08 November, 2007

Ryzom on its way out

Earth & Beyond RIP. Asheron's Call 2 RIP. Seed RIP. Auto Assault RIP.

The sad thing about this isn't the games going under; that's probably an inescapable trapping of the form. The sad part is that in all these cases the games have become unplayable not just in spirit but literally, as taking down the login server means one can't even play the game alone and explore its world offline.

In some cases, the company in question believes the technology it developed for its game, if kept under lock and key, can potentially be sold as a way to recover losses. In others, the developers hope to use the technology again in another project, should they manage someday to recover from the present disappointment.

To my knowledge this hasn't happened yet to an MMO, but it's not unheard of for the chaos that results from a company's dissolution renders much of its work lost forever. Source code is lost, design documents are intentionally destroyed, hardware is thrown out, or ownership rights are put forever into question or split between two different companies - and the failure of the game means it's probably not worth anyone's time to sort through the mess seeking pieces for a whole that might be impossible to reconstruct.

Electronic gaming enthusiasts have until recently been so passionate and so impressive about preserving the form's history, and so comparatively few of even its earliest examples have been lost, that to some of us what's happening here is quite shocking. But by all appearances there is little that can be done. How do you impress upon people doing long hours of usually thankless work, developing something that probably will fail on some level, that they ought to take extra steps to preserve what they're doing? Is there ever the time or the money for this? What can be done?

Or was the early history of electronic gaming so lovingly archived simply because the people doing it were kids, and now that the archivists are all grown up not many people care about these things any longer?

The Saga of Ryzom in trouble again. Another chapter in the distressing tale of the independent MMORPG.

What's happening?

I just remembered something rotten.

I posted something to Reddit a while back. It was about poor old Ryzom - the abortion that lived. Or worse. Anarchy Online divided by the worst luck. I hate it when people post headlines to Reddit and don't even have a damned thing to say about the article they linked - if they even linked an article. Sometimes the link is to the comments section, and the only comment they have to offer is the headline itself. Maybe I just don't understand people.

That's probably it. I don't get it. Maybe that's good.

At any rate a dead MMO depresses the hell out of me. Partly because I loved Asheron's Call 2 so much and barely realized it until it was too late. Partly because who knows. At any rate, it looks like poor old Ryzom is on her last, last legs.

So on that note.....

02 April, 2007

Some Thoughts on Poison Crafting

Taken from a post to the forums. It's interesting how much negative feedback I've received on this from people in my guild, justified solely by the notion that poison crafting is an innate skill and therefore it should be treated differently from other crafting. But in the end aren't the other tradeskills complex and difficult because that's fun for us? If they make us unhappy why bother with them? To me it's the complexity of the professions and the challenge of collecting recipes that make them worth pursuing.

Poison Crafting - More interesting, please!

Playing my first rogue, I was dismayed from early on that after the initial quest our poisons were just freely given to us. There are no problems or challenges involved in raising the skill or in acquiring the materials.

This and all games are at their best when they present the players with problems to solve and challenges to overcome, so I offer a wish list I've been mulling over.

1. Let's see the Shady Dealers stealth around town, and switch towns from time to time.

2. Let's see them have faction alliances and longer respawn timers so that losing your poison vendor hurts and people protect him, maybe even escorting him from town to town.

3. Require some poisons to be mixed at Ravenholdt Manor. Let's see a battle there. Let's see a shaky peace there.

4. Allow Herbalists to harvest some of the ingredients. Place them in areas just a little too hard for a rogue who's just learned that recipe. Make some ingredients only available via Herbalism. Make a few of them soulbound.

5. Make some the poison Alchemy recipes, and let's maybe see Enchanting get involved a little.

6. Give us a specal bag to hold poisons in.

7. Make the poisons deteriorate after 2-8 hours if they aren't in the poison bag, so that we have to contact and place orders with other players.

9. For extra credit, let's see some poisons only available from players in the opposing faction.

There's no need to throw out or render useless the existing poisons. While all of them need to be a little more trouble to make, a whole range of new poisons could be added without ruining the old ones, featuring slight but desirable variations in DPS, fail rates, charges, duration, stacking, cost, and allowed combinations.

23 March, 2007

The Problem with Guild Wars

Last summer, before I rediscovered World of Warcraft, I fell madly in love with Guild Wars. I was disappointed in or intimidated by every other MMO out there, and most of all Factions is just really, really nice. But the last few times I tried getting back into the game it couldn't hold my interest. In fact it made me angry.

Fine, don't have an auction house. It's not as though Blizzard ever copied anyone's ideas. It's not as though Guild Wars is 90% Diablo II. So they filter WTB and so forth onto a Trade channel, which no one uses. It's an EULA violation to evade the filter, but the only means of reporting violations is (last time I checked) buried in the website and requires inclusion of a screenshot. Well is that even fair? What if I don't just want to single out five or ten people? What if I want to report everyone?

So it is, as near as I can tell, literally impossible to use the general chat channel for general chat. Even if you wanted to, the only other people watching tend to be those stupid or angry enough to tolerate or thrive in such an environment.

I asked for help with a quest I was stuck on. A guy helped me then asked if I'd like to join his guild. I figured what the hell. There was only one other member. I figure he must have done this before, and maybe it'll be fun helping put a new guild together. He gives me some gold for recruiting, because the game charges gold for that.

I don't log in, then I do log in. I don't know how to give him his gold back. I feel like a thief. How do you find another player in Guild Wars? Ask the de facto tradebot channel that is the main chat window if anyone knows him? The world is split into a thousand pieces.

I didn't have this trouble in Anarchy Online back in 1991. In 1993 the chat system for Asheron's Call 2 not only broke for several months but continued to work often enough that people kept trying to use it. There was no way of knowing whether it was working or not at any given moment. Were the other players busy, or did they not see what you said at all? This may have been the singular factor in the game's demise two and a half years later. The only detail that challenges it is Turbine's bald, proud contempt for their player base.

Guild Wars is set up worse than this, and yet it recently inched out Eve from the number one spot on mmorpg.com's chart. This is not a small or meaningless accomplishment; over 65,000 people voted in the website's awards last year. You could fairly argue that Guild Wars is the most widely loved game in the world right now. Why? How do people put up with it?

I miss playing, and I know someday I'll look back to AC2 and think, "I should have learned my lesson and played Guild Wars while I could, and now it's too late." But right now the idea of playing the damned thing makes my skin crawl. Kind of a drag considering it's my second favorite game.

11 March, 2007

For the first time in over seven years of this I'm close to hitting the level cap of a legitimate MMO that isn't Guild Wars and they go and raise it.

I'm having a lot of fun, though. Still in Hellfire Peninsula with my quest log overflowing. It seems never to end, like a tall, cracked Barrens with a hell of a lot more pigs and scarier music. God I love Hellfire Peninsula. I might love it more than Felwood. It may be the greatest fantasy game setting ever.

That's why I first took to World of Warcraft - the setting. Some of it. I'd been miserable starting out a night elf in Teldrassil. It reminded me so much of the irritating, precious new age shops I'd frowned at in Santa Barbara when I walked past. (I grant a loving exception to a place called Boon Mee, because the place was a reliable source of Tangerine Dream soundtracks as well as bookends in the shape of ducks and lamps in the shape of ladybugs.) You know the place, though. La la nature spirituality dreamcatchers wolves indians Great Spirit incense Yanni night elves.

In Blizzard's defense, they did Teldrassil the Blizzard way, and the characters who live there spend much of their time calling on their naïve, idealistic youth to serve the balance of nature by massacring harmless, blind herbivores and leaving their carcasses to rot unused in the forest. In my later undeath I had a soft spot for Thunder Bluff's deliciously vile Melor Stonehoof before I ever approached the Hunter's Rise. It's this sort of thing that makes me certain Blizzard hasn't lost an ounce of their giddy Diablo nastiness.

We shall discuss Melor Stonehoof and Diablo in a future entry, but suffice it to say that in spite of this element I could only take so many doting centaurs and so much gooey wisp-air, and I needed badly to get the fuck out of that place.

I'd flirted with a PvP realm in the form of a dwarf, which meant spending time in Dun Morogh, perhaps Azeroth's loveliest setting. I had no friends on that realm, though, so I was alone. I thought perhaps, though, that I might secure passage for my poor night elf to Khaz Modan, and so I asked.

We - my ancient friends from Subspace and points west, now relocated to Azeroth - took the boat to Darkshore together, and from there to the Wetlands, and they escorted me through the Wetlands.

After perhaps a month or two of suffering this syrupy game in hopes of someday growing to like it, I fell completely in love with the setting as intended for people who are not secretly night elves in real life. Why did I start this game out as a night elf? I have no idea, and I eventually abandoned the character, but for now I was finally in a murky, frightening place full of softly menacing music and heartless crocodiles. When we turned the corner and I finally saw Khaz Modan from below, that was the moment.

We went up through those tunnels, through the mountains, in and out of the jutting rear overlooks of Ironforge, and I thought: someone finally got this right. Someone who reads finally made a fantasy game, and it's too bad no one who appreciates fantasy fiction this much is making movies these days.

(I'm really only taking a cheap shot at Return of the King and the The Two Towers.)

Having visited all of Azeroth, I believed they had covered everything - mined all of world geography, history, and fiction for every possible setting. An enormous crater populated with dinosaurs and pirates? We've got it. California wine country? No problem. Every road movie ever made unless you count Lolita - check.

I arrived in central Hellfire Peninsula with its impossible fish-eye vistas and my jaw dropped. What the hell, man? How do people come up with this stuff?

You can tell me that this is simply a matter of corporate whiteboard powerhouse design gone way over the top, but I don't believe you. The creative team for World of Warcraft is actually quite small. There are a lot of designers credited - the entire company, in fact - but when I boil it down I see seven game designers and, more interestingly, nine level designers.

Nine level designers for all of Azeroth and Outland combined, inside and out.

I am genuinely in awe of and envious of these people. And the more I think about it the more I'm convinced that to find a parallel for what has been and is being accomplished by these people you have to look beyond art and entertainment. I think you have to compare it to the significant developments in transportation, government, agriculture. Don't think of WoW as the new Star Wars; think of it as the new rail transport, the new atomic bomb. The arts simple haven't discussed attempting anything that falls under the same heading.

Or I could be wrong. I hope I am, because if there's something else like this going on right now I'd love to be exposed to it.

25 January, 2007

*yawn* huh? wha?

Yeah, I do that sometimes.

You missed two months of forgettable guild drama. I think I'm going to tell everyone about it here because it's been pretty ridiculous. Ridiculous online drama isn't very interesting, but the real life crap that was going on behind it is worth telling.

Later. For now let me get back on track.

Tip for the day: If you miss the zeppelin from Orgrimmar to the Undercity, get on the one to Grom'Gol instead. It'll arrive at the Durotar tower shortly after the one headed to the Undercity leaves. Shortly after it reaches Grom'Gol, the other zeppelin will arrive.

This is much faster than waiting another six minutes for the next UC blimp at Durotar. It also gives you the option of jumping off at the Bulwark. Careful, that's a longer fall than it looks - a little over 2800 damage for me last time I went, and I landed on a hilltop.

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