Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Comic Roundup: Detective Comics #854

  • I'm bringing the Comic Roundup out of the bullpen because I just had to talk about this comic. Last Wednesday saw the release of a book I've been waiting quite a while for: Detective Comics #854 by Greg Rucka and J H Williams III. I've followed Rucka's work on Queen & Country and Gotham Central, so I was looking forward to what he would do here. In short, I was...

  • Wait. Before I start gushing about the story, I want to give JH Williams his credit. This book looks incredible. Along with colorist Dave Stewart, the visual style of each section of the comic is striking. During the Batwoman sequences, the colors wash out to black and white with only the bold red of her hair, lipstick, and costume coming through. The action is sharp and stylish. Panels are laid out to move the action forward while also evoking the form of the bat. Then when the mask comes off, natural colors and traditional panel layouts emerge. Kate Kane's world is mundane where Batwoman's is fantastical and the art styles match this dichotomy. There is one final art transition that occurs late in the issue. When the villain finally arrives, she becomes a beacon of soft lines and pastels that stands out from the darkness surrounding our main character.

  • Greg Rucka's handling of Kate Kane is wonderfully deft. When I first saw the design for Batwoman, I wondered if DC was emphasizing her feminine aspects to the detriment of her character. Instead, Rucka portrays Kate as a woman who has chosen that bold hair and lipstick for tactical reasons. She is a soldier, like her father (who plays the sidekick role here), but her battlefield is the streets of Gotham. We see that her personal relationships are effected by this war, though we're given only the briefest glimpse of what those effects are. Rucka has a lot to establish in these 24 pages and uses every writerly trick to squeeze as much character possible into the action without overpowering the story. Each image and each word tells us something about who Batwoman is, right down to the very last, completely bad-ass panel of the book.

  • The plot (as I inevitably must come to) involves the Religion of Crime rousing itself in Gotham. A new leader has been appointed and Batwoman is eager to discover who this might be. The opening pages show her chasing down a man who knows this name, only to be confronted by Batman (who, due to circumstances outside of this comic, may or may not be Bruce Wayne). When the night is through, Batwoman becomes Kate Kane, a woman who is having a difficult love life because of her masked activities. After a discussion with her father and revelation about why this hunt is personal for her, it is time to head back into the search for Alice, the afore mentioned villain.

  • If some of that seemed confusing or just odd, you're not mistaken. Batwoman has a bit of history already in the DC Universe. However the comic uses that to tease you forward into the story, instead of forcing to hunt down a wiki or fan forum to figure out what the heck is going on. And Rucka's choice to not even acknowledge who is really behind Batman's cowl avoids much unnecessary confusion for potential new readers. Nothing here makes you feel like you missed the first chapter. Instead we arrive in media res and trust the story to tell us what we need to know when we need to know.

  • When I come to the part of the review where I make some little nitpick to prove my critical credentials, I find myself unequal to the challenge. There are no faults to the book. I have been mesmerized by Batwoman and I am eager to partake in Rucka and Williams' story again. A coming month is too long.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Played Lately: Age of Conan

  • With the coming of Patch 1.05 (evidently they're leaving room for growth) and the indirect encouragement from Openedge1 of Dichotomy of a Really Long Blog Name (I tease! Don't gank me!), I decided to resubscribe to Age of Conan. I had purchased the game through Steam a few months ago, but didn't give it much of a chance before going back to WoW. This time, though, since I'm not resubbing to LotRO until the volume 1 epic quests get a solo option, AoC was the natural choice.

  • I rolled up a ranger named Ashlynh on the Set server (since that's where OE1 hangs his hat) and started in to Tortage. The ranger gets to dual wield as well as snipe with a bow or crossbow. I had a lot of fun with the sword and dagger until I realized the feat trees were focused on archery. Luckily, there are some awesome bow and crossbow combos that devastate enemies. I also didn't realize that rangers are a rogue subtype for a reason. Stealthing around enemies (many of which can still spot you) is amusing. I've never really played a rogue in an MMO, so this has been a nice change.

  • Tortage itself is beautiful as a rundown port village with a combination of old stone buildings surrounded by makeshift wooden structures. The jungle's greenery is lush and foreboding. I am generally not a fan of overly realistic graphics, but AoC has managed to evoke the Hyborian world exactly how I would imagine it. Even better than the environment is the choice of clothing and armor for the characters. Instead of gleaming suits of plate mail, armor starts as course-spun tunics and breeches. I was excited to find a earthly Pictish tunic that is adorned with bones and skulls. Then as I finished the final Tortage quests, I was granted a new set of armor that looks like metal plates bolted to leather. This is not a high fantasy world. It is dark and doomed and I would not have it any other way.

  • The quests in Tortage were as good as everyone who has come before me has said. The main storyline provides enemies who are convincingly menacing. Between the city's overlord, a Stygian witch, and various slavers and guards, I was quite ready to kill them all when the time came. The quests themselves are nothing out of the ordinary, but the characters and their stories were enough to make them interesting.

  • There is a lot to like in the first twenty levels of Age of Conan. As I type this, I have just finished the primary quest line and sailed for Cimmeria. If I didn't log out to write this, I would still be playing. As a matter of fact, when I'm done typing here I will be logging back in. See you all in Hyboria.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Random Shots: The Down Cycle

  • Do you ever have one of those days where you stare at your monitor, look over all the pretty little icons, but do not feel the urge to double-click any of them? That's me at the moment.

  • The Sims 3 - I did buy and install the game and played it a few hours. Alice and Kev has made me interested in the game again, but I haven't taken the plunge back in yet.

  • Unnamed MMO Beta - I've actually started this beta up from time to time, but the constant crashes have been putting me off. I'm pretty sure it's my computer's fault and not the game, but it's enough to dissuade me from logging in.

  • World of Warcraft - I've been playing this game as well, but solely out of happen. I jump into the game, try a few quests, then log out again unfulfilled.

  • Sacred 2 - I really enjoyed this game the few days I played. There is something to be said for running around as a space hooker (seraphim) that can summon a gigantic laser cannon. However the massive world and deluge of quests is daunting to return to. It will happen some day, though, if only to see what other crazy things the game throws at me.

  • Plants Vs. Zombies - For a casual game, PvZ sure asks a lot of you. When I do start it up, I don't get much farther than watering my Zen Garden before turning it off again.

  • Free Realms - Even with all the blogging I did about Free Realms, I haven't logged in for days. I'm not really sure why. There are things I haven't seen yet, like most of Briarwood and a lot of quests in Seaside. So it's not FR's fault I haven't wanted to log in.

  • Anything on the Xbox 360 - I have plenty of discs waiting for me and a big ol' TV, but I don't even want to pick up a controller. Again, no clue why.

  • So that's where I'm at now. Thinking about resubbing to a different MMO for a month. Maybe Age of Conan or Lord of the Rings Online. They both have new exciting patches to entice me. We'll see.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Played Lately: Phantasy Star Portable

  • If you read my Top Five post about console RPGs, you saw that two of the games on the list were Phantasy Star and Phantasy Star Online. Ever since my brother and I played the first game on the Sega Master System together, mapping the 3D dungeons on graph paper, flying from planet to planet to kill new and exotic creatures, I was hooked. Phantasy Star Online was the reason I bought a Dreamcast. And now Phantasy Star Portable was the reason for me to buy a PSP.

  • I've resisted buying a PSP because, well, I was afraid I'd play it for a week then stuff it into a drawer somewhere and never see it again. Eventually my avarice got the better of me (that and a whole lot of Best Buy gift cards) and I got myself a PSP-3001 and a copy of PSP. Hmm, PSP on PSP. Those abbreviations don't really work all that well together. And no, I didn't wait for the PSP Go! It looks stupid and has a stupid name.

  • Phantasy Star Portable will feel familiar for anyone who has played PSO or especially PSU. In fact, PSP is a portable version of Phantasy Star Universe. To get it to fit on a UMD (or maybe to speed things up, all game lobbies are menu driven. Of course, what's the point of a lobby if there are no online players to watch you run around? Also, cutscenes have been cut down to static images with text balloons. Again, not a major change. I actually prefer skipping through the text if I'm reading faster than the characters can talk. Plus, you don't have to watch a lot of weak emoting from the characters.

  • The heart of the game is unchanged though. Adventures take place in room-and-corridor style mission areas. Monster spawn and you hit them until the exit unlocks and you can move to the next room. At the end of the mission, a boss creature comes out and you do more of the same, only they have more hit points. I'm describing it kind of dryly because some people will find it that way. It is a 3D Diablo clone in every way you would imagine. For some, that will get old fast. But for someone like me, leveling up, getting better gear, and improving your game can be addicting.

  • Speaking of leveling and gearing up, PSPortable feels a lot easier than PSU ever did. And I don't mean the game has been dumbed down. Instead, Sonic Team has freed up the game since they're not collecting a monthly fee. Experience comes quickly (I've reached level 40 with, um, 20 hours played. Yow.) and there are plentiful gear drops. There are also achievements that reward gear and your partner machine is fully evolved when you start the game. Yes, it's a huge indictment of the subscription model, but let's skip over that for now.

  • If you have been a fan of the series, I have no problem recommending Phantasy Star Portable.

  • © 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
    If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Listened Lately: The Instance #150

  • The most recent episode of The Instance finally ran across my podcast feed. Usually I don't have much to write about the show since it is so news oriented. But today, I had to respond to the discussion about emblems in Patch 3.2. Specifically, everything that drops Emblems of Heroism or Emblems of Valor will now drop Emblems of Conquest, currently only found in 25 man Ulduar. A new emblem tier, Emblems of Triumph, will drop in all versions of the new raid as well as the daily dungeon and daily heroic quests.

  • So, is upgrading emblems a good thing? Sure, I think so. There are going to be a lot more people running heroics to get the new emblems. And Naxxramas becomes a big badge run. So unless your self-worth is tied up in who else has access to the same gear you do, who the hell cares?

  • And there are plenty of people who care. Just check that WoW.com article I linked above. 226 comments when I checked last. Look for the comments dimmed out because they were voted down. Those are fantastic examples of people who take their games way too seriously.

  • My feeling is that Blizzard knows people aren't gearing up fast enough to raid Icecrown Citadel and they want more people to be ready. They said many times that anyone should be able to confront Arthas. However putting so many tiers between a new level 80 and the final boss is a huge obstacle to surmount. Gearing up solely through 5 man dungeons will be slow, but I think they want everyone to have a crack at the guy who's been taunting us all expansion long.

  • Of course, unless Icecrown Citadel has a solo option, I still won't be seeing it. But no one is worried about me.

  • One final note: I started formulating this response while listening to the podcast. But then they got that Patrick Beja guy to come on and answer everything better than I just did. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Random Shots: Progression Woes

  • The conversation about vertical progression continues in the MMO blog community. Green Armadillo at Player Vs. Developer, Syncaine at Hardcore Casual, and both Ravious and Zubon at Kill Ten Rats have been tackling the issues facing games with a shifting level cap. On Shut Up, We're Talking #49, Karen told us that she was never going to play a level advancement game after EQ2, which sums up the problem nicely.

  • I think things have to change, but I don't think they can do so in the games we're playing now.

  • The issue at hand, for those of you who haven't followed along, is that leveling games (like World of Warcraft, Everquest, Everquest 2, Lord of the Rings Online, and many, many others) face the inevitable problem of how to direct their limited development resources. Do you develop content to maintain your loyal customers or direct efforts to attract new players? There is no easy answer, especially based on the way games have been designed to date.

  • World of Warcraft is the primary example of a developer in maintenance mode. Almost all content updates are aimed at the endgame player. Two new starting zones were added at the time of the first expansion and one midlevel zone has revamped during a content patch, but little else has been added for new players. Instead, Blizzard has concluded that it's better to push players to the current expansion as fast as possible. They have lowered experience curves, nerfed difficult, and are now making mounts and other travel options trivially easy to access. This is a tacit admission that there is little value in the early content, only left in place because discarding it would be a waste of resources. However as the level cap increases, you can only speed leveling so much before the process becomes ludicrous, neither giving a sense of accomplishment not properly training players how to use the many available abilities.

  • As I said, there is no easy solution. Blizzard could spend a lot of time revamping the old world, but that would only serve new players that have avoided the game for the several years since launch (not that they don't exist) or existing players that don't mind starting a new character to experience the content in a level-appropriate challenge. However, MMOs have encouraged persistence to maintain their audience, so asking players to abandon their characters would betray that paradigm.

  • As games are designed today, vertical progression is too ingrained to be corrected mid-stream. Servicing both new and experienced players is a challenge that must be faced by games no one is even making yet.

  • Heck, I haven't even gone into the problems of MMOs pushing the gear reset button with every expansion. I feel a headache coming on.

  • If anyone has 50 million dollars they're looking to invest, I'd love to show you a few ideas.

  • © 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
    If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Listened Lately: Shut Up, We're Talking #49

  • Okay, yes, this is a completely self-serving post. Deal with it.

  • Darren was kind enough to invite me to participate on episode 49 of Shut Up, We're Talking. That this came so close on the heels of my screed about episode 47 was a little shocking to me. Naturally, I jumped at the chance. I've used this blog several times to act as a silent fifth chair, eager to participate in conversations recorded days earlier.

  • Number 49 was recorded on Saturday afternoon on the 13th with Darren (from Common Sense Gamer), Karen (from the much missed Journeys With Jaye), and Gary (from the new-to-me Ardwulf's Lair). I was panicked. I had spent time during the week preparing notes and readying myself for the show, but I was still very nervous. Any sounds you hear of microphones bumping is really me fidgeting and knocking my mic around. Sounds like Gary was just as nervous. He sounded like a pro to me, so he doesn't have anything to worry about to me.

  • When it was over, I had a great time on the show, talking and laughing and interacting about games in a way I don't get to normally. It was a great opportunity. If Darren leaves you a cryptic message on your blog, I suggest you reply.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Read Lately: Alice and Kev by Robin Burkinshaw

  • I usually use Read Lately for my book reviews, but today I want to share a link to an incredible blog. The blog is Alice and Kev by Robin Burkinshaw. It's a tale about two homeless Sims. While it starts off lighthearted, it quickly becomes a serious observation of these electronic automatons. Burkinshaw's ability to tell an effective story with such limited tools is astonishing to me.

  • If there was ever an advertisement for The Sims 3, this would be the one to make me want to play.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Top Five: MMO Classes

  • Based on the idea from Bio Break and We Fly Spitfires, here are my top five (because we only do five here at Bullet Points) favorite MMO classes.

  • Adventurer (FR) - Alphabetically, we start with the oddest choice on the list: a class that has no combat, crafting, or any other ability whatsoever. Instead, an adventurer levels up by exploring the world. There's no specific benefit for leveling up, but it is awesome to be rewarded for doing something you're going to do anyway. And this best thing about playing an adventurer is discovering a play style I never knew I enjoyed.

  • Mage (WoW) - I've tried a lot of classes in World of Warcraft (as has anyone with altitis). The one class that stuck with me was the mage. I'm sure you're scratching your head (or something else [Please Don't Tell Me What!]) and thinking, "Mages? The ones that stand around and throw fireballs all day long? Is this guy crazy? How boring is that?" Mages in WoW are not boring. If fact, mages have so many fun tools in their arsenals, from polymorphing to teleporting to turning someone into a ticking time bomb, I am never at a loss for something fun to do. Since Wrath of the Lich King launched, mages have been the most stable class as far as patches go. You could see it as lack of effort on behalf of Blizzard. Instead I think mages are so cool, they don't want to mess with us.

  • Mesmer (GW) - The first of two Guild Wars classes I enjoyed was the second I ever played. The Mesmer class is so different from anything else I'm used to. A mesmer doesn't attack anyone. They can't heal. What they do is control their enemies. I know there are similar classes in other MMOs, but mesmers also have the best style in just about any game I've played.

  • Ranger (GW) - My second Guild Wars class is the first one I played. That makes this the nostalgia choice. Although the ranger is primarily a bow and arrow class, I love the vast number of options on how to do that. There is the classic Barrage ability for raining arrows on enemies. There are ways to poison, blind, cripple, and set your enemies on fire. And there was skill combinations to spike devastating damage on a single target. Whenever I go back to GW, it is invariably my ranger that I return to.

  • Warden (LotRO) - I tried to play LotRO a couple times and could not get past the first few levels before unsubscribing again. It wasn't until Mines of Moria and the release of the Warden class that I really enjoyed my time in the game. And it all comes down to the Gambit system. Instead of rows and rows of hotkeys, all primary combat abilities are controlled by four buttons, three to establish the gambit and one to launch it. Learning each new gambit, the logic of how each is put together, and the timing of when to use them kept me involved in the game until level 40, a height I never dreamed of in the game. My warden is still waiting for me to take her out of Evendim and onto greater adventures. Someday, because it was so fun, I know I will.

Monday, June 15, 2009

By Request: Free Realms Q & A

  • When I look at my site statistics, I've seen a lot more hits (okay, about 10 more per day) over the last couple of months. While I'd like to think that more people are showing up because of my insightful commentary or sparkling personality, the conclusion I am forced to come to is that people are Googling Free Realms and found my posts. As a service to you, both my constant readers and my drive-by Googlers, here's a few answers to your favorite search terms.

  • "free realms crash" - The most popular topic leading people to the blog has to do with Free Realms crashing. I'm not entirely surprised to find this. I had a hell of a time getting it to work on my computer as the game would always crash after playing about five to ten minutes. What I discovered was that switching to Windowed Mode cut down crashes almost entirely. I hate, hate, hate playing games this way, but FR is fun enough to put up with it. Plus I can mess with iTunes and Twitter while I'm mining, so that's nice.

  • "free realms windowed mode " - I'm sure you're not surprised to see that as a popular search term. If you don't know how to switch to Windowed Mode, follow these steps.

    1. Click on the gear icon in the upper right hand corner of the screen labeled Game Options.

    2. Choose "Game Options" from the menu.

    3. Choose "Video" from the next menu.

    4. Click the "Windowed Mode" option on this screen.

    That should do it. Hopefully that clears up your crashes.

  • "lavender coast"/"silver hills"/"black forest"/"stormfront mountains" - With all those Coming Soons on the map, there is a lot of interest about when new lands will be released. Your guess is as good as anyone else's. The developers are not talking about expansion. When they do (like they did at E3) they're talking about new classes and new minigames. Unless they were developing those prior to launch as well, it will be several months to another year before we see that kind of expansion. Enjoy what you've got, don't overdo it, and good things will eventually come.

  • "free realms rare exploration guide" - This one is more than I can handle on my own, so I'm going to point out a couple resources that I've used to track down those last tokens. First the FR Wiki at ZAM has a bunch of guides available that are really helpful pointing you in the right directions. Second, if you really can't track that last one down, Chip228 has a number of videos up at YouTube that show you exactly how to find each token. Between those two links, you'll have all your rare exploration collections completed in no time.

  • "how to get backpack on free realms " - Just had to add this one. Do what I said in the above question and you'll have a backpack in no time.

  • "how to get out of cracked claw caverns" - One last question, then I'm going to bed. If you want to get out of Cracked Claw Caverns, you need to kill Cracked Claw. That's the whole point of going there, right?

  • Good night, everyone. See you in the Sacred Grove.

  • © 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
    If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Random Shots: Parsing Guild Wars

  • In a prior blog post, I mentioned that Guild Wars has changed the focus of its endgame with every new release. Since there is very little vertical advancement in the game, each of those endgames is still available and still viable today. I'm going to parse some of the design decisions for each campaign and give some impressions of each.

  • Prophecies - When Guild Wars was launched, I read an quote from one of ArenaNet's founders (now lost to the ravages of time) which posited that role-playing gamers, when they had reached a certain level of achievement, would want to show off to others. Naturally, they would do this by beating up other players. (AFKing in front of the Ironforge bank was not yet all the rage, I guess.) Based on this supposition, the endgame focuses on moving players toward the high end PvP formats, the Tomb of the Primeval Kings (now Heroes' Ascent) and Guild vs. Guild Battles. The missions in the Crystal Desert region are specifically designed to instruct players how to participate in the PvP games. Once out of the Crystal Desert, though, the final two regions were dedicated to level 20 characters and providing the highest PvE challenge in the game. As well, the geographical region that held the Hall of Heroes (the pinnacle of the Global Tournament) was granted access to the elite explorable regions, the Underworld and the Fissure of Woe. In a development shocking to no one, the PvE to PvP transition did not work out too well. PvPers asked ArenaNet to unlock character options without forcing them to PvE while PvEers decried the dearth of endgame PvE content. While helping PvP players out was straightforward, PvE content is harder and costlier to come by.

  • Sorrow's Furnace - The only free content released to date, Sorrow's Furnace helped to give PvEers more high end content to complete. Comprised of a large explorable area and an expansive underground dungeon, the update provided very difficult quests and high powered enemies to give players a great challenge. ArenaNet also included the first unique items. Identified by green name text, these items were highly sought after since they were guaranteed to include the highest possible statistics. Thus green farming became the PvE endgame from some months.

  • Factions - With the release of the second campaign, ArenaNet made a number of changes to improve on the endgame experience. First, ArenaNet accelerated the pace which character reach level 20. By doing so, about 85% of the games PvE content to challenging to level capped characters. Second, titles were added to give players additional advancement goals, though solely for cosmetic titles at the time of release. Finally, they built on the concepts of the prior endgame. PvE endgame missions, Urgoz's Warren and The Deep, were even more difficult and more exclusive than prior instances. For PvP, they launched Alliance Battles, a more inclusive PvP option. Based on this, we see ArenaNet catering to conflicting design philosophies. By providing both more and less accessible content, there seems to be some internal conflict about who the target audience is. That other access options where added for the elite missions indicates ArenaNet came around on this at some point.

  • Nightfall - The third campaign for Guild Wars followed a similar approach to endgame as they had with Factions. Leveling to 20 occurs relatively early, though with a more intricate starting zone. Still about 85% of the game is for the level capped character. The endgame added one new PvP option, Hero Battles, essentially a team arena match filled out with player-controlled NPCs. For the PvE endgame we got the soul-crushing Domain of Anguish. Although access was not exclusive, DoA was designed to be the most challenging PvE content in the game. However the challenge was so great that it became de facto exclusive. In fact, DoA was only widely run once the EotN skill Ursan Blessing was found to trivialize the content.

  • Eye Of The North - With the final release of Guild Wars, ArenaNet put in place the final form of its endgame. On the PvP side: nothing. Well, a few quality-of-life issues were fixed, but ArenaNet must be happy with its PvP options. Instead, all development was focused on the PvE game. PvE-only skill were introduced, each tied to the title system. As well, several repeatable dungeons were scattered throughout the expansion. This added a new level of advancement and reputation grind that, funny enough, is exactly what the people were asking for.

  • With each release, we see ArenaNet coming closer and closer to the point of separating the PvP and PvE games. Eventually they gave up on skill balancing and decoupled the skill balances depending on which part of the game you participated in. If there is a lesson to be drawn from this, it may be that the overlap between the PvP and PvE communities is not so great as is commonly assumed. It might serve developers better to focus their games in one direction or the other instead of the narrow group that enjoys both equally.

  • Footnote: I appreciate everyone's patience during this recent posting drought. My week long vacation has concluded, so expect a whole different set of excuses for not posting soon.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Read Lately: House Dick by E. Howard Hunt

  • I wasn't sure what to expect when I picked up House Dick by E. Howard Hunt. The book came to me automatically as part of the Hard Case Crime Book Club. The back cover talks more about the author's notoriety instead of the details of the novel. I was happy to discover that Hunt knows how to tell a story.

  • Pete Novak, security head for the Tilden Hotel in Washington D.C., is having a normal day until the beautiful Paula Norton checked in. What follows is a tale of theft, blackmail, and murder, all within the confines of the hotel. The pace is quick, all the way until the final showdown.

  • I was not captured by the book as I have been with others in the line. Hunt's prose is serviceable, without flair, but not overreaching. His main character, Novak, is a likable protagonist. He is hard driven, flawed, but morally centered. House Dick won't be remembered as a great in the field, but it was a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

News Filter: DDO F2P OMG

  • First spotted by me over at Bio Break, Dungeons & Dragons Online is going Free 2 Play. All I can say is "Hallelujah!" Actually, give me a sec. I might be able to say more.

  • Many, many people have commented that $15 was way too much for a DDO subscription and I have to agree with them. Considering the growth of free to play options, it seems a natural fit for a game that never fit the standard MMO mold. Based on the pricing options, this reminds me a lot of Wizard 101 with all-access subscriptions and free to play with microtransactions to access gated content.

  • Here's the part where you ask, "Will this be enough to get you (that's me) to play?" Absolutely. I was never going to subscribe at the old price. Treating the lower levels as an open ended trial will be enough to give it a real try. I'm hoping a lot of people will feel the same and give it a chance. Otherwise, I'll be seeing just how soloable DDO is now.

  • © 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
    If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

News Filter: Hints At The Future Of Free Realms

  • Free Realms, for everything they've done to let us know how popular the game is, did not get a lot of attention from the gaming press at this year's E3. If fact, the only news talking about the future of the game appeared over at Kotaku. (Thank you to Mike Fahey for the write up.) There is not a lot, since the developers seem tight lipped about their plans. But any little bit of news is better than the drought we've faced since launch. The four mentioned expansion plans are:

  • Soccer - As much as I'd love to see golf implemented, this seems like a natural fit for the audience. They definitely telegraphed this since you can already find soccer fields in Sacred Grove. Wondering how they'll be handled. Will they make the games solo and groupable? Can't wait to see.

  • New Jobs - We all knew they were coming. It's just a matter of which ones and when. With soccer being added, a soccer player job is a given. The most important information here is that they are not raising the level cap. Good for SOE. Hitting the level cap in one profession isn't the end of the game like it is in other MMOs, so raising the cap servers not great purpose.

  • Racing Progression - Since the game launched with these job essentially used as placeholders, I'm glad they acknowledged they have a lot more in store for them.

  • Player Housing - Finally, the indicated that player housing is a long term goal for Free Realms. The article hints that housing will be customizable beyond just adding furniture. I've never been a fan of housing since I'm a more achievement oriented player, but many, many people will be happy when this comes to the game.

  • © 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
    If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Listened Lately: Shut Up, We're Talking #48

  • This might come off as self-serving, but I really enjoyed the latest episode (number forty-eight) of the Shut Up, We're Talking podcast. Like always, there is a lot to think about. Mixing my metaphors in 5... 4... 3...

  • The Matrix Online - In my prior post on MxO, I talked about the game's closure from a personal level. I totally forgot there is a great business angle to this, namely Station Access. There was a assumption (encouraged by SOE) that Station Access would the savior of underperforming games. For only $30, you get access to a number of Sony MMOs. But with Free Realms just launching and with DC Universe Online and the next undisclosed MMO in development, that $30 would get stretched thinner and thinner. With MxO turning the lights out, I think what we're seeing the upper limit Sony will allow for Station Access. When DCUO launches, I foresee either another game pulled or a reevaluation of the subscription charge.

  • The Avatar Thing Again - I left a comment at Virgin Worlds, but I'm reiterating here: yes, I was looking at the discussion through the bunny ear lens. It is a huge topic and I'm glad the show went at it a second time.

  • Blog of the Week - In a quick e-mail exchange with Darren, I told him I did a little dance when I saw Bullet Points was Blog of the Week. No, I will not YouTube it. You should be happy that I'm saving you potential psychiatric bills.

  • And that's it. I'm going to stop typing before all the adulation goes to my head.

© 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Random Shots: Hating On The Endgame

  • In my capacity as frustrated game non-developer, I want to take a moment to tell actual developers that they're doing it all wrong. I don't know how to make this problem right, but there is an elephant in this room and I want to talk about it. I hate your endgame.

  • In vertical progression MMOs, there are two games involved: the leveling game and the endgame. The leveling game can be characterized as content consumption. You travel to a level-appropriate zone, complete quests, kill mobs, maybe run an instance, then move on to the zone that corresponds to your new level. The endgame, however, is about content repetition. Instead of devouring new quests and new zones, developers shift their focus in how to maintain the player base. They do this with repeatable large-scale raids, never ending PvP combat, and (the most egregious time sink) daily quests. The game turns at this point into a slot machine. And just like a casino, they pay out just enough to keep the subscriptions running.

  • That is my issue with the MMO endgame. It's a bait-and-switch. They sell you on one game, then shove you into another. It's in the developers' best interest to keep players subscribing for one more month. And it is more cost-effective to provide repeatable content and to generate consumable content, so that's what they do.

  • The sad thing is there are people who like the endgame and can't wait to get there. In their case, the leveling game becomes a grind they must overcome to play the game that they want to play. (See Brian "Psychochild" Green's post discussing the MMO grind.) World of Warcraft has one of the most celebrated leveling games in MMO history, but now it's a grind because the real game, the raiding game, begins at 80 (for now). Warhammer Online has an ambitious RvR conflict as its endgame, but trains everyone through their leveling tiers that the goal is to max out a character. And even though it's not subscription based, Guild Wars has remade its endgame four times to hit a constantly moving target.

  • I know it's crazy to even recommend this, but new games have to learn from the mistakes of the past. If you have a great endgame, make that your whole game. And people that like leveling deserve to be treated a real gamers. Don't force people to play one style, only to take that away from them and give them another. And don't force people to slog through content just to get to the good stuff. Make everything the good stuff and focus on that audience. I know WoW has taught everyone that they need to be every game for every player. If that's the lesson you've taken from its success, you've missed the point. You don't copy World of Warcraft. You need to make a better game.

  • Postscript: You'll notice that I specified vertical progression games here. Horizontal progression games like EVE Online and Darkfall have done away with all that endgame crap by making their sandboxes the whole game. These are examples that developers ignore to their peril.

  • © 2009 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.
    If you're reading this on a site other than Bullet Points, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.