed as a way to concentrate all the griefers into a single thunderdome where they would leave the rest of the player base alone.  It was successful, in that the investment was low (as far as I can tell SOE did very little explicitly for PvP and was pretty hands off when it came to running the server) and it scratch that PvP itch for those who had to have it in a Norrathian context. (Roll stock footage of Fansy the Famous Bard.)  And this lives on today as the Zek server with its own PvP rule set.

Asheron’s Call also had a PvP flagging system and a PvP dedicated server as part of its mix.  So the big generation clearly bought into PvP, as did the next round of games.  Dark Age of Camelot was explicitly PvP and Star Wars Galaxies had a sandbox PvP aspect to it.

Then came World of Warcraft, which had PvP and PvP servers from day one.  Granted, day one was pretty ad hoc when it came to PvP, but Blizzard has a long history with RTS games, so players fighting other players must have seemed a natural to them.  And whether or not you like the various stages WoW PvP has progressed through, it has been pretty successful.  It would be hard to imagine WoW without it.

2 minutes 11 seconds into Wintergrasp

I played a lot of Wintergrasp when it was popular

Of course, WoW also ran into one of the problems with PvP in a heavily PvE game, that of gear and ability balance between the two.  It is really cool that the rogue in your dungeon group or raid can crowd control an off-mob with a stun lock, but I don’t know anybody who likes having that done to them by a rogue in a battleground.  And Dark Age of Camelot ran into similar issued from the other direction, by introducing powerful PvE acquired gear into a primarily PvP game.

So mixing PvE and PvP is rarely a matter of a flagging system or a separate server.  The eternal balance of equipment and abilities… which is already nettlesome in just the PvE environment… takes on an even bigger role when PvP is part of the mix.  It doesn’t come for free, it requires design and development time… unless you take the approach SOE did with EverQuest and just try to ignore the whole PvP aspect of the balance thing, or you take the Guild Wars approach and just keep the two as separate as possible.

And after WoW, things just got went down hill.  The success of the game meant other companies trying to copy WoW features in order to capture WoW numbers.  EverQuest II is probably the most tragi-comic example of this.  So much development and design time has been spent on PvP ideas in that game that it just about breaks your heart.  They have had PvP servers, PvP arenas where you fight with a special sub-avatar of your character, arenas where you fight with your actual character, and, more recently, WoW-like battlegrounds.  And the trend has always been that either the PvP is so bad that nobody uses it or that it is so affected by PvE stats and abilities that a whole array of special rules and exceptions have to be put in place to try to maintain at least some illusion of balance.  The last time I checked in, SOE had gotten to the point where every piece of equipment and every ability essentially had two sets of stats, one for PvE and one for PvP, leading to some of the largest tool tip windows known to man.

Then there was Lord of the Rings Online, which couldn’t bring itself to allow the elf-on-elf combat we all secretly desire (we need more kinslayings) but which felt it had to have PvP, so they gave us Monster Play, a feature convoluted enough that I couldn’t even tell you how it works because I have never once used it.  And I have tried the various PvP options on every MMO I have played.  I know somebody loves Monster Play out there… you can find somebody who loves and will defend any MMO feature ever… but was LOTRO as a whole made better by it?  Could the time spent on that have been better invested?

Warhammer Online at least never had the PvE vs. PvP balancing problem, because I don’t think most of us stuck around long enough for it to be a problem.  Instead, it was bit by the WoW battleground bug, which became the most efficient way to level up, so everybody did those while the open world content languished for want of the numbers needed to make it viable.

And so it goes.  Even today we are looking at The Elder Scrolls Online coming out in a little over a month.  This is an MMO based on an exclusively single player RPG franchise… PvE to its deepest roots… and they are busying pushing the Alliance War, the PvP aspect of the game.  Meanwhile, Star Wars: The Old Republic, an MMO made in the BioWare mold… fourth pillar and all that… has its Galactic Starfighter battleground out and available to everybody now.

Which brings me around to the title of this post.  Is PvP a requirement for all MMOs?  Can you even launch a PvE MMORPG without an announced PvP plan?

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen and the Realities of Kickstarter Funding January 14, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Camelot Unchained, entertainment, EverQuest, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, Shroud of the Avatar.
Tags: , , , , ,
20 comments

Here we are, less than a day in and Pathneon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter project is just shy of the $50,000 mark.  That would put it at a little over 6% of the way to the first goal of $800,000.

39 days to go

No doubt higher now

As with Camelot Unchained and Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Title Brevity, I am interested in this project and Kickstarter campaign for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the personality driving it.  Brad “Aradune” McQuaid is an name to conjure with in the MMORPG world.

The guy with the flaming sword

The guy with the flaming sword

His is also a name tied with a pretty public meltdown of vision versus follow-through.

Vanguard at launch...

Vanguard at launch…

If you want to spin this from a particular angle, you can draw on the parallels between Brad and Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott.  All three were key drivers for three of the early MMORPGs that were very successful, drawing in hundreds of thousands of players.  EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and Ultima Online all left their mark on the MMORPG world.

All three went on to another MMORPG that… failed to meet expectations.  Tabula Rasa closed quickly, Warhammer Online lingered, but closed as soon as it was contractually able, and Vanguard would have shut down a few months in had SOE not bailed it out.

And all three have come back to the MMORPG table pitching a new game based on lessons learned.

Well, sort of.

Mark Jacobs clearly had a “lessons learned” message with Camelot Unchained, and spent weeks talking about it before the Kickstarter was launched.  PvE is out, all focus of the game must be on PvP and RvR and everything in the game must in some way support those two.  The theme is about moving forward into a superior mix that will make for a game that is great within a limited focus and which can be sustained by appropriately small numbers.

Richard Garriott’s “lessons learned” were more along the lines of being true to what made his past single player RPGs popular.  Shroud of the Avatar will have a single player mode and it isn’t exactly clear to me how “MMO” the multiplayer mode will really be.  The theme here is about all the cool games from the past, Ultima IV through VII inclusive, and how to make that sort of thing come alive again.  We shall see.  But there is also a sub-current of focusing on what is important to make sure that gets developed fully.

And then there is Brad McQuaid.  He wants to remake EverQuest in a more modern image… which isn’t a bad thing.  After all, viewed from the right angle, Mark Jacobs simply wants to re-ignite what was great about Dark Age of Camelot and Richard Garriott is clearly after the spirit of the Ultima franchise.  The problem is that while Jacobs and Garriott spent many days before their Kickstarters talking about visions and lessons learned and what is important and where they want to focus, the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen preamble was pretty much this:

And I got what he meant by that, at least in spirit.  The problem is that this isn’t a big enough nail to hang a project on, in my opinion.  There wasn’t a lot of build up to the Kickstarter, the game details and tenets are bullet point lists (copied in my previous post), and there is very little on the whole “lessons learned” front.  I know Brad has said that he clearly bit off more than he could chew with Vanguard.  The game had way too many goals.  But what is the take-away from that?  How is this project, being taken on by a small team, going to pare down the possibilities to the key essentials so that they can deliver both to the vision and at an acceptable level of functionality and polish?

It is here I think that we see the key difference between Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott, both long time game designers who founded their own companies, lead teams, and delivered many titles over the years, and Brad McQuaid, who has EverQuest (which got a nurturing hand from Sony and John Smedley), Vanguard, and a couple of small efforts he worked on before EverQuest.  This aspect of his skill and experience could be the make or break with the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter.

If Brad McQuaid cannot get people engaged by articulating both the vision he has for the game and how it is going to come together, then my guess is that the funding is going to dry up pretty quickly after the “I want another EverQuest” faction kicks in.  And that time is going to come very quickly.  The first 48 hours of a Kickstarter set the tone.  That is where critical mass is assembled, where you get your true believers to become your evangelists.  Because after that, every dollar is a fight.  Look at the patterns for Camelot Unchained and Shroud of the Avatar from Kicktraq:

Camelot Unchained

Camelot Unchained

Shroud of the Avatar

Shroud of the Avatar

Both of those graphs are very front loaded.  Camelot Unchained got 35% of its $2 million goal in the first two days, while Shroud of the Avatar got 55% of its $1 million goal in the same period.  After that, there was the long dry spell where Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott got out and did interviews and spoke to everybody who would listen.  Hell, Mark Jacobs came HERE and left a comment on my first post about the Camelot Unchained Kickstarter, acknowledging my statement that it was going to be a tough fight to get to $2 million.  The man was a communications machine, and he continues to be one in the project updates.

Brad McQuaid will need to do the same, because the easy money will dry up soon.  Will he be able to take it to the streets and get people interested?  We will see.  He will have to do more than make comments on Twitter and Facebook supported by a company web site that currently does little more than act as a pointer to the Kickstarter page.  This needs to be a political campaign, a marketing event, and an old fashioned spiritual revival meeting all wrapped up into one to succeed, and Brother Brad needs to step up and testify.  If he is going to bang the nostalgia drum, he needs to bang it loud and often.  He cannot be the lone monarch on the throne.  He has to be out and about.  We need to see him in the press and doing updates and a dozen things in between.

The spirit can't pledge...

The spirit can’t pledge…

While the project “only” needs $20K a day to fund fully, and it will no doubt make more that $50K in its first 24 hours, it has to do a lot better out of the gate to carry things forward.  There will be a last minute rush of people pledging, but that will only matter if there is a big enough base of funding in place.  In looking through a bunch of projects, the last day rarely ever exceeds the first.

What do you think?  Is Brad up to the task of getting out the faithful and getting them to pony up for another run at the EverQuest vision?  Are bullet points enough, or does this whole thing need more substance?

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter Started January 13, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EverQuest, Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen, Vanguard SOH.
Tags: , ,
10 comments

Brad “Aradune” McQuaid has launched his Kickstarter campaign to fund his planned game Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen.  I did not see much build-up to it, but maybe I wasn’t paying attention to the right sources.

Aradune's new project

The Project

Aradune, who came through TorilMUD back in the day, is best known for being one of the primary drivers of EverQuest and Vanguard.

Of course, everybody (or everybody reading this) remembers EverQuest, while Vanguard hasn’t always been… appreciated?  I hate to say winner/loser, but one was king of the genre pre-WoW and remains influential today and the other…

So this is the third try.  Can Aradune and his cohorts at Visionary Realms, Inc. (there is that “vision” word again) take what has been learned over the years and craft an MMORPG that brings back the hardcore days of EverQuest while running well and feeling up-to-date?  That certainly seems to be the target.

Pantheon emphasizes the need to adventure with others. The world is dangerous and full of unexpected challenges making it unwise to travel alone. We feel that the best memories are those shared with fellow adventurers and friends. Thus, we are aiming to create a world where grouping is paramount.

He is asking for $800,000 in funding, which if you read my predictions for 2014, means I think he won’t make it.  I figured his name and reputation was good for half a million tops, so I guess we will see if I am wrong in the next 40 days. (The timer runs down on Saturday Feb 22, 11:40am PST.  I’m in for $75.  If the ride starts, I want to be on board.)

I expect it will be a hard fight to make it there no matter what and Brad will have to be out and about and getting people interested pretty much full time.  Remember how hard Mark Jacobs worked to get to two million dollars for Camelot Unchained?

There are the usual aspects of a Kickstarter campaign in place, including stretch goals out beyond the 6 million dollar mark.  You can find all the details on the Kickstarter page for the project.  I expect we will see interviews with Brad coming up where he will have to answer some hard questions about what he learned from the Vanguard project and where something like Pantheon fits in today’s market.

The target date for the game is pegged at three years out, January 2017.

I thought I would copy these bullet points to ponder as the campaign moves on.

Game Details

  • An MMO developed by gamers who aren’t afraid to target an audience of like-minded gamers.
  • A fantasy themed Massively Multiplayer Role Playing game (MMO) with a heavy focus on character development, an immersive world, and teamwork.
  • An MMO for players wanting a challenging and rewarding experience.
  • An open world in which you explore to obtain not only more powerful items but also new spells and abilities.
  • Travel where and when you want to in a non-linear world.
  • A huge world to explore, trade, and adventure in.
  • A complex back-story that players may gradually discover as they grow in power and explore the world.
  • A constantly expanding and evolving world.
  • Group-focused social gameplay using a class based system to encourage teamwork.
  • Customize your class by bonding with the spirits of fallen warriors.
  • Reactive combat where you can determine what the NPC is doing and react to it. (move, counter, deflect, etc.) .
  • Combat will be challenging and involved — your decisions will matter and directly affect the battle’s outcome.
  • Travel the world and profit from selling exotic items collected from distant realms. Different cities and outposts may have local Bazaars.
  • Limited and class based teleportation may get you close, but in order to reach many destinations you will have to traverse the planar scarred lands of Terminus through the use of your own two feet or on the back of your mighty steed.
  • Earning experience is only part of what it takes to level up. Exploring the world you will gain knowledge and power allowing you to overcome more powerful enemies.
  • The game will run on PC, Mac, and possibly other platforms in the future.

Game Tenents

  • An awareness that content is king
  • A belief that game economies should be predicated on delaying and minimizing item value deflation
  • A commitment to a style of play that focuses on immersive combat, and engaging group mechanics.
  • An understanding that a truly challenging game is truly rewarding
  • An expectation that the path of least resistance should also be the most entertaining
  • A mindset that Designed Downtime should be a part of the game to ensure players have time to form important social bonds.
  • A belief that an immersive world requires intelligent inhabitants
  • An understanding that faction should be an integral part of interacting with the world and its citizenry.
  • A commitment to creating a world where a focus on group play will attract those seeking a challenge
  • A belief that the greatest sense of accomplishment comes when it is shared