Archive for May, 2008

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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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Imperial Inquisition – Mithan of VN Warhammer Forums

May 20, 2008

Another week, another cruel visit to the supposed innocent. Today, the Imperial Inquisition knocked at the door of Mithan, the sinful soul who wrangles the madness at the VN Warhammer Forums as lead admin.

WAAAGH!: Tell us a bit about yourself — your handle/screen name/real name, age, real life occupation, your previous MMO experience, and your play style.

MITHAN: My “online name” is Mithan and I have gone by that name for almost a decade online. I’ve been playing online games since as far back as 1995, when I got involved in playing Quake online. Being an Ultima fan, I hopped on the Ultima Online bandwagon when that was originally announced and I started posting on the original “UO Vault” at that time too (back in 1996 or so). I was involved in the UO Beta and then played it when it was released for a while, when I switched over to Quake 2 online in 98. Since then, I have played almost every MMO that has been released, from Everquest to DAoC to Asheron’s Call 1 and 2 to Planetside to World of Warcraft to Star Wars Galaxies to Anarchy Online to whatever else. Obviously, many of those games I played for a few months and dumped, but some of them, mainly Asheron’s Call 1, 2 and World of Warcraft, I have played for years on end and been involved in the Communities.

During most of that time, I have been involved in various websites or other projects. Back in 1999, I got a group of people together and we developed the Prisoner’s of War Mod for Quake 3. I was the Project Manager in charge of making sure everybody did what they had to do, plus I designed some levels. When we released it, we released with about 18 Maps and it was ranked in the top 10 Quake 3 Mods for about 9 months. After that was finished in 1999, I pretty much played Asheron’s Call 1 for a few years straight, during which (July of 2001) I took up a Moderating Position on the Thistledown Server Board.

In 2003, I started up http://www.AC2HQ.com as my own website because IGN was too slow to get one done on the Vault, and it quickly became the #1 AC2 fan site on the net. It was a hell of a project covering pretty much everything there was to cover in AC2, however I got bored of the website and I sold the website to IGN, after which (June of 2003), I was offered a Manager Position on the boards (basically a promotion from my existing Moderator position) and I became the Lead Board Administrator a couple months later, where I have remained since.

The first few years of the Admin Position on the VN Boards were hectic and required a lot of on the job learning, generally sucking up on average 40 hours a week, if not more and it was really stressful for a while (getting screamed at by 50 people daily always sucks). However along with some good people, I managed to revamp some processes that were broken and today we run a lot more efficiently and consistantly. Having been able to delegate a lot of my old responsabilities to people I trust and know can do the job, has also meant I can relax.

I’ve also had a few successful Guilds, such as my current WoW Guild called Keepers of the Vault, which had 250 people at its peak and is now at about 150 people. I recently resigned as Guild Master, but am still active in the Guild and will take it to Warhammer Online as a chapter of the guild when the game is released.

I’ve been involved in a few other websites as well, such as http://www.ve3d.com and I had a few of my own news sites in the past. That about sums it up without getting into too many details or covering too many other boring things, incase your already snoring.

WAAAGH!: What type of social play do you gravitate towards: soloing, participating in small guilds/small groups, or participating in large guilds/large raids?

MITHAN: I am very mixed in the types of gameplay I enjoy. Generally speaking, I love soloing because of the freedom it provides. If a game allows me to solo effectively, it means I can do whatever I want, when I want to do it, without being hampered by a group, or as I like to say it, stuck on a hillside waiting for little Johnny the Cleric to go pee. Nothing pisses me off more than people who waste my time, and since gaming is my main form of entertainment these days, I want to maximize my time, not waste it looking for groups or being part of a bad group. Likewise, the same is true in reverse because I like to alt-tab or go AFK many times in a 3 or 4 hour play session and I hate wasting my groups time.

However, groups do have a place for me as well. In World of Warcraft for example, I would do a nightly 5 Man Instance with guild friends of mine, and it was a lot of fun, primarily because I have played with these guys for years. We jump on Ventrillo, pick a 5 man to do and then go hard for an hour or two until we finish the instance and its fun.

I also enjoy doing PVP Raids, because they are generally less structured than PVE Raids. A PVP Raid usually means you can zerg some objective and have a blast doing it with your friends, but a PVE Raid usually requires a bunch of planning, perfect timing, very good play and everybody doing what they are supposed to do, and then you do it over and over and over and over and over again. I find that part boring, even if it is “fun” to be in a group of people. Of course, that is in respect to WoW, I am really hoping that Warhammer Online’s PVP Raiding is a lot more fun and more of a somewhat structured zerg or mob than some well oiled army.

Lastly, I LOVE huge guilds. As I said above, I usually go out soloing for whatever, but while I am out soloing, I love the fact that I am usually chatting with somebody in the guild. Sometimes we will get a party of 5 of us (while each person is out soloing) just to chat privately.

WAAAGH!: What motivated you to get involved with the WAR community and how did you go about doing it?

MITHAN: Being the Lead Admin for the Vault Network Boards, I have to get involved by default, since it is my job to make sure the boards get set up properly, we have the proper rules in place and to make sure it is properly staffed and moderated. Now some of that stuff I delegate, but I still need to over see it and make sure it gets done to my expectations and meets up with IGN’s overall goals. Right now, we are trying hard to make our Warhammer Online boards friendly to new and old alike, while still trying to keep the relatively free speaking atmosphere that the Vault Forums are known for, and that can be one hell of a challenge. I am hoping we can have a fairly vibrant Server Board system for the game, as we did for DAoC and Asheron’s Call, but we want to keep our main boards a little on the friendlier side than they may of been for Warhammer. Anyways, thats part of my job and part of my “inolvement” in the Warhammer Community.


Of course, the boards were only part of the reason. While I have never played the table top game, I have played most of the PC Games that are set in the Warhammer universe (and 40k universe) so that had me interested.

Lastly, learning more and more about the game, seeing the screenshots, reading the previews and yes, being in beta, etc, etc has increased my interest in the game, and since my interest is fairly high, it makes me want to do a little more. For instance, I am now going to do a Warhammer Online Chapter for my Keeper’s Of The Vault WoW Guild, as there are about 20-30 or so people in the guild currently who are thinking about checking out or moving to WAR and want to play with their friends and family, plus I have a lot of other friends who want to play with my own circle of friends.

I’ve also promised the Warhammer Vault Managers that I will try and do some guides or features, which I used to be “known for” in some circles a long time ago. A lot of this of course depends on available time, but overall, I like playing MMO’s and I like to do things that help people who are playing them, which is why I enjoy online forums, moderating and writing guides and such.

WAAAGH!: What are some of the more notable trends you’ve observed in the WAR community since you’ve been active in it?

MITHAN: Due to the way I see the Community, most of the “trends” I observe tend to revolve around moderation.

Generally speaking, most MMO’s start out with Fans of the game having the most interest, and being the only people involved in the Community, and then as it gets nearer to release, other people start to join in and before you know it, the raging masses come in with all their different opinions and the Community radically changes from what it was before. You get the Fan Boys who love everything about the game, to the point of ignoring problems with the game. You get the Haters who hate everything and bitch and whine about everything instead of just doing everybody a favor and leaving to go play a game they do like. You get the guys who are in between, pop into a forum, ask a few questions and then disappear untilt he game comes out. Basically, you get all sorts of people who come into the community at different points, as the buzz and hype builds.

Having seen that, I see two major trends:

1. The buzz has STAYED good. People are positive. Haters are only bitching and whining about little things that will probably get fixed (graphics for example). Mark Jacobs delayed the game 6 months and we didn’t see a mass revolt or deluge of “the sky is falling” threads. Hell, even the underground “NDA leak” buzz is good. The point is, the trend with Warhammer Online is of growing positiveness (if that is a word) and excitement and usually at this point, if the game was going to suck, people start to sense that and the flames start flying and negativity sucks everything down. The last time I saw that happen was for Vanguard, when 4 months before the game came out, negativity was on the rise and interest was on the decline.

2. Growing Interest. The game is gaining a lot of interest as it progresses. We are seeing a lot of new posters come to the boards to get involved in the discussions and that is a good thing for Warhammer Online. Even when playing WoW, I see people in Alterac Valley saying things like “God I cant wait until Warhammer Online comes out and I don’t have to play with you retards anymore!”.

I think there is a growing base of excitement for Warhammer. Everybody wants it to succeed, especially the WoW crowd that is looking for a new fix to move from.

The negative side of this though is that you have higher expectations to meet, which means the game needs to be more polished or you blow your expectations. Hopefully that 6 month delay accomplishes that.

WAAAGH!: Did you play Dark Age of Camelot (or do you still), and what did you like/hate about it?

MITHAN: I played DAoC in its beta and for about 2 months at release. I hated the game.
Why?

It felt like Everquest (which I also hated). Basically, I was playing a Warrior/Fighter class to about level 20 or so (I forget as I played it at release). I quit because of the forced group leveling they had in the game at the time, which I found to be rediculous. Basically, I refuse to play a MMO when they designer forces me to sit on a hill with a full group and pull Tigers for hours on end in order to level up. Dropping a hammer on my feet is more fun. That totally killed it for me and it was a bore.

I don’t know if the game is like that now (I hear it isn’t) and maybe I was just playing it wrong, but you know what? It doesn’t matter because that is the experience I had, it sucked and I quit because of it.

However, I have heard awesome things about the Realm vs Realm aspect of the game and sometimes I wish I had stuck it out long enough to get involved in that aspect of the game but it lost me way before that.

WAAAGH!: What PvP experience do you have, and what are your general feelings on it?

I wouldn’t say I have a tonne of PVP experience in MMO’s, but I have a tonne of PVP experience in online games in general. On the MMO side, I was very into PVP in Ultima Online when that game first came out and I loved the total free for all that PVP brought to the table because it added a certain dread and tension to the game that no other game has duplicated for me since. I mean, what other game had it so you could be killed and have all your gear looted off of you? Exactly, none. With the exception of WoW, I have generally stuck to PVE for all the MMO’s I have played. In WoW, I’ve done a few hundred hours of Battlegrounds, but the problem with WoW is that it is too gear dependent and it gets boring fast, since your grinding the same areas over and over and over again, and it lacks true objectives and win conditions.

Now, as far as other online games, I don’t know if you would consider Planetside, Battlefield, Unreal, Team Fortress, Quake, Call of Duty, etc, etc as PVP, but I have probably logged thousands of hours into those types of online pvp games.

Overall, I enjoy PVP, provided it is done right and competitive. However one trend that has happened with most MMO’s is that there are really no consequences to losing anymore, and that takes a little out of it.

WAAAGH!: What faction (order/chaos) do you plan siding with when the game releases, and why?

Chaos, because my brother is forcing me too ;) Actually, he is only part of the reason. After being on the “good” side for almost every MMO to date, we want to do something different so we will be taking on the Chaos side this time.

WAAAGH!: What class(es) currently appeal to you the most, and are they similar or different to classes you typically play in other MMOs?

I always play melee classes in MMO’s, either as a high DPS or Tank class. I just love the in your face combat you get from being a melee.

For Warhammer I am going to probably play (in order of most likely to least) a Witch Elf, Marauder or a Chopper. Since I find the Orc to be repungent, I probably will stick with the Witch Elf, that way I can stare at a nice elf ass all the time. Not that elves turn me on or anything.

WAAAGH!: What features of WAR have you the most excited to experience?

The Realm vs Realm Combat. On paper, it sounds fantastic. On video, it looks fantastic. In beta, it is covered by NDA!

Seriously, this part of the game is what I am the most excited about. I love WoW, but where WoW breaks down for me is in Blizzards push for PVE Raids, which bore the hell out of me. I know that RvR Raids are something that will appeal to me a hell of a lot more, in both excitement, strategy and everything else I get out of a MMO.

The other aspects of Warhammer that excite me are the simple fact that it doesn’t look (to me at least) that Mythic is screwing with ideas and gameplay mechanics that work, just to be different. I know that sounds weird, but too many MMO’s these days try to be drastically different from other MMO’s and only result in coming out with broken mechanics that totally suck. Warhammer has enough new ideas that are evolved from older ideas, tied to an overall PVP Focus, that I am excited for it.

WAAAGH!: Did you apply for the beta, did you get into the beta, and have you pre-ordered the CE?

MITHAN: I applied for the beta, got in the beta, and I have the CE on pre-order.

WAAAGH!: What concerns do you have for WAR’s gameplay and future?

I have many concerns, some of which fall into the trivial, some of which are addressed and some of which are pure speculation, but here they are:

a) I was worried about the game being released early, but that has been addressed with the delay.

b) Going off of the screenshots, I think the graphics still need to be polished and I am implying things like shader effects, texture resolution and lighting effects that are clearly visible in sceenshots. However, some of the latest screenshots seem to be addressing that aspect of the game, so hopefully they are improved over the next 6 months.

c) I am always worried about class balance in these games, just because most MMO Developers seem to over compensate when adding buffs or nerfs.

d) I worry about this game coming out directly across from Return Of the Lich King for WoW, though I do think any lost sales will eventually be realized as people get tired of Lich King.

e) I worry this game may turn into a WoW/EQ style raiding game where groups are required to have 40 different UI-Mods installed, be on Ventrilo and use pinpoint accuracy and tactics to kill stuff.

Overall though, I don’t worry about things that much. I prefer to wait to see what the release looks like and then go from there. Worrying in advance is pointless.

WAAAGH!: What will you be doing with your gaming time between now and WAR’s release?

I am currently playing WoW again, so that uses up some of my time. I also got into the WAR Beta, and have been offering some feedback on the beta, but I don’t want to over play the beta because it will kill the full release for me. I will probably pick up Age of Conan in May and dabble a bit with that in the summer, but overall, I tend to not play much in the summer time unless the weather is bad. On top of the MMO’s, I will play the odd console title here and there (GTA4, MGS4, etc).

And as usual, I will be keeping an eye on the Warhammer Vault Forums ;)

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WAAAGH!: The Official Stance On Everything

May 19, 2008

Wondering where WAAAGH! stands on the issues vital to WAR and MMOs? Read on, but be prepared to have your mind cleansed by the awesome power of logic, sense and sensibility!

WAAAGH!’s stance on Real Money Trading (RMT), Gold Selling and Power Leveling: It kills me people actually debate this like there are points to the “pro-RMT” side, similar to how someone might try to defend the KKK or the Ebola virus. Our stance is that the people and companies who do this are parasitic vermin who help to corrupt the in-game economy and balance, offering unfair advantages to people willing to pay more. As for the purchasers of those services? You people are playing a GAME. If you don’t want to play it, don’t pay people to do it for you, because that’s just sad. Really. Sadder than sad. Clown sad. RMT, Gold Selling and Power Leveling should be pursued and stamped out — with a vengeance — by MMO teams (preferably with dogs with bees in their mouth, and when they bark they shoot bees at them).

WAAAGH!’s stance on Role-Playing Servers: If this sort of thing is your bag, fine, but we know that 90% of most RP servers merely tolerate the serious RPers (yet don’t join in themselves). We also know that trying to police these servers is nigh-impossible and people who get their panties in a bunch because someone else doesn’t have the appropriate level of apostrophes in their name is due cause for pity.

WAAAGH!’s stance on the Hardcore/Raiders vs. Casual catfight: Hardcore fellas? Knock it off. Casuals are the VAST majority in these games, and without them no company would have the resources to make the very game you want to dominate and excel. Realize it’s okay for others to have a different playstyle and don’t look down on them for it (or their gear). Casuals? There’s something to be said for having to earn all of the rewards in a game, and even though some of the upper upper crust stuff will be untouchable to you, its existence gives players a place to progress to, instead of a stone wall. If others want to play to be the best, then be content with where you are and don’t whine about it.

WAAAGH!’s stance on Ganking and Corpse Camping: Facts of life in the PvP world, but it doesn’t mean we have to meekly accept them as okay. People who play PvP vindictively, cowardly and immaturely have small genitalia and an even smaller sense of honor and worth. Yup, I just delivered a blanket judgment, and it felt good.

WAAAGH!’s stance on No Official WAR Forums: We 100% support Mythic’s call on this one. Official forums degenerate quickly into a frenzy of loud-mouthed imbeciles who congregate there like a school of hungry fish looking for someone — anyone — to pay attention to their diatribes. Let fansites take care of the forums, which frees up the WAR team to have more time to work on the game and get involved with the community in more structured formats.

WAAAGH!’s stance on Being Told How To Play My Class: If I’m making gross errors or overlooking a skill combo that could vastly improve my own gaming experience, then I really don’t mind if a more experienced player gently sends me a /tell to ask me if I don’t mind a little advice. That’s the proper and only way I ever want to hear anyone try to tell me how to play the game. The rest of you backseat armchair quarterbacks? STEP OFF. I don’t care if you have a thousand level 70 anythings, or if you’re the developer personally responsible for the creation and evolution of that particular class. I loathe being chided for not playing “right”, and people who try to do this are often mercilessly mocked and subsequently ignored on my part.

WAAAGH!’s stance on Being Overly Impressed With Yourself: Listen, we all are very much into whatever character we’re playing. We have a good reason to be excited when we get new gear or accomplish something cool or figure out how to be a more effective fighter/healer/tanker. It’s a natural extension of that excitement to want to share your happiness with others — and that is well and fine, as long as it’s done in moderation and in the right spirit (i.e. not bragging, just wanting others to share in your joy). Yet when I’m grouped with someone who starts boasting about all their class abilities — as if they, personally, designed them from scratch — and how their gear is the uber-elite-ultra-awesome, then my eyes descend into deep pain as they roll uncontrollably in their sockets. I don’t care, Mr. Fancy Pants, about how your gear is so much better than mine. I’m not listening, Ms. Suck It Down, because I’m actually trying to help my team instead of boosting my epeen or whatever the kiddies are calling it these days.

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Warhammer: Condemned By Fire and Other Happy Thoughts

May 16, 2008

Today, on an extreme whim, I swooped by the only comic store in the area and picked up a copy of Warhammer: Condemned By Fire #1. I’m not a huge comic book reader — not that I don’t like them, it’s just that I don’t want to drop $4 on something I’ll be done with ten minutes later — but this copy is significant for two reasons.

One, it’s a good quick primer to the tone and atmosphere to the Warhammer universe, which I deem a good asset to my Warhammer education.  The story itself concerns a Witch Hunter, who I imagine speaks with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine voice, and his merry trip into the village of the damned.  The story is quite short, but nicely drawn.  My only complaint is that some of the action looks a little too “cartoony” for my tastes.

Two, each of these issues has a special scratch-off code which you can use to apply to enter the Warhammer Online beta.  Closed or open beta, I’m not sure; the only clear answer I got from brief scouting is that the deadline to use this code is May 31.  The code only gives you a 20% (one in five) chance of winning a coveted beta slot, however.

So now my beta account is all but screaming for acceptance.  Applied for the beta?  Check.  Amazon.com CE pre-order open beta code that, for some reason, is still in there even though I canceled my order?  Check.  GameStop pre-order code?  Check.  Comic code?  Check.

I think this might be an excellent substitute for actually playing WAR: trying to see how many ways I can apply for or attempt to win a beta spot.

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How Not To Launch An MMO

May 16, 2008

In the past couple weeks, we’ve witnessed ominous signs leading up to Age of Conan’s launch — the Open Beta was extremely buggy and nearly unplayable for some, the system requirements are pretty demanding, and now it appears that players who paid $5 extra to get early access to the title may be shut out completely due to overloaded server capacity, which has absolutely enraged some would-be customers.

[Update: ScytheNoire informs me, "The issue is that some people didn’t pick up their pre-order card or didn’t pick the option in time, and some stores were refusing to hand out the pre-order cards until the 17th. But those who paid did get their 10 extra days and into the early access."]

Now [waggling a finger], don’t you for a second think I’m looking to bash AoC or gloat about what looks like a very rough launch. Any successful MMO boosts the entire genre as a whole, and I’m all for AoC doing well. They have a nice-sized, passionate base of fans, and many people are reporting that the game world is gorgeous, the combat is well-done, and the grit is appreciated.

Yet what worries me is that this particular company — Funcom — is the dubious winner of Worst MMORPG Launch Ever with its previous title Anarchy Online (which was so bad people couldn’t play regularly for months). If there’s any company that knows, first-hand, how very, very important it is to ensure a smooth launch, it’s them. Many players, already a little nervous over ghost of Anarchy Online, have understandably paused or even withdrawn completely from the starting month of AoC. Perhaps the launch day will come and go, and surpass all expectations — all of this previous worry was for naught. And perhaps it’ll be a nasty, rocky trip. As the Mythic team has stated all along, “You only get one first impression with an MMO”.

Whether or not AoC launches well is not (surprisingly enough) the focus of this article — instead, I’m looking to the future with a crinkle of concern over WAR’s launch, and a desire to see it slip off the boat dock with ease and grace. So with that said, here’s how NOT to launch a MMO:

1. Be Unprepared For The Number Of First Day Players

World of Warcraft, for all the praise and success it’s seen since, was absolutely unprepared, naive and uninformed as to the interest level in their title. Despite an incredibly strong beta, Blizzard launched the game with far fewer servers than were needed — resulting in horrendously long queues that kept players from, y’know, playing. What’s worse is that this server shortage went on for weeks before it was fixed.

As the MMO field grows, developers need to realize that the player base is ever-expanding, and they need to over-anticipate the first day server load. Everyone wants to play on the first day, which results in virgin servers receiving the roughhousing of a lifetime — hundreds of thousands of players attempting to log in, within a short span of each other, and demanding immediate access. A MMO that doesn’t overestimate their server needs (and then add half onto that) for the first day is a MMO that is just begging for a mess. I’d imagine that it’s ultimately easier to eliminate and consolidate servers, if they’re not needed, than have to rush to hook up brand-new servers in the middle of an ugly crunch period.

2. If You Promise Something For Day One, Put It Off.

The issue here is that, sooner or later, devs are pressured by their publishers to set a firm launch date and stick to it. You can only delay a game for so long before you irritate your fans irreversibly and become a laughingstock in the community. So when this happens and devs go into “crunch mode”, it’s often the case where they realize they simply cannot make good on a promised feature(s) — one which they’ve been touting for months in all the press hooplah — and they make a decision to cut it out of the game for the time being. Players who log in are then told that Feature X is still in the works, but will be patched in at a later date.

You can imagine how that might leave a sour taste in the mouth.

3. Showcase An Unstable, Buggy Open Beta.

By the time you hit open beta, the devs should pretty much be showing off a finished product, which they’re both demoing and stress testing through the open beta process. Despite the word “beta”, it is simply not acceptable to have glaring bugs, holes, crashes and any other feature that makes the game a miserable slog — or worse, unplayable. Age of Conan’s messy open beta period — from the limited downloading sites, to the (alleged) two different versions of the beta that open and closed beta testers were playing, to the nasty bugs that popped up all over the place — is a prime example of how to shoot yourself in the publicity foot.

4. Showcase An Unstable, Buggy Launch Version.

The list of egregious sinners for this are almost too many to mention: Anarchy Online, World War II Online, Asheron’s Call 2, Star Wars Galaxies, Vanguard, Horizons, Dark and Light…

If, on day one, you’re making PAYING customers effectively beta test your product, then congratulations! You’ve alienated and pissed off the very people you’re trying to milk money from, and guess what? I wouldn’t bet the farm on them being around for month two, when the subscriptions kick in.

Yes, some of these titles have struggled back from a horrible, buggy launch to carve out a solid niche in the MMOscape, but none of those titles have become smash hits, and many more of them wheezed to an early death.

I just can’t imagine how crushing it would be to be a dev on one of these projects, putting in years of my life to making this game, getting my hopes all high that this will be the Next Big Thing… only to be on the receiving end of a literary bludgeoning by my fans on the first day who tell me I’ve just wasted a good chunk of my life on digital crap.

5. Push It Out The Door Before You’re Ready

This has been kinda covered by previous points, but it bears repeating (stupid repeating bears, what with their redundant natures). If it’s not ready, DO NOT LAUNCH. If it’s not polished, DO NOT LAUNCH. If you need any reminders to this effect, purchase one of several hundred thousand un-bought copies of Vanguard and hang it on the wall above your desk. If a publisher does not have the resources, patience and time to wait until their MMO is 100% ready to go, then they have no business in the MMO market.

6. Have A Crappy Account Manager

Finally, as important as it is to present a playable, smooth game to your audience, you cannot overlook the account creation and payment process. First-time MMO players, especially, are a little nervous when it comes to having to make an account to pay, on a monthly basis, for the privilege of playing that title. Don’t make it worse by making the account creation process a huge chore (Final Fantasy XI) or screwing up the billing so players get charged two, perhaps three times for a game they then can’t log on and play (Hellgate: London). As this is handled online, apart from the game client, there’s no excuse for this to be anything other than picture-perfect.

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Da Newz – May 15

May 15, 2008

Beta Ticker: 692,706 (+7,821 from last week)

Quote of the Week:The best way to look at it is that Warhammer is Batman.” ~ Josh Drescher

Story of the Week: Oddly enough, the biggest story about WAR this week wasn’t about WAR at all — but instead, the blitz of World of Warcraft expansion info that was suddenly thrown all over the place. Many Warhammer fans are nervously chewing their nails at the shift in spotlight (and unrestrained speculation about the supposed fall head-to-head battle of the two titles), but Massively actually thinks WoW is a positive factor in the future success of WAR. In any case, a clash between these two titles looks to happen this fall, as Vivendi confirmed that Wrath is “anticipated to be released in the second half of 2008.”

In other news:

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Career Crunch: Chaos Chosen

May 14, 2008

In the second part of our… um… 24-part series, we’re breaking down the Chaos Chosen career for you — will it become a main, an alt or a storage unit for tuna fish?

CAREER: Chaos Chosen

BRIEF OVERVIEW: A chaos god worshiper with way, way too much armor (fused to his body, no less), the Chosen is Chaos’ tank class — mighty, hulking, pointy. Uses heavy shields and massive weapons to do gobs of close-range melee damage. He basically makes World of Warcraft’s Death Knights pee their armor in submissive shame.

THINK: A Panzer tank on two legs with limited spell casting.

MOVIE CHARACTER: Jason, from Friday the 13th — stripped of humanity, a giant hulking slaughterhouse, extremely hard to kill.

ABILITIES: Can don Chaos Armor, the heaviest armor in the game. Shield-bearing. One- or Two-handed weapons (swords and axes). Some spell-casting. Can taunt.

MASTERIES: Strife (offensive melee sans shield), Retaliation (uses shield and wears opponent down), Discord (focuses on spells and auras).

MECHANIC: Chosen are granted dark spells that can harm enemies and provide a temporarily aura boost to a player’s power. Certain abilities will only be usable when a certain aura is up. So Chosen get a very simple combo chain: Aura –> Ability.

RATE MY INTEREST: 6/10. My personal preference in MMOs tends to be (going from highest to lowest) Pet Classes > Hybrids > DPS > Healer > Tank. Tank classes have a lot of work to win me (and I assume many others) over to their viewpoint. I think the Chosen is a great step in that direction: the look is spectacularly evil, and the ability to weave auras and spells into combat gives a standard tanking role a bit more spice. I very well might roll one of these come fall, and you can bet I’d be mastering in Discord.

MORE READING:

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