One of the things I’d love to see as an MMO

February 26, 2010

Yokohama Shopping Trip is a gentle tale about people surviving during the end of the world. In the far future Japan is flooded, with the water level rising every day. There aren’t very many people left, and those that are live a quiet, semi-rural existence. The story centers around the robot Alpha, who tends a coffee shop, and waits for her master to return someday.

So far there is no violence, and its mostly about the sleepy doings of a few people. But I’d love to see it as an MMO just because of the sense of place it offers. The end of the world isn’t filled with violent thugs or monsters, just endless empty roads cracked and overgrown with grass and a neat, if deserted old petrol station.

We talk a lot about virtual worlds, but most of the worlds created are small, shabby places focusing on not life, but death. All we can do is kill, over and over again. Like Renfield in Dracula, we consume lives and tally them up to add to our own life essence, in the hope that we will grow more powerful over time. But Yokohama Shopping Trip is about life, and being part of a world.

Do we really need to kill, over and over again, to find joy in virtual worlds? Or can we find it by being part of a place? Tesh as always has a good post about the need to have pride as a part of something, and a sense of place. Maybe we need more of that.

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For when morning coffee isn’t strong enough

February 25, 2010

Japanese website Nico Nico Douga wins again, by making an even faster techno remix of a notoriously fast anime theme song, the Lucky Star opening music. While it doesn’t reach the spastic levels of most of their Ronald McDonald stuff (ran ran ruuuuu!) the speed alone will get you up on slow mornings. Video below.


Console MMOs-an informal history

February 23, 2010

First off, and the progenitor of them all, Phantasy Star Online. This first was released on the Dreamcast in 2000, with the sequel Episode 2 released shortly after. It moved over to the Gamecube in 2002 as a bundled edition of the first two games called PSO episode 1 and 2, and for the longest time was the only console MMO, as well as the only online Gamecube game.

PSO is a mixed bag. It was incredibly addicting. Milkman in his EGM review of it mentions he unplugged his fridge rather than stop. However saving data offline in the VMU led to insane hacking and gamesharking enabled people to delete your characters. The game’s economies were ruined by duplicating items as well. Still, the overall design and aesthetics beat many current MMOs even in player fun, with some of the most memorable bosses in any game.

Everquest Online Adventures was next, coming out in Febuary 2003. This game was the first true MMO in the states, a console version of the original EQ designed by SOE and released on the PS2. It was unique in that it didn’t need a hard drive. All the data was loaded from the DVD with a small memory card file for updates. However, this game was notorious for killing your PS2 due to the tremendous amount of disc access. It released an expansion, EQOA frontiers, later in the year.

This game was actually very good. It was a fusion of classic EQ and a more simplified, streamlined one. While the graphics were poor, approaching basic PSone quality, the world was vast and deep. In many ways it was superior than the next game listed. As far as I know EQOA still is active today, but is lucky to have 10k subscribers. SOE’s station pass still subsidizes it, but the game is impossible to find.

SOE released an action RPG called Champions of Norrath in 2004. It was similar to both Baldur’s Gate and PSO, and did well enough to get a sequel in 2005. Both were for the PS2, and both are borderline MMOs, being more instanced diablo clones.

Also in 2004 was a little known game that would eventually build an empire in Japan. Monster Hunter is a PSO-style game where you kill gigantic dinosaurs to harvest materials to build your character up over time. While the PS2 launch here was very niche, it spawned 2 more sequels in japan and is probably the only reason the PSP survived there at all. It has a rep for deep, hardcore grinding play. Currently a Wii version is planned.

Next is the big hitter, Final Fantasy XI. While technically it predates EQOA, its console release date in the US was 2004. FFXI was bundled in with the PS2 harddrive, enabling a much deeper world and better focus on graphics and gameplay. It also for the longest time was extremely popular, its combined playerbase topping 500k, which beats current games like LOTR and EVE.

FFXI had a lot of problems though. The Japanese version released first by 2 years, and the PC version by 1. So that means PS2 players were coming into a 2 year old game. PC players also used bots and third party apps to gain advantages console players couldn’t replicate, and always accused the PS2 console roots of holding the game back. However, this game has been the benchmark for console success. It had 3 expansions-Chains of Promathia, Tales of Aht Urghan, and Wings of the Goddess, as well as 3 micro-expansions.

In 2005 SE also released another MMO based on its mech series, Front Mission Online. This lasted 3 years, but was never released in the states. Another Japan-only release in 2005 was .hack//fragment, an online version of the .hack series of RPGS, which were ironically about replicating a MMO. Both games I never played, both were on PS2

Phantasy Star Universe was next, released in 2006 for both the PS2 and 360. I have fond memories of the 360 beta, which was packed to overflowing, and for a time it looked like this would be the big thing. However some poor design decisions and restricted content at launch wore player enthusiasm out. An expansion was released, ambition of the illuminatus. This is notable in that for the 360, it was the first console expansion released purely digitally. While FFXI did so later, the expansions were little more than a quest line and rewards.

An honorable mention goes to both Phantasy Star Zero and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles for the Nintendo DS. Both are technically MMOS in design, but Nintendo requiring friend codes makes them not true ones. Also, True Fantasy Online for the Xbox deserves a mention for being canceled, despite being in an advanced state of completion.


FFXI-finally done?

February 23, 2010

Found this on MMORPG.com. They quote MMOsite as posting a rumor that FFXI will shut down. Appears a personal blog from a company member mentioned it, although its been taken down and denied officially.

It doesn’t surprise me, although it would be sad. The PS2/PS3 version has been dead in the water because of Sony quietly killing the DNAS servers for the playstation 2. FFXI players can’t get on because they can’t hit the Sony authentication servers. While the 360 is still active, its a blow for many who used the PS2 over it.

It was bullshit though to hear them saying “oh we wont replace FFXI” when they let you move your SE account over and use the exact (or nealy exact) same races. If this is true it just confirms it. It had to happen, but I think SE was not wanting to kill the FFXI cash cow.

I had a lot of fun times with FFXI, and a lot of anger too. Spent 3 full years of my life playing it, and for me it is my defining MMO. I’ll miss it if this is true.


Doing it right-Champions and Monster Island Crisis

February 23, 2010

Champions Online gets a lot of abuse, but some things it does very well. One of them at level 27 is called Monster Island Crisis.

The Crises are previews of a level. You fight in a roped off area of one of the games zones, and they usually are a lot of fun, as well as a quick intro to a new zone. Monster Island really takes the concept with it though and makes it excellent.

You land on the beaches of monster island, and storm it with a bunch of others, including the champion Ironclad. As you fight, you are joined by manimals you free, and its awesome to have a crowd of NPCs fighting with you. What’s more, you soon fight against giant NPCS, including some incredible monsters. I don’t want to go into too much detail as not to spoil it, but one of the coolest experiences is to be at ground zero during a reenactment of one of the iconic fights in King Kong.

It’s over way too quick. But while it lasts, it gives a hint of what the game could have been given time and effort.


Upcoming Champions patch

February 23, 2010

Looks like one is due tonight, servers will be down very early am PST. I’ll post links when it goes live.


Is this it?

February 22, 2010

Talking about advancing the MMO genre is common. People speak of being dissatisfied of the current crop of games and long for something new. But what if this is it, and MMOs as a genre will not advance any more except in the way other game genres do? By better graphics, incremental changes to established styles of play, and more of the same?

Think of fighting games. Soul Calibur IV may be one of the most technically advanced fighting games out in the market, but it really isn’t radically different from vanilla Street Fighter 2. There is only so much that fighting games can change without not being a fighting game anymore. If you disliked SF2, chances are you’d dislike SC 4. Maybe even worse, because of the increased complexity of mechanics that have been added over time.

What if the MMO genre really is like that? That ultimately it will only be variations on the same theme, and real change isn’t possible?