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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Risk Nothing

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Time to give SOE a break today as I rant about an MMO company that has really been bothering me.

The game is
RYL (Risk Your Life): Path of the Emperor and the company is PlanetWide Games.

One of the main selling points of the game (a generic fantasy MMO with a focus on PVP) was that you could win one million actual US dollars by winning an in-game tournament. You can find an article attesting to that fact here. "'Buying the retail box is the first step towards winning the $1 million grand prize,' said Kevin Donovan, President of Planetwide Games."

Well, that contest was flatly cancelled. The announcement is here.

Edit: Bah, that link was working earlier this week. But apparently it's not anymore. Luckily I copy-pasted the quote into Word and I'll paste it here for you. It did exist, I assure you.

"It is with regret that we announce the cancellation of the “RYL: Path of the Emperor” $1,000,000 skill-based tournament.

Over these past few months, we have spent considerable time and effort trying to develop failsafes that would negate the cheating that originally lead to the tournament’s suspension.

Unfortunately, the game developer has been unable to correct these technical issues in a way that we feel is foolproof. As a result, the company cannot assure the fairness and equity of the tournament.

We’d like to thank the “RYL: Path of the Emperor” community for their support and understanding through this matter. This is a great community, and we hope you will continue to enjoy the game.

Best regards.The RYL Team

Note: This is considered an off topic for the forums and all issues concerning this should be addressed to support@ryl.net."


Edit Again: I found a link to another outside source that quotes the same announcement. Here it is.

The company blames the inability to combat in-game cheating for the cancellation. They don't have the wherewithal as a game company to prevent cheating. So you, the consumer, have to suffer not only because cheating exists but because the contest you likely bought the game for is cancelled. Oh, and you can't even complain about it. That's right, this is considered "an off-topic for the forums."

That's frankly disgraceful. You take money from people by selling the box at retail and then summarily cancel
the million dollar contest. Then people aren't even allowed to protest on the forums. And I see no mention of giving the prize money back to the people who bought the game.

Oh, but maybe it's such a great game that it doesn't matter! Um, I doubt it. Check out the reviews on Metacritic for yourself. It managed an average score of 50 based on reviews by critics, compared to, for example, World of Warcraft, which scored a 93. Even the highest reviewer on the list, G4, points to "Dreary forced leveling; shortage of quests; mediocre graphics." And the lowest reviewer, Gaming Age, has this to say: "A boring game with uninspired gameplay, mediocre graphics, stupid controls, and a community that resembles a junior high homeroom. Congratulations R.Y.L."

I don't blame Planetwide Games for not making a good game. It happens. But to promote it with a million dollar contest that you then cancel is just a reprehensible move that gives all game companies a bad name.

Computer Gaming World said, "Next time, use the million-dollar PVP cash prize to improve gameplay." Too bad that, in the end, that prize was not even awarded.

Speaking of risk or the lack thereof (okay, so I have to sneak in an EQII point somewhere), I'm not too happy about the apparent shard free future in EQII: "With the removal of the spirit shard death mechanic in Live Update #17, we wanted to let you know that we are leaving shard recovery NPCs in until the next major update."

But I'll wait for an explanation or until I see the final version before I get too crazy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Stuff

I traveled far downtown, fearful of being recognized. I located a magazine store that was appropriately dark and seedy. Furtively, I scanned the titles on the rack.

Bah, they had what I was seeking, but the month was wrong. There was no help for it, I had to ask the cashier. Sweating nervously, I mumbled, "The December issue of...of Stuff Magazine, please."

"Stuff Magazine?" he yelled. "Yeah, I think we got it in the back."

I glanced around, ashamed. A mother grabbed her child and pulled him from the store. A hobo looked up from the pornography he was casually perusing, a look of shock on his face. "Stuff Magazine?" he asked. "What are you - some kind of sicko?"

Okay, okay, I'm just kidding. Stuff Magazine isn't that bad. I just think it's funny that they charge money for a magazine that's ninety percent advertisements. And by that I mean the actual "content" is just advertising that's indistinguishable from the paid ads. The other ten percent is pictures of "hot babes." I did find a lot of very reasonably priced gift ideas in their Gift Guide such as a $975 Zippo Lighter (p.77), a $400 bottle of Cognac (p.78), a $115,995 Jaguar (p.83) and, of course, a $475 Platinum Vibrator (p.84). Thanks, Stuff Magazine, my holiday shopping is done now!

But I blogged this contest from the beginning (see
here, here, here, and here), so I was going to finish up properly.

The December issue featured Mila Kunis (Jackie from That 70's Show) and I was already mad that Anna wasn't on the cover. Yes, I continually made fun of the whole silly contest, but now the EQII player in me was on the offensive. Surely they gave her a major section of the magazine! You've got to be kidding me! One page! How dare they treat my Queen like that! Damn you, Stuff Magazine - you shall pay!

Yep, only one page for Anna, I'm afraid. There's a fetching picture and some fluff questions. There's also a smaller picture of Anna in costume next to the digital Antonia, so that's cool.

The
Stuff website has three pictures that didn't make it into the magazine. It also reprints all five of the questions and answers that appeared in the magazine. If you're seeking more Anna info, check out the revamped Quest for Antonia site. She apparently plays a Wood Elf Priest.

And so ends the Quest for Antonia. But the reign of Anna goes on, and I wish her the best. Having seen her in action at Digital Life, I think she will do a good job dealing with the fans. And even if Stuff chooses to relegate her to one page, well, she's always welcome to chronicle her regal experiences in more detail on Aggro Me.

Average Stuff Reader:


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Monday, November 28, 2005

Fun with IMDB

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There is so much voiceover work in EQII and most of it is very well done. Voice talent in gaming has come a long way. But did you ever wonder about the real people behind those EQII voices? Sure we all know about Queen Heather and Lucan d'Lee, but what about the minor characters?

If you don't want to break the immersion, skip this post, because I decided to play with
IMDB to find out a little more about the people behind the voiceovers. There's a massive amount of voiceover talent in this game so I'm only going to be scratching the surface.

Name:
John Kassir
EQII Characters: Geologist Fribden, Janitor Zolbuk, Archeologist Elurad, Orc Cartographer and others.
Fun Fact: John is none other than the voice of the Cryptkeeper from the famed "Tales from the Crypt" TV series. He is also married to the lovely
Julie Benz who not only played Darla on Angel but is the voice of Miranda Keyes in Halo II. John joined his wife on the Halo II cast playing a Marine.

Name:
Mindy Sterling
EQII Characters: Oracle Ulinara, Darmen Sproutmore, Merchant Novak, Kogna Bonesplit, Oosa Gutwrench, Talooka Skullwrack and others.
Fun Fact: Shagadelic! Mindy played Frau Farbissina from the Austin Powers films. "It got weird, didn't it?" According to
this interview, Mindy also "taught the likes of Lisa Kudrow, Cheri Oteri and Chris Kattan at the Groundlings school."

Name:
Dwight Schultz
EQII Characters: Duke Ferrin, Korong Shatterjaw, Bargiss Ranlor, Priest Kelian, Delacar Mithanson, Cargomaster Libertius, Edwyn Arcanum and others.
Fun Fact: It's interesting that Dwight does the voices for characters in a virtual world, because he played Reginald Barclay on Star Trek Voyager. Barclay was a character who was introverted and overly obsessed with the virtual world of the holodeck. I always thought that the Barclay episodes were great.

Name:
Steven Jay Blum
EQII Characters: Valik, Initiate Lanaru, Chieftan Kraughl, Bartender Bulurg, Brant Omannus, Reinkor McCollin, Corporal Peckett and others.
Fun Fact: Ever watch the excellent anime Cowboy Bebop on the Cartoon Network? Well, Steven is the English voice of Spike Spiegel, the bounty hunter with a troubled past. He's also the voice of the Spike-like character Mugen on Samurai Champloo (same director as Bebop), which is currently running on the Cartoon Network. Highly recommended. He did some voice work on the bizarre but memorable anime FLCL (Fooly Cooly) as well.

Name:
Danica McKellar
EQII Characters: Lolla Cotgrove, Pona
Fun Fact: Ah, the Wonder Years. And who was the apple of Kevin Arnold's eye? Yep, that's right, Winnie Cooper, played by none other than Danica McKellar. Say hello to Lolla and see if you hear the echoes of Winnie.

Name:
Courtenay Taylor
EQII Characters: Generic Female Half Elf Merchant, Generic Female Barbarian Merchant, Generic Female Dark Elf Merchant, Generic Female High Elf Merchant and others.
Fun Fact: Courtenay did the voice for the memorable KOTOR character
Juhani, a jedi who strayed to the dark side. So that's why those merchants can be tough to deal with.

Name:
Mae Whitman
EQII Characters: Lilly Ironforge, Thana Rumblehoof
Fun Fact: If you're an Arrested Development fan, you may be interested to know that Mae played Anne Veal, George Michael's very religous girlfriend.

Name:
Wil Wheaton
EQII Characters: Festus Septimus, Overseer Zerrin, Merchant William, Innkeeper Valean
Fun Fact: I'm sure you all know who Wil is, but if you don't he's the boy genius everyone loved to hate, Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: TNG. Wil is also a very
prolific blogger.

As I said, I only scratched the surface here. Perhaps I'll revisit the EQII voice cast list another day for more trivia fun.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thank You

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Well, it's Thanksgiving tomorrow here in the US and I thought I'd take the opportunity to thank everyone.

First, I'd like to thank my fellow bloggers for giving me so much great stuff to read all the time. That really motivates me (and gives me reblog opportunities of course). In particular (all are from my links list):

Pitfalls: Krones is my favorite, pure and simple. Something of an acquired taste, I'd say, but no one makes me laugh harder. Every time I see a new Krones post I get up from my desk, make a cup of coffee and settle in for a hilarious read. I camp his site like I'm camping a rare spawn. Damn you, Krones, post more.

AFK Gamer: Foton is just flawless. Always interesting and always funny, he's a true inspiration to any games blogger.

Kill Ten Rats: Ethic and crew really get into detail on the games they write about and I always enjoy their take. Ethic is still my favorite of the bunch but they all do a good job. Of recent note, a fantastic interview with Istvaan, a notorious Eve player was much enjoyed.

mmodig: Short but sweet posts and always hilarious. He has a tendency for finding really funny links.

Quylein: A fellow EQII blogger, Quylein gives great insight into the game.

Ole Bald Angus: Prolific without ever being dull, Angus is always a pleasure to read. His near stream of consciousness commentary is truly entertaining.

Van Hemlock: Van Hemlock is an eloquent writer who really captures a lot of the fun and less-than-fun experiences of playing MMO's. He is always experimenting with different games and playstyles and the results are great reading for us, his fans. His latest foray into the virtual world of Second Life has been fascinating.

Nerfbat: Sporadic for a while, the Grouchy Gnome has been updating more frequently of late and his comments on MMO design are well worth reading. There's some damn funny stuff there too.

Game Memes: Flashman is not a frequent updater but his posts are always pure gold, whether they be a great link or a hilarious take on gaming.

Terranova: Sure, they're academics, but sometimes they're even interesting. Whether you agree or disagree with any individual post, it always gives you something to think about.

Broken Toys: While not as free-wheeling as the old days due to his current career, Lum's posts are always entertaining and the heated debates in the comments are a blast. I also read the archives once in a while and they never fail to inspire the proverbial laugh out loud.

Cesspit: Abalieno is quite prolific and his passionate takes on game design are intriguing. He also manages to find great news and links.

N3rfed: Definitely one of my favorites, Cosmik's posts were a real source of enjoyment and information for me. Unfortunately, he's currently AFK (but he does have a really good reason). Congratulations, Cosmik. But come back soon - you are missed.

EQ2Daily: While not a blog, per se, their podcasts are sort of a verbal blog which always make me laugh. I also always learn something about EQII I didn't know. They do a fantastic job of aggregating news and have some other nifty site features. Have a drink for me, podcast crew.

What makes the sites I've just listed even more special is that not one of them has any type of advertising or other commercial stuff. Well, EQ2Daily has some, but their podcasts require a lot of bandwidth and they're only doing it to cover costs and get some better equipment. What that says to me is that all of these people do it purely out of love for what they are doing, and that makes me appreciate it even more. So thank you.

For those I haven't mentioned let me just say that I read every site on my link list every day and enjoy every one or they wouldn't be there.

I'd also like to thank the SOE people who have read my site and yet were still remarkably pleasant to me in person. Thanks for that. And thanks for being so passionate about EQII.


Thanks to the people who play EQII with me. You all got me started on this road and even if some of you are gone from the game, you are not forgotten. To those I still play with, thanks for being understanding when work or my blogging cuts into my play time.

I would like to thank the posters on the
Aggro Forums. I'm constantly surprised and grateful that there is such an intelligent and funny community on my boards. It's really the only place I post. Special thanks to my mods, Anskiere and Karnatos. Also thanks to Supernoob for running such an enjoyable roleplaying game and the players for providing me with free reading material that's as good as anything I can buy in a bookstore.

A big thank you to the people who have done interviews with me: Gaige, Kwoung, Xalmat and Scott Adams. I absolutely enjoyed their perspectives on the game and appreciate their time. Thanks as well to Karnatos and Narcissisa for writing great guest articles.

And the biggest thank you of all to you, my readers, for appreciating what I am doing, being supportive and participating through the comments section. It has been an honor and a pleasure. Stay tuned for more rants, interviews, humor, contests and maybe even a few surprises.


I'll be taking the next couple of days off for Thanksgiving and returning on Monday. Have a wonderful weekend.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Aggro Me: Watching GameORZ So You Don't Have To

Every once in while I feel like I'm proud to be a gamer and to write about gaming. Then something like the Spike TV Video Game Awards or GameORZ Week comes along and I snap back to reality.

Yeah, when something is called GameORZ week, I know it's going to be a maturely presented study of gaming. Oh, the O in GameORZ is actually a zero for added 1337 gaming effect.

But I've blogged Everquest segments on Icons and Attack of the Show, so I wasn't going to let MTV stop me. GameORZ week is a week long mix of "gaming" shows on MTV and MTV2, presumably to coincide with the
overhyped XBox 360 launch.

Now, I punished myself by turning MTV2 on early and sitting through some abject torture. But if you were smart enough to read the
SOE news item and turn it on at 8:00 PM EST, you got lucky.

Believe it or not, the EQII segment headed off the "Video Mods" show. What is a video mod, you ask? Well, apparently, it's a gameplay video. But get this, they add music! That's what I call extreme modding!

All they did was replay the Bloodline Chronicles movie in its entirety. I didn't notice any changes or additions, but I could be wrong. It wasn't a bad movie to begin with, so it was fine to watch again. The sole feature was a "pop-up" text box at the beginning which informed us of the massive amount of voiceover work in EQII. I figured they would continue to supply information throughout the video but that first "pop-up" was also the last.

The music chosen was "Bat Country" by Avenged Sevenfold. Ah, I see. "Bat Country" and a video about vampires! Genius. Regardless of the thematic connection, I didn't feel that the music really fit the video. But maybe I'm just not up on my "video mods." Or maybe I just don't "get" supposed goth metal bands that
implore their website visitors to vote for them on Total Request Live.

All joking aside, this was like a free three minute commercial for EQII, so kudos to the PR/Marketing team. And that movie has always been very nice graphically, so it might have sold some copies of EQII.

I don't have a clip for you but you could recreate it yourself simply by watching the Bloodlines video and listening to "Bat Country." Here are some pictures:


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King of Voiceover

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The Griffon Tower is over there, noob!

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Are there really that many calories in a Vanilla Frappuccino?

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This un-Photoshopped picture is from the show on professional gamers that was on immediately before the EQII one. It's the actual name of an all-girl Counterstrike Gaming "Clan." I can't make this stuff up, people.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Follow the White Toyota, Neo

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Neo: Why do my eyes hurt?
Morpheus: You've never used them before.
Trinity: Visit Lenscraft for prescription lenses in about an hour!
---
Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. You can feel it when you go to work... when you go to church... when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That the new Chipotle Grilled Burrito from Taco Bell is freaking delicious!
Neo: Whoa.
---
Morpheus: The Oracle. What did she tell you?
Neo: She said...
Morpheus: Yes?
Neo: She said I could save a bunch of money on my car insurance by switching to Geico!
Morpheus: ...

---
Tank: So what do you need? Besides a miracle.
Neo: Pepsi. Lots of Pepsi.
---

If you haven't guessed already, in-game advertising has come to the Matrix Online. Here's a link to the thread on the offical forums. The first line of the press release sounds like something out of one of my parodies:

"An exciting new addition is coming to the world of The Matrix Online."

Advertising is an exciting new addition? Well, I can't blame the writer, what was he or she going to say?

To be fair, this isn't the first time in-game advertising was in the Matrix Online. They had it in the early Monolith days. And the setting is about as good as you're going to get for in-game advertising. In fact, there were "fake" ads already. The ads will only be billboards that should not affect gameplay. And, thankfully, they will not be animated.


That said, it just depresses me. I play games to lose myself in a fantasy world. I happen to strongly dislike advertising before movies, intrusive internet ads and even overly obvious product placement in movies and TV shows. And no, I'm not against companies making money. But don't you run the risk of losing money in the long run by damaging your reputation as a company that cares about gaming? And might there not be a backlash someday as gamers refuse to pay for games with advertising?

Honestly, probably not. That's likely wishful thinking on my part. Advertising creeps into everything and becomes second nature. So I can't even really blame SOE, and that just depresses me more. It's the sound of inevitability, as Agent Smith would say. I still don't like it.

But who I am to argue with Matrix Online players? Most of the players in that thread seem to be actually for it, or at least okay with it. SOE raises the possiblity of having contests for player-generated ads, so maybe that helps.

The advertising will be handled by
Massive. I'm wondering why Massive even wanted to advertise in a game with so few players. I'm guessing that they want to be established as the premier in-game advertising company. They do have competitors, notably IGA. And the market is expected to be huge. This, and the Planetside deal, let them say they work with such famous gaming companies as SOE. It also helps them build their brand, establish relationships, and gain experience in this new advertising frontier. And for the individual advertisers, they have a chance to hit a very targeted demographic.

I was a bit surprised that a bunch of other sites actually covered this news:

Gamespot

Slashdot (My interview with Scott was also mentioned on Slashdot last week)

Kotaku

Joystiq

Gamezone

Terranova

In unrelated Matrix news, the ending of the "Matrix: Path of Neo" game is
really weird.

And, in advertising news that is actually cool, as seen on Kill Ten Rats: The makers of Eve Online are allowing in-game player Corporations to advertise in a real life magazine with virtual currency (ISK). Writers for the magazine will be paid in ISK.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Friday Humor: Vanguard

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Since the EQII devs are doing a great job of humor themselves, I figured I'd take a little break from poking fun at EQII and SOE today. Instead, it's time to have a little fun with Sigil Games, makers of the upcoming MMO, Vanguard. While I'm intrigued by Vanguard, and I will certainly play it, some of the stuff Brad McQuaid says does crack me up. The first two quotes which follow are actual Brad McQuaid quotes from the Vanguard forums, not a parody:

Brad on Combat:

"Good luck on two-boxing. You need to pay attention in this game. Everyonce in a while somebody sees a level one in Vanguard and is concerned the game pace is to slow. I promise you, you want the general 'round' to be that long, because even at mid levels there is THAT much going on. You need to be aware of who is doing what, what NPC is on who, what abiliity they are about to use, if you have a counter. You could be using a combat starter and a bridge could pop up that forks. Which related ability do you want to use? Make your choice. You don't have much time. Oh wait! While you were thinking, in those brief seconds, another icon popped up. A counter ability/spell. Now you need to decide whether to finish your chained attack (and which bridge to take), or to counter that ability. What do you now about that abiility? Is it critical enough to counter no mattter what or can you let it slide? But wait, while you're pondering all of this, two more icons pop up giving you the opportunity (and letting you know) that your secondary defensive target, say your cleric, was just aggroed. You have the option of rescuing him. So you can finish you attack, counter, or rescue. Add to that our emphasis on multiple mob encounters (hard to seperate a group), and you get more chaos. Add in situational awareness. Is my cleric ok (I'm RPing a warrior here). Is my sorc ok? Did either the sorc or the ranger just do so much damage they may draw aggro? Or do they have some abilitiy to mask that...."

Brad on Shopping:

"Just for more clarity, I don't want search abilities, etc. because I want price differences. Not just differences between regions, but probably within a city. To me, that creates an exciting player economy. Yes, one could argue it's more work to have to go shopping as opposed to just bringing up a nifty screen that does all the work for you. But the shopping is the gameplay. It may not be for everyone, but neither is it necessary for a player to particpate in this part of the economy and game."

Excited? Well it only gets better and more hardcore! I contacted the Aggro Me ninja death squad once again. And boy were they angry. After having just broken into SOE's headquarters last week...now I wanted them to infiltrate Sigil. I had to promise them an additional five silver along with a coupon for a two-topping pizza from Pizza Hut. They love their pizza. But the mission was a success and I bring you these imaginary design documents from Sigil:

Eating in Vanguard

"Everyonce in a while people see the eating mechanic in Vanguard and think it's too slow paced. Some people want to just click on a food item and eat it. They should play an easier game. Sure, eating in Vanguard is a two and a half hour process, but there's so many difficult decisions that it's barely enough time! There's just THAT much going on! Okay let's say you want to eat some pasta. Do you want to roll it up with your fork, get a knife involved or just dig in and hope for the best? And what level fork are you using? Oh wait! While you were pondering this conundrum a window pops up letting you know you have bread available. Do you want to butter? Not butter? Dip in the sauce for a combo?

Then, BAM, before you know it, sauce is flying towards your pants! Do you attempt to counter it with a napkin? Rely on your pants' defensive stats? Attempt a dodge? Add in the fact that we use multiple eating situations, i.e. appetizers, drinks, deserts and it just adds to the exciting chaos! Add in gastronomical awareness. Is the portion big enough (I'm RPing a fat guy here)? Is it too spicy? What are the aftereffects going to be like? And that's just solo eating. You can only imagine what a group dinner is going to be like..."

Logging Off in Vanguard

"Just for clarity, I don't want a simple log off screen in Vanguard. Because I want a myriad of variations in log offs. Sure, you might like a nifty little interface where you just click a button and log off. Yeah, be lazy and let that do all the work for you. Logging off is part of the gameplay. Is you race a good sleeper or not? Have you killed a lot of mobs that day? You may be over-excited. Where is the best locale to sleep? Have you switched your gear into your bedtime configuration? Have you countered anxiety with warm milk or the count sheep ability? All these will have an effect on the patented log off progress bar, which can range anywhere from seconds to hours. It may not be for everyone, but you're welcome to just turn your computer off and take the two level penalty."

The ninja team also uncovered a document entitled "Using the Restroom in Vanguard: Extended Camp Times." But that's so exciting and hardcore I don't want to spoil it for you.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

L2P Jeopardy Noobs!

Arena

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Well, Live Update 16 brought Arena access to Freeport and Qeynos. This is a move SOE had to make. Every time I go to the Arena, it's completely deserted. This is a shame considering the amount of time they probably spent on it. And it's actually pretty fun.

I did say that when more people hit 60 it might see increased use. But I also said way back when that if there is no effective system of rewards or ranking it would never be truly popular.

I honestly don't understand why MMO companies (and SOE isn't the only offender) will spend resources to create PvP systems and then not focus on the reward or ranking aspect. I can guarantee you that if there was a great web-based or in-game ranking system for the Arena, plenty more people would use it. People love rankings and would enjoy seeing their names moving up the list. You could have all kinds of fun statistics. I can't imagine this is that difficult compared to actually creating the entire Arena system itself.

I had to poke around a lot to find that you actually can gain titles and trophies for getting a certain number of kills in the Arena (i.e. 500 kills, 1000 kills). But that fact is not really well publicized, in-game or out.


I hate to see content being unused because the proper systems are not in place and I really hope SOE is working on something in this direction. These comments will be even more important in terms of the upcoming PvP additions (whatever they might be).

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Aggro Interview: Scott Adams

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As I’ve said before, the first game I ever played on a computer was one of Scott Adams’ text adventures. His games opened my eyes to the power games could have and sparked the interest in gaming which eventually inspired me to start this site.

For those not aware of Scott’s history, he is considered by many to be the father of the whole personal computer gaming industry. His game, Adventureland, was the first interactive fiction ever on a personal computer. Scott’s company, Adventure International, published numerous games from 1978 until the mid-80’s. For more information, check out
Scott’s website or this Adventure International Tribute site.

I would also argue that some of the suggestions Scott made about game design in 1981 are extremely relevant in the MMO context. Things like logical consistency, multiple solutions to problems and items and locations fitting the plot should be kept in mind by all game designers.

Scott is also an avid EQII player and a leader of one of the largest guilds in the game. I am honored that he has taken the time to answer some of my questions.
*******************************************************************
What was it like to be designing games at such an early stage in computer gaming history? What was your main motivation for doing so?

Mostly because I have always been a game player. To give you some idea...

I learned to program on mainframe computers back in the 1960s. Later I worked at a radar station downrange for Space Defense Command and at night I had access to the mainframe machine and the radar consoles. I programmed in a game of Star trek that used the radar displays as the output. You have to realize back in those days most input mainframes were done in batch mode or over teletype machines. Having a real time game running on one was a bit far out. This was long before Pong too, to give you some idea of the time frame.

Later my first personal computer was a bit slice processor that my brother built while we were in college. It had a keyboard and a text crt using a TV. I hand coded a real-time game in machine language for that would let us shoot down flying letters as they went over head.

Next my own first personal computer was a Sphere. They same out at about the same time as the MITS ALTAIR but had a CRT and keyboard instead of just bit switched on the front. I assembled it from a kit. I was their very first order too.

Then later had a contest to see what folks used their Sphere computer for. I sent in my entry (a movie film) and won first prize. I had designed and a built a monochrome graphics adapter for the computer since the original only used a text based display. I had built 2 device to simulate tank controls and then programmed a full tank war video game. It was a ton of fun to play.

Later when I got my first appliance computer. I.e. not one built from scratch or a kit. I bought a TRS-80 model 1 and it came with Microsoft Basic. I wanted to learn Basic and I was intrigued with the thought of strings as this was not something that assembler or Fortran supported. I kept trying to come up with a game for it that would be fun that really need strings.

At work someone put a copy of Crothers's and Woods Colossal Caves on the mainframe. I played it everyday before and after work for a week. When I got done I knew what I wanted to put on my little TRS-80. When I told friends what I was doing they said there was NO way I could ever get an adventure type game in a 16k computer. Of course they were wrong and the rest was history. Later I managed to cram an adventure onto a Commodore Pet with only 5k of memory and a cartridge. My greatest achievement of that era was getting a full graphical adventure on a TI-99/4a cartridge, a real first.

How long have you been interested in Massively Multiplayer games and how long have you been playing Everquest II?

My first MOG was Everquest Live and I was introduced to it by a friend in 2001. I remember I had just gotten Black and White and was excited to try it out, mentioned it to him and he said had I played Everquest? I had seen the ads for the game and had seen it at the stores and I never thought to try it out. I actually thought it looked silly and was just a bunch of people running around in costumes in a virtual chat world. I did not realize how wrong I was until he explained it to me.


I have played all the major MOGS and many minor ones. My last MOG was City of Heroes which I played for one month before release (beta) and then until Sept of 2004. At that time I was able to finagle my way into the EQ2 beta. I am ALWAYS amazed at the amount of friendly folks out there in the industry who have very fond memories of my old games.

Anyway once I got into Beta I knew this was the game for me. I have played it without pause since then. This is the longest I have been in any MOG since I started playing them. I also have lost all interest in single player games. I think I got about half way through Half Life 2 and that is the last single player I have tried.

I also bought WOW and tried it for a few hours. It is not even close to the fun factor of EQ2 so it is on the shelf.

Can you explain what a hydra is and talk a little bit about the one you run now?

A hydra is a mythical beast with one body and many heads. In MOG terms a hydra (sometimes called bots) is a player running multiple characters at once.

In EverQuest Live you were at the mercy of getting a group and also long meditation times to rebuild manna. I can remember many times wanting to play and unable to get a group to do what I wanted, or simply having to sit doing nothing since we had no enchanter. I then hit on the idea of adding a chanter to my druid so I would not have the long med times and it worked. Later I added a tank then a cleric then a ... you get the idea. At one point my hydra in EQ1 was 6 players.

I was doing this on 3 computers and using Eqwindows to switch back and forth between them. I had 3 separate keyboards and mice. I found though that lag was killing me and that it was hard to see what was what this way. I then pared the hydra down to 5 characters on 5 separate computers. There is a video of me playing this hydra on my website if anyone is interested.

One of the things that made the hydra possible was Eqwatcher, this is a 3rd party tool that would read the logs aloud. I wrote scripts that allowed me to know if something was happening on a character that I was not paying attention to. For example: You are being attacked and not fighting back! or Clarity has Dropped. You get the idea. Today I use Fury which is a direct descendant of Eqwatcher. Fury is currently in beta and is free on the lavishsoft.com website. Highly recommended.

Today I play a simple hydra of four characters in EQ2, One from each of the main class groups. A guardian, cleric, swashbuckler and conjurer. I tried having a dirge as my fourth char but it required too much work. The conjurer's pet is more fire and forget and I can slap some quick AOE and AE spells as needed.

I now use 4 computers but only one keyboard/mouse. I use the program Multiplicity which lets me control all 4 computers by simply flying the mouse off one screen's edge and onto the edge of the adjacent monitor. Works great in EQ2. It can be found at the stardock.com website. Again highly recommended.

I often get asked why I play a hydra. First and foremost is the simple challenge of being able to do it, next I enjoy being able to have as many utility powers as I can.

My one lament is I do not have a druid but have a cleric instead. When I started the hydra SoW was a group only spell. If I had known it was going to be allowed to be cast on anyone I would have had a druid so I can could indeed give others SoW as needed. I really enjoy helping other players as much as I can. I greatly enjoyed that about my hydra in EQ1.

I also like the ability to go in and take out a named and then be able to get all the loot without worrying about who gets what. It a long fight can really leave me drained but I get a great feeling of satisfaction when it works out. When I fail I usually review my tactics and then go in and try and try again.

I frequently group with my hydra adding other guildmates as needed and have never had anyone complain about it. In raids I will normally just play one character so as not to endanger anyone.

You are the leader of the Vindicators, one of the largest guilds on the Antonia Bayle role-playing server. Are the Vindicators considered a role-playing guild? What is the general philosophy of the guild?

We are currently the second largest guild on the most populous server. We were the largest guild for awhile, then two smaller guilds merged and passed us in total size. Plus we have a rule of deleting any players not logged in 100+ days to keep the count somewhat honest. We have around 100 real players and usually have anywhere from 8 to 35 people on at anytime. We are considered a light role play guild, i.e. we mix role play and real world chat in guild talk.

Our philosophy is that we are a guild of friends who have real life commitments. The requirements of real life always come first. We never pressure our members to do anything but we are all willing to help each other out as needed. We are always open to making new friends too. Allot of our members join through word of mouth from their friends, we have also had folks transfer from other servers just to be with us. We are currently accepting new members. We have a short in game interview process and then a month trial before becoming a full member. See our webpage for more information
www.vindicators.org or contact me directly at bandel@vindicators.org

What are some of the challenges of running a guild of that size and how is the leadership structure organized?

We are a monarchy here. I have been in totally democratic guilds before and have seen cliques ruin them. I do not want that to happen here. We are small enough that I feel a leader with vision will keep things on track.


I listen to all and have an open door policy. But of course I pay greatest heed to the ministers and senior officers, next the regular officers have my ear and so on down the ranks.

We have slowly evolved this guild into its present form, partly from my original vision and then the rest from great ideas of others. I expect the guild to continue to evolve to better all of our enjoyment of the game.

In many cases I will run referendums to get the guild's feel on issues. They are not binding but I will certainly pay close attention to them as I see what the guild's wishes are.

In rare cases I do set policy as I think is best. No Gambling is one such policy that I set without any input, and moving us to our current website was another(www.vindicators.org).

I am ALWAYS open to discussion though. No subject is ever completely closed if you someone feels strongly about it. I will always continue to listen, debate, and discuss as needed.

We have a number of ministers who help run the guild. Under each minister is a vice minister and then a staff or team. We have some fantastic folks in these positions and they really make being in Vindicators a delight. The events team is always coming up with novel and fun things to do, the raiding team keeps interesting raids in front of the guild for all levels and time frames, the banking minister keeps the guild bank in order and so on.

What type of behavior is encouraged for guild members?

We only want folks who are willing to be helpful to others. Self centered, me-first type people are not wanted. Our guild charter makes this very clear. We have had to remove members that did not fit this guideline.

We do not require any level of playtime from the regular members other than logging in at least once in 100 days. The officers are required to be more sacrificial then the regular members and must log on at least once every month to keep their officer rank. In general though most of our players are fairly active. We have many folks that can be seen playing daily. Besides the scheduled raids we also try and promote in guild grouping.

What would you say was the most difficult or hotly debated issue within the Guild?

We had a long debate and vote on setting up our current Ministerial government. At one point, many moons ago, a number of guild members left over the unstructured nature of the guild at that time. We evolved into our current government and things have greatly improved.

The folks who hold the ministerial ranks are tremendous and they are a large part of the success of our guild, all due to their efforts. Any membership rank is allowed to be part of a Ministerial staff or team with only the Minister and Vice Minister required to be senior officers. The running of each Ministry is up to the individual styles and choices of the Ministers.

You have been running the Vindicators before and after the removal of the patron system. Do you prefer the old or new system?

Much prefer the new system. We had one of our members tracking everything on a spreadsheet under the old system and it was always a great deal of work determining who would be patrons and for how long. The new way EVERYONE gets to have the fun of helping the guild level and that in the long run is a much better way to do things.

Does the guild do any server wide activities?

We have only so far done guild events with guild members. We have discussed doing server wide events but none have occurred to date. I suspect after the events team reads this interview they will start getting some good ideas though. They have been extremely clever with their events and folks have had a great time.

Is all your time in EQII spent as your guild leader character or do you have alts?

I currently have 6 active characters on my main server and one guide character active on another server. The 6 active characters are my hydra Bandel, Bandol, Bandul, Bandyl and then my vendors Vendo and Vende.

I can not name my guide character or what server I serve as a guide on. I do recommend the guide program to folks who are interested. It can be very rewarding and more information can be found at:
http://eqlive.station.sony.com/library/faqs/faq_guide.jsp

Is there anything you would like to see changed or added to EQII at this time?

I would love to see some sort of bind/gate spell to be added to the game along with a druid type group travel. Right now though I have my hydra all in good standings of the gnolls of Splitpaw, I gate into there and then exit to TS and then Escape to the docks where I can select my destination.

I wish they would also fix the /targetgroup member command so that it properly breaks the current target and targets the member as requested. This is minor though. My main need was so I could simply hit one key and have each member follow the hydra leader. I got around the problem by having a Saitek keyboard that has a macro programmable keypad. I added the macro there to target and follow to one of the buttons. Other than that all my in game macros are using the built in eq2 macro system.

Another hydra friendly command I would like to see is the ability to have a pet target a group member and then attack whatever that member is attacking. Yes I know this is really just for hydra players and I don't expect to see done.

Something else I have wanted for a long time is scheduled in LU#16 and that is guard rails on the griffon stations. That will make it easier to get my little train up the stairs :)

I wish they had designed the game with the levitate spell in mind, I do miss that from EQlive. Also I wish more buffs were not group only. Also having some meaning again to tradeskill society levels would be wonderful. And having a tradeskill wholesaler in the fancier sections of town would be good. That way you could have your tradeskill device in your house and not have a long way to go and get more supplies.

Having a some sort of two way market board in your house would be a nice addition too.

Some way to have the game automatically select the display settings dynamically as your FPS (Frames per second) goes up and down.

Having a network ping device in game would be useful.

Are you interested in any upcoming MMO’s?

I am certainly curious about Vanguard and D&D online. Due to my commitment and love for the Vindicators I doubt I will be get involved in any other MOG any time in the foreseeable future. I am a Microsoft Core Group game beta tester and have gotten to beta test most of MS games over the last few years. I am looking forward to helping out on Rise of Nations Beta coming soon.

Thanks again - it really is an honor.

My pleasure, I have always enjoyed reading your site and I feel honored to be interviewed here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Dynamic

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Okay, I like to be fair. And while we all know I'm never wrong, sometimes I might be slightly less than right. Or something like that.

I did say the Griffon Towers event was a good idea but I dismissed it for not being true dynamic content. While I didn't get a chance to actually participate, the comments I read convinced me that the event was more interactive than I gave it credit for.

Here's
some of the reports that convinced me. And yeah, I know one of those threads is complaining about the short length of the event, but that's not my focus here (here's hoping they take the popularity into account for the next one - see Blackguard's comments on this). I'm more interested in quotes like this from the official forums:

"Now whenever my characters see the Griffon Tower on Coldwind Beach near South Centaur camp they will think ... We helped build that!!"

"It is just so cool that we could change the face of those zones."

"We can stand back and look at it and say 'I helped build that'."


I can't argue with that emotional response. But I'm happy to be wrong because it let's me harp on the fact that I think dynamic world-changing content like this is an important future of the MMO industry. Stuff like this could really help set EQII apart if they keep it up. Players are tired of feeling like they can't change the world they spend so much time in. And they love the feeling they get when they can make a difference.

But I'm not satisfied. I want to take it a step further. I want to see dynamic events that have different conclusions on different servers.

We have the perfect set-up. Freeport vs. Qeynos. I'm going to stick with griffon towers, just for an example. One griffon tower is going up. Whether it goes up in TS or Nek is up to the players. A simple race: who can finish the tower first? We have the good players struggling to build it in TS and the evil crew fighting to put it up in Nek. Whoever finishes first gets the tower permanently. As I said, the results would be different on different servers and the feeling of accomplishment would be even greater. Obviously, SOE can't do that specific example because the towers are already up, but you get the idea.

And let's do it in non-event ways, as well. I want every NPC I deal with on a day to day basis to react differently to me based on my level or faction standing. I want my armor mender to now say, "It's a pleasure to repair the armor of such a true hero." I want that Ironforge kid to say to me, "Wow, you must have seen a gnoll before because you're so damn uber it hurts my eyes to look at you." Well, maybe not exactly that, but you get the idea. To be fair some of this is in the game already, especially in terms of faction. In fact, some quest NPC in DoF recently referred to me by my character's name. Pretty cool.
But I want more. I'm greedy like that.

Oh, and while I'm giving SOE credit for something, I might as well throw in the fact that they're offering refunds on the pre-NGE expansion, Trials of Ewan McGregor or whatever it's called. So that's takes a little bit out of the sting of my parody last Friday. But only a little.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Guest Article: Raids & Raid Guilds by Narcissisa

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So you’ve freed the Frogloks – Venekor and Varanak have nothing on you. So you’ve cured the plague, and shown T’Haen how you like to rock and roll. Vox, Nagalik, Kra’Thuk, Fist; you’ve popped ‘em like coca-cola bottles on a hot summer day – and yet, there’s still a triple-upped four group encounter that no one has been able to pull off.

The popularity of the monster will hit you full force – you’ll hear about it immediately, if only hours after you’ve stepped off the Island of Refuge and landed in Castleview. The faction guilds know it as well as the raid guilds, and it’s as infectious as the “stfus” you get in Ventrilo during a raid. What is it? No. Not Godking, not Ghagan, and definitely not Terrorantula.

Egotistical Jarhead, Epic x4.

If you haven’t already read it, the Lore’s pretty interesting. It’s player written, and loyal to the ever-changing ever-questing world of the game we love so much. Briefly: Once, long ago, the heroes of Norrath joined together in elite bands, emanating more and more arrogance, until the reputation of excellence transformed itself into an unbreakable, indestructible standing of intolerable conceit.

Sure – you raiders know what I’m talking about. No, we don’t go AFK on the docks with all of our Fabled gear and 60-plat carpet by chance. There’s a reason why our names go on forever, Madam Narcissisa Omg`Hihowareyouim-
greatthanks, Hero of Kugup. [Super Guild Here]

At the same time, though, we saved your pet toad Charlie, and it’s because of them you don’t cough at your group members, although I’m sure you really did look spectacular in that shade of green. The arrogant reputations raid guilds have developed are now a source for ignorant prejudice, when that initial egotism has worn off months ago. It still surprises me how much hate people have for a guild they don’t even know. Despite the horrible /play time we’ve all accumulated, a game is still a game.

Raid guilds are still guilds. Members are still just members. Hackneyed perception needs to allow for the realization that maybe, they might have just gone AFK in East Freeport on accident. Besides – aren’t you glad you can pull the tarantulas in Sinking Sands in peace now? Man, Terrorantula’s Venomous Cloud really does bite.

On the other hand, Raid Guilds aren’t always aware of the role they possess in a server’s community. As a server-transfer myself, I was completely oblivious to the status of the guild I joined on my new server, Befallen. On my first day, I got comments like, “Oh, I know what kind of player YOU are,” Whoa, man. Don’t get your greaves in a twist.

There’s the bad. There’s the ugly. Here’s the good:

On my new home server, I’ve seen the more influential guilds really create excitement over some of the new aspects of the game. Shadowed Strife, a raid guild on Befallen, hosted a Best of the Best tournament to kick off the new Player-verses-Player capabilities in Desert of Flames. Tier 5 fabled loot and money was rewarded to the top players in the group and single categories, and while being under-populated, it was a lot of fun to see the community come together like that.

Without further ado, I present to you the top 10 ways to transform your raid into a truly… exciting encounter. (Directly from yours truly. These are guaranteed to work- I didn’t get into the top raid guilds on server for not knowing my stuff.)

1. Going AFK after pull tests your group members’ ability to adapt to changes! They need the practice.


2. Nothing to get your raid psyched like screeching the Star-Spangled-Banner over the raid leader’s instructions. Besides – you know what to do, right?

3. If you don’t target the main assist, you won’t have to beat down on the same mob! Be unique.

4. Rez-bot classes like to feel important, too! Stay in for AE and give them a chance to really shine. To further this advice, if you’re calling AE, it’s best to just put in a ten-second variation.

5. The sound effects are so much cooler on auto-attack if you use a weapon the mob is immune to. Prefer a “duh!” to a “wha-chuck” any day.

6. Help your main tank- pull the mobs for them! You don’t even have to announce it, you don’t want to look like you’re showing him up.

7. When near other mobs and fighting, it’s just more effective to use true AEs. There’s no such thing as an add anyway – just faster pulls.

8. If you die in an instance, it means you’re incompetent. Reviving outside of the zone will announce to your guild how you feel without even having to say it. Quick communication in these things is always key.

9. Contribute! If you see a clicky, CLICK IT! You’ll find out later what it does!

10. People appreciate fast looting. Run up to the chest and show everyone how to be on their toes. For some super-speed, you can even disable the “okay to loot no-trade” box!

Omgbye2ugghhlfgpstplzkthnx.
Narcissisa of Fallen

On the Befallen Server.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Friday Humor: Change

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With the recent massive changes to SWG, you might be wondering just what else those crazy geniuses at SOE have up their sleeves. Well, I have the answer.

The top secret Aggro Me elite ninja squad has once again earned their five silver a month by fearlessly breaking into the SOE death fortress and uncovering the imaginary drafts of future game change announcements! Remember, you saw it here first!

Planetside - Producer's Letter

Dear Members of the Terran Republic, the Vanu Sovereignty and whatever that third one is:

Hello to all the dozens of Planetside subscribers and fans out there! I'm Bob Johnson, the new Producer of Planetside, here to announce some incredibly fabulous and exciting new changes!!!!!!!!!

Now, I know what you're thinking. But, Bob, how can things get any more exciting over at Planetside?!?!? I know, I know. Our ultra-scientific surveys show that over 99.9% of the Planetside player base absolutely LOVES the whole BFR thing and ADORES in-game advertising! But, we say, hey, why stop there?

That's right, we are making sweeping changes to the game. And I don't want to get giddy, but all three of the highly trained and skilled focus testers we lured from a mall in Ohio with the promise of Quake IV and Applebee's gift certificates think these changes are ABSOLUTELY TOP NOTCH!!!!

Now, you're going to say, please, for the love of all that is holy, tell me about these changes! Well, ask yourself, what is the Planetside universe really about? Yes, that's right, PUZZLE GAMES! Prepare yourself for true fun and get ready to defeat your opponent in a heart-pounding game of skill!

As soon as you draw near one of your enemies, the screen will change and you will be taken to our wild, highly intense PUZZLE ARENA! I hope you're ready, because you will compete in such heart-pounding puzzle games as Jumble, Word Scramble, Jumble Advanced, and, of course, Jumble Death Match! Only the best will prevail!

I know, I know, you can't wait. But don't worry, these changes will go live in only two days! What's that Jim? Oh, hold on, my senior lead designer just told us that the changes are live already! Go Planetside! Get puzzling!!!

Matrix Online - Press Releases

For release December 1:

To all Matrix Online Players:

For one day only, the new expansion "The Architect's Ramblings" is available for only $39.99! This expansion adds much-needed depth to the Advanced Hacker, Pilot and Combat Specialist professions! Also, there is finally tons of ship to ship combat outside of the Matrix! Pick it up today!

For release December 2:

To all Matrix Online Players:

Great news! The members of the Matrix Online development team have both decided to completely revamp the game so it's more fun for everyone! The professions have been "clarified" for more fun in the following manner: The Advance Hacker, Pilot and Combat Specialist professions no longer exist. All other 82 professions have been "clarified" into two: Neo/Trinity and Agent Smith/Elrond. No action outside of the Matrix exists! This will make the game over one hundred and seventy-three times better according to our advanced neural network! All existing characters will have to start over (who doesn't love a fresh start?) but will be rewarded for their loyalty by a massive lens-flare glow around their character which will cause lag whenever it is turned on and a book entitled Dull Things the Oracle Said which can be placed in player housing (note: player housing no longer exists). Thanks for your awesome continued support!!!
***

Fascinating stuff, from the desks of the SOE think-tank to you. I hope you enjoyed this look into the future of online gaming. Also, there's this link.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Rewarding

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Yes, subscriber loyalty rewards are here. This is one marketing idea I think is a winner. Sure there will always be someone who says "OMG SOE is making fireworks and paintings while my class problems are being ignored!1! Why?? Why, SOE, why???" But I think it just makes sense. Customer loyalty programs are winners in other areas and I think they work here as well.

And yeah, the rewards are basically fluff but they're fun fluff and some extra xp is nothing to sneeze at. I think all of the rewards are nice without being unbalancing. Well, one small issue.

The titles were an obvious and good choice but I do have trouble with the wording selected. Is anyone honestly going to use "the Loyal" or "the Dedicated?" It just doesn't seem like that would catch on. I know they play off of the time of play but they don't seem appealing from a player standpoint. Oh, wow, there's Bob, he's really, um, dedicated.

Speaking of rewards, Live Update 16 also makes the dungeons of Blackburrow, Runnyeye and CT more rewarding by improving the item drops. While I'll have to wait and see if this change is effective, it does attempt to provide a nice motivation to return to some of the dungeon zones which have taken something of a back-seat in EQII. And it will give people something to do instead of repeatedly running Harclave.

How about rewards for guilds? Well, it appears that the guild raids earned when gaining guild levels may actually be worthwhile now. The level of these raids will now scale to the average party level. Finally. These raids were totally worthless in the past (at least in my experience) since they were all greyed out by the time we got to them. I'm glad to see this problem has been addressed though the itemization is apparently not done yet.

Still hanging on those guild level 40 rewards though...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Sweet Sixteen

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Alright, I'm back at it with more Live Update 16 commentary.

We will be getting some new content in the form of the "Reclaiming the Wilderness" quest. It refers to helping griffon tamers in Nek and TS. Now, a longtime complaint of MMO players is that they feel their actions do not affect the world in a dynamic fashion. No matter how many monsters they slay, nothing really changes in the static game world. Well, this would seemingly be a chance to change Norrath through your participation in a quest. In fact, it's billed in the update notes as a "chance to make your mark on the world and help reclaim the Shattered Lands!"

But let's be honest. This is what I call faux-dynamic content. Whether 50,000 or 5 people do this event/quest, those griffon towers are getting built. It's simply relating a quest/event to a change SOE is making in the game, in this case making travel through Nek and TS quicker. Your actions will, in reality, still have no actual effect. But that doesn't mean it's not a good idea. It works from a roleplay standpoint and true world-changing dynamic content is very hard to pull off. So why not add some fun and lore to a zone change? It's much better than just logging on one day and suddenly finding griffon towers in TS and Nek.

But what about those griffon towers? This goes back to the difficulty issue. Some like instant travel, some enjoy the old EQ style travel. Your opinion on the addition of the griffon towers in these zones will vary depending on your opinions on this issue. And we saw a lot of different opinions in the comments section of yesterday's post.

I'm happy to see that mages (and crusaders and priests) can now make use of the ranged item slot. It always bothered me to see that slot empty and I'm all for further customization of my character.

I've often found swapping potions, horse whistles and dolls in and out of my activation slots to be rather annoying. It now appears that potions can be used directly from the inventory. On the negative side, the food and drink slots seem like they will make things more time consuming for me, only because I prefer to eat and drink one item at a time rather than use the "eat or drink when hungry or thirsty" option. But I'm probably not the norm. The food slots will free up inventory space.

The famous Harclave quest is now limited to once a level.

The reason Harclave was great was because it was innovative from start to finish. From the unusual way you received the quest to the feeling of surprise and power you felt when you first got the buff, it is easily one of the most memorable quests in game. But why would you want to do it repeatedly?

Probably because players get used to comfortable things and also tend to gravitate towards the easiest and fastest way to obtain levels and items.

I agree with Gallenite's quote, "The problem is that if it's possible for that 'by-myself-in-the-same-cave-for-25-levels' experience of a never-ending grind to occur, people will continue down that path...then get bored because EQ2 (in their experience) is a big, ugly, foreboding grind they have to do alone just to get to the 'good stuff'."

I also feel that this more general statement is an important one: "When people think 'I want to get some good gear' in an adventure game, ideally, the environment we create should be one that makes them then think, 'well...I'd better go undertake some dangerous adventure to get it," as opposed to, 'I'd better go farm so I can afford to hit the mall.'"

So, I definitely think SOE is right on the Harclave issue.

Now, please excuse me while I log on to repeatedly farm Tear Grifter's quests in Maj...

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Hard vs. Annoying

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Before I get started on the main point of today's post, I'd like to say that my issues yesterday about not being able to recustomize your existing character were unfounded. See this post by Blackguard for info. Back to your regularly scheduled programming:

Many recent changes have lead some people to say that EQII is being made too easy or "dumbed down." For instance, in Live Update 16, the camp times on heritage mobs are being reduced. Also, players will be allowed to purchase lost shards from NPC's and vitality gain will be increased at the higher levels.

On one side we have those who are casual gamers and want to enjoy the game in a casual fashion. On the other side, we have those, like Quylein, who argue that the game is being made far to easy.

I'm somewhere in the middle. I'm a sometimes casual, sometimes hardcore player. If I had to say, I would like the game to be a bit harder. But I also follow the old game design adage: "we want the game to be hard, but not annoying."

So do the changes in Live Update 16 make the game less hard or less annoying?

Camps can be quite frustrating. I'd rather kill a hundred placeholder mobs than just blindly wait there for a camp when I'm trying to work on a heritage quest. They can been a motivation killer. They can also be fun in terms of socializing so that is something to consider. On the whole, though, I am willing to put these in the annoying category. I just like to think there are better ways of making quests challenging and fun. I would like to see SOE say, "Okay, we are reducing camp times, but this quest will be just as difficult because you will now have to defeat more mobs (or something more imaginative)."

As for the shard purchasing, it plays with one of the three aspects of the EQII death penalty: progress (xp debt), time (shard recovery) and money (armor repair). All it does is shift some of the penalty from the time area to the money area. Shard recovery can be kind of annoying when it is 2:00 A.M. and you want to go to sleep and you have to fight all the way down through Runnyeye because your group wiped. But that's also part of the risk that makes things exciting.


A separate problem is when shards are unrecoverable due to circumstances beyond the player's control. For example, you fall into a chasm in Permafrost and you can't get your shard. This is probably a major drag on customer service time. But the answer here is not to junk shard recovery because of the CS time, but rather fix the game design so this does not happen.

What if I told you shard recovery would cost five plat? Would that still be "dumbing down" the game? Of course, it won't be - the actual prices are
here. My solution would be to make paid shard recovery a very limited event that occurred only a handful of times over the lifetime of a character. How to accomplish that? Make the fees rise exponentially (i.e. first time 20g; second time 40g; third time 80g; fourth time 160g). I'd be okay with that. That way you could still use it if your shard got bugged and you didn't feel like petitioning or if it was just in a real tricky place and you were in a rush. But it would be a very rare thing you would have to be careful about using.

Finally, we have the increase in vitality at higher levels. I am not against vitality, I think it's a good concept. And sure, it does go fast at the higher levels. So I understand the rationale behind the change. SOE has a game mechanic they believe in and it is not working as they intended it to at the higher levels.

But I think leveling is at a good pace as it is. And no, I'm not at level 60 trying to hold down everyone else who didn't make it yet. I'm in the mid-50's. Sure, I'm a bit behind some, but I haven't felt the grind to be painful since the modifications to group and quest xp. I don't want a horrific grind but I don't want it to be too easy either. Perhaps if SOE raises the vitality at higher levels they should slow down the xp as well so it's a net constant in terms of overall level gain. But I realize that's never a popular thing.

Well, if you sense a common thread to my discussion of these three Update 16 issues it's "let's remove annoyances without making the game easier." Yes, I am a proponent of the "harder but not more annoying" philosophy but you have to remember the harder part. Right now EQII is tilted just a little to far towards the casual gamer for my personal tastes.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sixteen Candles

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Well, Live Update 16 is in the works and due to hit live shortly. You've probably read the notes for Test Update #16A and Test Update #16B but I'll comment on them anyway. There's a lot going on in this update so I'm going to break this down into four posts (including this one).

Probably the biggest headline is that the SOGA models have finally arrived. I think I've discussed the SOGA models quite enough already. There's plenty of pictures and comments on the official forums if you're interested. There did appear to be some bugs but that's why they are on Test and not Live.

To summarize the SOGA issue:

Good: Options are good and some of the new models are very nice.

Bad: People may not see you as you see yourself, which is kind of weird.

Good: You will be able to recustomize your current character for SOGA.

Bad: You can't do so yet.

It's up to you whether you think the good outweigh the bad. I do. I also hope SOE continues to work hard on the non-SOGA models and I am fairly confident that they will.

One example of that can be seen already. Lotus
informs us here that the much sought after Iksar scale patterns are due to arrive shortly. And sure enough, the 16B update notes inform us that there will be two additional patterns for each gender. However, like the SOGA models, they can not yet be customized by existing characters.

There are changes which seem minor but are nice improvements. For example, the ability to loot corpses from farther away and the ability to see distances on the revive window sound nice.

There is a note that, "UI windows have received a facelift: They are now more streamlined." I hope this is a marked improvement because right now the UI is a mess. I try to play with the default UI so I can play the game as SOE intends it to be played and comment fairly, but lately I've been very jealous of the gorgeous UI's I see people using when I look at screenshots. SOE really needs to invest some time into this and not rely on third-party sources to do their work for them.

A change which is buried at the bottom of the #16B notes may seem minor but I think it's a great idea. I'm referring to the introduction of chat channels based on level range. I think that's a great way to build a sense of community. I know some of the players who have been around a while may be annoyed to find themselves in a new channel but you can leave it, of course. I think it will go a long way towards helping new players figure out what's going on and perhaps make finding a group easier at various levels.

I am happy to see Arena access will be available from Qeynos and Freeport, but I will have more to say about the (deserted) Arena issue at a later date.

You can also check out Quylein's Live Update 16 commentary here. I'll be back with round two tomorrow.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Friday Humor: Team Fashion Returns!

Because almost no one liked it the first time (and because SOE did it after me): It's the triumphant return of Team Fashion! So please welcome back Hairstylist Hubert Devine and Supermodel Amber Whootain as they break down the fashion and general style of the new SOGA models as only they can!

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Hubert: Oh my, goodness, the elves are emo now.
Amber: Life as a half-elf is so bad, I have to listen to the Norrathian version of Good Charlotte and cut myself...
Hubert: Kids, don't be a lamer like this half-elf. Cutting yourself is not cool.

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Amber: Mommy, why is Santa Claus so angry and short?
Hubert: It's the steroids and bad tattoos, honey. Hide before he wakes up from his drunken stupor.

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Hubert: Why do I always miss my ranged attacks?
Amber: Because you have no depth perception.
Hubert: Why do I have no depth perception?
Amber: Because your ridiculous coif is covering your eye.
Hubert: I don't have a left eye. The hair is there to cover the gaping eye socket.
Amber: Oh.

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Hubert: Wow, he's like chilling so hard it hurts.
Amber: I wear sunglasses at night...
Hubert: Muscles, shades and whiskers - the coolness trifecta.

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Hubert: Very seasonal. The autumn foliage represented as a hairstyle.
Amber: For winter he changes it to snowflakes.

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Hubert: Uh, oh. Little fella is about to go Grade 3 Super-Saiyan on us!

Amber: I think he's hiding his true power level! Run!
Hubert: Yeah but look, this next guy is going Ultimate Super-Saiyan 4:

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(image by Anskiere & Jaipehg)

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Hubert: Wow, intimidating.
Amber: I know if I was going to fight a dragon I'd want a little orphan lad with a bowl haircut by my side.
Hubert: Please, sir, I'd like some more...xp.

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Amber: Hmm...haven't I seen her somewhere before? Oh yeah, Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

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Hubert: That movie sucked.
Amber: So does this character model.

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Hubert: Speaking of Star Trek, Commander Worf in the house!

Amber: Now, now, SOE says that the Klingons were inspired by the Japanese ogres or something.
Hubert: Um, whatever.

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Amber: Oh wow. Where to begin?
Hubert: It's like Alias, if Jennifer Garner was a short dark male gnome.

Amber: I think I found my new alt.

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Okay, now for my reblogged bonus of the week. If you've ever played a mage in WoW, as I did, you will definitely want to check out
this video about how to ask a mage for crystal water. It's very funny and really well done. I found this link on the always enjoyable mmodig.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Insert Star Wars Pun Here

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Massive changes in SWG:

The official statement.

The official faq.

The Aggro Forums thread where I read this first (thanks Flashman).

The F13
thread and front page update.

Basically, there will be an emphasis on more twitch-based combat.

Okay, I've messed around with SWG very briefly a long time ago. So I am by no means qualified to comment on the state of the game. This is a story that's sure to get some comments from plenty of people who are more informed than me.

But I do have a few questions and comments:

* How much drastic change can you force on a game's players?

* Was the whole Combat Upgrade drama really at all necessary if this was the direction SWG was going?

* Was it fair to sell an expansion that cost $29.99 so soon before breaking this news? As far as I know, it just went live two days ago.


* Is it fair to sell a retail box that advertises one type of gameplay and then completely shift that gameplay? Sure, MMO's change all the time, but to sell a turn-based game and then make it a first person shooter? What if you bought Civ IV and then were forced to download a patch that made it a real time strategy game?

* Will SOE be able to graft on twitch based play to an existing game and make it work?

* According to the FAQ, Jedi is now a starting class. How will that go over and will we see an overabundance of Jedi players?

* How will this decision affect customer's opinions of other current or upcoming SOE games? (i.e. If they can do this in SWG what's to say they won't completely change x game?)

* Will SOE be able to effectively convert existing items and the effort put into existing characters to the new system?

* Is this decision by SOE incredibly courageous? Incredibly foolish? Either way, you have to admit they are not afraid to make changes.

* Would SWG have died a slow death without this change? Was it actually losing money? I remember reading somewhere that the server requirements for SWG are massive compared to other MMO's due to the size of the database needed.

* The market could use a few twitch-based MMO's. However, Planetside does still exist, in case anyone forgot. And it's apparently a really fun game from what I hear.

* Three of the most special things about SWG, the ability to change professions, the incredible crafting system and the diversity of the professions would appear to be gone or highly truncated.

* The SWG official forums are really hard to read due to the color scheme and the fact that massive colored fonts are apparently allowed.

Well, I'll leave the conclusions to those who have more experience with the game. I'm sure some players will leave and others (perhaps myself) will be curious enough to give it a try.

I'm still undecided on what to think about the whole thing. As a non-player it piqued my curiosity and made me think about giving it a chance. But if I try to put myself in the mindset of a veteran player who has already weathered the combat changes and does not care for twitch-based play, well, I would be pretty upset.

Will this be another blow to SOE's image amongst the gaming community? A decision that turns a troubled game into a triumphant success? As often happens, it will probably be something in the middle.

Edit: If you're coming directly to this post from a link you may also want to check out the parody I did recently.