The Grouchy Gamer

Yeah, I'm cranky. That's kinda the point...

Month: November 2007

I’m An Idiot

When you work in high tech, sometimes it’s even harder than usual to admit you are an idiot, technically.  I’ve been so excited to get this blog going.  I’ve had articles that I wanted to write and things I wanted to say.  But I couldn’t get into my own blog.

Because. I’m. An. Idiot.

Just so you know, user names in WordPress are case-sensitive.  I turned in my old work computer with the user name saved and on my new computer, I couldn’t log in.  This ends the self-embarrasment section of the blog today.

This isn’t a personal blog, so I am loathe to bore you with stories from my personal life.  That being said (you know what is coming next) I wanted to tell you all about a sea-change in my life.  I’ve been traveling for the last 2.5 years on business for my company as a trainer for our software product.  I was lucky enough to be able to visit 41 states, 5 foreign countries, including 5 Canadian provinces.  I’ve helped customers and understood their english or a little of their french, spanish, or german on trips outside the US (eine alt bier, bitte.)  I’ve flown countless thousand miles and stayed at innumerable hotels.  This week, I started in a new role for the company that requires no travel.  I’m testing our software internally now, and I’m very excited to be back at home.  Hopefully I won’t wear out my welcome here.

I’ll get rolling again on the blog tonight, now that I have figured out how to post again.  We’ll see you online soon!

Why Do Designers Feel the Need to Futz?

Today, Tipa wrote about her third or fourth article about EQ2’s new expansion, Rise of Kunark. Let me start off by saying that although I have an active subscription to EQ2, I’m not actively playing it. My perceptions come from what I have been reading about the game and it’s perception from those who are.

If you have read this blog before, you know that I have openly challenged the game designers that take an established game and change it, to presumably improve upon it. SOE has done it with SW:G, EQ, Vanguard, and now with EQ2. In the case of EQ, it’s understandable, as it was a mature game with declining subscriptions and popularity by the time that they made the changes.

With EQ2, SOE has a game that launched poorly against World of Warcraft. It was generally perceived to be released early, wasn’t as fun, and had much higher system requirements. So if you have a polished game that practically runs on a cell phone vs. a game that didn’t quite get the polish that needs a relatively state-of-the art PC to enjoy the visuals, it’s pretty easy to predict what is going to happen. Particularly in hindsight, which I obviously have the benefit of. SOE has spent the last almost 3 years changing the perception of EQ2 to that of one of the best MMO’s out there. It’s nearly impossible to do that in the market. Generally, when a game launches badly (SOE has never said that they were disappointed with how the game did initially, although clearly they must look at WoW and wonder what could have been) it’s nearly impossible to turn the ship around and change that perception. You really have to give them a lot of credit for doing that. After a handful of expansions, and the raising of the level cap to 70, most of the people who are at that level have established play styles and in-game relationships. That’s where Tipa’s article kicks in.

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World of Warcraft Patch 2.3 Live Today – Time to Level Up!

The hotly anticipated WoW 2.3 patch goes live today, and along with a lot of cool additional features like Guild Banks, lower faction requirements for entry to some instances, and the addition of Zul’Aman, a level 70 10-man, Blizzard has also made getting to max level a little easier. WoW is full of players who have “re-rolled” and are playing their 2nd or 3rd characters up through levels. To help facilitate that, expericence between levels 20 and 60 has been increased, and quest reward XP has also been increased between 30 and 60. In order to keep you from outleveling your gear, they have also boosted many instance drops and now have item rewards that have been boosted a bit.

I think this is an appropriate adjustment to the game, given that I’m leveling my 3rd character to a high level now, with my Warlock following in the footsteps of my Shaman and my Mage. This will make it much easier to get there. I am all for smelling the roses, but by the third or fourth time, you already know what the roses smell like and it’s time to move along a little more quickly.

I’ve also included the semi-official patch notes below (the last patch notes from the PTR.)

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Vanguard Producer Waffles on Fundamental Changes

Last week, I wrote about the proposed changes to Vanguard that were gleaned from the Producer’s Letter published on the Vanguard Official Forums. I was concerned that they were getting ready to throw the baby out with the bath water. Apparently I was not alone. As of this writing, there are 57 pages of comments and responses to that original post of the letter. Many of them are saying the same thing; “Please don’t make this game trivial.”

I’m sure they have great intentions. As my grandmother used to tell me as a child when I messed things up but had good intentions; “The road to hell is paved with ‘good intentions’.” I’m not sure that they have the proper context to make the design decisions for this game vis-a-vis the user base. Now, Salim Grant is still there from the original team and I trust him implicitly. I think he knows how to design a game. My concern is that Thom Terrazas doesn’t have any history with the game, and he never read many of the 1.9 million or so posts over at the original Official Vanguard Forums. That’s all fine, but if you are going to make fundamental changes to your game I believe that you had darn well better know exactly how to take the user base’s temperature.

I don’t think that has happened. I haven’t seen any user surveys or heard of any that have been performed by SOE to gauge the community’s opinion on the proposed changes. That is why I opined that this was similar to the arrogance displayed when the NGE was rolled out for SWG.

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New Info on Warhammer Beta

Kevin over at The Server is Down has some information on the Warhammer Beta Update – Part 2. One of the most interesting things to me is the loot itemization that they are talking about. For example;

What does itemizing a chapter entail?

Well we go through every quest that gives rewards and create 24 quest items for it. Every quest in WAR gives you a choice of reward when you complete it, and those rewards are filtered to only show items that are specific to your career. Then we do the same thing for influence rewards — influence rewards are also filtered in a career-specific way.

Then we figure out all the monsters in that chapter and make sure that they drop loot, and that the loot is level appropriate for that monster. We also make sure that players will also drop loot when killed in RvR when we do this. Then we hook up all the stores in that chapter, including the renown stores – where all the great RvR items can be found.

Afterwards we create all the loot for the three PQs in that chapter. Each PQ boss can drop some very-rare unique items, and some rare and uncommon stuff too. PQ bosses also drop most of the armor-set pieces. If there’s a set piece noted for a PQ in this chapter, we add those items to loot that can appear in the chest. We’ve also been looking at how we give out loot in PQs this week – But that will be in an Update later on by the PQ Team.

So, as well as just churning out items for the elf chapters we’re also putting in new stuff. We have our first iteration of the Trophy system in testing right now. We’ve been doing all our testing using an in-game Witch Hunter model, and it’s been fun trying out all the combinations of placement points.

-Item Team

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Vanguard Launch Disaster a Fluke, Shouldn’t Hamper Newer MMO’s

I was reading a blog post by Tipa over at West Karana tonight and it got me to thinking about what it was that made Vanguard thud so thunderously and why that shouldn’t affect competent publishers that are going to publish a new MMO. I really respect Tipa’s opinions on MMOs although I don’t always agree with her prognoses. I’ve known Tipa forever, as we were guilded together in EQ and remember even then her zest for the game and that is evident in her blog. But I digress…

So why shouldn’t we be concerned that Vanguard pissed in the MMO bathwater? Because it was an anomaly. Now I can’t speak to the other MMOs that have failed to launch or stick over the last couple of years, but I can speak to Vanguard. The problem with Vanguard and Sigil wan’t a lack of ideas or a viable idea or design. It wasn’t a poor implementation of the art department’s vision. It wasn’t that Brad’s Vision <TM> was flawed or that Jeff Butler didn’t have great ideas. I spent 45 minutes at the last real E3 just talking with Jeff about what he wanted to see in the game. Not only was the stuff cool, but you could see that even at that late date, he had a real passion for the game and what he wanted to make it be. Did they bite off more than they could chew, design-wise? Probably. They could have let the cool stuff out in dribbles, giving us updates and awesome new stuff in expansions. Were they overly ambitious? Probably. Were they in over their heads? Definitely.

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It’s About Execution

For those of you who are my age or older, you may remember that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were an NFL expansion team. In the 70’s, that team had some of the most memorably bad seasons in the history of professional football. One year, on their way to a 1-15 record their coach was asked a question in a post game news conference. The coach, John McKay, had been a successful coach in college at USC and frankly wasn’t used to losing like that. The reporter’s question? “What do you think of your team’s execution?” His answer; “I’m all for it.”

McKay was a smart coach and a competent planner and did what he could do to have his team prepared. The fact was that they were simply incapable of executing to the level it took to win in the NFL on a week-to-week basis.

What does that have to do with gaming? Well I was reading through Steve Danuser’s blog, Moorgard.com, and found a relatively old article that gave me a “well, duh” moment. It’s so obvious, but I never really thought it all the way through. His point? All the folks from Blizzard have been very forthcoming about their design process, and how they build their games and expansions. A lot of other developers are very closed mouth about this process for the fear that others will steal their ideas and thus their game’s thunder.

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Orange Box, Thy Name is Crack

I know a lot of you come here because I talk about MMO issues and news. I’ve also heard that deviating from your format in blogging = death. That said, here we go;

If you haven’t tried The Orange Box from VALVe yet, I can’t recommend it highly enough. For those of you who don’t know about it, it’s a bundle of Half Life 2, Half Life 2 Episodes 1 and 2 (VALVe’s new episodic content for the HL2 universe,) Portal (An addictive and challenging, if short, puzzle/action game,) and Team Fortress 2.

I got The Orange Box a while back after my son got it and recommended it to me. I already had Half Life 2 and HL2 Episode 1, so I initially didn’t go for The Orange Box (TOB) since I hate re-buying stuff that I already own. I had been looking forward to TF2, and the only way to get it currently is in TOB. It’s still technically in beta, and this is a stroke of marketing genius. The TF2 trailers are amazing, and the art direction on the game really flipped a switch with me. If you haven’t seen it yet, it reminiscent of Warner Brothers meets The Incredibles (see video above. ) The game play is definitely classic team First Person Shooter (FPS) and it’s one of the most interestingly balanced games that the genre has seen. There are 9 classes to play and depending on the scenario there are needs for certain classes more than others. There are also interesting class interdependencies unlike most other FPS games I have played. VALVe resisted the urge to make all the classes playable solo, and made a game where teamwork and quick thinking are at as much of a premium as quick reflexes and the ability to aim. Manual dexterity IS required, but the way the game looks and plays make it the most accessible FPS to date.

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Vanguard in for Big Change of Direction

Everyone in the gaming and MMO business and most gamers who follow MMO’s already know that Vanguard: Saga or Heroes launched to a disastrous start. While few thought that it would be the legendary “WoW-killer,” a lot of people thought that it would hit an under served niche; what Sigil coined as the “Core Gamer.” When the game launched, it was at least 6 months early, and lacked the technical and game play polish that today’s gamer has come to expect. But that is all review at this point. Most of you already know that Sigil and SOE didn’t produce the game that gamers expected.

Over the last several months, SOE has made some strides in resolving the technical issues plaguing the game. The game’s problems continue to run deeper than the mere technical issues, though. Gameplay fixes are lagging behind the technical ones, and it’s likely that they will continue to do so, as by many reports 14 of the remaining 50 or so staffers were let go a couple of weeks ago. It’s going to be hard to make traction against these issues with the miniature team that is still there working.

When the staffers were let go, SOE also changed the manager of the project. This manager wrote in his introductory newsletter that he didn’t really know too much about Vanguard. He pledged to work on getting to know the product, which is a start.  Thom Terrazas is the new project manager.

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Warhammer Online Delayed, “Polish” Cited

In their monthly newsletter for October, which arrived in November, EA Mythic has announced that Warhammer Online has been delayed until Q2 2008. This isn’t really surprising news given that they beta won’t re-start on the game until next month. In the letter, EA Mythic’s Vice President and General Manager Mark Jacobs announced;

When we looked at our options, two paths lay before us: 1) Ship the game on time with fewer features and less polish, or 2) Extend the development cycle and spend the needed time and money to make WAR great. We chose the latter path – to invest additional time and effort in implementation and polish to make WAR great. Fortunately, we have the resources and support of EA behind us to extend our development cycle; time that will be used to make sure the game is everything we want it to be. WAR is coming, and it will be glorious.

WAR may well be glorious, but even with the delay the product will have been produced in the shortest cycle in recent memory, about 2 1/2 years. For a ground-breaking and revolutionary MMO, that is quite ambitious. EA Mythic did have the advantage of a similar product in Dark Ages of Camelot in their catalog that they could derive from, but still this has always been a very fast and compact development period.

There was originally a concern about the downsizing of the EQ Mythic team. He addressed that in the newsletter, stating;

While we did let several people go from the Warhammer Online team, the number was *quite* small and their loss had no impact on our development schedule. These layoffs were part of our normal studio operations and a necessary step for EA Mythic to ensure that we have a focused and committed team working on WAR going forward.

While that sounds like the usual “corporate speak,” I don’t have any reason to doubt that they are being direct about the state of the game.  They have been pretty straightforward with me so far.

I’ll be watching this closely over the coming months and I’ll let you all know if I hear anything else that seems important.  For now, I’m just waiting for beta to restart and hopefully for NDA to drop before too long. I still think this is a very exciting release and could change a lot of the gameplay issues that have been driving me nuts in the existing MMO’s.

What IS Bioware Austin Up To?

Lucas ArtsRight down the street from my office in Austin is a game studio. It’s Bioware Austin, and it’s super secret mission is, well, super secret. Really the only thing they have told us is that they are working on an MMO. Then, a couple of days ago, Bioware and Lucasarts announced that they are working together to create “an interactive entertainment product” that “will push the boundaries of the gaming market.” Slow down, marketing people.

So what IS this fabulous product? Is it already in production?

There has been speculation for a long time that Bioware was working on some sort of Star Wars MMO. If that is the case, why didn’t they announce that in this press release?Bioware Logo

Now there is speculation that the LucasArts announcement has nothing to do with the Bioware MMO project, and that it is either a new iteration of the Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR) IP, or it’s another new IP that has not yet been marketed.

I’m hoping that it’s the MMO. For me, one of the best possible properties for an MMO is Star Wars. In spite of the bungled attempt by SOE to capitalize on this property, Branyanu and I both enjoyed that game quite a bit. We still miss that clunky, incomplete, and goofy game more than almost any other game out there. Given the chance, we’d be right back there playing again.

Now, I am not under the illusion that any Bioware MMO would be anything like SWG, but there is so much appeal in the IP for so many people that I can’t help but think that a skillfully implemented MMO of that property would resonate with a reasonably good amount of people. Add the KOTOR cache and you have a good start at a successful MMO.

I’m afraid I am wrong on this one, and they won’t let me in the front door, so I may have to get back to you all on this one. I can’t wait to see what they are cooking up though.

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