Rock, Paper, Nada?

Keen’s talking about missing a third realm in WAR’s two-faction design, and I have to say, I agree with him.

This has long been my biggest dislike about the WAR design. I’d go through my blog and point to the times I mentioned it, but I’m lazy and don’t feel like making people read my old posts anway.

I think just having two realms might make a difference in server control. There were plenty of times in my DAoC experience that Hib/Perc would have been required to just turtle up against the Midgard machine if we didn’t have the Albs to keep the Mids a little honest. Same was true for the Albs at times, I think. And I know the Mids loved barging in on a Hib/Alb fight out in the frontiers.

Personally, I loved the chaos when two realms were squaring off at a keep, and the third realm decided to come blasting into the middle of the fight. Or milewalls…it was a hell of a lot of fun to have three factions, and multiple fronts to your fight.

Mythic might make up for the loss of third realm by making RvR more accessible in WAR, but I do fear what’s going to happen to a server that has a faction that’s just dominant, either through skill or through the number of people who regularly participate in RvR.

Rock-Paper-Scissors is a lot more fun than Rock-Paper, ya know? We’ll see how it goes…it’d suck to have RvR turn into a feeling of helplessness or hopelessness if your two realms are badly out of balance somehow.

WAR Graphics: A look back into the early beta

I wrote this post last winter, when I had first started playing the WAR beta. I’m going to post it to illustrate a point. Much of what I wrote has changed; the graphics were upgraded many times between when I wrote this and now. What I want to show, though, is how much my initial perceptions have changed, and how little we should rely on people who heard last winter how poorly WAR might compare with WoW, or other current-gen MMO’s. Unless you’re reading something that has “Edit” before it, this was WAR six months ago. I’ll explain what has changed in the “Edit” additions, and put my edits all in italics. Please don’t link to the normal text and use it as evidence that WAR somehow sucks…lots has changed, and for the better. Posting the old draft starts in 3…2…1…now!

Maybe it’s just due to spending so much time in WoW, but I much prefer WoW graphics. I was surprised that WAR isn’t more visually striking. Perhaps this is designed to facilitate War and to perhaps solve some of the problems experienced in DAoC when hundreds of people might be fighting each other at a keep or a mile gate. I want to keep in mind the goals of WAR, and to view their graphical design decisions in consideration of those goals. I suspect they’re not able to use incredibly detailed graphics in light of the expected number of characters on screen at once.

Edit: Major upgrades to the graphics engine since I wrote that. I’m not a developer, so I can’t tell you specific technical details that were improved, but I know they added better textures, lighting, shadows, and details since then. The game is still designed to run smoothly in huge RvR battles, with 100+ players crashing together, with spell effects and animations going crazy around you, so no, it doesn’t look as good as, say, LoTRO or Age of Conan at high resolutions. It does, however, play really well. Back to the draft from last winter…

My initial testing this weekend is being done on a Macbook Pro (running Windows XP under Boot Camp), and unfortunately, it’s crashing like crazy. I’m not going to blame Warhammer for that; I’ve had crashing issues with XP and Boot Camp in other games as well. Eve Online runs very well under Boot Camp, but WoW crashes fairly frequently. I suspect that I’ve got an out-of-date driver somewhere, but updating drivers in Windows in a Boot Camp partition is a little weird.

Edit: I haven’t gone back to playing WAR on my Macbook Pro. I’m going to try to download the beta client to test it out, and I hope it’s stable now. So much else has changed, I can’t say for sure that there are any leftover Bootcamp issues. I’ll report how it goes after I torrent the huge client later tonight πŸ™‚ Back to last winter’s draft again…

When Warhammer does run without crashing, it definitely grabs my attention. Visually, it’s not as appealing as WoW, but I always give graphics a backseat to gameplay. I’ve had so many arguments with people who LOVE the graphics in Game X (and I can’t stand them), or I’ll rave about the graphics in Game Y only to hear how much someone else hates them.

My biggest complaint with the graphics is the characters. Their faces are fairly uninspiring. That may be because it’s beta and we’re not seeing the finished product (there are only two male characters available on the Chaos side at the moment, with two face options each). Characters also seem smaller in the environment than they do in WoW, which can be unsettling when you’re used to one game perspective.

The details on the face may be a deliberate design decision. In Dark Age of Camelot, when you had a couple hundred people on screen at once, the servers had to load all the character and equipment details. In a game where you’re expecting massive battles again, you’ve got to consider the level of complexity in your models.

The art style is reminiscent of Camelot, moreso than WoW. Running into the first newbie dungeon, just a tomb in a graveyard right outside the starting area, I was instantly reminded of the Darkness Falls dungeon from Camelot, and the little dungeons around Tir Na Nog in the Hibernian realm.

Edit: Can you see how someone who played the beta last summer, or last winter, and hasn’t played since, might still have a negative impression? Or if you’re taking the word of someone who talked about the beta on forums back then? That’s the point I’m trying to make here. If you heard bad things a while back, give it another try in the open beta, or at least listen to people who are playing the current version of the client.

Ok, I’m done with the italics, and done with my old impressions. Hopefully I’ve made my point πŸ™‚ I was kind of disappointed back then, even though the gameplay was pretty solid (beyond the Bootcamp problems). I’ve definitely changed my tune since then. I think Mythic was really smart to concentrate on gameplay for so long, and to leave the polishing for when they felt like the gameplay was pretty complete. I feel like Funcom went the opposite direction; they made a pretty client, and then tried to jam the gameplay into that high-resolution model, and the result was pretty poor.

Let’s see what happens with the WAR client when we hit open beta, and when launch day comes πŸ™‚ I suspect they’ll have load balancing issues to straighten out. Pretty much every MMO does. The gameplay, though, seems solid.

Two WAR beta Public Quest stories

I’m writing this before the WAR NDA drops, on the last day of July. Twice in the past week, I’ve had outstanding moments in the WAR closed beta, participating in Public Quests.

For those of you who haven’t played WAR yet, I wouldn’t expect experiences like this in your very first public quests. There’s a typical MMO combination of the right place, the right time, and the right people for MMO magic to happen. Not every PQ is like this, just like every WoW instance wasn’t fabulous, and every DAoC RvR group didn’t have epic moments.

When those moments happen, though, it reminds me why I enjoy MMO’s so much, and why I miss them when I’m off playing single-player games, or playing other MMO’s as a single-player game.

The first Public Quest story (hereby known as PQ’s) is what I’ve come to call my “Diablo moment”. If you played multiplayer Diablo at all, you might know what I’m talking about. I’m not trying to say that WAR plays like Diablo MP, far from it. This particular PQ, though, turned into a frenzy of slaughter, one of those gaming moments where you lose yourself in what you’re doing, and you realize 10, 15, 20 minutes later that the game has completely occupied your attention.

I call it the Diablo moment because the killing seemed as fast and furious as Diablo multiplay. Much button-mashing and clicking, mobs dying all around the PQ area, teammates being saved (or not!) from the brink of death, loot windows popping up all over the place to roll or pass on drops…it was life on the edge for a long time, like surfing a big PvE wave that never fully broke, always finding a little more wave to ride, to keep your momentum going. I’ve been in RvR battles like that in DAoC, where you realize in the middle of a huge battle, “Holy SHIT, this has been going on for a long time! And I’m STILL ALIVE!!”, and then it keeps going even longer. It was my first WAR PvE moment like that, and the PQ idea really promotes longer and more interesting PvE fights than my past MMO experiences.

Not everyone PQ goes like that. It was a combination of a good group of people (it was a pickup group, too, from the Open Group feature) and riding that wave-edge for quite a long time. Some PQ’s have too many people, and the fighting seems to easy. Sometimes you don’t have enough people, or the right mix of classes or personalities, and it’s too difficult. There’s so magic potential in PQ’s, though, and this one delivered.

The second PQ experience was far different from the Diablo moment. The Diablo moment happened in a pretty well-trafficked area. The second story, the 3-man PQ (as I’ve been calling it in my head) happened further off the beaten path in Ekrund, the dwarf area. I was in a duo working on quests, and we came upon the PQ as it was already in progress. We joined a big open PQ group, maybe 10 people, (god, I love the Open Group concept), and helped them finish it up. When it was over, all but three players in the Open Group had maxed out faction. Most people left for the warcamp, or for other quests, so three of us started on the next round of the PQ.

Since it’s located in a corner of the zone, no one else joined us. We had 100 non-Hero class NPC’s to kill to finish the first round, which was easy. We had 8 Champion-level NPC’s to slay in the second round, plus setting fire to tents, and there was a time limit. Three people can be tough to finish off a second or third level PQ stage, especially since it was our first time there and we were figuring it out as we went along. The elite-level mobs made the time limit a factor, as we had to work fast and efficiently to complete the requirements before time ran out. We finished with, literally, just seconds left, which was exciting in its own right.

I didn’t think we had a chance at the third stage. There’s usually a Hero-level NPC at the last stage, and they hit really, really hard. In addition, there was a Champion-level NPC as well (elite, but not as powerful as the Hero). We had two healers and a tank, though, and we managed to survive the entire fight and complete the PQ. By the time we were halfway through the fight, and I saw that we had a chance of winning, I started hoping that other people wouldn’t wander into the PQ. I wanted to finish it on our own, and we did. It definitely had a boss-fight feeling to it, along with the boss-fight victory afterglow.

When you finish a PQ, you get to roll for loot. Each PQ has a chest, and everyone who’s contributed to the PQ has a chance to roll on loot. Those with the biggest contributions get a bonus to your roll, and the items are usually pretty nice. Finishing the PQ with just three of us, who did every bit of damage and healing in the encounter, ensured that we were all going to get a drop from the loot chest. It was very satisfying.

I came in third after the rolls, but I didn’t care. It was an awesome PQ experience, and I hope I get more encounters like that when the game goes live. We also maxed our faction for that area, so we got to go pick out our faction rewards from the war camp, in addition to the loot drops from the chest. Sweet πŸ™‚

Couple words for Brent

Hah. I really was only going to write a couple words, but I got carried away.

I realize I’m not going to change Brent’s mind. I’m not really interested in changing his mind. I think Brent has seen games, MMO’s, that have changed the way he thinks about MMO’s, and he can’t stand the thought of playing a “first generation” MMO any more.

I haven’t played any of the games Brent saw on his Sony Online Entertainment trip (Free Realms, The Agency, etc.), so I certainly can’t judge those games. I can judge Brent’s disillusionment with the state of MMO’s, though, and part of me can almost understand where he’s coming from.

The last MMO I bought at launch was WoW. That was a looooong time ago now. There’s been nothing (until WAR) that really captured my imagination. I’m still playing Eve because it’s the only game that’s not decidedly first-gen, a direct descendent of EQ/UO/Meridian/MUD’s.

I’ve been burned out on MMO’s. The evidence is here in my posts. A short jaunt in LoTRO, finding good ideas and good execution, and just not having the heart to keep leveling. Zero desire left to pay for or level in another WoW expansion. No desire to play EQ2, or to try Vanguard (ok, a little desire to try Vanguard, but only if Eve is down for a week, and I’m out of porn websites to view. So, basically, I probably won’t get to it πŸ™‚ ).

When I first joined the WAR beta, I had a reaction not unlike Brent’s. My first focus testing was like a level 20 template, so I kind of jumped into a new character in a new game, and had no idea what was going on. The art was still primitive, there were no open groups, I didn’t understand (or even know how to find) public quests, and I was having a tough enough time just figuring out which shiny new buttons to push. It was a tough slog for a couple months. In fact, it led to me trying LoTRO and re-subbing to Eve.

Around May, though, I got to start a character at level 1, and I got the hang of the first couple public quests. I felt like I understood my character, and I started queueing for Scenarios, and I actually had a blast in scenarios at like level 4. Shocking! Leveling through PvP, getting Renown, getting great gear rewards, earning more gear through Public Quests. I played a healer for the first time in my MMO career, and really enjoyed what Mythic has done with the Archmage and Rune Priest (I’m not a big Warrior Priest fan yet), getting to heal and nuke at the same time.

Shortly after that, Open Groups went in, and everything really changed for me. Other than DAoC, I was such a solo player in other games (I’m solo mining an Omber spawn in my mission area while I type up this blog post, haven’t talked to a live person in Eve all night), especially in WoW, but Mythic has brought back the fun of playing with other people.

I think, in the rush to judge what Mythic has or hasn’t created with WAR, the one major success of their design that gets overlooked (except by Tobold, bless his heart) is that WAR makes it an absolute frickin’ blast to play with other people in your realm. I tend to be wary of other people, in most MMO’s except DAoC, but WAR just makes it a joy to team up and work together. The first thing I do when I log in is check for groups in my area. I’m chatting, laughing with people, feeling like I’m helping other people and getting a ton of help myself, getting into ALL sorts of crazy high-level keep-taking, siege-firing, bloody, brutal, hella fun battles, and reveling in the fact that I once again have a connection to all these people around me.

It’s been years since I felt this way in an MMO. I distinctly recall Hibernian Relic defenses in DAoC, standing on the walls of our relic keeps with lots and lots and lots of realm mates, people I knew from crafting, from questing, from hearing on chat channels, from RvR, sieging enemy keeps, defending our own keeps…it was a sense of belonging, of shared purpose, of epic adventure that no other MMO has managed to capture. Until WAR.

Brent, if you’re burned out on first-gen MMO’s, I understand. I know you’ve seen sights that make the present games seem dim. I’m not going to try to convince you to play a game or genre that you’re done with. I will say, though, that if you never experienced the thrills of DAoC endgame, or if you pass on the madness that will be WAR RvR, you’ll have missed some of the best gaming this generation had to offer. There’s really little else more deserving of the Massive title than what Mythic created with DAoC, and is creating with WAR. Their whole purpose it to get people together, giving them a reason to get to know each other, to not pass each other by, to be stronger as a group than you could ever be as an individual, and to be stronger as a realm than you could ever be as a realm than you could ever be as a group. Mythic truly understands what it means to game together; not just a group of friends, but a server of realm mates, a huge population of potential collaborators.

Sometimes people talk about the failures of SWG and attribute it to people not being able to play the heroes; Vader, Solo, Skywalker. I’ve heard the same concerns about Star Trek; it can’t succeed if people can be Kirk or Picard. I think those people misunderstand what it is DAoC players, and I suspect Warhammer players, love about their MMO’s. I don’t need to pretend I’m a hero that already exists in that universe. I’m getting a chance to be one of those heroes myself.

I still remember the names of Hibernian heroes on Percival. Raad, Emerick, Blarney, Wayland, Slayne, Valgrim, the Thorns of Eire, and so many more. The names won’t mean anything to people who didn’t play on my server, but damn, I had fun with those people night in, night out. They meant more to me than any Vader wannabe could ever mean. They were selfless, they were inspirational, they were skilled, they were daring, and most of all, they made the game fun.

Mythic, more than any MMO developer out there, knows how to give players a stage to perform on, a place to become a hero, to become a friend, a fellow adventurer. They know how to put people together, and make the WANT to play alongside each other, to crave community instead of craving the solititude of the grind. There’s no greater MMO stage available…unless it’s Eve. I can’t talk bad about Eve, I think CCP really gets it too. But Mythic is about to make lightning strike twice, and I think it’d be a damn shame for someone who’s such a huge fan of MMO’s to miss the kind of magic that Mythic can conjure.

I don’t care if it’s first gen. It’s bloody fun πŸ™‚

Why no posts after the NDA?

So, yeah, I complained for a long time about how I couldn’t wait for the NDA to drop, and when it drops, I don’t post.

I thought a bit of an explanation was in order. First, I agree with Brent, and WAR will be Dead on Arrival.

Haha! Kidding!

Seriously, I’m getting my ass kicked at work, and home’s been a little crazy as well, in a mostly-good way. My eight year-old daughter has a couple weeks left before she’s back in school and going to bed earlier, and she and I have been hanging out in the evenings, playing games, going for bike rides, getting ice cream, playing cards, stuff like that. I just haven’t had the time to really sit down and write.

Second, the market is flooded right now, and I don’t have time to read what everyone else is writing to ensure I’m not saying what’s already been said. Tobold has a kickass post called “What’s the Difference” that does a great job of showing the different direction Mythic chose in their design. I think he’s right on the money stating that WoW is more conducive to solo play, and WAR really does encourage community. The best part of DAoC for me was the community, and it seems like Mythic is emphasizing that even more in WAR.

Third, I want to let the reactionary hate die down a little bit. I don’t feel like arguing with people who have already decided WAR sucks just by reading blogs, and not getting a chance to play WAR for a while. I didn’t like WAR when I first played it either, it took a bit for my eyes to open to what Mythic’s really doing. In their defense, it shouldn’t take new players as long as it took me last winter; the game has improved by leaps and bounds since then, primarily graphically. The core components were already in place; I just had trouble seeing them through the clunky old beta graphics, and jumping in to testing at higher levels, instead of growing a character from the ground up. It should be a lot easier for open beta and Preview Weekend players, especially with so much information around about how to play. I went in really blind.

Lastly, I’m a little burned out on starting new characters in WAR. I’ve restarted characters so many times in the closed beta that I’m not sure I have the energy to start a new one for the Preview Weekend, and then start one for Open Beta, and then again for launch. I may pace myself a bit and play Eve and relax until launch, or maybe until open beta. I’m really looking forward to a character that I’ll own and be able to keep, and looking forward to meeting people who will stay on my server, instead of losing track of friends each time the closed beta wiped and reset.

Hmm, this is a damn long post about why I’m not posting πŸ™‚ I’ll let you get back to your regular WAR reading now!

Syncaine’s a dirty NDA breaker!

Haha, I saw that! It’s still in my Google Reader, lol.

With the NDA down (it is down, right?), lets finally start talking WAR details.

I tried to click through to the actual post to disagree about the NDA actually being down, but the post is already gone. Google says there were 8 comments, I’m guessing someone beat me to it.

Man, could they drop the curtain already? I’m with you, Syncaine, what the hell is the hold up?

Why I don’t give a !&*# about advance NDA drops

If you’re following Warhammer Online, you know that some websites have permission from Mythic to break the closed beta non-disclosure agreement. I know this has pissed off some dedicated WAR bloggers, like Syp. And I don’t blame Syp. It’s really a shame that his dedication to WAR goes unrewarded here, but I suppose EA/Mythic feels like they have to kiss the ass of “major gaming sites” and give them something exclusive.

I’m in the beta, so I have the luxury of already knowing (and sometimes disagreeing) with what’s being posted by said gaming sites. Maybe if I was dying for news, I’d be hanging on every word they’re posting, but I kind of doubt it.

I’ve noticed, after a couple years of reading RSS feeds, that I’m likely to ignore the dozens of posts churned out daily by the huge gaming sites. I’ll skim through those folders in Google Reader once I’ve read through all the blogs produced by individual bloggers, but I don’t read them the same way, or in the same detail, that I read The Ancient Gaming Noob, or Syp’s blog, or Hardcore Casual. Maybe I’m just an old MMO dog, but individual gamers write about what interests them specifically. They can talk a little more narrowly, perhaps, than the broader appeal of bigger gaming sites.

Maybe I like the individual blogs because they’re talking about what interests them, not what they think will interest me. If they happen to find like-minded souls out in the gaming ether, that’s awesome, but they don’t write thinking about page views and click throughs and a certain number of posts a day. Sure, we all like an audience, and we enjoy the conversations that arise, but I think the primary motivation for an individual blog is saying “Hey, here’s something I thought was interesting”. It doesn’t have to be news, or journalism, or a breakdown of game mechanics on a broad level, or developer interviews…I don’t care as much about those things. I want to read about what other gamers found interesting while they were playing games last night.

I don’t think I’ve read much of anything about WAR from any of the gaming sites that can bypass the NDA. If I did, it was just a skim of a headline in my RSS feed. Yeah, I’m in the beta, so I know I’m not the standard audience, and I’m sure some people are enjoying what’s being written, but you can bet that when the NDA drops for the rest of us, and CoW bloggers start writing stories about their experiences, I’ll be reading their stories with great interest.

Ya know, I don’t think I care so much for stories about how the game works. I want stories about what people are doing in the game. Syp, I know it sucks, and you definitely deserve a nod and a thanks from Mythic for your work promoting their game, but dude, I’m anxiously awaiting your WAR stories, and I could care less what the big dog sites are writing. It’s not the same as acknowledgement from Mythic, but I want you (and other WAR bloggers who might feel slighted by this) to know that you guys provide a personal perspective that I appreciate and gravitate toward. Keen and Graev, Snafzg and crew at The Greenskin, Syp, CoW bloggers; those are the sites I want to hear talking about WAR. The big sites are sort of the CNN of gaming. It serves a purpose, and they do it well, but it’s definitely my second choice for reading.

And yeah, I know, I’m dangerously close to high school-type arguments about why arena rock bands are sellouts and the real shows are in the clubs by unsigned bands, bla bla bla. Maybe it’s a little stereotypical, but there’s some truth in stereotypes too. Like Dwarves and drinking. Or Goblins and stinking.