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Archive for February, 2012

“GW2 Information Overload” or “An MMO After My Own Heart”

February 23, 2012 1 comment

The NDA for Guild Wars 2 was lifted this week, and the information poured forth, an unending tide of opinions, impressions, videos and screenshots. Perhaps not coincidentally, The Secret World also revealed its launch date, June 19th, 2012. Smooth Mr. Tornquist, real smooth!

Since I am not in the closed beta, my impressions of what it plays like is based entirely on the plethora of online previews that popped up between the beginning of this week and now.

Kotaku’s Mike Fahey listed 10 things that he learned from the Guild Wars 2 beta. It is an interesting read, full of promise and praise, so take it with a grain of salt. Fahey’s post has no new screenshots, but there are a few interesting videos, one of which highlights the absolutely massive scale of the game’s cities. It also appears Fahey may be a little suicidal with his digital avatars. Massively’s Elizabeth Cardy and Shawn Schuster put up their own impressions of the press beta event from over the weekend. Cardy focused on marco-level concepts, such as leveling, grouping, combat and healing, whereas Schuster spent more time with the character creator, questing, classes, skills, items, look and feel of the game.

Several bloggers also had their impressions of the game:

  • My dwarf brother Werit naturally only focused on the  PvP aspect, and how he feels it compares to WAR.
  • Spinks is prudent, and feels that we shouldn’t expect something drastically different, just the next step in the MMO evolution.
  • Syncaine feels that the game will fuel the biggest e-peen measurement races in MMO history, and that may not be the worst thing!
  • Keen was kind enough to rummage through the mountain of videos from the event, and come up with the most informative, entertaining and useful ones.
  • Ravious might need a towel!
  • Syp is glad that his feelings about the game are being reinforced though all the glowing praise from over the weekend, but he is focusing on two aspects that stand out for him: character creation, and the lack of reliance on the “holy trinity”.

Massively also put up this new piece today, detailing how crafting works in Guild Wars 2. Being able to gather everything at any time from the get go (no more collecting copper nodes in noobland for three hours before moving higher up the ladder), a lack of node competition, and salvaging all seem like great ideas on paper, and drastic improvements on the “Everything. Takes. Longer. ™.” formula every MMO is guilty of. I am excited, not as much as I am excited for The Secret World, mind you. But I am very excited! I will most certainly be trying this out when it releases.

“Will Torchlight 2 be Out Before Diablo III?” or “Just Let Me Hack-n-Slash Something!”

February 20, 2012 1 comment

There are some new screenshots for Torchlight 2 out. They are at the bottom of this post if that is all you came here for. Click after the jump.

Torchlight was a sleeper hit, and rightly so. It came out of a small studio, it wasn’t a “AAA” title, and no one expected it to be so damn addictive. But at the end of the day, Torchlight was a great hack-n-slash game that presumed very little, and delivered tremendously. When Torchlight 2 was announced, people joked that Torchlight 2 could be out before Diablo III. Given the silence from the Blizzard camp about their dungeon crawler’s release date, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.

Lately though I am beginning to feel a little trepidation regarding Diablo III. The game is designed to be a grind-fest, where you run dungeons over and over again for better loot, higher levels, and more gold. With the addition of the RMT Auction House, the game actually encourages this gameplay, and from a designer’s perspective, why shouldn’t it? It implies players will spend more time in the game. But consider the fact that Blizzard most popular game of all time is an MMO, and I am beginning to wonder how much of the MMO grind may have permeated into the development mantra for Diablo III.

Look, I understand that the two games have separate development teams and that they are different genres and different universes, but at the end of the day there is an omnipotent authority over at Blue that directs all endeavors of the studio at the macro-level. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to assume that when faced with the question: “How do we keep players coming back to the game?”, someone with over a decade of experience with WoW would (in)advertently suggest an MMO grind concept, which would then would bleed into Diablo III. Because as much as I love MMOs, I hate the quintessential concept that exists in all of them: Everything. Takes. Longer. ™.

I know Diablo is a grind-y game by nature, but I hope elements in the game don’t get as bad as having to run Arathi Basin over three thousand times to get from neutral to exalted. Just sayin’.

“The Secret World ARG” or “33, Elder Futhark, And 1001 Interpretations”

February 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Here is something interesting that is making the rounds today. A forum user accidentally stumbled across this, and put up a thread here. Try it yourself:

  1. Go to Funcom.com
  2. Click on any part of the landing page (once fully loaded) that isn’t a link
  3. Type in 33

The screen goes blue, then this image appears. It has already generated about 8 pages of discussion on the thread. It could be an homage to Funcom IPs. It could be part of a lost ARG that was never fully realized. It could be anything. I have this strange feeling that this ARG will reveal the launch date for The Secret World.

I suppose time will tell…

Categories: The Secret World

“Se7en Reasons to Look Forward to The Secret World” or “The Stuff of Nightmares”

February 14, 2012 1 comment

Have I mentioned that I am eagerly anticipating the release of The Secret World? I think I have. On more than a few occasions I might add.

The game first caught my eye some four years ago, and it has been in development for the better part of a century decade. Much like any other upcoming MMO, the game promises to change the genre, but unlike most of the competition (with the possible exception of Guild Wars 2), The Secret World has some features and mechanics that really does set it apart.

.:: THE ATMOSPHERE ::.

"Will you be my valentine?"

There are a multitude of reason why this game has me giddy as a schoolgirl (are all schoolgirls generally giddy?), but allow me to demonstrate it with a simple example. I am not faint of the heart. I laugh through horror flicks, yawn through scary video games, and thoroughly enjoy scaring the hell out of my friends at winter bonfires with ghost stories. And herein lies my point. See the image above? For some reason, it creeps me out. And this is just one image. The Secret World is chock-full of visuals like these, and then some. This particular screengrab is from an area in the game called Blue Mountain, which is extensively detailed here.

The second CGI trailer is a great example for the atmosphere that is to be expected in The Secret World. An abandoned playground. A sinister foe that can shapeshift. A sole hero. It’s gritty, its dark and it looks delicious!

.:: THE SETTING ::.

The Secret World is set in the real world, not some high-fantasy location like Azeroth, or deep within the infinite reaches of space like New Eden. It is earth, as we know it, circa now. The game’s three factions are based in the very real cities of New York, London and Seoul. Now, granted, the game will make use of fictional towns and imaginative mythic locations where players can face off against the forces of evil, but the world is our own, the heroes ordinary human beings, the conflict very human.

Kingsmouth (Kingsport + Insmouth) is a fictional location within The Secret World. A trailer for the zone was released quite some time back, and it paints a chilling image of a picturesque, idyllic town where nothing is as it seems, and something terrifying lurks just below the surface.

.:: MENAGE-TROIS ::.

The traditional MMO features two opposing sides. Be it Alliance and Horde, Light and Dark Side, the choices, exceptions excluded, are fairly binary in nature. The Secret World, however, has three separate and distinct factions, all sworn to defend the world against the coming darkness, but at odds with each other in their separate pursuits of power.

There are the Dragons:

A whisper of a rumour of a shadow, this Asian group is the most secretive of societies. With no fixed territory or structure, the Dragon have dissolved and reformed throughout history. They believe that a closed, controlled society is a sick society. Only through collapse and rebuilding, the natural chaos of life, can the world be in harmony. Recently, they have taken root in a nameless district of Seoul, Korea.

The Templars:

Proudly tracing their royal lineage back to Babylon, the Templars are the lions of the secret world. When they roar, everyone listens. Old Europe is theirs, and the Templars’ marble hall dominates the old London borough of Ealdwic – historic capital of the secret world. It’s not just a show of strength. Nothing is just for show with the Templars.

And the Illuminati:

The Illuminati may have ancient roots, but they remain forever young and hungry. In every growing empire they have played for it all. And they play for keeps. Stealing the Americas from under the Templars’ noses, they grew with the United States to become a shadow superpower. Their corporate headquarters, the Labyrinth, is in an undisclosed location beneath Brooklyn, New York.

.:: MONSTER MADNESS ::.

To say that The Secret World is full of terrifying and unique enemies would be kind of like saying: “The Atlantic Ocean is damp.” The Secret World is designed around the idea of the stuff of nightmares, legend, and myth brought to life and running amok.

There be monsters, and they be aplenty.

Here are few examples, pilfered directly from The Secret World website.

.:: THE FOURTH PILLAR ::.

The game is the brainchild of one Ragnar Tørnquist, who has been lauded for his story-driven approach to video games such as the award-winning The Longest Journey. Featuring a complex, overarching story that weaves together the bizarre events and monster infestations around the globe, The Secret World explores the terrifying mysteries from history, myth and legend (urban or otherwise). The game won’t be a new set of dungeons, and a new global threat emerging with the latest content patch, it will be a seamless experience, rich in context, broad in scope and terrifying in detail.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying other MMOs don’t try to be story-driven. The latest entry into the foray, Star Wars: The Old Republic has established Guinness-documented world records for script with hundreds of hours of dialogue recorded. A review actually stated that from a single-player point of view, SW:TOR was 8 complex, interwoven storylines in one epic game. All I am saying is that my initial fear was that The Secret World would follow the formulaic pattern of introducing a new zone, with new threats, and new enemies every few months without regard to the larger story. It seems Mr. Tørnquist has already circumvented that by creating a story that ties everything in the world together.

.:: THE END TO CLASS WARFARE ::.

This is the big one. MMOs, by design, feature a personal progression system. Your character gains experience from questing, defeating enemies and completing tasks. This experience accumulates to the point where you graduate from your current level to the next, gaining additional abilities, specializations, talents, etc. The Secret World does away with this system altogether. There are no levels, there are no classes. You can choose your abilities as you see fit, without ever feeling the need to re-roll. There are over 500 skills to choose from, and you can slot them into your character abilities as you see fit.

But wait a second, with 500 abilities to choose from, how will you ever make an informed decision? Just yesterday, Funcom revealed the skill-deck templates. These are recommended skill-decks that you can mimic to create a particular type of archetype. To quote Massively:

The Witch Hunter focuses on big damage spikes and represents the Templars, the Warlord is your basic swordfighter from the Dragon faction, and the Thaumaturgist is the Illuminati’s answer to the gunmage archetype.

This not only gives you complete freedom over your character, but also help new players to the game (or genre) to comfortably get into a pre-determined, tried-and-tested set of abilities as they learn the ropes enough to make their own decisions. Additional details can be found here.

.:: LOCK AND LOAD … AND CAST FIREBALLS ::.

The no levels and no class system lends itself to the game’s varied arsenal. You can use melee weapons such as swords or bats, or firearms both small and large, or even use destructive magic to your advantage. The lack of class also implies that you never have to stick to one type of weapon or damage build. You can mix and match as you see fit, leveraging the wide range of havoc-inducing abilities, weapons and skills to your heart’s content and your enemy’s demise.

Additionally, your costume and look does not have to reflect your progressions through the latest content. You can wear what you want, acquiring apparel from missions, factions or shops in the main cities as you see fit. There are literally hundreds of options for you to discover.

Well there we have it folks, those are my top 7 reasons for looking forward to The Secret World. If you have any additional reasons, please feel free to share them in the comments below. Please also let me know if there are any factual errors.

Categories: Preview, The Secret World

“New Class3 Details Emerge” or “A Post-Apocalyptic World to Warm my Heart”

February 13, 2012 1 comment

I have mentioned once or twice that I love the post-apocalyptic genre. Fallout, Left 4 Dead, Metro 2033, Gears of War, Rage, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. are all examples of games that have a deep and lasting impact on me, simply because they are set in a desperate world with humanity’s survival is very much at stake. But even within this genre, games like Fallout, Gears of War and Metro 2033 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. don’t carry the same weight because you are in control of a trained soldier, someone with the means and weaponry to make short work of anything in his or her path.

The sub-genre I particularly enjoy is more along the lines of the Left 4 Dead series, because you can relate to it better. The characters weren’t space marines on steroids, or genetically cultured to be superior, or armed to the teeth with the latest fancy weaponry and equipment. They were ordinary people, armed with ordinary weapons, and an extraordinary willpower to survive the madness that had consumed their world. Recently I logged into both Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 servers, and I was sorely disappointed to see that a very limited number of people (1,647 at peak hours) were playing the game, and finding a new game was an exercise in futility.

For sometime now, I have been following the paper-thin trail of information crumbs that keeps coming out of UndeadLabs and their upcoming zombie world. Dubbed Class3 and Class4, the two are respectively a single-player game and an MMO based in a world that has been overrun by zombies. The game (series?) has a very particular Left 4 Dead vibe to it, with a few additional twists.

First, the game focuses on four key elements in the survival game: food, water, shelter and ammo. You will need to ransack stores, houses and other locations for supplies. Patching yourself with a medical kit will not be all you need to survive. You will need nourishment. Walking around in the open-world (and yes it is an open world) all the time is ill-advised and you should always have some form of a shelter. Said shelter can be fairly flimsy or very well-defended, and you can take steps to further improve its standing, such as board up windows etc. Ammo will also be rare, and you will need plenty of it to survive the copious amounts of zombies that the game will relentlessly throw at you.

Second, the action is supposed to be very fluid and dynamic. You can jump over fences, skid, dodge, slide, jump onto cars, drive the same car to mow down some zombies. The gameplay is highly action oriented, so don’t expect to comp in a corner, cover your 90-degree arc and fire away until kingdom come. It just won’t work.

Last, and perhaps most importantly, both Class3 and Class4 feature a “dynamic” world. I say this with a word of caution and advise you to take this with a grain of salt, because this claim has been made countless times, but never fully realized. A dynamic world in which your actions will affect how the world responds to you. New challenges may emerge, or emerging threats may be nipped in the bud, depending on your actions. We’ll see about that.

Just today, I also came across a new set of Q&A for the game. And it has some interesting pieces of information:

  • There are no loading screens anywhere in the open world, all indoor environments can be entered and seamlessly so.
  • There is a barricading-your-shelter component that can help increase your chances for surviving.
  • There is no split-screen in Class3.
  • They are working on some crazy-hard achievements. I think.
  • Vehicles are very precious assets, maintaining them and using them to your advantage can be critical (or critically fatal).
  • They are using CryEngine3, oooooh, pretty.
  • There are no “mutated” zombies. They used to be people, and in their infected form, they are still recognizably so, without gaining supernatural abilities.
  • It will be out when it’s done. Bitch.

I am excited. The game is being developed for consoles and with DUST 514 also in the works, it appears the next step in the MMO evolution will be on consoles.

Categories: Class3, Class4, Preview, Sandbox

“200 Hours of Amalur” or “Amalurning to Not Trust These Numbers”

February 6, 2012 4 comments

Context

There are a few things I want to talk about today. But in order to do that, I need to establish some context. Damn context. Gets me every time!

First and foremost, 38 Studios’ lead designer, Ian Frazier conducted an internal test. He had testers play Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and complete the game in a “speed run”. Since speed run sounds (intentionally) ambiguous, this is how it is defined:

“That means easy difficulty, skip all cut scenes and dialogue, sprint everywhere that’s sprintable, fast travel everywhere you can, don’t do any combat you don’t need to do… that all took around 200 hours, and that was a speed run.”

That is actually an astronomical number. In a day and age where single-player versions in video games take 3-4 hours to complete (hello modern Warfare 3!), a 200 hour video-game is an unprecedented, shocking and welcome event. Of course it is also said that the main storyline should take only 30-40 hours (which is between 15-20% of the 200 hours) to complete. So the 200 hours of gameplay is largely dependent on how much of an overachieving completionist you really are.

The second piece of contextual information you need is that since August 2011, I have invested about 14 days of playtime into my main character, a Night Elf Hunter in World of Warcraft. 14 days is approaching 350 hours of played time in WoW. This implies I spend around two hours daily playing WoW.

Beyond the Context

MMOs, by design, require you to invest a significant amount of time. The meta-game, at every level, is designed around grinding. If you want the best PvP equipment, you must grind points in PvP. These points are further gated by a weekly cap, so you cannot play for a hundred hours in a week and get the best gear in a week. Professions, PvE content, world events, daily quests, transmogrification, and just about every other in-game mechanic is designed around perpetual grind. The reason for this is simple and possibly forgivable. No developer in the world with a finite team and finite resources can create content fast enough to be consumed by the player base. Months of coding, tweaking and planning can be completed in a 20-minute dungeon run. I don’t like the fact that i have to grind everything in an MMO, but as a lifelong fan of the genre, I understand the rationale.

Lately though, it seems that this design decisions seems to be penetrating single-player games, particularly RPGs.

Take Skyrim for example. Prior to the launch, there was a statement by one of the developers that the quest system in the game would technically spit out an infinite number of quests for the player to take on. One example of such behavior was the Thieves Guild, which could send you on a wide variety of jobs across the land. The jobs were randomly created and you could pick from one of several mission types. A second example were jobs made available through barkeeps and innkeepers in towns and cities. These randomly generated quests could send you to go kill <insert antagonist> at <insert location>. Technically, you could have an infinite number of quests in your log. However, I personally found this to be incredibly lame, as it seems to add unnecessary, artificial padding to an otherwise great game.

I enjoy a complex RPG with a deep, compelling storyline and well thought-out lore. Dragon Age took me over 106 hours to complete, and I veered into every nook, cranny and cramped dungeon corridor I could get into. I was elated to find that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning’s “speed run” will take you over 200 hours. But after realizing that only 15% or so of that is the main storyline, I can’t help but wonder how much of this game is fluff activity that yields limited to none player satisfaction.

My point is very simple, MMOs should certainly try not to artificially inflate content, but I don’t think that is likely to change any time soon. Single-player games, however, don’t need to pad content with unnecessary grind mechanisms, random quest dispensers, and fluff, unpolished content simply to get more player hour mileage out of the title. 10 times out of 10, I would prefer a tight campaign with side-quests that have meaningful premise, meaningful consequences and meaningful rewards, than “the ability to complete an infinite number of quests”. I am hoping the the later is not the case with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning when I open the box and install the game tonight. But I guess I will let you know in 200 hours of playtime!

“Baron Geddon Bomb” or “The Great Plague of Zul’Gurub”

February 2, 2012 Leave a comment

I was just having a discussion about how some of the greater developers in the world cannot counter a massive player-base always looking for new and creative ways to enjoy the game. Even at the expense of others. Two examples were particularly significant in this regard, and since my peer was a player since the vanilla days, he too had stories of the following two horrors.

Baron Geddon Bomb

Baron Geddon was the fifth boss in Molten Core, sixth if you were feeling particularly adventurous, and decided to pull Shazzrah before Geddon. Geddon had a particularly disruptive ability called “Living Bomb“, which would attach a bomb to a random player and explode him for massive damage (by vanilla standards) to him and nearby allies. This was the number one cause of wipes on Baron Geddon, aside from the constant AoE that required your tanks to be in FR gear. The problem was that this ability could also target pets, particularly warlock pets. It takes eight seconds between the ability being applied to a target and the target exploding. A warlock could dismiss his or her pet in two seconds.

Do I really need to explain this any further? I do. Alright, watch the video below:

 

As you can see, this was a source for immense enjoyment for certain nefarious individuals that particularly revel in the plight and misery of others. Do you have any stories of the Baron Geddon Bombs?

The Great Plague of Zul’Gurub

Regardless of when you started playing World of Warcraft, this is one story that would be hard to miss. Hell, even the BBC did a story on it. The newly launched Zul’Gurub instance was 20-man zone that pit you against the Blood-God Hakkar and his various minions and disciples. The fight with Hakkar was, by today’s post-dance-dance-central WoW, a fairly straight-forward affair. During the fight Hakkar applied a debuff called “Corrupted Blood” that had a 100% transmission rate to nearby allies and did periodic damage. The debuff would wear off, but since it transferred to nearby allies with each tick, two players standing in close proximity could juggle the plague indefinitely. Now imagine, instead of two players, there were a hundred players. In a major capital city.

Do I need to show you a video for this one as well? Fine!

 

Needless to say the plague was debilitating, with the casualties in the several thousands on the servers where the plague took root. Blizzard had to shut down some servers to get rid of the epidemic. In fact, in 2007, Ran D Balicer, an epidemiologist physician at the Ben-Gurion University in Israel, published an article in the journal Epidemiology describing the similarities between this outbreak and the recent SARS and avian influenza outbreaks.

Can anyone think of other example from WoW or other MMOs? Those are the examples that immediately came to mind.

Categories: World of Warcraft
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