Archive for May, 2008

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The Comparison Curse

May 26, 2008

As the upcoming months start slamming into us like the seasonal typhoons they are, I can guarantee you one thing: we’re going to be hearing a LOT more rhetoric about how Warhammer Online looks (and presumably plays) just like World of Warcraft. Recently, Tobold went so far to say that WAR will be more or less a new coat of paint over the same-old, same-old gameplay, which might indeed help with subscription numbers (since players familiar to WoW would apparently be comfortable in a familiar setting) but will ultimately relegate WAR to the ugly title of a “WoW Clone”.

So let’s sound the trumpets and horns, and scream our battle-cry from the mountaintops right now. Are you with me? Let’s go:

“WARHAMMER ONLINE IS NOT A WOW CLONE!”

Let’s push aside, for a minute, the fact that Blizzard heavily “sampled” the Warhammer universe when they made Warcraft (because we don’t want to end the world), and instead investigate whether or not the WoW Clone claim is true.

The two biggest comparison points here are the stylized graphics and the core gameplay. Graphically, both titles prefer to avoid the uncanny valley by giving us colorful and stylized, although Warcraft definitely skews more cartoony, whereas Warhammer is striking a balance between realistic proportions and artistic license.  Gameplay, sure, the two titles share a lot: quests, auto attack-plus-special skills, experience, loot, etc, etc.  The fact that these are present do not point to any specific theft on Mythic’s behalf — after all, these have been the staple of MMOs for the past decade, long before WoW took them and polished them to an inch of their life.

I think what most people fear is that WAR will “feel” too similar to WoW and thus be subject to gaming fatigue incurred by that other title.  There’s the rub for Mythic: they want the game to feel familiar and as easy to pick up as other MMO titles, but at the same time they need to incorporate enough unique elements to make their baby stand out from the pack.  I don’t think Mythic even minds the numerous community comparisons between WAR and WoW, because they know it can only help to bring vastly more players into their game than push away.  Their hope is that when people do start playing WAR, they’ll quickly realize the game has a lot more than just a fresh coat of paint.

And I think they have good reason to be confident of that fact.  With the Tome of Knowledge, Realm vs. Realm conflict, Keeps warfare, the Vegas loot system, 24 classes, tactics/morale/mastery character specializations, Capital City captures, and — let us not forget — the eschewing of the /dance emote, WAR stands poised to break from the traditional MMO pack and forage down its own path.  Will it be 100% unique or completely different from WoW?  No — but in today’s MMO landscape, I don’t think any title can claim that unless they’re setting up a title that will present a huge difficulty barrier to the average gamer (such as EVE Online).

Let us remember: WoW was often referred to as an EverQuest clone, back in the day.  What WAR will be, will be.

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My First Ten Things I Will Do When I Have Warhammer Online In My Hot Little Hands

May 25, 2008

1. Hoot loudly. Perhaps some appropriate — and manly — chest thumping as well.

2. Get permission from my job, my wife and myself to temporarily disconnect from the world of responsibility (WoR) for a period of no less than 24 hours, just so I can get drunk on that first dose of WAR.

3. Install. Perhaps blog about the installation, knowing that as I do so, no WAR player in the world will care or spare the time to read about a blog post on installing the game. Will that stop me? Read number 4.

4. No, it won’t.

5. Instruct my miniature attack weenier dog to bite, with a vengeance, any soul who dares approach our door. Or barring that, stare at them with luminous deep brown eyes until the visitor is deeply into a “aww whadda cute PUPPY” trance.

6. Bolt my arms to the computer chair so they don’t fly up and hit things in a rage when something — and there’s always something — goes wrong with the installation or first run.

7. Snag all of the names I want to use on the server, including “LeeroyJerky” and “Bubbles”. Actually, all of the Powerpuff Girls, now that I think about it.

8. Have to pee. I get excited, I have to pee. It’s a thing me and my bladder have.

9. Hit “enter world”.

10. Fret that I’ll be out of blogging material from that point onward.

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Squig Express – Ask Away!

May 24, 2008

I always like trying new things, like the other day when I purchased a self-heating cup of chicken noodle soup. So let’s try something new with this blog and institute the Squig Express — the time of the show where you get to ask questions, I try to answer them, and the Squig eats the postage.

So ask away in our comments section! Remember: no question is too stupid, big, weird, obscure or slimy — just make sure it’s somehow related to this blog or WAR.  Next Saturday I’ll take the best questions and try my darndest to diagram and answer them.

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Age of Warhammer Craft?

May 23, 2008

This past Tuesday witnessed one of the most furious days in MMO history in quite a while. Age of Conan finally launched after a 4 1/2 year dev cycle, City of Heroes/Villains released their Book 12 update, and even Warhammer Online got into the mix with a fresh round of beta invites (rumored to be the biggest beta invite wave ever, and no, I was no included in those invites).

After what looked like a prelude to a disastrous launch, Funcom pulled off a major miracle patch, announced a stunning 700,000 units shipped (albeit not sold — yet), and was widely lauded for a smooth launch day. It further benefits from being the only AAA MMO title to be released with a comfy six-month buffer on either side, partially in thanks to WAR’s delay to fall 2008. It’s not hard to imagine crowds of bored, itchy gamers — many of whom might well be from WoW’s slow-as-molasses fold — jumping onto this game like the only life preserver in the middle of a desolate ocean of summer gaming. In any case, AoC has had an enviable launch that WAR fans might pray happens to our boy as well. It remains to be seen whether Conan will have legs past this summer, particularly when the Lich King-WAR duo hits the field, however.

Although it might be disheartening to WAR fans to see AoC (the “competition”) striding boldly ahead instead of falling flat on its face like many predicted, I think a different and much more positive point of view is called for here. AoC’s launch is the first real proof of the growing theory in MMO circles that not only is World of Warcraft vulnerable to serious competition, but also that the gaming audience in general is quite ripe for new blood to come reap this growing field. Not even LOTRO, which, in my opinion, had a much stronger IP than Conan, hit the starting gate with such a powerful surge. So what’s different between now and back in the yore days of 2007?

For one, World of Warcraft launched their Burning Crusade expansion only a couple months before LOTRO, whereas no expansion so far in 2008. For another, dev studios are finally getting it through their thick skulls that these titles need to be tested and polished within an inch of their life before release — thanks we owe in part to Vanguard. Finally, we appear to be on the cusp of a new step in MMO evolution, where studios are trying to push past standard MMO conventions to take risks and make the games more accessible to a wider market.

Translation? What has WAR players so concerned — AoC’s successful head start and the upcoming Lich King battle — might not be the dire issues we’ve made them out to be. If WAR is polished, is a genuinely fun title to play, and pushes out a smooth launch, there’s a huge demographic of unsatisfied gamers out there ready for plucking. And WoW’s once-terrifying stranglehold on the market is no longer relegating other titles to niche roles only, but is making room for other mega-MMOs to share the spotlight.

The MMO genre was previously predicted as hitting its peak — in terms of total subscribers — twice. The first prior to 2004, when analysts claimed that all new titles would be vying for subscription dollars from existing players in other MMOs, and the second following a year or two of WoW, when that title’s potential had not yet been reached, but there was still no proof that it was being the type of “gateway” MMO some wanted it to be. These are the same people who, again and again, claim that the fantasy MMO genre has been tapped out and gamers will refuse to jump on board of another sword-and-sorcery title.

Really, all bets are off. I’m now more excited than ever to see what happens come this fall.

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Da Newz – May 22

May 22, 2008

Beta Ticker: 700,255 (+7,549 from last week)

Quote of the Week: “We’re not nervous about its quality, we’re nervous about sending it out on the world. It’s like sending your kid to school for the first time.” ~ Josh Drescher

Story of the Week: Oceanic Servers. The Warhammer Herald put up an Oceanic Server News and FAQ for those of you in that region, and EA confirms that Australia, New Zealand and Oceanic copies will be shipped and go live the same time as everyone else (fall 2008). Wash that down with a swig of a GameSpot AU or IGN follow-up interview!

In other news:

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This Post Is Not Meant For You

May 21, 2008

WELCOME MOUSE! PLEASE, FEEL FREE TO JUMP OFF THE INTERNET WITHOUT A PARACHUTE CLOAK!

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Warhammer Online FAQ (Part 1)

May 21, 2008

Q: Where am I?

A: You are in the murky nether regions of the internet, where fact and speculation copulate in an unholy mixture that can both kill and inspire upon touch. Also known as a “Frequently Asked Questions” text file.

Q: So what’s the deal with this Warhammer game I keep hearing about? It’s about hammers? You build decks with other players?

A: No, that’s Tackhammer Online, developed by Home Depot. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (WAR) is a massively awesome multiplayer online role-playing virtual world universe (MAMORPVWU, for short). You hit things with hammers, they die, and instead of going to jail and being racked with guilt, you are rewarded handsomely for the experience.

Q: So it’s a serial killer training simulator, then?

A: After seeing videos of Paul Barnett, we’d have to say “yes”.

Q: So what’s with all the love of acronyms in the massively multiplayer community?

A: People are far, far too busy hitting things with hammers to be bothered with proper communication via the Queen’s English (or “QE”). Also, being hit with hammers jumbles up the knowledge centers of the mind a bit.

Q: But wouldn’t the proper acronym of Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning be “WO:AoR”?

A: Originally, it was. But on a fateful November evening, one of the devs accidentally let slip this acronym in normal communication, only to be mobbed by several thousand North American Lilly Frogs.

Q: Frogs?

A: The phonetic pronunciation of “WO:AoR” sounds quite similar to the Lilly Frogs’ mating call.

Q: Uhm.

A: *cof*

Q: So, going back to the game and away from any potentially disturbing mental images, what types of activities may one participate in during their WAR constitutionals?

A: “Constitutional” is a funny word.

Q: I know. Answer the question!

A: Warhammer Online invites players to engage in mortal combat (that’s with a “C” to avoid legal entanglements) with other players, to conquer far-away keeps and cities, and to snowboard down a mountain in order to find enough materia to stop Jenova from summoning Meteor.

Q: Dude, isn’t that Final Fantasy VII?

A: [looks at notes] Perhaps. And I’m pretty sure I messed even that up.

Q: What avatar may I slip over my lumpy real life body to assume in this virtual world?

A: WAR’s races include Orcs, Elves, Dwarfs, Humans, Congressmen, River Dancers, Mimes, Swedes, Frogmen, C.H.U.D., and Killer Tomatoes. Each race may assume one of four unique careers to that race, such as Chaos Bartender, Witch Hugger and Squid Herder.

Q: This game has squid? AWESOME! BEST GAME OF 2008 PEOPLE!

A: I know, right?

Q: If I choose to play a Witch Hugger, am I entitled to use as many quotes from the “Witch Weighing Scene” from Monty Python and the Holy Grail?

A: According to the Python Protection Act of 2005, no one may reference Monty Python on the internet, in a chat room, on a forum, or in a game without prosecution. Even if it is mentioned in a completely self-referential, ironic way.

Q: But… she turned me into a newt!

A: That’s quite enough of that, thank you very much.

Q: What’s this about a “Tome of Knowledge”? I don’t even know what a “tome” is!

A: Think of your biggest high school textbook.

Q: Hm… that’d have to be my World History book.

A: Right. That’s a tome. The Tome of Knowledge is just as big, only this one is full of useful information that you’ll actually need.

Q: Wouldn’t it be cool if this was, like, part one of a series of FAQs that we could stretch on until we land a lucrative endorsement?

A: Absolutely!

T: I agree!

A: What? Who are you?

T: …us other letters felt left out, so we’re filing an injunction to be included in this article.

F: Yeah!

L: Hi mom!

Q: Shut your cakehole, non-Q&A’ers! We’ll be right back after a word from our e-mail spam filter.

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