Tag Archives: Dark Age of Camelot

EA Puts a Bullet in Mythic Entertainment

Mythic Entertainment, developers of Dark Age of Camelot and Warhammer Online, joins the ranks of some other famed developers acquired by EA, such as Kesmai, Westwood Studios, and Origin Systems, in being shut down.

MythicLogo

I have, over the years, written my share about various MMOs coming and going, including the demise of Mythic’s own Warhammer Online.  But a studio being zeroed out, at least one that still has an MMO running and being updated, is a tale much more rare.  Of course, given EA’s past actions, the closure of Warhammer Online back in December, and the general revulsion over the nature of the studio’s final project, the despised mobile platform Dungeon Keeper reboot, this move was probably a surprise to few.

Mythic Entertainment is survived by its creation, Dark Age of Camelot, which was announced back in February would be maintained, along with Ultima Online, under contract by an independent studio, Broadsword.

Broadsword!

Broadsword!

Mark Jacobs, the founder of Mythic, has since started up a new studio, City State Entertainment, which just last year funded its Camelot Unchained MMO project through Kickstarter and, more recently, added Brian “Pyschochild” Green to its ranks.  That makes Brian’s We all need Camelot Unchained to Succeed post from last year all the more poetic I suppose.

I hope those left at what remained of Mythic find their way to new opportunities soon.

Addendum: Words from Mark Jacobs about the closure.

Broadsword and Niche MMOs

Did Electronic Arts actually do us a favor this week with the whole Broadsword thing?

I mean, it may have been inadvertent… EA may have been trying to be its usual evil self, envisioning an attempt to create some layer of contract studio serfdom in order exploit an IP they own to the maximum amount of return… but does this benefit us?

What Broadsword thing?  Well, this:

Broadsword!

Broadsword!

Broadsword Online Games will partner with EA’s Mythic Entertainment to operate, support and develop Dark Age of Camelot on EA’s behalf. Electronic Arts will continue to provide billing and account services through its Origin™ portal. Broadsword and Electronic Arts will work closely together to ensure a bright future for Dark Age of Camelot.

Broadsword site, DAoC Producer’s Letter

There is also an Ultima Online Producer’s Letter, where Ultima Online has been substituted in for Dark Age of Camelot for that bit of text.

EA is… allegedly… handing over the running of these two now-pretty-damn-old and long neglected MMORPGs to what appears to be… theoretically… an external team that is… presumably… made up of people who care about these two games and want to keep them alive.

This is EA though, so it pays to pay close attention when they say things like they are making a SimCity game, or that they are creating a successor to Dungeon Keeper on mobile OSes, or that the sun will rise in the east come the morning, because the expectations that get set in your brain based on your past experience may be at odds with what is actually being planned in the dark recesses of their San Mateo keep.

Fun Created Here!

Fun Created Here!

And how would this be a boon to us… where “us” is a legion of long term MMORPG players who haven’t been really happy since who-knows-when and who have traded in our rose colored glasses for rose colored long term contacts so we can avoid the harsh light of reality at all times… right now?

Does this move validate or otherwise legitimize the often Kickstarter focused, niche oriented MMO projects that have been popping up since the genre fell from grace… which was when?  LOTRO?  WAR?AoC? SWTOR?

Does this move legitimize projects like Camelot Unchained, Project: Gorgon, Shroud of the Avatar, and Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen?  Is there hope for similar ventures?

Or is this just EA trying to squeeze the last bit of toothpaste from the tube in the most economically expedient way possible?

And is this even a good thing for Dark Age of Camelot and Ultima Online?  Will being out from under the yoke of BioWare subsidiary of EA, whose founders cashed out at their earliest possible convenience, lead to a revival of either game?  You still need to wear the mark of the beast, in the form of an Origin account, in order to play them.  Will that keep people away?

Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen and the Realities of Kickstarter Funding

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?

Warhammer Online to Shut Down in December

And so the announcement has come.  Back in June suspicions were raised when they stopped letting people buy subscription time in six month increments.  But now the hammer… the Warhammer… has fallen.

I’m sure those links to the official site will be dead inside of a year as EA attempts to erase all existence of the game, so here is the simple quote from the site.

Greetings Warhammer Online Subscribers,

We here at Mythic have built an amazing relationship working with Games Workshop creating and running Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning over the last 8 years. Unfortunately, as with all licensing deals they do eventually  come to end and on December 18th, 2013 we will no longer be operating Warhammer Online. As such we will no longer be selling 3 month game time codes or have the ability to auto renew your accounts for 3 months as of September 18th, 2013. If you would like to read some additional thoughts from one of WAR’s Producer please check out http://www.warhammeronline.com/.  From all of us here at Mythic we thank you again for your dedication and support over the last five years.

If you have any questions please feel free contact us via email at support@warhammeronline.com.

Waaagh!

Warhammer Team

And that brings up a good deal of mixed emotions for me.

There was some good in WAR.  It officially went live five years ago today (though there was a five day head-start for pre-orders), and our regular group was primed and ready to go.

I did approve of their stance on elves...

I approved of their stance on elves…

We had some fun battles.  The world looked good.  I feel a bit nostalgic for the place now and again, disappointed that I did not explore it more.  There were some new things, some incremental changes that were picked up by the genre.  Public quests, for example, have found their way into other games.

But there were a lot of things weighing the game down.  In an attempt to be a WoW-beating “all things to all people” it ended up being “just okay” in many ways.  Much time was spent developing an uninspired quest driven PvE game.  Small group instanced content started off bad.  And some of the “innovations” were anything but good, thankfully never seeing the light of day in any other game.  The information in the Tome of Knowledge wasn’t a bad thing, but trying to force disparate information into a single window size/format was surely one of the more misbegotten concepts the game tried to introduce.

Most developers agree, the quest log should be mapped to "L"

And don’t even get me started here…

All of which ended up being a distraction from what should have been the core focus of the game, the keep battles and group PvP that let you fight over control of the world.

Warhammer Online was perhaps the last MMO to be expected to “beat WoW.”  There was a lot of hype and a lot of enthusiasm over how big this game would be.

But not in your lifetime, elf

But not in your lifetime, elf

But subscriptions failed to materialize in the numbers publicly predicted.  It sold (or was that “shipped?”) a million boxes but only ended up with 300K subscribers.  Public statements, like the one from Mark Jacobs about the game being in trouble if they aren’t adding servers after launch, came back to haunt the game.  The war on gold sellers was a bit of public theater with little payoff.  Spin hit epic levels when Mark was out bragging about how great it was that WAR added new classes without charging, seeming to forget that those classes were publicly cut from the launch, so were something we expected to get in the first place.

Mark has learned a few things since then, though maybe not as much as I hope.

Then things went from bad to worse, with billing problems, a free trial that required a credit card, layoffs, the EA Louse revelations, and the long slide into oblivion.

My own time with the game ended a few months after launch, five years ago this coming November.  The instance group had already given up.  For every good Saturday night adventure we had, there were several evenings of no fun.

The instance group in Warhammer

The instance group in Warhammer Online

And now, five years down the road Electronic Arts is finally laying the game to rest, which was only surprising in that it did not happen sooner.  I can only imagine that there were some contractual obligations with Games Workshop that kept the game going for five years, which is clearly implied in the quote at the top of the page.  It sure is a good thing that EA and BioWare learned from these mistakes. *cough*

One of the things I remember most was the sense of focus the blogging community had around Warhammer Online.  It was a big deal.  Lots of blogs were writing about it.  A whole group of blogs came into being because of it.  People who were not playing devoted time to the game.  A guild was formed, Casualties of WAR, to try and bring us all together, though it fell into the usual launch day trap.

Server Full!

Server Full!

And so the whole Warhammer Online event was something of a milestone on the blogger’s path for me, a reminder of another time filled with both good (blogging community coming together) and bad (true believers trying to shout down any criticism of the game).  It had an impact, for better or worse, that we still feel to this day.  Old timers skeptical about the hot new thing that was just announced?  Maybe they remember how that WAR hype paid off.  It was an event that was felt community wide.

In that spirit, I will link out to other blogs that are also pondering Warhammer Online today.  We can go out as we came in.

I will add more as they appear.  And I am sure I will have a bit more to say on the final day.

Meanwhile, I do wonder what this means for Dark Age of Camelot.  There is no license fee for the IP as there is with Warhammer Online and Star Wars: The Old Republic, so the overhead must be lower.  But EA is not good about keeping stuff around once they feel the money has been made.  They like to move on to the next box to sell.  That is clearly the business model they understand.  And when the boxes stop selling, online support is quickly retired.

Likewise, there is Ultima Online.  What is next on the list for EA?

RuneScape Embraces Nostalgia

RuneScape, a popular (200 million accounts created is their claim to fame metric) browser-based fantasy MMORPG, has decided to farm the nostalgia sector by opening up servers aimed at those who want to relive RuneScape’s past.

Officially called “Old School RuneScape,” the setting will be August 2007 version of RuneScape.

RuneScape

Jagex, the game’s developer, has taken an interesting approach to bringing these servers to the community.  They have a poll up to gauge how much interest there is in the servers, with more interest by the player base yielding more focus by the studio itself.

The poll approaches 250K

The poll approaches 250K

Omali has some condensed details over at MMO Fallout about what happens at given result levels. (There is an update to go along with the final results.)  There is also an official FAQ up about the servers.

Interesting to me is that by default… with the likely poll results… is that people interested in playing the classic version of this free-to-play game will have to pay for a subscription.  That seems right to me.  I don’t think people looking to relive a “classic” experience do so because it might be cheaper.

Certainly I did not run off an play on the Emerald Dream server in order to dodge the WoW subscription price, and I doubt Keen or SynCaine were so influenced with the Ultima Online Forever.

And that is how SOE has handled things with the Fippy Darkpaw server in the post free to play EverQuest world, making it available only to subscribers.

So RuneScape joins the rather short list of MMOs offering official “old school” versions of their game.  I only know of two others.  There is SOE with its EverQuest progression servers and Mythic with its past classic Dark Age of Camelot server (and its never to see the light of day Origin server).

And while there will always be arguments about what point in time is the “best” and whether such a server should be stuck in time or move forward, I think this sort of exercise is a good way to reach out and revive interest in your game with a big chunk of your current and former player base.

Of course, this sort of things probably works with some games better than others.  World of Warcraft is an obvious target.  Few expansions and slow improvement over time gives it a series of identifiable eras.  EVE Online, on the other hand… their whole single server approach pretty much precludes such a nostalgia path… plus who wants to go back to the days before “jump to zero?”

What MMOs would you like to see embrace nostalgia?  Or does that even have any appeal for you?

An Indictment of Something…

…and remains one of the top 10 highest Metacritic-rated MMOs.

Mark Jacobs, in reference to Warhammer Online

Mark Jacobs is talking to the press again because he and his new(-ish) company, City State Entertainment, have a new MMO under way; one with some familiar sounding features.

The Emerald City Logo

The Emerald City Logo

Of course, this means he needs to answer the ever present questions around how this new MMO will relate to his two previous ventures, Dark Age of Camelot and Warhammer Online.

He is candid, as usual, about how these two past games are influencing his current venture.  And he is up front about the problems with Warhammer Online.  From the interview:

Nobody was more disappointed in WAR than I was. At launch, it had lots of wonderful things in it, but it also had way too many bugs, balance, and leveling issues, and of course, crashes in Tier 4. It was my worst nightmare come true, and as I’ve stated before…

And yet there is that quote at the top.  That really caught my eye.

There is that list of reviews on Metacritic.  Look at them.  There are 18 reviews that gave the game a score of 90 or more, including two that gave it 100.  And since the game has stagnated since, never shipping an expansion, that is what you see when you look at Metacritic for reviews.

It rates higher than any MMO I have played for more than a couple of months, save World of Warcraft… which really brings up the question of how MMOs should be reviewed.  Clearly the ” spent a few hours in beta and read the press release” method leads to erratic results, though sometimes that seems to get it right if the issues are obvious enough… or if the publisher doesn’t have enough advertising clout.

As for the new MMO title and its Kickstarter financing plans, I am currently in the “tell me when it actually ships” column.

Turning the City State Entertainment team from March on Oz, a pretty but pedestrian iOS Plants vs. Zombies knock-off, to a full fledged MMO seems like a pretty big leap to me.  Doubly so when Mark himself describes the group as:

…a small, independent team of very dedicated and hard-working guys and gals, many of whom had never worked in the games industry before.

We shall see.

Nineteen Years without Raising the Level Cap

When I started playing TorilMUD… or Sojourn MUD as it was known back then… just after their go-live pwipe, the level cap was 50.

Today, a little more than nineteen years later, the cap for players remains at level 50.

A lot of things have changed.  The D&D rule set being modeled has moved from 2.0 (THAC0) to 4.0 (D20 simplification). Races have been added.  Classes have been reworked and, in some cases, removed. (A moment to remember lost monks, mercenaries, and berserkers.)  Zones have been added at a steady rate over time causing the room count to swell over time.

But in all that time they have never added a single level.  Level 50 remains the pinnacle.

Which is odd, when you consider that TorilMUD was such a big influence on EverQuest, which must hold some sort of record for the total number of different expansions they have sold (soon to be 19, plus half a dozen different expansion “roll up” packages), many of which included boosts to the level cap (which started at 50 and will soon reside at 100) or added in alternative level progression mechanics (primarily alternate advancement).

And EverQuest itself is the template on which your typical PvE fantasy MMORPG is based.  So clearly EverQuest got its expansion mojo from some other source… like a desire for more box sales.

But how has TorilMUD managed this over the last 19 years?

Awkwardly would be my reaction.

TorilMUD was not one of those MUDs where you got special powers or access upon hitting level 50.  You were still a just a player and your only real game option was to conquer content and acquire loot.  So the staff had to come up with methods to keep people engaged and playing.

Some of that was done in ways you will recognize, in ways that MMOs with many expansions use when they want to do another expansion but not raise the level cap.  They have, as noted above, added new races and reworked classes to make them more viable.  (Though nothing has ever made rangers really useful for long.) And they have trimmed back some of the less useful classes. (Mercenaries really were just half-assed warriors with a backstab skill.)  They have also added new low level areas to make bringing up an alt a different experience.

But primary way of keeping people playing without raising the level cap has been the carrot and stick approach, which was used quite liberally with players sitting at level 50.

The carrot comes in the form of new content.  New zones to run, with new monsters, new themes, new gimmicks (including nakedness), and, of course, shiny new loot.  Lots and lots of new loot.  Getting that one item with the perfect stats for your character and class was something of an obsession in the game.

There was the stick as well.  And it wasn’t so much a stick as the infamous Nerf bat and it was wielded with almost gay abandon, much to the dismay of the players.

In order to keep gear inflation in check, equipment with great stats would almost inevitably be downgraded as new gear came in with new zones.  One of the problems with taking a break from the game was coming back and finding some of your best items had been beaten into submission by the Nerf bat.

Sometimes particular enchants or stats would come in for special attention.  I remember the war on haste.  Items began to creep into the game that with that attribute.  Haste is a spell mages could cast on melee classes that would give them extra attacks in combat.  But it was a very short duration spell.  You had to cast it right before a fight and, of course, you had to have a mage with the spell on hand.  But if a melee class had an item that gave him haste all the time, well who needs a mage!  So haste items like the emerald longsword and the gray suede boots became a requirement for melee classes.

And then out came the Nerf bat and haste was removed and people were left with items that otherwise were generally fair at best. (I remember trading a pair of gray suede boots for a pile of equipment just about a week before the change went in.  I got lucky.)

To this day I remember far more old stats for items that have been hit with the Nerf bat than current stats.

All in all it could be a brutal process, like having a semi-continuous gear reset going on around you.  Gear advancement became something of a treadmill.  If you stopped moving, you would eventually fall off the back.

So I guess I can see why EverQuest, and World of Warcraft in its turn, went with the “increase the level cap” option.  Gear resets still happen.  All that great gear you got is still trivialized in one fell swoop.  But at least you are getting newer and better stuff as opposed to seeing your old stuff literally turned to junk.

Avoiding level cap increases has only been attempted by a couple of otherwise level-based MMORPGs, like Dark Age of Camelot.  And while some have praised them for holding the line, it is tough to tell how successful that approach is commercially with a limited sample set.

Games like Vanguard and Warhammer Online haven’t boosted their level caps, but neither of them were apparently successful enough to warrant any sort of expansion, much less one that included new levels.

Guild Wars also stuck with a level cap of 20, but the business model was clearly one of selling boxes since they also went without a subscription.  Guild Wars 2 has the same business model, though one of the lessons they seemed to draw from the original was that they needed more levels.  I suppose we will see what that really means for expansions when they get their first follow-on box ready for sale.

Meanwhile,  DAoC is pretty quiet these days as I understand it, though I am not sure if 8 years of a static level cap is a big factor in that.

And TorilMUD is still going, but my gear is totally out of date.