December 31, 2009

In The Year 2010, Heartless' Predictions

Its nearly 2010 and without further hesitation, here are my predictions:

1. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning will be sold or shut down by EA.

2. Star Wars: The Old Republic will NOT launch this year.

3. Already launched MMOGs, not named World of Warcraft, will have a rough year.

4. Newer, quality F2P games will storm the market and one will challenge WoW for the mainstream playerbase.

5. WoW will remain the king cash cow as the subscription model continues its dominance.

6. Digital distribution will start being taken seriously by market analysts as Steam proves the platform's power on the PC market.

7. Digital distribution will quietly replace boxed sales completely for PC games.

BONUS REAL LIFE PREDICTION: A political uprising will shock the world and the mainstream media will only find out about it after checking their Twitter accounts.  Three days later, they will realize it was simply a mis-spelled #hashtag and re-purposed Youtube videos.

December 29, 2009

Heartless_ Game Review: Borderlands

Borderlands, from Gearbox software, blends FPS with RPG and tickles the loot center in every gamer’s brain. Borderlands is a good game, but misses greatness in every single category. Fortunately, there is a shitload of guns to make up for it.

Borderlands the RPG

Borderlands has all the makings for a great RPG: interesting characters, progression, and a story. Unfortunately, Borderlands is the king of “almost”.

The characters, like Dr Zed, come with great introduction scenes, but are quickly limited to dialogue boxes only. Other NPCs stand still, not moving, and often blend so well into the scenery that players walk by without noticing them. The only characters that stand out are the R2-D2 inspired robots nicknamed "claptraps" and some random chick that appears on screen to provide dribbles of information throughout the player's journey.

The story is fun to think about, but is not a draw for the game. It ends abruptly and does not make use of the characters or game world very well. The world itself will often make a better story than what is being sold by the random chick that pops up on the screen. The pieces are there, but the story is never put together firmly.

Character progression is handled via talent trees where players can specialize their skills in various weapons and skills. It's a well rounded, but average system. Each character recieves their unique class skill at level 5. After that, there were not any milestones that made me feel like I was achieving an important step in my characters life. Weapon skills are raised by using various weapon types

The loot is really the only RPG staple that stands out in Borderlands. It randomizes the look, stats, and effects of each weapon. With any randomized system, there is a lot of junk that is worthless, but getting a rare weapon is a treat. Getting to use that weapon to take down a giant mammoth-like Rakk Hive is icing on the cake.

Borderlands the FPS

The FPS portion of Borderlands is solid and there is no RPG trickery to spoil the action. It delineates from the standard FPS-fare in a few areas. All weapons have a cone of fire, whether looking down the sights or firing from the hip. This creates the illusion of being able to aim with pinpoint accuracy, when in fact there is a set of numbers in the background determining a shot’s accuracy. This is most noticeable on sniper rifles, which often fail to hit what they are aimed at. I gave up on using sniper rifles midway through the game as my non-scope pistols were often more accurate.

The weapons offer great variety. There is no single super weapon in the game that dominate all others (unless a save file is hacked). Characters aren't restricted from using any weapon type, even if their class skills don't benefit from a certain type. This allows every character to enjoy the awesome loot they acquire.

Borderlands the Online Game

I’ve avoided discussing the multiplayer aspects of Borderlands up to this point. To be brief, the PC version of Borderlands is impossible to play online. The peer-to-peer technical stability is lackluster. In order for games to be properly hosted, the host needs to have more port forwards than most residential-class routers will allow. Secondly, the game browser is nothing more than a list of player-generated room names that do little to help a player find a game they can participate in. Next, once in a multiplayer match, there is nothing to stop hacked save files from entering your game and ruining the fun. Lastly, for a loot-centered game, there are no controls to stop ninja looters from looting the map clean while the other players are beat down by the end-map bosses. But does this even matter when the game is so easily hacked via the saved game files?

I strongly urge anyone playing Borderlands on the PC to play with friends only.

A couple months after release and one of 2009’s biggest games often has ZERO online games available for the PC.

Borderlands DLC

I have not tried any of the Borderlands DLC and have no plans to. It comes with restrictive DRM and that's a no-buy in my book (especially when I am buying it through the DRM known as Steam).

Borderlands in General

The action is consistent and there is never a lack of something to do. With multiple playthroughs, the game scales the difficulty to keep it fresh. By the 3rd playthrough, some encounters become amazingly tough and beating the game becomes a reward by itself. I would recommend anyone who is interested in an FPS/RPG hybrid to give the game a try, but don't expect great multiplayer on the PC without a little technical wizardry first. Overall, Borderlands is fun to play and is almost a great game.

December 27, 2009

10 Days of WAR: Day Ten

The final day of my return to Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning ended with a resounding thud as my bright wizard ate dirt for the thousandth time at the hands of a Choppa.  To some, the last ten days may seem like an excuse for me to bitch about a game I once supported wholeheartedly.  I want to say up front that I wanted to give WAR a fair shake, even if I didn't have plans on returning to a subscription.   Unfortunately, at the end of the day, WAR is still the same sub-par game I left months ago, even if it has a new zone and better technical performance.

The new positives begin with the endless trial.  This has brought new blood into the game and the newbie zones were hopping.  Whether this is translating into subscriptions is unknown.  My fear is that the experience in a well populated tier 1 zone leaves an impression that can not be held up by tier's 2 and 3.  Players that come off the free endless trial may become bored quickly as the population hits rock bottom once outside of the trial zones.  My suggestion would be to extend the free trial all the way to the end of tier 3.  Yes, that's a lot of game for free, but tier 2 and 3 are a general waste of resources as it is.  Allowing trial players into these tiers will spice life up a bit and give them a glimpse of what the end game of WAR offers in tier 4.

The new positives end with the Land of the Dead.  As I stated, LotD is the model which all tier 4 zones should follow in WAR.  The concept of separate RvR lakes does not work and actively hurts WAR's community as players do not mingle across play styles.  If the principals of LotD (minus the gating mechanic) were to be applied across all tier 4 zones, WAR would be a better game.

I'm not going to retread over my gripes about WAR.  There are pockets of greatness within the game, but they are so disconnected that the game feels choppy and unfinished.  Its a snuggie that doesn't cover your toes.  It accomplishes the job, but is it really worth the cold toes?

Sorry, Mythic.

December 26, 2009

10 Days of WAR: Day Nine (Set pieces)

My ninth day and disapointment in my return to WAR can be summed up by this picture:

That is a tank sitting in the Empire starting zone of Nordland.  It hasn't moved in almost two years (and not a spot of rust anywhere!). 
This tank could single-handedly change the tide of battle, but it just sits there as Empire players are slaughtered ten paces away.  My disappointment at this fact can not be denied.  It's a disappointment set up in two ways:

First, the opening cinematic features a massive city siege set upon by all manner of siege vehicles and flying machines.  This is classic Warhammer, armies marching on armies, siege engines included.

Secondly, Mythic's prior game, Dark Ages of Camelot featured fully intractable and movable siege engines.  WAR features static pads that siege engines can be placed upon (if they haven't been destroyed).  WAR received a very gimped version of a tremendously popular feature of DAoC.

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning is a good looking game.  The world and environments are amazing.  The set pieces within are saddening to see, relegated to on lookers remorse.  With that said, WAR does do better than a lot of games that feature a world full of blocks and hills.  Still, I believe this is another missed opportunity in the development of WAR.

Come back for the final day and my conclusions tomorrow.

After-Christmas Sales For Gamers

Update: 14 Jan, 2010 - Removed post and links as the sales are over.

December 25, 2009

10 Days of WAR: Day 8 (Live Events)

Merry Christmas!  For my eighth day of WAR I'm going to talk about Live Events.

Live events in Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning can be summed up by the following:
1. A quest in the RvR lakes
2. Incentives to kill other players
3. A "limited time only" scenario
4. More quests
This somewhat satisfies my gripe that the RvR lakes in WAR are empty of content, but the limited nature of Live Events still doesn't promote players to spread out.

The current live event is Kegs End.  There are pub crawls, beer drinking, ogre killing, and general mischief to be had.  Unfortunately, there isn't much guidance to the player outside a list of tasks in the Tome of Knowledge.  The world does not feel like it is alive with the spirit of the Kegs End holiday.  If there wasn't floating icons and Kegs End names above the Live Event NPCs, players would probably never know the difference.

Participating in the Live Event is easy enough, players do what they normally do: queue up for scenarios and zerg the RvR lakes for kills.  The more interesting aspect, to me, was the pub crawls, where players scour their capital city in search of different types of beer!

The capital cities of WAR, Altdorf and The Inevitable City, are still awe-inspiring to me.  The artwork and amount of stuff to discover is stunning.  However, there is little incentive to doing so outside of Tome unlocks and exploration experience.  The pub crawls are a perfect way to send players to destinations they may have otherwise missed.  There may even be a surprise around a corner or two!

Live Events, another OK, but not great part of WAR.  Come back for day nine, working title: The Hangover.

December 24, 2009

10 Days of WAR: Day Seven (PvE)

For my seventh day of Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning I did some PvE.

One of my first posts about WAR on this blog was about the importance of PvE:
WAR, without PvE, is just a mess waiting to happen.
I took a lot of flack for suggesting that WAR needed PvE.  WAR was going to be the ultimate RvR game, pitting throngs of players against each other in epic battles.  PvE was only a momentary distraction!  How wrong those people were.  It is suicide to attempt to push out a triple-A game that focuses solely on PvP-oriented conflict.  The player base is NOT there to support a game of WAR's budget size with only PvP.  Plus, with only PvP minded players, the battlefield becomes very stale, very quickly.

Ranting aside, WAR does have a good amount of cooperative PvE (I'm not talking about solo content today).  The end game features dungeons and loot progression.  The early game features a few dungeons and plenty of public quests.  Both ends of the spectrum benefit from an open grouping system that allows players to find groups on the fly in their current area.

With my time limited, I was not able to get into any dungeon groups on my rank 40 Ironbreaker.  I logged into my level 8 White Lion and journeyed to Nordland and Norsca to enjoy some public quests.

Public quests is WAR's best feature!

I can't emphasize enough what a great feature public quests are, both for community building and sheer fun.  Unfortunately, the number of PQs in WAR far outpaces its player population, limiting the success of the system.  In a more popular game, with more players per zone, a public quest system is absolutely golden. 

WAR, at launch, did have the player populations to support most public quests.  One problem that hurt the PQs though, was the fact players were using instanced scenarios to grind out their levels.  Since scenarios could be joined from anywhere within the world, players often went *poof* in the middle of a PQ.  This problem still exists today, and is very evident in tier 1.

However, PQs have been readjusted accross the zones.  Instead of most of them requiring full groups and perfect setups, several out of the way PQs are geared for small 2-3 person groups.  A quick look at the open groups screen in Nordland lead my directly to a 3 man group (slayer, archmage, white lion).  An hour later we had burned through several PQs and joined up with a larger group farming PQs in Norsca (the next zone up).

I lost track of time quickly.  Many of these PQs I had never seen and I have leveled a dozen alts through these zones.  Mythic made the right changes to PQ difficulty and with the new endless trial, the player density in tier 1 fully supports the system.  What this means in the middle tiers is unknown as I really only have characters of level <12 and level=40.  My suspicion is the player density hits rock bottom in tier 2 and 3, making PQs sort of pointless.  Tier 4 picks up, but most PQs are unrewarding for a rank 40 character, so most PQs go unused except by those leveling.

Also, as my first rant against WAR during these 10 days, there are no PQs in the RvR lakes.  This is an absolute tragedy at this point and my biggest misunderstanding of WAR prior to launch.  

Next: day eight, keep it straight!

December 23, 2009

TIP: How to move Steam games to another drive in Windows 7/Vista/XP

With the Steam holiday sale blitzing everyone's wallets, there are plenty of people trying to find hard drive space to store all of their new games (seriously, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. for only $1.99, Mirror's Edge for $4.99).

One of the quirks with Steam is that it only allows users to install games to the same drive that Steam resides on.  For many, that is their main C: drive, which often fills up quickly.  I will detail the process used to move 3rd party games to another drive.  This will be for Windows 7 and Vista (Windows XP users click here).

NOTE: Click here for details on moving Valve's games (Team Fortress 2, Half Life 2, etc.).
NOTE: Both drives must be formatted with the NTFS file system.
NOTE: This moves the actual game files, not saved files that may be in different folders.


Step 1:

Create a folder named Steam2 on your additional storage drive (remember, the drive must be formatted NTFS).  Putting the folder in the root of the drive will make it easier to run the commands later.  Example:  D:\Steam2

Step 2:

Locate your Steam install folder.

Windows 7/Vista 64-bit - C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\
Windows 7/Vista 32-bit - C:\Program Files\Steam\

Step 3:

Next, locate \steamapps\common\ in your Steam install folder.  This is where 3rd party game installs are neatly kept in their own folders.

Step 4:

Select the game folders you wish to move and then select CUT.

Step 5:

Go to the Steam2 folder created in step 1 and click PASTE.  This will move the folders and files for each game over to your spare storage and remove them from the original drive.  The next step will link these moved folders back to their old locations so that Steam can find and use them.

Step 6:

Open a command prompt.

With the prompt open, use the mklink /J command for each game that you moved.  The mklink command creates a link to the moved folder.  The syntax is as follows:

mklink /J link target

mklink = the 'make link' command
/J = the junction prefix, which creates the link between folders
link =  the file path to the folder that needs to be linked to
target = the file path to the folder that has the data in it

Example using BioShock on Windows 7 64-bit:

mklink /J "C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\bioshock" "F:\Steam2\bioshock"

*It is important to note the quotations used around the file paths, as the command line does not like spaces or special characters

When this completes correctly, you should see:

Junction created for C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\bioshock <<===>> F:\Steam2\bioshock

Any questions?  Comment below or send an email to heartlessgamer _at_ gmail _dot_ com.

10 Days of WAR: Day Six (Crafting)

I was inspired by the furious pace of Santa's elves to meet the Christmas demand and for my sixth day of WAR I crafted.  The crafting in Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning has always intrigued me.  The concepts are solid, but the execution was lacking at launch. The basic premise is that most monsters and player kills would result in crafting components.  Crafted items are mostly consumable items.  There wasn't traditional blacksmithing or weapon making: there was apothecary for potions, talisman making, and cultivation (which is a gathering skill, but I consider it a craft).

Often times crafting far outpaced a character's progression in WAR due to the mismatch of ingredient levels to a player's level.  The result was often piles and piles of crafted items that were unusable for several levels.  This was not only frustrating, but also impossible to avoid unless a player ignored crafting until they were max level.  To highlight this issue, I created this screenshot a long time ago:

As can be seen, level 30-32 ingredients resulted in level 38 potions for a character that was level 30.

Since that time, there have been general improvements to WAR crafting.  While I do not have the time to list everything, let alone test everything, I will give my general thoughts after an hour of dabbling.

The first noticeable change is the addition a separate inventory bag for crafting supplies.  No longer does a player need two alts with entire banks dedicated to holding crafting supplies.  Everything can now be maintained under one character.  Organization wise, there is no more searching through a backpack full of quest rewards, currency items, and random junk to find single crafting components!  No longer does a player need a half dozen crafting UI addons to survive!

The second improvement actually occurred while I was still playing originally.  The gathering professions were re-balanced.  Butchering and scavenging were changed to focus on a specific craft: butchering for apothecary, scavenging for talisman making.  Previously, scavenging was by far the best gathering skill for both.

Then there is cultivation hanging out to the side.  Its considered a gathering skill, but it requires components to be combined to gather an item produced.  To me, that is crafting.   As a big-time gardener in real life, I've always loved cultivation in WAR.  It was changed to produce more apothecary related ingredients, which was a very welcome change after the butchering/scavenging reworks.  However, I didn't care enough to buy seeds and didn't touch my cultivator.

I have every crafting skill up to 200. The only gathering skill I am lacking on my characters is butchering. This adds up to a self sufficient account.

Apothecary Impressions

The basics of Apothecary felt the same. However, the most common ingredients were changed with the scavenging/butchering changes. With scavenging changed to result in talisman making ingredients, I was forced to use the auction house. Without knowing the names of the items I needed, I headed to the web for a WAR crafting wiki. Minor gripe here, the WAR auction house search is horrible (anyone have any addons for this?).

An addition to Apothecary is hybrid potions that boost two stats at once.  From my research, these were the best to make for individual use.  As always, healing potions appear to be the most sought after potions by other players and where apothecaries can make some money.

Another welcome change, which I did not realize at first, is that potion effects persist through death.  Originally, potion effects were canceled by death, which is a dumb idea in a game that actively promotes dieing, a lot!  Great change in my book.

Talisman Making Impressions

Talisman making also features some tweaks that make it more enjoyable. End-product talismans are more predictable and I don't believe they have timers associated with them any longer (anyone confirm?). Also, they FINALLY have level restrictions on talismans, preventing low level twinks from using talismans meant for rank 40s. This diminishes the consumable market for talismans some, but its not detrimental as my next point will demonstrate.

There is a glaring problem: the raw materials for talisman making are STILL worth far more than the talismans. Why? Because rare components can lead to extraordinary results. Unfortunately, the majority of the time a low end component will produce the same result as an ultra-rare component. This makes scavenging, where the rare components come from, a more profitable venture than the crafting. So, talisman making is best done for a player's own characters and not as a for-profit trade.

Come back for day seven!

PS.  It took me six days to notice returning players get a quest for a neat 7 day buff:

December 22, 2009

Unlimited Free Trials are the New MMO Hotness (Age of Conan, Champions Online, Warhammer Online, and more!)

Apparently I missed the memo.  Free trials with unlimited playtime, but level and gameplay restrictions, are popping up everywhere.

Age of Conan - LINK
Details:  Unlimited playtime. Players can play up to level 20, but only if registered for the trial before Jan 1st, 2010.  Trading and player chat limited.

Champions Online - LINK  
Details: Unlimited playtime. New players can create an account and play the beginning zone of Champions Online for as long as they want.

Warhammer Online - LINK
Details: Unlimited playtime. Players are restricted to the Tier 1 Empire vs Chaos zones, but can access all scenarios.  Trading and player chat limited.

Alganon - LINK
Details: Unlimited playtime. No leveling or zone restrictions, but trial characters are deleted after 30 days and must be re-rolled.  Limited skill progression and limited chat options.

10 Days of WAR: Day Five, Metaplace shutdown

For Day Five of my return to WAR, I took a break.  However, to fill space, I want to talk about the Metaplace shutdown that was announced yesterday:
Today we have unfortunate news to share with the Metaplace community. We will be closing down our service on January 1, 2010 at 11:59pm Pacific. The official announcement is here and copied below, and you can read a FAQ guide here. We will be having a goodbye celebration party on January 1st at 12:00noon Pacific Time.
I'm conflicted on what to think. On one hand I don't see how the product could ever generate revenue, but on the other hand I could see it had potential. In the end, the first was proven correct and the latter will be left to our imaginations.

Avatar movement was clunky and it felt like my character was always floating. Most interaction seemed to boil down to launching another website or some form of web content (videos, music, etc).  Nothing in Metaplace ever felt like a game.

However, I don't feel it was supposed to and that is not what Raph Koster set out to do. Unfortunately, Koster is known for his involvement in MMOGs, so that was what many of us expected.  Games could be built using the Metaplace tools, but it was not its sole or even advertised purpose.  However, what its true purpose was, I could not tell you.  I messed around with Metaplace only long enough to know it wasn't any good for hosting an online game.

The meta places were tiny and then they tried to offer more world space for larger worlds, but that extra space cost money, unless a builder wanted to use just the small world spaces offered for free.  Then there was an additional cost to have more than ten people in your world at once and the pass to allow more than ten people at a time only lasted a single day. Then there was Metaplace coins that could be used for many things.  Builders could even charge to access their world.  IT WAS CONFUSING!

Metaplace was so confusing that I gave up on it.  I didn't know what I could or couldn't do and I had no idea where I was getting all my coins from that were letting me buy things.  I couldn't find any meta places that felt polished or professionally done.  It all felt like crappy Neverwinter Nights user modules that I downloaded from IGN back in the 00's.

I'm not trying to be mean about Metaplace.  I'm sticking to my long held belief that 99% of user generated content is garbage.  Metaplace was trying to get people to PAY to both make and use that 99%, which to me was a failure from the start.

However, I saw a glimmer of possibility within the system.  If it could have been expanded to allow for large, seemless worlds, it could have been amazing.  If the community had built better tools, novice builders could of climbed out of the 99%.  Lastly, if the business model had just made sense, people may have known what they could spend their money on.

Sorry Raph.  Sorry Cuppy.  I respect what was being attempted, but as a gamer and web enthusiast it didn't hold my interest.

December 21, 2009

10 Days of WAR: Day Four

Day four of my return to Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning was spent in Tier 1 scenarios.  As I stated on Day Three, tier 1 is my favorite part of WAR.  Also, I commented that the limitless trial was one of the best things going for WAR. Unfortunately, after last night, my mind has been slightly changed.

I've never had a problem with instanced content and it fits well in WAR.  Instanced scenarios offer quick and easy action and offer varied challenges. However, I was not having much fun playing last night.

My problems with scenarios in WAR are two fold: teams are rarely balanced and some scenarios aren't worth playing.  Unfortunately, both of these are worsened by the limitless trial.  This came as an unwelcome shock to my plans to play the limitless trial in the future.

The first side effect of the limitless trial is evident in the tier 1 scenario of Nordenwatch.  It is the only scenario that limitless trial  players are allowed to join which means there is almost always a Nordenwatch match active.  Update: All tier 1 scenarios are available to trial players, but my point still stands.  For the casual player looking for a quick skirmish, Nordenwatch will probably be it.  Patience and luck are needed to get into a match for any of the other tier 1 scenarios.

This highlights my first issue with scenarios.  It's almost pointless to queue up for the other tier 1 scenarios as they are unlikely to open compared to the trial stuffed Nordenwatch.  This problem follows in later tiers as the majority of scenarios that are not rewarding enough are NEVER played compared to the few over-popular scenarios that are ALWAYS played.  This can be fixed, easily, by simply standardizing the reward gained across all scenarios.  Players can then choose the scenarios that are fun to play, not just the ones that will give the quick and easy rewards.

Secondly, since trial players are limited to 10, there is an abundance of level 10 twinks.  A normal player quickly levels out of tier 1 because they gain experience rapidly from completing content.  At most, a normal low level twink will only be around for a few dominant scenario or open RvR performances.   This limits the effect of traditional twinks.

However, level 10 trial players are the opposite.  They are hard capped allowing them to stick around without fear of leveling out of the tier. Essentially, the WAR trial has its own end game.  This is great for the trial players, but I can see why veterans and paying players are upset by this.

That brings me to my second beef with scenarios: team balance.  I hate loading up a scenario only to find my side camped into their spawn point because the system put a team full of level 10s against a team with a highest level member of 5.  This non-balance is true in ALL tiers.  Mythic does NOT have a match-making system ala World of Warcraft arenas or similiar ELO rating systems.  Its frustrating when a dominant team is allowed to steam roll the fast spawning scenarios, exasperated by the fact its impossible to get the other scenarios to open due to lack of players.

The limitless trial is still the best thing WAR has going on, but I can see how it alienates paying players.  WAR has a lot of scenarios and Mythic needs to do something to make sure all of them reward equally.  Scenarios are fun when the sides are balanced, but it happens too rarely to make the system shine.

December 20, 2009

10 Days of WAR: Day Three

For Day Three of my 10-day return to Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, I ventured back into tier 1 to see how the new limitless trial was working out.  I rolled the one Order class I haven't played: the dwarf slayer.  Instead of starting in the dwarf lands, I was transplanted in the Empire starting area of Nordland.  This is meant to make sure that new players are concentrated into a single zone, allowing for the key features of WAR to shine (PQs, RvR, lairs).

I took a screenshot of a new item, the Rune of Transport, that describes exactly what it is all about:

Not only does it highlight the new combined starting area, it also makes a statement about the way the player density in WAR has been heading: down. However, the new starting area is good for WAR and it helps tremendously to hide the player density issues of the later tiers.

Playing at 11 PM on a Saturday night, I was shocked that so much was happening in Nordland.  New players were everywhere and most public quests were hopping.  Also, the RvR lake was packed and scenarios were starting on a regular basis.  Asking around, I found that A LOT of the "new" players were on the limitless trial and after some observation it was apparent.

Players were not behaving as I had expected.  Many were willing to repeat the PQs well after maxing their influence bars.  Others showed no interest in progressing at any reasonable speed. Some even explored the far reaches of the zone!  It was obvious that rank 10 (the max in the trial) was the end game and it was only a stones throw away.  There was no need to rush.  This spurred my optimism as I am now seriously considering playing the limitless trial after my 10 days are up.

Tier 1 has always been my favorite experience in WAR.  This is the tier of content that sold me on the game in beta and the weekend previews.  This was the tier of content that every beta tester agreed was "polished" and all Mythic needed to do was copy it four times over for a successful game.  It was all false hope as Mythic did not copy it and the current state of the game stands as evidence.  I would be curious to see how many veterans would rather spend time in tier 1 compared to tier 4.  I know I would!

Even with my love for tier 1 flowing, I still despise the RvR lake setups.  Tier 1 is worse off than tier 4 as there are no keeps or mounts for fast transport.  Fortunately, Nordland has the best of the tier 1 RvR lakes and is the only RvR lake in the game where I agree with the warcamps being close together.  It's tier 1 and players NEED to be put close together to spur action.  The Dwarf and High Elf starting RvR lakes are terrible in comparison.  Mythic chose the right zone for the new "new player experience".

Still, there is almost NOTHING outside of the battlefield objectives and zerg warfare in the tier 1 RvR lake.  No PQs, no quests, and little PvE content.  There is a lair to complete, but its out of the way and requires a solid group of coordinating players.  Its a stupid design, a waste of resources, and a missed opportunity.

Over three days, it is apparent what one of my major gripes with WAR is.  I truly thought that Mythic was going to incorporate all aspects of WAR into awesome end-game RvR zones that would attract both the PvP and PvE players.  This blend of play styles was going to put in place a varied platform for future growth.  I was fooled into thinking that RvR was something more than just PvP, but in WAR it is not.

What will I do for day four?  Come back tomorrow and find out!

December 19, 2009

10 Days of WAR: Day Two

Day two of my journey back into Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning landed me in the Land of the Dead.

After checking out the map of the zone I noticed that the Public Quest (PQ) markers showed how many players were present and participating. The PQ nearest the starting area was one short of the recommended group size, so I joined in the fun. The first monster I attacked, a giant condor, didn't fall over dead as I had expected. Instead it took flight with me in it's claws and headed up to the mountainside to deposit me in it's nest! I was shocked: MMOG monsters are supposed to die and give me loot, not try and feed me to their children!

Completing this PQ reminded me why I had such high hopes for WAR. PQs are brilliant and fun when enough players are present. Unfortunately since Order just unlocked access to the LotD zone, only the PQ nearest the warcamp had any players participating.

Referencing back to Day One, there are no PQs in any of the tier 4 RvR lakes, which is a damn shame considering that is where Mythic encourages players to spend their time.  Again, it frustrates me that NOTHING has been done to the RvR lakes to encourage players to visit outside of a zerg keep or objective fight.  Also, to highlight the poor design decisions, keeps and battlefield objectives reward increased experience/influence gain in zones where there is NO FUCKING CONTENT! 

I refuse to use the term zone for the RvR areas, as they are one-dimensional lakes.  Players returning to WAR to jump into the tier 4 RvR action are going to find the same sub-par game they left in the first place.  Anyways, back to LotD.

After a few runs of the PQ, I decided to see the rest of the zone. What I found next, blew my fucking mind:

Its fairly obvious that I am not a fan of zerg vs zerg PvP.  I enjoy smaller conflicts where each and every player matters and the action lasts minutes, not seconds.  Larger conflicts are welcome, but not when they are the majority.  There needs to be incentives for players to spread out.  WAR could accomplish this by  filling out the tier 4 RvR lakes with PQs, quests, and other PvE content.   A keep siege should be a significant event, not an hourly occurrence and certainly not the ONLY attraction to the RvR lakes.

That is why the above situation blew my mind.  The content in LotD spreads the players out across the multiple PQs, lairs, and instances.  There is no single point with a flashing timer or a zone-wide broadcast that signals every player in the area to come rushing over.  Players form small groups and head out to their content destination of choice which can lead to...

...dare I say it...

small-scale RvR!  I spent the next 30 minutes chasing down Destruction players with a couple random Order players.  I even succeeded in finding and winning a 1vs1 fight with a Shaman, something I only dreamed of originally. 

I spent about an hour in LotD and I'm convinced it is a model for the rest of the game.  It features a well designed zone that combines all aspects of WAR: RvR, PQs, PvE quests, instances, and lairs.  Outside of the gating mechanic, which I don't fully understand, LotD gave me hope that WAR might make it as a niche game.  Mythic needs to transplant the combination of features that LotD offers to the rest of the tier 4 RvR lakes.

For day three, I am going to look at the tier 1 situation and the effect the limitless free trial has had.

December 18, 2009

10 Days of WAR: Day One

I started my holiday-inspired return to Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning by logging into my level 40/ RR 35 Ironbreaker on Badlands. The first order of business was restoring my UI. WAR's default UI serves its purpose, but there are a few things my minimalist gamer brain needs: clean unit frames, consolidated info bars, and easily customized hotbars.

Rebuilding a lost UI can be aggravating, but for WAR, there is a great tool available from Curse for management and automatic updates/installs of most UI elements. I highly recommend the Curse Client.

For clean unit frames, I settled with Pure. Hotbars are managed via Vertigo. Info bars are kept organized with Warboard. The rest: Phantom, Squared, and MOTH.


After thirty minutes of  UI customization, I was ready to helicopter on out to the Tier 4 RvR lakes.

The first and immediate change noted upon logging into WAR is the new RvR summary page.  Upon login, it details all of the current RvR hotspots and offers a quick teleport to the warcamp nearest the action.  The teleport is only usable once every 8 hours, somewhat lowering the convenience of the tool, but keeping the game balance in check.

The action was in Eataine and once on the ground, I headed out.  It wasn't long (about 30 seconds out of the warcamp) before I was eating dirt thanks to a full on zerg of Destruction players.  My second run out was more fruitful as I skirted down the river and entered the RvR lake well outside the view of the enemy.  However, this brought me back to a reason I quit WAR the first time around.   The damn warcamps are too close together. 

If a player is smart, like me, and runs around the immediate action, they are greeted with  boredom as almost no one ventures out to the corners of the RvR lakes unless an objective is being contested and they have a zerg in tow.  Its absolutely frustrating that Mythic has done nothing to encourage players to enter the tier 4 RvR lakes for anything more than mindless zerging back and forth between the warcamps.

This really soured my attitude and I ended up logging for the day.  Day Two will see my first adventure into the Land of the Dead.

December 17, 2009

10 Days of WAR

I've run the gambit of thoughts on WAR, my final verdict after months of play was that WAR had pockets of greatness, but the overall design was poor. Also, some technical and stability issues arose directly related to poor design that really aggravated me. However, since quitting, I've wanted to go back. So, I've decided to take advantage of the re-enlistment campaign for Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.

With that will come the following list of nifty gifts:

I have no honest plans to resubscribe because I lack the time to make $14.95 a month a justifiable expense.  However, stranger things have happened.

December 15, 2009

Welcome to the new


Update:  Lost some bottom padding under posts, but cant figure out how to fix it :P Ah well, nothing major. That tricksy padding was trumped by some margin-top with a new class :P

December 14, 2009

Team Fortress 2 - Crafting

The upcoming Team Fortress 2 update is getting more interesting by the day.  A new crafting webpage has appeared as part of the update, with a promising opening:
For years you have been able to create weapons with your bare hands, using raw steel, in real life. What if we were to tell you there’s now a way to SIMULATE that in-game?
Apparently this will run off of blueprints where various items can be combined to create the item you want. A screen shot of the crafting screen is below:

Valve never ceases to amaze me with the updates for TF2.

Update: Also found

December 13, 2009

The Economy of FREE

FREE, 29 holiday song downloads on Amazon. You clicked.  I know you did.  It's ok, I'll wait for you to get Silent Night playing in the background before you come back to read this post.  FREE is hard to resist, especially with no strings attached.  FREE is also worth money, because out of the hundreds of people that download a FREE song, some will end up buying one.

Gamasutra has some hard numbers: 58% Of PlaySpan Users Buy Goods From Free-To-Play Games
And not only did free-to-play games see the highest purchase penetration among users, they also generated the most money on a per-user basis. The average user's expenditure on publisher-sold free-to-play digital goods over the course of 12 months was $75, compared to $60 for MMOs, and $50 for social network games.
F2P games, with micro transactions, serve all levels of investment from players. There is no barrier to entry because its free to play, increasing the potential audience. Those willing to spend very little, can still access the game, earning money from a market segment that the subscription model misses. Those willing to pay more are allowed to do so and are not capped at their monthly subscription cost. Both end up supporting the ability for free riders to hitch on at no cost.  A free rider being just another sales opportunity.

World of Warcraft has forever cemented the subscription model as valid. F2P games are quickly validating micro-transactions.  This is not an argument that F2P is better than the subscription model. It shows that the F2P model is working and that those people screaming about $10 horses are falling behind the times. Also, it shows that advertising can be done with the product, not flashy Mr T commercials (as epic as they are).  That's a win for the customer as we get a free game to play, no strings attached.

December 12, 2009

Allods Online: Fatigue is pretty smart

The fatigue system in Allods Online is pretty smart.  Players have a fatigue pool that is filled every time they gain experience.  Fatigue is gained on a 1 to 1 basis to experience and is displayed as the blue portion of the experience bar. At any time, fatigue can be turned in at an innkeeper for experience (also on a 1:1 basis).  The fatigue pool is limited and only so much can be gained in a single day.

This is not immediately obvious, but when fatigue is maxed out, a player is effectively cut to 50% of their normal experience gain.  However, Allods does this in a very smart way which I agree wholeheartedly with.

Experience that is gained off kills and quests is never affected by fatigue.  If a monster is worth 10 XP, it is worth that same 10 come full fatigue. So, the player never sees the decrease in their active XP gains, which show on-screen after a kill or quest turn in.  The loss comes in the lack of fatigue gains, which are buried in the combat log.  This is a smart visual way to prevent players from feeling shortchanged.

Secondly, the system encourages players to do other things.  Each day the fatigue system sets a soft cap on how much experience gaining a player should be doing.  Players that push past that soft cap are never prevented from doing so.  Players that hit the soft cap and want to stop, don't feel punished for doing other things because realistically they are only missing out on 50% XP gain.  This allows for and encourages social behavior.

Also, it encourages players to log out, which for a free-to-play game like Allods is golden.  Logged in players cost money and without monthly subscriptions, its money lost.  I suspect that players who are actively engaged in other aspects of the game outside of combat are more likely to drop a few dollars on a customization cash shop item as well.

Lastly, fatigue rewards the casual player.  Only getting an average of thirty minutes a day to play has not made me feel left out in Allods.  I can complete a few quests, get some fatigue gain, hit up an innkeeper and feel comfortable that progress was made.  I often think of it as double experience every time I  log in since so many of my friends are often playing well past maxed fatigue.

Site Updates Incoming, Need Your Eyeballs (and browsers)

My new template is nearing completion and can be viewed at Please check it out and let me know if it appears that something is not working. Currently built to run best in Firefox 3+, but no known issues with IE8 or Google Chrome.

A live version using this template can be viewed at The rest of my sites will be moved this weekend pending any disasters discovered today.

General comments on the design are welcome.

December 10, 2009 Site of the Week has picked as their site of the week.


DISQUS comments fixed! Yay!

@DISQUS has helped me identify and remove the offending java script that was causing comments to fail on Everyone should be able to post without issue now, guest or not.

Please give them a try below.

December 8, 2009

Micro-transactions and Battlefield Heroes Beta

EA Dice made some unpopular changes to the pricing model in the free-to-play (F2P), but supported by micro-transactions Battlefield: Heroes. Ars Technica has an article with the basics:
You could buy certain items to give yourself an edge, sure, but it was just as easy to earn in-game Valor Points (VP) to purchase weapons and widgets for use in the game. Many gamers did just this, earning VP in their regular gaming session without ever paying a dime. Others made a few purchases here and there to round out their items.
With micro-transactions all the rage right now, this has created a shit-storm around the blog-o-sphere. I find myself having to step in and defend the unpopular view.

The game is still in BETA and changes are to be expected. Overall, these changes were GOOD for Battlefield: Heroes. However, they were POORLY communicated (as in no players knew they were coming). Also, the developers originally stated players wouldn't be able to buy items that would make them more powerful, which is a promise now breached.

As a long time Battlefield: Heroes player (since early beta), I stand firmly in my belief that players DO NOT need more than the default weapons to be successful. I routinely place in the top three during matches with nothing more than the default weapons (the proof is on my BF:H profile page). I could continue playing my way, unaffected by these changes, but I won't.

I originally limited myself to $20 worth of battlefunds to play dress up, because there was nothing else worth spending money on. Now, spending real money on the game is more about convenience and enhancement. I buy funds now and NO LONGER have to spend my time as well to win VP! I can easily purchase the items outright that will help me enjoy the time I spend playing. This is a win-win for my time and offers value for the money spent.

All while free players STILL have access to the majority of the arsenal they previously had via VP, albeit not nearly as easily. Outside of the changes to bandages, the other questionable move was adding battlefund-only weapons that are more powerful than the VP weapons. Again, this was NOT supposed to happen per the developer's own statements.

How does shooter drama spill over into the MMO blog-o-sphere?

As micro-transaction business models begin flooding the MMOG market, certain MMO bloggers are looking for any excuse to attack them, which means they reach outside of MMOGs. I was once on that side of things, but I've come to realize that micro-transactions are a valid business model and offer a great value when combined with F2P.

F2P games are routinely misconstrued as altruistic projects where the developers aren't allowed to make a profit operating the game. F2P games are a different means to the same goal: operating a sustainable business. They are no different in the need to generate revenue than are subscription MMOGs. Both F2P and subscription games make game-related changes to sustain the bottom line.

Subscription games feature many time sinks (lock out timers, progression gating mechanics, etc.) to increase the amount of time players need to pour into the game, therefore increasing revenue. Also, subscription games often come with a box price and they release expansions which often invalidate everything that existed before.

F2P games operate similarly, but with a more "car salesman" approach. They already can keep players playing by being F2P, so the subscription model's tricks don't work. F2P games have to sell something to the players. This means they have to balance being free with making money, and the line has to be drawn somewhere as we've seen with Battlefield Heroes and Free Realms recently. Yes, changes will scare away players in F2P games. The same as patches/nerfs will drive away players in a subscription MMO.

Lessons Learned

Wrapping this whole mess up, it amazes me how people lose perspective so quickly when micro-transactions get involved. They let subscription games get away with murder, but god forbid a F2P game charges $10 for a horse or limits the free riders.

I think the most valuable lesson for EA Dice that can be learned here is simple: don't charge real money for micro-transactions when a game is still in BETA and changes are being planned to the pricing model. For the players, don't expect a free ride indefinitely. Finally, F2P combined with micro-transactions is a means to the same end: making money.

Did I mention this game is still in BETA?

December 4, 2009 Giveaway: Allods Online Beta Keys


I will update this post if I receive any more keys.

On Monetizing MMO Blogs

Recently, I asked for some feedback on the site, as well as opinions on MMO bloggers monetizing their blogs.

First, I run advertisements in three forms on this blog currently: in-line text ads, search traffic only ads, and referral links. The first two are powered by Chitika and pay per click. The referral links are to and pay a percentage of any purchases made via that link.

What do you need the money for?

The biggest question that people ask me is what I do with the money I earn. The blog is free to host on Google's Blogger, so there are no web costs (outside of an annual $10 domain registration fee). And it's pretty obvious I don't make my living doing this.

I use the money to pay for some of my gaming. When my blog was more popular (my traffic is down 50%+ this year), I made enough for a monthly subscription to an MMO. Recently, I have used it to micro-transact in games like Battlefield Heroes and Domain of Heroes.

However, since I've not played a subscription game in a while, I have pocketed a good amount of the money made (actually its sitting in my Paypal account). My most recent game purchases have been covered by bonuses I've gotten from work.

The referral links pay out via Amazon gift certificates. When I earn enough for my first gift certificate there, I will purchase more games, books, and movies to write about on this blog.

For the most part, the money earned here can be viewed as an investment back into the blog. However, it still leaves me sitting on a pile of cash that I haven't spent and I am going to work out a percentage to donate to Child's Play (my favorite charity). Going forward, charity will have a lot to do with the money made here after my minimal new web costs are covered (I am bringing some new stuff online in the near future).


Surprisingly, most people that left feedback were fine with bloggers monetizing their blogs as long as it wasn't intrusive or contradicting(for example, gold seller ads when I am against gold selling). Chitika has been good about running legit advertisements, but they rarely match search ads to anything my readers would be interested in.

The referral links are more targeted. If I talk about a game, I will usually link to the games page on Amazon. If I review a book or movie, I will also link to Amazon. Or when Amazon runs deals like $3 in FREE MP3s, I will link to the promotional page and collect referrals as people cash in the free codes. This is hit or miss, but is the least intrusive of all advertising and the most honest.

With the feedback gathered, I think I am going to move towards straight referral-based advertising and be more open about my links. Along with the charitable giving, I am hoping this honesty will spur some purchases!

Lastly, I am going to take down the in-line text ads, as well as the search based ads from Chitika on the main page. I'm always open to advertising opportunities, so some form of automated advertising may return in the future.

December 3, 2009

DISQUS fix, need testers

Update: 4 Dec, 2009 - Thanks for the help so far. If you are seeing "There was an error with your submission. Please make sure you are actually logged in." as a guest, I am working on it.
I have worked with @DISQUS to resolve some issues with DISQUS comments on the site. I am trying to find out from people that have been having problems if it is any better. So if everyone could please try and leave a comment here for testing, it would be appreciated.

December 2, 2009

Initial Impressions: Allods Online (beta 2)

Allods Online looks like World of Warcraft. It also feels and plays like WoW. This is a compliment, because Allods Online is a good, fun game to play

Allods Online is an upcoming free-to-play (F2P), but supported by micro-transactions game from gPotato and Astrum Nival. It entered closed beta 2 yesterday and I was able to put a couple hours into it.

As with WoW, Allods is divided into two factions: Empire and League. Both sides offer similar classes, albeit named differently based on race. At this point, I am unsure how much of a difference between factions the classes enjoy.

I chose to go with an Arisen Occultist (which is of the Psionicist archetype, Empire faction). The Arisen are an undead-like, mechanical race. They are Allods' version of WoW's undead, as almost everyone in game alludes to.

I guess I should cover that up front. Everyone in game won't shut up about WoW this and WoW that, but its understandable as it happens in all new MMOGs. Even in ones that aren't anything like WoW. This is a deal killer for some and has others quickly searching for the chat options to kill general chat. Personally, I just ignore it.

Back to my Occultist. This caster class works on a mental link mechanic whereby all my attacks against the linked target have some sort of benefit. I can then terminate that link, dealing a significant portion of damage. At first the mechanic is confusing as there are hidden benefits not immediately explained that reduce cast time and offer additional attacks (a DoT, stun, and an extra nuke). After a few levels, I am cruising with this guy.

User Interface (UI)

The UI for Allods is familiar to anyone that has played a diku-inspired MMOG in the last decade. It most closely resembles WoW's and again that is a compliment. Many games try, but fail to emulate some of WoW's better features such as the UI. There are hotbars, menus, a quest tracker, and a familiar looking character info pane.

The only missing item is a minimap, but the larger world map works well. I have not investigated whether a minimap is even available.


A lot of previews have stated that combat in Allods is slow, but in my experience the speed felt right. It was also smooth and enjoyable. Responsiveness is a bit off at times, but that could be related to the server debugging going on.


There is only one US server and it had a rough start. At first no one could connect and then after a couple hours it crashed and a login queue was put into place. This morning I did not encounter a queue and was able to play without issue.

I am able to run the game at maximum settings without a hitch (quadcore CPU, Nvidia GTX 260 graphics card, 4Gb RAM, Windows 7 Pro x64). My only graphical complaint is that the viewing distance is tiny, but this is the same complaint I have with WoW's limited viewing distance. In crowded areas, to save on performance, only so much is loaded, which often leads to moments where you think the way ahead is clear only to move five feet and find out there are 10 people standing there instead.

Little Things

There are little things that separate Allods from WoW and other MMOGs.

An immediately noticeable and welcome feature is how rest experience works. Instead of accruing rest exp while logged out, players gain fatigue while fighting/completing quests. This fatigue can be traded in at innkeepers for experience. I am unsure if excess fatigue negatively affects a player or not.

Death is handled via a purgatory mechanic. Upon death players are banished to a small zone with other dead players. They are given the choice to wait a short period of time for a free resurrection or pay with experience debt for an immediate revival. There are also consumable items available in game that can be used to escape purgatory unscathed.

There are some fairly unique classes and races in the game. The Gibberlings race features three small furry avatars that act as one. Summoner classes have non-standard pets, such as the Orc's pet Gnome. Also the associated class for the archetypes are named different for each faction, giving a hint of uniqueness.

With these minor differences, there are some significant ones such as Astral Ships that will be revealed in the later levels of Allods Online. Beta 2 is capped at level 20 and limited to certain zones.


I'm being fairly positive in this initial impressions post because Allods came out of left field and surprised me. As I started with, Allods is a good game. The WoW comparisons are endless, but that's a good thing. Other F2P games like Runes of Magic made me want to go back and play WoW. Allods, so far, has made me want to log back in and play Allods. This game may be the F2P equivalent to WoW I've been looking for.

My Allods Online photo album is available via Flickr.

December 1, 2009

Nov 2009: What I'm Playing/What I'm Paying

Previous months: Oct 2009, Sept 2009

Check out the "What I'm Playing/What I'm Paying" Google Spreadsheet.


November was a fairly simple month for me. Left 4 Dead 2 launched and then December was here before I knew it. As my only gaming purchase, L4D2 set me back $45 (and would have been only $34 had I not waited so long and went in on a 4-pack with friends).

Before I get to L4D2, I want to mention that I did play some other games this month. I finished my first playthrough of Borderlands and am working on a review of the game as I play through it a second time. Its a good game, not great and misses on just about every category. Fortunately, there is a shitload of guns to make up for it.

Also, I took advantage of the six free months for Pirates of the Burning Seas. I like the game, but it was just a bad month to get started...

... because Left 4 Dead 2 took up the majority of my time! I posted my initial impressions and I'm still amazed by this game. Its tons of fun and improves on the game in almost every category. My only complaint is that the new survivors are not as "awesome" as the first four. I miss Bill.


Free MMOs, that aren't normally free, are awesome, even if I don't have a lot of time to play them. Steam continues to prove its value with another pre-order special and on-time release with a preload of the game.

Upcoming changes:

I started using Xfire again this month and that is going to change these monthly What I'm Playing/What I'm Paying posts for the better as I get more granular data on how long I'm playing each game. Expect a new, more detailed spreadsheet next month. This is part of a move towards changes in how I want to run this blog (or is this a website now?).

Hurry, Get an Allods Online Beta Key!

Allods Online hits beta 2 today.
Gala-Net, Inc., a leading free-to-play online game publisher, announced today their second Closed Beta Test (CBT) for Allods Online in the North American market. The second CBT will run from December 1st through December 15th and will enhance the user experience with brand new content.
To get a key, follow one of the below links:

I have keys available!

Ocean Water Moved By The Moon

Someone has invited you to preview Google Wave!

Google Wave is a new online tool for real-time communication and collaboration. A wave can be both a conversation and a document where people can discuss and work together using text, photos, videos, maps, and more. Learn more at

This is still an early preview of Google Wave, so you may run into some bumps along the way but we look forward to your feedback.
Makes me think of this article: Google Wave: we came, we saw, we played D&D.