Tag Archives: Massively

Two Paths Forward – Blizzard Watch and Massively Overpowered

Just a week ago we were being hit with the official news that AOL was shutting down its “enthusiast sites” on the Joystiq domain, including Massively and WoW Insider.

But within hours of the farewell posts for both sites, plans were already in action by the form staff members of both sites to bring new versions of them to life.

The WoW Insider crew struck a lightning blow and had Blizzard Watch up and going almost right away, starting up the site with a subset of the original team while they firmed up recurring monthly financing via a Patreon campaign.  So far that campaign has passed the $13K mark and the site is coming together, though they have more work on that front.

The Massively side of the house has been more conservative.

MassivelyOverpoweredThey had a Twitter account and a podcast feed and a Google+ page and a Facebook page and a channel on Twitch up pretty quickly, but an actual web presence took a while longer.  And once they were up on the web, the presence was a placeholder for the future, not an immediate launch into coverage the way the Blizzard Watch crew went.

I am not the one doing the work or putting my neck out, but the web site and written coverage of the MMO genre is what Massively was about for me.  But I gather that they know their own demographic mix better than I, so perhaps a Twitch channel and a podcast were vital first steps.

Meanwhile, on the financing front, Massively Overpowered has decided to go with a Kickstarter campaign in order to build up a war chest to get the web site going.  They are going with a 28 day campaign that is looking to raise $50,000.  As it is explained as part of the Kickstarter pitch, they want to do this right.

To make Massively Overpowered both profitable and sustainable and replace the corporate infrastructure we’ve left behind, we need to do it the right way, all the way. We’ll be a company with legal and bookkeeping support. We’ll have a professional web designer and tech engineer. We’ll have scalable, high-traffic hosting that can handle the hit spikes you send our way. We’ll have an ad sales person who is actually a person and not an algorithm. We’ll have a website that doesn’t burn your eyes and widgets that actually work. And we’ll have writers who are actually paid what they deserve for their considerable efforts.

And there is certainly a logic to that and more of what is up on the Kickstarter page.  They want a sustainable funding plan, something that Patreaon might not deliver.  More than 2,500 people appear to be happy to kick in every month for Blizzard Watch today, but will they all be as enthusiastic six months or a year down the road.

Anyway, by the usual Wilhelm Kickstarter Tracking Metric(tm), the Massively Overpowered Kickstarter campaign looks like it will meet its goal handily having already come close to the halfway mark within the first few hours. (Watch on Kicktraq as things progress.)

So I guess I will have to keep reading MMORPG.com for a month or more while Massively Overpowered gets their foundations set.  And, while I am not pitting one against the other, I will be interested to see how each site moves forward as things settle down and the day to day need to make money and pay bills becomes reality.

WoW Insider Reborn as Blizzard Watch

Well, Massively and WoW Insider (and Joystiq itself) put up their farewell posts just hours ago at this point, but already plans are in motion for replacement sites featuring some of the same cast of characters.

Out of the gate first are some of the former WoW Insider team that has setup a new site called Blizzard Watch. (RSS Feed for the site.)

Blizzard Watch open for business

Blizzard Watch open for business

There is a big welcome post that sketches out plans for the site.

With a new site they have some new options.  They have laid out how things will be different given their new independence:

The key point is we’ll have more freedom. Freedom to change our structure when the situation necessitates it, the ability to fix our own technical problems without jumping through support hoops, and the freedom to have other types of content if we think they’ll be fun. We can choose which technologies we use in our content production rather than the media avenues provided by a parent company. We can generally be more agile. Free of our corporate shackles, we’ll be able to dive back into creating awesome content with renewed passion for what we do. Most importantly, we can cover all aspects of WoW and Blizzard games that you know and love without limitations.

Of course, there is the funding question as all of these writers will want to get paid.  They will be running ads as well as looking for funding through a Patreon campaign, which is currently doing very well.  So things look good for the sort of ongoing coverage of World of Warcraft and other Blizzard topics which we have become used to over the years.

Meanwhile, the crew formerly associated with Massively has not been sitting still.  They have not got a web site up, but a whole Massively Overpowered initiative is rolling out.  I’ll make a note when they get their site running, their RSS feed up, and their own funding under way.

On Departures from Our Corner of the Web

MMOs are a strange sub-genre of video games.  As noted this month… and just about every month… it is tough to even define what an MMO is.  People claim some things are MMOs that meet almost none of what I would consider the baseline requirements, while Smed was trying to tell us that H1Z1 wasn’t an MMO despite the fact that it seems to meet nearly all the criteria I would use to make that determination.

And how many video game sub-genres get this much focus?

If you want to find video game news sites, they are plentiful, as are sites that narrow that down to games on a specific platform.

Or, if you want to find a site that focuses on a specific title or series of games, that seems pretty doable.

But when you start talking about video-game subgenres… action RPGs or text adventures or turn-based strategy or simulations… the sites start to get a little niche.

MMOs though… MMOs are a little different.  We have had sites and magazines and columns in major publications dedicated to just our own favorite genre.

Michael Zenke's old column at 1Up.com

Michael Zenke’s old column at 1Up.com

I started this site at the height of what I would call the golden age of MMO blogging.  It was the VirginWorlds podcast era, a show that brought a lot of people together and was, in a way, emblematic of the time.  Brent could climb into the converted sauna that served as his recording studio and bang out about an hour of content once a week that would really cover all the important news we wanted to hear.

MMOs were all about success back then, they made lots of money, and the few oddball titles that got closed were clearly going down because of bad design or bad execution.  World of Warcraft, while already wildly distorting the measure of success in the genre, seemed to herald continued growth and endless possibilities.  People wanted to talk about them, argue over them, and most of all, hear about the next great thing that was sure to come.

And I think that all of this came about because MMOs are such a social video game genre.

A lot more people played FarmVille than any MMO, and a lot more probably play Candy Crush Saga.  But if you meet somebody else who plays one of those games, there generally isn’t a ton of excitement over it.

But if I meet somebody who plays an MMO that I play, it has to become “what server, what class, what level, do you know so-and-so, how about the next update/expansion they are talking about” and so on.  (And if I meet somebody who plays EVE Online, just go away for an hour or two, because we have to figure out how we are linked… and we always are in some odd way… in New Eden.)

And the social nature of our hobby has led us to have almost an over abundance of site covering MMOs.  We have MMORPG.com, Ten Ton Hammer, MMO Champion and Massively all trying to cover all aspects of the genre as well as a host of sites that drill down and concentrate of smaller aspects.  There is such an array of choices that I cut back the MMO news site feeds to what I considered the bare essentials.  The MMO news sites in my reader today are:

  • Massively – Nearly all things MMO
  • MMO Fallout – Filled in the corners for NCsoft and Jagex and a few other topics
  • WoW Insider – Everything I needed to know about WoW
  • EQ2 Wire – Everything anybody sane needs to know about EverQuest II
  • The Mittani and EVE News 24 – All EVE Online, with comedic juxtaposition

However, as we learned today, that list is getting the chopped by two very soon.

Rumors had already been floating around about how AOL was going to shut down Joystiq and all sites under the Joystiq domain, a domain that includes both Massively and WoW Insider.  (WoW Insider was WoW.com for a brief moment in time before AOL thought the domain was better off hosting a half-assed Groupon clone… which they later closed.)

MassivelyWoWInsiderLogosAnd so it goes.  Massively came on the scene towards the end of 2007 and was staffed by a lot of names familiar to me, like Michael Zenke and Mike Schramm… and other people not named “Mike.”

If you go back to the first snapshot of the site over at the Internet Archieve, it is fun to see what they opened up with; Tabula Rasa, Echoes of Faydwer for EQ2, EVE Online, whether or not there was going to be a Knights of the Old Republic based MMO, and, of course, Second Life!  I remember people complaining about there being too damn much Second Life coverage on Massively for the first year or so.  And, of course, the Welcome to Massively post, which laid out the intentions for the site.  The first paragraph:

This is it. The design is in place, our bloggers are trained and at the ready, and the password has been lifted from the site. Our brand new blog, Massively, is now live and ready for your perusal, your comments, your tips, and your eyeballs. Here, you’ll find breaking news about MMO games both upcoming and established, insightful and wisecracking commentary about your favorite worlds, tips on how to get all your characters in all those universes the best they can be, and the high level of quality you’ve come to expect from WoW Insider, Second Life Insider, Joystiq and the Fanboy network. This is Massively, and welcome to it.

That was still in the heyday of MMO blogs and for a couple of GDCs up in San Francisco, meeting up with Brent and a couple people from Massively and other members of our blogging circle would be something of a tradition. (pictures from 2008, 2009, 2010)

So it is a sad moment as we bid farewell to both Massively and WoW Insider.  But that is the nature of life and the web and blogging.  People show up for a season, we interact, and maybe they stay longer or maybe they move on… but we all move on eventually.  And so we remember two sites about to depart.  They will both go away on February 3rd… Tuesday… Patch day.

  • WoW Insider – November 2005 to February 2015
  • Massively – November 2007 to February 2015

Others in our little corner… and outside of it as well… are also writing about Massively and WoW Insider.

Now who is going to fix all my links to both sites so they hit the Internet Archive instead of whatever doubtless horrible site will end up in their place?

And who should be in my feed now?

And, finally, the only thing I am sure AOL will be remembered for.

Addendum: The farewell posts for Massively and WoW Insider are up.

The More Things Change… Oh, And Marketing 101

It was just over five years ago I was writing about a free to play first person shooter, Battlefield Heroes, causing a furor because they changed up the game by making things more favorable for people who paid versus those who played for free.

The hue and cry was… something.  We’re all familiar with the term “pay to win” at this point.  No lesser source than the generally respected Ars Technica ended their article on the topic with a dire statement about how this change might end the game.

Here we are today and there is something of an outcry because SOE just did something marginally similar by decreasing the effectiveness of a few implants in PlanetSide 2 in order to be able to put some Station Cash only implants into the game without making them too over powered.

People hate when you nerf stuff, and when you nerf stuff in favor of a cash shop item, people will rightly suspect that the move was motivated by money.  Also, pay to win.  Smed, being Smed, stood up and admitted as much, that they want to make money off of the game.

Unfortunately, Smed made a classic “land war in Asia” level PR mistake when he used somebody else’s terminology in his response.  And so Massively got to use the term “Money Grab” in its headline.  You take your click bait where you can get it. (But hey, look at Conner over at MMO Fallout who when with Smed’s real statement for the headline!)

Massively doesn’t actually include the tweet in its article, otherwise it might be clear that it was a direct response to somebody’s accusation… basically, echoing somebody else’s words.

But the quote is fair game as anything Smed says about the game in public is there for everybody to see.  He should have known better that to feed the press a line like that because, as has been demonstrated in the past, that will become the headline and will effectively deliver the opposite message.  People see the denial and will immediately think “PlanetSide 2 Money Grab!”

Live and learn.

As for the dire news five years back about Battlefield Heroes, the last I checked it was still up and running which, considering it is an EA game and they will close down anything that isn’t making enough money, says something.  There is an appropriate Mark Twain quote out there that I think fits the situation.

Meanwhile, the Ars Technica article with the dire prediction for the game is still up and available on their web site.  Because that is what journalists do, they stand by their work as it appeared in the moment.  Or, if they really screw up, they issue a correction.  They don’t, you know, delete their shit and hope nobody notices.  That is what hacks do.

And the world continues to turn.

Quote of the Day – Warning! Lark’s Vomit!

Well, I hardly think this is good enough. I think it would be more appropriate if the box bore a great red label “Warning! Lark’s Vomit!”

Inspector Praline of the Hygiene Squad, Crunchy Frog sketch

That isn’t actually the quote of the day, which has to do with ArcheAge and the way it installs (but does not uninstall) the ineffectual HackShield anti-cheating rootkit on your system.  That just sums up my reaction to the quote, which comes from a Massively exclusive… something.

I’m not sure what to call it.

It doesn’t look like an interview.  Certainly nobody from Trion is mentioned.  It looks more like Trion had a lawyer respond to some questions submitted by Massively.  For some reason the question revolved around the legality of installing HackShield.  Is the gist supposed to be that if a company can do something, they shouldn’t be called out for doing it?  Anyway, this was a bit of what was said:

Yes, the program is always installed completely legally and with permission of the user as goes everything else that comes as part of the “patch” that they choose to install in order to play the game. The Hackshield logo is also prominently displayed on-screen while the program is loading and users are fully aware that the program is installed, and is running upon launching ArcheAge.

As Inspector Praline put it, I hardly think this is good enough.  Telling me you’ve installed this sort of thing by prominently displaying the logo after the fact is a bullshit response.  When I installed ArcheAge, I would have mostly likely cancelled the install and went off to other things.  But I did not have that choice.  So I am going to suggest that Trion use this logo for ArchAge going forward:

AAWarningHackShield

And, should the user go forward, I would then have a warning come up with the installer BEFORE the install process has taken place.  Maybe something like this:

AAsurgeongeneralswarning

That would satisfy me, though maybe the Surgeon General isn’t the right go to person for network security.  Well that, and if the ArcheAge installer would actually uninstall HackShield, rather than leaving the service behind running on my system.

I can hear somebody out there asking why they should care.  Why shouldn’t Trion install this on their system?

Well, I might be more sympathetic to that point of view if they mentioned some tangible user benefit in installing HackShield. Does this, for example, enhance the security of my own account?  Or is this just a blanket admission that, again, the client is in the hands of the enemy and all users are presumed to be cheats.    Trion standing behind the software might buy some good will as well.  But Trion telling me they don’t like it, but changing it would have pushed out the ArcheAge release by 6+ months isn’t making me feel warm and fuzzy.

My personal beef starts with the fact that I did not sign up with HackSiheld’s creator, AhnLab, Inc., and have no standing or relationship with them, but Trion seems to be declining to take responsibility for anything AhnLab does, so where does that leave the end user?  SynCaine has been making SOE comparisons, but did SOE spent much time pointing fingers at the original developer when it came to games like Wizardry Online and Dragon’s Prophet?

Meanwhile ArcheAge seems to be experiencing more than its fair share of hacking these days.  This sort of thing happens to a certain extent with every online game, but if you control the anti-hacking aspect of the game, you can respond to this sort of thing quickly, before it destroys your economy.  That makes Trion’s statement that HackShield will stop the vast majority of hacking attempts ring a little hollow.  But how does one balance those two points of view?  Is Trion overselling HackShield (while still saying they don’t like it) or would ArcheAge be almost infinitely worse without it?  Or both?

And the software itself… I have a long dislike of this sort of thing, going all the way back to the early days of PunkBuster.  Letting a third party handle your anti-cheat protection adds up to abdicating control on that front, and while the claim is that false positives are rare, there isn’t much you can do when you are the one triggering such.  You can make comparisons to Blizzard and their Warden technology, but at least Blizzard owned Warden and could change it when they so desired. (And Warden would, you know, actually uninstall with WoW.)

Finally, there is the system security front, which I am a bit more paranoid about these days after my company had me take a few classes on that front.   Now I see attack vectors all over.  So just color me hyper-sensitive there.

Now most of that is just my personal subjective baggage.  I didn’t like HackShield after I read up on it, so I uninstalled ArcheAge and then used Google to help me figure out how to get HackShield off of my system.  Job done.  You are free to make your choice on that subject, balancing your own paranoia (or lack thereof) against your desire to play the game.  I will admit that I might be more forgiving if I was invested in playing the game.  It is easy to uninstall the game that didn’t interest you all that much in the first place.  It is likewise easy to overlook the flaws of a game in which you are completely invested.  (Day one EverQuest springs to mind.)

But I still feel that Trion claiming, because I agreed to something in their EULA which said they could do whatever they wanted, that they should be immune to criticism for not bothering to tell me that HackShield was being installed until after the fact, thus depriving me of the ability to make an informed choice until it was too late, is, as I noted above, a bullshit response.

Your lark’s vomit?  Do not want!

(insert your favorite do not want picture from the internet here)

Quote of the Day – Defending SWTOR… Badly

Was this supposed to be sarcastic?

kuja1988a

That was my exact thought when reading the Massively Hyperspace Beacon post Six misconceptions about SWTOR free-to-play.

The post purports to defend the SWTOR free to play model from people who “make it out to be something that it’s not.”

And yet, for me, the article managed to damn the game through defensiveness and hair splitting to the point that I really had to question if the author was secretly trying to undermine the game while pretending to be a fan.  Was this SynCaine writing under a pseudonym?  The author seemed more keen to reinforce than debunk a couple of his assertions.  For anybody looking to play the game for the first time, the post is not much of an endorsement.

I certainly had some trouble reconciling that post with the words of SWTOR’s lead designer, who says he has gotten religion about free to play, and who recently wrote:

One of my mantras about being a free-to-play game is that, in order to call yourself that, your evangelists have to feel good about telling their casual friends, “Yeah, you can totally play for free!”

I guess you can still feel a little guilt for not telling your casual friends that the restrictions on free will come early and often and will seem at times like they are specifically designed to make the game frustrating to play unless you pay.

Not that such methods makes SWTOR unique in any way.  I seem to recall that at one point somebody from SOE came right out and said that their model was to drive people to subscribe if they really wanted to play. [citation needed]  And LOTRO, which I have been playing a lot this summer, sure seems to have its hand out all the time, reminding me there is a cash shop almost constantly.

It comes with the territory, and doubly so with a subscription game that has been retrofitted into the model.

I have rambled on about my ambivalence towards the free to play model as currently implemented in popular MMORPGs.  I can see the upside.  New players, for example, are the life’s blood of such games, and free to play seems to be the only way to keep them showing up.  But I can also see the cost, the fact that revenue generation always gets a primary focus.  So if your model is based on unlocks and cash shop companions, that becomes the top priority and anything beyond that shares whatever resources are left.

The free to play model is certainly here to stay.  I am just not sure if were “there” yet when it comes to the model maturing into something I am really happy with.  But that might be a futile hope.

Quote of the Day – Gaming Socialism!

From Massively:

“This whole concept of freemium play, in my opinion, is the most radical form of entertainment socialism since Obama got elected. You’ve got a whole bunch of one-percenters paying for a bunch of freeloaders.”

-Scott Dodson, Bobber Entertainment

I was not even sure what to do with that quote.  It was so wrong on so many levels that I immediately assumed it was made in jest and was only being reported as serious by people looking to stir the pot for page views.

And I was right.  He was playing a role on the panel at that point.

Nice job Massively!  A new Editor in Chief means a new editorial line?

Still, some of the discussion on the ethics panel at GDC Online, as reported elsewhere, does raise interesting questions.

Air Warrior – Vague Memories from the Early Days of Virtual Flight

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.

The Game

Like any good PvP focused multiplayer online game, Air Warrior was divided into three factions.  These were named A, B, and C.  Each side had its own set of airfields.  On the original, asymmetrical map the fields never changed hands, though could be put temporarily out of commission.  In the revised symmetrical maps (one of which is pictured above) there were contestable airfields which could change sides.

Each airfield was defended by an NPC anti-aircraft gun that was brutal, but which could be bombed to put it out of commission for a short time.  In addition jeeps with a machine gun mount could be driven out onto the airfield, though this may have come later in the game.  Tanks were also available to capture contestable airfields.

In the early days of the game, planes were identified by the pilot’s number. (Mine was 3103.)  You could see who you were fighting.  This made it easy, at times, to avoid the good pilots (e.g. 5186, 3799, 5940).  Later that was changed and you could only see the type of plane being flown, not the pilot.  After that, you just had to stay clear of the Spitfire at 20,000 feet waiting to pounce on you.  Same people.

The game ran at a speed of half real time.  It was felt, among other things, that shooting at enemy planes… which were just single pixel black dots at anything but very close range… would be too difficult at the speeds WWII aircraft flew.

As soon as a plane flew within visual range of you, it put up an icon in your field of vision with the distance.  This seems like a recipe for disaster.  How could you ever surprise anybody?  Yet somehow we did.  It did help that you had to actually look in the right direction, so you wouldn’t get an icon in your front windscreen for somebody behind you.

Proposed Pacific Theater 1990

There was also a map, a sample of which is posted above.  In the upper corner of each of the grids, when the map was brought up in game, there was an icon indicating how many friendly and how many enemy planes were flying in a given grid.  This was a simulation of early radar intercept tracking.  It told you where you might find enemy planes without actually putting a big red arrow in the sky.

The Planes

The most commonly flown planes I saw were the Spitfire and the Focke-Wulf 190.  The Spit had speed, maneuverability, and the firepower of two 20mm cannons.  The 190 had even more speed in a dive and four 20mm cannons, allowing a quick, clean kill.

At one point, the Bf-109K was in the game with incredible speed and hitting power, but it got knocked back to a G model at which point there was nearly always a better plane to fly to do what you wanted to do.

The Japanese Zero also had a pair of 20mm cannons and could turn inside of any other plane it faced.  If you could tempt new players into a turning fight, you could kill them easily with the Zero.  On the other hand, any pilot who knew what he was doing and had a faster plane… and almost everything was faster… could have you for lunch by using speed.  And the Zero needed precious few hits to kill.

The P-51 Mustang was flown surprisingly infrequently.  I recall the night that Jerry Pournelle came to try the game.  While he was flying off in the wrong direction, never to be seen again, he complained on the public channel that if the game were at all realistic we would all be flying P-51s.

On the other hand, the F4U Corsair, a later addition to Air Warrior, was flown quite a bit.  It also stood in for the P-47 Thunderbolt, which Kesmai did not bother to introduce to the game as the two planes would perform close to identically in their model.  Or so they said.

The Corsair was big and heavy but fast in a dive and well suited to zoom and boom tactics.  It could play the vertical game.  The guns were a bit light relative to the 20mm cannons, but adequate.   And the Corsair could carry a pair of bombs, so was useful for fighter bomber operations, like taking out anti-aircraft guns, tanks, and jeeps.

Likewise, the P-38 Lightning found work as a fighter bomber, though it was a bit more fragile

In addition to single seat fighters, Air Warrior also allowed you to fly bombers.  You could fly a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-25 Mitchell, or an A-26 Invader.  The pilot also acted as the bombardier and could switch to a bomb aiming UI for the bomb run.

In bombers, other players could occupy the gunner positions.  The pilot had to stay in his position, but gunners could change to any unoccupied gun position in the plane.

The B-17 was sometimes abused because of its numerous gun positions.  A full B-17 would bomb the NPC anti-aircraft gun, land on the enemy airfield, and camp the aircraft spawn point.  This was not an easy thing to pull off well and a lot of B-17s went down attempting it.

The A-26 was the the over-powered bomber in my mind.  Fast, but with two rear facing turrets, a pile of guns fixed forward, an 8 x 500lb bomb capacity, and the ability to drop them one at a time (as opposed to four bomb “sticks” in the B-17), it made for a serious bombing platform.  I would climb to 20,000 feet, turn towards the enemy airfield lined up on their runway, open up the throttles and put the plane in a shallow dive.  I was tough to catch and if you went head on I had a lot of guns to play with as well.

There were also other special planes you could fly.  There was a WWI zone where you could fly biplanes (and the Fokker Dr. 1 triplane) against other pilots.  In the original version of the game, the WWI zone was part of the same map as the rest of the game, it was just really far away.

The German Me 262, a WWII jet fighter, was also available in the game, though its use was restricted to special events.  During one such special event, one pilot took a fully fueled Me 262 and used its speed to get to the WWI zone, where he shot the hell out of some biplanes.  Or at least tried to.

Later the F-86 Sabre and the MiG-15 were introduced, though like the Me 262, they were for special events.  You could, however, fly any of the planes in off-line practice mode.  You could dive the F-86 and break the sound barrier.

The Plane Models

While you started out facing forward, you could use keys to turn your head various directions.  As you looked out, part of your view was obscured by a black silhouette that represented your plane.  So there was a big black engine and dashboard when facing forward (with a gunsight of course), wings when looking left or right, and the back of the cabin and tail when looking backward.  The keys could be combined, so you could look forward and left for 45 degree angle view, with a combination of the black areas obscuring your view.  When looking up, all was clear, while looking down got you nothing but black, the bottom of your cockpit.  Down was only there, I imagine, so it could be used in combination with other keys, as what aircraft had anything at the bottom of the cockpit?

You could create bitmap artwork to replace the black silhouette of your plane.  Some people made some amazing looking artwork for the game, all in 72dpi bitmap.

Spitfire Artwork Scanned from GEnie Live Wire

The enemy in that picture… an Me 262 I would guess… is damn close to be showing up with such detail.

Of course, if you think about it, you can spot the opportunity to abuse the system by creating artwork that does not obscure your vision at all.  Fortunately Kesmai had heard about Wonder Woman’s invisible plane and put in a check.  If your artwork did not obscure a required percentage of the screen, the default black silhouette would load instead.

P-51 Mustang artwork on a Mac II

If you look closely, you can see that the P-38 in that picture is only 53 units… feet? yards? I don’t remember… away, which is very close for air combat.

Still, there were possibilities.  I toyed with ideas, like making an art set that would turn my plane into a high-winged monoplane, all the better to see (and pounce on) people below me.

And then there was the F4U Corsair.  Did you know that it did, in fact, have a window at the bottom of the cockpit.  And Air Warrior supported this, allowing a small percentage of the floor to be open.  I used this to create a graduated bomb sight that would let me use the two-bomb Corsair as a level bomber to knock out ground targets.

Tactics

In the early days of the game, before my time, when they were still nailing down the flight models, there was the era of stall fighting.

As I heard it described, during this time one of the viable ways to get on an enemy’s tail in a turning fight was to drop your flaps, put down your landing gear, set your wings perpendicular to the ground, and pull back on the stick.  All of this would put you into an impossibly tight turn with little or no loss of altitude.  If you opponent wasn’t doing the same, you would turn inside of him and be able to line him up for an easy kill.  And if you were doing this close to the ground, anybody diving on you would likely go splat.

Even after that was fixed, when I started playing and when gravity would pull your slow and tightly turning plane towards the ground, flaps down, gear down, and the tightest turn you could manage was often the tactic of last resort… or first resort for a new player.  It can be hard to fight the temptation to just keep trying to point the nose of your aircraft at the enemy.

For all of the primitive nature of the game… I was playing a multiplayer flight simulator in 1988 on a Mac SE with a 9 inch, 512×384 resolution black and white screen with a 2400 bps modem (which made me ‘leet)… the game was surprisingly well suited to aircraft combat tactics as practiced in the real world.

The book recommended in the forums was Robert L. Shaw’s Fighter Combat: Tactics and Maneuvering.  My copy is still on my book shelf, and was signed by a number of players at the Air Warrior convention at Dayton, Ohio in 1989.

The things it taught were true in the game.  Speed and altitude were life.  Zoom and boom tactics were viable.  If you went head on against another guy and, after the pass, he turned on the horizontal… went left or right… while you went vertical… over the top for a loop… you were going to end up being able to get behind him because gravity gave you an extra G for your turn. (The egg-shaped loop or some such.)  Plus coming back down you gained back the speed you lost, while the speed he shed in his turn was gone for good.

Surprising things mattered in the game.  Or maybe it was just surprising that they were modeled at all.  For example, you could choose how much fuel you wanted to carry, represented as a percentage of your total capacity.  New pilots chose 100%, which in the P-51 Mustang they inevitably picked, would give them something like six hours of flight time at full throttle in the half-speed world of Air Warrior.

They were not going to last six hours, and the game modeled the extra weigh all that excess fuel added to the plane.  So they basically tied a great big rock to the tail of their Mustang.

(Flying a P-51 was like a “kill me now” sign at that time… though it could be fun to fly one and troll as an easy kill.  I shot down Tango Circus (3799), one of the best pilots in the game, while flying a P-51 because he thought he could get another kill in first, in front of me, without worry.  I got him, which gave me one kill against the hundred or so he had on me. It felt good.)

Experienced pilots never used more than 10% fuel, and there was some discussion as to how little you could get away with in a given plane.

Historical Simulations

Every so often Kesmai would run a scenario to simulate a historical encounter.  These were reasonably rare as they took time to set up and used up resources.  I only remember two.

The first I one I remember, and only vaguely at that, was a Korean War scenario, so it was MiGs versus Sabres over the Yalu.  Honestly though, my memory on this one is so tenuous that they might have just had a jets day in the regular game.  But some part of me thinks this was a scenario.

The other one I remember was a WWII Pacific based scenario re-enacting the shoot down of Admiral Yamamoto.  The setup for this was a gaggle of Zeros escorting a pair of C-47s, one representing the plane carrying Yamamoto, between two points on the map, while a smaller group of P-38s had to find them and shoot them down.

Platform Fun

Air Warrior was originally available on the Macintosh.  After its initial success, support was extended to such major computing platforms as the Atari ST and the Amiga 2000.  Also, support was thrown in for something called DOS on IBM compatibles equipped with the right video hardware.

The Macintosh client was maintained separately from the Atari/Amiga/DOS client.  Due to a mis-translation of certain constants from the Mac code base to the A/A/D code base, aircraft on the latter code base were modeled with considerably more horsepower.  As is usual, it took a bunch of complaining on the GEnie forums and demonstrations of planes driven by the Mac client getting left in the dust in level flight at 100% throttle before things changed.  Balance issue!

Despite this horsepower imbalance, Mac pilots represented a lot of the “old hands” in the game and were always heavily represented at the top of the rankings, primarily because they used proven real world tactics. (You did not want to get down to a flaps down, gear down turning fight if you were in a Mac against a pilot on another platform. The horsepower advantage would crush you. I had the opportunity to play on a friend’s MS-DOS machine and the performance difference was noticeable.)

Terrain avoidance was also handled by the client.  It was a more trusting time.  Early in the game, losing the terrain… ending up flying in a world empty of mountains, air strips, buildings, or whatever… was not an unheard of event.  On of the classic tales of the game is when the pilot of a B-17 with a full complement of gunners was flying to bomb an enemy airfield and lost the terrain.  He flew onward, since everybody else was still with him, until he flew through a mountain.  He happily continued on, but everybody else in the plane crashed and was returned to the lobby as they came into contact with the mountain.

And the game, at least on the Mac side, had a built in key command to take screen shots.  As I do today, I took many screen shots back then.  I had quite a gallery of odd-shaped black silhouettes in my gun sight, streaming smoke and such.  I wish I knew where they were today.  That was so many computers and so many hard drives ago, I fear they are lost forever.

Scoring – A kill has been awarded

There were few things as satisfying as closing in on that little black dot, just a pixel in size, that represented your foe, placing it in the gun sight (without losing it in the clutter), hitting the fire button and seeing a couple more pixels shoot out of it, indicating hits and damage.  Maybe you would get a smoke trail, and ugly black triangle hanging on the back of the plane like a kite.  And then the magic message would appear.

A kill has been awarded!

Or something like that.  At this point, the actual text is lost to me, but that is what came to mind.  That could be the kill message from Stellar Emperor or Stellar Warrior.

How to meaningfully keep score in a way to compare pilot skill was something of a pain.  A number of different methods were tried with varying degrees of success.

At first, the top score over a 4 week campaign was the pilot with the longest kill streak.  That is, the pilot who shot down the most planes without getting shot down himself, was the winner.  This, of course, modified people’s behavior.  People with decent kill streaks in process would bail out of their plane rather than fight at the first sign of trouble.

So things were changed so that if you took a hit before you bailed out, the person who hit you got a kill and you took a loss.  One loophole closed, but then people with streaks would just refuse combat unless they had an unbeatable advantage.

Then there were experiments with kill ratios.  I think the results published in GEnie Live Wire, the bi-monthly newsletter for the online service… isn’t that quaint, an online site felt the need to publish a physical newsletter… went from kill streaks to just raw kills per campaign to whatever they felt like for a given issue.  Sometimes they would list a campaign number.  Sometimes they would forget to put the scores in at all.

GEnie Scores Column – June 1988

Still, it is a damn good thing that GEnie did publish that newsletter, because I couldn’t find anything else about the old days of the game.  Where was Jason Scott when all this stuff needed saving?

Selected versions of the Air Warrior scores listed in GEnie Live Wire

Eventually in game there was a pilot rating system that was akin to chess ranking, which took into account your rating and the rating of the person you shot down for any adjustment.  Akin, I would imagine to what World of Warcraft uses for their arena rankings and League of Legends does for their ELO.

Playing on GEnie

Let’s just say that $15 a month seems pretty damn cheap by comparison, and free to play seems simply insane.

GEnie Price “cut”

That screen shot is from when they “cut” prime time pricing from $36/hour to $18/hour.  Oh, and they raised non-prime… which is when everybody used the service… from $5/hour across the board to tax the higher speed users!  GEnie sure could spot the trend in computing.  Isn’t it Moore’s Law that says computing power gets more expensive over time? (No, it effectively says the opposite. That was sarcasm.)

Anyway, that foresight no doubt explains what GEnie is today… a memory and some old magazines out in my garage.

The Game Evolving

A lot of things changed with the game over time.  My memories are of the original map and then the updated version as shown above.  But then I ran across this list of updates in the July 1990 edition of GEnie Live Wire and they sound familiar too.

Improved Air Warrior – July 1990

This article makes it sound like there was interim state for the Pacific and European theaters which I do not recall.  The persistence of memory indeed.  Everything I say might be wrong.

And then came Air Warrior II and Air Warrior III, which were sold as stand alone box games with online capabilities and which ran through the 90s.

Where Things Stand Today

And then Electronic Arts bought Kesmai in 1999.  We know how that sort of thing generally turns out when EA buys a company that makes online games.  Everything ever associated with Kesmai pretty much disappeared from the face of the earth by the end of 2001.  At least it out lived GEnie by a couple of years.

The spiritual successor to Air Warrior for many players was Aces High, which took the Air Warrior idea to new levels.  WarBirds was also a destination for some Air Warrior players.

And then there is World of Warplanes from Wargaming.net, which is in alpha testing right now, and which has potential to fill the Air Warrior niche as well, though I think War Thunder is more on track.

I am always surprised at how few people have heard of Air Warrior or its successors.  But flight sims, and competitive online flight sims especially, are something of a niche market I suppose.

Addendum: For some more memories… probably more accurate as well… check out DoKtor GonZo’s posts from about 8 years back, when this was all a bit fresher in the mind.  I should have looked at it before I wrote this, but such is life.

Supplemental material that may support or contradict what I have written.

The Air Warrior Manual – Version 1.4, November 1988

Air Warrior Survival Tips by Cap’n Trips

The Air Warrior Pilot’s Guide by R. Wolf  (Dec. 1991)

Guide to Creating Custom Air Warrior Plane Art (Mac)

The Digital Antiquarian – Games on the Net Before the Web, Part 1 (December 8, 2017)

Good Gaming Vietnam!

That favorite blogs post over at Massively is the gift that keeps on giving.

I noticed some traffic today from a Vietnamese gaming site, Gamek.vn, which appears to have picked up the favorite blogs post and reworked it into Vietnamese.  Of course, they didn’t mention Massively.  But then they didn’t copy the article verbatim either.  Maybe it was just an amazing parallel list.

Here is what they said about this site:


If I trust Google Translate, it says that I get much sympathy from my ant-like readership.  Not exactly a winning endorsement for either you or me.

This is, of course, why I do not trust Google Translate.

Still, that translation is better that what it says for West Karana, which Google suggests focuses uniquely on exploiting new online games.  Haxors!

And poor Syp,  all they could say about Bio Break is that it once had a series of articles about Warhammer. I think Google Translate actually rendered that one okay, along with the Hardcore Casual being all about Darkfall.

Anyway, if you found your way here from Gamek.vn, hello and welcome!  Maybe you can give me a more accurate translation of what was written, since they did not appear to copy the Massively text directly.

LOTRO: Getting Attention… for Now

As noted over at Massively, the announcement about Lord of the Rings Online moving to a Free to Play business model this Fall has certainly gotten the game a lot more attention than it has had in a long time.

Meanwhile, over at MassiveBlips, where they track the popularity of tags/categories used on the various gaming blogs, Lord of the Rings Online has shot up to fourth place.

June 11 Tag Ranking

Fourth place might not seem that great until you see that the first three places are held by World of Warcraft, Cataclysm, and Blizzard.  WoW gets so many stories that it has its own sub-site, WoWBlips.

Beating out Star Wars: The Old Republic does seem reasonably impressive, given the ongoing press campaign that EA has been waging.

The question that comes to my mind is whether Turbine will get this much attention when the game actually makes the transition to Free to Play.

The shock of the announcement has passed.  Those who were outraged seem unlikely to sustain that rage until the Fall.  I am not sure, for example, that Keen will revisit his stance on the subject. (Epic comment thread though!)

Others with a stake in the game will know how they have fared and be happy or dismayed at some point between now and the change over.

I have seen a few comments from people wishing that LOTRO was Free to Play right now.  I wonder if Turbine feels the same way, given the attention they have received.

The next big news about this transition will likely be a declaration of success from Turbine at some point after the transition, at which point the debate over this business model, and what other games should think about pursuing it, will likely surface again.