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“Age of Offline Leveling” or “Innovation Appreciation”

April 29, 2010 1 comment

Age of Conan’s patch 1.07.2 went live yesterday, introducing what Funcom calls ‘offline leveling‘. The system starts off by awarding anyone and everyone with an active subscription a totals of four levels. Another level is added to these ‘free levels’ every four days. The player is then free to distribute these levels to any of their characters.

The only catch is that the character has to be level 30 or above, and no assigned level can be reverted.

In other words, if you have a level 30 collecting dust, and you just don’t have the patience or the constitution to level him any longer, you could get him to level 80, the current level cap, by doing absolutely nothing, as long as your subscription is active.

"Imma come back in 4 days to kick your ass!"

Some simple calculation, assuming your character is level 30, and you got 4 levels to start off:

  • Day 0: Level 34
  • Day 4: Level 34 + 1
  • Day 8: Level 34 + 2
  • Day 184: Level 34 + 46 = Level 80

Every 6 months or so, you could have a brand spankin’ new level 80, as long as you started with a character which you managed to get to level 30 on your own.

This got me to thinking about World of Warcraft. WoW has had programs in the past which facilitate fast level gains, such as the Recruit-A-Buddy program, where you essentially just get free levels and an insanely buffed experience gain rate to help level your recruited buddy. In fact, they even introduced the X-53 Touring Rocket flying mount, a flying mount that, for the first time in the history of WoW, seats two people. D’awwwww!

However, the concept of level reward for continued investment in the IP simply does not exist.

Looking at my WoW characters, I have a level 47, a level 36, a level 27, and a level 12. Let us assume for a second, that I bring the level 12 and the level 27 toon up to 30. Using the ‘offline leveling’ formula, all four of these characters will be level 80 in just under two years. Since I have been playing for 5+ years, I would still have 3+ years, or approximately 180+ levels to give out to other characters. This realization makes the lack of such a program in WoW all the more painful. In fact, there have been times when I have let my subscription roll on for months on end, planning on returning to the game soon. I gained nothing in that time. But with incentives such as these, at least I wouldn’t feel like I have completely wasted that money.

This has one further implication. Funcom, under the supervision and guidance of Rangar Tornquist, is developing an MMO that I am most excited about: The Secret World. With game-altering changes such as these which reward the player for being invested in the game, even passively, bodes well for the future of The Secret World.

“Prison Break: MMO Edition” or “Michael Scoffield is a douchebag”

October 27, 2009 1 comment

Why is it that no prison in MMOs can successfully keep its prisoners under lock and key? Regardless of the type of prison or the safeguards put in place to ensure no untoward incident takes place, there is always a riot or an escape or a combination of the two. Do they always hire NPC guards that are complete imbeciles? Or are the walls made of cheap pixels? Perhaps the head jailor is a sado-masochist who gets off on getting beaten to a pulp by escaping prisoners every reset?

To illustrate the spread of this plot device, let’s observe some examples from a few popular MMOs.

World of Warcraft

Prisons breaks are to WoW as George W. Bush is to retarded. It just seems to come naturally.

First up we have The Stockades. This is a high-security prison complex beneath the canals of Stormwind City. The instance is home to henchmen, masterminds and diabolical villains alike. More recently, there has been a riot, and the place is under complete control of the criminals. The only problem is that they stay inside the walls of The Stockades and refuse to leave. It would be the Prison Break equivalent of Micheal Scoffield killing every guard and administrator inside Fox River so no one can stop his escape. And then choosing a new cell as his new home.

Wrath of the Lich King introduced the Violet Hold, a magical prison in the southern district of the floating city of Dalaran. It is now being attacked by the blue dragonflight under Malygos‘ orders. The prison guards, being the perpetually inept, blithering idiots that they are, need the players’ help to fend off the blue dragonflight and to keep the prisoners in check.

prisonbreak2

The biggest examples of ‘prison’ encounters would have to be C’Thun and Yogg-Saron. Both were Old Gods cast into earthly prisons by the Titans and now corrupt the thoughts of any foolish enough to get close to their prison. Why? Because the guys that designed the prisons were criminally retarded and made the prison out of marshmellows. The solution? Go into the prison and kill the pesky bastards.

Champions Online

In Millennium City, one of the first public missions you will participate in involves preventing some of the most dangerous criminals from escaping during a prison riot. Cryptic‘s Producer of Naming Originality was on vacation the week they named the event, for the event is called “Jail Break”.

Next up is Stronghold, the Desert Zone prison. Unlike Millennium City’s rehabilitation center, this facility is designed to contain and keep watch over the most nefarious and powerful supervillains. A storm knocked out the power in the ’80s, disrupting the power inhibiting fields and allowing nearly 40 supervillains to escape and wreak havoc. In the early 21st century, Grond escaped with the help of a disgruntled guard, killing several guards in the process. And rest assured, the troubles of the facility are far from over.

The Nemesis system is one of the most unique features of Champions Online. But in the interest of this article, it is worth nothing that even your Nemesis can escape from prison, forcing you to hunt the guy down yet again.

Age of Conan

prisonbreak1Conan himself founded the upcoming Iron Tower, a towering structure of heavy stone and black iron. Intended for civil confinement of the most vile of Aquilonia’s criminals, the Iron Tower continues the Tarantia Common District story arc. And yes, you get to go in, and bring the swift and unforgiving hand of justice with great force down upon the insidious prisoners and their minions.

Prison Break: The Convenient Plot Device

Prison breaks are one of the most over-used plot devices. What morally upright (experience-points-starved) MMO player would miss out on a chance to rid the world of a villainous menace of diabolical proportions? (Side note: what exactly is a diabolical proportion BTW?) What heroic (loot-hungry) adventurer would give up on a chance to bring an uncompromising and swift end to the dubious and undoubtedly evil pursuits of the scum of the earth?

I understand the twitch reaction that causes developers to build the inevitable prison break story into the macrocosm of the world. It is a classic, convenient setup that requires minimal explanation. It doesn’t take much for the MMO player to go in charging after those foolish enough to challenge the (questionable) might of the MMO’s law enforcement agencies.

What if we thought of prisons in MMOs in a new light? What instead of keeping prisoners in, there were quests that involved breaking people out? What if a prison instance was designed to facilitate the advancement of lore without being lured into the seemingly inevitable prison break quagmire? What if designers gave us choices requiring us to question our own sense of morality and justice, instead of forcing us to choose the obvious, morally upright choice regarding prison escapes?

For all its flaws, one of the greatest missions in Champions Online involved getting defeated by VIPER forces on purpose. You wake up in a lab, and escape your captors, making your way to the inner depths of the instance searching for an evil genius who was otherwise inaccessible. It was a brilliant concept, well-implemented and flawlessly executed.

Can you think of ways this device can be improved or altered that challenges the norm and expands on the classic paradigm?

Champions Online –

“She got no Class!” or “Tørnquist is a Funny Name!”

October 23, 2009 Leave a comment

she-got-no-class-or-tørnquist-is-a-funny-name2One of the upcoming MMOs that I am very excited about is The Secret World. It’s not fantasy, it isn’t set in space, you don’t get to be a superhero, and the world hasn’t destroyed itself by firing a couple dozen nukes up its own ass.

The Secret World is set in our present time, in the real world. The twist? Ancient prophecies are coming true and all manners of beasts and monsters that are the stuff of children’s nightmares are coming to life in alarming numbers. And it is up to a few individuals, ordinary human beings initially, to save the world. Players then assume the role of developing supernatural heroes who fight the textbook battle against the rising evil. It is being developed by Funcom, developers of the popular Age of Conan.

If you have not heard of the game at all, I would recommend you watch the following two trailers first. And perhaps read up a little on the game.

You can play as one of three factions, The Illuminati, The Dragons or the Templars. The game incorporates pieces of ancient mythologies, real and false history, urban legends, and pop culture, and ties them into an original back-story.

“We have three playable factions: The Templars, who are based in London and who are on a crusade against evil. They don’t let anything stand in their way, and they’re willing to raze a city to the ground if it means defeating the evil within. Then there are the Illuminati, based in New York, and these guys are more interested in gaining occult power and wealth. They’re more secretive and prefer working behind the scenes to control the world. Of course, they’re also fighting evil, but their motivations are different from their mortal enemies, the Templars. Finally, the Dragon is the joker in this deck of cards. They’re based in Seoul and appear quite innocuous on the surface, but they like playing the other guys up against each other, and they believe in creating chaos in order to achieve balance.”
Ragnar Tørnquist, Producer and Director, The Secret World

she-got-no-class-or-tørnquist-is-a-funny-name1Universal Gaming Database’s Evoker recently had an interview with Ragnar Tørnquist, the producer and director of The Secret World. While Tørnquist was careful not to divulge any significant information, he did elaborate that the game will not have any classes or levels. Additionally, you don’t have to grind to get through the game, but you can if you so choose. Tørnquist insists that you get to create your own experience, but doesn’t conclusively say how.

“You’re going to have fun! Our goal is to make sure that players can sit down and play this game and enjoy themselves from the very beginning. You don’t start out fighting rats with a rusty sword. You get cool firearms, black magic, occult weapons from the outset – and you’re fighting demons and the undead, not wild boar or petty criminals.”
Ragnar Tørnquist, Producer and Director, The Secret World

You can find the full interview here.

“Halloween Horrors” or “Nothing Rhymes With Orange”

October 17, 2009 2 comments

halloween-horrors-or-nothing-rhymes-with-orangeHalloween is fast approaching. In the U.S., if you are a kid, it is a time for tricks and treats. If you are a young woman, it is a time to dress up in the sluttiest outfits imaginable and go wild. If you are a young man, you are glad for the young women.

Being an MMO-player gives Halloween a different flavor altogether. It is the time of the year when you inevitably engage in digital activities and events designed around October 31st. These activities may range from fluff achievements, titles or items to complete encounters, epic lewt, and complex new threads of a unique scenario etched into the fabric of the existing lore framework. Let’s take a look at some of the upcoming Halloween events in some of the most popular MMOs. And yes, we will continue my obsession with the number seven in this list as well.

Fallen Earth – Days of the Dead – October 23 onwards

George Romero would be proud. If you can look past the extremely creative event title, indie-hit Fallen Earth plans to use throngs of the wandering undead to melt your faces. The developers have chosen not to blatantly incorporate Halloween-related elements to the game play. Instead, they came up with a cool side-story, weaved the threads into the existing world, and created an event that would allow players to fight off an emergent zombie menace.  The zombies are clones that, in a manner of speaking, ‘went bad’, and now carry nanites that may be harmful to humans or other cloning facilities.

I’m sold.

There is nothing I enjoy more than a developer’s ability to use a real-world event and give it the game’s own special flavor, without breaking the lore. That was until I realized that one of the consumable items you obtain during the event is the “Pumpkin of Extraordinary Merit”. Well, at least the overarching concept is fresh and engaging.

Runes of Magic – Halloween Bundle – October 16 to November 1

Herein lies the problem with mircotransactions. While it sounds like a good idea to only pay for what you may be playing/interested in, seasons like Halloween are largely neglected. The only thought given to any semblance of an in-game connection is buried in another microtransaction. Runes of Magic offers a Halloween Bundle, filled with fluff and largely decorative items. As far as I can tell, there are no in-game events or encounters specific to Halloween. A part of me wants to commend them for not jumping on the seemingly inevitable themed-content band wagon, but they did put up a post about microtransaction-based Halloween items. And that, somehow, is much worse.

Age of Conan – Night of Lost Souls – Unknown

While Fallen Earth does a decent job of masking the event in the lore and giving it the game’s own personal flavor, Age of Conan goes a step further and creates a well-constructed mythology around the events of their seasonal content. Here is a short excerpt:

“As the day slowly but inevitably gives way to the longer nights as the year wanes, there is a time when the thin veil between the night as we know it and the true darkness of the worlds beyond the realm of mortal men is pulled back.”

Players will have three new quests, two solo and one group, and several in-game items to acquire. Most significantly, the game promises to take you to familiar places transformed by the recent taint of the Lost Souls. Sign me up!

halloween-horrors-or-nothing-rhymes-with-orange2Warhammer Online – Daemon Moon Rising – October 23 to November 2

There may be a pattern here, I just can’t seem to put my finger on it. Could it be… zombies? Originality, this season in MMOs, seems to have taken a back-seat to convenience. With Left 4 Dead rallying the masses around the zombie extermination cause, America’s obsession with blasting the undead has grown to unhealthy proportions. I suppose it’s only natural that literally every MMO in-game event is related to zombies. In Warhammer, there is a public quest requiring the Daemon’s Cradle, a major PvP scenario in the Highpass Cemetary, and of course, a ton of Halloween masks.

Champions Online – Blood Moon – October 27 onwards

The superhero simulator will see its first content release with Blood Moon. The content patch will introduce – you might want to sit down here because the shock may be too much – zombies! What’s the twist? The souls of the superheroes (the game’s versions of Batman, Superman etc.) have been trapped by the undying Takophanes. What sets this game apart from the crowd is that aside from new items, encounters and gameplay mechanics, the patch will also introduce a brand new Celestial power set.

Oh and there are werewolves.

Aion – Harvest Revel – October 25 to October 31

There is an eclipse. It brings out zombies. End of story.

World of Warcraft – Hallow’s End – October 18 to November 1

Making no attempts to mask the season with significant lore underpinnings, or simply releasing demonic armies for players to fight against, World of Warcraft will again feature Hallow’s End this year. Masks, brooms that double as flying mounts of all varieties, stat-boosting candy, and magical transformation wands are just some of the fluff ietms you will have access to. In addition, the event will see the return of the Headless Horseman, his dancing pumpkins, and another chance to score some of the 87 bajillion trinkets he carries.

Hallow’s Originality” or “Lore Whore”

Seasonal events are a great way to connect with your player base in a novel and interesting fashion. For MMOs that have been out for several years, seasonal events can also create a sense of  familiarity over the course of time, but it also runs the risk of being monotonous year after year. Regardless of your level of comfort, these events do allow players to break away from their daily grinds in the game.

The real juxtaposition, for me, lies between the level of realism in every aspect of MMOs, and the amount of fun said content can be. On any day of the week (and twice on Sunday), I will take lore-saturated, well crafted in-game experiences over events that have a blatant connection to the season at hand. For instance, I am very excited about Age of Conan’s Night of the Lost Souls, but Hallow’s End will be a boring, repetitive and shallow experience. I mean “Hallow’s End”. They didn’t even try with that one!

What are your feelings on seasonal events? Is realism more important to you, or does something else float your boat entirely?