Fallen Earth Impressions list

March 29, 2010

-Graphics are surprisingly impressive.

-The opening is ok, a little too tutorialish though. Trying to bring all of the factions in and having them explain their thing hurts suspension of disbelief. Impressive overall though, especially when they fully voiced it.

-Being set out into the world is meh. The locations are vast and stunning, but they are too large. Even with the newbie horse it takes too much time to do things, especially since you die often early on. Meelee and guns are ok so far, although having to constantly make your own ammo gets old, and there are often just enough mobs to cause aggro issues.  It’s same old, same old just  alot more inefficient.

-Crafting. This seems to be the draw for people, but its just too blah for me. I don’t mind some crafting, but when the game seems to want you to learn every single tradeskill in the game just to be able to make basic things like bullets, bandages, and armor early on it gets old. A lot of times I just wished I could buy things and sell things directly, but values seem very low for components to sell, with npc finished goods very hugh.

I’m still mixed on it. It has potential but I wish they simplified the game elements (crafting, combat, having to feed transport to keep it going) and kept the desolate sense of exploration. It’s too game-y for me so far. What I might just do is strike out once I can make bullets to keep me supplied and ignore the quests for exploring.


Fallen Earth

March 27, 2010

Yep, it’s time for a new MMO.  Fallen Earth gets to be the unlucky victim this time.

So,  during the long download and updating, I get to decide which of the current MMOs I play gets the axe. I play games too hard to keep more than two, and probably are best with only one. So either Champions Online or EVE Online gets the axe, or maybe even both.

CO is the more enjoyable of the two when I play, but as I’m rapidly approaching the level cap I worry I will run out of things to do. EVE is actually the less enjoyable of the two because it has the problem of being heavily group-oriented and yet paranoid about low skill point characters. In my short career I have been accused of being a spy no less of 3 times, and corporations have been uniformly sucky.

It’s a tough choice.


What If?

March 22, 2010

What if it were possible to simulate real-life people’s actions in an MMO, but in with NPCs? I’m not talking about the standard, brain-dead mobs that populate MMOs now. I mean what if it were possible to simulate the wildness or randomness of human players to a convincing degree? Would people still play with others?

I’m asking because the current playstyle really isn’t all that massive. In MMOs now people either solo, or exist in small groups with little real interaction except background. The only real interaction happens when you pit player versus player: otherwise once players settle into an MMO, they tend to act in small groups or guilds. If the experience was much smaller, against much smarter AI wouldother players matter as much as we think they would?


March Randomness

March 22, 2010

I’ve been grinding hard on several of my games recently, and haven’t had much news to talk about.

In Champions Online my main character is level 28. It’s a pure fire build, which is AOE fire damage, and is pretty effective overall. Champions Online is hard in one sense because your character build influences ease of play too much. My fire character does a lot of damage at range, and can cakewalk mobs. My might character does a lot of single target damage but the constant motion of the mobs combined with stun and knockback moves makes it frustrating and harder than usual, despite my might character having more health and being stronger. Unfortunately there is very little group play in the game, because of that.

Quests are too easy. I can solo ones 3 levels above me, and thats all the quests you get. So there is very little incentive to group even on tougher ones. It’s fun though but its  very solo experience.

EVE I joined a lowsec ratting/industry corp that’s about to go through its first wardec. To be honest I’m not minding it because it will provide some difference from how boring the game is PvE wise. Seriously. I’m not expecting this corp to last long, it looks like a LOT of people either left when they heard about it or didn’t provide API keys and got booted.

API keys are essentially a way to pass on account details without giving password or username. It lets corps see your other characters. EVE has trust issues.

Other than that, it’s been slow. I’ve been starting to work on my math skills and revisiting Studio Ghibli films with Ponyo’s recent release. If you haven’t, now’s a great time to pick up some of their films: Castle in the Sky especially is an iconic film, and inspired a lot of fantasy tropes.


Alganon reboot

March 12, 2010

Here at Massively it looks like struggling game Alganon is desperately trying to reinvent itself. Derek Smart is in, and he’s not pulling any punches:

1. Dave Allen didn’t “depart”. I fired* him back in February for insurbordination and for acting against the best interests of the company, the LLC investors (who I represent), the game and the team.

It goes way beyond that, but you’re only getting the short and subtle version.

Shortly after the investors of the LLC unanimously voted him off the LLC. Leaving his previous partner and co-founder (Greg Wexler, one of the most cheerful and straight up guys you’ll ever meet in your lifetime) and myself to run the company.

So yeah, he has been gone since Feb 22, 2010.

I know he’s reputed for some serious net drama, but it’s amazing to even mention this on an official forum. But his solutions are even more amazing.

a) This whole “WoW look-a-like” rubbish, is gone. I’ve essentially asked them to throw it all out and for the artists to come up with the game’s own unique look and feel for for both the web UI as well as the game UI itself.

Totally revamping a game’s UI is drastic, and this was one of the games most common compalints.

b) We’re also getting rid of the monthly subscriptions. They are currently suspended, but will be gone for good. I put that plan into place since Dec 2009 with a view to making the game “subscription free” but supported via sales (I was the one who had the client price reduced to $19.95 as well btw) of the client as well as micro-transactions. It is not a traditional F2P game, but if thats what we have to do in the long run, then so be it. For now, we’re taking baby steps.

So a Guild Wars box model at first, with a possible f2p reboot. Again, amazing. Even better:

c) All paid subscriptions are going to be refunded 100% with the game’s official launch and there will be an email address setup for you to request your refund.

Joking about the tiny sub base aside, to be willing to do so is incredible. Whether or not Alganon survives its reboot, it’s going to be a great case study of how something fans almost always suggest works in the real world. I’ll be following this game closely.


Breakfast of Passives: Champions Online and damage soaking.

March 10, 2010

Damage soaking is the ability of a player character to absorb large amounts of enemy damage over time. The image is that of a sponge, holding water. When the “sponge” gets full, the player dies. We have two components of this.

1. Active Soaking, in which player initiated abilites absorb damage. In FFXI a job ability for paladins is Sentinel. When activated, it absorbs a set percent of damage which reduces over time until the ability wears off. You can use it again once the cooldown is up.

This is a very elastic term. Any active means for a player to reduce or absorb incoming damage counts in my view. You could subdivide this into direct soaking where damage is applied to the player and either avoided or reduced, or indirect soaking where damage potential is reduced, by crowd control, or attack-preventing debuffs.

2.Passive Soaking. The difference between it and active is that players do not need to initiate it. Attributes like stamina or defense, or traits that are innate to a character to provide a direct damage reduction are examples. Also is armor. To use FFXI again, Paladins have a shield skill which enables straight damage reduction when a shield is equipped based on percentages. When the random number generator indicates a block, you do, and reduce an incoming hit. Player buffs also count towards this.

Champions Online has both examples of these, but they are a case in how one form can completely dominate the other. Active soaks in CO involve blocking, both usual and superpowered. There are also holds, which incapacitate a character for a few moments before they jam on the keys and free themselves, and roots, which keep players stationary. Some others are using stun or interrupt moves to prevent incoming heavy charge attacks. My might character has an uppercut move which sends critters flying. It can both interrupt them, and upon landing they are stunned and unable to attack for a limited time.

All of these can be countered. Blocks can be broken entirely for ten seconds by upgrading one of your powers to do so. holds can be broken out of, and equipment exists to reduce severity. Stats also come into play. You can even just move out of range for some counters.

Passives though are the problem. Passives in Champions Online are slotted abilities which provide straight damage reduction or health regeneration, and they dominate. There are several reasons why:

-all mobs can attack at range and close, and from a greater range usually than the player. This means positioning is not effective against normal, non-charging attacks. It also means that roots are useless except to keep mobs from running away. You can’t root them to attack one at a time, you must use holds instead.

-mobs come in groups and pure crowd control is limited to a few abilities. The base unit is 3 or 4 mobs, with some tougher. In later levels pets also come into play, as does adds. While area of effect damage dealing abilities counter this, it means all encounters have a set threshold of incoming damage that has to be mitigated.

-The big one: while blocking or active self-healing, you cannot attack. It’s a common problem in single player RPGs called the debuff problem: what it means is that apart from gimmick debuffs designed to weaken specific bosses, most debuffs will be worthless as raw damage will end the fight sooner.

What this means in an MMO and in CO is that pure blocking is useless on its own. Your health continues to go down, and you don’t attack. It is only useful when paired with something. This is where passives become overpowered. A passive lets you either reduce damage and still attack, or it adds force multipliers to blocking by letting regen restore your health while you do so. So everyone uses a passive defensive ability, as the foundation to make active ones work.

My solution for this is simple in theory: keep passives, but remove the normal damage mobs and players do. This focuses the game on perceiving and dodging charging moves, or using the correct move as part of a strategy. Passives in CO work best when mitigating lots of small amounts of damge over time. With my supernatural character and her regen I can tank 10 mobs by blocking and slowly get back to full life.

The theory is simple, but to do so in the game would be impossible due to massive redesigning and rebalancing. I think to make it work in an existing game would involve strengthening active soaks while weakening passives. A good way would be to make active soaks heal over time with a cooldown: currently some do but they seem weak or too limited. One that should be used very much which I don’t see is increasing invulnerability to damage types: meelee should take less from meelee and flame to flame. It’s passive, but lets players choose a more limited form instead of straight damage reduction.

Its a complex issue. Thinking about these things makes me realize how difficult a developer’s job must be. It’s easy for me to theorize currently, but they have to craft the code that makes it work, as well as deal with social and community backlash. It makes you humble as a player and enforces the need to treat devs with respect and patience.


Housekeeping

March 9, 2010

I’m going to be updating the blog links and working on the appearance. Please forgive the messiness.