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EverQuest: More Popular at Launch than WoW is Today… February 15, 2013

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

But only if you use the Bizarro metrics.

For example, on Planet Tobold, it ISN’T how many who play your game that matters, but how many people DIDN’T play you game.

Taken to logical extremes, there are more than 7 billion people today who do NOT play World of Warcraft today.

However, back in 1999, when the first player logged into EverQuest, there were only 6 billion people not playing it!

A clear victory for SOE, putting it a whole billion “non-players” ahead of Blizzard!

But wait.  Back in 1987 when Air Warrior was finally rolling, it only had 5 billion people not playing it!

Who is the most successful online game now, bitches?

Meanwhile, SpaceWar, running way back in 1961 had a mere 3 billion people not playing it!

A clear victory in the unpopularity race!

And yes, I am stretching Tobold-logic to humorous extremes on purpose.  But even trying to work the negative player numbers in a serious manner… potential player populations, target populations, subscription rates, and what not… seems like building a castle in a swamp.

Of course, so does trying to measure how many people remember a game.  I suspect there are games out there that more people remember than actually played them.  But how do you even begin to measure that and, more importantly, how does that equated to success?

Being remembered certainly doesn’t pay the bills.

Nor does historical significance which, by definition, is an assessment of something that happened far enough in the past that  it has ceased to be contemporary and actual becomes history.  Real history, in the serious academic studies sense, only starts when those who were there to witness it… and thus have invested opinions about it… pass on and things that had to be held secret to protect governments and individuals alike are released to the public.

Which is to say that neither I nor Tobold can really make anything besides guesses now about how the future may view this era when it comes to MMOs and the like.

But when you’ve soured on a genre to the point that your agenda seems to be deny that any MMO with numbers south of 250K can possibly be a success merely because WoW exists and heap scorn on anybody who wants something different, I guess you have to take whatever crazy ammunition you can find.

I am certainly not saying WoW isn’t a success.  It is certainly what keeps Activision-Blizzard funded for the three quarters each year when they don’t ship a new Call of Duty game.   But success is not an absolute bar, now set so high by WoW that nobody can ever succeed again.  Mark Jacobs’ Camelot Unchained plans are not an automatic failure merely because he is targeting a small audience.  It is an experiment.  It has risks.  It has to live in the current MMO ecosystem.

But that alone doesn’t mean it won’t work.

Of course, even Mr. Jacobs isn’t above pulling out a silly metric himself now and again.

Air Warrior – Vague Memories from the Early Days of Virtual Flight March 16, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Ancient Gaming, entertainment, War Thunder, World of Warplanes.
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26 comments

Syp, in his role as the Game Archeologist over at Massively, has not one but two GREAT posts up about one of the early powers in online gaming, Kesmai.

Granted, my enthusiasm for Kesmai is such that even a favorable passing reference to them gets you to at least one thumbs up.  But here we have two posts full of details and memories.

His first article covers the Island of Kesmai, one of the early ancestors to modern MMOs, created in parallel to MUD1,  while the second article covers the life of the company with a heavy focus on their game Air Warrior.

And while I could complain about his failure to mention MegaWars III and Stellar Emperor (a game I won at one point) along with some other titles, like Stellar Warrior, I think I will just join his nostalgia parade by adding in my own memories of Air Warrior.  All that comes after this could have been his for his article if only he had talked to me… and when you read it… if you read it… you’ll have to decide if that is a warning against ever talking to me!

The Next Generation of Games – May 1989

I have mused a bit on Air Warrior in the past.  Now I am going to try and dig deep into the recesses of my brain for really old tales.

I will say up front, to avoid repeating it with every entry, that these are all “as I recall it” memories, many of which I am sure have been distorted by the passage of time.  Some of them are, no doubt, flat out wrong.

These are thing that happened from 1988 to 1990 in my personal timeline and involve the original versions of Air Warrior running on GEnie.  If your own personal time frame is different, think a minute before you tell me, “Oh no, that is not the way it was!”  This isn’t Air Warrior II or Air Warrior III or the AOL or Game Storm version.  This is the really old shite!

I was a party to many of these things below, though surely not as many as I remember.  Time does that.  Feel free to correct or add to my recollections in the comments.  But don’t call me a liar, I swear all this is true to some degree!

On with the show.

(more…)

In Space, a Positive Kill Ratio is the Norm February 24, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, EVE Online.
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8 comments

Being in null sec and in actual fleet battles, I have naturally become more interested in the kill boards available.  Who blew up whom and, more importantly, who have I blown up, is now of more interest to me than ever before… primarily because I have now actually blown a few people up.

And something that was initially impressive to me was the fact that I have a positive kill ratio.

This was in my mind because in many past PvP games I had played, the ratio of kills to deaths was an important measure of player skill.  This goes all the way back to the beginnings of my online gaming.

In games like Stellar Emperor, MegaWars III, Stellar Warrior, and Air Warrior getting more kills than you had been killed was an key indicator of who was the better player.  In Air Warrior, where for a while the rankings were based on kill ratio and kill streaks… how many kills in a row you got without dying… it reached a level of obsession at times, with players husbanding the kill streaks by refusing combat except on the most favorable terms and people bailing out of undamaged planes… which granted no kill to the opposition and thus preserved your streak… when cornered and potentially forced to fight on terms not of their own choosing.

And even later on, when I was playing games like Delta ForceDesert Combat, or Battlefield 2, match results and clan kill boards often elevated the kill to death ratio as a key measure of player capability.

So when I go into PvP, that is one of the measures that is ingrained into my mind.  Did I kill the bad guys more than they killed me.

Unfortunately, in EVE, that measure is bogus for an individual.

It did not take me long to realize that everybody I ever ran into, red or blue, had a positive kill ratio.

And of course they did.  If we go to my kill board for February and look at my kills, you see things like this.

That is a kill from the battle at EWN-2U, one of the targets that FC Boat was particularly obsessed with bringing down during the battle.  I got credit for that kill along with 177 of my fleet brethren.

All told, Mistress Zhantine’s tengu was hit by:

  • 123 Drakes
  • 22 Maelstroms
  • 3 Manticores
  • 3 Nemesis
  • 2 Huginns
  • 2 Hounds
  • 1 Tornado
  • 1 Nighthawk
  • 1 Vulture
  • 1 Hurricane
  • 1 Lachesis
  • 1 Purifier
  • 1 Scorpion
  • 1 Bellicose
  • 1 Stiletto
  • 9 Capsules
  • 5 Unknowns

I am not even sure how those last 14 figure into things, unless it is via drone damage or damage done before they were reduced to pods.

But that was 178 people over 14 alliances who hit that tengu.  And while the only the person getting in the final blow gets the kill mail on their in-game character sheet (that person did 0.15% of the damage… which isn’t that bad considering the top damage dealer did 1.44% of the damage) we all got the credit.

In fact, if the kill boards broke down what percentage of a kill was actually due to my own efforts, I would have about a single cumulative kill.  I have gotten top damage dealer exactly once, as part of a VFK Homeland Defense Fleet operation, for which I clocked in at an amazing 16.8% of the damage for the kill.

So kill boards, at least when it comes to individuals, are a nice record of where you’ve been and what you have done, but the number of kills and ratios of kills seems to be best applied to individual battles or the success of a large organization, say an alliance, over time.

Could World of Warplanes be the Second (or is it the third?) Coming of Air Warrior? July 27, 2011

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Ancient Gaming, entertainment, Misc MMOs, World of Tanks.
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6 comments

Wargaming.net has been talking a little bit about their next title, World of Warplanes, but the details are not yet out in the public domain.  They do not even have a site up for the game yet.  All we really have so far is this:

World of Warplanes is the flight combat MMO action game set in the Golden Age of military aviation. The game continues the armored warfare theme marked in the highly-acclaimed World of Tanks and will throw players into a never-ending tussle for air dominance.

Based purely on aircraft setting, World of Warplanes will allow players to build full-scale careers of virtual pilots offering machines of several key eras, staring from World War I period with “Biplanes” and up to jet fighter prototypes that led the way to modern air forces.

World of Warplanes will feature a wide range of warbirds, each of them unique in their effectiveness and behavior. Virtual pilots will choose from three main warplane classes – single-engine light fighters capable of engaging enemies in close dogfights, twin-engine fighters with their deadly straight attacks, and strafing aircraft, the fearsome threat for ground targets.

Which, frankly, isn’t much… but that never stopped me from speculating wildly.

While Darren was taking something of a pessimistic view of what may come of this game (airborne World of Tanks, to stuff his viewpoint into the tiniest possible box), I think it will have to be somewhat different to survive and make sense, and thus I speculate.

And the reason I feel I have license to speculate over the game that Wargaming.net is making is that I think I have played it already.  And I was playing over 20 years ago to boot.

Back in 1988 the online gaming pioneers at Kesmai launched Air Warrior on GEnie.

I’ve written a little about Air Warrior before, but I will recap.

Air Warrior was an online, multiplayer (allowing something over 100 people on at once, if I recall right) air combat game that took place in something we would recognize as a persistent world.  The world was divided into three factions (creatively called A, B, and C… no wasted bytes there!) in what was initially an asymmetrical world layout with airfields for each faction and a few mountains thrown in to keep people on their toes.

While you could fly the planes of any nation in the game, you were required to commit to a specific faction for a minimum amount of time.  So you might fly for team B, but you could be flying a Spitfire, a Focke-Wulf 190, or a P-38 Lightning.

The world itself persisted while you were off-line.  You logged on, went to an airfield your team controlled, checked out an aircraft, and took to the sky.  Your airfield was protected by an anti-aircraft gun of annoying accuracy to keep your runway from being camped, but you were allowed to mount bombs which could temporarily disable that gun and even the airfield itself, at which point you would have to divert to one of your auxiliary fields.

And while primitive technologically compared to today’s games, Air Warrior worked… most nights.  Okay, the tech of the time was barely up to the challenge, but these were the days before 3D acceleration, when a 32-bit processor was a big deal, and most of the players were using 1.2-2.4 Kbps connections.

All of which is a nice little history lesson.  But why, you might ask, do I think Wargaming.net should/could go this route?

Well, certain bits fit naturally, such as the ability to fly planes from different nations on a given side.

While other realities make a direct translation of the World of Tanks model to airplanes problematic.

20 minute long 15 vs. 15 battles seem unlikely to me to be a viable game model for a couple of reasons.

Reason 1 – The Sky is Big

It is easy to corral 30 tanks into a relatively small area.  Tanks move slowly on the ground and are often best deployed in stationary positions awaiting the enemy.  While the guns on bigger vehicles in the game can reach out a good percentage of the way across the battlefields, cover in its various forms help keep the game from turning into an immediate blood bath.

Airplanes live in a much bigger environment.  If we are talking about WWII aircraft, their environment extends easily to 20,000 feet upwards.  Even limiting the geographical area to the size of a WoT maps, there is a lot of volume in which to run around in a prism 20,000 feet tall.

Meanwhile planes, fighter planes at least, are small.  Yes, they seem big on the ground, but they get lost pretty easily in the sky and can become devilishly hard to see.  And when you see one and want to shoot at it, you have to get pretty close if you want a chance of bringing it down.  Call it 200 yards if you want any reasonable hope of a kill and under 100 yards if you want to stick the knife in good.

Reason 2 – Planes go Fast

Keeping it simple today, aren’t I?

Again, if we are talking WWII fighters, people will be zipping around at 300 mph easily, while achieving (and surviving) 500+ mph in a dive is possible for some fighters of the era.

So you cannot limit the size of the environment to something as small as a WoT battlefield.  The sky, big as it was already, has to get bigger lest we spend most of our time flying out of bounds.

Air Warrior Pacific Theater Map

So you have to make the sky even bigger, which in turn makes opposing planes harder to spot, close with, and kill.  You can see in the picture above one of the few art assets I still have sitting around from Air Warrior.  This was after the great map revision when the world was made bigger and divided into Pacific and European theaters.  Each faction had its own island, while the center could be captured.

And both you and your enemy are both going fast, which means that unless you have the opposition at a serious disadvantage, they can pull away and evade.  And to gain the advantage you want, you can spend quite a bit of time just climbing to altitude in order to be able to pounce on an enemy.

That sends the whole match concept from WoT out the window from my point of view.  In a sky big enough to reasonably hold 30 aircraft attempting to kill each other, 20 minutes won’t be anything like enough time to get a resolution like that in a WoT match.

So my hope is that they will end up with something more like the persistent world in Air Warrior.  Less lobby, more flight time.

But…

Wargaming.net will likely be hosting more than the 100 or so players that could fill up Air Warrior, so I am sure there will have to be some division of players.  Maybe different theaters of war?

Plus, if Wargaming.net chooses to use the same equipment leveling system, where you graduate (or buy your way into) better airplanes, then they will likely have to segregate players by that as well.

Furthermore, I suppose they could force the issue of keeping players focused in a small area by making one side or both focus on defending a geographic area.  Their seeming attempt at a rock/paper/scissors with single engine, twin engine, and ground attack fighters (more like scissors/pinking shears/hedge trimmers) might mean a things won’t be wide open fights in the sky but geographically limited objectives, with people attacking/defending specific ground targets.

And, of course, there already is a game out there that is the spiritual successor to Air Warrior, Aces High, which has been around since 2000.  That is as close to a second coming of Air Warrior as I have seen.

So as much as I would like to see Wargaming.net recreate Air Warrior for the second decade of the 21st century with three factions (if Warhammer Online taught us anything, it is that open PvP needs three factions) and wide open spaces to fly in a free to play game, that might not fit with their plans at all.

What do you think World or Warplanes will end up being?

Air Warpier November 9, 2007

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Ancient Gaming.
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10 comments

Ages ago, after I stopped playing Stellar Emperor, but before I started in on Gemstone and eventually Sojourn/Toril MUD, there was a game I played called Air Warrior.

It was an online game featuring real-time, multi-player, air combat.

In 1988.

I played the game, first on a Mac SE, then on a Mac SE/30, which featured a 9″ black and white 512 x 342 display and a blazing fast 16MHz Motorola 68030 processor.  It was hot stuff back in the day.

Air Warrior could also be played on the Amiga, Atari ST, and eventually, on MS-DOS compatible machines.

Dozens of people would be online every night, on the GEnie network, flying, fighting, and dying online in a 3D environment that existed before 3D acceleration was even a consideration.

I even saw Jerry Pournelle in game one night.  Though, as I recall, all he did was fly off in the wrong direction and complain that if the game were realistic, we would all by flying Mustangs, not the Spitfires and Focke-Wulfs the knowing players favored. (It was the 20mm cannons we all wanted, they made possible a one-pass kill and screw all that dog-fighting… or stall fighting… nonsense.)

Of course, in the age of Intel 386 machines and 1200 bps modems (I was special, I had a 2400 bps Zoom modem) things were not always as smooth as everybody wished.

Some nights it was a nightmare of warping around the sky, shooting at targets that were not there, and being shot down by people nowhere near you.

It was no doubt one of those nights that spawned this parody of the Air Warrior Macintosh help screen:

Air Warpier

Air Warpier

I wish I had the real screen for a comparison shot.

I found this file deep in an old folder that has been dragged from computer to computer for the past 18 years at least.

I do not remember who put this beauty together, but I am sure that the 4-Q Squadron had a hand in it somehow.

Aside from that screen and a map of the “new” pacific theater that came along when they redid the terrain, I have no pictures or screen shots left from the game.

Proposed Pacific Theater 1988

Proposed Pacific Theater 1988

So Air Warrior and those early days of multi-player gaming is only a memory for me now.

Kesmai and Air Warrior lived on for a while after the passing of GEnie, but were eventually purchased by Electronic Arts and disappeared.  Where have I heard that story before?

The spirit of Air Warrior lives on today in the game Aces High.