July 30, 2009

Aion Is Pretty

Aion has another gorgeous update out:
The Sorcerer is a Daeva who follows the Star of Magic. They are able to freely wield the destructive power if the natural elements: Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water. A sorcerer is a scholar at heart, evident by the books and orbs they normally carry with them. However, these items can be dangerous weapons in their hands as they help to increase a Sorcerer's power.

July 27, 2009

The Rubber Meets the Road at PAX 2009

Star Wars: The Old Republic will be demonstrated live, in public, at GameCom and PAX '09.
Star Wars: The Old Republic will be will be bringing the power of the Force to two more conventions this year, GamesCom (Cologne, Germany; August 19-24 ) and Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) (Seattle, Washington; September 4 – 6). During the conventions, the team we will be showcasing the first public gameplay demo as well as giving away Star Wars™ goodies to attendees. Stop by the community cantina and hang out with some of the members of the Star Wars: The Old Republic team.
Here's a quick list of what needs to happen in order to impress me.

1. Combat must look fluid and engaging. The game play we've seen so far leaves a lot to be desired.

2. The demonstration can not be dominated by pre-canned cut scenes. If it is, then I am terrified for what the actual game will be like. I have nightmares about games that start and end with conversation trees.

3. A sense of epic scale. If they don't show off an epic Jedi vs Sith fight followed by the victor jumping into a ship and taking off and then landing in a giant space ship orbiting the planet, I won't be impressed.

To put it plainly, SW:ToR has NOT impressed me. I'm still excited for the game, but my optimism is firmly in check.

July 26, 2009

The Future, Now! Firefox 3.7 Theme

Firefox 3.5 just launched, but the Mozilla folks are hard at work showing off 3.7. I love the Firefox web browser and get a little giddy anytime there are future updates in the works. Thanks to Boneyardbrew, we have a mock-up of FIrefox 3.7 available for download. However, there are some extra steps involved:
Installing this theme isn't quite as simple as you are probably used to—you'll need to first enable the All-Glass Firefox extension for the Aero effects, the Personal Menu extension to hide the menubar and add the Tools button, the Stylish extension for a tweak that fixes the text, and then drag the mockup theme's *.jar file into the add-ons window to install it.

Once you've successfully completed all of the steps—which are detailed on the download page—you should have an impressive browser style that looks very similar to the screenshot.
Personally, I just downloaded the theme from Boneyardbrew's page and it looks fine to me, minus the tweaks that the other add-ons provide.


July 22, 2009

Be A Better Hero: Victory in Victory Village

Victory Village is arguably the best map in Battlefield Heroes. It's my personal favorite and seems to come up most of the time when I hit Play Now. Victory Village is an infantry focused map, with plenty of cover and only two vehicles total (1 jeep for each side). This makes for some wonderful street to street fighting moments and some not-so-wonderful camped in your spawn moments. Fortunately, I'm going to share a tip that will ensure you stay on the wonderful side of things.

Victory Village is comprised of four capture points: Guardpost, Church Square, Road Block, and Orchard. Three of these points provide respawn locations once captured; Church Square being the one that does NOT. However, Church Square lays smack dab in the middle of the first two capture points, making it a tempting target to strike.

Unfortunately, a lot of time is wasted and many lives are lost attempting to take and keep control at Church Square. All of this for little gain as there is no spawn point attached. The lack of respawn combined with a wide open area makes the Square nearly impossible to defend without over-committing players to the area. Not to mention the potential devastation that can be rained down from the Church bell tower and roof overhead.

Be a Better Hero: Victory Village

Most Victory Village matches are won or lost based on whether a team pushes Church Square or Road Block first. Road Block is easily the most important point on the map. It is, distance wise, the farthest point from both starting points. Secondly, when captured it provides an invaluable respawn point. From Road Block, access to the "back alleys" can be controlled via the myriad of tiny bottle necks. Not to mention, Church Square can easily be seen and dominated by sniping Commando's on the hills at Road Block.

The best strategy for securing Road Block early on is to rush to it in a jeep. Unfortunately, access to the jeep is "first come, first serve" and rushing players often times take off solo or rush Church Square. However, in the case you secure a jeep, load up with three players and drive on over to Road Block (best combo being a Soldier and two Gunners). Ditch the jeep short of Road Block and use the crates and walls for cover from incoming enemies.

Once Road Block is secure, defense is fairly straight forward: control the back alley ways! This means Troop Traps at the "doorways" and Gunners and Soldiers behind the walls. Keep an eye on Church Square for Commandos. As players respawn at Road Block, they have far better options on which routes to take and often times a match is all but over after Road Block is controlled successfully.

To recap, Church Square is a nightmare to capture and defend, with little benefit. Road Block is far more important, can easily be reached by a jeep rush, and provides an invaluable respawn point that often determines who achieves victory in the village of victory.

July 18, 2009

The Real Kieron Gillen Darkfall Review

Unlike my Darkfall, The Lost Review (made possible, unknowingly, by Kieron Gillen), this new review at Eurogamer for Darkfall is real and really written by Kieron Gillen.

The actual 4/10 score aside, I think it's important to look at what Kieron did.

First, he addressed the fundamental problem of the first review and Aventurine's claims the first reviewer barely played the game:
From Eurogamer's perspective, they have a developer claiming that logs show something. Logs which are entirely within their control. I'd be surprised if Eurogamer has a tech guy in-house capable of ascertaining the meaning of the logs. More so, when changing logs is an absolutely trivial task, what the logs say when that tech examines it is ultimately meaningless. If Aventurine was dissembling, Eurogamer wouldn't be able to tell.

As long as the reviewer claimed reasonably that he'd played the game for longer, Tom [Bramwell, editor] had to back him because - really - it was his word against theirs.
Essentially, one side is lieing or the other side is putting too much stock in automated computer functions to keep track of the truth. Scratch that, someone is lieing. From Aventurine's attack on play-time, instead of the merit of the complaints in the first review, I tend to side with Eurogamer's first reviewer.

Forutnately, that can be laid to rest. Kieron played the game and came to the following conclusion after debating what he should do for the review:
1) Engage with the debate around the review directly, and review it in two hours (what Aventurine said was played), 10 hours (roughly what the reviewer said he played) and again, with however many hours I ended up playing in the end. As in, how much can you actually say in such a short period? How valid is it? What changes? What doesn't?

Why I Didn't: Fundamentally not enough changed to make it worthwhile. My experience with the game didn't scale. What I liked and what I disliked about the game were there pretty much from the first moment in one form or another, and it was how they appeared which altered as I progressed. Perhaps the biggest irony about this whole mess: I suspect this is an MMO which you can tell whether you like or not in those first couple of hours.
While there is plenty more to read over at Eurogamer, the above quote sums it up nicely and can be applied to most MMOGs. The play experience within the first few hours ultimately defines the experience for the player and whether they will be sticking around. If that experience sucks, the reviews are going to suck. This isn't 1999, MMOGs don't have the luxury of a patient community willing to stick it out for developers to "patch in the game".

This brings us to the most important part of the review, Kieron's take on how MMOG reviews should be accomplished:
In other words, using a travel-journalism metaphor, a first review of an MMO is whether a destination is a place you'd recommend for a holiday. A second review is a recommendation of whether somewhere is a good place to go and live. I think this provides worthwhile buying advice - the first review says whether it's worth your money, which is the primary aim of a consumer review. I also think this is the best we're going to get.
It's evident now why Aventurine turned down Kieron Gillen's offer to re-review the game. Aventurine knew Kieron would kick them in the balls and show how utterly pointless their argument against the first review was. Aventurine got served.

July 17, 2009

Battlefield Heroes: Be A Better Hero: Gunner Equipment Tip

First, congrats to EA/Dice: 1 million Hero's have stepped onto the Battlefield.
EA is quickly discovering the joys of free-to-play games as web-based Battlefield Heroes surpasses the one million player mark right out of the gate.
Now, as a long time beta player, I would like to take a few minutes to share some tips I've learned.

For today, a tip about equipping the Gunner.

A lot of players are unaware that a class can carry two of their primary weapon types. For example, a Gunner can carry both a default machine gun and a specialized machine gun purchased with Victory Points (such as Wolfgang's Wonderful).

The benefit to this practice is two-fold. First, it saves from having to reload, as a quick weapon swap to the second primary weapon means another full clip of ammo. Second, it allows for a player to use the benefits of the various ranges and firing rates of the specialized weapons. Having a weapon for both short and long range situations can prove very fruitful.

This is particularly useful for Gunners, who are most effective when they are firing. Gunner's machine guns have large amounts of ammo available, so once the first one is empty, switching to the other one (instead of reloading) with another 100 or so rounds available ensures a Gunner can keep the pressure up.

I currently run my Gunner, Column, with the following setup:

Weapon 1: Default MG
Weapon 2: Wolfgang's Wonderful (Long/Slow)
*long/slow refers to the range (long) and rate of fire (slow)

I close on targets from a distance with Wolfgang's Wonderful. Then I hit Leg It (a sprint ability) and as I close in, I swap to the Default MG to finish the deal.

I hope this helps! Any questions, let me know in the comments.

July 15, 2009

World of Warcraft's Next Expansion

Wrath of the Lich King has been out long enough for the next round of "guess the next expansion" to kick off. For starters, we have some evidence for Cataclysm. And no, it has nothing to do with the fate of WoW in China.
Speculation started to run rampant when Blizzard trademarked the name “Cataclysm” and then again when a WoW test server popped up recently and was named “Maelstrom” (or had that name in it’s title).

This would make sense to World of Warcraft players as Cataclysm is another name for the Great Sundering, an event that created a swirling vortex of water and mystical energies (the ‘Maelstrom’) that has appeared on the world map in-game since release.

Early design work also indicates that Catacylsm would fit in well with previous WoW expansions and would involve the former Night Elf noble Azshara, queen of the Naga and the Goblins whose main city lies in the south seas.
I think that lore is important and its great to speculate on lore-based avenues for an expansion, but I've never bothered to learn anything about Warcraft's lore. I was usually too busy clicking through quest text while following Jame's Leveling Guide. So, for me to speculate wildly would not only be out of character, it would waste all of the work thats already been done!

I like the idea of a Cataclysm expansion that lets players explore the big swirl in the middle of the map. Seriously, I've always wondered what may be out there! Now, I want to take this off the deep end and throw out a bullet list of things I think would take this over the edge:
  • Boats. The damn swirl is in the middle of the ocean, so players will need to be able to get there at their own leisure. Players already have flying mounts and car-like ground mounts. Its about time Blizzard added player-owned boats.
  • A potentially world-resetting Live event. Blizzard needs to shake things up and should the players fail at the Live event for this expansion, their server should literally end and reset to default settings. Cataclysm or Apocalypse? Let players make the choice!
  • Cataclysmic war! Blizzard needs to take the lessons learned from Lake Wintergrasp and apply them to every single new zone they create. That way, one zone isn't heavily burdened and bum rushed once every few hours. Make the entire WORLD a living battlefield.
  • Cataclysmic phasing! Blizzard needs to kick up the phasing a notch and have drastically differing phases of areas within the Maelstrom. It only makes sense for something that is as awe inspiring as a giant swirl the size of half a continent!
  • Celeb cameos for Billy Mayes and David Carradine. Maybe something about Michael Jackson, but that silly story has already been worn out IMHO.
Most likely, none of the above will make it into the game. To that, I say: crazy, absolutely crazy.

July 14, 2009

Much Cooler Soda

Mountain Dew Game Fuel is cool and all, but it has nothing on Magic The Gathering soda.

July 10, 2009

Breaking Tobold

Tobold has decided to take a summer break from blogging.
Right now I don't feel I'm succeeding all that well. I might simply have a too thin skin for the rough place that is the internet, and can't simply grow a thicker one. But I have the impression that even at the moderate success level of this blog, the audience is becoming too wide to communicate with effectively. Some people misunderstand my motivations, others feel entitled to something I never promised and couldn't possibly deliver, and some simply can't or won't stick to discussing opinions in polite terms.
I don't blame Tobold for his thoughts on this and I think I know the simple answer to what has hit Tobold. From my "Why be nice post?":
The real effect of the Internet: amplification. I am inherently more whiny and combative on the Internet. I wish I could fully-explain why it occurs, but I can't. I observe it in almost every blogger I know personally, whether it is politics, gaming, or knitting (yes, with needles and yarn).
Tobold is simply too nice, on an Internet full of jerks that like to talk about MMOGs. That niceness gets amplified 100x and is therefore attacked harder.

Take a break Tobold, but come back soon. As much as I've disagreed with you in the past, the MMOG blogosphere needs your mainstream, positive outlook.

July 8, 2009

Helping Hands

News from Eurogamer: Mythic will help Bioware with Star Wars The Old Republic.
BioWare has told Eurogamer that Mythic Entertainment will "without a doubt" help out on Star Wars: The Old Republic, as there are "absolutely opportunities to share and learn" within the newly formed RPG/MMO group.
Immediately, I don't see any issues with this. There is no doubt that SW:ToR has a lot of grunt work to be done and a lot of unrelated processes that can be delegated to teams at Mythic. And vice versa for Mythic's next project.

I still hold optimism that this merger was done by EA to create better games and get them to market. EA has changed over the past year, consolidating and refocusing, so maybe this new MMO group has a chance in this new refreshed EA.

However, if EA's history with recently acquired studios is to be a lesson, Bioware is only a year or so away from its own "turbulence". Let's all hope Bioware has found a magical anti-venom to the poison that appears to be EA.

July 5, 2009

RMT != micro-transactions

Darren, the "common sense" gamer, believes $10 is a bit much for a mount in free-to-play, but supported by micro-transactions, Runes of Magic.
Here’s the deal….and I’m absolutely disgusted by this. A “permanent” horse in Runes of Magic, it is 199 diamonds…let’s call it 200 cause that’s what it really should be (…seriously guys…time to start rounding things up…). 200 diamonds cost $10.94 Canadian.

Are you seriously telling me, with a straight face, that a digital HORSE costs me $10…FUCKING..DOLLARS!!!@!@ That’s if you want to buy it outright…for cash. You can buy diamonds on the auction house which you can then buy the horse…but good gawd. The horses dollar value straight up is almost as much as an entire subscription.
Following up on this is a discussion at p0tsh0t:
Truth be told, while I’m usually more of the mind that RMT is the debbil, I think the RoM mount topic is a decent example of an RMT item and approach that could work in most games. What the game companies need to keep in mind is that their RMT and game models should deliver value and entertainment to a broad audience with varied time budgets.
Here's the problem. Real Money Trade (RMT) is not the same as micro-transactions.

RMT occurs when players trade real money for items in a subscription-based game. The developers rarely see a dime unless, like SOE, specifically set it up to take a cut of the transactions.

Micro-transactions are a business model, meant to allow a developer to support a game. In most cases, the game is free-to-play.

In this specific example, Runes of Magic is free to play, but supported by micro-transactions. If a player wants a horse, they spend $10 for the entirety of the time they play the game. World of Warcraft on the other hand, is a subscription-based game that has a volcanic third-party RMT market attached. Players often pay upwards of $500 for unique mounts, on top of paying $15 a month to access the game!

Further down in the p0tsh0t post, a breakdown of what an epic flying mount probably costs in World of Warcraft:
Using the epic flyer as an example, if I really applied myself, I could probably log on and earn a few hundred gold a day without outlevelling our group too much in a relatively small amount of time each session. At 200 gold a session, that would take about 25 sessions to yield the 5,000 gold for the skill and the mount. If I played an average session every other day, that would be about 50 days or almost two months of just casual self-gold farming. All other things equal, I should be ok with paying the equivalent of about $30 for my epic flyer (or the equivalent in game currency).
So, I ask the "common sense gamer" why he is flabbergasted by a $10 mount when it is obvious players are willing spend 3 times that amount just to access a service that will allow them the pleasure of working hard to obtain a mount.

The truth is that many traditional MMOG players have lost touch with the micro-transaction movement in the market. They see a $10 price tag for something in a micro-transaction game and apply the concept to a subscription game. Immediately it seems insane that anyone would pay real money for something that they feel they get for "free" in their subscription game. They fail to realize they are paying in time and real money for a mount in their subscription game. Often times, a lot more. Not to mention the players going to RMT markets to pay hundreds, if not thousands, of real dollars for in-game perks in subscription games.

I was once one of the lost. I used to see micro-transactions as RMT. It's simply not the truth. RMT does not equal micro-transactions.

July 4, 2009

Battlefield Heroes: Concluding Commentary

Part I
Part II

I explained in Part II how Battlefield Heroes' dual-currency system of Battlefunds (real life $$$) and Victory Points (in game $$$), was a smart system.
This is a very smart currency system in my book. It allows for the game to be supported by the fans, without destroying outsiders ability to come in and enjoy the game. Raw, real money spent does not buy any immediate advantage for a player.
To reiterate that point, players never have to spend a dime to compete. All in game weapons are purchased via Victory Points. All classes, skills, missions, and vehicles are available to everyone. A good player will never run short of Victory Points.

Now, lets move on to how the game actually plays.

First and foremost is performance. Battlefield Heroes is rock solid and has been since I first jumped into early closed beta. I am running Battlefield Heroes on Windows XP Pro 64-bit, 4 Gb RAM, a nVidia 9600 GT (overclocked), and Intel Core 2 Duo Q6600 (quad core). My rig may sound souped up, but it is average for today's PC gaming standards. I will report some results from my aging laptop when I get a chance to set it up.

Second to performance is solid game play. Battlefield Heroes' focus on unique classes and abilities makes for a very fun game. All of the abilities are useful in some manor and the balance has been tweaked non-stop since I've started playing. The balance isn't perfect, but its now to a point where the glaring problems are gone (burning bullets I'm looking at you). The icing on the cake is the fact that AT ANY TIME A CHARACTER'S SKILLS CAN BE RESET FOR FREE!
Sorry, I play a lot of MMOGs that fail hard at that concept.

Next is the ease of entrance for new players and the "soft" approach to damage. Most FPS games focus on quick kills. Battlefield Heroes' approaches killing in more of an RPGish way. There is a health meter and nothing in the game outside of getting run over by a vehicle causes a one-hit kill. Various skills and weapons offer advantages/disadvantages to drain or refill that health bar. This creates a dynamic team play aspect while helping less skilled players feel like they are contributing. Plus, the damage is not a hidden number. As players score damage, numbers pop-up RPG-style on their target showing how much damage was done.

Finally, the vehicles in game have kept to the Battlefield tradition of "stupid is as stupid does". Which is to say, players don't need to be real life pilots to fly or have a valid drivers license to navigate the streets in a beep-beep Jeep (seriously, stop beeping).

With all of the positives, and my comment about a "little hate" for the game, there has to be something to deride Battlefield Heroes for, right? My major concern in beta was around the real money shop. At the time, nothing could be purchased permanently. That meant players had to pay monthly to keep their unique outfits. Fortunately, DICE/EA listened and now items can be purchased for 1-month periods or permanently.

Also of concern is the limited number of maps. There were only three maps to start, with a fourth being added recently. All of the maps are visually similar and that can be a drag coming from games like Quake Live. However, the maps are well done and quality always counts more than quantity.

Another annoying feature is the lack of a server browser. Players hit Play Now and are transported to an available game. This makes it very hard to get onto a server that is running a map the player wants to play on. On the flip side, again, this reduces the barrier of entry for new players and casual players looking for quick in'n'out sessions. Fortunately, favorite servers can be bookmarked, somewhat alleviating the problem.

Now the conclusion!

Battlefield Heroes is fun. Go play, it's free.

July 3, 2009

July 2009, What Happened to Shadowbane?

Last time that I checked, Shadowbane was set to close down on July 1st, 2009. It's July 3rd and I can't seem to find any obituaries or any official info on what happened to the game.

The Shadowbane websites no longer exist (that I can find) and the MMO news aggregation sites are quiet. I guess Aeria Games didn't come in to save the game.

Is this truly how Shadowbane has gone out, without even a whimper?

July 1, 2009

Snap Links for Firefox 3.5

Snap Links is one of my favorite Firefox add ons. With a single click and drag, multiple links can be clicked at once. With Firefox 3.5 rolling out, it was time to find a new version of Snap Links.

After digging high and low, I finally found a compatible version in Snap Links Plus.


Update: 3 Aug 2009 - This works with Firefox 3.5.1.
Update: 31 Oct 2009 - This works with Firefox 3.5.4.
Update: 11 Nov 2009 - This works with Firefox 3.5.5.
Update: 20 Dec 2009 - This works with Firefox 3.5.6.