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Funcom’s New MMOG – A Casual Browser Game?

Posted by Stropp on July 28, 2008

Late last week, I received a Press Release from a MMOG middleware company called Unity Technologies. Unity Technologies have recently been selected to provide the engine for a couple of new games, one of which was announced last week. That was the Cartoon Networks casual MMO game for kids, Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall.

FusionFall appears to be a particularly appropriate title, since the game fuses together a number of the cartoons that they show. These include such widely disparate toons like Ed, Ed n Eddy, Ben 10, The Powerpuff Girls, and Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends. A game like this executed well could be quite successful since these are all well received cartoons.

But the big news, not sure — am I breaking this? Is that the Unity Engine has also been selected by Funcom for their new, get this, casual, web browser, based MMOG.

Here’s the press release:

Unity Supports Development of Virtual Worlds &

Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) Games

In-Browser Experience Sets Unity Apart from Competitors;

Cartoon Network with Grigon Entertainment & Funcom with Artplant

First Developers of Unity-based MMOs

SAN FRANCISCO, CA July 24, 2008 – Unity Technologies, a leading 3D game development tool provider, today announced support for the creation of virtual worlds and massively multiplayer online (MMO) games. Already the cutting-edge choice for creating visually rich, 3D games on the Web, Unity now boasts a full roster of MMO features, including multiple terrains for virtually limitless environments and new on-demand streaming features that benefit game developer and player alike.

“The Unity engine with the additional MMO capabilities elevates the in-browser experience – resulting in the best and most comprehensive MMO game development engine on the market today,” said David Helgason, CEO of Unity Technologies. “The Unity engine has been tuned to support the unique needs of virtual world/MMO development, resulting in the fastest downloads, smoothest game play and limitless 3D environments.”

Unity was recently chosen by two leading developers for MMO creation. Cartoon Network’s 3D virtual MMO for kids, Cartoon Network Universe: FusionFall, which is being developed with Grigon Entertainment, is slated to debut this Fall. In addition, Funcom, the maker of Anarchy Online and Age of Conan, along with its partner Artplant chose Unity 2.1 for development of their new casual market MMO currently under production and under wraps.

Lucas Meijer, lead developer of Funcom/Artplant’s casual MMO said, "Unity 3D enables us to create game content for the Web, with higher production values than we’ve ever been able to do before."

New MMO/virtual world features supported by Unity 2.1 include:

ï‚· Multiple Terrains: Unity 2.1 is the only engine to support multiple terrains in any given scene and to load the terrains on-demand and on-the-fly. Multiple terrains instantly immerse gamer in an endless landscape, based on streamed data, which is critical for the success of any virtual world/MMO.

ï‚· Streaming Resource Files: Unity 2.1 loads assets on-demand with new streaming features. With the new streaming capabilities, developers can add to or update deployed content without having to completely republish content. This results in significant workflow efficiencies for developer, while delivering the quickest download/smoothest game play for the gamer.

Funcom’s secret in-development massive online game is not something we’ve heard too much about so far. Every now and again I’ve read a few comments on various blogs and news sites, but there’s been no hard information about it.

That Funcom have chosen to go for the casual market next is an interesting move by them, and it might be something that will pay off. The casual MMO game market is growing at a rapid pace. It fills a huge gap between gamers that like to spend a little time each day with browser based casual games and the hardcore gamers that spend huge amounts of time tweaking every aspect of their character.

The thing that casual games are missing is the sense of continuity. You log on, play for a while, and then log off. The only persistence is the scoring ladder. On the other hand, casual gamers don’t have the time or inclination to spend thousands of hours raiding, PvPing, crafting and the like. These new browser based games should allow them to meet in the middle and progress by spending as much or as little time as they’d like.

If you’ve got an idea for a casual browser based MMO game, and you’re looking for some middleware with which to build it, check out Unity. Prices for licenses range from $199 for the Indie license up to $1998 for the full Pro version.

Google Lively

Posted by Stropp on July 10, 2008

I’ve heard it said elsewhere, and haven’t taken the comment too seriously, but it appears that Google really does want to own the web.

Google has been playing hard over the last few years. They’ve been acquiring advertising firms like Doubleclick and getting into content ownership by buying YouTube. They’ve even been working on a competitor to Wikipedia. (Who do you reckon would win in that war?)

Now they’re taking on Lindon Labs Second Life with the launch of a service called Lively.

Lively appears to offer (or will offer) similar functionality to Second Life, but will be browser based. Like all these things, Lively has started off small with a number of sample rooms available, but this is going to evolve and will give Linden Labs a run for its money.

So far though, personally, I’m not all that impressed.

Sure it’s interesting from a social evolution perspective. Virtual worlds really are just in their infancy, and will evolve and play a part in our future.

But for me, there’s one vital missing piece. The gaming. Both Second Life and Lively seem to be places where folks can congregate, socialize and create digital lifestyle goods. Even though I’ve considered it, I’ve never been able to bring myself to create a Second Life account — not bored enough I suppose.

Now if they can fuse the creative aspects of Second Life/Lively with the adventure aspects of MMORPGs, that might be worth looking into.

Fallen Earth Reaches Alpha, Feature Complete

Posted by Stropp on June 20, 2008

A while back I subscribed to the news feed for Icarus Studios upcoming MMORPG Fallen Earth. Yesterday I noticed in my list of feeds and thought “Hmmm. This hasn’t been updated in a while.” The universe has a sense of humor it seems since an update has just now come through. Now for those lottery numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42.

Fallen Earth is one of several upcoming post apocalyptic MMORPGs. The other games are Huxley, Earthrise, and the very vaporous Fallout Online.

Anyway, kudos to Icarus for getting to this stage. Feature complete is a huge milestone, but there’s still tons of work to be done — even work removing some features might be required!

Here’s the Fallen Earth Alpha press release (pdf).

MMOG FALLEN EARTH ACHIEVES MAJOR DEVELOPMENT MILESTONE
CARY, NC – JUNE 19, 2008 –

Fallen Earth, a post apocalyptic MMOG in development using the Icarus Studios Tools Suite platform, today announced it is has reached the Alpha milestone and is now “feature complete.”

Over the past six months, the Fallen Earth team has implemented new production processes which has allowed for improved product quality and a streamlined development schedule.

Colin Dwan, who was promoted from Lead Engineer to Project Manager, said, “Fallen Earth has great technology and tons of content, but we needed to put a stake in the ground about all the features that were absolutely necessary to ship with. Now that we’ve finalized that long list, we’ve been able to spend all of our time making those features really fun.”

The Fallen Earth Art Department focused on an in-depth upgrading of the game’s overall appearance, improving textures, animations, and enriching the overall “look” of the game. Human models have been completely revamped, and newly added creatures include giant genetically engineered super soldiers and vicious killer fungi. Volumetric fog has been added and many towns have been completely rebuilt to take advantage of new building models and ecosystem options.

The Fallen Earth team has created a variety of new vehicle models from muscle cars to
motorcycles to ATVs. They have also enhanced the vehicle combat system using the same basis as player-based combat so players will be able to attack from their vehicles, be it with pistols from a motorcycle or dual-mounted machine guns from a muscle car.

The core functionality players expect from an MMO, such as raids, clans, auction house, and a mail system, are now up and running in Fallen Earth. Players can combine their efforts in raids of up to four groups or thirty-two players, allowing them to tackle larger threats and compete more effectively in PvP activities. Clans allow players to form large social groups with a number of different ranks, each with its own configurable name and permission list. The auction house system allows players to sell goods to each other with ease, and to search the auction house for items needed for a specific recipe. The mail system enables players to easily stay in contact and trade goods among themselves through the vigilant efforts the Franklin’s Riders, the postal service within Fallen Earth.

About Fallen Earth

Fallen Earth is a post-apocalyptic massively multiplayer online game that mixes first person shooter and role playing game style mechanics. The game is set in 2156, one hundred years after the world is brought low by a plague known as Shiva that killed 99% of the population. The game takes place in and around the Grand Canyon, one of the few habitable places left on Earth, which makes it a place many are willing to kill to control. Our world is one where mankind teeters on the edge of extinction, clinging to the bones of the old world while trying to recover their lost secrets. It’s a world of scavengers and desperation. The players are those who choose to rise above the hardships of this new world and work towards a better world, or decide the old world was corrupt and all signs of it must be erased completely.

For more information, players and fans can visit www.fallenearth.com.

R18+ Getting Closer

Posted by Stropp on April 7, 2008

This story by Game Politics is pretty close to home for me. The Attorney-General of my home state of South Australia, Robert McClelland, is being the proverbial fly in the ointment in the push to get Australia a R classification for computer games.

The central body for ratings in Australia is the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC.) Unlike the US where all ratings systems are strictly voluntary, Australian rating systems are enforced by law. I don’t mind that too much normally, even though there are occasional controversies regarding movies that get refused classification. It does sidestep some of the problems enforcing a voluntary system.

The problem for games is that, while literature and film goes up to an R rating, games only go up to a M (or MA) rating. I guess when the politicians were voting on the legislation back in the day, they thought games were only for kids.

It seems Robert McClelland thinks games are still only for kids, despite the median age of the average gamer being around 29. It’s either that or he thinks that adults can’t or shouldn’t be able to make up their own minds about the games that they play. The second option may not be that far off considering the number of nanny state decisions being made by our government lately.

For some weird legislative reason, to add or change the ratings system that the OFLC applies requires unanimous approval from the Attorneys-General of each Australian state. The only holdout is, you guessed it, our friend McClelland. It’s a pity the system was designed to be thwarted by one single monkey in the wrench.

Anywhoo, it appears that the resistance to a R rating in the South Australian Labor Party — the governing party — is fading. According to the Game Politics article, there has been some serious lobbying from Nintendo and Microsoft in favor of the R rating.

Hopefully, we will see common sense prevail, if not business sense, and get a reasonable system in place that respects the rights of adults to choose their own standards.

If we’re lucky it will happen before the release of Age of Conan.

And Half Of Them Are Mine

Posted by Stropp on April 7, 2008

Massively has an interesting tidbit of news. Apparently video game and/or virtual world avatars now outnumber actual real living people in the United States. I’m not sure exactly how many that is, but I think it’s a bit over 300 million.

Considering my affliction with extreme non-terminal alt-itis, and the number of MMORPGs that I’ve played over the years, I daresay that quite a few of these avatars are mine.

To use a Slashdotterism; I for one welcome our new MMORPG Avatar overlords.

That Pesky Constitution

Posted by Stropp on March 18, 2008

That must be what the Minnesotan Lawmakers must be thinking.

For some reason the Minnesota state government decided to try their luck at beating the US constitution by enacting a law that would impose a $25 fine on minors younger than 17 if they tried to buy or rent a video game rated M or AO. According to Tech News Blog, a US district judge blocked the policy before it came into force, citing constitutional concerns and a lack of evidence linking video games to harmful effects on Minnesota’s children.

Ironic that they are fining the very kids they are purporting to protect.

How many states is that now?

You’d think that the politicians attempting to enact the Helen Lovejoy laws would attempt to familiarize themselves with the whole issue of individual rights and the Constitution before spending a whole bunch of taxpayers money trying to take those rights away. But no, they follow the example of other states, like lemmings over a cliff.

So, which lemming is up next?

It looks like the next to do some impromptu legislative cliff diving is Massachusetts with a new Helen Lovejoy law that will once again attempt to restrict violent video game sales to minors.

EA-Land vs Second Life

Posted by Stropp on February 26, 2008

I never really looked at playing the Sims Online, the style of gameplay really wasn’t my cup of tea. The same can be said for Second Life, which I’ve never really considered to be a game in any case. Second Life is more an experiment in virtual worlds, not virtual game worlds.

As for the Sims Online, it never really did that well as I understand it. Like a lot of these sort of games, it’s marketed towards the player who enjoyed The Sims series of games, but never caught on like The Sims. Perhaps it was poor execution. Perhaps the players preferred the casual nature of the single player game.

So EA is giving The Sims Online  a complete revamp and relaunching it as EA-Land.

First… do you mind if I’m a little cynical? Good, thanks… What sort of stupid name is that?

The idea of revamping TSO is novel, I’ll give them that, but they’re not really changing anything as I can see. There’s going to be a lot more land areas, about 100 time more; and the game becomes free with a subscription for extra content and land ownership. There’s also an improved economy fixing the broken economy in TSO.

These changes may even warrant a name change, but EA-Land… please. I’m at a loss as to why they’d include their corporate brand in the name. Hopefully it won’t start a trend. Here’s a few possibilities we’d all hate to see:

  • World of Blizzard.
  • Knights of the Old Bioware.
  • 3DRealms Forever.
  • Flagship: London.
  • Grand Theft Rockstar.

EA-Land at least won’t have the same problem with flying penises as Second Life. Users will be able to create and upload custom content in a similar way to Second Life, but it will all have to be approved by EA. This will make sure user content is safe for everyone.

Now the question becomes, what market is EA trying to tap here?

It’s probably not the users who inhabit the anarchic world of Second Life. While SL has a lot of users, the 2D worlds of Habbo Hotel and Club Penguin have many times more users. I’ve heard reports that Habbo and Penguin have more subscribers than World of Warcraft. With a 3D interface, the existing Sims style, and the Second Life creativity with family safety in mind, EA-Land may be a hit in the preteen market.

I just wish they’d think of a better name, even Sims-Land is better.

World of Terroristcraft

Posted by Stropp on February 25, 2008

Okay. Let me check the date. Nope, not April one. Hmmm.

The US Director of National Intelligence(?) has a project called the Reynard Project. A part of that project is to datamine virtual worlds like World of Warcraft to identify behavior. To quote the data mining report (pdf).

Reynard is a seedling effort to study the emerging phenomenon of social (particularly terrorist) dynamics in virtual worlds and large-scale online games and their implications for the Intelligence Community.

  • The cultural and behavioral norms of virtual worlds and gaming are generally unstudied. Therefore, Reynard will seek to identify the emerging social, behavioral and cultural norms in virtual worlds and gaming environments. The project would then apply the lessons learned to determine the feasibility of automatically detecting suspicious behavior and actions in the virtual world.
  • If it shows early promise, this small seedling effort may increase its scope to a full project.

The report also states some of the activities that will be carried out, and the systems that will be implemented.

  • Video Analysis and Content Extraction. This involves automatic image identification of various objects like faces and events.
  • Tangram. This is a surveillance and threat warning system.
  • Knowledge Discovery and Dissemination. This involves collating information from a number of different database to determine patterns of behavior. It will apparently involve collaboration with law enforcement agencies and Homeland security.

With the difficulty these guys seem to have identifying real terrorist threats, I’d have thought they might want to get their existing real world systems working before they started look for terrorists in World of Warcraft. The problem is that real human behavior is highly unpredictable. Even with all the social and cultural rules of society, there is enough legitimate anomalous behavior to confuse the pattern matching algorithms.

What happens when Warhammer comes online and players start to talk about attacking the other side? How will the threat warning systems monitoring the game respond to discussions of sneak attacks, and plans to take back territory?

It’s all rather laughable isn’t it?

Rupture in Rapture

Posted by Stropp on February 18, 2008

I just came across this story on the Techcrunch blog. Techcrunch is a blog that deals with the internet tech industry.

You might remember about a year ago there was some buzz on the intarwebs about a start up called Rupture. Rupture was all about creating a social network for MMO gamers. I never tried to join the beta, so I’m not sure what features the social network had at the time. Though looking at the site now, it appears to be for all gamers, not just MMOers.

One of the big marketing points that they were going for was that Rupture was being headed up by Shawn Fanning. Mr Fanning, who has a bit of a history of Internet entrepreneurship, was also the creator of Napster. He’d made a bundle there, even though they were shut down by the MAFIIA, and was investing a chunk of that in this new venture.

At the time all this buzz about Rupture was going on, it was just going into the beta testing phase. As will many Web 2.0 companies, it’s been a long beta. Currently they are still in it.

And what’s more. They’ve been sold. At this stage no one knows who has bought Rupture. Techcrunch is busy shaking trees to find out who and how much. With the sale of another of his startups recently, Mr Fanning is having a rapturous month.

Hmmm. I wonder if the buyer is IGE.

Cryptic Champions Online

Posted by Stropp on February 15, 2008

The Game Informer web site has just put up a preview of its next months cover and is giving a bit of information about a new MMO by Cryptic.

In light of the disclosure during the week that Microsoft Gaming Studios has canceled Marvel Universe Online, this has answered a question that I was wondering about – What happened to all of Cryptic’s hard work on Marvel Universe Online?

The answer, it appears, is that Marvel Universe Online is being rebranded as Champions Online.

One of the notable things about the comments from Microsoft Game Studios was the complete lack of mention of Cryptic. The cancellation, it seems, was a mutual decision between MGS and Marvel. It’s odd because the original agreements for Marvel Universe Online were between Marvel and Cryptic. This was partly to prevent a lawsuit from Marvel because players were creating trademarked Marvel characters in City of Heroes.

There will be more info coming in the March edition of Game Informer when we’ll get the first look at Champions Online. The teaser also mentions that it will be available for both PC and the consoles, most likely the XBox 360. It sounds like there will also be player villains, perhaps from release.

Hopefully the next thing we’ll here from Cryptic is the status of Star Trek Online.

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