Archive for March, 2009

Oh No Not Again!

Posted by Stropp on March 25, 2009 It may have been the last words to flash through the mind of a bowl of petunias that had suddenly been called into existence several miles above the surface of an alien planet, but it also happened to be what I was thinking yesterday. My video card, the eighteen month old video card at that, has gone on the blink. So I currently, once again, am computerless. (Forget about video game addiction, computer withdrawl syndrome is much worse.) This post is being written at work. Shhh. Don't tell the boss. So how many hardware issues have I had in the last four years? Plenty. I've lost or had reduced functionality on at least three power supplies, lost some RAM, and a motherboard, and possibly had other problems that I haven't noticed. It seems that there is some sort of supply fault to my house, I either get power spikes (which should be blocked by the surge suppressor fitted to my house) or an undervolts which I'm told can be just as damaging. So now, yet again, I have to go out an buy some replacement hardware. What's even more ironic, or annoying, is the only shop local to where I work that sells computer parts has recently gone out of business, and the Dick Smith store recently opened next door to it (after IT Warehouse departed) which is Australia's biggest electronic chain doesn't sell video cards. Sigh. Not happy, Jan! Update: I've ordered a new MSI 9800GT 512MB card to replace the defunct 8800 768MB card. It's apparently a little better than the old one. I'm leaving work a bit earlier (the shop shuts at 5:30) and picking it up on the way home. After talking to a couple of the hardware engineers here at work, it looks like the solution will be to buy a UPS with built in surge suppression. That should cater for both over and undervolt conditions. Now to find one that won't break the bank.

Correlation Is Not Causation

Posted by Stropp on March 23, 2009 Game Politics has a post up about how the head of the German police union is calling for violent video games to be banned -- in the wake of yet another school shooting, this time in Germany. Heini Schmitt is saying that every perpetrator of school shootings also has an addiction to violent computer games. As with other hysterical commentators of these terribly sad events (school shootings) the first thing they look for is if the perp owns a copy of a violent video game. If that's the case, and it has been so far, the correlation of violent game to school shooting is inferred as causation. The problem is that is not how things really work. One of the things about humans is that we like to get answers to difficult questions, and we tend to do that by matching up patterns. Since we're a little lazy too, we tend to go for the easy links. The problem is, the links don't always tell the truth. The links between cause and effect can be pretty ambiguous. Anything can be used. Don't forget, pretty much every one of these school shooters has used a telephone at some time. "Aha!" I hear you say, "It's proof! Violent acts are caused by telephone addiction!" Would you really believe that? Nope. I wouldn't either. Then why do we automatically assume that violent games cause violent behaviour? There hasn't been any decent peer reviewed research done that backs up this claim. Now it could be that there is a link between violent games and violent acts. That link is the perpetrator. Think about it, if someone is prone to violence, then maybe they'd play violent games too. They might even fantasize about the violence in the game, or the violence on TV... the news... That doesn't make the game responsible for the actions of someone who is already violently predisposed. And let's not forget about the fact that nearly every teenager or young adult these days has a game console or computer in their home with at least one or more popular game. That the most popular games tend to have a violent theme, and the likelihood of a violent offender owning a game goes through the roof.  The big problem is that most of the school (or other) shootings tend to result in the death of the perpetrator leaving only third parties to answer for him. There's no one really left to tell us why it happened. As a society we need to start thinking rationally about these things. Correlation is not causation.

Real Life, Evercrack, LotRO Book 7, and Falling Dark

Posted by Stropp on March 16, 2009 Once again real life takes time away from this precious thing we call gaming, and of course, the blog posting schedule. This weekend past was another weekend where I didn't get much chance to get any real gaming done. I diddled around a little on Friday evening, and then Saturday slipped past with my attention caught by other projects. And Sunday was my nephews sixth birthday. Enough said on that! Just watching the tacka's use all that biochemical energy was enough to sap mine. I think all kids that age must have some sort of built in mana drain spell. So with work, weekend, and a touch of some hideous disease I didn't have much to write.  I'll attempt to remedy that over the coming week. However, there are still a couple of things to note. Today, the 16th of March, is Everquests birthday. Everquest -- also known as Evercrack well before Warcrack, and the harbinger of many frenzied media reports of gaming addiction -- is turning ten years old. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, that is quite an achievement. It does seem though that the spirit of the original game developers -- Everquest, Ultima Online, Asheron's Call, and other games of that era -- seemed to take the viewpoint that these games should have long lives, and not the purely mercenary viewpoint of disposable MMORPGs *cough* NCSoft *cough*. Happy Tenth birthday EQ! It looks like some of the dust is settling on the launch of Darkfall. There are some great reports coming from the game. People are enjoying it, when they get in. The downside is that there are some truly monstrous queues. Apparently four hours to get into the game is not uncommon, and I've read claims on the forums that some are seeing eight hour queues. That might be exaggeration, don't believe all the claims on forums.  I'll admit to wondering when the post-release shine will wear off Darkfall, and when frustrated players will simply give up. It did take a few weeks for Age of Conan players to reach that state as I recall. I think even Keen is starting to find Darkfall less shiny. I still hope it survives though. We do need games like this. Hmmm. At some point I need to do a roundup of Darkfall reviews and impressions.  LotRO is also in the news. It's about to release the next book and there are a few changes in the wind that I've heard. I've been getting back into it recently. I'm glad I've got a lifetime sub. It makes it easy to pop in when I feel the draw without having to consider the cost of resubbing. And the year is flying past. Mid-March already! That means that the beta's for Champions Online and Jumpgate are just around the corner. As is the next Blizzard Con. I reckon that's when they'll officially announce the next MMORPG and what it's all about. I've read a few comments that 2009 is shaping up to be the best year for MMORPGs ever. I guess that's only natural, the genre is gathering steam and from now on will go from strength to strength. But still, it's pretty cool...

Ending The Middle Game?

Posted by Stropp on March 10, 2009 Mike from MMOCrunch has an interesting post up titled Reaching the End Game Content Quicker that examines the idea that players are more interested in the end-game content of a MMORPG than they are in the content that they experience on the way to the level cap, and that game developers should be shortening the middle-game to concentrate instead on end-game content.

Whether you’re a fan of PvE or PvP we can all agree that for most of us the endgame is when the real fun starts.  For PvE players this is when you start hitting up the big dungeons and raids.  PvP players can start fighting on a much larger scale, massive guild vs guild battles or keep sieges depending on what game your playing.  But before we can reach endgame content we are forced to play through a lengthy campaign whos main purpose is to level your character.

There's certainly some truth to this. There are a lot of players out there that do want to get to the level cap quickly so that they can participate in the end-game fun and games. For a game like WoW raids pretty much start at 80 these days despite the existence of level 60 raid dungeons. But where Mike goes wrong is when he talks about effectively shortening the middle-game experience to a nub. He is ignoring the huge number of players who enjoy the journey, not just what awaits at the destination.

As a gamer I do want something before reaching the endgame, but not 100-200 hrs worth of something.  A 10-20 hr storyline that takes you through the maps, teaches you how to use your character and gets you some decent gear is what I’d like before being able to partake in endgame content, especially for MMORPGs that concentrate on PvP. Playing through 100+ hrs of lame quests only to realize that the endgame PvP sucks, sucks.

Again, I'm certain there are players who feel this way, Mike certainly does, but that feeling may not be indicative of most or even a large percentage of a games player-base. I know it's not how I feel. If you remember I recently did the Bartle Test and came out primarly as an Explorer with a secondary trait as Achiever.  This did give a pretty reasonable summary of my gamer psychology, it matched quite nicely with the way I play individual games, and how I approach the whole MMORPG genre. It happens that one of the things that I enjoy most about MMORPGs is the vast amount of middle-game content. In fact my major beef with World of Warcraft is that it seems to be all about the end-game with the expansions simply adding to the end and never to the middle. Everquest 2 does better, the new expansions release lots of middle-game content, and LotRO, while growing vertically, extends the story in a way that encourages exploration. If, as Mike suggests, the developers shorten the mid-game content to 10 to 20 hours and concentrate on raids or PvP without letting me go sideways, then the game will probably only last as long as it takes me to level up another couple of alts and then get bored. That's maybe 40 to 50 hours of played time, which is perhaps a couple of weeks of real time. That's not even getting out of the first month. Where he hits the nail on the head with that last paragraph I quoted, is that players don't want to do 100+ hours of lame quests. I'll agree with him there. There's certainly scope for developers to use their imaginations and come up with quest engines that do more than ask players to kill ten more rats, bears, or bandits. But that's not a limitation of the 100+ hours of quests, it's a limitation of a 100+ hours of poorly designed, lame quests. I wonder if Mike was presented with a 100 to 200 hours of brilliantly designed, epic story quests and not just a bunch of missions, would he feel differently about shortening all that? I could get into the end game content but that's pretty limited. Raids? Well I don't mind them, but I certainly don't want to run the same raid dungeon 100 times to get the gear to run the next dungeon in the queue another 100 times. What about PvP? I enjoy it, but it's not what keeps me coming back. Does all this mean I don't like fast leveling? Well, no it doesn't mean that; the achiever part of my gamer-psyche likes to see all the character growth aspects moving upwards, and that does entail leveling. It's also impossible to visit new high level areas without increasing level. Flying over areas like the Searing Gorge and Burning Steppes on my way to and from Stormwind and Ironforge gave me such an itch to level up just to get to them when I was on my first WoW characters. Shortening the middle game really comes down to the game and to the demographic that the developers are aiming for. Darkfall for instance needs players to get up to speed very quickly otherwise they'll be extremely frustrated with the continual ganking from high level players -- not that there are levels mind you, you know what I mean -- and leave the game in droves. Darkfall is targeted towards the Killer/Achiever player-type. World of Warcraft, Everquest 2 on the other hand are targeted towards a wider demographic -- not as much to Killers though -- and needs to provide a mixed set of experiences such as exploration to keep players interested. Take away the exploration aspects by removing the middle-game, and get straight to the Achiever parts of the game and you'll lose your Explorers. Keep the middle-game and you'll keep the Explorers and you won't lose the Achievers in the process. What direction do you think game developers will choose?

Anniversary Edition

Posted by Stropp on March 10, 2009 Everquest was released, just short of ten years ago, on the 16th of March 1999. If you haven't heard there's been quite a bit of talk about it over the last month, and SOE are planning some tenth anniversary events to celebrate Everquest's birthday in about six days time. It's pretty cool that Everquest has lasted this long, despite losing a lot of subscribers to its sequel Everquest 2, and of course to World of Warcraft. There's not even a sign that the game is in decline, expansion packs are regularly released, and the developers make sure they keep the game up-to-date (even if some veteran players aren't too happy about some of the changes.) As an aside it's a model I wish other developers and publishers would adopt. If Everquest can last ten years, surely games like Tabula Rasa and Auto Assault could as well.  Warhammer devs, plz take note! But Everquest isn't the only veteran MMORPG celebrating a tenth anniversary this year. Asheron's Call is as well, having been released on November 2nd, 1999. Now I haven't been following Asheron's Call that closely over the last couple of years, but I still have some fond memories of that game. It was my first MMORPG and is responsible for introducing me to MMO Gaming and therefore ultimately responsible for this blog. I'm not really sure how healthy the game is, or if Turbine have been updating the story as regularly as they once did -- the devs used to update the story with a patch every month, adding new content and lore, something they've also adopted for LotRO but not as regularly. While EQ is drawing folks back in for the tenth anniversary events, I haven't yet heard any announcements from Turbine for a similar celebration. It would be great to see something happen here. Have you heard anything about the Asheron's Call anniversary? If so, please let us know in the comments below.

Apocryphalyptic

Posted by Stropp on March 10, 2009 I noticed last night when I logged in to Eve Online an announcement that for tonights daily downtime, the servers were going to be down a bit longer so that CCP can release the Aprocrypha expansion. Yay! Even though I've been playing Eve on and off for the last couple of months, and I was aware that Aprocrypha was on the way, this one sort of snuck up on me a bit. Hrmph, the whole year so far has snuck up and awy from me, it won' t be too long before the next round of games comes out -- Specifically Champions and Jumpgate in June. Back on topic; There's a couple of things that are looking really sweet with Aprocrypha. The biggest of these is the addition of a whole bunch of new systems that are only accessible through temporary wormholes, and that are inhabited by a new, far smarter, big bad. The new AI baddies won't be your same ol' dumb rats, they're going to use tactics to make the battle unpredicatable. CCP are adding a new element to exploration here. Closely tied to the new systems, are the Tech 3 ships. I'm not sure if there are any frigates in that bunch, but these are new highly customisable ships whose function in a battle won't necessarily be easy to determine. Let me explain. Nearly all of the current ships have stats that lend themselves to a certain activity. Some improve missile flight time, where others are give bonuses to electronic warfare activities. From what I understand the new ships will obfuscate that. The other big feature is the ability to now queue skill training for up to 24 hours. So now if you buy a bunch of new skills, you can queue them all up so that if one is scheduled to finish within 24 hours, you can queue the next immediately after. Now this is nice. It means that those inconvenient lifestyle activities; going to work, out with friends, or just plain sleeping, don't interfere with your skill training. The only thing missing from the skill training as far as I'm concerned is the ability for skills to keep training when they complete a stage. So when I start training a new skill, let's say Salvaging, the training currently stops when it reaches level 1. What I'd like to see happen is that the skill keeps training to the maximum level of 5 if I don't step in to change to a new skill, perhaps due to one of those peskly lifestyle activities mentioned earlier. That's not all that this expansion has to offer, there's also a new player/character experience on the cards, Apocrypha is looking to be a serious update to the game. All up though, Eve Online is going from strength to strength and Aprocrypha looks set to continue the rise of Eve Online as one of the most successful and influential MMORPGs around.

The Darkfall Lottery

Posted by Stropp on March 6, 2009 It really looks like Aventurine are shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to releasing Darkfall places. On the one hand, it looks like there is a ton of demand for Darkfall when Aventurine open up their ordering and it gets completely swamped in the ten minutes that it's open. On the other hand, you have to wonder how much longer potential customers will put up with continually missing out and end up leaving the process altogether. Since I certainly don't have the level of patience necessary to keep refreshing web pages waiting for an announcement that the ordering is going to open at some random time. Then to take a chance on getting a sub, and if I'm not successful to try again day after day. (Hmmm. It looks like Aventurine has taken MMORPG grinding to a whole other level.) If I do end up trying Darkfall I'll probably wait until it quiets down and the sub-rush is over. The problem is that Aventurine only have one server, and they need to limit their intake in order to prevent server meltdown. I've written about The Darkfall Release Model before, and I do think that limited intakes in the early stages of a MMORPG release is a good idea, but I think Aventurine are hurting their release by the way they are doing it. A much better way to have gone about releasing new subscriptions to Darkfall would have been to have a lottery system. Potential players would have been able to register their interest, perhaps through a pre-order, a month or two before the game was due to be released. Then, on release day, a number of players would be randomly selected and sent emails with details on how to register and access the game. This process would continue until all pre-orders had been exhausted, at which point the website would open up for general ordering. If access limitations are still required, the same process could apply, or perhaps it could then be a FIFO queue with players gaining their account in the order they subscribed. The problem is that Aventurine brought this problem on themselves. They prefered spending all of their effort on the game, but forgot that the front-end web experience is almost as important. If you frustrate your customers and make it hard to get your game, then you are shooting yourself in the foot with your  marketing. Of course the hardcore players over at the Darkfall forums think that websites and marketing don't matter. Are they right?

LinkWorthy Post: Don’t Throw Out The Subscription Model

Posted by Stropp on March 5, 2009 Now here's a really good analysis of the Free-to-Play/Microtransaction versus Subscription payment model debate. Eric at Elder Game has a post up called Don't Throw Out The Subscription Model where he puts forward the case for retaining the subscription model -- in a world where game publishers are jumping on the micro-transaction bandwagon -- and where it may be appropriate to use micro-transactions. It's definitely worth a read. Check it out!

Blizzards New MMORPG – Will It Be Hardcore?

Posted by Stropp on March 5, 2009 The term hardcore has been bandied around a lot recently, due in no small part to the release of Darkfall, and the very determined community that has grown around it over the long years of it's development. One of the catch-cries of this group, aside from the high-level use of the F-Word in telling other players what they think, is to tell anyone who criticises Darkfall to go back to WoW, usually with some combination of carebear and the F-Word included. [adsense_id="1"]So it got me wondering. It seems clear that there is a percentage of the World of Warcraft community who would enjoy playing in a more hardcore MMORPG than is currently offered in WoW, but aren't ready for the extremes that existing hardcore games employ. The movement of Jeff "Tigole" Kaplan to Blizzard's new MMORPG team could be a sign that a somewhat more hardcore game is in the works. Kaplan is an old-school Everquest raider, and was responsible for implementing much of the raid content in the "Old" World of Warcraft -- much of what has been casualified in recent times. Could the new team be looking for hardcore content? I'm a believer in the principle that you don't want to shoot yourself in the foot when it comes to releasing a new MMORPG, especially a sequel. SOE made that mistake to some extent when they released Everquest 2. They hurt the player base of both games by splitting the existing players. I think that Blizzard would be keenly aware of this, and will be trying to avoid it as much as possible. And that's why I think that Blizzard's new MMORPG will be a new IP. But I also think that they will be trying for a different segment of the market, and the most underserved segment at the moment is the set of hardcore players. And despite the success, or lack thereof, of Darkfall, that situation isn't likely to change unless a developer comes into the picture with a polished feature-complete game that suits a wide range of hardcore players.  Is it possible that Blizzard is looking to be that developer?

Memeology 101 – Favorite Pop Culture Reference In A MMORPG

Posted by Stropp on March 3, 2009 Time to swipe an idea. Yep, plagiarism. Massively is asking readers, under their regular Daily Grind column, what is their favorite pop culture reference in a MMORPG. Well, I'm going to ask you the same question, and raise the stakes and make a meme out of it. It depends on the game of course, but there are quite a few MMORPGs out there that include pop culture references that are designed to tickle the funny bones of their players. World of Warcraft is perhaps the biggest offender of the lot. It seems you can barely turn a virtual corner without running into some reference from literature, film or TV. Now the theme of this meme -- like the rhyme? -- is to write about either the first pop culture reference that you encountered, or the best, your favorite, reference in a game, and if you remember, how you came across it or why it's your favorite. Then nominate four other bloggers to carry on the meme theme. My favorite, and also first, pop culture reference that I encountered occured when I was playing Anarchy Online. AO was one of the few games at the time to offer housing. I had a small apartment, you could buy bigger, and was looking for some items to spruce it up. While looking in one of the stores, I came across a statue of The Goddess Buffy Summers. Since I hadn't previously seen pop culture references in a MMORPG, it gave me a real sense of connection. I was a fan of Buffy at the time (still am) and it made a sort of sense that 30,000 years in the future (the time that AO was set in) some of 21st century culture would have been mythologized. (I was waiting to see a reference to the Cult of Elvis the King at some point.) So now it's your turn. If you have a favorite reference, leave a comment below, or if you are one of the following bloggers: DM Osbon - Construed, Ysharros - Stylish Corpse, Pete - Dragonchasers, and Makkaio - The Fickle Corebear, you've been tagged. You're it!

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