Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Day the MMO's Died

There is an old saying from around the time of the NGE for Star Wars Galaxies that goes "Whoever is the last one on Bria, turn the lights out when you leave." Now that's obviously a modification of a much older saying, but it deals with a topic I've been thinking a lot about lately: The closure of servers and the end of an MMORPG.

Many MMO's are in trouble these days. SWG is struggling to have a population, DDO and LOTRO are going free to play to attract more people, and games like FFXI and Everquest are showing their age in obvious ways. Eventually these MMO's will actually end, wont they?

Consider the many games that came before. Short of bankrupt parent companies (and indeed in spite of them in some cases) the old titles are still around, albeit with less population and usually a free to play form. Everquest didn't die even when its sequel came out, and indeed still seems fairly strong.

There is always talk about WoW dying, and talk that it is immortal. Some thought that the initial response to it was so strong that it would burn out swiftly, but Blizzard has kept players coming and hooked for over five years. I have a secret theory that Cataclysm will destroy the game, but more on that later.

It is said that once something is on the internet it can never be removed from the internet. Maybe this is true of MMORPG's. Maybe there will always be a version of WoW out there. Maybe SWG will never finally kick the bucket. Even if the characters that we played and invested our time into don't matter anymore, maybe the servers will never shut down.

But if they do, and you're the last one on, turn off the lights before you go.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Forces of Prime (Part 1)

Just a note, this is not video games nor theory, but part of a backstory I am writing up for a bit of fun. Enjoy, and I will enjoy any comments you have.

Remnants of the Journal of Abal Masana; Keeper of Archives, Prime outpost One Gamma

I wish I could tell you the full history of our race, but it is lost to time. What we know spans back one or two thousand years; to the beginning of the Shattering and the Enslavement. We were a younger race then, though our years of captivity have aged us much. It is believed we had not colonized any planets except our homeworld…a homeworld many of us believe to be the planet called Prime. Overpopulated and strained for resources, we looked to the stars for escape and new wealth. We sent probes into deep space looking for alien intelligence and strange sentient beings. What we found would change us forever.

The Zybee, an alien race of tall and fair humanoids with beautiful faces and a calming demeanor, came to the Prime. They entered into peaceful negotiations with our leaders and what we thought was a time of prosperity began. They traded with us, gave us technology and exotic foods in exchange for knowledge about us, and trade in our planets flora and fauna. They built colonies on three other planets designed specifically for our people, and ferried those that wanted an escape from the overpopulated Prime to them on their fast starships.

Then people who left Prime stopped landing at the other colonies. Families were separated, their sons, wives, daughters, husbands…lost forever. The Zybee never gave any explanation for it. Some thought that there had been a few accidents, and the Zybee didn’t want to seem inferior. We all new our own attempts at space flight had been disastrous and in our naivety we had thought the Zybee immune to such mistakes. We realized a greater naivety a few months later. When our leaders announced they planned to build and launch our own space fleet, the Zybee were outraged. The massive fleet that had been building up outside the Prime…a transport and trading fleet, or so we thought…disgorged thousands of fighters. The shipping containers that goods had been ferried in from those ships opened, and giant mechs and tanks poured out. We were conquered by an army we imported ourselves.

What people remained on Prime were divided into camps. Many more groups were herded onto ships and sent out into the void. Our people were Shattered, sent out to every corner of the Zybee empire. We were imprisoned and used as forced labor to build the very mechs, tanks, fighters, and ships that conquered our planet. I wish I could tell you that we revolted, that a prisoner uprising had to be violently purged…but we didn’t. Years of prosperity brought by the Zybee had made us soft, or perhaps we remembered too harshly the feelings of hunger that came from a starving, overpopulated world that the Zybee had saved us from. Either way we toiled away, always treated fairly and few well. No prisoner was tortured or mishandled, though the few that made trouble were separated from the group, and few less for a period of time. The Zybee seemed fair and judicious in their punishments, and maybe that is the main reason why we obeyed. They ruled us better than we had ruled ourselves.

Ten or twenty generations passed this way. The Zybee presence dwindled. Some legends say there was a war in another part of the galaxy and with our people so well behaved, we needed less guard. Others say that the Zybee slowly wasted away one by one from some unknown disease. I think both are true, their empire was beset by war against a species they couldn’t steamroll like they had us, and the last remnants were destroyed by disease and famine. What I do know is that in the last days of our captivity, we weren’t fed anymore. The guards stopped bringing us food, and we stopped seeing the aliens at all. We went hungry until the water stopped running. Thirsty and hungry, we broke out of our cells in search of sustenance. We found the storehouses, and gorged ourselves. Then we went looking for our masters, and found them all dead, bodies greatly reduced as if they hadn’t eaten in months. We were free, not by our own hands but by fate it seemed. We sent our strongest to the other camps, and found them all the same. Either the guards were all dead, or nearly there. None answered our questions. We were unsure of what to do, having been freed of our master’s yoke. We were a vast people, but probably numbered under a million. So many of our own had been taken to other worlds. We elected one person from each of the thirteen camps to be a member of a council of leadership. They would decide together what we would do, and what would happen to us.

Monday, June 28, 2010

On the new Sweating Mechanic in Entropia Universe

Sweating has been the only real way to play Entropia Universe without depositing. Well, unfortunately it was removed and redone from its previous iterations. The new system is…well buggy and broken. I will avoid my usual conspiracy theory but will add one note saying that I believe that MindArc will not improve or debug this system for a while, as it is the only part of the system they really don’t make any money off of, and frustrated newbies will either leave the game or deposit. Either way MindArc wins.

The old system of sweating required a two-step process. First you would meditate or charge up, then you would channel at a mob, and a text notification would pop up telling you whether you were successful or not. It took a while to get anything but it was consistent and worked decently. Also, if I remember right, you got quite a few (10-20ish) bottles of sweat per successful attempt, even if most weren’t successful.

The new system requires you to equip a tool like most other parts of the game, and click on a mob to select it, then click again to activate the tool. You then must keep your cursor aimed on the mob for five seconds. Might not seem that hard, but in reality the mobs zoom around at seemingly random, making this almost impossible to do consistently. Once you are successful, you will only get a handful of bottles of sweat, the most I got off of mobs is 4.

The problems are numerous, but the biggest one I see is that you have to keep a mob with very bad pathing and bad agro control targeted with your cursor. The mobs do have collision detection, meaning they will push you around, which complicates the whole matter. I’ve also heard that skill in sweat gathering has nothing to do with your ability to sweat. An additional problem is that your tool will not always start gathering sweat. There is a graphic that appears as a green field when it works, and there are reports of as many as thirty nine clicks of the tool before it will fire. My own personal worst is about a dozen and best is about six before it will work.

Your mileage may vary, but I see this as a great impediment to doing any sort of sweating experiment in EU.

Friday, June 25, 2010

On Experiments

I'm looking to start another experiment along the lines of my failed WoW Experiment, where I looked at the time it took to level two different classes in WoW. At first I thoguht I would simply level all classes (except Death Knight) to level 20 or 30 and see how long it took, how much money they earned, and the like. However, since I am no longer playing WoW, and have no desire to put that much effort into that game, I cannot do that experiment. Looking at the MMO's available to me at the moment, none seem that interesting to perform any sort of levelling experiment. I do, however, welcome suggestions if you have any.

I am thinking about getting into Entropia Universe again, as they have had several interesting developments. I am not wanting to invest money so I could easily do an experiment on the fabled no-deposit playstyle. If I keep decent records it should pose interesting to look at this supposedly free to play game and see if its possible to enjoy the game while depositing no money.

I also have half a mind to do some mining to see the returns on that. Perhaps if I earn enough on sweating I could get into mining, but again, the fact I am not depositing makes this very difficult. Honestly, maybe that is what will make it fun: the difficulty. I am bored of games that are too easy, and while I could spend a bunch of money to get the best gear and skill implants, I could also just stick with one or two things, get good at them, and try to break even. Heck, what's the worst that could happen? I'm not going to loose money, and I know better now than to sell everything I find to the vendor.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ten Strategy Elements of Napoleon Total War

If you have played Empire Total War you may think you are going to be great at Napolean Total War, and you may not be far off. However, there are differences in strategy needed as some game mechanics have changed drastically. Play enough and these things will become second nature.

10. Fight your own battles: As always with Total War, this rule does not change. Even the most uneven fights will end better if you play yourself; whether this means retreating or sealing off the enemy so their units are outright destroyed rather than just shattered to reappear on the campaign map. Besides, how can you get good at fighting in any situation if you let the computer handle things for you?

9. Understand Replenishment: Learn how replinishment works so your damaged units are healed before the battle begins. Also know exactly how much you will benefit from supply depots and the like. Territories that won't see combat usually don't need replenishment buildings. Your front line, however, will almost certainly need some.

8. Keep a Mobile Force: You will always need to be able to react to the enemy, but surprising him is also key. I've won a few dozen battles by destroying incoming reinforcements before they could join up with a larger force. Because I had faster units, I was able to send their friends running before they joined the battle proper. Higher mobility also means flank attacks, overrunning artillery, and many other powerful strategies are at your command.

7. Destroy the Enemy: Shattering the enemy is nice, and removes them from combat, but when possible, decimate the enemy units so that they do not reappear on the campaign map. The worst case is loosing your army to an unfortunate accident after shattering a number of units, and having the entire enemy army reappear and reorganize while your army is destroyed. Napoleon makes this harder by removing the flags from the shattered units, but it is still fairly easy to keep track of enemy units that are fleeing.

6. Seek Targets of Opportunity and Annoyance: Damaging things in enemy territories with small forces is a good strategy to annoy your enemy into revealing his forces and in general just wasting his time and money. In battle, targetting isolated units, creating advantages, and a whole host of opportunistic events are available to the player. Use these to your advantage.

5. Bull Markets: Your counties are worth a lot in this game, as are their economies and buildings. These will ultimately win the war, and no matter how many battles you win, economic attrition will eventually topple you if you are not careful. The economy is the long-term solution to the war.

4. Create a Balanced Army: An army should be able to react to any situation, and work well together. A mix of artillery, cavalry, and infantry should do the trick. More or less of each according to taste, but you will find yourself wishing you had one or the other when you are lacking them. I will note that units don't get along as much with artillery in this game, and you will kill many of your own units if you are not careful with them around your guns.

3. Have a back-up plan: Things will go wrong. Plan for it. Always be building extra units, have another strategy, find a way around. Inevitably, the enemy will outsmart you somewhere, and you will find yourself rushing to your own defenses. If you are ready for anything, you can quickly turn the tide on the enemy, and turn his gambit into a fatal move.

2. Make Use of Terrain: In the campaign and battle maps, terrain is important. Cannons like hills, infantry like open line of sight, cavalry operate best on the open field. Know your units, know the terrain, and you will win many battles. Also on the campaign map, you can utilize chokepoints, plan invasion paths and the like just by careful examination of the terrain. Also, the two intertwine, so if you have a lot of cavalry, fight on/near the plains in the campaign map to have a smoother map when the battle starts.

1. Understand Attrition Warfare: Napoleon is very much an attrition campaign. The changes to the replenishment mechanic, and the style of warfare make it obvious. You will loose troops, and troops that survive will be severely depleted. New troops will always be needed and needed on the front lines. Get used to this style, and realize that you will not always have veteran units, and the units and mix you have now will probably be much different after the battle. Make the best of it, and ensure that your enemies suffer the most. After all, an army shot to pieces is preferred to an army that ceases to exist.

I hope you have fun in Napoleon, I know I will be having fun with this game for a while.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On the MMO Market

I’ve noticed a drought recently of decent MMORPG titles. Many promising games seem to be pushed off and pushed off, and just around the corner are two interesting games: Guild Wars 2 and Final Fantasy 14. I’m beginning to wonder if there is even room in the MMORPG market at the moment with WoW dominating the way it is. No game has so much as nudged the giant of the industry.

Final Fantasy 14 will probably fare the same. It will be the same story as FFXI, probably with updated graphics and maybe a slightly different class and ability system. With any luck the crafting system will be diverse and strange as it was in XI. I will probably play this game when it is released, if only to see what it is like.

Guild Wars 2 will, I hope, be free to play like the first title. I will play it primarily because of that, but I hope it is able to do something innovative. Honestly I don’t expect much out of the game. It will certainly not be a WoW buster as it can be considered of another genre all together; namely being a free to play MMO after the software is purchased.

The other game that will be coming out is, of course, SWTOR. I’m not sure how I feel about this game. It could be very good, but I still feel a looming threat of mediocrity that will prevent it from being the game it should be. I want a strong Star Wars game, but I fear that the only chance we had at one died a long time ago.

I hope that something will come along to nudge WoW out of the leader position, only because that will mean another MMO that has something in it that is very worth playing. Oh well, I can dream.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

On Blizzard’s Real ID system

I’ve been feeling the urge the last few days to play WoW, and I realize that the reason is not so much to play, but rather to chat with some of my online friends whom are usually too busy playing to chat outside of the game. Blizzard may have a solution for this in their new RealID system. Essentially it is a steam-esque chat system, but the real power in it is that you can talk to your friends without having to remember what characters they play and you can find them online even if they are not in the game you are playing (WoW, Warcraft, Starcraft, etc).

While I haven’t been able to register or use the system yet, I am very excited about it and hope to have a more thorough review soon. Please stay tuned to see if this program is a success or just sucky.

Monday, June 21, 2010

On Napoleon Total War

Napoleon Total war is probably best compared to Rome Total War: Alexander, in that it is built on an existing game, but is not quite an expansion nor is it quite a sequel. Also, Napoleon, like Alexander, focuses on one commander and portrays historical battles where you take the side of the famous leader (Napoleon in this case). The two titles depart there, though.

Alexander, in my opinion, was a flop. One main campaign that wasn’t that well put together and relied entirely on mercenaries instead of the fun country building of the other Total War games? It wasn’t worth it in my opinion. Napoleon, however, has several campaigns, relies significantly on nation building, as well as army management and battles. Either the developers learned from Alexander, or they decided to just take the game in a little bit of a different direction, either way it is a major win.

Naval battles are back from Empire TW, and they are much improved. The AI is better, the ships move and attack better (though manual control still is preferred most of the time for me at least), and you can repair your ships provided they are not being attacked. I can’t count the number of times I lost a ship because of sinking due to combat damage while it was out of the battle entirely. An added bonus is, so far I haven’t had a catastrophic crash to desktop from naval battles (which happened a lot and still happens randomly in Empire).

Napoleon also brings his artillery prowess to the field. Maybe I am imagining it, but artillery seems to act smarter and work better than it did in Empire. I’m not talking unit effectiveness, merely that it responds to commands better. It will sometimes kill your own units if they are too close to the target or there is a misfire, this is especially true with short ranged grape shot. I will say that grapeshot is much more useful in this game than in Empire, mostly because it seems to have been given a range buff. Artillery also turns more intelligently and the gun crews will defend themselves with some intelligence. I’ve always either lost a crew or intercepted attacks before they got to the artillery, but in Napoleon gun crews that are saved or that regroup can pick up their guns (if they aren’t damaged) and only loose the ability to move them (due to lack of horses), otherwise are as effective as ever.

The overall land combat interface is much improved as well. Shattered units loose their status bar and flag to make identifying active enemies easier, Generals have gained an inspire ability in addition to their anti-routing one, and in general the game has been improved in many small ways. I could list all the new buildings, improvements et all, but you should buy this game. One wonderful improvement is the ability of units to replenish lost soldier passively within friendly territory. This eliminated the costly pay to replenish that didn’t work very well in empire.

I’ll have more later, but I am busy thoroughly enjoying Napoleon Total War. Have fun

Friday, June 18, 2010

On Steam (briefly)

Just thought I would mention that if you are on Steam and wish to add me my Steam ID is: Tigerus2004

Feel free to friend me if you like.


On Borderlands

Borderlands has been out for a while, but with my semi-limited gaming schedule, I'm just now really getting into it the way it deserves. I've noticed a few peculiarities with the game that I thought I'd mention.

First, let me say I've played it on the XBOX 360 only without playing the expansions yet. The base game on console is my only experience with the game.

Borderlands seems to be a game desperately trying to be a cut-rate MMORPG. That said, it is a very solid and fun game, combining some of the best elements of the troubled MMOFPS genre, and indeed if it was an expanded game with a few tweaks and was an actual MMO, it would sell very well. The things that are the most MMO-ey about the whole thing are the loot system and the difficulty of the game.

The loot system will seem very familiar to many MMOers. It has the WoW loot coloring system, and also the abundance of loot that comes with many MMO's (most of which is junk you will vendor and never want to see again). The problem that arises is that while Borderlands seems to generate guns with random attributes and modifiers, which is a good thing, this randomness makes the color-coding loot system superfluous. If anything, the color coding is misleading. I have yet to run accross a legendary (orange) gun that is worth having over my favorites (usually blue or green, but I do have a couple purples that are delicious). I've also noticed that guns are either really good, average, or really bad. This comes from a mix of stats, for instance, a ridiculous damage with a decent crit multiplier and slow speed is still a good gun, but average in all categories will probably just get you killed. It seems that crit multiplier is one of the more important categories. At any rate, the loot system is wonky and its best to experiment with guns before vendoring them. You may find a hidden treasure that you would have thrown away.

The next part that is MMO-ey is the difficulty. I tried playing this game solo, and its definately do-able, but the repetitiveness of the game comes through in solo mode, and having twice the loot is pointless if you can't carry it all. Playing with even one friend makes the game more fun, with complimentary class abilities and twice the carry capacity (and reviving, covering, and various other tactics) you can definately enjoy the game more. Would this remain true if this was multiplied by millions of others? Well, the game would have to be expanded, but I believe it would be.

This is a rarity in that I am supporting the transformation of a decent base game and think it could be improved by becoming an MMORPG. Hopefully it will become one, but I am doubtful it will ever get off the ground. Here's hoping

Thursday, June 17, 2010

On Steam

Like many gamers I have a steam account, with 23 games currently in my library (it would be more, but I hate buying games twice and I wasn’t into steam until about eight months ago). I’ve thought both good and bad things about steam service, but I’m not fully sure if it’s a net positive or net negative (which is also a terrible pun on the fact that it is an internet based service).

On the positive side of things, it ensures rapid access to games. It also has great deals on games (one of my best purchases was the Total War pack, which was worth every penny, and was a rare case of me rebuying a couple games I already owned). The community parts of it ensure that you can connect with others who play the same games you do (I’ve met a few multiplayer partners via steam groups), and their forums provide useful insight into game problems, walkthroughs, and the like. Steam also provides a market for independent game developers without the costs of distributing through a major marketer.

The negative side of things, though, is a bit murkier. Like many gamers I know, I have a hard time turning down a good deal on games. Steam regularly offers games at cheap discounts, which are hard to resist. They package games together in bundles and sell these at ridiculous prices, and while some games you may own or not want, you will buy the package because of the one or two frontliners that you can get for a discount over retail stores. Is this still a bad thing though? Maybe you wouldn’t have purchased the game at that time, but you are still getting more than you would from a retailer at a cheaper price….

Maybe what I don’t like about it is that I know I’m being manipulated by marketing, and its working. I am forced to admit that, while I usually am full of ardor and spin a negative into everything I see, if not to see both sides of an argument then at least to double the length of these posts, I am unable to really say that steam has a true negative side. It seems to be one of the best services evolved by the internet. My steam library is always growing, and I appreciate any recommendations you may have.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On Casual Play

My last post was, of course, about addiction, but addiction seems to be more and more of a problem these days. I think I have an idea about why.

MMORPG's and other games used to be about difficulty level. It was hard to get to the end, and only serious gamers would put in the time and effort to do so. For MMORPG's this was the grind, but for many other games it was just a difficulty curve that was fairly steep. This meant that being a gamer meant wasting a lot of your free time playing games. However, most games were beatable in X number of hours. Going way back, Super Mario Brothers could easily be beaten in an hour or less, and a couple hours if you played through every single level. Only the RPGs of the Nintendo era took much time to beat once mastered, and even then they pale in comparison to today's titles (the ability to save several game files independantly of the disc/cartridge did wonders to game length). In this era, casual gamers didn't really exist, in that there weren't really any hardcore gamers either. Gamers were just gamers, and consoles were light entertainment.

Now, though, there are distinct differences between casual and hard core gamers. Many games will be beaten eventually by everyone, merely because there is an inevitable end to the story, but most aren't difficult enough on the normal mode to prevent unskilled players from beating them. Eventually everyone will win at a modern game. For hardcore gamers there are achievements, multiplayer, hard modes, unlockables, and a handful of other things that they can spend more time than is required to beat the game to 100% complete the game.

MMORPG's are a different beast all together, but have similarities. In WoW, for instance, given enough time everyone will reach max level. In the old version of the game, though, not everyone would be able to raid without significant time investment. That is no longer true. In current versions of WoW, with the badge systems, someone who plays for a half hour a day can, in the course of a few months, get very good raid gear. This unlocks part of the game, end-game raiding, to almost everyone. The over-use of addons such as gearscore also allows casual gamers, some of whom are great and others who are not, the same access to raiding as hard-core gamers, sans of course membership in a raiding guild, which many casual gamers will not be able to achieve.

Maybe I should be happy that games are appealing to a casual audience, because I am becoming more and more a casual gamer due to time constraints. I can, in theory. play a game for a hour or so and still get somewhere in it. This is true now of many MMORPGs as well. However, the influx of casual gaming also cheapens the feeling that comes with beating a game or doing well. Being invited into a raid in WoW used to mean something, not its just to fill space. Finishing a difficult game used to mean something, now its not a feat unless its on hard mode or you have X Y and Z achievement. Maybe I'm just bitter that I don't have the time to spend enjoying games for a large portion of my day.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

On Addiction

I've recently decided that I am a bit of a wow addict. Okay I am a full blown WoW addict with multiple re-occurances of the disorder. I've read many things and determined that Blizzard's game plays to my manic-depressive tendencies and its quick reward system makes playing for a "little bit longer" more of a problem than its ever been for me. To be frank and honest I have a hard road ahead of me to prevent myself from doing what I always do: Stall and feel confident that I don't need to play WOW for a few weeks or months, then con myself into believing that I can control my access to the game, or that I will only play casually. Finally I ruin some aspect of my life by spending all my free time in THAT game. It's a viscious circle that I have been caught in for some time.

I think at times like this, that is when I am attempting like the junkie that I am to stay clean, of what I have lost to video games. Rather what I have lost to my inability to maintain control and not obsess over video games. The list is very long. It includes almost ruining my dating life multiple times, my engagement, and my marriage. It includes being a contributing factor to more than one grade received that is below my ability. It includes countless rounds of depression, lost social opportunities, lost friends. It includes the rape of my creativity, the sacrificing of the ghosts of books that haunt my dreams unwritten, and the real life masteries I forsook to take up mastery in a game.

What have I gained for it? A few achievements? Characters that won't matter at all in five years and will be outdated and undergeared in five weeks? Countless hours, days, weeks, months, years of my life wasted waiting, playing, grinding, collecting, questing, raiding....for what? So that a bit of code on a server changed a little. So that the electronic representation of my wasted life has better gear.

It isn't worth it. This is a declaration that I needed to realize and make when I first was given the opportunity to play WoW. That while it is fun, it is a game and not worth the obsession. It is not worth the lost time of my life.

Detox will be difficult. Probably the most difficult thing I've ever done. I have a lot of hard times ahead of me. It is made more difficult in that I have friends that I have played various MMORPG's with for six+ years that are currently playing wow. They understand my need and my decision but Wow is the easiest way of talking to them. I sometimes wonder if they are addicts themselves, trapped like I am. They are usually playing, and while I could chat in vent with them, conversation is always about Wow, and thus not a good environment for me. It is all difficult.

If you are an addict, I pity you, and understand your plight first-hand. Remain strong. I'd love to chat with anyone who is suffering as I am. Please email me or contact me via YIM: tigerus2004 *at* yahoo.com Thank you for reading.