Saturday, September 20, 2008

WAR: the clumping is getting worse

The server clumping in WAR seems to be getting worse. A lot of the servers are never getting past "low" population, and others servers have constant ques. I have three destruction characters on a low pop server between the levels of 5 and 8, and I may be forced to abandon them. It's getting harder and harder to get public quests done. At prime time there weren't enough players to do the first PQ in the Chaos starter area. We could get to the boss, who would promptly melt our faces.

Switched over to my high pop order server, and it was night and day. Rolled a new alt, and had a green bag and all my influence in the first PQ in less than 20 minutes. It was a total blast, and really made me think about ditching my existing destruction toons and restarting that faction on a high pop server. I can't be the only one that's feeling that way.

WAR's greatest strength is that it encourages you to group by making it painless, rewarding, and a hell of a lot of fun. It's begginning to look to me like that will also be the achilles heal of low pop servers, and perhaps the newbie game in a few months. The best parts of the game need a certain critical mass of players before they become accessible. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, Mythic does about this in the weeks ahead. I suspect that cloning servers isn't going to be nearly enough.

Friday, September 19, 2008

It's good to be crowded: the quest for green bags

I finally got around to trying some public quests in Warhammer online, and I have to say I'm very impressed. It's been covered in detail elsewhere, so I won't bother reiterating how they work. I will say that the descriptions I read did not convey just how much fun they are. Competing with other players to try and get the highest score in a PQ is a serious blast. The random roll that gets added to your score at the end also gives it sort of a Vegas vibe.

One thing that's really striking about the PQs is how badly they need large number's of players to work. Solo, you can usually only do the first part of one. Even in a very solid small party, you absolutely are not going to be able to take down the final boss. Six mans can take some of them down, but a safe bet is more like ten players.

If you can't take down the boss, no score tallies and no green bags. Which is actually the most fun part of PQs, they aren't nearly as fun if you can't finish them. This means that you need to play on a reasonably crowded server in a reasonably popular PQ or you are missing out on one of WAR's greatest assets.

The effect I'm seeing this have in game are twofold. The server populations are very clumpy. The popular servers have nearly constant ques, the unpopular ones max out at medium even during prime time. And on the ground in game populations are very clumpy most of the time. For every "chapter" there can be up to three different PQs to choose from. From what I've seen so far usually one becomes the popular one (usually because it's near a road or a quest hub) and the other two are completely ignored.

Mythic is taking action to address the server imbalances (or at least overcrowding), using a pretty clever method. Mythic doesn't seem to have any plans to incentivize out-of-the-way PQs, however there is a good chance that the problem will take care of itself. There is an optimum PQ group size where performing well is nearly certain to net you a green bag. Groups that are too small can't finish the PQs, and it can be hard to come out on top in a really big group. I can see players eventually spreading out on their own to try and find "optimum" groups, particularly on crowded servers. Mythic may have created an online experiment in optimum foraging theory, whith green bags subbing in as resources.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


As well as I can remember, in brief. Apologies for the rampant acronyms, I'm sure at least one entry is bound to lose any reader. Maybe I'll fix that at a later date, using links and such.

EQ: my first MMO, and if they were all as fun as launch EQ I'd still be playing mostly offline RPGs. Not so much a "game" as "paying to be bored out of your skull," online, with freinds. Tried several times to get into it, never made it past a month.

DAoC: the first MMO I actually thought was fun. The graphics, the setting, and the (for the time) forgiving gameplay had me instantly hooked. ToA sort of killed things for me. Went back for a while around Catacombs when classic servers were added. Still one of my favorite MMOs.

PSO: I count this one because I was pretty active in the community when it first launched on the DC. Some of my fondest online memories. Played it on the DC, then played the hell out of it again on the GC years later. I hate grinding in an MMO, but the mag system and diablo style drops in PSO make grinding not just tolerable but addictive. PSU was a huge disappointment. I consider PSO BB to be the definitive version.

EQOA: played this game for a few months. Despite the fugly graphics, found it to be in most ways superior to the game that inspired it. Much more casual friendly, class designs were interesting takes on EQ1 classes , and at low levels a lot of engaging and rewarding quests. Unfortunately those largely run out by the early 20s, and it becomes "grind or die, the game" just like it's older brother. After getting multiple characters to the mid 20s and stalling out, realized the game wasn't for me.

AO: came to it late, a well polished game by then. Really fun for about a month. Once I got bored with randomly generated door missions, I found there wasn't a whole hell of a lot left to do that I thought was fun. Not a big fan of grinding to level (despite how many hundreds of hours I spent playing PSO).

CoH: the most fun MMO that I had ever played...for a month. Sensing a trend here. Still my favorite character creation system among MMOs by a wide margin. Not only the appearance editor (which is legendary), but also the "mix and match power sets" way of rolling a character. Combat, character creation, and PuGs are about the best you'll find in an MMO, to this day. Unfortunately the game itself is horrifically repetitive.

EQ II: nearly hated it at launch. Didn't enjoy the adventuring game. Too grindy, too few areas it was safe to solo in. Liked the crafting, but grinding out sub-components really began to wear on me eventually. Got up to teir III scibe and quit. At least I was fabulously wealthy by then. Tried it again right after RoK. Vastly improved in nearly every way, one of the most solid PvE MMOs out currently.

SWG: first tried it between the Combat Upgrade and the NGE. I was not impressed. I'm not one for pure sandboxes. To me dumping a player in the middle of a bunch of systems and expecting them to make their own fun is simply lazy game design. Offline sandbox games have had good storylines to follow for years. See Fallout, see Morrowind, see Grand Theft Auto. Until developers figure out how to do this in an MMO, "sandbox" MMO developers can bite me.

Word on the street is that SWG is a good blend of open and linear design these days, but I haven't ever gotten back to it.

WoW: just about lost my mind playing this game, like everyone. Oddly didn't take the first time I played it. Basically choosing blacksmith as the primary profession on my first character meant that by the early 30s the game had fallen flat on it's face. I was dirt poor, couldn't make anything that was useful (or at least better than cheap AH greens), and couldn't conceive of having enough money to buy a warg at 40. Tried it again a few months later, and it took in a big way. Met some folks I still hang out with today. Fantastic experience, even if I think the endgame utterly bites.

LoTRO: the best class based PvE MMO for a casual player by a very wide margin. Delightful cohesive world, an abundance of well presented stories to experience, steady addition of new content, and a solid crafting system. Hunter is the best class in an MMO, ever. Bought a lifetime sub after playing for six months. Still playing.

Tabula Rasa: an action based MMO that runs like ass on a mid level PC is not a good idea. Liked some aspects of it, plan to try it again after my next PC upgrade (if it's still around).

WAR: too early to say, but very positive first impression.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Update on's pretty good!

I did finally manage to play Warhammer Online for a few hours last week. Even if their beta program was a big pain in the butt, I have to say the game itself is impressive. Great variety in the look and feel of starting areas, and a lot of fairly polished classes to mess around with. I'm a big "explorer," so that is appealing to me. Learning the basics of different classes and seeing new zones is at least 70% of the fun for me in an MMO. The first few classes I tried didn't grab me until I stumbled on Shadow Warrior. Plays a lot like a LoTRO Hunter, which to me is a good thing. Surprisingly good performance considering that my machine is absolutely at the bottom of the system requirements. I wouldn't say that WAR has blown me away so far, but it's certainly the most solid new MMO I've tried since LoTRO came out.

I didn't pre-order the CE, so I'm not playing WAR currently. However I am looking forward to messing around more with it in a few days.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

My impressions of WAR so far...or lack thereof

My PC is getting on in years, and I really need to see how the WAR client will perform on it before I commit to a box. Looked around at my options to get into the open beta, and they seem to consist of joining Fileplanet, or pre-ordering. If you have to pay money to get into the beta, it's not really what I would call "open." Oh well. Five dollars later I had a pre-order box from Gamestop and some sort of in game bonus item at launch if I decide to commit.

I get home and discover, to my horror, that there is no beta client in the box. Instead there is a starter pack and a set of rules for a collectible card game I will never play. Better than nothing I guess. Did my usual weekend of online and offline socializing, finally got around to trying to get the game started on Sunday.

In the box is a code to activate your beta account. Went to the Mythic WAR website and activated my code. Then followed the links to download the client. Those took me to Fileplanet, where I was asked to enter my beta key again. Entered my key again....and it had already been me...because Mythic's beta website is a confusing POS.

When you get to the beta access website there are three bullet points in a box, labeled 1-3. If you click the link in the first bullet point you waste your beta key. If you click one of the two links in the third, you use it correctly and get to download the client. I didn't realize the website was a puzzle game . . .

It was too late to get a CS rep on the phone, and I don't have time to wast on something like that during the week. Looked around at my other options, and all I could come up with was a Bittorrent download for the client. OK, grand. Started up the download.....and discovered that it would take at least two solid days to get done. Nine gigs on Bittorrent sucks. Ok, whatever, I'm in no rush.

Three days later, get home from work horribly late. The download is done. Hooray! Install the client get it patched up, and supposedly I only have to wait an hour for the servers to come back up. An hour later they are still down. Hit the Herald, and the time has been pushed back an hour and a half. "Screw that" and I crash. Get up a little after noon, thinking foolishly that I might get to run around and at least see what my frame-rates are like before I run out the door. The servers are down again, indefinitely.

My impression of WAR so far? Mythic does not have it's shit together for this close to launch. Yes I know it's a beta. Maybe my impression will improve once I actually get to log. But their system for getting into the beta sucks (is it open or isn't it?) and their system for downloading the client sucks ("Oh sorry, looks like you wasted your key..."). Server downtime timed perfectly to keep me from logging for another day is only the straw.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Much ado about nothing, the Runemaster

The details of the LoTRO Runemaster class have finally been released. I was skeptical when I read interviews where the designers said that the the Runemaster would be more "overtly magical" than the Loremaster. That was worrying, because I feel that the Loremaster already really stretches the lore pretty hard. We are talking a class that can summon beams of light down from the sky to smite their foes, conjure a giant glowing red ent to stomp everything in front of them, or unleash earth tremors that rattle your entire screen. How much more is Turbine planning to push it with the Runemaster? Tactical nuclear strikes from the backs of eagles?

Yeah, well, I think that was a bit of an overreaction. Turbine might be touching the pooch in a slightly inappropriate way, the same way that hugs from that one friend of the family made you feel slightly uncomfortable as a teenager but really never crossed the line. However, they are most certainly not screwing said pooch.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Aha, time to begin

This blog will mainly be about MMOs. If you like other stuff look elsewhere. Oh yeah, what's up with the name? Well, in short I expect this blog to be a bit more positive that what I see coming from some of the more established bloggers.

A lot of long time MMO players seem to have burned out on the Diku MUD design back when it was still text. I'm talking guys that seem to be waiting for some experimental (and likely somewhat EVEish) thunderbolt to streak down from the sky and show what MMOs could have been all along if most MMO consumers weren't so accepting, lazy, and myopic. The guys that were pissed when LoTRO wasn't pre-Trammel UO with a Middle Earth Skin. The guys that are currently pissed that WAR is a lot like WoW, only with a completely different tone, classes, world, and endgame (?!)

That's not me. I've been playing since the days of MUDs too (though to be fair virtual worlds didn't really catch me until EQ). However, unlike some vets, I feel privileged to be living in the time that I am. Those of us that are currently into virtual worlds are experiencing something that is well and truly new, as it emerges. We stand on the edge of a wave that has yet to crest.

Because of this, I’m not going to grouse a lot about games as they come out. Whether I like a particular game or not, it's part of the kinetic energy powering a new movement that we will all benefit from. Honestly, I feel like bitching about MMOs as a genre right now would be a lot like bitching about film in 1914, or bitching about the web in 1991.

I’ll slam individual MMOs for certain. However, I’m not so jaded that I get pissed at MMOs a genre every time “the next big MMO” fails to revolutionize virtual worlds as we know them. I feel like a good deal of evolution has to occur before the ground conditions are ripe for a revolution. And when revolution does occur, we'll be standing right in the middle of it (though we likely won't realize at the time).

Just wait, it’s coming.