Tag age of conan

Give Me Variation Or Give Me Death

Terminal mission

Die, stupid flag!

Since I resubscribed to Star Wars Galaxies I’ve only managed to ding 8 levels. What burned me out last time was this obsession about getting to level cap, and I got stuck on doing terminal missions until my brain bled. They are not very fun, trust me. So this time I gave up on that, even though I do look forward to reaching level 90, and I’ve been doing whatever I’ve felt like at any given moment. Such as…

  • Hunting on Kashyyyk. The design of the Wookie planet is a lot different from the other planets I’ve visited so far, and the long quest chains serve to slowly unlock different areas. I’ve so far gathered three different hunting trophies that are now hanging on the walls of my house. I’ve also ordered myself a new mount from a beast master in my guild, since my regular means of transportation are not available in the forest and I have to rely on my really slow (and ugly) cliff-jumper. A crafter in the guild is also buying any hides I might gather, which is a small cash bonus.
  • Decorating my house. Moving stuff around, hanging new paintings and putting some things on display on top of my aquarium. Hanging a huge bantha hunting trophy next to my bed. Dear me, that will give me nightmares.
  • Flying around in space. I’ve been moving up through the space tiers, currently working for Jabba the Hutt. Space is awesome, and I do hope that Bioware will include something similar in The Old Republic. I doubt they will though, unless it’s planned for an expansion in the same way Jump To Lightspeed was for Star Wars Galaxies.
  • Finding random quests. If you don’t count the Legacy Quest-chain, there are no big arrows pointing out where you should go in SWG. You can run into a quest more or less anywhere. If it sounds interesting, and I believe I can pull it off, I’ll accept it and see where it takes me. I got my fancy clone trooper armor that way. I’ve also started to make my way through the Meatlump theme park, investigating the largest criminal gang on Corellia.
  • Taking part in PvP invasions. Sure, I’m only level 55 right now, so I don’t go full PvP and fight other players. But I’ve joined forces together with a couple of guildies and attacked Bestine a couple of times. Epic and a lot of fun, with walkers and stormtroopers everywhere. I haven’t turned off my flag since last time, so I constantly get to fight stormtrooper NPCs while in Mos Eisley.
  • Doing smuggler missions. I respeced from Jedi to smuggler and I don’t regret it at all. Doing smuggler missions for the Underworld faction might not be the most exciting activity in the world, but it’s a nice distraction and adds flavor.

I’m also considering taking my trader out of early retirement, perhaps respecing him to a chef or giving him an instrument and turn him into an entertainer, playing music and buffing others for tips at the Mos Eisley cantina. We’ll have to see about that, so far I haven’t had any money problems. Sooner or later I will, though.

Pew pew in space

Twitch-based pew pew in space. Eat your heart out, landlubber.

What Star Wars Galaxies has taught me this time is how shallow games like World of Warcraft is. I need at least some sandbox elements to stay happy. I haven’t logged into Lord of the Rings Online in the last couple of days and I don’t really feel like doing so either. I have to log into Age of Conan, since I’m reviewing Rise of the Godslayer, but I seriously doubt it would be able to keep me occupied over a long period of time.

Cataclysm, despite all the cool screenshots, has never looked as uninteresting as right now. I know I will never get my friends to play Star Wars Galaxies with me, since they only tend to go back to what they know or only see flaws where I see merits. That’s fair enough. But more than ever I’m quite sure that I want more sandboxes, more immersion. I want Vanguard more than I want Warcraft, I want Galaxies more than I want The Old Republic (of course I’ll play it when it comes out, it does look awesome).

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The first steps on the path to the Dark Side

The Jawa trading post, filled with junk.

The Jawa trading post, filled with junk.

My first week in Star Wars: Galaxies is coming to an end. I ditched my bounty hunter after, again, realising that I am much more of a melee character kind of guy than a ranged one – I guess all those years playing as a rogue really got to me, after all. I tried the smuggler class during my first trial period and didn’t feel like going back to that, so I ended up picking a Jedi.

I know, I know. It’s bound to be the most popular class, and it’s not a very creative pick. Yet, I’m glad that I did – melee combat in SWG feels a lot better than ranged. I don’t know why, but it always seems like developers have a problem when it comes to ranged combat in MMOs. Tabula Rasa did pretty well, but in both SWG and Fallen Earth ranged feels clumsy. Most of the time it looks incredibly awkward, just two (or more) avatars standing around, shooting at each other, hoping to score the killing shot.

And as iconic as the laser sounds from Star Wars are, they still get old really fast. Replacing my blaster rifle with a two-handed lance was probably the best choice I could have made.

A raised village, destroyed by the Dark Side of the Force. Imperial March, please. Thank you.

A burned-out village, destroyed by the Dark Side of the Force. Imperial March, please. Thank you.

This means I’ve gone through the tutorial part of SWG three times now – as a smuggler, a bounty hunter and a Jedi. All classes and races start in the same area and do their first couple of missions on the Tansarii space station. Usually that kind of design bugs me, but Tansarii is an exception. The missions and storyline there are different depending on what class you choose – the smuggler gets quests from Han Solo, the bounty hunter from Bobba Fett and there’s some random Jedi master (in full Jedi robes, someone note the proper Empire authorities, please) to give out Force-related quests to the fledgling Padawan.

Compared to, for example, Aion (and Warhammer Online these days) where all classes do the same quests in the same starting area, Tansarii is a lot closer to Tortage in Age of Conan than anything else. The main difference is that the part on the space station is short. I dread going back to Age of Conan (which I will, at some point), thanks to having to slug my way through the first 20 gorram levels again. In SWG, you can be on solid, planetary ground in just a few levels, while still having enough new content during the tutorial to keep up your interest for every class you try out.

It’s a completely different deal when you end up on Tatooine. The Legacy quest line, which starts on Tansarii and follows you for the next 40 levels or so (it’s long, trust me), can luckily be skipped though. There should be enough missions from various NPCs and mission terminals to keep you busy – I’ve gone through the Legacy past the initial White Thantra-infiltration on all my three characters (the Jedi is the only one I kept playing beyond that), and I don’t plan to ever do it again. Ever. It’s well-written and pretty exciting, so if it’s your first time in SWG, I do recommend following it.

Also, you get to work for the great Jabba. You get Jabba-rep. Screw you, Argent Dawn, Jabba is the guy you want reputation with.

No! Dont dance there!

No! Don't dance there!

At the end of my first week in SWG, I’m at level 22. 4 more levels until I get my lightsaber, after which I plan to experiment with one of the non-combat classes. Am I having fun? Oh yes. Do I regret starting out on the project? Absolutely not. I’ll get back to impressions of actual game mechanics and my first steps into the sandbox-part of the game over the next couple of days. If you feel like contacting me in-game, look up Ri’Kali on FarStar-Europe – the bounty hunter is going the way of the deletion button any minute now.

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GRTV: Rise of the Godslayer interview

Another one of those interviews that’s been stuck in the archives – I met the guys from Funcom at Gamescom this year and had a chat about Rise of the Godslayer, which was announced on the same day as this interview was filmed.

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Which virtual world to visit this summer?

Summer is coming. Summer means gaming. So does the rest of the year, but still. Which means I need a summer MMO to keep myself busy.

I really did try to give EverQuest II another chance, but after a brief session yesterday I decided to call it quits again. I do enjoy the game on certain levels, the gameplay is fairly solid and the graphics aren’t all that bad (except the character design, which I’m not a big fan of), but I am amazed at how the zoning always gets to me. It really shouldn’t be that big a deal, but I can’t help having to stretch my imagination too far every time I zone – in my head, The Baubleshire and the Forest Ruins aren’t connected in any way, despite the fact that they are right next to each other. The zoning between them completely breaks my immersion, which annoys me to the degree that I have a hard time enjoying the rest of the EQII-experience.

For a weak moment I was considering resubbing to Age of Conan, despite what some people seem to think about Funcom’s latest event screw up, but then I remembered that if there’s one game that has a lot of zoning, it’s AoC. I also did some reading on the official AoC forums and seeing references to the amount of instances of a given zone up at one time, I really decided to skip it. If there is one thing that gets me more than zoning it’s instancing of an open zone (dungeons are exceptions). I even prefer more servers with less people on them than multiple instances of a zone on one server. Just the thought of it makes my skin crawl. It’s a horrible, bad and cheap design solution.

So where does that leave me? Rappelz still won’t co-operate, which really bugs me. A clean install is coming up and some manual patching on top of that should solve my issues, even though it’s really damn annoying that I have to do that just to get the thing running. Champions Online has been delayed until September, but to be honest I wasn’t all that impressed with the press beta. Jumpgate Evolution has been delayed as well, but considering what a train wreck of a MMO NetDevil’s old Auto Assault was, why do I even care to begin with? I’m not very impressed with the ship design and I know I will always expect space MMOs that only has a ship as your avatar to be as cut-throat as EVE Online. Dog fights are cool and all, but I still love the rush of EVE’s PvP fights.

Darkfall? The €42 price tag says “no”. I would love to give it a try, but I can’t for the life of me see myself paying that much money for it. It also seems like the European, and only, server is already populated and entrenched by now. I might consider it if they open up the NA-1 server in June and allow people to transfer off from EU-1, but I would prefer to see a brand new server opening up in Europe instead. Even though the empires are already established in EVE Online, you still have Empire space to keep you safe and cuddly until you dare to leave for low- or null-sec. I’m not 100% sure, since I’ve not tried DF myself, but it seems like it would be harder to start up a brand new, small sized guild compared to getting a corp up and running in EVE.

So, my eyes have once again fallen on Vanguard. There might not be any large-scale politics to get involved in, but it has a massive and epic world filled with places to see and explore. I really liked it when I played it, but since raiding in World of Warcraft got the better of me I cancelled my sub ages ago. I haven’t seen the Isle of Dawn (except the very first parts), I never got past level 20 and since diplomacy has seen a bit of a revamp since I left I’m really aching to see what they’ve done with those quest chains (I really liked diplomacy). I’ve been a bit worried (and still am, in a way) that SOE would leave the game to rot, but the Halls of the Pantheon update was just applied to the live servers which means the devs are keeping themselves busy.

As it stands right now, it’s Vanguard vs a deeper commitment to EVE Online. I love EVE, I always have, always will. But it plays completely different than other MMOs, at least for me. It’s about 10 days until I finished Small Railgun Spec V, then we’ll see if EVE will be my summer MMO. Until then, I think I’ll resub to Vanguard and give Isle of Dawn a spin. After all, Beau seems to be quite impressed with it.

And then there’s that damn Ryzom I just can’t get out of my head…arrrrrgh. I think I’ll go play inFamous for a bit.

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GRTV: Ragnar Tornquist interview, GDC´09

(I got to write some questions for this interview, but Benke got to ask them since I didn’t go to GDC. I’m not bitter. No, not at all.)

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GRTV: Craig Morrison interview, GDC’09.

Even though he’s trained for dealing with the press, I feel Craig is being quite humble during the course of the interview. That’s great, since I think people are much more inclined to try the game out again if the developers actually admit the major mistakes they did at launch instead of beating their chests.

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The WoW tourist as a social being

Tourists, currently longing back to Northrend.

Syncaine of Hardcore Casual and Tobold of…well, Tobold’s MMORPG Blog have been at each others throats during the last couple of days, the subject being the always tricky (and somewhat infected) “WoW tourism”. I won’t go into much detail about my own stand on the subject, I’ll just say that I tend to agree more with Syncaine than with Tobold, but I can’t stay away from reacting one thing Tobold wrote in his latest post on the subject.

Back in 2004 the fans of Everquest claimed that World of Warcraft won out against the nearly simultaneously released EQ2 due to better marketing. It is possible that there are undiscovered gems out there few people are playing. But that argument falls flat the moment a game gets a huge wave of initial subscribers, who *after* playing the new game for a while decide that it isn’t for them. In that case either the gameplay is less appealing, or the quality of execution, the programming is inferior. Nobody would ever react with “Hey, this new game is more fun and runs better than WoW, lets go back to WoW”. A customer who leaves and goes back to WoW means the new game failed to attract him. WoW might be the standard by which he measured that new game, but obviously he was willing to try something else, and would have staid [sic] if that something else had had sufficient quality.

Simply put, I don’t agree. Age of Conan and Warhammer Online, the two games that often get brought up in this discussion since they did see a huge wave of initial subscribers that fell away rather quickly after launch, did have their problems which did make some people leave. Absolutely, there’s no use in denying that fact (I have written a bit on the subject before). What I don’t agree with Tobold on is that people would never say “this is more fun than WoW, let’s go back to WoW”. Because, trust me, that happens.

The question “why do people keep going back to World of Warcraft” can, of course, be answered by just stating that WoW is a better game than its competitors. Some would claim that people go back to World of Warcraft after playing another MMO because the new game wasn’t as polished, a polish which more or less no new MMO would be able to live up to since Blizzard have had 4 years to improve WoW. Some, who are more sceptical of the WoW tourism phenomenon, would say that the players that bounce back to WoW do so because they expect the new game to be World of Warcraft, just in different clothing. Tobold is going for the first option, Syncaine seems to mix the two latter.

I would like to add another answer to that question, an answer which would include people saying “this is a better game, let’s go back to WoW”*.  Syncaine is touching on it when he writes that

…most WoW tourists did not even play WoW at launch, but jumped on at a later (and more refined) time. Now you add in the first love aspect to the expectation that all MMOs look like WoW did to them for the first time in 2005-2008. No matter what new MMO game launches, it’s not going to meet those expectations, and hence will suffer the WoW tourist effect.

For a lot of people, World of Warcraft is their first MMO. When the first wave of players picked up World of Warcraft in 2004, they did it because it was another Blizzard game, the next part in the Warcraft-saga. It wasn’t because it was a MMO, even though of course people from EverQuest or Dark Age of Camelot decided to give it a try as well. World of Warcraft helped introduce people to the MMO-genre, but most of all it introduced them to World of Warcraft.

Which means that, when a new game comes out, not nearly all World of Warcraft-players decides to try it out. In the case of Age of Conan, many did, but far from everyone. Unless you were in a guild that was so disillusioned with WoW (some were, some are, some will be – as always) that you all together decided to jump ship, you probably left a lot of your friends behind – friends that are interested in playing WoW, not a MMO.

So the tourist arrives at the new game, fresh with 30 days of playtime. If he bought a gamecard for World of Warcraft recently, chances are that his WoW-subscription is still active. He plays for a bit and experiences one of the points mentioned above – he thinks WoW is better, he thinks the new game lacks polish, or he expected a new World of Warcraft instead of a brand new game. Or he could actually really like the new game – he loves to RvR, or he truly enjoys the more reactive combat system of Age of Conan. But back in World of Warcraft his friends await him. All his characters, that he has invested so much time and energy in, are there. He knows what he has and what he is able to get. The new MMO, even though he really enjoys it, is still a bit of an unknown – just like WoW was, once upon a time. So taking the step back to World of Warcraft is not really a sacrifice, it actually feels like coming home.

Simply stating that a player would have stayed in the new game if it was better, that going back to WoW “means the new game failed to attract him”, is not taking the social aspect of MMOs into consideration, or how personally invested in a certain MMO a player can become. During my time in various MMOs, I’ve found games that appealed a lot more to me than World of Warcraft, but I have still left them behind to rejoin my friends, to play together with them, to come back to a game I know. For the last couple of years, many of us have lived a large part of our lives in Azeroth. That is a bond that can be very hard to break, despite finding a new game that really appeals to us.

The same goes, of course, for someone migrating from Vanguard to WoW or from EVE Online to Dungeons & Dragons Online. It’s just that during 2008 we saw the extremes of all these cases. It’s a fascinating subject, no matter what the true reason behind the “tourism” we’ve seen lately might be. Hopefully it won’t harm the genre in the long run.

(* I of course acknowledge that I am hardly alone in reaching this conclusion. Check out the comments to Tobold’s entry quoted above, there’s some nuggets in there and several people reaching the same conclusion as me. And some flaming. No answer from Tobold himself, though.)

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PvP, the community and nerd rage

The whole issue of PvP-based MMOs has been a hot topic on MMO-blogs since Darkfall’s release and people have been trying to nitpick and analyze the game’s coming success or downfall on how its community or technology will develop. Over on his blog, Brian Green wrote an interesting article about why PvP-games’ core problem is their community, calling it a deeper problem than “technical instability and insane design decisions”, relating the whole thing to his own experiences with working on Meridian 59. Most importantly, he brings up the paradox that a lot of players of these games will face sooner or later…

The players say want the opportunity to win big, which means they also have to have the chance to lose it all if they are fighting against other players. This ties back into the issue people often mention that players fantasize that they’ll always be on top, winning all the battles and getting all the great rewards. They never want to think about the times when they’re the underdog, coming back naked after being completely looted and having nothing left in the vaults to fall back on. So, it’s not just a matter of making the mistakes less costly.

The article reminded me of what one of my old CEOs in EVE Online once told me – “giving a person in my corp more power is not about giving him or her more responsibility to the group, it is giving him more power the ruin the game for others”. Corp theft is one of the reasons why corps in EVE are generally paranoid, a well-placed spy or a corp member going rogue and emptying the corp hangars or wallets can destroy the most well-structured corporation in a matter of seconds. It’s an integral part of the game, CCP even recognizes corp theft as a valid career in EVE, but people much more prefer to read about the more dramatic instances of hangars being emptied (like the Guiding Hand Social Club-incident) than actually seeing it happen to themselves. They want the game to be free enough to let it happen, yet they never want to see it happen in their own backyards. Players have cancelled their subs in a nerd rage for much less.

But EVE Online and Darkfall are two niche titles, despite both getting a lot of attention in the media and in blogs. Darkfall will probably settle down with a fairly small player base, that will either tear itself apart of start to organize itself in a way similar to how the corporations in EVE have done. EVE Online, even though it is successful and slowly growing, only has around 200k players (and can only accepts so many subs before the galaxy will start to feel too crowded for comfort). But 2008 saw two triple A-MMOs released, two games with a strong PvP-focus and whose communities helped to ruin their potential instant success – Age of Conan and Warhammer Online.

Now, Conan and Warhammer did have their technical problems to begin with and the PvP was hardly completely to blame. Conan did sell very well at launch, boasting somewhere around 700k subs at the end of the first month (which is a huge number), with around 400k sticking around to August 2008. The number of players held by the game right now is up to debate, but figures around 50 – 100k have been mentioned in various places. Warhammer Online on the other hand seems to have around 300k subs according to an economical report from EA. That’s still a lot of people. But the fact remains that the two games, even though they have constantly been improving since day one, don’t have the best of reputation. Age of Conan never managed to get over the initial, and sometimes completely over the top, hatred that a lot of players spewed on it (and Funcom) – a lot of people complaining not only about the lack of end-game content, but also the lack of a proper PvP-system. Warhammer Online has also seen a lot of attacks from players, a lot of it directed towards open world PvP and public quests.

Let’s start out, for the sake of the argument, to leave the PvE behind. The public quests in WAR looked better on paper than they did when the first players had left the starting areas and the lack of end-game content in AoC in more or less irrelevant to a discussion about PvP. Looking at only the PvP in those two games, they suffer/suffered from the lack of open world PvP in WAR and the lack of a proper PvP-system in AoC (as mentioned above). And when it all comes down to it, these two problems have one thing in common – the community and its craving for rewards…

Read more

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Conan delivers yet another fatality at Funcom

Gamesindustry.biz reports today that Olav Sandes, CFO of Funcom, has resigned. The reason? Age of Conan, of course.

Funcom has reported its financial results for the fourth quarter, revealing an operating loss of USD 23.3 million, caused by a depreciation of USD 22.8 million due to the lagging performance of Age of Conan.

"Next person who says 'Failcom' gets a knife in the gut."

"Next person who says 'Failcom' gets a knife in the gut."

There has been a lot of stormy weather around Age of Conan, ever since it was released. Personally I enjoyed it a lot during the first couple of weeks after launch, even though I reacted against the use of instanced content (as in multiple instances of a given zone, not as instances work in World of Warcraft or Guild Wars). I haven’t played it since then, but generally the media, bloggers and players haven’t been very kind to the game. To say the least.

I don’t think Funcom is about to give up on Age of Conan yet, like NCsoft did with Tabula Rasa. GI.biz quotes the company saying “[Funcom's] current sales and marketing initiatives focus on launches in new territories, as well as revitalising Age of Conan in existing core markets.” And they are predicting that they will make somewhere between $6 – $8 million from subs during Q1 2009, which is good even though the game has been heavily depreciated.

But with another official setback, is Age of Conan still due for Xbox 360? I doubt it, but weirder things have happened. Instead, I’m hoping that Funcom learns from the obvious mistakes they made with AoC and put all their strength and newfound and hard bought knowledge behind The Secret World. And, perhaps, even give us that single player game so many of us are waiting for?

(The wikipedia links above are for people who had never heard the word “depreciation” before reading the coverage of Sandes’ resignation, like me. I wonder if everyone who covered it today actually know what it meant or bothered to look it up. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to start using that term in every conversation I have from now on.)

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