Monthly Archives: February 2010

It’s a World… a World of Tanks

No, not WoW-type tanks.  Real tanks.  Armored fighting vehicles.

Well, virtual armored fighting vehicles.  Darren has the trailer posted over at his site.

I am talking about a free-to-play online game which is all about tanks called World of Tanks.

All tanks and nothing but tanks, or so it seems.

And WWII tanks no less. Everybody’s favorite!

From the site:

World of Tanks is a team-based massively multiplayer online action game dedicated to armored warfare. Throw yourself into the epic tank battles of World War II with other steel cowboys all over the world. Your arsenal includes more than 150 armored vehicles from America, Germany, and the Soviet Union, carefully detailed with historical accuracy.

A flexible system of authentic vehicle upgrade and development allows you to try any of the vehicles and weapons in the game. Whether you prefer to exhaust your foes with fast and maneuverable light tanks, make deep breaches in enemy lines with all-purpose medium tanks, use the force of giant tanks to eliminate opposing armored forces, or become a heavy sniper with long-range howitzers, each unit type has its own advantages and can be extremely effective when operated by a true tank ace.

Part of me really likes the sound of this.  There is a visceral element to a clash of tanks.

On the other hand, the wargaming purist in me finds that their information raises more questions than it answers.  The imbalance of the real world of armored warfare, especially the see-saw game of superiority that took place during WWII, at least on the Eastern Front, makes me wonder how balance issues are going to work out.

150 different tanks sounds great, but why would I go with anything besides a late 1944 Panther (the one with the mantlet that fixed the shot trap problem) if I had the choice?  Or maybe a Jagdpanther if I wanted to just lay back in kill stuff.

A game screen shot featuring a Panther

You’ll note that that screen shot actually shows the late 1944 mantlet upgrade.  It is that lip on the bottom of the rounded gun mounting.  The older, fully rounded mantlet had a habit of deflecting shots down into the thin upper armor of the Panther, which is bad for business.

But then there is that flexible system of upgrades, which I presume is there to make other AFVs competitive with the few late-war choices most knowing players would otherwise make.

Your armored steed isn’t just a tin can on tracks – it’s a living, evolving mechanism that should be treated accordingly. Research your available upgrades and modifications to enhance its performance on the battlefield.

That does seem to contradict the whole “carefully detailed with historical accuracy” part of the equation though.  I don’t recall a lot of living, evolving mechanisms in the annuls of WWII armored warfare.  Design changes, field modifications, and updated tactical doctrines, sure, but evolution?

If they’re talking upgrades that will keep, say, a Panzer 38(t) competitive in a late-war scenario, they better mean converting it into a Hetzer.  (A Hetzer might make my list as well.)

And then there is the whole “world” aspect of World of Tanks.

Intense battles with up to 60 combat vehicles unfold on enormous and detailed battlefields featuring a variety of terrain from open fields with hills and forests to deserts and industrial zones. The terrain offers a wide scope for tactical decisions from aggressive fast-paced thrusts to elaborate flanking operations and diversionary attacks.

That doesn’t sound like it is going to be a virtual world.  That sounds more akin to the Battlefield series of games rather than your typical MMORPG.

Still, nitpicking aside, it is tanks.  Tanks shooting at other tanks.  No messy infantry support or nasty panzerfaust wielding bad guys hiding where you least expect them.  Just tanks.  That should have something going for it.

The game will be free-to-play, so I’m sure I’ll give it a try.

I can go play Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin if I want historical accuracy and pazerfaust wielding grenadiers.  In fact, I think I will.

Of course, since this will be a free-to-play game, that implies there will be some sort of cash shop mechanism. I can hardly wait to see what they will offer.  You want APDS rounds for your main gun?  That will cost you.

More on World of Tanks as it develops.

One Night – Three Instances

Which, frankly, isn’t all that many instances when it comes down to it.  Heck, I did three instances in about 90 minutes one afternoon.

But those were lower level dungeon finder runs.  Here we had the regular Saturday night group together for a planned production.

And the tasks at hand required us to get out the old crew.  A reminder for those not keeping score:

80 Priest – Skronk
80 Mage – Ula
80 Warlock – Bungholio
80 Warrior – Earlthecat
80 Paladin – Vikund

We had to get out and figure out how to play our old classes.  For me that wasn’t such a big deal; going from healer to DPS made things easier for me, plus I still actively play Vikund regularly, pursuing those achievements and what not.  But others were a bit rusty.  And even I had forgotten some of the dynamics of having a warrior tank and a warlock DPS in the group.

Sorting ourselves out

You can see in that picture that Earl still has a pumpkin head, though I think we were throwing those around at Winter Veil, so it might not actually be from October.  Then again, it might.

The first instance on the agenda was Utgarde Keep, the scene of our inglorious start on Northrend instances that forced us to actually spec and equip for our roles in the group rather than just throw talent points around at random.

We needed to go kill Prince Keleseth so Vikund could get the Love is in the Air drop from him for the achievement.  Fortunately, killing Keleseth is a popular activity, since according to my stats at least, no other boss has killed me as many times as he has.

As a level 70 dungeon, that was a good warm up for us.  The risk was low and we got to use our skills without worrying about a wipe if we made a mistake.  Plus it still showed up on dungeon finder for us, so we could warp right in and start.

We rolled in and took care of Keleseth, getting me the drop and securing me the holiday meta achievement, as I previously mentioned.

Achievement secured

After that, it was time for the second instance, Shadowfang Keep.  There is both an achievement and a daily quest to be taken care of in SFK, which involves knocking off some level 80 bosses in line with the Headless Horseman at Hallow’s End.  I wanted the achievement, even though it is not required for the meta achievement, and the group was keen for a chance at some of the drops from the encounter, which looked pretty nice.

We had to travel overland this time around, since the dungeon finder does not let you into instances that are below your level.  A couple of us made it to the meeting stone and reeled in the remainders, thanks to the fact that the meeting stones no longer have level restrictions.

Inside, we met up with the trio that are the focus of the daily quest.

Baxter, Hummel, and Frye

Like most of these holiday encounters, it is an event that has some interesting parameters.  Baxter is wearing cologne and Hummel is wearing perfume, each of which causes some significant AOE damage. (Not unlike that woman in accounting.)  You are given two bottles of antidote that will protect you from the AOE effects, but they are mutually exclusive.  You can only wear one at a time.

The suggested method we saw was to put the main tank on Hummel, have an off-tank pull Baxter away (each wearing the appropriate antidote), and then burn down Hummel, then Baxter, then Frye.

Frye is the wild card, as he runs all over the place and hurls bottles of perfume and cologne, land and leave pools of the stuff which have the same effects as the perfume and cologne that Baxter and Hummel wear.  If you have the right antidote, you’re safe, if you don’t and you’re standing in the pool, you’re going to be toast pretty soon unless you move.

We gave it a try and seemed to be doing okay.  The battle went on for a while until Frye started hitting us with annoying accuracy with the items we were not protected against.  Earl went down and the wheels came off and it was a wipe.

Spread out and dead

We had forgotten to even make a soul stone.

That went badly enough that we decided to try the other strategy we saw, which has everybody focus on Hummel to take him down fast, then swap antidote and kill Baxter, then finish off with Frye.

And so we tried the concentrated attack in three different forms.  Each time we wiped, but we wiped much more quickly than our divide and conquer strategy.

Concentrated and dead

The problem did not seem to be Baxter or Hummel, it seemed to be Frye.  So for our last run, we decided to try a third strategy.  Earl pulled Hummel off to one side of the courtyard and held him.  Vikund pulled Baxter the other direction and held him.  And then everybody who could attacked Frye.

This worked out much better.

With the right antidote, Hummel and Baxter are no problem and Frye obliged me several times by running into my consecrate or whirlwind.

And by the time Frye was down Vikund almost had Baxter down.  The only hitch came when Skronk died.  We suspect he was standing in a pool of something for which he did not have the antidote active.

Good on the fifth try!

We did not get the elusive Big Love Rocket as a drop.  Instead we got the sweet perfume broach, which Vikund passed on because he’d already gotten his drop for the night back in Utgarde Keep.

Now that we know the fight, we will probably try to do it again this coming week.

Once we were done in SFK the evening was still relatively young for most of us, so we swapped over to Lightninghoof and our up and coming horde characters, who stood at the time at:

40 Blood Elf Paladin – Enaldie (Ula)
40 Tauren Druid – Hurmoo (Vikund)
41 Tauren Druid – Azawak (Skronk)
41 Undead Mage – Bigbutt (Bungholio)
41 Orc Shaman – Earlthebat (Earlthecat)

Earl had gotten out earlier in the day to catch up with his shaman, so we decided to head back to Uldaman to get him that last quest in the treasure room behind Archaedas.  He’d missed it during our last run because he was too low level.

Enaldie, however, was ready to call it a night, so we thought we’d give it a try with just the four of us.

Unfortunately dungeon finder won’t send you places with just a group of four, and we weren’t really in the mood to invite a stranger along at that point.  So we did what any similar group would do in the same situation.  We had Skronk go log Enaldie back in and join the party so we could use dungeon finder.

We dragged Enaldie along on follow for a while as we took on the instance as a group of four, which turned out to be not that big of a deal.  Ironically, in the pre-history of the instance group, it was just a group of four players who at one point just beat their head against Uldaman at and even slightly above level.  This was part of the reason that our initial victory over Archaedas was so sweet.

However now as a four person group, it wasn’t a big deal.  We wiped Enaldie off on some feature of the terrain at one point and didn’t notice until she was off the mini map.  It turned out to be a safe spot, as she disconnected before anything came to kill her.

As with last week, the troggs were the most difficult fights, at least from Hurmoo’s healer perspective.  After we were past that it was all smooth sailing and excellent experience.  The four of us made it to Archaedas and sent him packing.

Battle with Archaedas

So there you have it.  Four players at the appropriate level for the dungeon were capable of seeing through without issue.

Now we’ll see if we’re ready for Zul’Farrak.  The quests for the instance are levels 45-50.

MMOs and The BBB

The BBB is the Better Business Bureau, a resource you may have heard of before.

Omali at Massive Multiplayer Fallout took a look at the Better Business Bureau web site to see what they had to say about various studios that produce massively multiplayer games.

I won’t spoil his post by repeating it all here, but there was quite a dichotomy in the ratings.  The BBB give letter grades from A to F following the academic model and most companies either got an A or an F.

Sony Online Entertainment and Blizzard Entertainment (Blizzard is actually one of the few on the list that are BBB Accredited) were among those getting an A.

Cryptic Studios and Mythic were both on the F list.

The only company in the middle of the pack was NCsoft, which received a C-.

And a pile of other companies have no rating at all.

Aside from some of the information in the profiles I’ve linked, I’m not sure that the ratings would affect my own buying decisions.

How about you?

Do these ratings surprise you, confirm your own views, or just represent another data point that may or may not affect your life?

Playing Alone Together – View #937

Yahtzee Croshaw, best known for his Zero Punctuation videos over at The Escapist, also has a weekly column called, cutely enough, Extra Punctuation, because nobody can ever resist pushing an analogy too far or beating a joke to death. (We had to ban analogies at the office for a while because this phenomena.)

The column is generally a response to whatever complaints he received about the previous week’s Zero Punctuation video.  This week, however, nobody appeared to step up to take issue with his trashing of Borderlands, so he had to fill his two pages with other items.

So he chose to take a look at that oft mentioned bone of contention on the virtual world front, “Why do people insist on playing a multi-player game solo?”  A comparison to Goths (no, not those Goths, these Goths, the ones with the clove cigarettes) ensues.  And then we learn his horrible Team Fortress 2 secret.

Meanwhile, Zero Punctuation this week goes after Mass Effect 2, which gets compared at the last second to EVE Online.  We’ll see if that leads to more complaints for next week’s column.

Maybe that is why Darren likes Mass Effect 2.

Crown of Byzantus Beta Ends Friday!

I received a note the other day from a Finnish company called Casual Continent.

And when I say “the other day” I mean about a month ago when I was in Hawaii.  Furthermore, the email fell into my spam folder and I only fished it out after it sat in there for two additional weeks.

So it seems like just the other day to me.

Anyway, the email came with the subject line:

Casual Continent takes on the German Giants!

As far as subject lines go, that one nearly didn’t get fished out of the spam filter.

And even when I decided that it didn’t look like porn (after trying to read something obscene into the sender’s name, Pyry Lehdonvirta… turns out he’s the CEO) it still wasn’t clicking with me.  What sort of “German Giants” would somebody from a casual continent feel fit to take on?

Mentally, I could only come up with one option.

I was wrong of course.

It turns out that Casual Content makes browser based MMOGs and competes in a segment that is, unbeknownst to me, dominated by Germans.  You learn something new every day.

So these plucky Finns are out to take on these non-rabbit German giants with their new game Crown of Byzantus.

(This is why I’ll never make it in journalism.  I get a couple of paragraphs in before I even start answering the questions you’re supposed to cram into the first paragraph of any newspaper article if you want to keep your editor off your back.)

“And what is Crown of Byzantus?” I hear you ask?

Well, here is the blurb from their press site:

The medieval genre in browser games is choked with village building, farming simulations and gladiatorial combat. Crown of Byzantus steers clear from that crowd and instead makes the player a hero, a knight and a warlord in search of gold and glory… at least for a few minutes a day.

Crown of Byzantus is based on historical events in the 14th century but with supernatural elements based on the region and writings of medieval scholars. The player starts by building his army, unlocking new units and features as he rises through the titles of nobility. Eventually he will become embroiled in an epic war of conquest that determines the Emperor, the leading player on the server.

Wait, what was that about gladiatorial combat?  Oh, that is some other game.  And don’t get me started on farming simulations.

Along with this press blurb, they sent me a beta account, so I was able to go and play the game for a bit.  I suppose in a free-to-play game being given an account does not constitute an actual material relationship, but be warned I have been given consideration of some sort.  Consider this potentially a COMPLY LEVEL 1 WARNING worthy event, just to put the most dire spin on it.

But back to the gladiator-free 14th century.

You start out as a knight with three peasant recruits and set out to make your way in the world.

One little segment of the world

The world is presented to you in small chunks.  In each there are cities where you can heal your troops, recruit more when you are able, and conduct the usual trade and training.

There are also little encounters in the world represented by appropriate icons.  The ones with little locks on them are not available to you.  At low levels, I seemed to be stuck with sacred groves.


Heretics and mythical beasts… I’ve been to those parties before.  They’re probably all smoking clove cigarettes.

You can explore or leave… and explore means enter and start fighting with whoever you find.  I’ve been to that kind of party before as well.

Scenes from a low-class struggle

I haven’t quite figured out the mechanics of battle… not having actually read any of the instructions… but it seems to at least follow the “my army is bigger so I’m more likely to win” model of the world.

And thus you run around and earn Gold (money, duh!) and Glory (experience points), and pearls (cash shop currency, so you have to buy those actually), which are displayed on the upper right of the map screen.

The limiting factor of the game is Legend Points.  That is the fourth item on the upper right of the map and you earn them slowly over time.

You need Legend Points to move around the world.  Want to go to the next map segment? It costs a Legend Point.  Want to explore that encounter on the map?  Legend point please.

Legend Points, I am going to guess, are one of the keys to the money making aspect of this free to play browser game.  I seem to be capped at 10 points, but I would bet that once the game goes live, a visit to a cash shop or some such would raise that number.

All of these I have gleaned from about 90 minutes of total play over the course of a week.  In a way, the game is very nice in that you can open it up in a browser and let it sit, attending to it when you have free minute, but otherwise leaving it in the background.  A fine game to play during pauses in other games I suppose.

And there is much more to the game than I saw.  You can fight other players, build your army, acquire holdings, and become emperor.

Not my cup of tea perhaps, but an interesting peek into the doings of our browser based MMO brethren.

Now, the nice people at Casual Continent also sent me 5 keys to give out to readers who might like to try out this game while it is in beta.

Unfortunately, as the title of the post indicates, the beta ends on Friday at 12:00.  All that lingering in the spam filter and then my simply not getting around to writing this post has not left much of a window of opportunity.

Still, there is a little bit of time.  If you desperately want to try this before beta ends, leave a comment and I will send you a code.  There is nothing up about when the game might be back for an open beta or a live launch.  The whole thing could go Kart Rider on us!

This might be your only chance!

Shut Up We’re Talking #58

“Shut Up We’re Talking,” one of the podcasts in the VirginWorlds Podcast Collective, has released episode 58.

Regular hosts Darren from The Common Sense Gamer and Karen from Journey’s with Jaye were joined by Brian from Blue Kae, and myself.

Topics:

  • Introductions
  • What We’re Playing – EVE and STO seems to be the common theme for three of us.
  • Listener Mail
  • Expansions, Exploitation, and Downloadable Content – Prompted by a comment to show #57 by Teviko, we try to get at the question asked, then meander about the topic.  References are made to the controversial show #30.
  • The Next Triple-A Fantasy MMO? – Prompted by a post over at Serial Ganker, what happens in a genre dominated by WoW?  Who would bother producing a subscription based AAA fantasy MMO these days?  Do we give up and go home, watch for indy games, or look to science fiction, horror, or some other genre to  provide an alternative.
  • Show Close
  • Out Takes

Blog Picks of the Show – Each episode everybody on the show gets to recommend one blog that we think you should go and check out.  For this show the following blogs were recommended.

The show is available on iTunes or can be downloaded over at VirginWorlds.

The Convergence of WoW and WebKinz

I’ve mentioned WebKinz before.

It has been a couple of years, but it still gets some attention at our house.  In fact my daughter HAD to have a new WebKinz plush toy for Christmas this past year.

She had to have it because that is the basis of the traditional WebKinz subscription plan.  When you buy a WebKinz toy, you get a year-long subscription to their online world.  In that world, you take a virtual representation of your real life plush pal and build them a home, furnish it, and play games alone or with other people.

So it wasn’t a stretch to make a connection with WebKinz when Bilzzard announced that they would be selling plush toys that would get you an in-game pet as well.


Tangible toy with a virtual world representation:  My daughter expressed a desire right away for the plush gryphon hatchling.

The funny thing is that WebKinz is moving a bit towards WoW’s business model with Deluxe memberships.


Deluxe memberships are below the monthly Club Penguin ($6) or Toontown Online ($10) price range, running about $5 a month if purchased in the smallest increment.  That said, WebKinz is also much less of a virtual world than either of the two competitors I mentioned. (And we’ve had all three running at our house at various times.)

The one really nice thing that WebKinz has in their subscription plan matrix is a family membership.  Only available as an annual subscription, it gives you up to five accounts.  I wish Blizzard would look into some sort of family package.

And while I’m on the topic of mixing up real and virtual versions of in-game items, I thought I would mention that Figure Prints has announced the third in their series of in-game companion pet models.

Companion Pets - Series 3

Having posted about the first and second installments in the series, I would have to say that this is perhaps the best set so far, though I’m still not laying down any cash for them.  But if you have to have them, they are only available through March 31st.

People who are not fans of the cash shop trend we’re seeing in subscription MMOs will probably enjoy the irony of the Pandaren Monk pet being part of this series.  You have to buy that pet from the Blizzard Store, and then you can turn around and buy it again from Figure Prints.

Vikund the Love Fool

I have managed to keep on streak of getting the meta achievements for WoW holiday events by securing the title The Love Fool for my main character.  I even got it on the appropriate date.

This was mostly thanks to a bunch of help last night from the instance group.  There will be more on that as part of my weekly tales of the instance group post.

The whole lovely charm/charm bracelet addition to this year’s event had the effect of getting me out and running daily quests again.  At least it did once the charm lag settled down.  The game was near impossible to play on the first day of the event, but by this weekend things were okay, at least on my server.

Now of course, the question is can I keep up this streak?  Things do not look too good in that regard.  The next two events I need, the Lunar Festival, which started today, and Children’s Week, which comes up in early May, are both going to be a challenge.

The Lunar Festival achievement requires a group effort to get to all the elders, as some are in heroic dungeons, while Children’s Week means some battlegrounds goals, the most onerous of which is capturing a flag in Eye of the Storm, something I have never done.

We’ll see what I can manage.

In the mean time, I have to figure out on what I should spend these extra 80 love tokens I ended up with.

TTH Picks the Top Ten PvP MMOs

Lists, especially ranked lists, are always good for some attention.

In that vein, Ten Ton Hammer decided to stir the pot a bit by ranking what they consider to be the Top Ten PvP MMOs.

I’ll spoil the surprise and give you their list ranked top to bottom.  You’ll have to go read the article to get the justifications.

  1. Dark Age of Camelot
  2. Eve Online
  3. Darkfall
  4. Planetside
  5. Warhammer Online
  6. Aion
  7. Lineage 2
  8. Guild Wars
  9. Age of Conan
  10. Lord of the Rings Online

They used the phrase “out there” to describe their selections, by which I assume they mean they are measuring the PvP-ness you can get today from these games, as opposed to when they were at their peak.  So no Shadowbane.

That also might explain the lack of Ultima Online on the list.

But if you’re going to exclude UO for its current state of affairs, how do you justify keeping Planetside on the list?