Tuesday, March 31

Bioware GDC teaser


Because they decided to postpone the PC launch until they're done on the 360 one, we'll have to wait till Fall 2009.
*grumble* stupid 360 version *grumble*
Oh wait, I'd decided to get the 360 version first now that the launch'll be simultaneously.

More video's and information here

Blizzard taking cues from SOE, again?

Is Blizzard taking its cues from SOE, again?
Yesterday, I speculated that the new unnamed MMO project that Blizzard is working on will be a kiddie MMO. This makes a certain kind of sense. Blizzard really doesn't want to compete with its own product WOW. On the other hand when WOW inevitably declines, Blizzard prefer to scoop up the leavers with another MMO. Then there's the resurrected Diablo and Starcraft franchises

As The Cesspit points out, Blizzard is dividing its focus. Which is quite risky for a company who managed to excel at doing one thing very, very well. At one time. Of course the current Blizzard isn't anything like the pre-WOW wizard. Most of the people who stood at the crib of that monolith have long since left the company to try things on their own. Much like everyone has been doing ever since WOW gobbled up 80% of the western MMO market.
Cause that's how it is. Out of every 10 players of MMO's, for 8 of them WOW was their first and often only MMO so far. Maybe that's another part of why post-WOW MMO's don't do so well.

Lets face it, the existing market is pretty much filled up, mostly with/by WOW.

That's part of whywhy we've seen so many hybrid games dubbed MMO. Some of which in all conciousness couldn't get the RPG suffix attached. Basically the big houses have been aiming for other markets as Blizzard kinda got all of the classic MMORPG market now. Hence the rise and fall hybrid games like Tabula Rasa, Pirates of the Burning Sea, The Chronicles of Spellborn and even WAR and AoC tried to appeal to outside the regular box customers . Anything different enough to appeal to a different type of player (i.e. not already WOWified) that you can still slap a recurring revenue stream on.
SOE took the lead on this with Planetfall, which is a Mecha/FPS/MMORPG crossover.

Trying to gather customers into the MMO fold (and thereby either the monthly subscription or micropayment revenues) from outside the classic demographics has met with greater and lesser success. Casual, often browserbased "mmo-ish" games have done well. There's 5 of them in Europe that already have more active gamers than WOW has. The hybrids and more classic MMO's have done less well, mostly because they're too close to WOW and suffer from that nearness in several ways. WOW tourists, competing with a polished 4-year old smooth ride, e.t.c.

SOE has been looking for new markets and alternative revenue streams more aggresively than any of the big MMO names. The Station Access, their somewhat clumsy G.I.R.L. programme, the equally clumsy but working Station Exchange and Livegamer RMT schemes, e.t.c. Whatever you feel about SOE, they are still pioneering 10 years after EverQuest came out.
While Blizzard perfected customer satisfaction and retention, areas SOE has a blindspot for, SOE has been looking onwards, also towards the next generation. For once I do not mean Next Gen Games in the sense of bigger, better engines e.t.c. but kiddies.

Free Realms, Free 2 Play but with both Station Access (buy stuff from SOE) and LiveGame (buy stuff from other gamers) firmly entrenched as core features, is firmly aimed at the younger players. Early teens. As every marketeer can tell you, teens have the most money to burn. Late teens are more liable to throw their allowances at clothes, dates, drugs and (in Europe) alcohol. In the US they get to throw money at cars/gasoline first. So it's better to get the early teens first. SOE isn't the first to come up with this, just as EverQuest wasn't exactly the first MMO, there's things like Hello Kitty Online, Lego World and others. Some of the already existing Fluff games target anyone with a penchant for furry, cuddly pink and pastels. If that doesn't raise a 6-12 year old girl in your mind there's something wrong with you.

Anyway, SOE's strategy has always been to get you in the fold with any one of their games and keep you there by getting you to go for Station Access and play their other games too. Free Realms is the next step. Catch you as young as possible, and try to hold on to you as you mature. Either staying in Free Realms, though I suspect there'll be an age gap so that young people and mature people will enjoy it. Much like certain books and movies are enjoyed by children and people of parent age, but generally scoffed at by people in their early twenties / late teens.

People tend to wonder what Blizzard's next MMO will be. Starcraft IP? Diablo IP. More Warcraft is unlikely as WOW was to be the 'end of the story'. Will it be Fantasy or Sci-fi? A new IP is also possible, maybe even most likely. But Blizzard isn't privately owned anymore, as they were when they put in that superlative (at the time) investment for World of Warcraft. So they are beholden to shareholders who've been shouting for #3 of Everything for years now. In order to be able to risk a new IP they may need to be gunning for something different.
Therefore, I think the more pertinent question is, what agegroup will Blizzard be gunning for?

I say Age 8-14, just like SOE is targetting with FreeRealms.
And it's likely they'll be pulling another World of Warcraft on SOE, with Free Realms the new EverQuest that gets eclipsed by a smoother Blizzard's product.

It makes sense. They already pwn 16-35 and most of the people beyond that age aren't (yet) a really interesting demographic. Besides, Blizzard's never been a pioneer at anything. They're pretty much been mimicking Microsoft's business strategies in being the last into the market, but with a better polished product and a bigger marketing budget, with which they then dominate the market. So I really, really doubt they'll be pioneering making games for the aging first generation of gamers. those will have to make do with IP But the pioneers have already hit the kiddie market, so the time might be right for Blizz to do their thing.

Monday, March 30

Rant: Never judge a book by its cover

Sometimes I really hate TOR Books...

Yes, that's the same book twice. It's the second part of a trilogy.
I bought the one on the right as soon as a paperback was available. At the time I didn't bother to check who the publisher/printer was, I just wanted my J.V.Jones fix. When it arrived I actually put it in my closet and didn't read it for several weeks. The cover's that crass and off-putting. I honestly believe they can make any fan of the fantasy or sci-fi genres cringe to be standing near their respective sections or shelves in a bookstore with their covers they think appeals to hormone crazed teenagers. At least I think that that is what they're aiming for since there's some similarily with the generally equally crass but at least 'on target' video game box-art. I had to remind myself not to judge a book by its cover before I started reading it.

After reading the book I was even more incensed with the crappy effort involved.
The artist on the left, read the book. The artist on the right skimmed a single scene. Both covers portray the same scene in fact. The one on the left nails it, the one on the right is only recognizable as depicting that scene because if it doesn't try to do that scene it's for another book entire. I don't know what the editors of TOR think, cover art isn't worth spending more than $100,- to the artist for. Or maybe there's some folks there who get off of cheap Frank Frazetta ripoffs that don't have the benefit of being classics.

My distlike of the cover actually went so far that later I ordered the second one, the one on the left, after searching for the version with this cover and finding it was Orbit Books'. Yeah, I bought a book I already had because I hated the cover art so much.
Also because the first installment I got also came from Orbit Books and I could order it along with part 3, with another matching cover and that looks way better in my bookcase. Otherwise I probably wouldn't have. I have whole shelves of TOR books I'd much rather have the Orbit versions of. The replacing of one book in a trilogy was acceptable to my budget. Replacing the entire Saga of Recluse series isn't.
TOR's three covers for this J.V.Jones trilogy don't even have any coherency of style between them. If you put them together, your only clues they're related are the themed titles and the author's name. Seriously, they can't even get matching cover-art for a trilogy. I can understand having trouble keeping your artists for something the length of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time or Terry Brooks Sword of Truth series, or Steven Erikson's saga, but for a bleeding trilogy? Luckily Orbit can, and will. The version on the left is an Orbit books cover. When in doubt go with Orbit.

Bantham Press, which I'm sad to say is my Steven Erikson supplier, isn't much better than TOR. Though they actually manage to keep their cover art consistent in their unappealingness. At least Voyager, DAW get it right once in a while and Orbit sticks out above the crowd head and shoulders and chest. I have three bookcases full of fantasy and sci-fi books (yeah, I'm a nerd. As if anyone still had doubts) and you can pick out the TOR and the Orbit books immediately, even ignoring TOR's penchant to have a ridiculously large logo on the back of their books. Of course, Orbit tends not to be the first publisher/printer for books. Their books tend to be of better quality, thicker and whiter paper e.t.c. all round. Which means they're more expensive. So they rarely get to do the first paper-back printing, unless the hardcover version was such a runaway success that multiple publishers/printer are contracted for the paperback version. They're worth waiting for the 2nd printing for, and here in Europe they more often have the first printing of UK English authors, so that's all good.

Anyway, my advice for ordering books online; check who the publisher/printer is and go for any other brand than TOR if you can.
You won't need similar advice for buying in retail stores as you can see the covers for yourself there.

Why Europe is a Bitch

Several times during my time at Gameamp I tried, without much success, to explain just why and how launching a game, especially an MMO in Europe is such a different beast from doing the same for the US.
People (in the US) just don't tend to grasp just how much cultural diversity there is in Europe.
THey tend to compare it to the cultural diversity in the US which, while not insignificant, just isn't in the same ballpark.
They'll grasp if you tell them that 25% of the gamers here speaks German, another 25% speak French and the rest is either British (20%) or told (in English) to suck it up and join an "International", meaning English server. But that just isn't everything. Europe is more than 3 big languages and a lot of people speaking (bad) English as a second language. Wonder why VOIP gaming is not so big here?

So I was happy to come across this post on T-Machine which I'll quote here in part.
It shows many different differences, between the various EU countries and the US.
Just read through them and consider how these things might affect how to go about making and launching a game, from taking into account not just different languages but different humor, laws and adopted billing systems:


  • france and germany tried to share broadcast TV content, didn’t work - french hated german humour, germans hated french humour
  • in the end, they settled on english humour, which happened to work in both territories


  • what are the conventions in dating/romantic relationships?
  • marriage?


  • do you eat as a family, or as indviduals?
  • do you eat and watch TV, or only as separate things


  • 3 main religions: catholic mostly eastern europe
  • protestant north europe germany etc
  • orthodox: greece, far eastern europe etc


  • Percentages of people that believe in god, by country
  • USA: 94%
  • most of europe: 20% to 60%


  • UK is like USA (common law)
  • most european countries use civil law, which is very different
  • lots of much stronger citizen-protection laws than the US - privacy / data protection, consumer protection / trade, etc
  • in some cases (more all the time as EU law unifies state laws) you only have to be compliant in one place, and you’re automatically compliant everywhere
  • in other cases, you have to be re-compliant in each different territory. e.g. cannabis use is legal in some countries, illegal in others


  • PEGI: 32 countries, voluntary system, mainly for retail, doesnt cover “alcohol, blood, or tobacco”, very quick approval process for games rated 12 years or older
    (i.e. only games aimed at younger audiences have longer rating times)
  • UK uses PEGI for under 16 year olds, separate system for over 16
  • Russia uses PEGI for consoles only
  • Germany is completely different

Germany ratings

  • PEGI is legally enforced
  • not allowed to even show a game in public (at a trade show) without a rating
  • many urban legends (like “must have green blood, not red blood”)
  • quick approval process
  • … except in summer, when there’s a mad rush to rate stuff so people can show it at the trade shows


  • 40+ different languages in Europe
  • 15 or so major languages spoken by millions of people each
  • 3 different alphabets: roman (english), greek, and cyrillic (russian)
  • +many letter and punctuation accents that aren’t used in english
  • even english vs american has big differences
  • e.g. Spaztic (mario party 8) and Short Shag (hairstyle in a kids game) are both very offensive / adult in UK

French keyboard

  • AZERTY requires pressing the shift key to EVER type a digit
  • so hotkeys are a horrible pain for french players if the keyboard mapping is naively handled by the game programmers

Big differences in playstyle

  • PVP more popular than in USA - across the board - but some countries especially really heavily into PvP

Payment systems

  • 107% mobile penetration on average across europe in 2006 vs 77% in USA
  • every single mobile network in europe gives vast amounts of free SMS’s and have done for many years
  • ELV: very common in germany (like CC, but with much higher rate of chargebacks)
  • pre-pay cards not as popular (yet) as in the USA
  • premium calls via landline to be billed via phone bill
  • direct ISP billing
  • VAT (sales tax) in europe is based on the country of operation. Average is 20%, but some have as low as 12.5% e.g. in luxembourg, so many companies route all EU payments through Luxembourg

Credit card penetartion

  • US 59% UK 58%
  • other european countries down as low as 15%

Broadband penetration

  • 25-35% UK
  • 15-20% italy, spain, etc
  • 10% or less in eastern europe
  • Europe and USA number of MMO subscribers are almost at parity already, with Europe set to overtake USA in next few years

**Dutch broadband penetration isn't anywhere near 25%, it's nearing 80%

Factoid: There are 5 different F2P games in europe outrank WoW in terms of active monthly users

Factoid: There are 173 online game studios in Europe [ADAM: included all the facebook developers etc in there by the looks of things]

Let me elaborate on Germany's PEGI rating a bit:
Germany is very sensitive about violence in games. Yes, because of collecitve guilt for that little episode in world history. It can come across nearly as 'stuck up' as US prudism in entertainment can be to us European degenerates.

Another way how all this adversely affects things can be best described by using Xbox Live as an example. Part of this is Microsoft's insisting on providing "localized" services. The drawback to this is that there's no video-rental option for me on Xbox Live. Simply because there isn't enough of a userbase for it here in the Netherlands. it works for France & Germany & England because on a national level there's (barely) enough customers to make it cost-effecitve. Within the Netherlands there currently aren't. the Dutch by and large are fully capable of following English movies. We've been doing that since when exactly did film come out? Whole hordes of us even prefer English subtitles over Dutch ones because A) the latter often suck and B) it's less distracting to spot that one word you didn't hear very well if it's in the same language.
Anyway, for a lot of us, piggy-riding on the UK version of Xbox Live's system would not pose any problem. Except, Great Brittain didn't join the rest of Europe in adopting the Euro as it's common currency...

Stuff like that, it makes living in this place interesting :-)

Stories are important

Jeff Kaplan, of WOW fame, talked at GDC about problems with Quests in WOW and Newsshack has a transcript of which I'll quote the bit that speaks to me:
I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. We’re so fortunate and privileged to work in a medium that is not only an art, but a revolutionary interactive form of entertainment. It’s unfortunate to see so many games try to be what they’re not, including our game at times. Of course we should embrace the concept of story… art, literature, film, song, they’ve all embraced story as well. But they all tell it in their own unique way.

I feel like we need to deliver our story in a way that is uniquely video game. We need to engage our audience by letting them be the hero or the villain or the victim. [Art, film, literature], they’re tools. But we need to engage our players in sort of an inspiring experience, and the sooner we accept that we are not Shakespeare, Scorsese, Tolstoy or the Beatles, the better off we are.

Actually, after that he says something about poorly paced Quests I kinda worry about.
The way he puts it, and the way Scott Jennings interprets it, People don’t like delayed gratification. Guess I'm just a bit hardcore too as I actually think most MMO's do too much of the instant gratification thing. Of course, I have some objections to doing something for 10 levels before getting any kind of reward. I like to have long term goals, but I also think content should be doable in blocks of an evening's session. An arc can exist of as many blocks as is deemed appropriate though. But some intermittent milestones (probably in the form of some reward) do help with the sense of progression and achievement.

But back to topic. As Cuppycake puts it: I’m no fool. I know that, compared to the WOW playerbase, I’m in the VAST minority.

Jeff Kaplan on Quest dialogue length: I actually wish that the number was smaller. I think it’s great to limit people in how much pure text they can force on the player. Because honestly… if you ever want a case study, just watch kids play it, and they’re just mashing the button. They don’t want to read anything.
Let's ignore for the moment that Kaplan doesn't seem know the majority of MMORPG players, including WOW, consists of people aged 30+, he's working on Blizzard's Next Gen MMO now, which I guess is targetted at a different, younger market segment than WOW. makes sense actually, you don't want to compete with your own product afterall. But he seems to be applying his probably correct observations of kiddies to the older WOW audience.

I'm 30+ and I love to read all about the lore and backgrounds of games, books movies e.t.c. I also love to read stories and it doesn't matter what kind of game I play, if it doesn't have some basic elements of a story, I tire of it quickly. That doesn't mean I expect Shakespeare. But stories provide purpose. My problem with the more sandboxy RPG games is always that you find yourself travelling around the world to find interesting creatures, whom you consequently introduce to concepts like genocide and mass extinction. If I don't want to feel like a psychopath, I need a purpose. Stories provide purpose.

Quest dialogue fuels the story and the purpose.
Please don't take those away from me, even if I don't in all honesty read every one of them.
Do take a look at AoC for better presentation of quest dialogue though.
Of course, with WOW's level of content doing one in ten dialogues in voice-over would be a major investment. But the cutscene like 'dialogue camera angle' also adds a lot, makes it feel like a conversation rather than a Hit '1' n amounts of time and eventually the walls of text will disappear and you will have a quest set to auto-tracking in your journal.

Writing your games with kiddies in mind means you'll loose them as customers as they grow up.
Kids love everything 'adult' though.

Be sure to read the transcript, he does say a lot of sensible stuff too.
And I'm serious in thinking Blizzard's next gen MMO will be aimed at a younger than WOW's audience.

Sunday, March 29

A followup to a deeper skill system

In response to Towards a deeper skill system

Ok, that could have been more... nurturing :-s
Sorry for that first response. It wasn't quite phrased the way I should have done.

I really do like Evil Geek's concepts and have been thinking about them off and on. While I'm still inclined to say stay with classes, I'm warming up to your Skill-tree thing. On a side note, you'll probably want to include a 'self' icon too, unless every skill & spell you devise will affect foes / allies /pets&minions only. Which could be a design choice.

Anyway, some things you said and what that made me think of are finally coming together in my mind. For one I share your dislike of too large skill-bars. I'd prefer 20-24 skills maximum. Distributed over 4 hotbars of 6 hotkeys.
  1. st row uses 1-6
  2. nd row uses CTRL 1-6
  3. rd row uses ALT 1-6
  4. th row uses SHIFT 1-6 (or CTRL+ALT) or META if available.
Hotbars can still be 10 long (not 12!) but that's for incidental stuff you don't need in a fight. This really ought to apply to every game.

Something else:
Age of Conan has a very cool melee system where you use directional attacks 7 or 8 in total in a string or chain combo. This makes the game stand out. Sadly, Casting is pretty much the same as in every other MMO. Making the game stand out not so much anymore.

Something (not quite) else:
Your Skill tree concept. Why make that a once in a blue moon thing? How about if you have to make those choices on the fly? In a combo maybe?
See where I'm heading?

Now for the U turn:
Dungeon Master. A very old game, but it had an incredibly advanced Spell casting system, the Wiki page of which has been removed by a Wikipedia Editor jockeying for administrator rights by making as many article edits (deletes) as possible. Luckily, it's been saved for prosperity here and here, but I'll quote for convenience:
Dungeon Master uses rune combinations in sequence to produce magic spells. They form the magic casting system for all the games in the series: Dungeon Master, Chaos Strikes back, Dungeon Master II the Legend of Skullkeep, Theron's Quest and Dungeon Master Nexus.

Dungeon Master spells are composed of two to four syllables (runes). The first syllable (rune) is the power of the spell (which affects the strength, duration and mana cost). The second syllable (rune) is the elemental influence, the third syllable (rune) is the form, and the last syllable (rune) is the class or alignment. Note that the third, and forth syllable is not used on some spells.

The user interface displays six syllables (runes) at a time from which you may choose one. First is the group of Power runes: Lo Um On Ee Pal Mon. The second set of runes represents Elemental influence: Ya Vi Oh Ful Des Zo. The third set of runes represents the Form: Ven Ew Kath Ir Bro Gor. The fourth set of runes represents the spell's Class Alignment: Ku Ros Dain Neta Ra Sar.

When learning a spell the Power syllable (rune) is generally not included in the description of the spell, and you can practice the spell with any sufficiently low level Power syllable (rune).

High power spells cannot be cast by low-skilled champions. (...) You need to add a power syallable (rune) as the first syllable (rune). Each syllable (rune) costs mana points, depending on the selected power. If a champion does not have enough mana points, the syllable (rune) cannot be used. You have to wait, sleep, drink mana potions or equip items that increase your mana.

The game documentation does not come with a list of spells. Rather, the player discovers the spells by finding scrolls in the dungeon. There is nothing in the game to prevent a player from discovering spells through trial-and-error, and of course once you learn the spells you can attempt to cast them before finding the scroll that reveals it.
Bear in mind, this describes the spell casting system of the first 3D realtime action computer role-playing game which was released in 1987 and today, more than 20 years later, you could really wish the Funcom developers had remembered playing it. I mean doesn't this sound like an awesome system to use in an MMO, especially in conjunction to the Melee combo's of Age of Conan?

Imagine your Hotbars looking like this:

Ok, with slightly more colorful Icons maybe :-)

Bottom row are the Power Runes, then Element (Earth, Water, Air, Fire, Ether and Death) followed by Form (like airborne, shield, weapon buff, bottle, e.t.c.) and finally class alignment.

Just imagine each Rune having a .6 seconds animation attached to it, with variations so that both Lo Ful Ir and Mon Ful Ir (weakest and strongest fireball respectively) have animations that go fluidly. Just imagine the wacky fun results that might occur if a spell caster gets interrupted in between Rune 3 and 4... Remember, that's 216 different combinations to design results for, each with 6 degrees of power. Maybe the power rune should be the last rune cast/said?
Now, in Dungeon Master some spells could only be cast by Wizards and some by Priests. Also a lot of combinations did nothing, which means room for improvement. That's where Geek's original concept comes back in.

The trial and error I'd leave in, the learning of scrolls would result in highlighting of available runes. I.e. after hitting Mo Um both Bro and Ew light up, provided you have read on a scroll that this works and you're of the correct class. Yes, still stubbornly sticking with classes.
Geek's system fits in nicely with what I'd call spellweaving. Make up your own spells. Find one that is usefull, let's say Explosive Fireball, you can assign a color-scheme to it, so that Runes for that spell light up in that color when you start a combo.

We might even drop the Power Rune altogether in favor of your 6 favorite spells as starter buttons as we're not bound to fully follow this system. The class alignment runes for instance could be replaced with target runes:
PointBlank (self) - PointBlankAoE - Foe - FoeAoE - Ally - AllyAoE
Or some such.

The only problem I see with it is that you'd end up doing things like:

1, CTRL+3 ALT+2, SHIFT+5 Kaboom!!!!

which might strain the fingers a bit.
But wait, there's another mmo that tried and failed to be renewing. The Chronicles of Spellborn, which touts as its renewing feature that revolving skill deck. Which, because most of its developers were to young to have played Dungeon Master and were thinking too much along the lines of a FPS game with 8x5 weapons, is stacked with single shot skills where 1 is a "hit stuff" 2 is a "heal me, 3 a "hit stuff at a distance" and 4 a "heal another, maybe".
But if you were to combine that with a sytem like described above, you might be getting somewhere. Though Age of Conan probably still has the better Melee system and I don't see either system working well for Bows and Arrows or other ranged attacks not involving gesticulatiing and chanting.

Sunday Screenshot Showoff

Let's try something new.

The other day I briefly saw that someone, presumably EG, had added a second Slideshow widget, which pointed to Geek's Picasa album. Shortly after it was gone again, but I'd been quick enough to add him to my favorites. Puh! :-)
I guess he felt the double widget took up too much space, which it did a bit. One longer term intention of mine is to see if I can rip the Widget's HTML code, modify it and insert it as a self-made Widget that allows for more than one Slideshow without all the extraneous space used.
But for now, let's do this:

Sunday Screenshot Showoff

What is that?
It's simple, every Sunday one of us Nomads starts a topic titled Sunday Screenshot Showoff and everyone can add to it. The Nomads can simply edit the post to add stuff and any visitors/lurkers willing to share can link to a screenie in the responses. Which one of the Nomads can then add to the main post.

I'll do this week's kickoff:

Sunset over New Targonor:

Coilla had to descend the cliff face as part of the Shadowhound Quest

Bring on the Mojo!

Suhaya praying for divine intervention on the Isle of Dawn.

Metropolis Now!
Port Aughos. Player housing island next to Martok in the Kojani archipelago.

Sajeera still lives there.
The house plot next to her house is purchasable for 10 Gold and 60 Silver weekly upkeep.
Of course it would be way cooler to have a shared gallery somewhere with a plugin for this site showing the five most recent additions, as done by a certain site most of used to visit, but that doesn't seem to be a possibility at the moment I'm afraid.

Saturday, March 28

Towards a deeper skill system

I've been trying to think of ways to get a more unique experience across the board for my perfect MMO, part of that train of thought requires a more unique and in-depth skill system than anything we currently have on offer, it also means the death of a class system. The problem with class systems is that your tied down right from the word go to what style of attack, defense and skills you are going to have access to, then of course theres that virtual fashion victims usual gripe of being limited to armour sets that your class can use (I have to give a big nod to Spellborn for getting rid of that idea). Designing your own class and making your character unique relies on the ability to choose from a wide array of skills, of course skill points must be earned for skills to be useful. Unlocking them for my perfect MMO would be something akin to the Guild Wars Prophecies way of doing things - you unlock alot of skills by completing quests, it's a nice idea. GW allows you to buy skills from a trainer too, I wouldn't go down that route, I like the idea of quest systems that are relevant to the skill you need, you want the skill? go work for it...

Skill points is another good idea I would probably plagiarise from GW, you get a skill point everytime you level up, once you reach max level (a modest 20) you get subsequent points for roughly every 15,000 XP you earn, the beauty is that with this system you never stop earning them and for a game like GW where swapping around your secondary profession is a common occurence you need the points to unlock the skills for most if not all professions, as it currently stands that is a grand totall of 1319 skills to unlock in GW.

In my perfect MMO skills wouldn't be static and feat trees wouldn't exist, other mechanics such as attribute points - spent to increase the strength of schools of magic and melee skills would still be useful. I wouldn't dream of having as many skills as GW currently has, espicially with the idea I'm proposing, it would take far too long to come up with the necessary base skills and their way of advancement to enable such a vast choice, the choice would be about how you invest your skill points in that skill and further on from the possibility of combining skills.

Heres the basic idea along with an example, I've gone with a health transfer skill as it's common and is an easy option for me to initially start looking at how a system like this could work.

Instead of having feat trees, each skill would have it's own tree of options, you spend your points in those options to progress the skill to suit your needs.

Life Transfer
In the centre of this skills tree is the initial skill, when you initially gain it it's useless until you start to add skill points to it's tree. The skill lives up to it's name by transferring life, how that transfer works is totally up to you.

The first 'tier' of this skill has 4 initial options surrounding it, each of those options cost 1 skill point to unlock, to stop a skill becoming imba a skill point cap is probably required, for this skill I allocated 6. The further progression options outside the first tier cost 2 points each and require at least 2 points spent to unlock them, again to stop too much gain for too little cost.

First tier options:
  • Life steal from foe to you
  • Transfer life from you to heal your pet/minion
  • Transfer life from you to heal ally
  • Steal life from your pet/minion
By investing 2 points in that first tier you could have one of the following options
  • Steal life from foe, transfer it to your pet/minion
  • Steal life from a foe, transfer it to an ally
  • Steal life from your pet which in turn is stealing life from the foe it's attacking
  • Transfer life from you to your pet/minion while it's in turn stealing life from a foe, useful if you created a tanking pet/minion
  • Transfer life to your pet which in turn passes on a percentage to the closest ally, draining on you unless your gaining health from elsewhere
  • Transfer life from your pet to you while it also transfers life to an ally, not a useful option unless you invest more points so that the pet/minion in turn is stealing life from a foe
Moving on to tier 2 by investing a further 2 points to unlock another progression allows you to start adding in an area of effect (AoE) life transfer, the T2 would probably need to be capped allowing you to only unlock one T2 progression. Adjacent T1 skills need to be unlocked to progress.
  • Steal life from multiple foes within the AoE
  • Transfer life to your team rather than a single ally.
In the above example, using all 6 allocated points
  • Life steal from a single foe (1 point)
  • Life transfer to your pet/minion (1 point)
  • Pet/minion steals life from foe it's attacking (1 point)
  • Pet/minion transfers life to the nearest ally (assuming it's a melee pet that should be the nearest ally using melee) (1 point)
  • Life steal from multiple foes within an AoE directly to you (2 points)
A simple skill has gone on to something much more powerful and complex and has been progressed to suit your playing style, a melee character would probably just invest 4 points to gain the AoE life steal while only losing a little to the nearest ally. The tree could even be expanded to include the option to steal life through another ally rather than a pet so that a caster could steal life from the multiple foes within the AoE of the tank.

Another layer of depth : Combining skills
Rather than having a skillbar full of different skills that only have subtle differences why not have the ability to combine some skills to give them a bonus? This shouldn't be cheap but something you do at a later stage of the game to give you more options and even more depth, it would need to be limited so that two powerful skils cant be combined to create something imba.

Here we have the opportunity to combine our life stealing skill with a skill that hits multiple targets, after being combined our skill now steals life and returns it to you when it hits those targets.

The multiple target skill would have a progression that allows you to use it with different weapons and increase its AoE.

You wouldn't be able to combine any skill more than once in order to stop you creating an overpowered skill, you need to make careful choices.

These are just rough ideas that I thought i'd share to see what you think, feat tress are boring and I'm not a fan of overly large, hard to manage skill bars either, a limited skill bar filled with skills you designed to suit your playstyle seems a whole lote more fun to me.

Friday, March 27

Why I like the CoreUI HUD

Last night, Phè and I were working our way into a deep, dark dungeon filled with bee-like creatures called Azebaj.I'm not sure where they're getting their honey from, but that's what we were in there fore. Maybe there's underground flowers of some kind deep below or something.

This screenshot has us fighting for our lives and Honey rates

During our fight Phè was getting acquianted with the finer points of aggro-management in Vanguard.
Which, as many things in Vanguard, is a bit different and more complex than in other games.
Your best way of getting aggro of an attention whoring healer like me is to have them as your defensive target and, when some nasty attacks me, intercept that attack with a Rescue Reaction. It also helps to hit on the mob hitting me (the healer).

That's where the CoreUI I like so much comes in and shines.
This HUD (Heads Up Display) allows me not only to see my own health/energy/mana bars along with my target's, but also who he-she-it is attacking, and even whoever my target's target is attacking.

Ok, back up :-)
- I'm attacking the Azebaj Drone, his healthbar is the one at 57%
- He's attacking Suhaya (shown in white) this happens to be me but it doesn't have to be me.
- Below the name Suhaya it says Azebaj Drone again, that's because my Target's target (me) is attacking that drone.
It probably would have made more sense if I caught a screen with the Drone attacking Taqe.
Taqe is my Defensive Target as you can see.

Below all that is another health bar, with the name Azebaj Drone in it and in white below it Taqe's name.
This is the encounter pane. While the HUD isn't part of the regular interface, this pane is. It's been skinned to match the HUD though.
This shows additional foes mixed up in the fight, but not targetted by me. 'Off Targets' so to speak. I can quickly see that something's attacking Taqe and it's not my target. That's handy because going by the animations doesn't always go so well :-)
And yes, if we get a 20 foe train on us, the middle of my screen is red.

Oh, the little blue bit, with 2/12 in it is my Jin.

Thursday, March 26

A touch of Fan Fiction

While checking some lore archives, I came across this bit of old fan-fiction I wrote during my first time in Telon.
It involves several members of our Guild at the time, the ill fated Ahgram Foreign Legion.
Enjoy if you will:

Geoffrey Heartsworn, son and heir to the Heartsworn line, no longer has it in him to believe in glory this morning.

As the sun of Telon makes its first tentative foray over the mountain peaks to the east, Geoffrey surveys the field of carnage before him. Nothing stirs below him except the occasional torn forlorn Legionnaire banner. The pass before him has turned into a lake of Death. Most of the night, it'd been one of Undeath. Within that Lake of Death three little islands littered with red-uniformed corpses stick out as a kind of inverted whirlpools which would not pull you down to Death, but up to it instead.

They'd come in relentless hordes all through the long night, the undead and worse, the Shinak Agents who appear out of thin air to slay, and to revive. Undead as well as other vile greenskin creatures of the Gulgrethor clan. Ah! He'd been so proud but one evening ago, or was it a lifetime? The fight, nay the slaughter felt like it took an age to resolve. If it hadn't been for those, those mercenaries, they'd all be dead now. Each and every glorious Paladin and Cleric of the Heartsworn household troops would have been dead and gone. And the heartlands open to the teeming hordes of the undead. His gaze goes over the ludicrous diamond shaped bulwarks almost but not quite blocking the pass, a mere three hundred yards from the fortress gates.

It had been those hastily erected bulwarks of nothing more advanced than earth and wooden pikes that had saved them during the night. Them and the men women and, creatures, of The Legion who'd given their lives manning those pitiful bulwarks.

Ah, the arguments the disposition of troops had caused in the days before. The raging fit his father had thrown when their liege, King Targonor, had transgressed against tradition and custom. On the say so of a foreign ruler he put the commander of that rag tag group of ruffians, scoundrels and Necromancers! in a position of authority. Under the leadership of a woman to boot! It had been impressive to see that clash, on the one side dominant, angry Lord Heartsworn gesticulating widely in front of his hearth as he berated the commander for her insane plan, and on the other hand that diminutive, quiet woman, name of Secura, who'd born that onslaught with quiet yet determined grace. She'd let the Lord vent his rage, then simply ignored him thereafter and implemented her 'insane' strategy, the three diamond bulwarks in the pass. Geoffrey would soon need to face the consequences of the apoplexy his father had suffered.
For now, his attention is riveted onto the evidence of the heroic tragedy before him.

The three earthen bulwarks had looked so fragile, presumptuous even, in the late afternoon light the previous day. But rather than be overwhelmed within moments by the vanguard of the hordes as the Heartsworn had expected, they'd actually functioned as a funnel, slowing down and compressing the enemy into a tight mob. Making the enemy's momentum work against it rather than for them. With manic glee and delight in their eyes, the Legion's Sorcerers and Druids had made the most of the tightly packed targets, or so it had looked to Geoffrey who'd never seen this strategy applied before. But he'd read about it in a tomb of foreign warfare which somehow failed to fully describe the level of carnage involved. But brilliant as the strategy was, that alone would not have stemmed the tides of undead who were just to many to defeat with conventional warfare. If it hadn't been for the Legion's Necromancers. Oh how that smarted. Still does in a way, to allow such vile creatures amongst the ranks. It had been through the intervention of those Necromancers that each of the seven or so times during the night when the diamonds had become all but overrun by the teeming hordes and all seemed lost, that the Legion as a whole had persevered. This use of conventionally Evil beings more than anything had been at the core of contention between the Ahgram Foreign Legion on loan from, and apparently paid for by the Sultan of Ahgramun and the Heartsworn of the Thestran Watch.

"We do not fight for glory or for what is Good. We fight to win and for what is right!" Secura had said to her troops in that soft but carrying voice of hers. "We will use all that is available to us, any advantage we can use. Our Chaplain, Tyrannon calls this Total War. It may not be pretty or glorious", here she'd almost spat, "but it gets the job done. Thestran Heartsworn! You're all set to bravely and heroically die in a glorious manner, and in vain. We may expect not to survive either, but by Ghalnn, if we have to die, it'll be with victory in our grasp and spiteful vengeance in our eye!"

And she'd been right. Both in that they'd not survive and that they'd win. The Legionnaires were veterans of many battles each and all. Even though they appeared a motley crew at first glance, it was this diversity that had saved the night. The Necromancers, reanimating the bodies of their fallen comrades even as they fell, preventing the Shinaik Death Agents from raising them instead. Which would have forced living soldiers to slay the corpses of their own former comrades over and over again. The reserve of maniacal Gnome Berserkers, now gone to the last man, throwing themselves and sometimes each other into the thickest sections of the fray again and again. It'd been the Legion's Psionists, another school of magic often frowned upon by the Thestran Watch, who'd been instrumental in staying the Shinaik Death Agents. Though all but invisible and invincible slayers they were nevertheless were detected by and thereby made vulnerable to the mental powers of these powerful sages.

Most poignant, and bizarre had been to witness how after the gate of the Fortress had been blown apart by a Gulgrethor Sorcerer, it was replaced by the shimmering blue aura of a Vulmane Shaman's magic. The Legion's Shaman standing alone atop the portcullis for the better part of the night, clearly visible against the backlight of his own defensive ritual. Braving bot missile and spell to keep up the most incredible display of defensive magic Geoffrey had ever witnessed until the sheer power he'd been channeling consumed his mortal frame in a conflagration of pink fire, a mere hour before the dawn. Geoffrey had trouble believing it but several Guards swore they saw a fiery bird take off from that spot where nothing now remained but a dark smudge. They'd not had time to investigate this fully as that time had been the first and only time the Heartsworn were called upon to draw blade themselves. By this time they'd been so humbled by the Ahgram Foreign Legion's display of sheer stubborn perseverance that they'd set to with a vengeance and managed to keep clear the gates till dawn.

So many representatives of the races and classes frowned upon as Evi! Or at the least not deemed benign by Thestran morals, yet they had given their lives this night. Without gloryor honor they'd fought. but their dieing in droves on foreign soil, fighting to protect a people who for the most part had trouble distinguishing them from a horde of invaders, they'd shown a kind of loyalty and nobility that is truly rare. From this day on Geoffrey would never judge a person on reputation alone, but by their actions he'd witness himself. Or so he swore to himself

As the sun finally overcomes its bashfulness and leaps into the sky in full, movement stirs amongst the heaps of dead. Immediately Geoffrey's gaze is drawn to the center most diamond, the one that'd been nearest the fortress, yet hit the hardest of all for that. The movement could really mean only one thing, undead rising! But no, the shapes while covered in grime and gore as they are, stagger in a way that isn't the shuffling gait of the poorly controlled zombie. instead it's the stagger of being beyond exhaustion as one experiences only in moments such as this. When one has passed beyond the point where sheer exhaustion should have been enough to kill. From between the piles of dead stir the veterans of the Legion. Sergeant major Secura of the quiet strength, Chaplain Tyrannon, pecked by those who know as one who will go far within the Legion, Shinta Gubglub, the Goblin Shaman who will perish decades from now while ensuring the freedom of her descendants by forcing a Gulgrethor slave ship to ground on the rocks of northern Martok.
Precious few of the Necromancers and Psionists who'd turned the tide remain. No patriots them, no glory hounds. You'd insult them if you called them heroes or tried to stick a medal on them. Loyal only to each other and whatever cause their mysterious 'Marshal' chooses to serve, they nevertheless fight Evil with a vengeance. They may not be Good, but they fight for what's right, and how!

Games of Chance and repetitive tasks - Crafting

Valaire: not a Hunter/Gatherer just a Crafter/Gatherer :)

What is that makes crafting so appealing? Whatever it is it gets me hooked everytime. It's probably that idea of self sufficiency and being a master of whatever art you decide to pursue. Most games have it to varying degrees of success, done well it becomes as important, if not more so, as your leveling up as a character, when I enjoy it my characters PvE level tends to suffer in favour of reaching new dizzying heights as a crafter, it's usually when the crafting lvl requires a higher PvE level that I pick up the questing again.

It's both a grind and time sink (yes I know the 2 are one and the same) but one that actually provides benefits beyond your characters storyline and done well should compliment your journey through the game.

It makes sense to me that crafting should provide you with the ability to create items that are always better than bought and 95% of the time better than drops for your level, whatever your level. The cost in time spent should reflect that quality, it's a damn good tool for developers to use to keep those of us into crafting well occupied for hours and hours and hours.....for a subscription based model it makes sound financial sense. The costs both in time and monetary value should also reflect the longevity of crafted pieces, nobody is going to buy that uber level 15 helm of super powerfulness for vast amounts when level 16 is just several hours or a few days of gameplay away, it has to be relative to the leveling process but at the same time it has to be good.

As a crafter your going to need resources, again another time sink and another ability that needs to be leveled up
in tandem with your crafting and PvE progress, you could of course forego the whole gathering process in favour of using your hard earned cash at the local auction house/trader to buy your resources but if your anything like me then part of the whole crafting ball game is to cut costs and gathering is no exception.

On the whole the problem with gathering is it's pretty damn boring and in most games only gets livened up when rare resources pop up while your gathering, as Lani mentioned in another thread at least AoC spices it up a bit with random spawns of 'Jealous Prospectors' who aren't happy your after their resources.... In most games though it's just avoid the mobs and find those nodes that are more remote so you can gather undisturbed. Sometimes that might be just what you want from your game time, something simple and undisturbed that provides it's benefits but most of the time, feeling forced into this repetitive task, it just gets a little bit boring, as long as the carrot on the stick is your next level and subsequent ability to gather better/rarer resources we usually stick at it though (he says having exited a game only after gaining another level in resource gathering an hour later than originaly planned).

What does crafting and resource gathering really need to set it apart from the dull and predictable and make it something really worthwhile both in terms of gameplay and in end product ? the end product bit I think I've already answered for myself, the gametime is another issue. Vanguard probably has the best crafting system i've come across so far in any MMO, WoW I have to admit comes a close second while AoC gets the thumbs down pretty much all round, even the latest additions of Culture and City Armour recipes seem more like a band aid rather than anything really meangful...it will change for AoC but I fear not enough.

After that ramble lets get to the game of chance bit : I haven't played Vanguard long enough to see if your progression in crafting and an increase in creating 'A' quality items leads to a better chance of success and a lesser chance of accidents happening? The accident part is a nice touch - I like the fact you can sprain yourself, miscalculate the size or even set fire to yourself, it adds a nice random aspect beyond the quality/type random generators of other crafting systems, you need to know the different crafting tables and what type of accident your more likely to have using it before you start so you can equip accordingly, it's a nice touch that exercises your brain cells just a little. Vanguard's chance system is more about those accidents and how many of your allocated points for the job you need to spend to fix it, less points = a lesser quality end item. The end item in Vanguard is exactly what you start out to create, it's the quality of the item that is affected by the random generation of faults. AoC at the other extreme has a rather frustrating and somewhat pointless randomisation with it's gem crafting system, there are literally hundreds of possible end product, the only brain cells you need to use is a quick bit of research to find out which cut fits the equipment you want the gem for. There is no way of improving the chance of getting what you want, higher tiers just mean higher lvl items all with the same risk of wasting alot of gems to get the desired product you need, it's a frustrating experience, boring to do and can be rough on your pocket, see the two cuts from the same gem and their pricing currently on the AoC trader.

In my perfect MMO chance would exist but would reduce as your skill increased, your getting better at your job so of course it should follow you will make less mistakes.

On to the repetitive task part of the title - gathering and crafting requires a degree of repetitiveness to increase your skill and progress, now as an aside from the daily grind of killing stuff it can be very relaxing when little thought is involved, that relaxing without killing doesn't necessarily have to mean 'with nothing else added' which is where some MMOs go horribly wrong again. What really helps is a story driven progression through your crafting (maybe even gathering) progression, being simply asked to collect 20 of this or cut 2,000 of those until the rare drop occurs is just a cop out in my humble opinion. A well written progressive story that documents your rise to a master of your art provides a whole new sphere to the gameplay experience, being told that you need to find your next tutor and maybe even rescue him/her in order to progress is far superior to simply being told 'go do the the next one then...'.

In my long rambling way I come to the point of why is crafting a second thought to some developers? It could and should create a whole richly developed world of play in itself.

DX10 finally makes it into AoC

Yes it was advertised pre-launch, yes it's just eye candy and 9 mths later it finally makes it onto the live client, still in a test state rolled out to get as much feedback on compatibility with as many systems as possible.

Having seen the last DX10 update on the test server I feared the worst for this one but surprisingly most are happy (well most with Nvidia cards anyway) and FC have made it very clear this is early days, they've made a good job of gathering feedback on the forums and what does it look like? well see for yourself, click on any image for the full version.

There are loads of screenshots appearing, as I'm not running any DX10 myself I can't provide any before and after.

I've got to add this one because whoever took it didn't tone down their 'godrays' in DX10 which means horrible brightness in game but ended with a lovely screen with an almost water colour look with the landscape, very nice .

What is lovely, and I need to wait for the videos to start appearing on youtube, is the physics of the grass, it sways around you as you would expect foliage too when your walking through it.

Wednesday, March 25

Remote Desktop Gaming: Onlive

Keen and Graev have a much better post on the subject of what OnLive is than I could ever write and I think you should read it.
If you don't have the time just now, in a nutshell cloud computing has made the ten year old water-cooler concept of streaming game data in a RDP (Remote Desktop) like fashion a possible reality now. It's interesting as it potentially has a lot of ramifications, for hardware vendors, console makers and game producers & publishers. E.t.c.

As I'm currently putting together a new rig, I'm acutely aware of energy needs of todays/tomorrows Gaming PC's and the current generation consoles, or at least two of them aren't kind on the electricity bill either. Centralizing all of the heavy computing required for gaming should be a powersaver right?
Also, putting every game on a subscription or Pay-as-you-Play model becomes feasible now.
Then again, some parties, mostly Activision/Blizzard might not like this idea at all. Not to mention the nVidia's and AMD's of the world, or that entire industry bringing boxed games to store shelves.
To be honest, gut feeling says: Next gen consoles will be using this. PC gaming will not follow, or not immediately anyway. But the trend that gaming moves away from the PC platform to easier to develop for homogenous platforms will continue.



It's the 25th of March and we already have more posts than days in this month!
Despite the not-so-user-friendly commenting system, it's become actually quite a lively place with just the three of us chattering away.
So, do you guys think we maybe could do with some more readers / authors?
Not that I have anyone particular in mind, mind. But maybe you two have people from the Days of AMP or Guilds or whatever who you'd like to get in on this thing we got going here?

Totally unrelated picture of a beautiful sunset.

P.S. Geek, finish your article on repetitive tasks, I so want to comment on it :-D

Don't miss this!

There is a great new TV series on the BBC. The No1 Ladies' Detective Agency. It actually had started already last Sunday. All the blue skies and over the top characters fill me with great joy. It had started as a movie a year or two ago I already really liked (although imdb.com doesn't seem to know anything about that). So I was double happy to find out they started a series with the same cast. I just found it out on the last moment myself, and I think nobody should miss this. The next episode is coming Sunday at 9pm GMT on BBC1.

But then again, you might not like it at all. Maybe it is just my African heart beating.

HW: What do you think?

My current system is aging a bit. It predates my first visit to Vanguard by about 6 months and though it's held up nicely so far, with an upgrade from 7900GTX to 8800GTX I've been eyeing the I7 goodness. I've also been itching to set up a RAID configuration so my Disk IO isn't that much of a bottleneck.

Ok, so I'm thinking this:

Prices are from local online store 4Launch which allows warehouse pickups for locals (that's me) which seriously cuts back on delivery costs. There's another similar store in Eindhoven so I'll be comparing prices before ordering. I'm also looking into selling my current machine to a mate of mine who's coming by this Friday in order to further cut back on cost.

I'll be using onBoard audio and network chipsets and I have one mostly unused DVD-writer and three DVD players in my current system that can be transferred from my old rig. 2 of those aren't hooked up and came from older systems and were but in there because I got the case 2nd hand and it was missing frontplates. It's not a burn-farm. Then it'd be 1 player, 3 burners ok? :-)
I'll leave one or two of those for my mate and since the front plates were found and passed to me some time after I'd put the spare players in, all will be good
I'm going with XP Pro 64 Bit because I'd rather avoid Vista alltogether and buy a W7 upgrade pack later.

The case is a bit sick I know, but it's having this system pre-built in a cheaper case comes down to equal cost, so I'm using the difference for a silent luxury chassis that won't cut up my thumbs and other opposable extremities. It is supposed to last me another 3 years with maybe an upgrade to memory and/or videocard. CPU if they ever become dirt-cheap and don't change processor-slot form-factor to appease mobo manufacturers. I'd rather have gone for the Zalman Processor Koeler CNPS9700-NT which is in my current system and quiet as a mouse, but it doesn't fit the new fangled CPU form-factor so I'm a bit crotchety about that right now.

What do you think? Am I overlooking something?

Monday, March 23

F2P MMO's are the spawn of evil

Over at A Wall of Text there's a very interesting "Drieluik", a three part issue titled:
F2P MMO's are the spawn of evil Part 1, Part2 and Part3 and they're a good read.
Below is my reaction about his statement that F2P launches are cheaper for the developer, in the case of his F2P case (Runes of Magic) that's Frogster, a company I have some familiarity with as Publisher/Distributor for The Chronicles of Spellborn for parts of Europe and are spearheading getting it launched in Korea, Asia. Check out his posts before reading on, otherwise it's probably a bit hard to read as it was written as a comment originally.

I agree that digital distribution is the way to go, however I'm missing something in the post.
Of those 50 bucks you pay for the box, $5 go to retail/distribution, $5 goes to the developer's Live Operations Team (CS, Server maintenance, acocunting e.t.c.), $10 goes to the publisher and the last $30,- go towards the developer for paying of the investment. With 700K boxes sold at launch that means you can break even on a 21 Milion investment. 28M if you're your own publisher and can get $40,- per box to go to you rather than middlemen.

Having people pay $15,- per month for 3 months (let's say 350K subs on average to show declining numbers) gets you another 1.5 Milion to play with.

Compare this to a F2P that cost say 15 milion to develop Launch digital download brings in exactly $0,- to pay off that investment. You don't have to pay off $5,- per box to the middlemen but your Operational costs are about $2 higher due to more intensive networking needs. (A good thing people don't get as upset about a 12 hour download for a F2P game as they would for a game they just paid $50,- for.) In the F2P setup, Frogster is its own Publisher and their Live Operations is done by wholy owned corp Yusho so they can keep those costs relatively low. However a $7,- on average per account isn't that ridiculous by comparison.

So RoM's 700K launch costs Frogster 4.9M as opposed to AoC's 14 Milion, which is substantially cheaper I agree. However, not a penny was spent towards buying off the investment at this time. Now I don't know How much Frogster had to invest, but I expect this to be in the 5-10 Milion range. It's not impossible to get that investment back even with a bad launch 9which RoM isn't having from what I can tell) but it's more of a long term scheme, and that's something that isn't 'done' in the US.
Probably because to many people from Hollywood and the cinema chains are getting into the branch. A 80 Milion movie not grossing 3 times that during opening weekend is considered a flop.
An F2P launch is more like the first Shrek movie, which was exceptional in that it was understood and accepted, that it would not make a profit on top of return of investment during the first weekend of its showing. But a slumber hit is generally considered undesirable for being unpredictable.

Sign 'O' the Times

Over the weekend I found out that progress is not only a thing of 'the real world', but even in Telon the wheel of time has its impact on its inhabitants.

In my quest to become an official armorsmith I was required to make a few sample gloves to show my skills. To accomplish that I needed to harvest some tin. I had started looking for some nodes in the hills surrounding Tanvu, but the nodes were as sparse as rainy days in Khal. I delved into some books and maps at the library and found out there were several deposits to be found near Jalen's Crossing, north of the woodelf city of Ca'ial Brael. I had read the stories of Soeni and Aloria, and I was quite enthousiastic to see it all for myself. I made my way to the riftway in Tanvu and looked at the riftway map. I pointed to the Jalen's Crossing stone, and *poof*, I was there.

In the days of Soeni and Aloria this would have been impossible. Unless you would have visited a riftstone by yourself you would never be able to just pop up there. The riftway operators clearly made quite some progress. The whole world is lieing at my feet now. It definitely made the search for tin a lot easier for me. I managed to harvest all the required ore in no time. In stead of returning to Tanvu with the riftstone again I decided to travel south to Ca'ial Brael to work at the crafting station there where so many great memories and adventures were crafted.

But the city didn't shine as much as it used to. The woodelfs were still as obnixous as always, and Kanni is still looking over everybodies shoulder, but it felt like a city in decline. It took me a while to realize it, but nobody actually moved around anymore. I quickly finished crafting my gloves and made my way to Tawar Galan.

Tawar Galan used to be the gateway from Kojan to the rest of Telon. It was a bustling outpost and harbour. The crafting station of Tawar Galan was the premier spot for all crafters to learn the Kojani way. At the end of the pier you could find Bashum Gud, the husband of Coilla. I was looking forward to meet the grubby guy. But he was not there anymore! At first I thought I must have been on the wrong pier, but I ran around the whole place without finding him. So I started to ask the people what had happened.

"Progress", they said. Thanks to the innovation by the riftstone operators the teleport services by the harbormasters were no longer profitable. They struggled for a while to keep it in operation, but it was inevitable. They had to shutdown. And this had far reaching consequences. Tawar Galan was no longer the gateway to the world. An exodus of people left the once busy harbour and outpost a deserted backwater dump. Of course this had a ripple effect on already seclusive Ca'ial Brael as well. Perhaps the woodelves themselves don't mind it as much, but I felt a strange pang of loss.

My only way back to civilization was to run back all the way to Jalen's Crossing. Progress definitely has its price. I hope Mr. Gud found some work elsewhere.

Saturday, March 21

Ding! Gratz!

You know what I'm talking about.
Some Guild chats are a pit of silence until someone dings, after which it's Gratzes all around for a minute, with maybe one or two trailing behind because they were in a hefty battle a minute or so.
The inevitable "Gratz fest" that ensues when you "ding" and all your Guild-mates are informed of this recurring feat. I'm sure you've felt the guilt of not seeing the ding! message for a good friend who got congratulated by everyone but you, or been annoyed by someone who gets upset when he doesn't get Gratzed! for each of his first 10 levels of his latest must-be-in-Guild-immediately alt that goes from one to ten in one play-session.

Vanguard Saga of Heroes has a blogging system that takes a screenshot of your fifth, tenth, fifteenth and consequently each level as well as at certain specific times like First Server-wide Discovery of an item, or the First Server-wide Kill of a monster.

Warhammer Online takes the blogging a step further with the Tome of Knowledge where everything your character does is logged. How many Goblins you've slain, which coordinates on which map you stepped on, number of this, number of that. When I played it, the Tome wasn't accessible outside the game but someone either got a bright idea or someone finally got around to checking 1.5 years of Closed EU Beta feedback and so an online version you could check on the web was in the pipelines, somewhere.

You're probably seeing where I'm going with this.
Why is it that Guild chats don't report you slaying the Big Baddy in the Deep Dark Dungeon rather than, or in addition to, the old Ding! You've just increased your powers by 3% and mob-strength has been adjusted by 4% to compensate.
Personally I'd much rather see a proclamation passing by when a Guild-Team reached the pinnacle of a dungeon-crawl than those incessant ding! messages.
Of course you don't want

member1 has just defeated Big Bad Mob A

member3 has just defeated Big Bad Mob A
member6 has just defeated Big Bad Mob A
member2 has just defeated Big Bad Mob A
member4 has just defeated Big Bad Mob A
member5 has just defeated Big Bad Mob A

cluttering up your guild chat either, but maybe a

Big Bad Mob A was defeated by the forces of <yourguild>

when more than one member of your guild is involved, with a separate log entry that's reviewable is possible. And maybe the occasional

member237 has just created the world's first Knife of Ogreslaying +9

I'd find this way more interesting information than the Dings. I'm also at a bigger 'sugar high' when I've just killed Big Baddy then when I suddenly have rays of light shooting out of every bodily orifice accompanied by some sound effects, in the middle of a KillTenRats quest.
I also think it might give more food for conversation and a sense of who's doing what in the guild then the current standard of information provides.
EverQuest II does this already in a way. They have lots of Guild-chat information that can be toggled on/off both on a guild-wide and a personal level. There's a separate tab in the Guild Window showing a log of who did what when as well as contributions and that kind of stuff.
I never had a chance to really play with WAR's Guild management system which was reputed to be pretty advanced, but so far I haven't seen a single system that came as close as EQ-II's Guild system.

Would this seem more fun/useful/informative to you or would this be to intrusive? I.e. would you feel it invades your privacy? More than the usual "Location" field in the Guild/Friends rosters that tell anyone who wants to know where you are?

Friday, March 20

Horse riding

Thursday my VG session ended on a sour note when my final diplomacy rewards disappeared and I had to petition. SOE has a rather weird complex petition system. It basically pops up a browser. And the website that welcomes you contains a lot of tabs and links that have nothing to do with petitioning. It took me a while to find out where I had to go. Especially since it updated like I was on a 9600 baud modem. But in the end I managed to have my petition logged. I would receive an email with a response later on. This system doesn't work very handy for "stuck in a dungeon, I need help now". But I just wanted my rewards. I had not much hope in ever receiving them but I still decided to not leave the Isle of Dawn yet, and instead I simply logged off.

Friday morning I found an email stating they have put my missing rewards in my inventory. Hooray for SOE. It was pleasant to see they helped me out rather quickly. This ought to be the normal response from a CS point of view. And I should not expect less. But I am still pleasantly surprised, and SOE scored a lot of brownie points with me.

So Friday evening I made my way to the mainland. I started at a Riftstone not too far from Tanvu, or so I thought. Some sort of walled building with warrior monks was standing nearby. And there I picked up my first quests. One of the monks actually had a whole list of things to do. Walking around some more I found a lady talking about the Gray Knights and promised me a horse if I survived a chat with them. Of course I took her up on that. And another lady tried to figure out if I was a weaponsmith or armorsmith. She didn't really care, but told me to go to Tanvu to sort it out.

There was a mailbox as well. And somehow Twanni, Coilla and Kettle all knew I was going to check it. It was cramped full with goodies from the lovely ladies. But unfortunately there was no bank, and my bags were getting really full! Also, before going on a rampage I needed to get my city banner. Glory to the Emperor! So time to go to Tanvu.

Tanvu looked still a bit off across the mountain, and since every riftstone has a flying mount vendor I rented a Pegasus and off I went. But I miscalculated the distance a bit. Tanvu was not where I thought it was. It was actually at the end of the next island. And my sightseeing flying made me drop out of the air way before I reached it. So I had to run quite a bit through the forest filled with angry bears and walking oak trees. At least it gave me a change to sharpen my blades. Only too bad I got no recognition for it since I didn't have my banner yet.

Eventually I reached Tanvu and did the usual running around lost in the city thing. It took me a while to find the city rep that handed me a banner, and even more time to find a banker. It looked like the credit crunch had hit Telon as well. Once that was all sorted out I talked to the blacksmith master to find out my options. Apparently I had to talk to some other master out on a pier. No idea why a blacksmith master is standing on a pier, but you don't question the master.

Along the way to the pier I saw the racial mounts pin. The battle lobsters look quite impressive. It made me realize that having a mount is pretty damn convinient. My legs were already getting tired. Perhaps it would be smart to talk to the Gray Knights. And perhaps it would have even been smarter if I did that before I came to Tanvu. But I had not. In stead I was on the pier talking to the blacksmith master. He asked me to make a couple of armor pieces. And since I was all pier chatty I talked to a funny looking guy on the pier on the other side of the water as well. He wanted to teach me all about fishing, but I needed a fishing license first.

So tons of stuff I needed to do, but since it probably all involved running around I decided that getting my horse was the most important. Since there were no Pegasi in Tanvu I had no other choice than to walk all the way. But I had my banner now, so anything that crossed my path would feel the wrath of the Emperor! But since I sticked to the main road nothing much crossed me. Until I reached towards the end of the island and decided to take a shortcut. I ended up in a forst full of maneaters. It sounds worse than it is. I actually had no problem fighting them of me, and I reached the shore unscratched.

On the other side, now closer to the Gray Knights, I found all the creatures the warrior monk had send me out to kill. Like poor sheep they stepped in front of my blade. By the time I had reached the Gray Knights I had all the skins and beaks and whatnot I needed. But now I had to face the dreaded Gray Knights!

As it turned out they might be mighty with a sword, but their words were pathetic. I parleyed all I needed to know from their leader with just my basic jargon. So I left them baffled and returned to the monks nearby. I was actually expecting some more hassle, but no, she promptly handed me the horse. Woohoo! I got my very own ride. I finished up a few more minor chores around there and I jumped on my horse for a fun ride back to Tanvu. I had almost forgotten how much fun it is to ride a horse along the Telon roads.

The trip back to Tanvu again went by in a blur of excitement. Looking forward to my next adventures!

(sorry, no snazzy pictures to cheer it all up a bit. I kinda forgot to take any ;.)

Thursday, March 19

Vanguard: Racial Mount Information

This is a compression of Racial mount data found across various sites:

For a gallery of all the mounts available, click here

level 30 Grey Okami level 30 White Okami level 30 Brown Okami level 30 Tan Okami level 30 Black Okami

Citizen of [City] Faction:

First you have to chose a city to which to swear allegiance. You can do this for multiple cities if you so wish, but onyl one at a time. You then go see the faction NPC of this city and after a little speech he will give you a diplomacy necklace (if you have a diplomacy bag it will appear inside the bag where you might not know to look if you didn't do much Diplomacy), that will enable you to receive "coins" while you kill mobs all around the world as long as you wear it. A little flag will show at your buffs to portray this.

There are 2 types of coins :
  1. The faction ones : copper, silver and gold
  2. The paying ones : platinum and ancient platinum
The faction coins (copper, silver and gold coins) can be turned in to the NPC for respectively 2, 10 and 100 faction points. It will enable you to climb in the citizen of XXX faction this way unlocking various quests at the faction armor NPC that will enable you to get the faction armors or mounts.

The platinum coins are used to buy molds which are used to complete the faction armor quests.
You can exchange the ancient platinum coins for platinum coins of the city you work for.
I haven't found confirmation yet that 10 Gold faction Coins can be exchanged for 1 Platinum but here's hoping.

An example :
To get the breastplate you need around 11k faction (I don't know exactly) so you need to turn in copper, silver and gold coins until you get to 11k faction with the citizens of the city then you receive a quest at the faction armor NPC that will ask you for 4 molds. Then you buy 4 molds to the same NPC using 10 platinum for each mod. And you can turn in the quest and get your breastplate.

How do you get coins :
By killing mobs of you level range or by doing quests.
- Copper, silver and gold coins can only be found while killing normal mobs, they sometimes appear in your inventory.
- Platinum coins can be founds by killing CAPS nameds (like Queen Vixxaeva for example).
- Ancient platinum coins are found by killing CAPS nameds in APW or by doing the season quests (like halloween ones).

You can also get ancient coins by crafting (exchange 1 silver sigil for 1 coin) with unknown droprate, or diplomacy (120 hearsay, 80 rumor or 40 evidence, all t5)
To exchange these, visit a "Masterwork Crafter" which can be found in New Targonor, Ahgram and one other place.

Mobs known to drop coins:

As copper, silver and gold coins only drop from mobs that give you experience as well, it's not possible to go and farm low-levelled Plat-droppers.
LEVELS 0-19:
RHAATHUL THE CORRUPTER (3-dot, 8 mob in Ksaravi Hollow in Khal in Qalia)
SULUDYN (3-dot, 10 mob in Serpent of Sihari in Lomshir in Qalia
MASTER UIZA-DO KAHN (3-dot, 10 mob in Ra'Jin Stronghold in Kojan)
FOREMAN SNARLBACK (4-dot, 11 mob in Orcbane Mines in Vault of Heroes in Thestra)
XAOXIN (4-dot, 11 mob in Riftseeker's Torrent in Thestra)
XATHOK (4-dot, 12 mob in Riftseeker's Torrent in Thestra)
KAON BROODMOTHER (3-dot 11-13 mob in Arcanium in Leth Nurae in Thestra)
LALEN FRAE (2-dot, 15 mob in Veskal's Exchange. Pops after completion of "The Cure" quest series)
CLAN CHIEF BARGORG (2-dot, 19 mob in Stonecrushers Enclave in Three Rivers in Thestra)
KING JURDIN THUNDERAXE (5-dot, 19 mob in Khegors End in Thestra)
LEVELS 20-29:
ELBARION (5-dot, 21 mob in Fallen Lyceum sky part in Kaon's Rush in Thestra)
AMONIR (5-dot, 21 mob in Fallen Lyceum sky part in Kaon's Rush in Thestra)
MORWAEN (4-dot, 21 mob in Fallen Lyceum sky part in Kaon's Rush in Thestra)
Kalendra the Dark Witch (5-dot, 22 mob in Kalendra's Coven in Skrillien Point in Qalia)
OVERKING BARRAK (5-dot, 23 mob in Rekk hobgoblin valley in Renton Keep in Thestra)
GRAND TYRANT MILAS (5-dot, 24 mob in Ksaravi Gulch in Qalia)
RUL'ALOUK THE SOULSCORCHER (5-dot, 24 mob in Imanjal Sacellum in Skrillien Point in Qalia)
Mistress Anaya (4-dot, 24 mob in Hillsbury Manor in Misthaven Crossing in Thestra. Last part of questline there)
Mistress Bella (4-dot, 24 mob in Hillsbury Manor in Misthaven Crossing in Thestra. Last part of questline there)
Mistress Raylia (4-dot, 24 mob in Hillsbury Manor in Misthaven Crossing in Thestra. Last part of questline there)
Kill Kronus in CIS and 3 adds pop. Each one is 2-dot, 28-29 mob and can drop coins
Ageless One (x-dot, xx mob in CIS in Qalia) (need better information)
QUEEN AYXLXYX (5-dot, 26 mob in Ant Mound in Renton Keep)
VELETHEZOK (5-dot, 25/26 mob in Skrawlra Rock in Qalia. Needs to be summoned by collecting 3 different color masks)
LEVELS 30-39:
Nishek (6-dot(?), 31 or 32 mob in Trengal Keep in Thestra. Summoned, need whip from TK6)
THURRE (5-dot, 34 mob in Zossyr Hakrel in Qalia)
ZYFUUR (5-dot, 35 mob in Cragwind Ridge in Qalia)
GORLASH TOXIL (5-dot, 37 mob in Dargun's Tomb in Thestra)
BAHAR'NIHAB THE REAPER (6-dot, 37 mob in Fields of Despair in Thestra)
SOLATHUS (6-dot, 38 mob in Ruins of Vol Tuniel on Thestra)
YALSYL VONALYS (6-dot, 38 mob in Thelaseen in Thestra)
HIGHLORD SHO'DAR (5-dot, 38 mob in Thelaseen in Thestra)
MYRION THE PURE (5-dot, 38 mob in Spires Keep in Thestra)
LEVELS 40-49:
HIGH COMMANDER RAKH'YOR (6-dot, 40(?) in Greystone in Thestra) (exact level needed)
HRUK (6-dot, 40 mob in Karrus Hakrel in Qalia)
TAJIIHOSK (6-dot, 41 mob in Karrus Hakrel in Qalia)
OBSIDERRU (6-dot 40ish summoned mob in Karrus Hakrel in Qalia. Needs 30 aqual orbs for summon) (exact level needed)
DRILLLZARAX (6-dot, 41 mob in Islands of Madness in Qalia. Mob pops in tower)
HIGH TORMENTOR ZERAXEZ (6-dot, 42 mob in Vi'rak lair in Thestra(?))
XAALESEESH THE INFERNO (6-dot, 42 mob in Vi'rak lair in Thestra(?))
Overwarden Ehu Dal (6-dot, 44 mob in Sunset Pointe in Qalia)
Warlord Khurang (6-dot, 44 mob in Sunset Pointe in Qalia
Father Xennu (6-dot, 45 mob in Mind's Crown in Qalia)
Naxxillar (4-dot, 45 mob in Mind's Crown in Qalia)
Exxilar (4-dot, 45 mob in Mind's Crown in Qalia)
Araxxishar (4-dot, 45 mob in Mind's Crown in Qalia)
Majordomo in RI in Qalia (dot + other info needed)
Warlord in RI in Qalia (dot + other info needed)
ALUUL (6-dot, 53 mob in RI in Qalia)
DJUUL (6-dot, 53 mob in RI in Qalia)
SHALUU (6-dot, 53 mob in RI in Qalia)
KHORR (6-dot, 53 mob in RI in Qalia)
Hegnerian in swamps in Thestra (dot + other info needed)
King Mnalus (6-dot, 50 mob in swamps in Thestra)
LORD FALADRIEL (6-dot, 50 or 53 mob in Flordiel, Thestra)
Queen Vixxaeva in swamps in Thestra (dot + other info needed)
PHAROAH SHEKHAN NKOSA (5-dot, 51 mob in Nusibe Necropolis in Qalia)
Godking (x-dot, xx mob in Nusibe Necropolis in Qalia) (dot + other info needed)
Nepherit (6-dot, 50 mob in TOT temple before flip in Qalia)
............ 50=6 dot last of the flipped names in TOT in Qalia (name needed)
RAFFEN (6-dot, 53 mob in Old Targonor in Thestra)
AKANDE (6-dot, 53 mob in Old Targonor in Thestra)
SHORUL (6-dot, 53 mob in Old Targonor in Thestra)
CENNFAR (6-dot, 53 mob in Old Targonor in Thestra)
NARANDA (6-dot, 53 mob in Old Targonor in Thestra)
TEKAR (6-dot, 53 mob in Old Targonor in Thestra)
CHATH + his pet (6-dot, 53 mob in Heroes Plain in Thestra)
SHADOW (6-dot, 53 mob in Isle of Shadows in Thestra)
SYD (6-dot, 53 mob in SOuthern Stonepie Ridge in Thestra)
STRIFE (6-dot, 53 mob in Ridge of Memories in Thestra)
TISHRA (6-dot, 53 mob in Gorgalok in Thestra)
Kronax (x-dot, xx mob in Umyebum Crypt in ToT in Qalia) (dot + info needed)

Wednesday, March 18

Smart moves

Not one of them...

Tuesday, March 17

My story

I sharpened my Morning Star. It would be a long trek, but the Succubus that killed my father will have to pay! Erisean looked weary. Still, we continued our journey. No one expected a group of Vrocks to appear all of a sudden! While hacking away at our enemies, we could see demon Wasps clad in Canvas approaching from the east. Soon they would also be corpses. One of them nearly stabbed Erisean in the back, but being a Slow Poisoner he swiftly dodged the attack. Six of them were closing in on us, but my Tumor (Benign) V spell reduced them to ashes! The last leg chopped off, a Arcane Arrow of Foreboding found among the body parts, I dropped my blood-smeared Morning Star. The battle was won!