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 I suspect that I’ve got an out-of-date driver somewhere, but updating drivers in Windows in a Boot Camp partition is a little weird.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.

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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™‚

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.

Tobold and WAR: The other possibility

Tobold wonders today if the WAR Open Beta is capped at rank 20 because Mythic is trying to hide unfinished higher-end content. Gee, I wonder where he got that idea? I mean, is there some sort of track record where a MMO developer puts a ton of effort into levels 1-20, but levels 30 to level cap are kind of devoid of content, and we listen to endless developer promises that new content is coming?

Yeah, I can’t blame him for wondering. And I’m not just taking shots at Funcom and AoC. There are plenty of MMO’s that fell into that situation. I can’t break NDA to argue the point about WAR; actually, I haven’t done enough PvE at higher levels to even be able to judge WAR yet. I’ll be finding out with everyone else, although I have a pretty good feeling about it from Little Bird chatter around me.

However, I do have another explanation for why Mythic would cap progress at Rank 20, and it doesn’t have anything to do with unfinished content.

WAR’s selling point is going to be RvR, and just how much flippin’ fun RvR is with a huge group of people. Again, I can’t break NDA, but Mythic has to convince open beta players who are on the fence about buying the game that WAR includes something unique, something enjoyable enough to pull them away from another MMO, or to convince them to pull the trigger on trying WAR.

By concentrating all the beta testers into the first two Tiers of the game, Mythic is going to improve the chances that testers will encounter RvR in large numbers, which is where the fun of of WAR really kicks in. The same is true of Public Quests, to a lesser extent (PQ’s don’t have to have a ton of people to be fun, they work as well with one group as much as a whole raid group), and RvR Scenarios (instances) will fill up faster with everyone in similar level ranges.

If players could progress past rank 20, it would become incrementally tougher to gather a critical mass of players for RvR. There’s only a few weeks to play, most likely. Imagine the spread of player ranks from 10 to 40, and consider what it might be like to find a huge group of players around your level. It’s going to be a lot easier with a cap at 20. I think the potential for great gaming moments is going to be increased.

If you do get into the open beta test, join Open Groups for PQ’s. Join warbands. Queue up for the instanced scenarios. Head out for open-world RvR with friends, or by joining an RvR open group. Whatever you do, make sure you do it with a lot of other people. The magic of WAR really starts to reveal itself when you find yourself surrounded by lots of other players, both friend and foe, and the mayhem, bloodshed, and sheer fun factor blossoms. With a cap at level 20, it’s going to be a great preview of what to expect from ranks 20 to 40, and we’ll have plenty of time to see that after the 18th of September πŸ™‚

Breaking the WAR NDA

No, no, not me. Although it’s tempting to publish the stuff I’ve got saved up, and to keep writing lots more about my experiences over the last couple days (joy!), I’m not the kind of person to break NDA’s.

Lucky for us, (or for those of you not in the beta), Gary Gannon over at Gax has no such moral compass. Yay Gary! Someone sent him a beta key, and he had a lot to say about Warhammer on the latest Massively Online Gamer podcast episode 98.8. You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes from that page, or you can listen to the episode directly from your browswer. If you want to get excited about WAR, definitely take a listen! Hell, you should be listening to every episode of MOG anyway, but lots of WAR talk you can’t hear anywhere else yet is a huge bonus. I’m already in the beta; I can play whenever I want, and I was getting excited listening to him talk about WAR.

I think my enthusiasm stems from hearing someone who was, until recently, a WAR outsider, enjoying the game so much. I’m never sure that my personal level of excitement and anticipation for WAR is really based on the game, as much as it’s based on, well, just new MMO anticipation. And since I can’t talk about it, it’s like I’m living inside my head with WAR. So much of what Gary said, though, made me say “Yeah! Right!”, and I’m thinking that if more people react like Gary reacted, then maybe I’ve been right (in my own head) for the past couple months, and Mythic really has produced a kickass MMO.

I really can’t wait until the general public gets their hands on the game. First of all, it’ll be cool just to have a real, living, permanent server, with a permanent character. Beta characters get wiped too often to get attached, or to really get to know the people you’re playing with. Second, I’m really looking forward to people discovering for the first time the features that I’ve really grown to appreciate.

It might be too early to say this, but I suspect in a couple months, we’re going to talk about how Mythic completely owned Funcom this year. It’s not friggin’ easy to make a great MMO, but I think Mythic is on the right track. We’ll see how many of the rest of you agree with me next month!

Remind me, after the WAR NDA drops…

Remind me that I have stories to tell about Public Quests. Two stories, specifically, that happened in the past week. The stories are part of my own personal “Eureka!” moments in WAR, where I feel like Mythic’s hopes for new game mechanics is happening in my game experiences. Some “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” developer discussions while they were designing WAR beginning to bear fruit in my closed beta experience.

*sigh* I’ve backspaced over the stories a couple times now, trying to write enough that I’ll remember what I wanted to say, without breaking the NDA. Alas, I’m failing, so it’ll have to go into a draft in WordPress until I’m allowed to say more.

Boathammer’s WAR blogger proposal

Boathammer (I want to know how you came up with your name!) posted about WAR bloggers possibly trying to choose the same server when WAR is released, or at least trying to play together during open beta (whenever that begins). While he’s not overly sanguine about the chances for success, ( saying it “is insane (I like that) and won’t work (don’t like that)), it’s always a fun discussion. Herding cats, MMO-style.

Someone else did mention this for WAR, and Syncaine and I have discussed it for Eve bloggers as well (although Eve is already well-established and there’s only one server, so really, we can just pick a channel to chat in…Crazykinx suggested “The Drone Bay” channel, without the quotes, which I really need to join…sorry, tangent).

Ever since Everquest, I’ve had absolutely terrible luck trying to recapture the magic of in-game friendships in new games, or internet/discussion forum/blog relationship in new games. I’ve met great people in every game I’ve played; it just seems like I don’t carry those relationships from game to game. I blame myself, my attention span is too short to watch Short Attention Span Theater, but I’ve watched other focused and competent people fail miserably trying to come to a consensus on server choice, or actually succeed on choosing a server, but then discovering your relationship is far different when you’re actually playing a game.

For me, I probably wrote more in this post than I do in a week of playing an online game. I’m oddly silent playing games (and I can be like that in real life as well, until I get to know someone), and I’m sure that’s jarring for people who might have expected me to contribute to guild chat the same way I blather on in my blog.

Actually, perhaps they’re grateful for the silence. Another tangent, but I’m not exploring that one without my therapist.

Anyway, I’m definitely in for an open beta blogger’s guild. If it lasts through release, that’d be fine with me. I don’t have any firm plans for release yet; it seems WAR hasn’t really hit the radar for most of my old guilds.

I prefer Order to Chaos, but I’m flexible for open beta. It’d be good to know the capabilities of my enemies when launch day rolls around.

If anyone else is up for it, post over at Boathammer’s blog, and think about names!