Archive for April, 2008


The 10 Commandments of Altitis

April 30, 2008

Alts — “alternative characters” — are a staple of any dedicated MMO gamer’s life (although some far more than others). The next time you decide to roll another character on a whim (or to stave off boredom), keep in mind these ten commandments:

1. Thou Shalt Pick A Main, And Stick With It To The End

Before you go all alt-crazy, make sure you’ve ended up with a “main” that you play through to the level cap. Not only will you learn a lot in with that first, primary character, but you’ll find that your focus on the gameplay will hinge upon that toon more than any other.

2. Give An Alt A Chance To Impress

Characters usually need a running start before you get a good feel for the class — yet it’s easy, as a higher level player, to grow impatient with a lowbie toon who has only basic skills, few (if any) class-defining abilities yet, and not even a single mastery point to help differentiate your alt from the pack. Reserve your judgment until you’ve given that alt a fair shakedown.

3. Alts Deserve Real Names Too

So for the love of Pete, don’t slap it with a generic or stupid moniker just so that you can get through the character creation screen faster. You never know when that toon might end up being a beloved fave, and wouldn’t it be a shame if you spent 200 hours staring at — and hating — the name “SnuggleSlasher”?

4. Spoil An Alt, Spare Your Sanity

Part of the fun of having an alt is to pimp it out with money and gifts from on high… your higher level main, that is. Embrace the ability to fund your lowbie and by doing so cut down the annoying money and gear grind.

5. Make It Easy On Others To Identify You

You may know each and every alt by their name, and have composed a song utilizing all of them, but your guildies and friends lack the eidetic recall that makes identifying you possible. Use either similar names or clear guild note tags to help them in this failing.

6. Go Off The Beaten Path

Alts aren’t there to be carbon clones of your previous characters, stomping down the same exact path that you’ve already explored. Try something different — after all, that’s the POINT of an alt! Try new zones, new classes, new roles, and you never know what you might discover in so doing.

7. Supply Your Demands

A clever gamer will realize that multiple alts can create a supply chain for crafting. Toon A is a metalworker, Toon B can mine ore, and Toon C does a bit of both. Why not use Toon A to send crafting recepies to C, and Toon B to supply C and A with ore instead of having to purchase it?

8. Park Your Alts, Don’t Deep Six Them

Don’t forget that alts are there to be experimental, and it’s okay not to like them or to shelve them for a while to try other things. Just keep in mind that you don’t know the future, and you may end up coming back to that alt with a fresh perspective (especially if a patch buffed them!). So if you’ve spent any good amount of time on an alt and don’t need the spare character slot, don’t delete them.

9. Alts Can Cause Burnout

I know this first-hand: as much as I love making alts, too many of them dilute my focus and goals in the game, causing me to feel overwhelmed with duties and “to do’s”. If you have six alts you’re devoted to playing, then you have to eventually face six separate end games, six leveling paths, six series of similar quests and gear searches, and six trips through the Tome of Knowledge. It might just be too much of a good thing and end up pushing you away from the game entirely.

10. Embrace Your Altitis

Don’t be ashamed of it when a guildie moans “ANOTHER character?” after you re-join the guild with an alt for the tenth time. Just grin, emoticon a grin so they know you’re grinning, and embrace the fun and joy of being diagnosed with one of the most enjoyable diseases an MMO gamer can have!


WAAAGH! Design Feedback

April 29, 2008

Part of me — the part that isn’t a banana smoothie-craving freak — is prone to forever tweaking projects I’m working on toward perfection. I’d like to ask you guys today to give me a bit of feedback about the design of WAAAGH!, as I really want this blog to be as visually pleasing as the basic WordPress templates allow.

What I’d like to know from you (please leave your answers in the comments section):

  • Is the blog too “dark” (gray text on a darker gray background) to read comfortably?
  • Is the text too small?
  • Should I be looking at a different template that has darker text on a white or light-colored background? Or a template that has whiter text and a darker background for better contrast?
  • Do you like the current header image?
  • Is WAAAGH! well laid out, giving you all of the info and links at your fingertips, or is there anything missing?
  • What would you like to see featured in WAAAGH! in the future?

Thanks in advance!


Imperial Inquisition – Browncoat of Warhammer Alliance

April 29, 2008

This week, we put a WAR forum moderator to the question — “Browncoat” of the Warhammer Alliance Forums. Or the Firefly forums. Or the dapper Victorian outfitters society forums.

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.

BROWNCOAT: I’m a bit guarded about my personal information, but I’ll tease you with a few tidbits! ^_-

Browncoat is a handle that has obvious connotations to Firefly and it was more of an off-the-cuff thing than anything. I’m in my 20’s, and when I’m not helping administer the WHA forums, I’m an IT professional, a Sysadmin to be specific, although that’s more like another way of saying “person who fixes everything”.

I started out with MMOs with old school MUDs like Gemstone III and the rather unforgiving nature of the early graphical MMOs like pre-Trammel Ultima Online and Everquest. Death meant something in these games, something decidedly missing from today’s MMO market, and killing and being killed was the order of the day.

After cutting my teeth on those I’ve played a variety of MMOs, like Dark Age of Camelot, Final Fantasy XI, City of Heroes/Villains, and, like everyone else, a stint in World of Warcraft, where I was a raid leader and senior officer. After being burned out, I’ve pretty much been MMO free, and like many others, I’m eagerly anticipating WAR.

My play style is a mix of PvE and PvP. I like doing dungeon crawls, learning and beating an encounter, and getting treasure, but I also like wrecking someone’s face in and taking another notch onto my kills. I lean more towards the latter, and the prankster in me has a tendency to have a little fun at someone’s expense – especially if they deserve it. ^_^

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

BROWNCOAT: I like medium to large guilds. Small guilds are great for casual play or for circles of friends, but the larger guilds really give you the MM part of MMO. There’s no point in paying for an experience which you’re going to make into a single-player experience. If I wanted that, I’d play other games and save my monthly fee. There’s a kind of great cameraderie and lots of good memories and conversations that being in a social group like a larger guild has, and while there’s also the dark side of that in “guild drama”, that’s a decent tradeoff for the benefit of getting to know people all over the world.

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

BROWNCOAT: After burning out on WoW, I sought to find an MMO that had fun gameplay and not have an obligation to play 16+ hours a week in what amounts to a second job. The pain of beating Naxxramas encounters, WoW’s most difficult dungeon at the time of my leaving, was taxing. I realized I wanted a game that let me dictate what I wanted to do and how to spend my time rather than the other way around. -_-;

It was at this time that I found videos about Warhammer Online. The very first video I ever watched depicted Paul Barnett’s 6 minute presentation about what made WAR great. I was hooked – especially after seeing the immense amount of community face time EA Mythic was giving. Here was a company that despite its own flaws and the warzone that a gaming community can become, that was wading in unafraid to take questions, post interviews, and talk to its users. It was a far cry from the aloof attitude I had seen from development in other games.

In return for this, I wanted to do my part to make the community great, worthy, and productive of such attention, to give them as much to work with as they gave us. This is why when Warhammer Alliance’s Archangel, Garthilk, and Kilrogg offered me a chance to do this, I was immediately on board. My motivation, as someone who has had to go through the pain of forums filled with unproductive content, is to create a place where we establish the same standards you’d expect if talking to someone face to face. If people said half the things they said on the Internet to someone they were actually talking to, they’d end up beaten down in an alleyway naked with their cash stolen for good measure. Don’t get me wrong – I love a good laugh and if you ever actually meet me, I’m as laid back as can be. But “on the job”, I’ve got an obligation to create good community. It’d be interesting to do this for an actual living.

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

BROWNCOAT: There’s definitely a trend that smacks of “wanting something new and awesome”. Let’s not mince words here – most people have played one of the “big” MMOs in the last couple of years, like WoW, or EQ2, or whatever, and they just want something new. Some MMOs have tried and failed with this, and all the other companies with MMOs coming out – Funcom, Bioware, EA Mythic – they’re now taking a more guarded, cautious approach to releasing their content. As a result though, the community is starving for something. It’s like having hamburgers every day (or worse yet, dieting) while you sit and drool over the fried chicken place that is slowly being put up across the street.

Another trend is fear. I don’t blame people for this most of the time, but people are afraid that the things that stopped them from playing their favorite MMOs in the first place will be present in WAR. When people hear about a mechanic, or a feature, or something working a certain way, people make this leap that it’s going to suddenly be a problem because they think it’s more of the same. Hey, I have these fears too – but I’m confident enough that they will listen to feedback (presented the right way!) and put out the best product they can. If it doesn’t work out for me, that’s fine – that’s the way the cookie crumbles. That’s why there are alternatives.

But the biggest trend I’m seeing is still excitement over RvR. Those people who don’t know how great the RvR system is are in for a treat. The things that WAR is doing with regards to its RvR system are really things which excite a lot of players in the community, and I don’t blame them! I truly hope that the RvR that you saw in DAoC translates over to WAR in some fashion.

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

BROWNCOAT: I played. I’ll start with what I hated. The botting and multiboxing was a terrible trend. It turned a fair fight into one that was unwinnable and awful. And like others, I cringed at the release of the ToA expansion, whgich was a departure from the original design of the game that made it so great.

Like many former DAoC players, RvR was the best part of the game for me. I’m going to go on a hype fest here, but it’s only because I had such a good time. Those people who have never had a taste of RvR will be pleasantly surprised if it makes a good transition into WAR. People keep talking about “Realm Pride”. Realm Pride wasn’t some concept about winning or losing. It was about contributing to your faction, and your faction’s goals. It was about holding that keep, stopping that relic raid, standing your ground and skirmishing not because you were going to win or lose, but your whole faction was going to win or lose based upon how you did. It wasn’t about trash talking – anyone can trash talk their opponent – but it was about stomping an opponent into the ground, for your realm, and not saying “I beat you” but rather “The Hibs beat you today, cursed Alb/Mid scumbags”. In short, Realm pride was team-based, group-based, not rewards-based. You didn’t attack that keep or do an alarm clock raid at 3am because you got cool loot. You did it so that your realm could gain victory and the right to call yourselves the very best. I really can’t get into it more than that.

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

BROWNCOAT: I played plenty of PvP in the games that offered it. I’m not really the best PvP player, but I’m decent when it comes down to it. I like PvP and being competitive. What I don’t like is when people take it too far. People who purposefully go out of their way to ruin someone’s gameplay experience instead of simply just defeating them are just ridiculous. I’m not so naive to expect some kind of honor on the battlefield, but really, at the end of the day, it’s a game and people play the game to have fun. The people who actively sit down in front of their game and say “I’m out to wreck someone’s playtime until they log out” are the same kinds of people who would end up beaten down in aforementioned alley were they to behave the same kind of way outside of the game. Those people suck, and give competitive PvP players a bad name.

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

BROWNCOAT: The guild I’m currently affiliated with is going Destruction. But even if I wasn’t in a guild, I’d be going Destruction anyway. I’ve always wussed out and played what are perceived to be the “good” races. I need a change of pace, and Destruction is where it’s at. ^_^

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

BROWNCOAT: I’ve always been a support player first and a DPS’er second. The fact that WAR plans on marrying these concepts in a hybridized way is hugely appealing to me. The Shaman and Disciple are great, and the Warrior Priest is shaping up to be one of the most popular classes to play. I’ve always been the passive healer because I enjoy doing it, but I always wished I could at least defend myself or do some kind of perceived damage. This is why my alts are typically damage dealers. With WAR, it’s looking like I won’t have to alt out, although many of the classes are very tempting – the Witch Elf, the Sorceress, and the Engineer all look great.

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

BROWNCOAT: It’s no surprise that it’s the RvR system for me. But more specifically than that, it’s the campaign of taking keeps, controlling zones, and eventually sieging the city and taking it. That’s going to be great.

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

BROWNCOAT: I’ve always been coy about this, but I’m fortunate enough to say the answer is yes on all counts. Hehe.

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

BROWNCOAT: Today’s MMO audience is broader, and with that comes a sort of dilution to the community when it comes to the very basic concepts of playing well with others. I’m pretty cynical and hope that the stupidity that we currently see among the most extreme examples of MMO communities doesn’t translate (too much) to WAR. As far as gameplay goes, I’m hoping that the experience is fun – not just for me, but for the friends I play with. It’s not fun to play an MMO by yourself – I like to talk, laugh, and have a good time with people, both in games and out of games. I’m really concerned about that one aspect of gameplay that will make the experience not-so-fun for me, but I’ll honestly cross that bridge when I get to it. I’m really hopeful that Mythic continues its huge community presence well into release.

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

BROWNCOAT: What else? Moderating the forums of course. I’ve probably missed a few things typing the answers to this stuff. ^_-


It’s Story Time, Boys And Girls!

April 28, 2008

In chatting with Ten Ton Hammer about whatever inane thoughts were in my noggin about WAR, RadarX asked me an interesting question about the necessity of lore in Warhammer Online. It got me thinking, and thus I found myself donning my favorite earflap cap, chomping down on my bubble pipe, and sitting in my favorite high-backed recliner in front of a roaring fire.

I only wish I’d put out that fire, as I had no fireplace at the time. But I digress.

I feel passionate about storytelling in games that I play for much the same reason I watch good TV or read gripping novels: I want to be told a tale that keeps me guessing, keeps me interested, and keeps me involved until I’ve squeezed the last drop of narrative into my brain. A lot of people have bagged on the old adventure gaming genre, seeing it as hardly anything more than overly difficult puzzles and some light stealth elements, but I knew better. I was “earning” more chunks of a good story by getting involved with the events happening on screen. While other people complain about long CGI cutscenes in RPGs, I settle back into my couch with a happy smile and a mind ready to drink in more chunks of the account.

Some of the best stories I’ve ever been told have been through single-player RPGs — Fallout, Baldur’s Gate 2, Planescape Torment, Knights of the Old Republic — and the sheer effort and time it took to get the full story out of the software made me feel as though I had a true investment beyond what most people put into being a listener or reader. Ask any gamer who, while playing Final Fantasy 7, was really upset that they couldn’t save Ariel from certain death, and you might start to understand that gamers expect to be intimately involved with the stories being told to the point where they can try to affect and change the events unfolding. It’s storytelling on a whole new level.

And I’m here to ask: why the HECK is this missing from MMOs?

It doesn’t make sense, when you first think about it. Huge, sweeping online role-playing games should be the epitome of storytelling: you create and develop an ongoing character over the course of months and years, seeing them grow and adventure through a rich landscape. Each world is filled with “lore” — backstory unique to that universe’s setting — just ripe for the plucking.

And still so very little of what you do affects a story in any meaningful way. Your character grows in levels, skills and gear, yet it’s still very much the same exact character you created, as is the world you’ve been exploring. It’s a stasis bubble, freezing the story in one moment in time, with only slight illusions on the part of both game devs and your own mind (which is called on to fill in the missing narrative development) to keep things from getting too weird.

If you recall back to your high school English class, stories contain the following — so try to picture how these fit in with an MMO: complex characters, a key conflict, a point of view, dialogue, descriptions, rising action, a climactic moment, falling action and a resolution.

As much as I love MMOs and the vast possibilities they present, I’m just not being told good stories, nor am I being involved in the narrative to the point I’d like. I challenge their creators to look at the dearth of really good story elements in their games (no matter how much they claim is present) by taking a look at how single-player RPGs and the multi-player ones approach story:

1. Heroes: at the center vs. at the fringe

One of the hardest obstacles any MMO faces is trying to pass off a game world where everyone is a “hero on the fringe” of a crowd of thousands of other heroes, and still make them feel special and unique. Single-player RPGs have no problem with this. You’re the only person playing the game, so the story really and truly revolves around you. Things don’t happen until you show up, and you have an epic narrative line mapped out for you from humble beginning to glorious end.

There’s no end of an MMO, of course, and while slight-of-hand tricks are employed to make a player feel like they’re the most important sun-revolves-around-them person in the game, it just ain’t so, Joe. MMOs have to tell an epic, heroic tale about each and every single person who boots up the game, and do so in a way that doesn’t hijack the experience from the other singularly egocentric warriors. It’s an impossible task, I think.

2. Quests: dynamic vs. history textbook boring

Some day, some glorious day, we’ll arrive at a point where all RPGs will have forever cast off the ugliest, clunkiest story device of them all: the quest box. You know, click on a guy, a wall of text hits you, and you just skim it to see if you have to do a FedEx quest, a bug hunt, an (shudder) escort, or a game of “search for the glowy pixels”. Some story writer in a sleazy hotel room somewhere cries themselves to sleep, because you don’t care to appreciate, over and over, a different coat of paint on the exact same objects.

Compare this to a questing experience that is dynamic: you’re walking down a path, and a girl stumbles from a bush, chased by six burly men wielding spatulas. Without a chunk of text, you’re plunged into a story — do you save the girl (and perhaps find out that she’s an evil monster that’s being hunted down by good-intentioned but poorly-armed villagers) or join the men to make an even seven brute squad (and perhaps passing a hidden initiation to join the brute squad in the future)? What if you save the girl, she kisses you and you pass out from lip gloss poison, only to awake in a grimy dungeon from which there is only a slim chance of escape?

Is a story being told here? Yup. A quest given? Sure. Are there more than one objectives and multiple decisions? Uh huh. So other than this being “harder” than typing up three paragraphs about why Snoutz wants you to fetch him his breakfast from a mulberry bush are we not seeing more of this in games?

3. Relationships: ignorance vs. identity

You develop fascinating relationships with online players in MMOs, of course, but why aren’t we also building relationships with the NPCs (non-player characters) as well? Millions of single-player RPG gamers want to know that answer.

Without recognition and future interaction with characters, my avatar might as well be a ghost for all the impact it seems to do for the people in a game world. I might save them one day only to find them in peril the next. I might reunite them with a long-lost love only to come back a week later and be greeted with a one-line piece of text that effectively says “I HAZ NO MORE QUESTS FOR YOUSE. BUG OFF.”

What I love in a single-player RPG is that a character I might save in chapter one becomes a vital friend and trusted ally by chapter four. My characters have fallen in love with NPCs who have reciprocated, in a fashion. I am defined in game by how the game sees me in return, and this makes a bigger difference than you might imagine.

MMO’s have taken baby steps in getting NPCs to recognize you and develop longer-term relationships. Baby steps, tho. City of Heroes and World of Warcraft both have NPCs that will shout out greetings to your character, or be talking about you as you pass them. Once in a while you might accomplish a quest so great that that NPC will change its attitude or suddenly offer you new quests. Reputation systems reinforce the concept of you repeatedly helping a group of NPCs to gain rewards and recognition down the road. Yet all this isn’t enough. Wouldn’t it be awesome if I saved a teenage boy from a nasty bear while I was level 7, and then that same boy — now grow’d up into a man — comes to my aid when I’m battling Mecha-Bear at level 43?

We have the capacity to care for NPCs, game devs. Give us a reason to care.

4. Cut Scenes: non-existent vs. involving

I don’t get to praise Guild Wars a lot, although it’s a solid game, but its use of in-game cut scenes that actually feature your characters is one of the best story-telling devices I’ve seen in MMOs, ever. Little slices of a movie, featuring you, can only help to immerse you into the events unfolding. They reinforce the notion of you as a hero at the center, instead of a hero floundering to figure out how the mission goes. Why aren’t more games doing this sort of thing?

5. Aftermath: permanent effects vs. the reset button

We’re all pretty familiar with this scenario: you and your buddies go ahead and save the world from certain doom (again), battling a fierce foe to its doom, and saving a dying nation from extinction… only to have an invisible hand come down and go “RESET!” so that everything goes alllll the way back to the beginning — a la Groundhog’s Day the movie — and the only thing that changes is the loot you swiped from the demon’s pockets.

The problem here, for MMO devs, is that any permanent (or long-lasting) effect on the game world by one player impacts other players, and usually not for the better. Everyone wants to have the option to have a similar game experience, and to be told that you can’t because “XxChuckNorrisxX” already killed the dragon is intolerable.

So how can the game world be changed to accommodate a developing story without closing itself off to other players? Some games have taken a hack at it with instanced zones, slowly developing content that’s somewhat influenced by large numbers of gamers, and fudging the player’s viewpoint so that what they see — a quest accomplished, a demon killed — will be unique for their computer but not for others. You can also introduce a slower reboot cycle, where players can impact the game world but only for so long (like WAR’s capital city takeovers) before the reset button is hit.

A thought: wouldn’t it be cool if you could, say, destroy a building, but the game would automatically try to repair it using NPC workers over the next few hours?

6. Massive Events: gamemaster events vs. programmer events

In pen and paper RPGs, like Dungeons & Dragons, the game sessions are made or broken by the skill and storytelling of the “Gamemaster” — the puppet-master who shapes and culls events to his liking and unleashes them at the players. Single-player RPGs can have preset special events programmed right in, but there’s something special about a live person creating a story for someone else to experience and adjusting to what that player does.

Online RPGs have a rare advantage here, as GMs have the capacity to do this, and as often as they wish. Some games are well-known for the GM-led story events (such as Asheron’s Call) that not only shape the world, but many times change it for good. Many modern MMOs, however, cite that the sheer volume of players and servers deem GM events as an impractical waste of manpower and resources.

That said, make some effort to do this, MMO devs. I know it’s hard, but ask any player who’s been through a GM-led event and see if they were disappointed someone tried to make the story “come alive” for them. I doubt you’ll find many complainers.

7. Others: sandbox vs. powerless

The other major advantage that MMOs have over solo RPGs is in the “massive”. Other players means other storytellers capable of spinning a yarn just as good as any a MMO story writer might whip up. The challenge here is to give the players tools to do this. Sure, in all MMOs you’ll find a die-hard subset of gamers who love to roleplay their gaming experience no matter if they have tools for it or not, but the titles that do make a special effort to let players craft stories for their friends are to be applauded.

Here’s a wacky idea: let players have tools to build basic dungeons for others to run through. Give players tools to program an NPC with a unique script that might add to the liveliness of the town. Empower players to run fun events, sponsor games and challenges, and just do weird and crazy stuff “just because”.

Other players are one of the greatest untapped resource that MMO devs have yet to utilize to tell their story. This doesn’t need to be, people.

8. Other Story Elements In MMOs

  • Instances – We’ve seen them evolve from non-existent to largely random (Anarchy Online, City of Heroes) to carefully crafted, scripted experiences. The next step is for instancing to utilize player choice in the progression, random script events to keep things changing up between runs, and dungeons that “remember” you and your past accomplishments there.
  • Journals – Quest logs and journals have long been an RPG staple, but now they need to take a leap forward to record the story of each player’s character forging through the world, so each character has a written memory of their life (a la WAR’s Tome of Knowledge). Wouldn’t it be great if you had the option to print out a copy of your character’s “life” when you finally decided to stop playing the game, so you’d always have a memento of that game experience?
  • Dynamic World – Mobs that roam and have better AI; NPCs that have lives of their own for you to observe and interact with; major events that shift the timeline forward on a regular basis. Yeah. These are good things.
  • Voice Acting – But, seriously, it better be *good*.
  • A Storyteller – I always loved how DDO used an invisible storytelling GM to narrate your progress through a dungeon. Why not take this further? Have great accomplishments in your character’s life unlock a special feature of an NPC, who will – upon request – retell the tale of your character’s heroics as a flashback cut scene (or a recording the game makes of certain moments).
  • Factions That Matter – Instead of using in-game factions as mere rep grinds for rewards, use them much the same way that player guilds do. Make the player feel like they’ve joined up with a real body of like-minded souls, which closes the player off to other factions and opens up special options, quests and story lines available only to that group. Have the faction reach out and contact the player regularly, with staple NPC “actors” who show up and interact with you and drag you along to another quest.
  • Give Combat Some Competition – I’ll leave devs with this challenge: make non-combat systems in the game just as fun and as challenging. Vanguard, for all its flaws, had a gem of an idea with its card-based diplomacy system, and we need more of that sort of thing. Make adventuring a varied experience, present challenges that are solved through other means than just whacking at them with a pointed stick. If you ever get to a point where a player tells a friend, “I’m going to pass on that dungeon run” for a different gameplay system, you have won as an RPG.

Warhammer Fantasy 101

April 26, 2008

As the game approaches, many of you are eager to absorb the Warhammer culture and become educated in this rich fantasy universe, particularly if (like me) you’re relatively new to the scene. So where to start?

Instead of typing up a 500-page thesis, I got lazy and looked around the web for the best Warhammer 101 guides, FAQs and intros to bring you up to speed:


Turnabout Is Fair Play, I Guess!

April 25, 2008

So Ten Ton Hammer — for reasons unknown to me and I can only assume are related to the phases of the moon in conjunction with the chicken sacrifices necessary to raise the Old Ones from their slumber on the ocean floor — decided to interview me.

Um, yeah. Here I be. Check it out!


Da Newz – April 24

April 24, 2008

Beta Ticker: 670,719 (+7,394 from last week)

Quote Of The Week: “So, coming to the shows, especially shows like this that are not industry exclusive, half-academic nonsense, are absolutely critical to what we do.” ~ Josh Drescher, on the NY Comic Con

Big Story Of The Week – The NY Comic Con: Reports, videos and interviews are pouring in from the weekend Comic Con, where (once again) players got their mitts on the WAR beta — and no NDA for that sort of thing! Warhammer Vault gathered up a lot of tidbits from fans who attended (including armor for mounts!) and Josh Drescher wraps things up in his blog.

Breaking News: This morning word is popping up all over the place that Mythic is sending out Guild Beta invites! This doesn’t mean that the Guild Beta will begin today, just that the invites have gone out. (As reported by Warhammer Geek, WHA Forums, and the WAR VN boards)

Random Plug Of The Week: WAAAGH! is almost a side project in my writing life — for over 11 years now I’ve been the webmaster of Mutant Reviewers From Hell, a cult movie review site that’s been covering the more offbeat, odd and delightfully strange flicks out there. We have an excellent staff of ten crazy folks who work hard to bring great material, and we invite you to head on over and check us out while you wait for WAR!


The “What If?” Machine

April 23, 2008

…What if WAR hadn’t been delayed, but would’ve been released in early June to go head-to-head against Age of Conan?

…What if WAR is delayed into 2009, despite reassurances from Mythic that it doesn’t look like that would ever happen?

…What if Order becomes the “underdog” faction instead of Destruction, a la Horde in World of Warcraft?

…What if Age of Conan gets fair-to-middling reviews, and ansy gamers twiddle their thumbs all summer waiting for the next big thing?

…What if Blizzard is holding back a huge surprise — or two! — from their list of Wrath of the Lich King features?

…What if WAR’s 24 classes contain massive imbalances on launch day?

…What if Joystiq creates a WAR Insider?

…What if Mythic includes those cool Paul Barnett sunglasses in the CE?

…What if I’d never stop wearing them?

…What if WAR launches, it’s a good game, but it never gets more than 200,000 long-term subscribers?

…What if none of my guildies from WoW come over to WAR, and I have to find a new guild all over again?

…What if Keen changes his blog banner-o-the-week to Hello Kitty Online? Because, seriously, that would be sweet.


Imperial Inquisition – Snafzg of The Greenskin

April 22, 2008

Today’s Imperial Inquisition is with Snafzg of The Greenskin — a toothy WAR blog/webcomic! He’s in the WAR beta, and we hate him for it, oh yes we does… well, maybe not “hate” so much as “envy with an automatic pistol”.

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.

SNAFZG: Asking my a/s/l? How forward of you! My better-known handles include: Snafzg (WoW), Gex (DAOC), and Malak/Alweon (MUME). My real name is Brooke, I’ll be 28 in a few weeks, and I work in communications, marketing, and promotion for a government organization.

I started online gaming back in 1996 with a Tolkien-based MUD called MUME (Multi-Users in Middle Earth). It was and probably still is one of the more hardcore PvP MUDS because it included features like full corpse looting, big XP loss on death, and death traps (dangerous rooms that would insta-kill you, taking all your gear – like going North or South of Durin’s Bridge in Moria rather than West or East, Heh). You would gain Warpoints by killing enemies but lose them when you died. The ultimate goal is to work your way up the top 10 list of Warlords (with the most Warpoints) for your side (Orcs, Trolls, and Black Numenoreans vs. Men, Dwarves, Hobbits, Elves, and Half-Elves). I made it on the list twice in six years of play, but never higher than the 8th spot. I would say I played this game casually. In fact, I play most games casually (10-15 hours per week on average).

MUME led to Everquest because I couldn’t resist the temptation of trying out a graphical representation of the type of game I’d been playing for so long. Unfortunately, I only made it to level 10 with a Necromancer before becoming terribly bored. I hadn’t chosen a PvP server, and the idea of grinding in PvE forever did not appeal to me.

I then joined DAOC about eight months after its release on a friend’s suggestion. I’ll go into more detail on this later, but suffice it to say, I was pretty happy with this game until ToA released and WoW came out, offering a new experience.

Between DAOC and WoW I played Star Wars: Galaxies and it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I played a Smuggler, which wasn’t too exciting since there wasn’t a ship/flying/cargo system in the game’s foreseeable future.

The most recent MMORPG I played was WoW, which I quit early last summer. I made it all the way to 70 on Shattered Hand as a Shadow Priest in a pretty good guild, but neither of my end-game options were viable. I wasn’t interested at all in joining my guild in raid grinding Karazan and beyond because I’m not that big a fan of PvE, nor was I able to compete in the arenas due to a lack of teammates (since my guild was a raiding guild). At least I made $400 off my account when I eBayed it! 😉

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

SNAFZG: I gravitate towards solo play as long as I can remain competitive because I don’t usually enjoy paying the penalty for other people’s mistakes. I don’t want to sound elitist, but when I can only put in 10-15 hours per week of play, efficient achievement is of the utmost importance. I guess you could call me “hardcore casual,” but I think someone else already coined that term.

That said, if I can get in a smart and efficient group of interesting people, I have no problem exploring the group aspects of the game. Some of my favorite MMORPG experiences came from 8-man RvR in DAOC with my old guild, Vegr.

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

SNAFZG: I dabbled in blogging back in WoW by writing several well-received posts about Shadow Priests (best PvP/PvE gear sets and play techniques). The motivation to continue writing came in the form of reader comments, asking that I update my lists from time to time.

After quitting WoW, I removed myself from the gaming scene by concentrating on RL hobbies but I was eventually drawn to WAR because of a few Games Day videos my friend took in Toronto last May. I had already been signed up for beta and did cursory research when Mythic announced they bought the IP, but it was so far off that I didn’t bother buying into the hype.

I did more thorough investigation several months before the supposed January 2008 release and found that aside from a few popular WAR forums, there weren’t (m)any focused WAR blogs. I initially examined things from a business perspective and thought that I could probably make a fair bit of money by simply writing about the game and becoming the WoW-Insider of Warhammer Online. Needless to say, my aspirations and focus have narrowed somewhat, but I’d still like to write about WAR in the future as long as I continue having fun playing it and potentially earn a bit of scratch for my efforts in the form of meaningful ad sponsors. Income isn’t the sole motivation, but it wouldn’t be a terrible consolation!

Setting up my website was as simple as buying some server space, installing WordPress, and modifying a pre-made theme. Creating the webcomic is definitely a challenge, but I think I’m getting better with each one. I just need to budget more time for its development.

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

SNAFZG: While I may be a community contributor, I don’t necessarily think I’m as plugged into the community as others. I have about 20 WAR-related sites in my RSS reader for research and entertainment purposes but most of my writing on the site comes in the form of personal opinions.

Some trends I’ve noticed are the growing number of guilds recruiting, and mentally and strategically preparing themselves for WAR’s release. I’ve noticed a lot more beta leaks coinciding with the growing number of players EA Mythic is inviting into beta, even though many sites aren’t reporting them (which is smart because those sites would be blacklisted by EA Mythic). With each release push-back, the community seems less and less surprised, and more and more reasonable. Also, as time goes on, more fan sites are popping up, which is a positive sign for WAR.

Running the Greeny Awards sure opened my eyes to all the crazy WAR fans out there, and we’re still fairly far away from release!

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

SNAFZG: I played DAOC for nearly three years in Midgard/Nimue and had several level 50s, including a Skald, Warrior, Healer, Shadowblade, and buffbot Shaman. It was the first and arguably only MMORPG I ever immersed myself in.

Major Likes

  • The lore and mythology of all realms, while historically imperfect, were the foundation of great immersion and conflict
  • Most of RvR including battlegrounds, open-field combat, keep/tower warfare, 8-man fighting, larger multi-group battles, and the three-way war concept
  • Darkness Falls is the best implantation of a dungeon I’ve ever seen. Even the concept behind the shared frontier dungeons was great.
  • Class variety

Major Dislikes

  • Lack of balance and shifting balance with inconsistent nerfing and buffing, especially with expansion classes
  • PvE from 1-50 is horribly boring, repetitive, and slow (lack of quests) with no risk of PvP
  • The original ToA loot system (such low drop rates, insanely hard and random encounters, and scrolls)
  • All the additional PvE rewards that gave people an advantage in RvR versus those who would have rather just concentrated on RvR

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

SNAFZG: I much prefer PvP (and RvR) to PvE because it provides me with a living, dynamic opponent. There is little gratification in killing a scripted NPC, but I feel PvE is still necessary to provide variety in your MMORPG gaming experience. In theory, WAR should be the perfect game for me because they will allow players to progress throughout the levels, all the while attacking and defending against enemy players.

Back in 1996 they called PvP something else… PK, or player-killing. Once I got a taste of PK/PvP in MUME, I really couldn’t be completely satisfied with PvE anymore, unless there was the threat or potential of clashing with the enemy. I joined one of the top RvR guilds on my server in DAOC and wouldn’t have wished for anything else, even though the game lost its luster. In WoW, I played on PvP server because I wanted to be put back into the situation where I could be jumped at any time during PvE. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much incentive for open-world PvP, so people didn’t participate very much aside from the gankers. I spent most of my time in the battlegrounds, but they too became boring and stale after queuing up a few hundred times with 10-15 minute wait times.

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

SNAFZG: I will obviously be playing Greenskins as a Goblin Shaman or Squig herder (Destruction). Traditionally, I’ve always picked the “dark side” in games because they were seen as the underdogs. One of my fears with WAR is that Destruction may dominate in terms of population numbers because I’d much rather win against the odds than overcome my enemy by sheer numbers. Most polls indicate Destruction being the more appealing choice for WAR fans, and if that’s the case, I truly hope EA Mythic makes good on their promise of enforced and incensed population control (manipulation).

Otherwise, I may just consider playing for Order. Yuck.

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

SNAFZG: I usually play melee or melee hybrids, but this time around I’ll be trying the Shaman (ranged/dps healer) and Squig Herder (ranged/dps pet class). I think this will provide new challenges and provide a fresh approach to this MMORPG. In particular, the Shaman appeals most because they serve a dual offensive and defensive role. I think it will be fun to juggle the many abilities, making me adaptable to many situations.

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

SNAFZG: Is this a trick question because I’m in beta? 😛 I’m most excited to try the novel concepts EA Mythic is bringing to WAR, including: public quests, living cities, living guilds, city siege, etc..

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

SNAFZG: I applied for the beta soon after it was made publicly available and I got in by winning a contest. I have pre-ordered a single copy of the CE and received my codes, however, I’m holding on to everything until I’m absolutely certain that I’ll be playing at release. The CE contents are definitely cool, but the only feature I’m truly excited about is the head start program. If it’s only a 1-day head start, I’ll either sell the CE (hopefully at a profit if the demand peaks) or give it away on my site. If it’s more, then I’ll keep it.

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

SNAFZG: I have to tread carefully here because I don’t want to break the NDA. My only concerns are that they keep on track with their Q3 target for release because even a polished game will have issues competing with the new WoW expansion, that they open up the beta within the next couple months to maintain and spark new interest (also lift the NDA), and that everything is fairly balanced at release, including population dynamics.

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

SNAFZG: I’ll be playing beta when it’s up, but honestly, my free time spent gaming since I quit WoW has diminished greatly. I’ve dabbled in Team Fortress 2 and a few console games, but nothing sustains my interest like a good, PvP/RvR MMORPG. There’s nothing currently our or even on the horizon that fits that description in my humble opinion. Aside from WAR of course.


The Warhammer Online That Almost Was

April 21, 2008

Back in the day — we’ll use this phrase for the year 2005 — Warhammer fans were a little less than thrilled, even disillusioned, when Mythic announced their upcoming Warhammer online universe. At least I know I was. You see, we’d been there already, and it struggled and failed to lift off the ground. Before Mythic ever laid a finger on Warhammer, before Paul Barnett bought those hideously awesome sunglasses, before “War is Everywhere!”, there was another company already hard at work on an online Warhammer presence. Their name? Climax Online.

Climax formed in 1988, and began to seriously publish games in the Playstation era. Today you might recognize them as the makers of Silent Hill: Origins, MotoGP, and both the PC Viva Pinata and the Playstation Diablo port.

As early as 2000, Climax spied the Warhammer IP as a project worthy of their interest and efforts. Despite having no experience in the burgeoning field of online RPGs, Climax engaged the project fully and built up some buzz through E3 videos and limited press. An early partnership with Microsoft to build up the back-end technology went into the works.

By 2002, Climax joined to work hand-in-hand with Games Workshop in order to transform one of their most recognizable IP’s into a hit MMO, and with SEGA distributing the game, they named the venture “Warhammer Online Ltd.”

One of the most notable features of Climax’s Warhammer — and what it will be remembered for — was an intense, unrelenting dark atmosphere. Almost grim, as some described it. Playable races announced included Humans, Elves, Dwarfs, Halflings and Ogres. Four starting classes were also released: Warrior, Academic, Rogue and Adventurer. Guilds would be called “Warrior Companies”. Clothing and armor would be independent graphical layers that would go on top of your character’s model, versus the standard “reskinning” the basic character model that we still see today in many MMOs.

It was stated that the long and narrow Warhammer world (set in the Empire) would take around 12-14 hours to walk end-to-end. Players would find three cities, 12 towns, 30 villages, 30 farmsteads, 18 coaching inns, 15 dungeons and other various landmarks to explore. The game world’s look skewed to the more realistic (think LOTRO), with dark and muted tones abundant. Weather effects were planned and even seasons, including snowfall that would actually accumulate over time (cool!) and other effects that would affect combat.

Noise was made by Cryptic about getting away from level-based advancement toward more skill-based (the same statements Mythic initially supported). The idea here was that you would earn rep with a certain group and then join them to learn what career skills they could teach (including a variety of non-combat skills). Careers were lumped into various tiers — Career 1, Career 2, and soforth — that represented the power and difficulty level of the skills. You could easily learn C1 skills, but you had to jump through a lot of hoops to access C2, and so on. Once you accumulated a certain set of skills, you would find yourself fitting into a class of sorts; a Master Assassin required (among other skills) beggar, ruffian and herbalist skills. The higher you went in the career tiers, the more you became flagged for PvP to members of opposing career sets. As far as I can tell, this type of PvP flagging would not be optional, but integrated.

While several locale names — like the city of Altdorf — might be familiar to today’s Warhammer Online testers, Climax’s game seems almost radically different from what we’ve ended up with now. The planned server sizes would be relatively tiny (4-6k in population), voice acting non-existent, inventory would consider weight as a factor, combat would be round-based (not real time) to compensate for slower internet connections, no crafting system, trading between various NPC vendors would be a viable way to make a buck, and GMs would stage numerous live events such as invasions.

What struck my attention the most is that Climax’s Warhammer would come replete with an in-game journal that would record every quest undertaken, every mob killed, atlases and so forth — a precursor to our beloved Tome of Knowledge, perhaps?

As the world of Warhammer was deeply suspicious of magic — almost anti-magic, in fact — the magic system in Warhammer Online would be altered from most traditional fantasy MMO models. Each zone would have a certain magical “attunement”, resulting in varying streams of magical energy that players could draw on for their diabolical spells. What might be easy to cast in one area, they explained, would be almost impossible in another, depending on the spell in question.

As the development rounded into its second full year, David Nicholson, president of Climax at the time, was quoted as saying this:

“We want to assure fans that we won’t be rushed in this, and we won’t release a game that does not meet all the strict quality criteria we place upon ourselves and placed upon us by the guys at Games Workshop.”

Sound familiar? The Climax team, who received a nice boost in profile at E3 2003, struggled to show something — anything — new at E3 2004. Battles between Climax and GW about the art and animation were cited as a major holdup. It quickly became obvious that Climax bit off more than it could program, and planned features were scaled back or cut altogether.

By June 2004, GW took an inventory of the project, which they estimated would take $30 million to finish and launch (in comparison, Star Wars Galaxy took $30 million to fully develop, and World of Warcraft $60 million). GW deemed it to be too expensive, and stopped funding the project. This didn’t fully kill Warhammer Online, though, as Climax continued to fund the project out of their own pockets and struggled to find a publishing partner. Unfortunately for them, it didn’t happen, and Climax’s Warhammer project was officially canceled for good by the end of the year.

Robin Devs, Climax’s general manager on the project, posted this good-bye on the now-defunct Warhammer Online website:

“It is with a great deal of sadness that I inform the community that we have decided to discontinue the development of Warhammer Online and will be closing down this website with immediate effect. This has been a difficult and painful decision but it was taken following a full review of the progress of the game, costs to date and future costs of the project. As a result both Games Workshop and Climax Development Limited, the computer games developer, have agreed to terminate the development project. I would like to say a personal thanks to all of the people who have followed our development over the last few years, your constant support and enthusiasm has meant a great deal to us.”

About five months later, the Dark Age of Camelot folks snapped up the license and decided to start over on the entire project, creating their own vision of the Warhammer world.

The rest, as they say, will be history.

“Warhammer Online: It’s No Fantasy” – Old E3 trailer on YouTube