Tag Archives: Ultima Online

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?

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?

Bosses and Gimmicks and Nostalgia

Last week’s post about the instance group covered our first attempt at the Exodus of the Storm Queen instance in Rift.  The title of the post was A Journey of One Hundred Deaths, which alluded rather accurately to how many times individuals in the group died in total.  There were five of us, so 100 deaths works out to about 20 for each of us.

Another picture of death

Dead on the floor again

Sounds like we did not do very well, doesn’t it?

We didn’t bring down the final boss, that is true.  But I would estimate that more than half of our deaths happened before that point.

What happened was that each of the four bosses in the instance had their own special behavior… their own gimmick… which we stubbornly insisted on learning on our own.  We have a general rule about giving a boss at least three runs before we turn to the web.

That can cost you in wipes.  On the other hand, we are there to play the game, not to win the game as fast as possible.  There is a balance to be achieved between making some progress and being engaged with the game.  Getting to either the “no progress” or “no engagement” ends of the spectrum means we lose.

The post lead to a Bhagpuss mini-rant about gimmicks and expectations, which I will quote in part:

That’s all I ever wanted. My character has spells/skills. The NPC has spells/skills. I use mine as I see fit, he uses his according to his AI. To counter my ability to improvise he gets a much bigger HP/Mana pool.

And I am sympathetic to what he is saying.

Like many old hands at the MMORPG thing, I do recall with fondness some simpler times.  SynCaine has a piece on simple elegance of combat in Ultima Online.  I have raged against talent trees and and the proliferation of skills in games like EverQuest II and Rift.

At times I do pine for the way things were in the days of MUDs or early EverQuest where you took a class that got a pretty limited set of skills and spells by today’s standards, and you played it in the role it was designed to play.  If you were a cleric, you were going to heal.  If you were an enchanter you were going to crowd control.  If you were a warrior you were going to tank and damage.  And if you were a ranger you were going to sit around in town hoping for a desperate group while cursing the fact that you didn’t make a druid instead.

Now a days, if I tell people I am a cleric in Rift, it doesn’t tell them anything about what I do at all.

Of course, the flip side of Bhagpuss’s rantage is that 99% of the mobs in Rift and just about every other fantasy MMORPG behave just as he describes.  They are just a stand up fights, no tricks, no gimmicks, which the player probably wins more than 90% of the time.

Plus, the whole five player dungeon routine is something you have to actively seek as opposed to something being forced upon the player base.

And while the stand up boss fight is the exception as opposed to the rule these days, you do still run into them.  They get labeled as “simple tank and spank” and generally pose no issue to any group that is within the range and equipment parameters of the dungeon.

And that is the problem, really.  They offer little or no challenge, unless your group isn’t up to par.  I actually think that the first boss in every instance ought to be a hit point heavy tank and spank that tests the group’s ability to perform their basic roles, if only to act as a “you must be this powerful to hope for success in this dungeon” gate.

Fight gimmicks are in boss fights to make things interesting, to change things up, and to keep things from getting boring.  And such things have been in for a long time.  Dragons back in the MUD days always had special attacks and breath weapons had special effects.  I recall one that would cause your bag to be destroyed if you did not have protection from cold on you.  There would go all your extra gear and loot!

Granted, the gimmicks in boss fights used to be less subtle at times, and I am not sure I want instance level bosses to start becoming like the elaborate dance routines that raid level boss fights have evolved into.

But in some ways, the gimmick is part of the fun of facing a new boss.

Like, oh my gawd!

What have you got for us big guy?

There is a reason, beyond simple pride, that our group doesn’t look up boss fights in advance.  Figuring things out is part of the experience.  We do have our limits.  We are not as young or as talented or as patient as we used to be I suppose.  So after a few tries we start looking for hints or help online.  But it is always satisfying when we figure out the gimmick successfully.

I think, in the end, a boss fight… or at least the final boss fight… in any instance is defined by the gimmicks and surprises it brings.  And if the gimmick doesn’t pan out… it can be a bit of a let down.  I remember our last boss fight in Wrath of the Lich King against King Ymiron.  After our struggles, it seemed like a bit of a let down that we were able to simply pile on and take him down.

Victory over King Ymiron

Hey, the King’s dead!

So I think I am pro-boss gimmicks.  They can make boss fights stand out, though I recognize that they can also turn a fight into a rote learning experience as well.  There is a line there somewhere.

And let’s face it, boss fights with gimmicks have been around at least since Mario started facing off against Bowser.

What do you think?

Boss fight gimmicks, good or bad or somewhere in between?

Complex Gaming Declares EVE Online Best PC Game of All Time

Complex Gaming has a list, and we all love lists!  Well, I love lists.

This list is a list of their Top 50 Best PC Games of All Time.

And their top pick on the list is EVE Online.

Stuff blows up in space!

I cannot imagine that will cause any controversy.

Actually, the whole list is pretty controversial to me and seems pretty heavily weighted towards more recent games.  I would argue about whether Civilization V should be on the list relative to past versions. (I prefer Civ II still, and I know there are Civ IV partisans out there.)  And should both Torchlight AND Torchlight II make the list?  And both StarCraft AND StarCraft II?  Really?

On the MMORPG front, Ultima Online, World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, Star Wars the Old Republic and, of course, EVE Online make the cut.  No EverQuest and no Guild Wars 2 though.

And LEGO Star Wars III but not LEGO Star Wars – The Original Trilogy?  Heresy!

Ah well, such lists are pretty much designed to stir up controversy.  How do you pick 10, 20, or even 50 “bests” out of such a huge body of work without leaving something out?

Maybe I should work on my own list.

Mists of Pandaria Launches Today

Nearly eight years after launching World of Warcraft, Blizzard today shipped the fourth expansion to its mega money making MMO, Mists of Pandaria.  As is the case with any Blizzard product release, there were midnight launch events all over.

I do wonder if, in the age of digital distribution, how long retailers will be willing to expand their hours for something that seems to be moving away from brick and mortar.

Mists of Pandaria continues the pattern set previously of WoW expansions coming out about every two years.

  • WoW Launch to The Burning Crusade – 784 days
  • The Burning Crusade to Wrath of the Lich King – 667 days
  • Wrath of the Lich King to Cataclysm – 754 days
  • Cataclysm to Mists of Pandaria – 658 days

Making the average time between releases just shy of 716 days.

I strongly suspect that Blizzard’s ability to get away with an expansion every two years with, at times, a seeming modest investment in additional content in between, while continuing to grow until recently, was a big influence on SOE who, up to that point, seemed to feel that cranking out an expansion every six months, finished or not, was necessary to stay afloat.  They have flailed about significantly less in the last few years.

Mists of Pandaria will likely stem the tide of subscription losses for now.  WoW has gone from over 12 million subscribers just after the launch of Cataclysm to 9.1 million at the last quarterly report.  We will know in a year or so if Pandas are a magic elixir or just a plateau on the way down.  Mike Morhaime wisely declined to make predictions on that topic.

Unlike past WoW expansions, I will not be picking up Mists of Pandaria today.  Our regular group grew bored of Cataclysm and moved on to other games.  We are currently playing Rift.

But a lot of people have been waiting for this day.  How about you?

Oh, and Ultima Online turned 15 today.  Imagine that. [Link fixed]

Lord British is Talking to the Press, Not EA, About His Ultimate RPG

“I’m not sure what Richard Garriott is referring to.  But no one at EA is discussing partnership or licensing opportunities related to the Ultima Online franchise…”

Jeff Brown, EA’s head of corporate communications, Industry Gamers interview

Just to keep all the Lord British Ultimate RPG story in one place, here we go with an update.

Who Loves You EA?

I saw over at Massively that EA was saying they hadn’t heard a thing from Lord British about the Ultima Franchise and his Ultimate RPG.  This despite EuroGamer having quoted Richard Garriott de Cayeux saying

“We’ve actually talked to Electronic Arts about [Garriott leading Ultima Online again]. I would love to have access to the Ultima property. We’ve had discussions at very high levels with Electronic Arts about access to the property.”

Since the EA denial story broke, a spokesperson for Garriott de Cayeux offered this clarification:

“Richard is not CURRENTLY having conversations at high levels with Electronic Arts regarding the Ultima franchise. He never said that he is. I can assure you, however, that those conversations have taken place in the past.”

He added, “What is taking place right now are conversations with EA as well as other companies regarding potential partnerships/distribution deals involving our other products including Ultimate Collector and our Casino games, Port Casino Poker and Port Casino Blackjack. These are normal and expected communications taking place as we move closer to launching Utlimate Collector sometime after the first of the year.”

So we just have Lord British out there attempting to woo EA in the press by expressing his “great fondness” for the gaming giant… and then the next day complaining that their sports-game mind set ruined Ultima VIII… all without actually broaching the subject directly with EA.

Smooth.

As to how we got to this state of affairs, it is hard to tell.

Visionary people often project what they plan to do into sounding like it has been done already or connect unrelated things to sound like a single narrative.  I’ve lived that routine a few times.  This might just be Lord British in space… again.

And then there is the editorial reputation of EuroGamer.  They have certainly gotten confused by gaming honcho statements before.  Remember when they said that PlanetSide 2 would SHIP in Q1/Q2 of 2011?  Yeah, they’re good like that some times.

Anyway, this seems to be Lord British month.  Stay tuned for updates.

Lord British: About Tabula Rasa… and Ultima 8…

“since Ultima Online was a fair time back and Tabula Rasa had its troubles, it makes perfect sense that people would go, ‘I’m cautious as to what my expectations are.'”

Dr. Richard A. Garriott de Cayeux, EuroGamer Interview III – Exodus

As noted at Massively (thanks Syp), the interviews with Lord British continue over at EuroGamer, this time focused on what went wrong with Tabula Rasa and Ultima VIII.

Not his best work

I swear, I thought he was done.  He sounded done.  He probably should have been done.  But apparently he was not done, and I’m on the Ultimate RPG train, so I am going to stick with it!

Anyway, Lord British takes full blame for both games not being up to par.  Sort of.

“Too bad, spilt milk,” he rued, “I get the blame – I get the appropriate blame, I’m the top of the food chain. It was my decisions. But that’s my excuse or rationalisation.”

And then he does go on to rationalize… or rationalise.

Essentially, it was the same problem in both cases, being forced to ship before they were done.

With Ultima VIII, the big problem was, in his view, the sports-game-centric mentality of EA, which insisted that they ship the game when they said they were going to ship.  This lead to a giant miss in the market according to Lord British.

…if we’d really just finished it properly – even the movement, the jumping that was in the game – had we done it less hacked and more accurately, we would have had a Diablo-style success a year or so before Diablo.

There but for the EA mindset, they could have beat Blizzard and their hugely successful Diablo to the punch.  I wonder if Rob Pardo is going to publicly scold him now for ceding the hack and slash RPG to Blizzard ala something Lord British said recently.

Missed opportunities though?  Was Ultima VIII really a potential competitor to Diablo?  I never made it to Ultima VIII, so I couldn’t tell you, but it seems unlikely to me.

And then there was the tale of NCsoft and Tabula Rasa.  According to Lord British, the team blew the first two years of work and had to start again from scratch, something about which NCsoft was not happy.

And whenever you start a game that is two years out of position, you’re basically already up a creek, if you know what I mean. Because what the company is not going to do is forgive the two years and forgive the millions of dollars that have already been spent. You basically are two years late and what’s taking you so long – let’s get the game out.

I’ve read more detailed insights into what transpired.  To say NCsoft was impatient is a bit of a simplification.  And from the outside it looked bad as well, what with Lord British in orbit while Arieki and Foreas burned.  15 months was all NCsoft could put up with before closing the game down.  And, in an all time class move, they fired Lord British while he was in space.  I wonder if that was a first.  He should have that on his list of accomplishments.

All of this wraps up with another mention of Lord British’s goal of the Ultimate RPG, his company’s current venture, Ultimate Collector: Garage Sale, and the previously mentioned new development processes and dedication to modern platforms such as Facebook and mobile devices.

I guess he felt the need to clear the air on past issues… though Ultima VIII was shipped more than 17 years ago, so it might be time to just let go… and he did steer clear some of his past strange statements.  He managed to stay pretty much on message while trying to explain away what went wrong with these two releases.

I’m just not sure that the end message (big bad companies made me do it) was all that helpful or if he needed to bring this up at all.  I think he would have been better off if he had stopped at the previous interview and his professing great fondness for EA, an expression somewhat undone by this interview.