Friday, October 26, 2012

Project: Gorgon, impressions from the pre-alpha build

I have seen a lot of commentators state that they wish that someone would do something really different in with an MMO.  Make a game where exploration itself was largely the goal, and provided meaningful  rewards.  A game where players aren't straight-jacketed into some class role on the character creation screen, and where the play environment is more than a backdrop for quest hubs and crafting nodes.  Based on a few hours of play in the pre-alpha build, Project: Gorgon may be that game.

At character creation I chose my race and gender, that's it.  There's nothing else to choose because how your character develops is determined 100% by what you choose to do in game.  There was a bit of a surprise in that the story starts on the character creation screen.  When I first logged into the game proper I had a long conversation with an NPC that contained a lot of branching dialogue options.  I then tried to look at a book near him, and was promptly informed that it was his book and I should leave it alone.  I was allowed to eat some gruel from a bowl nearby on the floor, however :-)  


The room contained a lot of mushrooms, and when I clicked on one I was informed that I had gained one level in mycology.  At that point I had no idea what mycology was for, but figuring that more points in it must be good I ended up grabbing every mushroom I saw from there on out.

Mycology, cool!

At the entrance to the room was a corpse with a rusty long sword embedded in its back.  As it was far superior to the "no weapon whatsoever" I started with, I promptly equipped it.  I then headed over to the next room, which was swarming with skeletons.  A few swings later I gained my first point of sword skill, and a new attack ability (sword flurry).  After that I decided to start throwing in some punches as well.  This quickly earned me kick, a knockback attack which synergizes very nicely with sword attacks.  For example you can put an armor DoT on a mob with a big sword attack, knock them back with kick, and watch the damage tick down on them as they slowly run back to you.


 This is my guy after finding some armor and getting his first combat skills (the armor displayed is not what he is wearing, he just looks like that all the time).  As you can see the graphics are currently quite primitive.  Of course that's the whole dang point of the kickstarter campaign, to hire some artists.  Mechanically the game is extremely innovative, fun, and really rewards exploration and experimentation.  I can't say that about a lot of other MMOs I've tried.

Soon after that I got parry, which will prevent mobs from using any of their special attacks on you if you time the use well.  The cool thing about it is that it's pretty easy to see when you need to use it.  Mobs have these fist icons on them that represent their rage.  When it gets full, many of them can use attacks that will stun you and let them get some free hits in.  When that bar is full or near full, you just hit the parry button to empty it out.

Skill based systems where you use an ability to raise the ability have often been quite grindy in other CRPGs I've played.  Not at all in Project: Gorgon.  Skills go up very quickly, especially at first, and using a combat skill both raises related combat stats (such as health and power) and unlocks new abilities.  Just swording skeletons in the face to see what neat new sword abilities I would unlock was quite addictive.

The first time I died I was shocked to discover that "dying gracefully" is also a skill.  Every ten ranks you get in it, you gain five health.  From the skills I've unlocked so far, that's actually a decent boost.  For example, ten ranks of unarmed combat gets you only twice as much health and requires a lot more work then jumping into lava.  

Finally, after a good while wandering around picking mushrooms and bashing skeletons, I came to an odd looking side room.

Haven's seen anything like that before...


Nearby is a table with pages scattered on and around it.  Two can be read to learn more about what is going on and why snow is coming down from the ceiling.

In the room was a cot with an open book next to it.  When I read the book I learned three new recipes.  Two for mycology, and one for a new skill: Alchemy.   One of the mycology recipes was for spore bombs, consumables that can be used for a powerful (at least in the area I'm messing around in) AoE attack.  The other is for spore flakes, an item that is one of four ingredients for the alchemy recipe I learned.  Also nearby were some empty flasks.  When I later found a pond I was able to fill them with water, giving me another of the four ingredients.  Skeletons drop dust, a third ingredient.  All I am missing now is sugar, and I honestly have no idea where that is found.  The alchemy recipe is for a drug that will give me a some sort of stat boost, but become addictive if I use it too much.  I can't wait to see what it actually does.

I am one or two hours in to the pre-alpha and Project: Gorgon has already given me a more unique and intriguing experience than most of the MMOs I've tried in the last few years.  This game with decent graphics and animations would be an absolute winner.  Mechanically it's already as good as anything else out, and brings a ton of innovation to the table.  I really hope the kickstarter hits its goal.  The total pledged has started to move up again in the last few days, but it really is down to the wire and has a long way to go still. 55K to finish out a game that is already so far along is not a lot to ask.  

Edit (update): I am happy to report that the environmental graphics improve considerably if you make it out of the starting cave (as you can see below).


The character you see in the middle of the shot is me.  Through an act of willful stupidity (I was given three warnings to stop drinking the sour enchanted milk...but I kept going to to see what would happen), I got my self turned into a cow.   I think it's permanent until I figure out a way to reverse it.  To say I've never experienced anything much like this in any other MMO I've played is an absolute understatement. 



 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Project: Gorgon

I have been following the kickstarter page for Project: Gorgon mainly because it sounds like the game is going to  be really interesting.   How can you read about something like the lycanthopy system or the in-game geocaching system for player generated treasure hunts and not be intrigued?  I very much want the kickstarter to be a success, if for no other reason than just to see how all the bizarro/  innovative designs that one of the better game design bloggers has been posting about come together.  My take is that the game represents an attempt to address design issues that are arguably holding back MMOs as a genre, and not with digging through spreadsheets as game-play or FFA PvP and an atrocious UI.  With only 11 days to go, the kickstarter project has only gotten about 20% of the way to its goal.  This post is my meager attempt to try and refocus some attention on the project.  If innovative MMO design is something you care about, you really should consider heading over to their page and becoming a backer.

In other news, I am not dead, merely very busy with my work irl.  More regular posting will resume soon!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Issue three of The Secret World is going live tomorrow (!)

The next content update is going live in The Secret World tomorrow, and we know absolutely nothing about it save the somewhat evocative name, Issue 3: The Cat God.  Presumably it has something to do with Bastet.  Apart from that who knows?  Secret World indeed...

I'm a bit amazed the update is coming so soon, since we just got rocket launchers what seems like a a week ago.  Hopefully this means that Funcom is actually going to be able to deliver on their promised once a month content update schedule.   I expect to post an impressed or underwhelmed impression of the update later this week.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The fight for COH continues

You should check out this post by Sente if you haven't already.  If you care at all about City of Heroes/ Villians he gives a good rundown of efforts currently underway to keep CoX alive.  Though I am skeptical that online petitions generally do much good, there is one for CoH and signing it is an easy way to show your support for the game.  Plus, reading through the comments to the petition and seeing just how much passion so many players have for CoX is heart warming.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Noooooooooo! City Heroes is shutting down

Via Anjin in Exile and Bio Break I just got the news that City of Heroes is shutting down before the end of the year.  This is the most depressing MMO news I've heard in a good long while.   I really thought City of Heroes was doing OK given the steady update schedule.  The latest update (Issue 24) is even supposedly ready to go and sitting on their test server.

City of Heroes still has, to my tastes, the best character generation system of any MMO on the market.  The number of powerset combinations available to choose from is staggering, and the appearance generation system will let you come up with at least a rough approximation on pretty much any humanoid you can dream up.   There are also some really unique archetypes in CoH such as controllers (extremely powerful crowd control specialists) and master minds (pet users that are can summon swarms of pets) that don't really have close analogues in other MMOs. Finally, the game has one of the most robust systems around for letting players create their own content.  Some of the best story arcs to be found in CoH are in player crafted missions.

I will admit that City of Heroes is a MMO that I only ever seem to enjoy in one month stints.  I think my overall problem is that the pace of advancement seems to slow to a crawl by some time in the mid levels.  But those one month stints are always incredibly fun.  Dreaming up a crazy new character design and taking it out for a spin is simply more of a blast in CoH than any other MMO I've played.

The sad thing is that I suspect that CoH is actually still at least a bit into the black.  I don't see how Paragon could have put out so much content in the last year if it weren't.  If CoH was under SOE, Funcom, Turbine, or really just about any MMO company apart from NCsoft I doubt we'd be having this conversation.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Suckage is in the eye of the beholder (on a horse that never seems to stay dead)

This post over at Kill Ten Rats about The Secret World got me thinking about a more general issue.*  Most of the arguments we use to "prove" that a given MMO is better than another, or that a given MMO "sucks", are arbitrary and subjective.  The kinds of arguments I've seen commentators use to rank MMOs  generally fall into a few categories.  However, if you think about it there are clear reasons that none of these ranking schemes is a good universal metric of whether a MMO is "good" or not.  For example:

Popularity/ Financial Success: used by players of WoW to argue that WoW is the "best" MMO.  However, this leads to the McDonalds analogy (I stretched that one waaay too far in one of my early posts).  It's kind of elitist, but I think it's also a fair point.  How many folks reading this really think McDonalds has the best hamburgers that money can buy?

Innovation: used by players of EVE Online, TSW, and Guild Wars 2 to argue that their games are better than all the "WoW-clones" out there.  I do see the importance of innovation. Anything that pushes the boundaries of mainstream MMO space is overall a good thing, since it potentially expands the audience.  However, if we want to use innovation as our yard stick of what constitutes a "good MMO" then really bizzare MMOs with tiny audiences like A Tale in the Desert, Endless Forest, and Myst Online have to be considered the best MMOs.  Arden: the World of William Shakespeare was innovative as hell, and development on it eventually was halted because players didn't find it fun. 

Pooled ratings of Professional Critics:  used by players of WoW, SWTOR, and LoTRO (among others) to argue that their games are "good" in an objective sense.  On the surface this seems like a good argument, since it evokes the opinions of "experts."   However, when it comes to it this is just another form of popularity.  History is filled with examples of works of art that critics hated or ignored at first but later came to be considered classics.

Further, I don't find Metacritic scores to be a good guide to whether I personally will like a game or not.  Wrath of the Lich King got an astounding score of 91, and when I first tried it I didn't even last out the free month that came with it.  Diablo III scored an 88 and, at least among the bloggers that I follow, the overall consensus seems to be that it's a popcorn entry into the series with little staying power compared to Diablo II (no offense to Tipa!).  Warhammer Online garnered an 86, and we all know how that turned out.  Dungeons & Dragons Online scored an abysmal 74, and it's grown to be one of my favorite MMOs.  The Secret World did even worse, and I find it to be extremely compelling. 

Obviously what ultimately matters is whether a MMO is fun or not.  Just as obviously, fun is in the eye of the beholder.  What's perhaps harder to accept is that, like fun, suckage is also in the eye of the beholder.  Just because you don't like something doesn't mean that it sucks any objective sense.  Conversely, just because someone doesn't like an MMO that you like doesn't mean they have brain damage or aren't as perceptive as you.  All you can say for certain is that they didn't think it was fun.

Few of us run around screaming at people over whether they enjoy boardgames (love them), tennis (hate it), or hiking (love it).  I can list all the reasons I don't like tennis (I bite at it looms large), but I would never be tempted to claim that tennis sucks in some objective sense. Would anyone?  Why then do we get so worked up over whether other commentators "get" or "don't get" the MMOs we play?    And why do some commentators feel the urge to go out of their way to antagonize fans of games they don't like?  In a some ways MMO enthusiasts tend to behave a lot more like religious fanatics then hobbyists.  Do coin collectors and knitters have these kinds of debates? Well, maybe they do (thanks for the link Sente!).

I'm certainly not the first to comment on this phenomenon.  But to me this is an issue that keeps rearing it's head.  The internet: the great pit where the flamewars are not quenched and the horse dieth not.

*Note: the post I linked at KTR is absolutely not the kind of commentary that irks me.  It's a well written post that raises some interesting points.  Give it a read if you haven't.  The post is simply what got me thinking about these issues again.  

Saturday, August 18, 2012

SWTOR: a baffling design decision (on the latest world event)

The latest world event just went live in Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Darth Hater has a very nice rundown on the quests and the rewards that you can get.  Among the rewards available are some very nice high end rifles fitted out with purple mods.  Here's the problem: very few classes and specialization lines can use rifles.  In fact only three out of the 16 possible specialization lines if I'm not mistaken (I'm to lazy to check), at best roughly 20% of level 50 characters.

If you aren't one of those few classes, the other rewards are a 90% run-speed speeder (useless to anyone that uses the high end 110% speeders), a pet that's a re-skinned version of one we already got for free last month, and a set of cosmetic gear that will let you dress like a Sandperson.  In other words, nothing all that great. Understandably, players are freaking the hell out on the forums.  Bioware's official response from Online Community Manager JovethGonzalez is as follows:

Hi folks,

I wanted to take a bit of time to explain the reasoning behind the weapon selection on the vendor. As you know, each SWTOR event that we do is unique and this also applies to the variety of items offered. That is, if you don’t find anything that you think is useful during this event, you may find a different assortment of items in the next one. Your feedback is definitely appreciated and we’ll look into different ways to improve our item selection in the future.

Thanks for participating!

Really, "Wait for the next event, maybe there will be something you can use" is the official answer? Really?!?  I mean no disrespect to Joveth, he is but the unfortunate messenger. 

This is only the second world event in the nine months the game has been live. If each world event caters to 1/5 of the classes, then some time in the next two years most classes should expect to have been offered at least one decent reward (hahahah). This event comes on the cusp of the release of Guild Wars 2, as well as the launch of major expansions for Lord of the Rings Online (Rohan) and World of Warcraft (MoP next month).  The decision to not provide weapon rewards for all 16 specialization lines in the game is perhaps the most baffling display of ineptitude that Bioware has yet shown.

It certainly isn't going to hurt the game as much as launching with far too many servers and waiting too long to consolidate them.  Or hyping the game so hard before launch that anything short of 1.5 million steady subs would be viewed as a disappointment.  However, those are understandable mistakes.  They fell into the same traps a lot of studios have.  Launching an event guaranteed to annoy 3/4 of your playerbase just as some of your stiffest competition is coming online strikes me as utterly inexplicable.

Imagined design meeting:

"Hey guys, I have great idea.  Let's include powerful weapon rewards that most of our players can't use.  I'm nearly certain that will be extremely well received."

"Bill, you are a genius!  Let's do it!"