Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Quick Hits: Last Day of March Edition

A trailer for Funcom's upcoming horror MMO The Secret World is up at, and I have to say "Holy crap, that looks like something I want to play." Unfortunately, based on their track record so far, it will likely be next to unplayable for the first few months after launch. Of course maybe the Funcom curse only applies to MMOs that start with A.

Another trailor for FFIV is up, and it looks . . . really really Japanese (make of that what you will). My favorite part of the tailor is when both the narrators say "Ooh Chocobo!" Regardless, if it turns out to be the first solo friendly MMO I can play on my couch, sign me up.

My main in Allods Online hit 20 last night. It's taken me ages. However, since 20 is half way to the level cap of 40, I suppose that's as it should be. I'm almost out of quests in the very very last PvE area. The game should either pleasantly surprise me or become "Chain ganked by 40s: the MMO" when I hit the next area, which is an open PvP zone.

I completed my second area in Myst Online Monday night, a very pretty zone called Teledahn. I got two new shirts out of it, so there is actually some loot in Myst. However it's strictly for appearance slots. The area contained what seemed like a novella's worth of journal entries sitting on a desk waiting to be read. It filled out the backstory of the area I was in, so I read every bit of it. I really eat up details like that.

Finally, this just in from Aspendawn: things are not looking good for Alganon. Having official posts that advise players (paraphrased) 'you should probably delete our client from your hard drive and stop hanging around our forums' seems pretty counter to the purpose of having an official forum to me. But what do I know? :-/

Wow, that turned out to be more of a ramble than I expected.

Happy hunting!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Myst Online URU: a pure exploration MMO

A friend of mine got me to try Myst Online last weekend. I thought the game had long passed into the mists of time (npi). However, as it turns out, it's still online and 100% free to play. The maintainers welcome donations, but in no way require them.

The game has a bit of a learning curve. It has the most god-awfully clunky chat system I've ever seen. It quite literally took me 30 minutes of digging through FAQs to figure out how to add the guy who invited me to my buddy list, and how we could send tells back and forth. The tricky bit is that you have no buddy list and cannot send tells at all until you get something called a KI in a completely separate zone from where you start. It also does not support WASD movement. It's mouse movement or arrow keys, your choice. Joining someone to hang out or solve puzzles together involves using a machine that looks like a mailbox, and that you also have no way of knowing how to find when you start. Other oddities await. All that said, if you can weather an hour or so of frustration, a truly unique MMO experience awaits.

First off, the game is gorgeous. You wouldn't know that at first because the default GFX settings are what an average PC could have handled 5 years ago (or whenever this first game out). Spend some time fiddling with the settings to max them out, and beautiful alien vistas await:

The game also has technical innovations I haven't seen elsewhere, which is very impressive for such an old MMO. For example, voice chat. When you enable it, the volume at which other players hear your voice is determined by how close together or far apart you are. There aren't really chat "channels," you need to be in the same room to hear each other. There is also a setting to make your voice sound the way it would in your current environment. For example, if you are in a corridor with stone walls, your voice will echo slightly.

Another thing that amazed me was that you can actually affect the world in small ways. There are objects that you can move around. They stay where you leave them from session to session. Machines that you turn on or off also stay the way you set them. The the game handles the inconsistency of different player experiences by splitting off the game into shards. Each shard can hold up to 50 players, and is tuned to the player that started it unless they decide to open it out to more players (not exactly sure how that works yet...there's that learning curve again). However if you go to someone's shard and change something, it will remain until someone else alters it. Very neat.

Finally, if for no other reason, the game gets credit from me for being such an enormous departure from typical MMOs. There are no classes, levels, loot, or combat. Mainly, you explore and solve puzzles. The more puzzles you solve, the more content you have access too, and the more of the back-story unfolds. You start with a little hut on a floating island:

As you solve puzzles in various places, your island evolves. Books are also added to a shelf inside your hut:

These books can be used to travel to areas you have unlocked:

That's it, that's all there is to do. Explore, socialize, solve puzzles, and collect books. And I think that's awesome.

URU is like nothing else I've played, and quite refreshing for it. At 100% free, it's also hard to argue it isn't a good value. If you do find yourself in the mood for something well and truly different from most MMOs, I'd say URU is well worth a spin. However, if you do decide to take the plunge, for the love of all that is holy read this FAQ first and save yourself some suffering.

In other news: CO is reactivating lapsed accounts for free this weekend, LoTRO just launched the spring festival, and I'm still obsessing on Allods Online. I need more spare time.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Via Blue Kae, I'm jumping in on Scary Boosters Developer Appreciation Week. I'm taking some liberties with the idea and broadening out to a whole division that consists of several studios: Sony Online Entertainment.

Yeah, yeah they screwed the pooch with the NGE, we all know. However, screwing the pooch occasionally is one side effect of being innovative. Innovative means "risky," and when you take risks disasters will sometimes occur.

The innovations that have appeared in various SOE products over the years are staggering. Love it or hate it, Raiding was pretty much invented by the Everquest crew on SOE's watch. Most of the modern instancing mechanics were also pioneered in EQ. Planetside was the first MMO FPS. Everquest Online Adventures was nearly the first true MMO on consoles (I believe FFXI slightly preceded it in Japan), and the only MMO I am aware of to not require a hard drive (only Phantasy Star Online can also make that claim, and it's more of a Rogue-like than an MMO). The first (and still only as far as I know) MMO to jam a space arcade sim in as a side-game. The first MMO to experiment with monster play (preceding LoTRO by turned out to be easily exploitable and was quickly pulled). The first MMO to offer a server where buying and selling items and characters is vouchsafed. The first MMO to experiment with alternate rule-set servers. The first MMOs to completely integrate trading-card mini-games. All features you may or may not be a fan of. But it's hard to argue that SOE isn't willing to green light something innovative/ risky.

In addition to that, they have rescued several MMOs that would have crashed and burned left to their own devices. They kept the Matrix Online open a hell of a lot longer than anyone else would have. I seriously doubt that Pirates of the Burning Sea or Vanguard would still be with us if not for SOE. Between the stable of products they have developed and those they have rescued, a Station Access Pass connects you to a veritable museum of MMOs, and is arguably the best sub value available anywhere.

So props to the company division that everyone loves to hate, Sony Online Entertainment. And mad props to the developers in all of their studios for giving millions of us so much entertainment over the last decade.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Cash Shop in Allods: they are doing it wrong

I've been having a lot of fun in Allods. I've been playing for close to a month now. Based on simple general goodwill, I have reached the point where I would usually spend money in a FtP MMO. In fact a few hours ago, I spent some time digging through the cash shop to see if there was anything I could justify spending cash on. There wasn't anything I was willing to buy. After some reflection, I realized it basically came down to one thing:

Cash shop items in Allods Online add value to a character, rather than an account.

In the past I've happily spent cash in a lot of FtP MMOs. In Kingdom of Loathing I spent a little cash mainly to donate to the cause (a great great game), but as a side effect my account became permanent whether I actively play or not. In Wizard 101, I bought access to new zones once I gunned through the newbie areas. They became permanent content added to my account, accessible to all of my alts. In Dungeons and Dragons Online, I bought access to a race that had better starting stats for a mage type then the regular races. I understand that I could have earned the race just by playing if I were patient enough, but I'm not. Regardless, I can now and forever start as many Drow elves as I feel like.

The theme among those purchases, all of which I am very happy with, is that they added something to the value of my account rather than to a particular character. A character I might lose interest in once I get to know a game better (basically any character I start) is not worth investing a lot in.

What does Allods offer? Bag and bank slot expansions that apply only to a given character that purchases them. If you get to level 25 and decide you hate the class you are playing, tough just set your money on fire. There are also chests that have randomly generated rare items which are highly unlikely to be useful to any given character that you buy them for. Finally, my understanding is that at the higher levels you are forced to buy consumables to be competitive at PvP and raiding.

The problem with the last option is that I hardly ever hit the cap in any MMO. I've done so in less than a dozen that I've tried over the years. I also hated the endgame of all but two of the MMOs I did hit the cap in, and promptly quit. I don't know how many other players like me there are out there, but if I'm anything like normal their strategy for earning cash from their players is next to insane. Hope that (A) players make it to the endgame in the first place, and (B) they like it so damn much they are willing to start forking out cash to participate in it. Either they have the best endgame on the face of the earth, or they are utterly delusional and need to change their strategy fast before a fairly enjoyable game crashes and burns.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

News from LoTRO

I finally got around to trying the new glory system in LoTRO, and I have to say I think it's brilliant. "Glory" refers to a massive buff that you now get when you attempt to solo epic quests meant for a full party. These quests are some of the best content in the game, and a lot of players that aren't in big kinships simply aren't able to get PuGs going for them these days. Turbines' solution is to give players the stats of a raid boss when they try an instance solo. In the first instance I tried with my 65 hunter, she went up to over 20K morale and was hitting for over 1000 damage per shot. My qualm with the system, was that I figured that it would force everyone to either get a full party together or solo all their epic quests. Thus, it would become even harder to find a group if you wanted to, since most players would opt for solo.

What I did not realize is that the glory bonus scales to larger parties. It is now possible to solo, two man, or three man the epic quest chains. The more players you bring, the less of a glory bonus everyone gets. However, the advantage of having another player along more than outweighs the reduction in your glory bonus. I two manned several quests with a member of my KS, and it was a lot of fun. All in all, I think that glory is a great system.

In other news, PvP is still happening in LoTRO (at least on my server) more than a year after Turbine made it almost utterly pointless for freeps to engage in it. Last night was our weekly Kinship night, and the players that showed up were too spread out in levels for us to organize anything. Someone had the bright idea to roll wargs on the moors and quest there. We ended up with a full party of freshly minted wargs, and headed out to see what we could do. There were several quest chains to kill hobbits for their limbs, which was pretty fun in a demented way. However, the big surprise is that there was a full freep raid out there trying to take keeps and a full creep raid harrying them.

Rather than join the main raid, we decided to hang at the edge of the battle and pick off stragglers, as well as use stealth to disrupt their keep boss attempts. Several times we popped out of sleath in the middle of a boss fight and disrupted their healers and crowd control just enough for the boss they were fighting to murder everyone. We also suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of a hunter/ burgler pair. We later managed to take them both down, but being two manned the first time we came upon them was pretty embarrassing. Live and learn (hint: take down the hunter first!) It was a lot of fun, and not of the type I normally associate with LoTRO. There is really almost no incentive to PvP in LoTRO these days, I was honestly surprised we were able to find so much action.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Latest from Allods

I have just finished out my second questing zone in Allods Online. I'm on the cusp of level 15, and though I'd share some further impressions.

The second zone, called the Training Camp, was a lot of fun. There was an interesting story about a rivalry between the red team and blue team running through the zone. And a lot of the quests had some humor to them, the quest writers (or perhaps translators for the English client) have really continued to deliver.

Due to the fact that I got really anal about doing all the group quests in the previous zone, I didn't get any gear upgrades until my second to last quest. It was a quest to take down a roving raid mob called the Zombie Destroyer (he bears an uncanny resemblance to a Big Daddy from Bioshock). Right after I logged a pick up raid was getting together to do him. I quickly joined, and all seemed to be going well at first. However when we had him down to about 10% (after five minutes or so of twelve players wailing on him) I managed to get aggro for an instant. He one shotted me before I could do anything about it.

I rezzed as quickly as I could and ran back, to find that he was dead and I missed the kill. Not pleased would be an idiotic understatement (I'll admit I had a brief attack of "sailor mouth"). It worked out ok in the end, however. About an hour later I got into another PuG that took him down with ease.

The final quest in the zone is a real oddball, but fun. It's a repeatable rep quest that you need to do enough times to get your rep up to respected, which unlocks some badass blue gear. Depending upon how anal you were about doing every quest in the previous zones, you'll need to do it somewhere between six and a dozen times to get the rep you need. The thing that's unique about it is that pretty much everyone in the zone will end up doing the quest before they leave. Because of that, there is a pick up raid farming the mobs for the quest night and day. All you have to do is show up ask in zone chat and you'll get an instant invite (at least on my server).

After that it's a solid hour of you and ten or so random players killing mobs for the quest as fast as they pop. It sounds mindless, but I really had a lot of fun. It was a little like the olden days when you mainly grinded at camps to level, save that it was utterly disorganized. Everyone was running around randomly wailing on anything that moved.

Finally, the goldspam in zone chat has really calmed down the last few days. Nothing has changed in terms of game mechanics. I suspect that the GMs have kicked up their banning efforts a notch.

I'm headed off to my final pure PvE zone tonight. I hope Allods doesn't turn into "Wishing for lube, the MMO" when I hit the first PvP zone in another few evenings, because I am thoroughly enjoying it right now.

Developers from a Player Perspective (or at least mine)

The developers that I trust, the one's that seem to "get it", are the ones that approach MMO development the way that a scientist would. They say things like, "we have been analyzing player behavior, and concluded that we really need to do X to our game because of Y." They make observations and draw conclusions from data rather than guessing. For example, a few weeks or months ago Turbine noticed that something like 60% of all three man skirmishes started in LoTRO were being attempted by two players. Based on this observation, they sagely concluded that putting in skirmishes balanced for two players should be a priority. Mike Darga has a good post about this approach to development.

The ones I don't trust are the ones that do a poor job of managing my expectations. If a studio manages my expectations poorly enough, I may very well rage quit. However, at the very least they will turn me from a potentially loyal customer into a "living in the MMOment" customer (a post by Green Armadillo I recommend btw). The moment I'm not having fun, I'm off to another product. I may keep an eye on such a product and see if changes that sound fun to me get patched in. However, if I do ever sub up again I surely won't get invested in any communities in-game. After all, in a game where systems I find fun may be destroyed at a moment's notice, I need to be able to quit at moment's notice and not look back.

I don't mean to imply that these are mutually exclusive or all inclusive categories. For example, Turbine, has certainly fallen in both categories over the years (see above, then see AC II or the radiance system in LoTRO). However, these are the thoughts on player perception that have floated to the top of my head in the last few days. Given the recent flurry of posts on managing player perceptions in the blogosphere, I thought the time was ripe to add my two coppers.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Allod's Online: Spammers 4, Yeebos 0

I was planning a post about the crafting system in Allods. It's a bit of a pain since at low levels you can gather or craft items, not both. To make finished products you pretty much have to have two toons, one supplier and one producer. Once you do have both going, one of the best crafting systems I've ever encountered in an MMO opens up (really, it's quite impressive!). However, that is now seemingly another post. Allod's has been well and truly ruined for me by spammers.

Zone chat in Allod's has been surprisingly non sucky since I have been playing. Apart from prime time on the weekends, I've been really surprised by how helpful and friendly the folks in zone chat were. Of course, whenever I log, there is the daily ritual of adding gold spammers to my ignore lists. Therein is the problem.

The process of adding someone to your ignore list in Allod's is clunky. You double click someone's name, that adds their name to your chat window in such a way that you can ctrl+c to grab the name, then you mouse over your social panel and with a few more mouse clicks ctrl+v them into a window, mouse again to add them, and they are ignored. You can save a few mouse clicks by using the "g" button to open the social tab, but all-in-all it's a process of at least several steps. When you get really good at it, you can shut down a new gold spammer by the time they get four or five messages in zone chat. Which is all well and good, apart from one problem . . .

Allod's has the smallest ignore list I've ever encountered in an MMO. My main, at level 13, has maxed out her ignore list. Now when a new spammer pops, I have to delete old spammers from my ignore list manually in order to make room for the new guys. Since I can't ctrl+c names in my ignore list, that means typing out names like "aslkdkljasj" by hand. As you can imagine, that sucks. The gold spammers have also apparently decided to be as annoying as possible. Right before I logged, four started in at once. After getting about half way through the process of removing previous spammers from my list by hand to make room for the new ones, it occurred to me that I could be having a lot more fun doing practically anything else.

At the bare minimum, Allod's needs to implement right click to ignore from chat (standard in LoTRO, WoW, and several other MMOs) and make ignore lists much much bigger (infinite would be nice). As any toon that I start will max out their ignore list by the low teens, and have to jump through idiotic hoops to make use of zone chat from there, I'm backing off of Allod's for the time being. I could simply leave zone chat. But Allod's would essentially become a single player RPG if I did since I am unguilded on all of my toons.

Edit: As you can likely tell I was pretty ticked when I wrote this post. I thought about deleting it, but I've decided to leave it up. After sleeping on it, I'm not sure whether I will keep playing Allod's with zone chat turned off or wait for the developers of the game to come up with a better solution for spammers. I am curious to see the higher level content. However, being utterly unable to use zone chat would diminish the game. Even apart from being able to ask for and give out advice, zone chat is the main way of getting PuGs together for instance runs. I'd basically end up locked out of a lot of content without it.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Played Lately: Allod's Online

My main character has hit the ripe old age of level 11. I've ended up playing the Empire side, mainly because I like the art direction. It has a very cool eastern European/ steampunk/ I'm-not sure-what feel to it. For example, one of my quest givers:

My character at level 8, with her steam powered robo-scorpion in the background:

A random guard:

And the ceiling of the building that he works in:

In contrast, most of the art direction I saw on the League side really looked like the devs "phoned it in."

Once you get up to level ten or so, most of your quests will send you to an instance called Xeos. There are so many people playing right now that, even as a rare as dirt ranged DPS, it's a matter of minutes to get into a party running it. Which is a good thing, because it took me three runs to get all my quests done.

My second run through I won a roll on an absolutely badass blue robe (11 perception!). The model for the robe turned out to be somewhat revealing. I'm sure it's intended to be sexy, but the effect on my Renaissance Borg is simply disturbing. It's like a zombie grandmother in a slinky negligee. Well, ok not that disturbing:

Juggling stats in Allod's is more challenging then I expected. You need to get five different stats as high as you can. There are three in particular, Intelligence, Perception, and Luck, that will gimp a caster hard if you let them get too low. I have this odd feeling that I'm constantly putting out fires when I play.

Finally, the community is better than I anticipated, at least so far. The three PuGs I've been in all went well, and folks actually talk in them (shocking!). Each one involved at least one wipe, but there was no rage quitting or whining about it. Zone chat does have occasional flareups of asshattery. However, it's still nowhere near as bad as the global chat channels in WoW, or any random X-box live match for that matter. Mainly it's folks getting groups together and asking for/ offering advice.