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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Do Not Pass Go...

I recently got the following e-mail, which I will copy/paste verbatim:

Hello, This is Serving Online Words, a company from Spain, Madrid (english Website:
http://www.sowsl.com/en)

We are pleased to announce the pre-launch website of PrisonServer: The Online Prison. An online, persistent and multiplayer RPG game made in Spain that is about to open its localized English PrisonServers. The game is already running since 2003 in Spanish language, receiving updates andpatches since then, while building a groovy Spanish community.

The URL is
http://www.prisonserver.co.uk (where you can find a little bit more about the game).Our main entrance is http://www.prisonserver.com (from there you select your language, and you can see our full, Spanish site in action).

Pleasenote that the Spanish and English server are completely set apart systems, game accounts, etc. We'll allow English only on prisonserver.co.uk.We invite you to watch the game in action on video or screenshots, then apply for a free account and pre-download the game client to be ready to start once we launch the International, English Servers!

Get ready for amazing social fun on a different, Spanish-from game, now available for all players worldwide in English.We'll be releasing further news in the coming days.

If you want tocontact us, please do it emailing support@prisonserver.com Regards!

--PrisonServer: The Online Prison
http://www.PrisonServer.co.uk
English corporate Website:
http://www.sowsl.com/en

I get an insane amount of spam so at first I thought this was some kind of new, bizarre e-mail scam. But I decided to visit the website anyway. And this is apparently an actual online multiplayer game. About prison. In which you play a prisoner.

Be sure to check out the screenshots for true hilarity.

I'm not going sit here and make too much fun of this game because I like their carefree attitude:


"Thank you for all your comments and curiosity. The PrisonServer Team is really enjoying all the speech the game is generating, even the 'it looks so bad' ones. We're used to that, but we also know there are people that will love PrisonServer, just like others will hate it, because is just a different online game community approach. It's not a Prison Simulator, it is supposedly to be fun without hi-tech eye-candy. "

Supposedly.

Ah, who am I kidding...downloading now.

Choice

If you asked me a few weeks ago whether adding more races, classes or other options to an MMO was desirable, I would have quickly said yes. That's not surprising. I'm sure most people would agree.

But I recently came across
some research entitled "When Choice is Demotivating: Can One Desire Too Much of a Good Thing" by Sheena S. Iyengar of Columbia and Mark R. Lepper of Stanford. You can read it yourself but I'll try to summarize quickly:

Study 1

Researchers set up a table at a supermarket offering a free sample of jam. They alternated before a choice of 24 jams and 6 jams. While more people stopped to sample when there were 24 jams, significantly less actually purchased jam (3%) then when there were 6 jams (30%).

Study 2

Students were given an opportunity to complete an assignment for extra-credit. Some students were given a list of 30 assignments to choose from. Others were given a list of 6. Of those given the shorter list, 74% chose to complete the assignment, as opposed to only 60% of those given the longer list. What's more, students given the smaller choice of assignments received higher grades than those given the larger choice of assignments.

Study 3

Participants were given a selection of chocolates which were labeled as to their contents (i.e. Strawberry Cordial). One group was given a choice of 6, another group was given a choice of 30 and a final group was given no choice at all. After the study they were given a choice of being paid for their time in either money or an equivalent amount of chocolates.

Participants in the high selection group did report enjoying the act of choosing a chocolate more than those in the low selection group. However, when it came time to choose money or sweet, delicious chocolate as payment:

Of those given a choice of 30, the chocolates were chosen by 12%.
Of those given no choice, the chocolates were chosen by 10%.
Of those given a choice of 6, the chocolates were chosen by 48%.

Remember, I was simplifying these three studies tremendously (though I think I made the general point) so if you want to critique the methodology used, you better read the whole thing. But I thought it raised some interesting questions.


Are gamers similarly overwhelmed by too many choices? Would they have more fun and subscribe longer if their choices were actually limited in some fashion?

It would be really hard to tell. If you had trials for two games, one with 6 classes and one with 30 classes, the above study would tell me that more people would actually purchase the game with 6 classes. But in real life, there would be so many thousands of differences between two games that it would be impossible to isolate that particular variable as the determining factor.

I wonder if "alt-itis" plays into this choice phenomenon. Do people who have tons of alts tend to subscribe to an MMO for a longer or shorter period than people who play one character only? I don't know, but I've always been curious. If you have data, drop me a line.


I'm honestly pretty dubious of my own point in this post but I'm throwing it out there anyway in the hopes that someone will argue against it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Fun With Subtitles

I ran across this great website called BombayTV that allows you to subtitle short movie clips. I decided to have some fun with it and these are the results:

Movie 1

Movie 2

Movie 3

Movie 4

Movie 5

Movie 6

Movie 7

Movie 8

Movie 9

If you're making your own, be aware that they seem to shuffle the available clips every day. There is also a more complex version here, but I found the simple one more fun to use.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Tale of Two Demos

I played two demos recently that I thought were worth mentioning. Prey is a first person shooter with some gimmicks (portals, gravity shifts, a novel death mechanic). Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is a first person action game with a fantasy setting that uses the Source engine.

You can download the Prey demo directly from the official site, which is convenient. And for the relatively small 448 MB you get a really lengthy play experience and a great sense of the story and gameplay. I doubt anyone would play the demo more than once or twice though.

The demo for
Dark Messiah of Might and Magic is available on FileFront here. It's an insane 1.38 GB for a very short demo. It's not only short, it cuts you off before the "payoff" of one level. But it is quite replayable.

That's basically all you have to read in this post. I think both demos are worth checking out. Dark Messiah is obviously more of a download committment so you might want to look into that one a bit more. The rest of this post contains ramblings and some major spoilers so feel free to skip it.

Prey

Positives

The great thing about Prey is that the demo tells a compelling story. What's more, it is capable of creating emotion in the player. Seriously, don't read the following spoilers until you play it.

Amazing moment: You're on the alien ship and humans are being brutally tortured (and I mean brutally). You come to a console and notice that it's clickable. So you click it. When you do a torture machine comes to life and the person who was hanging there is brutally murdered. The main character says something like "Oh my god, what have I done."

I find this hard to believe myself but I caught myself quitting and restoring to an earlier save point. How crazy is that? I'm a somewhat rational person...yet I instinctively restored based on an occurrence that had nothing to do with gameplay. That's bringing emotion into games. It's also quite funny in a twisted way. Games often encourage us to open every box and press every button. But if you do that in real life, you're going to get yourself in serious trouble.

A second emotional point in the demo was its ending. You discover that the bar you were at in the beginning of the game has been taken whole by the alien ship, complete with working jukebox. But everything is twisted, literally. The entire bar is sideways, covered with alien tendrils and the drunken rednecks have been replaced with gun-toting aliens. By bringing that familiar spot into unfamiliar surroundings and bringing the story full circle, the demo provokes an emotional response. It's a perfect ending to the neat short story of the demo.


Negatives

Prey's gimmicks (portals and gravity changes) are stale by the time the demo is over. And
Abalieno's criticism of the combat happens to be spot on.

There is also a really weak story point for a demo which tells such a good story. The main character does not like living on the Native American reservation, does not appreciate his heritage and does not believe in any mystical Native American Magic. This is made wonderfully clear through the beginning of the game. It really defines his character and his relationship with his girlfriend. But once in the spirit world, he goes from total non-believer to complete Master of Native American Magic simply by being yelled at and told to press "E" to spirit walk. It's an overly quick and awkwardly scripted shift in character that felt completely out of place. But that may be partially a testament to how enjoyable the rest of the story was.


Dark Messiah

Positives

The key to Dark Messiah is that combat is fun. How shall I kill an Orc (or whatever the enemies are called)? Let me count the ways:

Attack him with a sword
Use a power attack with the sword
Build up adrenaline and do a crazy fatal attack
Use some other weapon
Attack him with magic fireballs
Freeze him with magic and then attack him
Shoot him with an arrow
Light an arrow on fire and then shoot him with it
Sneak up behind him and stab him with daggers
Kick him off a ledge
Kick him into spikes
Knock out a plank which brings down a ton of barrels and crushes him
Kick him into said plank and bring down the barrels
Pick up a barrel and throw it into him knocking him off a cliff
Pick up a flaming box and throw it at him catching him on fire

I'm sure I'm missing a ton and that's just the demo. It's the physics that really make the combat so enjoyable. Think of the fun with physics from Half-Life 2 and apply them to a fantasy universe. The melee combat is not as solid as Mount and Blade but it is still quite good. I don't know how good the whole skill-tree is but I was able to focus on melee, magic or stealth by making different choices. And that did change my gameplay style.


Negatives

The story was completely generic and the voice acting and dialogue was lame. The game seemed somewhat unpolished. Kicking enemies is way overpowered, though it is incredibly fun. Also, I'm down on the whole Might and Magic universe after the tragedy that was HoMM V. But that's hardly this game's fault.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Metal Wolf Chaos

I've never played or heard of this X-Box game before but wow:



Okay, it starts off with the usual evil rebels taking control of the country. Yawn. But when the President of the United States jumps out of the White House in a giant battlemech, shouting "Let's Party!" things really heat up.

Having the Vice President as the villain (also piloting a giant robot) is just genius. Especially when he has lines like, "Nothing like sipping some delicious Darjeeling tea...and watching you getting your clock cleaned."

The President has some good lines too, like "Nothing is pointless and the reason is because I'm the President of the great United States of America! Jodi, I'm gonna step on into outer space."

Um, okay.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sandbox of Ryzom?

Wargut recently sent me a link to this interesting story on BBC News. It appears that Nevrax, the French creators of MMO Saga of Ryzom will be allowing the players to create quests and scenarios which will become part of the game. More info is available here.

" 1) The Adventures
Become Game Master for a thousands players! The « Adventures » are scenarios that you create on temporary maps that other players can join with a simple click of the mouse.

2) The Outlands
But the Ryzom Ring offers many more advantages than a simple editing tool. Beyond the “Adventures”, players will be able to create from scratch “Outlands”, new permanent regions of Atys..

3) Become Pioneer…
Behind this term is hidden a very particular status that only meriting players will obtain from Nevrax. At the beginning, all of a player’s creations will be temporary. But, by achieving “Pioneers” status, they can offer their creations (“Adventures” and “Outlands”) to the whole Ryzom community with any restriction.

4) Share
Editing as well as running a scenario can be realized in collaboration with other players very easily. Once the scenario is finished, you’ll be able to share it via the Ring website or to keep it for yourself or to destroy it. You’re the one who decides!
"


Sounds interesting. Player created content in MMO's has been discussed on this blog before (by Karnatos). I'll try to keep an eye on how this works out for Ryzom.

SOE Buys A Booster Pack





If there's anything that playing Civilization taught me it's that corruption and waste spreads quickly in cities that are farther away from your capital. And now SOE has offices in San Diego, Seattle, Denver, Austin and Taiwan. That's a lot to keep tabs on.

But, hey, sometimes acquisitions make sense. SOE's latest, a purchase of Denver based Worlds Apart Productions doesn't seem that bad. The company has developed a platform for putting trading card games online.
Examples of their current digital trading card games are Star Trek, Lord of the Rings and Auto Assault. Wait, there's a trading card game based on the MMO Auto Assault? That's kind of bizarre.

Anyway, SOE apparently hopes to leverage the trading card platform into current and future titles. Bandit provided
this link to a Kotaku article where SOE's Chris Kramer states:

"There may be a point in time in the future where not only is there an Everquest 2 card game, but people playing in the (computer game version) of Everquest 2 could go into a tavern, sit-down and play the cardgame inside the computer game."

So there you have it. Not everyone thinks adding mini-games like this to MMO's is a good idea. But I do, as I expounded upon in unnecessary length in
this post.

Even if SOE doesn't find synergy, perhaps they can just find profit. In
this article on the aquisition from the Denver Post, the President of Worlds Apart states that:

"While most online games earn $10 to $20 a month in player subscription fees...a successful trading-card game can average more than $70 per month."

I think he's talking about hardcore non-digital Magic the Gathering players there, but still. Here's a pricing example from the Auto Assault digital card game:

Starter Decks $6.75 / ($6.09 for Shelter members)
Booster Packs $2.25 / ($2.03 for Shelter members)
Booster Box (26 packs) $52.00 / ($46.80 for Shelter members)

It
looks like Worlds Apart's first product as SOE Denver will be a digital version of Pirates by Wizkids. I've heard of Wizkids because they make those really fun Heroclix figures. But I never heard of Pirates so I checked it out here. Note that you need to have sound on to understand the animations in the How To Play section. It actually looks like an awesome game to play with friends but I'm not sure how it will translate as a digital game.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

PopCap Part II

I wrote a few days ago about PopCap shutting down their online multiplayer games, including Psychobabble. Anyway, they e-mailed me with more info, so I figured I should post it:

· We are limited on the available resources to properly monitor and moderate the Multiplayer games and communities for the safety and enjoyment of all members.

· While many of you have said you’d happily pay for the games, we have no mechanism for that in the existing systems.

· As we’ve upgraded our web servers to accommodate millions of users each month, we’re now faced with a difficult choice of either investing heavily in engineering to upgrade the Multiplayer games or taking them down. Unfortunately, the economics for the small (but devoted!) user base simply don’t support significant upgrades to these games.

· PopCap Games is investing in other multi-player and community products, but we don’t have a timeline for the public release of these features.

Thanks so much for your support and encouragement for these and all our games. We hope you’ll continue to enjoy all our other fun, free games. And we’re creating new titles all the time, so please keep checking in at PopCap.com.

Thanks, PopCap Games Staff

Pretty much what I guessed, but there you have it. And now I have closure.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Cool/Uncool





I'm still catching up on the EQII news and I'll tell you what I think is cool or uncool as I do. Let's start with the easy stuff.

Cool

The
second official EQII podcast was not just better than the first, it was markedly better. I criticized the initial podcast for being overly scripted and believe me it was. And I think the people at SOE realized it themselves.

So they did the right thing and changed it. The new, more casual format is clearly more entertaining and can still impart the necessary information. It also showed that the SOE crew are real people and a fairly funny lot. An official podcast like this is not a necessity, but it is a nice bonus.

Uncool

I don't know what
this is all about but I don't like it.

Cool

This "leaked alpha" video of EoF looks pretty good (although it takes a day and a half to load).

Uncool

No evil Fae? When did that happen? Well, I've just have to roleplay my Fae as good but extremely annoying.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Farewell Psychobabble


(Note: Please see my update to this post on AcroBabble; more updates to come soon over at Always Go Right!)

One of my favorite multiplayer online games is soon to vanish forever. And no, it's not another MMORPG that's getting cancelled.

It's Pyschobabble from
PopCap Games. If you haven't heard of PopCap, perhaps the word Bejeweled will jog your memory. Bejeweled is an insanely popular little single player game that's probably cost billions in lost worker productivity.

Psychobabble is not nearly as well known a game as Bejeweled. But it's crazy fun. You join a room of 8-12 people. When a round begins, you are presented with a bunch of different words, loosely connected in meaning to the theme of the round. It looks kind of like those magnetic poetry fridge magnets that were popular for a while. You pick words and attempt to make an entertaining sentence from them. The time you have to do this is pretty short.

When the timer runs down, the voting phase begins. You vote on the sentence you find the most humorous (you can't vote for your own). You gain one point for each person who votes for your sentence and three bonus points if your sentence gets the most points. Now, you might think a strategy would be to intentionally vote for bad sentences, but PopCap solved that problem by giving you a point if you voted for the most popular sentence. That motivates you to vote for the sentence you actually think is the best. You also don't know which player's sentence you are voting for because the names are hidden until the voting is complete.

My description of the game is kind of dry, but in reality it's a frenzied rush of desperate thinking and hilarity. There are very few online games I know of in which creativity and humor translate directly to victory. And Psychobabble just works perfectly as a game, so I thought it was pretty special.

There are some negatives. It's horrible to play when the other players are horrible. And the accompanying chat room can be truly dreadful. Some of the usernames in there are reminiscent of AOL circa 1995 and so is the dialogue. I tend to ignore it completely.

But I always enjoyed playing a few rounds every week or two, so I was saddened to hear it was soon to vanish. PopCap recently posted the following statement:

"
Dear Customers:

We have decided to remove our Multiplayer Games from PopCap.com.
After August 10, 2006, these games will no longer be accessible. But until
then, feel free to play to your heart’s content!

We’re really sorry for the inconvenience … and disappointment. But
remember, we have tons of other
fun, free games to choose from —
so keep checking in at PopCap.com.

Thanks,
--The PopCap Staff
"

I sent them an e-mail to ask why they're removing the multiplayer games but I haven't received a response yet. I'm guessing that maybe the ongoing costs were too much and the revenue was limited. I did get some spam tells (or whispers as they're called) in the chat room while playing recently, so maybe the headache of dealing with that had something to do with it.

I don't blame PopCap for killing the relatively small online segment of their operations, but I will miss Psychobabble. I've been looking for a replacement and the closest I could come are versions of Acrophobia (some links from
this wikipedia page). I suppose it will have to do, but until August 10th, I'll be bidding farewell to Psychobabble.

I'll have some EQII posts when I catch up on the news.