Here are a few statements that caught my attention for one reason or another this week:
- “Video games are hard.” – Emily Anthes, quoting Eric Klopfer, director of MIT’s Education Arcade, Boston Globe
- “”Wow’, thought I, “this is going to be some serious character creation.’ I’ve never been so disappointed to see a bunch of sliders, stats and text dialogues, in all my life.” – Melmoth on the ESRB rating prior to the Dragon Age: Origins Character Creator, warning of violence, nudity and bloodshed, Killed in a Smiling Accident
- “If too much emphasis is placed on our happiness in game then a really important part of the game is devalued: The part of the game that is designed for when you’re not happy — to make you unhappy — or be the consequence.” – Keen, Keen and Graev’s Gaming Blog
- “I came to this revelation not too long ago, myself, so I’ll give you a hint: Player versus Player.” – Amatera, on the tiered badge system in World of Warcraft, Project Lore
- “But how do you benchmarks guilds that have done the encounter in different scales?” – Larísa, on why scaling encounters may be a bad idea, The Pink Pigtail Inn
- “To me, Planetside Next means we get a chance to take the essence of everything that was fun in Planetside and make it a lot better.” – Smed, on Planetside’s sequelosity, Smed’s Blog
- “Let’s find ways to make server choice work better for the new player.” – Evizaer, on how server selection shouldn’t be an arbitrary process, That’s a Terrible Idea
Is it just me or does the new trailer for Lord of the Rings: Siege of Mirkwood leave you severely underwhelmed?
Speculations for a possible release date for World of Warcraft’s latest expansion, Cataclysm, are already making the rounds within the blogosphere. It was about as inevitable as Mel Gibson’s fall from grace, or the steady stream of ‘leaked’ celebrity sex tapes, I suppose. As MMO players, with tiny morsels of carefully manipulated information thrown our way every once in a blue moon, rumors, speculations, and in this case, estimations are what keep us at bay till the vicious cycle starts all over again.
Let’s take a look at what some of the people in the community have to say.
Elnia over at Pink Pigtail Inn believes the game will be released on February 1, 2009. She gives five reasons:
- The expansion was announced at Blizzcon. It doesn’t make sense for them to wait for another Blizzcon to announce the release date.
- The last two expansions were released in the winter season.
- Blizzard said it would make yearly expansions. Considering that they have been working on Cataclysm since before Wrath was released, a summer 2010 release date would be very unlikely.
- Icecrown will be released likely no later than December 1, 2009. Anything past February 1, 2010 would create a massive content gap.
- Anything past the February 1, 2010 release date would be a poor marketing decision as you would not be able to tap into the deep pockets of the holiday shoppers.
The aptly named blog has an entry that argues for a 6 month delay between patch 3.3 and the third expansion. He states that Blizzard has sped up its development cycle and wouldn’t need a full 24 months to put out a new expansion.
Finally, Gordon over at We Fly Spitfires says the release date will be 11th November, 2010. His reasoning? The simplest of all: a hunch.
My guess: July 20, 2010
Let’s look at some empirical and chronological evidence.
- The last two expansions’ release dates were announced on September 11, 2006 (BC, released January 16, 2006), and September 15, 2008 (WotLK, released November 13, 2008), and not during Blizzcon. This means Blizzard will likely not announce it by next Blizzcon, the announcement will be much sooner.
- Going off of what Tobold said, for Blizzard, if providing a polished product means taking the extra time to ensure everything is just right, they will delay the release. Burning Crusade was released 26 months after vanilla WoW. Wrath of the Lich King was release 22 months after the Burning Crusade. Elnia’s estimation, Feb 1, 2010 is merely 15 months after the previous expansions. Tobold puts it at early summer, say, May 1, 2009, which makes it 18 months. Gordon’s guess is a full 24 months. Given that the second expansion was released 4 months sooner than the first one, it stands to reason that the third expansion will take less than 22 months. 15 months, however, seems highly unlikely to me. So I am with Tobold on this one.
- Let’s look at the patches right before the last two expansions. Patch 1.11: Shadow of the Necropolis was released on June 11, 2006, well over 7 months before the expansion. Patch 2.4: Fury of the Sunwell was released on March 25, 2008, again almost 8 months before the second expansion. This implies there would be approximately 7+ months between the last major patch, Icecrown, and Cataclysm. So Tobold is again right on the money. Elnia feels anything more than 3 months is too long a content gap. It is for maybe the top 5% guilds that play WoW, but not for everyone. There should be at least 6-7 months to allow everyone to see the penultimate content in Wrath of the Lich King.
- The marketing Masters graduate in me agrees with Elnia in that anything past February 1, 2009 would be a poor business decision. But then again consider the fact that WoW has nearly 12 million active subscriptions. Most of the player base is excited about Cataclysm. I have a feeling that no matter what the release date, the store copies would vanish faster than Thai whores on new years.
- How long before Icecrown? I have built a time line of patches that introduced new instances. The average release time between major content patches is 4.4 months. Following the law of averages, we should see Icecrown sometime around December 20, 2009. The date doesn’t make sense, as a December release will see limited playtimes due to the holiday season. A more realistic release date would be January 5, 2009. That being said, clock on the seven month cycle from the last major content patch to the expansion date would kick off on December 20, 2009.
- Vanilla release
- Mauradon – 1.5 months
- Dire Maul – 2.7 months
- Blackwing Lair – 4.3 months
- Zul’Gurub – 2 months
- Ahn’Qiraj – 3.5 months
- Naxxaramas – 5.6 months
- The Burning Crusade – 6.8 months
- The Black Temple – 4.3 months
- Zul’Aman – 5.7 months
- Sunwell – 4.4 months
- Wrath of the Lich King – 7.6 months
- Ulduar – 5 months
- Call of the Crusade – 3.7 months
- Icecrown – Unknown
- Average: 4.4 months
Given the data above, I estimate that Cataclysm will be released July 20, 2010. What do you think?
Note: Part I can be found here. The first part of this post was not necessarily a scathing critique of the ‘Help a Citizen’ mission structure, but it was certainly not the most polite. In the interests of being fair, I have to comment on how my view on these types of missions has evolved. You also need to understand that this isn’t a critique of the whole game, or even of the mission structure in general. It is my thoughts on the “Help a Citizen!” sub-category of the missions paradigm.
The great thing about MMOs is that they continue to evolve, (arguably) get better and introduce increasingly complex worlds. Though in all honesty, sometimes this level of complexity is just enough for you wrap your head around. Other times, you have a hernia from all the complications and intricacies involved in the game, and then your hernia has an aneurysm. Not trying to point any fingers. Eve Online.
In Champions Online, The first several missions I received from random citizens in Millennium City were decidedly similar. They had the same time limit, they were instanced, and you had to kill some boss deep inside that instance. It’s the game’s equivalent of repeatedly slamming my junk in a drawer. It’s painful, it’s monotonous, and despite being a novel idea initially, the repetitions have made me detest it.
“The Good” or “Misleading Variety”
But there have been some good improvements overall. For one thing, the latest “Help a Citizen!” missions I got to play have more variety to offer. One had me rescuing a few scientists from the bad guys. Another had me retrieve some critical information in the form of six briefcases. This is certainly a step in the right direction. While the overarching theme remained unchanged, the difference in objectives made it somewhat bearable. Its sort of like adding a padded cushion inside the drawer where I am repeatedly slamming my junk. It doesn’t hurt any more, but its still monotonous and its still boring.
Second, the Crime Computer now lists all of the “Help A Citizen!” quests. This is good for two reasons. First, you can read the mission text in advance, and know what it entails. If it sounds boring, you can decline and move on. Second, the system now guarantees that you will not miss a mission from the citizens, since all of them are listed in the Crime Computer. Being a character that uses a flight power, I can see how someone could have bare minimum contact with citizens on the ground, and as such miss a few of these missions.
The instances, at least the ones I have seen, are markedly different. The textures, the layout and the flow is not necessarily cookie-cutter. That being said, the instances are essentially a finite series of rectangular rooms connected by winding hallways. I have yet to see one instance that does not follow this pattern. Contrast this against, say, the instance structure in World of Warcraft, or even something more open-world like EvE Online.
Finally, as I mentioned in Part I, the quest text now clearly labels the amount of time you have to complete the mission. Previously, you would find out the mission had a time-limit after accepting it, which was annoying. And that leads into my next point…
“The Bad” or “Various Misgivings”
…every “Help a Citizen!” mission is still 30 minutes. I don’t understand this. The missions I mentioned earlier, the one in which I had to rescue some scientists, took me 4 minutes to complete. The timer was 30 minutes. On average it takes me seven to eight minutes on a mission. I think the missions can be made a lot more challenging and interesting by imposing stricter and more realistic time limits. If I am going to go retrieve some information in the form of briefcases, how about saying that the briefcases are booby-trapped to destroy the contents in 10 minutes. A simple alteration like that gives the mission a sense of urgency, while simultaneously serving as a tool for driving the mission forward.
Champions Online introduces the public missions format. There are several missions in the game which are out in the open world, and anyone and everyone is free to lend a hand in defeating whatever menace plagues the area. One might argue that such open world events are not a new concept, such as the Ahn’Qiraj gate event in World of Warcraft. But Champions actually tracks all the players completing objectives in the area and assigns them scores based on their level of contribution. You can participate solo, or bring a party of 5 or more, it’s really quite open-ended. The top ten contributors are displayed in public in the area for the length of time it takes for the event to reset. For instance, in the last ‘A Bullet Bound for Biselle’ mission, I had the longest e-peen.
Now for a game that introduces such an open-world idea of missions, it baffles me that the “Help a Citizen!” quests are all instanced. There isn’t a single case where the mission takes place out in the open. It is almost as if all the “Help a Citizen!” missions were designed by an introverted, agoraphobic programmer with a penchant for claustrophobic spaces.
Given the level of programming that must have gone into the public missions, scripting for a solo quest outside the instances should have been elementary. Yet we see an endless stream of instances that, aside from architectural and textural differences, feel the same. You have built an entire city with a plethora of unique locations. Use that to your advantage! I listed some of the ways you can make these missions more realistic and open-world in Part I. Here they are again. A citizen walks up to you and pleads for you to:
- rid their neighborhood of gangsters
- help them get home in a tough neighborhood; point A-to-B escort
- stop a theft at a store nearby; mobs spawn at the front and/or back door and attempt to escape
- rescue their kidnapped, loved one from an open-world location; the mob spawn is triggered by your location in the ransom exchange area
Can we get some love in this department?
As mentioned in the prior post, the game is still very much in its infantile stage. The changes are arguably for the better, but it remains to be seen if the developers take the time to craft a world that feels authentic and wonderous, or hide behind lame design devices for the sake of bloated content and ease of implementation.