Tag Archives: Ultima Online

What Will it Mean to have a Bunch of 20 Year Old MMORPGS?

I know we already have some MMORPGs that are over 20 years old.  EverQuest turned 23 earlier this year, Lineage hit 24 last week, and Ultima Online has its 25th anniversary celebrations coming up soon.  Even Anarchy Online has managed to shamble past its 21st birthday.

Welcome indeed… we’ve been here a quarter century

But we’re getting past the point where that first generation of financially successful MMORPGs have passed two decades and are rapidly coming up on the next generation, the successors that tried to learn and adapt what was learned from the first titles to cross the 100K player mark.

We are now about a half a year away from EVE Online turning 20.  This coming November World of Warcraft and EverQuest II will hit the 18 year mark.  And after that pair hits 20 we’ll see some long surviving title like Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online hitting 20.

I was just going on yesterday about 16 years being kind of a long time in the life of a person, a significant portion of their lifetime experience.  Hell, part of the reality of this blog is not so much that it has been around for 16 years, but that I have been writing about and playing the same half dozen games for most of the time I have been writing it.

What does 20 years mean in a genre that is only 25-50 years old, depending on where you want to mark the starting point?  If you subscribe to the notion that video games are for kids, what does it mean when you have a set of titles that are old enough to be considered adults?

MMORPGs kind of broke the mold when it came to video game development.  You used to make a game, ship it, maybe do a couple of patches and maybe an expansion if the game was a big freaking deal, then you moved on to the next title.  In the end, selling boxes was the goal.  You might rework the same game… how many annual Madden titles have we had after all, or Call of Duty, or even Wizardry if you want to go back to my youth… but you shipped the game and started on the next one.

MMORPGs though, they just keep going.  Or some of them do.  There are, of course, some bodies along the side of the road to 20.  Some less successful titles were thrown overboard to keep various companies afloat and their senior execs in lemon scented moist towelettes or whatever.

But for a set of titles, if they hit a certain critical mass of core players and establish just the right amount of social bonds, they seem to be able to go on forever.

Yeah, sure, they are past their peak.   There aren’t 250K players in Ultima Online anymore, or 400K in Dark Age of Camelot, or 500K in EVE Online, or 550K in EverQuest, or 12 million in World or Warcraft, or however many in whatever other aging titles you care to mention.  Their prime is in the past.  But they managed to hold onto enough players to remain viable, even profitable.  Very profitable, in some cases.  EG7 is never going to let go of EverQuest if it keeps up, nor will Blizzard ever abandon WoW, which still pays most of the bills even in its decline.  The only thing that will kill them is gross mismanagement… and even WoW seems to be able to handle that.  (EVE Online though, that remains a test case for management that wants a different game.)

Even if new content is out of the question, there are always events and special servers and a host of tricks and enticements to keep people playing and paying.

It used to be Mark Jacob’s gig to go on about how the market for MMORPGs was vast beyond anybody’s measure. (A quote of one of the many times he said something like that.)  But I do wonder what it means to have a market where the old competitors, rich in content, history, and memories, are hanging about as the occasional new entry shows up and tries to compete.

I’ve gone on about the peril of the market for new entries, and the thing isn’t unassailable if you’ve learned the right lessons from the past.  Go see how Lost Ark has been doing, a title that had its act together, versus New World, an entry in the genre that seemed determined to forget every lesson ever learned.

I do not have any deep insight or huge conclusion to wind up this post with.  It is just something that occurred to me as I was tidying up yesterday’s post about my blog turning 16 and how its fortunes have tracked along with some of the games I’ve written about.  I’m past my peak as a blogger as well, but enough of you show up and drop a comment now and then to keep me going… and enough comment spam bots land to load up ads to pay the bills.

Ultima Online Adds a Free to Play Option

In an item of note today, Ultima Online becomes the last of the “big three” MMORPGs from the late 90s to jump into the free to play pool.  EverQuest went to FreeVille back on its 13th birthday in 2012 with the SOE “Free to Play Your Way” campaign while Asheron’s Call went free… back in August 2014 I think.  It was at some point after they decided bringing back Asheron’s Call 2 was a good plan, but before they turned them both off for good early last year.

Welcome indeed

While the plan was announced a while back, today with Publish 99 Broadsword, the minders of the game since 2014, have added a free to play option called the “Endless Journey.”

This new option will be available to new accounts as well as any previously created account that has not been subscribed in the last 120 days.  I guess that is one way to keep people from just unsubscribing when you add a free option, though I am not sure banishing current players for 3 months if they want to go down the free path is necessarily sending the right message.

There is, of course, the usual list of things that free accounts can and cannot do.  In the case of UO, the list is pretty long.

You’re going to have to click on this to make it readable

This list is also part of the Publish 99 release notes linked above, but I thought I would take a snap shot of the day one version in case it changes at some future date.

I really know very little about Ultima Online, having never played it, so I cannot speak to whether the restrictions on the Endless Journey option are going to really push people to subscribe after they have tried the game.  But I do know from experience that when you go free to play with an MMORPG the plan is to drive people to subscribe, get people to buy from the cash shop, or both.

Either way this does make it a bit more likely that Ultima Online will be my choice for my 2018 goal of playing one of the early MMORPGs I have never tried.

My 2018 MMO Outlook – Mining for Old Gold

Here we are again, a common refrain at the top of these annual posts, but what else have I got going for me?  This will at least be the last of the annual posts for quite a while.

Last month I posted my review of my annual MMO outlook and found that I had played nothing on the list.  That was in part because most of the list didn’t ship, but also because I just reverted to the mean and played what I always play, which is WoW, EQII, and EVE.

So this year I am going to eschew the looking forward aspect of my annual post.  Let’s face it, there isn’t that much coming that both interests me AND is likely to ship in 2018.

I am going to, here at the start of the new year, buckle down and commit to playing a new MMO in 2018, but only one that is new to me.  There are plenty of old MMORPGs still knocking around, classics of the genre, storied in their time, that I have never touched.

I will spend at least a month playing one of these titles seriously and blogging about it, because that it the point of the exercise to a certain extent, so that old timers can come by and mock my ignorance and tell me how things were back in the good old days and all of that.

So here is the list I am mulling over with some pros and cons as I see them from the outside.  Each game has some minor claim to fame in my mind, has come up occasionally, and is more than ten years old.

1RuneScape

A re-tread from my last year’s list and a bit of a cheat since I have actually spent a few minutes playing this.  But it is an old title, having launched back in 2001

Pros:  I have, in fact, tried it so know that I can get it running, create a character, and play.

Cons: Was not in love with the camera and controls.  Also, as it has been modernized so much that I wonder if I should go play the “old school” version of it.

2 – Ultima Online

Hard to leave this one off the list seeing that it was the first of the big wave of popular titles in the MMORPG genre.

Pros: Really getting to the old school thing, might be a free to play option soon.

Cons: Isometric, third party camera view always seemed odd to me in screen shots.  Might indirectly lead me into giving money to EA.

3 – Dark Age of Camelot

I had some friends who left EverQuest back in the day and found it a pretty decent time.  At that point I was living in a house with spotty internet at best so wasn’t keen to invest in it.  But now connectivity is no problem.

Pros:  It was supposed to take the “suck” out of MMORPGs and also has some sort of free plan.

Cons: It is really a realm vs. realm sort of game as I understand it.  Am I ready for old school PvP?  Also, as above, some of this money goes to EA, which does not please me.

4 – Anarchy Online

The original MMO launch disaster movie and one of the early free to play titles by necessity.

Pros: It is one on the list that isn’t fantasy based and Funcom is talking about rolling a new server.

Cons: The stories about it might be true and most MMORPGs are fantasy for a reason.

5 – Silkroad Online

Token Asian MMORPG?  There were some people in an old guild that went off to play it and reported having a decent time.  It is old-ish, and still around.

Pros:  7th century Chinese theme, a bit different, free to play, and has survived this long.

Cons: PvP-centric, grindy to get you to pay, everything else on this list has survived even longer, and I might be thinking of a different game when it comes to where those old guild mates went.

6 – Maple Story

Why wouldn’t I put a 2D side scrolling MMORPG on the list?  Another one of those “been around for freakin’ ever” titles that I have never tried.

Pros: Low system requirements… hell, there was a single player Facebook version of the game at one point… free and it has lasted this long.

Cons: Browser based 2D side scrolling MMORPG might be warning enough, right?

7 – Entopia Universe

Unbridled virtual capitalism where some guy bought a moon and then resold it and because rich or something… the details are kind of vague.

Pros: Very much free, storied, and still around.

Cons: Very much designed to make you spend money and I am not sure what the real objective of the game is besides the Burnsian “make more money!”

8 – A Tale in the Desert

A non-combat, social MMO that resets to a new “telling” of the tale every so often, one of those games that gets mentions a lot but rarely by anybody actually playing it.

Pros: The first 24 hours are free.

Cons: Social might be a problem for me going in solo, especially since the current “telling” has been going on for over two year now, so I might feel late to the party.  Also, after the first 24 hours you have to subscribe.

So that is a list of eight possibilities.  I won’t be jumping straight into any of them.  This will likely be a spring-to-summer sort of event.  That means if I am missing some vital option from the list you can chime in via comments or the poll below using the “other” field.  Otherwise take a moment to pick which one of the above might be the most worthwhile venture.

If there isn’t a poll above this line AdBlock may have eaten it.  It happens.

I won’t say I’ll follow the will of the respondents, but if one title seems to be leading the pack substantially I will give that some weight.  Also, a bit of trivia; I had previously made tags for every game on the list above.  I suppose that says something, though I am not sure what, besides that I have mentioned them all here at some time before.

And, of course, if you want to see how this sort of post has played out in the past, you can check out attempts from past years:

Friday Bullet Points for the End of September

Another one of those round up posts to quickly cover some things I thought about working up posts around, but which never quite materialized.

CCP Closes the Gate

CCP announced that as of Wednesday the EVE Gate portal on the EVE Online site has been shut down.

You shall not log in!

The EVE Gate, for those who do not know… which is probably most people reading this… was a portal that allowed players to log in and access their in-game email and calendar.  It should not be confused with the in-game EVE Gate of lore, which is how humans first arrived in New Eden.

I’m not sure how big of a deal this really is.  I think I used it twice over the years.  I don’t get much in-game email really, as my corp, alliance, and coalition have other preferred communications methods.

Riverini returned to EN24 to write a post about the demise of EVE Gate.  As CCP notes, you can use their phone app or, if you want, you can use a third party app like Neocom.  I find the latter is much more useful overall, though it won’t let you send mail.

CCP is NOT Turning Japanese

Earlier this year CCP announced that they were cancelling their deal with Nexon for Japanese localization.  NEXON was a mixed bag for EVE in Japan, so CCP decided to carry on with a single Japanese speaking employee.  Sad for the Japanese community, but at least CCP was trying to carry on with support.

I want to hear Falcon read this in Vegas

However, things have taken a further turn as CCP has asked a lone Japanese speaking ISD member to stop translating patch notes and posting them to the forums.  The person in question was doing this on their own time, but CCP felt it was confusing as it was not officially sanctioned and there was some disagreement over the translations as converting EVE Online lore and mechanics from English to Japanese is problematic at the best of times.  The tale of this, with some translation examples, is in a Reddit thread.

Free Brittania!

Ultima Online has been celebrating its 20th anniversary this month, which I haven’t covered at all since I never played it.  I think Lord British and I parted ways at about Ultima V.

Welcome indeed

The game is still alive and rolling and trying to keep pace with the changes in the industry under Broadsword’s stewardship.  Over at Massively OP it was mentioned that, along those lines, Broadsword was looking into some sort of “free” option.  As the FAQ on the UO site indicates, free will mean giving up some options that I am sure any serious player would not want to do without.  The option is called the “Endless Journey” as is supposed to arrive in Spring 2018.

Expansions Coming to Norrath, But Not for Free

Both the EverQuest and EverQuest II sites have made it clear that we’ll be seeing the usual yearly expansions again for 2017.

For EverQuest it will be the Rings of Scale, while EverQuest II will be going old school again with the Planes of Prophecy.

We don’t know much beyond the names yet, but the usual warm up events have been kicking off and last year’s expansions are now 50% off for those late to the party.

One of the usual aspects of this phase is the addition of some past expansion to the free to play access level of the game.  Usually you can buy the latest and the previous expansion and everything before that is open for everybody.  But no longer.  As Massively OP reported (a pity Feldon isn’t around for this, he’d have done a nice full story on this), when asked when the soon to be in third place Terrors of Thalumbra expansion might be made free, the official response was:

We will not be adding anything further to the F2P line-up.

Harsh words, but perhaps the flip side of something Daybreak has said before.  The Planet Side 2 team opined in the past that there is a point of diminishing returns when piling on things for subscribers.  Now we’re seeing EverQuest II declining to remove something from the paid column.

I have not seen word as to whether the EverQuest expansion The Broken Mirror will face a similar path in not moving to the free zone, but I expect that will also be the case.

And that is it for items on my list.  I’m sure I will hate myself a year from now when I try to put these into my “One Year Ago” summary.

MMOs on the List of Most Important PC Games

Earlier this week, over at PC Gamer, which I think still actually has a print magazine version, publishes a list of what they felt were The 50 most important PC games of all time.

PCGamerLogo

And, if you know me, you know I love a good list like that.  Those are discussion starters without equal, and I bring them up pretty much whenever I find them.  I’ve even written about a PC Gamer list in the past, when they were writing about the 100 Greatest Games of All Time, (they do that article every year, here is the 2015 version) that being a distinct and separate category from the 50 most important.

The most important games are the ones we could not imagine not having existed in the genre, that inspired people, or that changed the market.

Wisely, PC Gamer decided to not stack rank the lot of them, choosing to list them out chronologically, kicking off with Space War! from 1962, the first thing that actually looks like what we think of when we say “video game.” (I even wrote a bit about Space War! at one point.)

Of course, this being me, I went storming into the article shouting, “Where are the MMOs?  Show me that online massively multiplayer goodness!”

And I was not disappointed.  MMO titles that made the cut were:

  • Ultima Online 1997
  • EverQuest 1999
  • EVE Online 2003
  • Second Life 2003
  • World of Warcraft 2004

Yes, I am admitting Second Life to the fraternity of MMOs I recognize, and not just to pad the list.  It was a thing in its day, even if Massively totally over-covered it for a bit.  I have even played it a few times.

So that is five MMOs on the list… by which I mean persistent world online games in the mold we all know and grudgingly tolerate while complaining about incessantly… or 10% of the list.  Not bad for a genre.

I suppose it says something the “important MMO” era is pretty much 1997-2004.  Has everything after that been simply refinements and derivatives of what has gone before?

Of course, limiting themselves to 50 games meant that anybody is going to find omissions that they feel are important.  Even the editors had to make an Honorable Mentions list because there was no doubt a large number of titles that were so close.

On the MMO front, I am a little disappointed that MUD1 or anything from the 1980s online era was neglected.  Maybe MegaWars III wasn’t that influential, but what about Air WarriorBut the list does feel a little heavy on the more recent end of things, probably a result of the relative youth of some of the contributors and the general feeling we tend to have that nothing is more important than right now.

Still, there are some good games whose presence on the list surprised me, like Starsiege: TribesFor a fleeting moment of time that was the best online shooter ever.  I played the hell out of that

Ultima IV is on the list, which is interesting because I think you have to have at least ONE Lord British game on the list, but which one?  I suppose Ultima IV was a turning point in the series, but I was always a big fan of Ultima III.  I’m shallow like that.  Also, I had that Ultima III editor, so made my own version of the game.

I find it somewhat odd that DotA is on the list by itself as opposed to being paired up with Warcraft III, since then you could have gotten in a side mention about how much Warcraft III influenced WoW.  Ah well.

And, of course, a lot of the list includes the games you would expect… probably demand… should be included; Wizardry, Pinball Construction Set, Civilization, League of Legends, Quake, Tomb Raider, Diablo, Half-Life, SimCity, The Sims, Minecraft, they are all there.

Yes, of course Doom is on the list...

Yes, of course Doom is on the list…

But I still look back at that list of five MMOs and wonder, is that the legacy of the genre?

Broadsword and Niche MMOs

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

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

What Broadsword thing?  Well, this:

Broadsword!

Broadsword!

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

Broadsword site, DAoC Producer’s Letter

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

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

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

Fun Created Here!

Fun Created Here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here we are, less than a day in and Pathneon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter project is just shy of the $50,000 mark.  That would put it at a little over 6% of the way to the first goal of $800,000.

39 days to go

No doubt higher now

As with Camelot Unchained and Lord British’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Title Brevity, I am interested in this project and Kickstarter campaign for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the personality driving it.  Brad “Aradune” McQuaid is an name to conjure with in the MMORPG world.

The guy with the flaming sword

The guy with the flaming sword

His is also a name tied with a pretty public meltdown of vision versus follow-through.

Vanguard at launch...

Vanguard at launch…

If you want to spin this from a particular angle, you can draw on the parallels between Brad and Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott.  All three were key drivers for three of the early MMORPGs that were very successful, drawing in hundreds of thousands of players.  EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and Ultima Online all left their mark on the MMORPG world.

All three went on to another MMORPG that… failed to meet expectations.  Tabula Rasa closed quickly, Warhammer Online lingered, but closed as soon as it was contractually able, and Vanguard would have shut down a few months in had SOE not bailed it out.

And all three have come back to the MMORPG table pitching a new game based on lessons learned.

Well, sort of.

Mark Jacobs clearly had a “lessons learned” message with Camelot Unchained, and spent weeks talking about it before the Kickstarter was launched.  PvE is out, all focus of the game must be on PvP and RvR and everything in the game must in some way support those two.  The theme is about moving forward into a superior mix that will make for a game that is great within a limited focus and which can be sustained by appropriately small numbers.

Richard Garriott’s “lessons learned” were more along the lines of being true to what made his past single player RPGs popular.  Shroud of the Avatar will have a single player mode and it isn’t exactly clear to me how “MMO” the multiplayer mode will really be.  The theme here is about all the cool games from the past, Ultima IV through VII inclusive, and how to make that sort of thing come alive again.  We shall see.  But there is also a sub-current of focusing on what is important to make sure that gets developed fully.

And then there is Brad McQuaid.  He wants to remake EverQuest in a more modern image… which isn’t a bad thing.  After all, viewed from the right angle, Mark Jacobs simply wants to re-ignite what was great about Dark Age of Camelot and Richard Garriott is clearly after the spirit of the Ultima franchise.  The problem is that while Jacobs and Garriott spent many days before their Kickstarters talking about visions and lessons learned and what is important and where they want to focus, the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen preamble was pretty much this:

And I got what he meant by that, at least in spirit.  The problem is that this isn’t a big enough nail to hang a project on, in my opinion.  There wasn’t a lot of build up to the Kickstarter, the game details and tenets are bullet point lists (copied in my previous post), and there is very little on the whole “lessons learned” front.  I know Brad has said that he clearly bit off more than he could chew with Vanguard.  The game had way too many goals.  But what is the take-away from that?  How is this project, being taken on by a small team, going to pare down the possibilities to the key essentials so that they can deliver both to the vision and at an acceptable level of functionality and polish?

It is here I think that we see the key difference between Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott, both long time game designers who founded their own companies, lead teams, and delivered many titles over the years, and Brad McQuaid, who has EverQuest (which got a nurturing hand from Sony and John Smedley), Vanguard, and a couple of small efforts he worked on before EverQuest.  This aspect of his skill and experience could be the make or break with the Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen Kickstarter.

If Brad McQuaid cannot get people engaged by articulating both the vision he has for the game and how it is going to come together, then my guess is that the funding is going to dry up pretty quickly after the “I want another EverQuest” faction kicks in.  And that time is going to come very quickly.  The first 48 hours of a Kickstarter set the tone.  That is where critical mass is assembled, where you get your true believers to become your evangelists.  Because after that, every dollar is a fight.  Look at the patterns for Camelot Unchained and Shroud of the Avatar from Kicktraq:

Camelot Unchained

Camelot Unchained

Shroud of the Avatar

Shroud of the Avatar

Both of those graphs are very front loaded.  Camelot Unchained got 35% of its $2 million goal in the first two days, while Shroud of the Avatar got 55% of its $1 million goal in the same period.  After that, there was the long dry spell where Mark Jacobs and Richard Garriott got out and did interviews and spoke to everybody who would listen.  Hell, Mark Jacobs came HERE and left a comment on my first post about the Camelot Unchained Kickstarter, acknowledging my statement that it was going to be a tough fight to get to $2 million.  The man was a communications machine, and he continues to be one in the project updates.

Brad McQuaid will need to do the same, because the easy money will dry up soon.  Will he be able to take it to the streets and get people interested?  We will see.  He will have to do more than make comments on Twitter and Facebook supported by a company web site that currently does little more than act as a pointer to the Kickstarter page.  This needs to be a political campaign, a marketing event, and an old fashioned spiritual revival meeting all wrapped up into one to succeed, and Brother Brad needs to step up and testify.  If he is going to bang the nostalgia drum, he needs to bang it loud and often.  He cannot be the lone monarch on the throne.  He has to be out and about.  We need to see him in the press and doing updates and a dozen things in between.

The spirit can't pledge...

The spirit can’t pledge…

While the project “only” needs $20K a day to fund fully, and it will no doubt make more that $50K in its first 24 hours, it has to do a lot better out of the gate to carry things forward.  There will be a last minute rush of people pledging, but that will only matter if there is a big enough base of funding in place.  In looking through a bunch of projects, the last day rarely ever exceeds the first.

What do you think?  Is Brad up to the task of getting out the faithful and getting them to pony up for another run at the EverQuest vision?  Are bullet points enough, or does this whole thing need more substance?

Warhammer Online to Shut Down in December

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

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

Greetings Warhammer Online Subscribers,

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

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

Waaagh!

Warhammer Team

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

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

I did approve of their stance on elves...

I approved of their stance on elves…

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

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

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

And don’t even get me started here…

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

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

But not in your lifetime, elf

But not in your lifetime, elf

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

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

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

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

The instance group in Warhammer

The instance group in Warhammer Online

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

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

Server Full!

Server Full!

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

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

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

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

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

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.