Monday, June 30, 2008

If it ain't broke....

Blizzard announced a third installation of the hugely popular Diablo series last weekend. I have been a huge fan of Diablo for a while now, spending many an hour playing Diablo 2. My expectations for Diablo 3 are nothing short of impossible.

Few details have been let out about Diablo 3 so far. One of these is that there will only be five classes released at the start. With two of the classes being revealed as the Barbarian and the Witch Doctor, I can guess for at least a type of character for the final three. One will be a pure magic user, one a ranged attacker of some sort, and one wild card. Why a wild card? Because Blizzard could throw any sort of crazy class in there.

With the Witch Doctor, it looks like Blizzard combined the assassin and Necromancer classes of Diablo 2 (and its expansion). This will allow for some fun game play as a sort of disease throwing, zombie wall summoning, locust swarming menace. The Barbarian looks like a more refined version of himself from Diablo 2. The gameplay demo of this character shows a wide variety of skills that will make him a very fun class to play.

There are a few features revealed so far that will be a huge change from Diablo 2. First the guys at Blizzard wanted to get away from mashing the potion button. In order to do this they have health drops, like one would find in a first person shooter game. Now when one kills a enemy, there is a chance it will drop one of these health orbs that one just runs off to get more health.

The second major new feature is the addition of a lot of destroyable terrain. While there was this to a point in Diablo 2, the upcoming game looks to have a lot of it. The demo video showed all sorts of items being destroyed, including whole walls.

I only write a lot when I am excited. Looking back on this post, I can instantly tell I am thrilled about this upcoming game. The question when it is coming out isn't even on my mind yet (perhaps for the reason it is going to be a while). I have full confidence that Blizzard will make Diablo 3 the gem of a game it deserves to be. Heck, I am just excited to find out what the other three classes are.

For now, I wait. Wait for the next great game to come out.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

I <3 Blizzard

The title says it all. I love Blizzard. It might be the fact that anything they touch turns into gold. Or it might be because of the manner in which they make announcements.

For the last couple days a picture that greets visitors to the Blizzard family of sites has been a topic of many fan sites. This picture started off as an almost solid like block of ice and has slowly been opening up. Speculations range from it being an announcement of Diablo 3 to it just being a cool promo for the new World of Warcraft Expansion, Wrath Of the Lich King. The suspense of this will end on Saturday when the supposed announcement is to take place.

I hope that at least it is some sort of new feature for Wrath of The Lich King. I do have to admit though that I am such a huge Blizzard fan that any table scrap they throw at me I will gladly gobble up.

Thus I wait... impatiently.

And here is the rest of it.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Here I am, there I go.

Well after a bit of a break, I have returned to put my thoughts in word form. I don't expect this to be anything more than an online rant about all things video game. I will try to almost always maybe perhaps sometimes post daily.

Tonight consists of an amazing feat of writing. I will review Age of Conan in exactly one word. This word is "Eh". While I do admit that I base this solo on playing the open beta for a few hours, that was all it took for me not to pick it up over my current game of choice, World of Warcraft. And here is the rest of it.

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Friday, February 1, 2008

Avatarus Part Two: The Grind

There's so much I want to discuss, largely due to the thread over on Penny Arcade that the original post regarding Avatarus spawned. My intent in the original post was to lay out an intriguing mechanic, and this bare bones effort left me subject to a few legitimate and whithering attacks. The comments that most resonated with me observation that I have conceived a game that had not just one grind, but DUAL grinds built the game. In order to counter this terrifying prospect, allow me to elaborate...

I'll start with the easier of the two to explain: the Avatar. I spoke briefly about two possible systems, the second system described the role of the Avatar as the God's earthly minion, who seeks to spread the gospel of his God. Let's talk about the framework where this occurs.

At the inception of the server's creation, the Mortal Realm will be blessed with a specific number of souls (NPCs). As the server's player population increases, the NPC population will also increase. The NPC population cap will serve the purpose of constantly creating a tension between the fledgling religions and the Avatars who seek to grow them. Avatars must therefore either find and convert an NPC upon his initial entry into the Mortal Realm or steal the follower from another religion.

So, how is this accomplished? Well, through a variety of ways, and certain means will be more successful with certain NPCs and within the boundaries of certain regions on the map. For instance, if you have a desire to create a religion devoted to a bloodthirsty savage God, you would send a VICIOUS ATTACK AVATAR to the Mortal Realm. More importantly, you would send your emmissary to a region that values these traits (such as a warrior nomad tribe) as your message is more likely to be well received and result in converts.

As a Warrior Religion, you may convince this nomad tribe to follow you in a variety of ways. Your Avatar could defeat notable creatures in the surrounding area. He could duel the lead warrior in a display of dominance. He could kill an opposing tribe's chieftan. Each of these actions would leave an impression on the region and its inhabitants. Actions contrary to these behaviors (losing battles, duels, showing benevolence) would likewise decrease your ability to win converts and may even lose you converts. Of course, should you ever achieve a dominant position in the tribe's hearts, you would always need to be wary of competing Avatars attempting to steal them away.

Let's say Warrior Avatar isn't you thing. You want to become the God of Knowledge and seek followers that appreciate you for this trait. You elect to send down your Avatar to MegaCity, a center of knowledge and learning. You seek to convince followers to come to your cause by writing prose/books, delivering speeches, engaging in local politics, and using diplomacy to avoid conflicts. As your Avatar becomes known as a beacon of insight, the religion grows, and the God prospers from the influx of devotion.

Evading a God grind is somewhat more difficult for me. I believe there are a few mechanisms that may be implemented to evade the grind, but one idea (pirated from a fellow poster on Penny-Arcade) I found intriguing is to have the Immortal Realm function as a PvP realm (this is certainly not the only solution.) Now, the initial difficulty I had with this is: how do we determine the battles? I mean, if a God doesn't just grind levels up, then how does he get stronger? And how do I limit PvP interactions to Gods of relatively strength and power?

Well, the answer comes from the feedback loop I mentioned in my original post on the matter. The Avatar's power and the God's power would be tied together. Success for one would result in success for the other. The key lies in the followers and the strength of the Religion. A successful Avatar would result in a strong religion, which would then result in more power being accorded to the God. The Immortal PvP Realm would therefore contain battlefields devoted to the various different strengths of religions. As the strength of the religion increases, the powers the God may bring to bear increase.

So, a new player may have a Religion of only one follower. Until his Avatar gets cracking, his God will be confined to the lowest PvP realm. The battles would entail relatively uninspired sparring between these lesser Godlings. Small sparks of lightning and brittle heavenly swords would clash.

A more dedicated player would have a massive following. He would enter the highest echelons of the Immortal Realm and the battles would involve breathtaking feats of strength and magic. Gods would summon legions to do battle on their behalf. Earthquakes would rattle the countryside. Destruction, mayhem and so forth.

Well...that's just one take on how the Immortal Realm might work. There is one critical element I am leaving out, which would be the Pantheons. This game mechanism would add an additional layer of complexity to the battles in addition to making the game much more compelling for players that don't have as much time to dedicate to the game. But that's for tomorrow.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Game Idea: Avatarus

The time for idle gameplay is behind us, it's time to move on to idol gameplay. Avatarus (a Fizzle Co. vision) would create a bifurcated gaming experience where players develop two characters simultaneously: a God and an Avatar. Rule the Immortal Realm above and then rule the miserable Mortal Realm below. This game need not be an MMO, but given my addiction to MMO ideas, I'm going to present it as one. Let's get into the possibilities I find particularly intriguing...

Two Characters, Same Rules

The God
The character creation screen pops up. What type of GOD do you want to be?

A warrior god? Very well sir, rippling muscles and horns are at your disposal. Rampage through the battlefields of the heavenly abodes at will. Oh, a great intellect are we? A Divinity of Divination you shall be. Hurl spells from hands and scathing repartees from yammering maw.

In essence, your God is the equivalent of your character in a standard MMO. The only meaningful difference would be the world around you, which would instead focus on heavenly/hellish themes. You would progress through the game and you would level up your character as one normally does (quests/grinds/etc.)

The Avatar
This is where the story gets interesting. The God would, at some reasonably early point in his development, gain the ability to create an Avatar (I will avoid talking about the ins and outs of this, but suffice to say, the ways and means of this process create intriguing possibilities in and of themselves, which I will likely discuss tomorrow). This Avatar would populate an entirely separate realm, namely the mortal coil. Since your God cannot interact with this realm, he will rely on his Avatar to conduct his earthly business. In the Same Rules framework, this would merely add an additional layer to the Immortal Realm content, and the Avatar would develop and operate very similarly to the God.

This framework would be decidedly easier to implement than the following idea.

Two Characters, Different Rules
Here the roles of the two characters will operate under different objectives. The God would continue an objective similar to that described above: leveling up to become more powerful/prominent in heaven. The Avatar would be created for the purpose of attracting followers to the God who created him. These two roles may interact in a variety of ways, but I like the interplay engendered by a feedback loop. Let's work through it with an example.

After reaching level 10, Goodward Godly gains the power to create an avatar. He elects to spawn this avatar. The Avatar enters the mortal coil and begins to recruit followers. This may occur any number of ways, such as heroic feats (battles), bribery (paying off recruits/donating money to causes), interaction (going around convincing people to follow you through dialogue) and so forth. As the Avatar grows successful in these endeavors, the God gains certain bonuses, such as items, experience multipliers, or unlocking new areas/quests.

Upon receiving these benefits, the God is thereby more effective at gaining experience, which he may employ to enhance his own skills or use to supplement the Avatar's repetoire. The Avatar himself doesn't gain levels so much as it gains new bodies and attributes that will assist him in his recruitment in the Mortal Realm.

Tomorrow I will likely take the time to discuss Avatars, mechanisms for their creation and their interaction with the Mortal Realm. I should note that I hacked out huge swaths of information in the interests of keeping this puppy manageable.

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Saw as a video game?

It has been announced that the movie series Saw is being made into a video game. Alright, when I first read about this, I will admit I was a little confused. The main points of that series are the varied death machines/torture devices. How does one make a video game out of that?

I thought of a couple possibilities. One is that you are the person trapped in a so called "game" and you have to escape by mashing some buttons etc. The second one is that you are the person who has to capture the people and put them into the machines which can be edited. They could release a torture machine editor and you could share them online and everything!

While no details are out yet, I am trying to imagine how this game could avoid an Adult Only (AO) rating which is pretty much a death sentence (pun intended) for a video game. This is due to the fact that some major retailers (Walmart as an example) will not even carry a video game with that rating. I am trying to reserve judgment till I get some more details, but I can't help but scratch my head in confusion at this attempt of movie to video game jump.

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In Search of the Super Quest

Those prone to following my meandering posts are aware of a recent post on the difference between Wandering MMOs and Goal Oriented MMOs. In that post, I noted the linear nature of goal driven MMOs, and how the lack of diversity along the routes to the endgame can create painfully boring grinds for gamers that demand atypical gaming experiences. As I considered this matter, I realized that my major issue really boiled down to a simple concern: choice.

Solution to the linear goal driven MMO? The Super Quest.

Linear MMOs prevent players from fabricating their own in-game realities as they are shunted down preordained paths. Players who object to these paths opt to not partake in the grind and ultimately leave the games for greener pastures (or no pastures at all). In order to capture these players, as well as potentially enhance the gaming environment for non-objecting participants, these linear games must expand horizontally (add a greater depth of content for each level rather than merely add levels to the end). Since it is unlikely that games will return to the free-wheeling ways of games like Ultima Online (and to a certain extent Star Wars Galaxies), games need to achieve two goals: (1) a greater emotional attachment to the linear story line, and (2) add meaningful variables to the experience.

The "MMORPG" acronym is misleading. Most MMORPGs get their "RPG" by being based in a fantasy setting and revolving around a single character, they rarely carry the complex story lines that players commonly expect when they purchase an RPG. A Super Quest would eliminate this deficiency by effectively instilling a RPG subplot into the broader MMO game.

A Super Quest would involve a hyper-stylized and choreographed excursion that players would participate in over the lifetime of their characters. At each level, the next step in this quest would then become available. The quest objectives would typically be story driven and non-superifical (no collecting of pelts etc.) Decisions in this quest would have meaningful results in your interaction with non-quest elements in the MMO by rewarding you with prizes or even separate class specializations. The quest would involve periodic forks so there would be an enhanced replayability. The game would still be linear, but it would be much less so, and it would be exceedingly easy to add content to any point in the quests without requiring a major rehaul of the system.

Here's a quick example (Assume quest parts for each level following the same general pattern):

Level 1: Select Super Quest Arc (perhaps 2-3 options). Complete 1st task.
Level 2: Complete 2nd task.
Level 5: First Fork (Split in quest)
Level 10: Second Fork, Major Reward
Level 15: Fork
Level 20: Class Determinant (Allows you to modify your class in some meaningful way. Options will depend on selections in prior forks).
Level 60: Question completetion, major reward, induction into a certain faction or clan etc.

Now the linear MMO is an actual MMORPG. A Super Quest need not be as engaging as a full blown RPG, but it would add a necessary element that currently lacks in the grind dominate MMOs out there today.

Penny Arcade Post

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ten Books that Should be Video Games

Well, this post is prompted by the rather exciting news that one of my favorite books, Ender's Game, is being made into a video game. The movie will also be forthcoming, but I think we can all agree that games > movies. Ender's Game would almost certainly be on this list were it already not forthcoming. The list is after the jump...

The List

10. The Belgariad Series (David Eddings): I read this five novel series some time ago. It took me a little while to get into the swing of things as it's a slightly older novel, but the story arc is certainly compelling enough to create a solid game. I can see this making an interesting RPG, though it may not lend itself to the type of diversity of experience one might wish for.

9. The Princess Bride (William Goldman): I think everyone has seen this movie, and the book is even better. This game would make an excellent RPG if the right writers were placed on the job. I picture the graphics as something akin to Valve's Team Fortress II. Truly funny video games are a real rarity, and I'd be intrigued by an attempted Princess Bride game.

8. Lord of the Flies (William Golding): I'm not sure if the world is ready for a game that follows the exact plot of this novel, but it is an incredible story, and the possibilities here are compelling. If the fine folks over at 2k Games were to turn the same talent they showcased in Bioshock, I think a game based upon Lord of the Flies could be amazing.

7. Time Machine (H.G. Wells): I'm surprised more classics aren't made into video games, particularly since the licensing rights on some of the older ones would be cheaply acquired if they haven't already passed into the public domain. Time Machine is a game that could really give the right game studio a chance to show the depth of its abilities. The game would morph from time period to time period, and I believe this is one of the few books where the mere plot mechanism, a time machine, would be sufficient to build an entire game around without remaining true to the exact rigors of the plot.

6. Dune (Frank Herbert): It's been a long time since we've seen the last Dune game, and I think the gaming technology has finally progressed to the point where we could do this amazing series justice. I picture riding around on Sandworms and conquering strange worlds in pursuit of a spice monopoly. This series could make an excellent RPG (I think the makers of Mass Effect, Bioware, would be an excellent choice) or a real time strategy. Either way, it's time for a good Dune game.

5. A Song of Fire and Ice Series (George R. R. Martin): Possibly the best fantasy series out there. It's gritty, it's edgy, and it's completely mindblowing. The series has so many twists and turns that any game that managed to live up to the subject matter would be an instant classic. The amount of death this series entails might make it hard to make a linear RPG, but I'd settle for a game akin to something like Civilization or Masters of Orion. The chaotic nature of the books is born from a very complex system of politics and geographic pressures that I feel would translate well into diplomacy/nation building frameworks employed by the games mentioned above.

4. Dragonlance Chronicles Series (Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman): This was the series that got me hooked on fantasy. I'm surprised I haven't seen a recent game attempt at this subject matter. I believe the last one was on the frickin' Commodore 64. This game would make an incredible MMORPG if done right. The subject matter is rich, diverse, and deep. While the Chronicles Series was only three books, there are over 50 Dragonlance books to draw material from. This game really needs to happen.

3. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley): Another classic book that really needs a new game. I really want 2k Games to take on this one. I still haven't decide whether this would make a better RPG (from the eyes of the monster or Dr.) or FPS (from the eyes of a person hunting the monster down.) Either way, the potential for a creepy thriller is definitely there.

2. Sword of Truth Series (Terry Goodkind): Terry Goodkind has just finished his epic fantasy series. Some of the books were incredible, others I found passable at best, but this man can create characters like no one's business. I don't think I've ever managed to empathize with characters' plights quite like I have done with Terry's. I would love to see a dramatic RPG tackle this subject matter. The idea of weilding the Sword of Truth for myself is too great to pass up.

1. Inferno (Dante Alighieri): One of the ultimate classics. A descent in the circles of hell. How is this not a game already? I have no idea what the objective would be, but I don't really care. I'm not sure who the best company is for the job, but I will tell you this: the game could be amazing. It might be my own particular interest in the subject matter, but the mental images I get make me believe this would be a tremendous FPS. All of the souls on the 3rd circle of hell are belong to me =fires rocket launcher=.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Upcoming Genre Bending Game

As some of you are aware, I'm intrigued by combining game genres to produce interesting new combinations of games. In a prior post, I postulated the intriguing combination of a real time strategy game combined with a role playing game. I've been tinkering with this idea for some time, and it appears that the programmers over at Gas Powered Games had a similar vision. The new genre bender? Demigod. More after the jump...

Now, details are sketchy, but it appears that Demigod seeks to combine two separate styles of play, one that will play similar to an RPG (the Assassin) and one that will play similar to a RTS (the General). Count me among those that are incredible excited about this development. This really is the future of games, constantly redefining the once static genres and pushing forward with new ideas that change our conceptions.

I am very interested to see how they balance the various issue that will arise from this combination. Will they elect to have two separate games as I suggested? Thereby allowing for a full experience of both RPG and RTS that just happen to intersect? Or will they integrate the two, shortchanging one genre for the other. Unless they have truly separated the two genres (only to be combined in the manner I suggested) I don't see any way of avoiding the conflict between the two playstyles unless they have decided to make one genre dominant over the other. Since longterm RTS battles are unlikely to occur under an RPG paradigm, my suspicion is the game revolves around an RTS framework with an RPG mini-game within. While this isn't my favorite option, it's an excllent first step in the right direction by Gas Powered Games. Kudos to them.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Highlander MMO (Part II)

I was mulling over the Highlander MMO a bit, and thought of a way to improve the system I had set up. I believe the key to keeping a layered server system like this interesting is to allow players to reap the rewards of their victories in the competition after it's completetion while allowing defeated players another crack at the big time.

The prior suggestions I have put forth for victors would remain in effect, but after the completion of all of the competitions on all of the layered servers, they are then re-combined and the process is started anew, though the victors from the layered servers would retain their rewards (becoming uber-players in the recombined server, who I expect will be targetted en masse). The process then would begin again with the servers being re-layered as players die and so forth.

I'm not sure what the exact timing for a competition would be on any server, but I think the ideal move would be to have various options for players to determine. Longer competitions would provoke more strategy/alliances as well as more sporadic dueling as people shore up their resources before doing battle. I suppose longer competitions would provide greater rewards. Shorter competitions would have fewer rewards but would be a much more intense pvp experience.

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TF2 Gets Better

I never really did get into Team Fortress 1, but when the second one came out, I decided to give it a try. The game itself is great. The different classes and the simple objective gameplay is everything I could want in an online FPS. Yet after playing the game for a while, there was something missing.

What was missing was unlockable achievements. Not just any type of them, but more weapons. This will add some much needed playability to the game. I could only WTF PWN someone so many times with different classes before it got old.

According to Valve, the first class to get the new weapons will be the medic. I can't wait to see what the other classes will get.

When these updates start coming out, I will definitely have to dust off my game and start running circles around people with the Scout again.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008


Now listen: there are movies, and then there a cinematic masterpieces. The latter category is a rarefied breed composed of such notables as Star Wars (Episodes 4-6), Indiana Jones, and, of course, HIGHLANDER. Now, I'm going to restrain myself here and not go on a 3-4 page tangent on exactly how much I'd give to be one of the sword weilding immortals. Thankfully, these misty dreams may no longer be hapless geek fantasy due to the vision and unadulterated charity of Eidos Interactive, who has recently announced a game featuring the Highlander Franchise. Check out the game trailer (courtesy of

Sadly, the game isn't a MMO (in fact the Highlander MMO was cancelled some time ago), but I couldn't help but wonder how it might work...

For those of you unfamiliar with Highlander Lore (shame on you), I'll provide a very brief and potentially innacurate recounting of one particular aspect to the story: the competition. For various reasons, Immortals are required to engage in combat with swords. Victory in these duels is achieved through hacking off your opponent's head (indeed this is the only way to kill an immortal). You then gain your fallen foe's powers and move on to the next duel. The catchphrase of the movie states the ultimate goal of all of these duels: "There can be only one."

So, how do we make a game where players are required to decapitate others and they can't come back lest the competition be neverending? Layered servers.

This MMO would not be for the timid. You would be granted infinite lives, but only one life per server. You may be incapacitated without reprecussion on each server (ex: getting rocked by mobs) but you can only die through decapitation once before you are kicked to the next realm. Upon death, you retain your stats and experience, but you are now in a new "losers bracket" competition. If you die again, you move to the next "losers braket." There will likely be 5-10 brackets before you stay in the realm regardless of deaths.

Each series of brackets will have a player cap of perhaps 5000-10000 players. After this cap is reached, no additional players can enter the bracket. Players who fail to play for over a month will have their avatars moved to a lower bracket (in order to ensure the competition may continue). Eventually the population will thin among the highest brackets to the point where competitions will be difficult to come by, and some sort of organized tournament will be required...until there is only one. Winners of a bracket will achieve various permanent prizes (access to winners brackets, special weapons or other perks).

Now, there is an incredible amount of fine tuning that would need to be done. And I think there is a real possibility of having smaller and more agile servers (competitions of 10-50 where you start with preleveled characters) in addition to the behemoth competitions (where you would level like a normal MMO with the competition as a subplot). How this all blends together leads to some very intriguing possibilities for heirarchical servers and massive worldwide competitions...

And just think of the sweet swords.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Public Image Battles for the Vid Biz

Electronic Arts takes off the gloves in the defense of its massively popular rpg, Mass Effect, after an assassination piece on Fox News. EA's response takes a serious bite out of the "fair and balanced" news juggernaut. Some speculation on why video games are targetted so often after the jump...

I suspect video games are the target of hit pieces in the mainstream media for one reason: its easy. News audiences trend older and are generally less familiar with the younger generation's love affair with this form of entertainment. Sensationalist news pieces prey upon this general lack of knowledge, and the mistrust it breeds, for easy puff pieces targetting potential hot spots for debate.

The video game industry, despite its rapidly growing size and economic clout, is relatively unsophisticated when it comes to managing its image among the broader public. Perhaps this comes from a combination of being relatively young industry with generally anti-authority in its roots. Innovation and rebellion often go hand in hand, so it is no surprise that an industry that thrives on constant internal revolution would be generally unwilling to play mainstream games.

Unfortunately, this hesitation does a real disservice to gaming when it prompts intervention from the government or other oversight bodies. The government, often reacting to some new perceived "outrage," over-reacts and hastily enacts draconian legislation that undermines the evolution of the gaming industry. These issues will only become greater as the industry gains additional economic prominence in the years to come. Large targets are shot at more often.

I will say this about EA's response: it was a perfect counterpunch. Rather than gripe and whine about the unfair aspects of the coverage, it draws an interesting analogy that targets Fox's own programming. EA notes the fact that Fox's own primetime shows often portray scenes equally as racy as those portrayed in Mass Effect's sexually charged cutscene. It goes on to note that these Fox programs are significantly more accessible than a game that requires idenitification and $60.00 to acquire.

Of course, this is but one battle of many to come, but kudos to EA for handling it with the professionalism the industry at large needs to show.

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Wandering v. Goal Driven MMORPGs

I have returned to my first MMORPG love, Ultima Online. Some rather generous benefactors have been kind enough to host a free server, called UODivinity, based upon the Old Skool rules I know and adore. Well, my somewhat diminished return UO started the inevitable soul searching about where games were, where they are, and where they're heading.

As I gallavanted aimlessly throughout the hinterlands surrounding Minoc, the major difference between UO and all of the other MMOs I've played (WoW, DAOC, etc.) became very clear: purpose.

Wandering MMOs
Old Skool Ultima Online, which is still my favorite MMORPG, is utterly bereft of game instilled purpose. The game is what it is, and it is entirely up to you to define your existence and how you will interact with the rules and frameworks erected before you. Players opt to pursue nontradtional pursuits such tailors, blacksmiths, rangers, or sheepherders. Of course more traditional avenues are also available, such as swordsmen or mages. Each of these roles are entirely up to the player to select, and he may elect to change them at any time by developing some skills allowing others to decay.

The point behind this overview is to note the breadth and depth in universe in UO. There are more opportunities and more options in UO than in any other game, and players are left to their own devices to determine how to make these options work for them. In essence, players create their own goals and their own content, and wander around the game world seeking to fulfill these personal objectives. UO must be that broad and deep because players are not directed into any path. Since the game requires players to be creative in their experience, it must give players the tools to make the game interesting. Thus UO content is varied and at times seemingly random in its existence (candles, houses, barrel slates, and so forth).

These MMORPGs center on game identified goals, generally represented by quests. The game crafts an often superficial storyline to pieces these quests haphazardly together, and the adventurers mow their way through them in an effort to gain unique prizes or quick experience. Since the purpose of the game is to achieve these preset goals, the content, rules, and framework of the game are developed around enhancing the player's ability to achieve this objective.

Let's take World of Warcraft, which is far and away best orchestrated game employing this model. WoW employs a intricate web of quests that rewards the player with quick experience and, most importantly, the chance to obtain powerful weapons beyond those acquired in the game proper. Players who fail to acquire these weapons are uniformly at a disadvantage, which creates an incredible incentive to participate in these events.

This focus is reinforced by the secondary skills players may undertake, such alchemy, mining, or enchanting. All of these skills produce benefits that directly benefit the acquisition of game identified goals. For instance, alchemy produces health potions, which are critical to some dungeon crawls. Mining produces ore which is then employed in blacksmithy which ultimately turns into weapons. I am hard pressed to think of any purely frivolous skills/items in WoW outside of the occasional event related cookies.

As a result of the goal-centricity in the game, players are forced down a single track, that they play over and over again, albeit through different professions. The game is only interesting as long as there a constant influx of additional goal related content, but it is always a linear path. Take the expansions, which add adventure onto the end of a player's life, rather than enriching the player's journey along the way.

Combining Them

Now, I've allowed my biases to creep into my presentation, which is unfair to the goal driven MMORPGs. Frankly, WoW is an amazing game. The world is beautiful, the underlying story intriguing, and the writing excellent. But despite all of these advantages, I could never play the game for more than 3 weeks without quitting for a few months. The confined system left me feeling like I was working a second job that I lost money on. WoW doesn't appeal to my particular brand of playing, but it absolutely appeals to a broader public that craves constant reward and identifiable objectives.

UO was an incredible game, but it ultimately went the way of the dinosaurs because, for all of its creativity, it never managed to take it to the next level. Games with better graphics and fresh outlooks on the genre quickly grabbed the lion's share of the subscriber base, causing UO to wither.

But something is missing from these new games, just as something was missing from UO. Balance. There must be greater breadth in gameplay in WoW, but there must also be purpose and aesthetic beauty in UO. Where's the balance? I'm not quite sure, but I'm sure there will be a post on it sooner or later.

Penny Arcade Post

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Conan the Delayed

Oh Conan, I had such high hopes of you coming out on time. To storm throughout the lands on my mighty steed...

Delays in MMORPG's are understandable. I would rather have the launch day be successful than having the login server or even worse, the account creation server down all day. Nothing is more fun than a piece of shiny plastic that you can't use at all.

I still have faith in Age of Conan. Waiting for two more months won't change that. Now if it gets pushed back another two years, that is another story.

I am now going to add 1-2 months to the release date of all my games and hope for the best.

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Friday, January 18, 2008

Leet Halo Playerz v. Xbox Live

Yes...bask in the might and the glory that is my first attempt at drafting a cartoon. See the uneven lines! The awkward text! The masterful stick men! Know it and fear it readers...for this is the future.

For upcoming comics I promise to incorporate digital text, since my freehand is horribly embarrassing once it's blown up to 400%. I promise to continue using stickfigures though, since they're the only thing I can draw besides mountains.

The Story

Microsoft is facing a new class action lawsuit stemming from downtimes over the Holidays. The Complaint is headed up by three gamers that took particular objection to the downtime. Our friends over at Joystiq ran the numbers on how much a day of down time is worth in comparison to the cost of a year's worth of gold service: 13.7 cents. I won't go so far as to say the lawsuit is worth pennies, but I will say the folks have a long road ahead of them, because behemoth XBox Live User Agreement lays the law down pretty hard.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

WAR, what is it good for? More than you know.

Unless you have been living under a two ton rock, you know that the creators of Dark Age of Camelot (Still one of the only major MMORPG's that had 3 different warring factions) are coming out with another MMORPG this year. This one based in the well known universe of Warhammer. If you don't know about Warhammer, go look at your local hobby store. It is mostly known for its pen and paper table top games. Yes I did dabble in this a bit before I realized it was a lot of work that a computer could do for me.

So what makes this upcoming MMORPG so important? Insiders say WAR is the next "WOW killer," the one that might actually get the job done. So what kind of weaponry is this beast packing?

Let me throw out a number. 557,116. This is the number of applicants so far for the closed beta of Warhammer. This number alone probably makes the marketing team cackle gleefully.

Now the classes of WAR are nothing special. With six different "armies", Dwarfs, the Empire (humans), and high elves rounding out the order side while Greenskins (Orcs/goblins), the Chaos (really evil humans ), and the dark elves on the side of destruction. So nothing really special there, elves, dwarfs, orcs, and humans. But wait! Greenskins aren't just orcs, they have goblins.

Now as someone who enjoyed being a gnome in WOW just because I know nothing is more humiliating than being killed by someone 2 feet tall. My gnome warrior in WOW would tank things probably 10 times bigger than he was. Nobody respected them, and I tried to fix that. This is something I foresee happening in WAR. Goblins have never had the spotlight in almost all fantasy lore. Known as a lesser race, they are mostly used as labor by Orcs and other evil races. My first character for this game will be a goblin, this much is certain.

Will this game be the next WOW killer? No clue, I haven't played it yet. No matter how good races, classes, or anything look on paper, until I sit down and play it for a couple hours, the jury is out.

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BRANDED: In Game Advertising (Part II)

The idea of developing in-game brands has always intrigued me. That Nike could develop an in game product that would a recognized as a broader extension of their corporate identity raises interesting possibilities for cross promotion. I believe the key to developing a successful corporate brand is also the very thing that will allow this form of advertising to flourish: gamer incentives.

Let's explore.

Picking up from the prior post on this subject, let's say our hero has acquired a King's Sword of Nike. Nike, seeking to obtain greater exposure to this particular demographic, has paid an undetermined amount for the right to this modifier. Perhaps it has even orchestrated a multi-game deal, which will entail the inclusion of the weaponry in all subsequent expansions. Further, Nike, being a large corporation, had the means to purchase an entire Nike oriented set, composed of five pieces. Nike enjoys some recognition as a result of this investment. Now, we could end the relationship there, and I suspect that the dividends for all involved would be minimal and the system wouldn't develop into a meaningful advertising enterprise. We need to create feedback loops.

Player Ragnus acquires a King's Sword of Nike. As this is a somewhat powerful weapon he is excited about new avenues now open to him in game. Ragnus also realizes that this is a corporate product though, and recognizes the out-game benefits it provides. You see, a fresh King's Sword of Nike provides him with a 1% discount at the Nike Store. By using this weapon to perform certain specified feats he may raise this discount to 3%. At any time he may triple click his sword and instantly pull up a Nike Store menu reflecting his discounts.

But it gets better, because Ragnus just dominated the Nubmaster of the Forest of Noobdungeon has has acquired the Magnificent Cape of Nike. He now gets a set bonus from acquiring two pieces of the Nike equipment set and an additional discount at the Nike store, which also may increased through certain actions. Should Ragnus acquire a full set, he receives significant in-game bonuses as well as substantial discounts at the Nike Store. Nike may also offer additional perks, such as free gear or sweepstakes opportunities if it so chooses.

By adding this additional layer of incentives, corporations will receive increased renown and traffic flow as a result of their branding efforts. Players will receive additional perks for doing what they were already doing: grinding. Game companies will be well compensated for the effort required to develop a seamless in-game/out-game interface. It's just a beautiful synergy of capitalism.

If none of this works, at the very least it would be cool if I could get a pair of elven boots with a Nike swoosh on it. I'm a simple man.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Game Delays

This post stems from the recent announcement that Super Smash Bros Brawl has been pushed back till March. By my count, that is the 4th time the game has been delayed. Now I understand that a quality game takes time, but constant push backs kind of make you wonder what the hell the development team is thinking by spewing these dates out.

One of my favorite responses by development teams on when a game will be done is, "When it is ready". Firm dates give people something to look forward to. I know I had already renamed February to "month that Super Smash Bros Brawl comes out". This is an honor that March hopefully will now have.

The industry has come to a point that when a game is released on the day first stated, I am surprised. It all comes down to this. I would rather wait 5 years for an awesome game than get a crappy game in a year.

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