Tag ncsoft

Joining The 2010 Predictions Fun!

In 2010, we will all be wearing funny hats.

Yay! Scott Jennings, Heartless and Keen have done their predictions. Syp went on Massively Speaking and did his (I believe, haven’t had time to listen to it yet). I want to have some fun too, especially since I can then look back at my mistakes at the end of 2011. It all works out for the best. Most of this is pure speculation, of course, and I am not sure I believe all of it myself. “But it seemed so plausible,” you will hear me moan. G’damn it, I’m a doctor of journalism!

/cough

I guess I’ll just do the whole year company by company, starting out with the most obvious choice…

Blizzard: Blizzard stall the Icecrown Citadel raid zone for as long as they possible can, until Arthas is being farmed by every guild in existence. Wrath of the Lich King is good for one more content patch, presumably adding another Troll raid. At E3, Activision Blizzard announce that they will release Cataclysm at the end of September, with Blizzcon being used to hype the expansion like crazy. This will be the last Blizzcon to focus that much on a World of Warcraft-expansion, however. Patch 4.0 is released a month before Cataclysm and Arthas will be killed by a 3-man (druid/paladin/death knight) group. There might be films on YouTube about it. A content patch is planned, ready to strike against Bioware’s upcoming release of Star Wars: The Old Republic. I will probably be raiding again, denying ever having left the scene.

Cryptic: Star Trek Online is delayed by two weeks because Cryptic still have a lot of work to do before it is “ready”. The game will be released, lacking a core function or two, which will have its players up in arms for a while. Balance between players and mobs will be an issue, especially in space, just like a lack of content. Cryptic will have learned some lessons from CO, and the uproar won’t be as gigantic this time around – except amongst Trekkers, who will constantly complain about the game not being Star Treky enough on the official forums. Forums you can only post on if you, ya’know, still subscribe to the game…

NCsoft: NCsoft will remind everyone that marketing is marketing. Aion will get some new features, but no housing in sight. Around E3, the company will announce the game’s first expansion pack, which they promise will bring the graphical updates shown in Aion Vision. It will not be released in 2010. At Gamescom, NCsoft will talk about expanding Aion and show some new videos from Guild Wars 2, perhaps force a shy Korean producer to talk about Soul and Blade. No real hands on with GW2, though.

Pic unrelated.

In December, millions of emo Jedis will invade the Internet.

Bioware: The Old Republic goes into closed beta towards the end of the summer, with release set in November/December. After all, EA need their money. The game will be praised for its storyline content, with some players burning through it in a matter of weeks so they can troll the official forums about the lack of end-game content. There will be an actual lack of end-game content. The game will show us that “full voice overs” is a relative term. There will, of course, not be any space content. Seriously, you expected actual space content? We will all be playing it.

Mythic: Warhammer Online gets another server merger, Mythic keep trying to straighten up Tier 4 and city sieges. During Q2, they will announce the first expansion to the game, which will be a digital release comparable to EVE Online’s model of doing things. It will not have a third faction, but new zones that you have to pay to get access to. EA will sack some more people, but the game will not be cancelled. Live events will be held, as usual, and the expansion will be released after Cataclysm. WAR will not become free to play.

Funcom: Rise of the Godslayer is released early summer, it will get high grades in the press but fail to make a large dent in the MMO genre. Funcom will keep moving people over to Canada, and move devs from AoC to The Secret World. TSW will go into closed beta towards the end of the year, major hype will start to build up and it will become Funcom’s new flagship game.

CCP: EVE Online will not get walking in stations.

SOE: Despite rumors of their demise, Star Wars Galaxies and Vanguard will not be cancelled. SWG will get the Galactic Civil War update early during the year, with additional game updates over the next 12 months, and the players will complain about their light side jedis on the forums for all eternity. Free Realms will not be released for the PS3, DC Universe Online will fail to shift many units when it’s finally released for console during the summer. Most MMO gamers will give up on the whole “MMOs for console”-thing for this generation of consoles. A new MMO, maybe EverQuest 3, will be announced during the autumn, SOE will be very silent when asked about the new game’s business model.

All new games mentioned above will get completely pointless and annoying Twitter/Facebook-features, of course.

In 2010, Great Cthulhu will arise and devour some people.

Then we have the unknowns, like 38 Studios, and the ones most people don’t really care that much about, like Aventurine. I will leave them out of my predictions, since I’m not convinced that 38 Studios will tell us what Copernicus actually is or that Aventurine will do anything really interesting with Darkfall. Then there’s that scary question about what Winch Gate will do with Ryzom, but I don’t want to think about that for too long, since I might get all sad.

I won’t go into the whole “war of the business models” either. That’s really tricky and it’s getting late here. Predicting the future like this is hard work and the Old Gods of Time And Space want their tribute. So, Cthulhu fhtagn! and have a great New Years Eve!

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Aion Vision, lol wut?

We can has houses plx?

We can has houses plx?

Ncsoft releases trailer for future updates, labeled Aion Vision. Player base, including a lot of the people that left, goes crazy. Love is in the air. The trailer shows graphical updates, a housing system, explosive battles…all that good stuff. Everyone and their mother are suddenly considering a re-sub. After all, the trailer looks awesome. It’s the future, man! It’s the way the game is going to look soon! Wow! It’s all in-game graphics!

Hang on, hang on. Didn’t we forget something? Something important?

Oh yeah, that’s right. Companies lie.

Aion Vision does look great, it does. I don’t really care that much about the graphical updates, as I think Aion looked great already. Housing, if implemented, is always a good thing. Hey, I’m already wasting too much time moving furniture around in my house in Star Wars Galaxies and drooling over Stargrace’s Norrathian Museum-video. Don’t get me wrong.

But Aion Vision, at the same time, is marketing. Successful marketing, at that. A video managed, somehow, to erase the memories of the reasons why a lot of people left the game in the first place. The grind. The end-game bugs. The grind. The incredibly linear gameplay and the lack of an open world. The feeling that we’ve done this all before.

Remember this?

Remember this?

The dramatics in the trailer are all directed, put together by the game’s cinematic team. Cinematic teams, at least good ones, can work wonders.

If the stuff they are showing in Aion Vision all come true, that’s great. But please don’t forget that it’s marketing. Don’t forget that it doesn’t really say anything about how the game will be to play when it comes out. Sure, they are promising to lessen the grind, but don’t forget that Aion is already successful in Korea and they love stuff like that. How much will be changed for the Western audience, I wonder?

When I met the producer of Aion, he mentioned that players in Korea were complaining about that Aion had too many quests. That’s right. Too many. They see quests as a grind, we see the lack of them as a grind. I don’t see anything in Aion Vision that explains how Ncsoft will manage to keep everyone satisfied.

But congratulations to Ncsoft. You guys pulled it off! I really want to love Aion, I adore the design and a good PvP-game would be great, but it takes a lot more than a fancy trailer to convince me to come back.

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You’re testing my patience, Aion dearest

At first, I didn’t mind the queues to Aion that much. They were annoying and I saw no reason for me to sit through them, then when I finally did decide to give them a chance my client started to crash at some point when I was playing Batman: Arkham Asulym while waiting for them to finish. I am very testy today, since I did not end up on a flight to Iceland today (long story, including chattering ladies, being made an example of in security and having a crisis land in my lap), so I guess giving Aion a go tonight wasn’t such a great idea, but right now I’m furious with having to queue to play a MMO that was released (I count head-start as release, especially with that many pre-orders) more than a week ago.

I still haven’t paid NCsoft a penny for Aion, but I have a job to do here. The screens I’ve grabbed so far were too dark for print, which means I need to take new ones. Since I found out that they didn’t work today, my original plan was to capture them on coming back next Monday, barely making it before deadline and when the finished magazine has to be sent off to the printers. But with this sudden increase in available time, I figured I might as well grab them now – giving myself a larger margin of error and making my editor-in-chief breathe easier. But no.

Despite three new European servers (one English, one French and one German), there is still a queue of over one hour to get into the game. There’s no point in me sitting it out since I know the client will give up and become unresponsive anyway. I can do it tomorrow instead, or I could just log in to the new server and hope that there’s still room for a character on it and no queue. At the same time, do I really want to send a screenshot of the first area to the magazine? Not really, even though I will if I have to.

There’s no way that I’ve been able to play enough, either. I’ve had so many nights earmarked for Aion, but most of the time I haven’t even been able to connect and when I finally got in, I was rubber-banding back and forth like crazy. Tip of the day – Dash Attack and rubber-band lag = a great gaming experience. Any player that rolled a warrior in the early days of World of Warcraft will know what I am talking about…

Again, this will not lower my final score. But I have a print deadline to catch and readers on our site screaming for a review of Aion, which means that I will have to add all manners of disclaimers about not having been able to play enough. Which means that the review will not be able to offer everything that I think NCsoft would like it too, or cover all the stuff that I’d like to cover. But what can I do when I can’t play? Please, tell me, because I’m drawing a blank here. Do I actually have to break my own principle of not reviewing anything labeled as “beta” in the future?

The sad part is that I still really enjoy Aion, despite it being completely unoriginal. A lot, actually. I’ll grab the screens tomorrow, hopefully the server won’t be full during the day. It’s not like I have that much work to do, since I shouldn’t even be home right now…gah, now I’m getting angry again.

I’m downloading Fallen Earth, hopefully that can kill some time while I wait for the kids that are currently up playing Aion to go to bed. Not that it’s helped against the lag before, but at least I can log in. It’s either that or playing more Dirt 2, but racing games tend to give me headache – worse headaches than the one I already have, that is.

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Why the Aion community is scaring me away

Or “Why quest helper, not World of Warcraft, ruined MMOs”

Let’s get the positive stuff out of the way first – I am really starting to enjoy Aion. Yes, it’s so far nothing more than a typical quest grind for XP, the quests are terribly unoriginal and getting into a fight with more than one mob (God forbid three) is a pain. But I’m having fun, I love the alien design, the flavor texts and the storyline. I’ve started to craft a bit, which I also like despite the system for doing it is traditional (do I dare call it “archaic”?) and I like to fly (even though I think the flight timer system is silly in a game so built on flight). PvP, at the arena, is intense and gives me a taste for more – I still wish there was a way to level through PvP alone. If you develop a game so focused on PvP as Aion is at higher levels, you really ought to offer that as an alternative to the typical PvE grind.

With that said, I do have problems with the game. And one of the major ones is how the community feels right now. It’s still early in the game, a lot of people probably won’t play after their first 30 days are up, but at this point it’s almost scary. The general chat is filled with utter nonsense most of the time, the names taken from World of Warcraft are in abundance and the name calling and insulting is constant. Today I was called a “rtard” (people actually use words like that?) by a player called Ladysylvanas (I called that name “unoriginal”, another player called it “gay” – you choose…) and it’s almost becoming a sport between me and Terr to spot names like “Kiljaeden”, “Jaina” or “Azeroth” while we play and point them out over Twitter. Got to love that real time updated social web, no?

I managed to find myself a pretty nice Legion to at least chat with, they seem like a good bunch, but the community is a constant noise in the back of my head. Sure, I can block them, and I keep my Legion chat tab up most of the time to not see General (I don’t want to leave it just yet, since the game is so new there might be a few hidden gems in it), but just knowing that they are out there makes my skin crawl. I guess it’s a problem with most MMOs, but I can’t remember it being this bad in Warhammer Online or Age of Conan when they launched. There were idiots, absolutely, but the community in Aion reminds me more of the one on my server in Runes of Magic than in any other game I’ve played so far.

The impact on actual gameplay is of course none, Aion is still fun. But it better pick up as I level, since I don’t really want to waste away hours on end on a game filled with people that get on my nerves. I want to enjoy Aion without the constant reminder that the good people are few and far between. If you don’t believe me, do take a look at the official forums and tell me that I’m overreacting.

Also, and this is one of the things that gets me the most, everyone seem to be terribly lazy. Despite Aion having clickable links in the quest journal that often can show you exactly where to go, a lot of players don’t seem to even bother to do that, instead asking in General chat about the most fundamental things (“where is X, where do I get Y, I can’t find N, etc”). I can’t help blaming this a bit on Quest Helper, which truly turned World of Warcraft into a game for drones. I’m guilty as well, I installed Quest Helper just like everyone else, but that does not mean I feel handicapped the second I end up in a game that doesn’t have similar tools. Read the freaking quest journal, for crying out loud. It’s all right there! Some even ask for directions to things that’s been shown in cut scenes, which always makes me wanna shove my head through my screen.

There are two things that might get me when it comes to Aion – the grind or the community. As soon as I’ve played enough to deliver my review (which will never, truly be enough of course), I’m going to make a decision. Either I press on, or I ditch Aion for the time being. The community in games like Ryzom is so nice that I don’t see why I should have to live through this crap to enjoy myself. I am also considering picking up Fallen Earth to see how it is and feels, with an extra careful eye towards its budding community. No more, I say. No more.

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Hey, look – I’m actually playing Aion

Yes, it’s true – I decided to shift server, the queues are down, the server cap has been increased. That means I can actually log into Aion and, you know, play…

It’s certainly an improvement. So far, I’m enjoying myself, even though it is still a PvE quest grind fest in the lower levels – at this point it really doesn’t add anything to the genre. I know things will get different when you get into the Abyss and the PvP game begins, which I’m really looking forward to, but even Runes of Magic did “more” for the MMO genre in its first levels than Aion does. To be honest, the saving grace of Aions’ early game is the graphics. They look amazing, I find myself drawn to the world and I’m really happy that the drawing distance has been improved since the first closed beta. Thank you, NCsoft.

I do understand what Sera meant when she said that she didn’t think Aion had a soul, it’s hard to shake the feeling that something is lacking. Hopefully I will be able to find that missing touch as I progress, since I have great hopes for Aion as a good PvP game. Also, my character (pictured above) looks awesome. She is ready to kick some Elyos scum back to whatever sun-infested place they came from. As soon as she’s done grinding for XP, that is…

Major gripe with Aion for the day – the battle music. It’s horrific. That and the fact that people lack imagination – the amount of Warcraft-related names is staggering. How about some strict enforcing of naming policies, NCsoft? Be quick about it, please, you can’t really accept a Legion calling themselves “Frostmourne”, can you? Feel free to just perma-ban all the people who can’t help chatting about World of Warcraft in General chat while you’re at it, it’s such a sad sight.

If you happen to be in a nice Legion on Castor-EU, with mature players and a good sense of humor, feel free to contact me. A large part of the community scares me (I was just told that “asassins [sic] are pro rangers are ghey” in Assassin chat) and I think I will need to hide from it as much as possible, while still hoping to find a Legion with great people that enjoy the PvP Aion has to offer. Why do I play MMOs again? Hmmm, I guess I should save that for another post.

Just to end at a high note – combat in Aion is, at least so far, a lot of fun. It’s fast, the attacks look great and I really like the chain system. But it most certainly isn’t a sandbox game, so I’m not sure if it has the appeal to keep me playing for a long, long time. Then again, I played World of Warcraft for ages, so perhaps I should keep my mouth shut…

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Aion is go! Perhaps. At least I think it is. Is it?

First impression: Can’t create an Asmodian on my server of choice. Fair enough, the limit will be lifted anyway, so I’ll wait.

Second impression: Can’t connect to server since it’s full, sorry. Try again in a while.

Third impression: You are number 3200 in the queue, just hang around for almost 5 hours and you’ll get to play.

I have been stuck on that third impression since yesterday. There is no way I’m waiting 5 hours in a queue to play a MMO, I don’t think anyone should have to. Dear NCsoft, you had hard numbers on the amount of people that would try to log in during the head start days and couldn’t fix this well in advance? You guys just managed to hit a brand new MMO-low in a time when we’ve slowly come to expect launch day catastrophes to be a thing of the past.

My plan yesterday was to write a proper first impression blog entry about Aion, complete with a screenshot of my new fancy character. That is obviously not going to happen – I wasn’t able to log in during the off-peak hours earlier today and I am certainly not able to log in now. I have no idea what the server guys are doing, but I’d recommend NCsoft to shove a lot of extra cash their way so they can get everything up to speed well in advance of the official launch in a few days. The game launches in the US tomorrow and if you guys are having the same issues as we Europeans do, you are truly screwed.

Now, I haven’t paid a penny for my copy of Aion, so perhaps I shouldn’t be complaining that much. If I had actually paid good money for the collectors edition and getting into the head start program that way, I would be furious by now. But since I’m supposed to be reviewing the game, I am under a certain deadline stress. My editor in chief knows how MMOs work, that they take time to review, but at the same time you can’t wait forever for these things. If things aren’t sorted soon, how am I supposed to have the time to do a proper and informed review?

Funnily enough, NCsoft seems to understand the problems with reviewers being stressed and pumping out MMO reviews way too quickly (perhaps they don’t want to see one of their games be the center of another Zitrongate), so they added a note to the e-mail which included the review code. They asked us gaming journos to “…keep in mind that the full experience of Aion grows with the game and an accurate view of the Abyss PvPvE zone won’t become apparent without a reasonable amount of active high level characters and player organization on you [sic] server”.

When the e-mail arrived a few days ago I found it cute and quite daring – they could have hoped for a Tortage effect instead – but now I just find it laughable. How will my experience of Aion be able to grow with the game and how do you expect me to be able to reach level 25 and take part in the Abyss fighting if I can’t even get into the game?

When it comes to my future review of Aion, I will of course not give the game a lower score because of these problems – I will take the time to play and experience what the game has to offer before I pass judgement on it. But the problems we are seeing now will be mentioned. I have a bad feeling that quite a few reviewers, especially the ones that don’t care very much about the genre, will be a lot quicker in judging the game.

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Oh Tabula Rasa, where are you now?

I was sorting through some old papers today and happened to come across a old press kit for Tabula Rasa from 2007. I have a bunch of these for various NCsoft games, they more or less all follow the same format, but I hadn’t seen this one for quite some time – it was hidden somewhere underneath old bills (paid, to the archives!) and piles of old photographs. In this day, when the axing of MMOs seems to be a hot topic, it was a fun find while still being kind of sad.

I actually liked Tabula Rasa in a way, even though it was hardly ready for release when it launched. It had some great ideas and I took part in some epic fights for outposts during my time with it (I actually reviewed it, scoring it a 7/10, but let’s not get into the whole “how do you review MMOs”-thing again). I never stayed past the initial 30 days, but it was on my list of games to get back to once it had been left to simmer for a while. Sadly, it didn’t turn around during the year it was active, and NCsoft decided to shut it down on February 28, 2009. I am sure that, if they had let it live longer, it could have done an Age of Conan and redeemed itself in the eyes of both players and company.

There’s no doubt that Tabula Rasa had huge problems, both as a game and because of the politics behind the scenes. It had cost a lot to develop and had taken 6 years to “finish”. But I think denying that it had potential is going too far. It was hardly an Auto Assault, of the worst MMOs I’ve ever played. But it could have used at least another 6 months to develop and it also should have adapted to what players had come to expect during the years it had been in development – during a press showing of the game I remember a journalist asking about “end-game”, to which the dev in charge of the event answered “end-game? What do you mean?”.

My first encounter with Tabula Rasa was a press trip to Austin to visit the NCsoft offices there. I met Richard Garriot, got a tour of his house, and I liked the guy – of course he was nice to the journalists, but he felt very honest and outgoing. At one point I told him that he was a super-geek, really living the life every nerd around the globe would want (including yours truly), to which he just laughed and said “I know! Isn’t it great?”. We also, of course, got a couple of hours of hands-on with Tabula Rasa. When I got back home I wrote an article about it, and to be honest I wasn’t all that excited – criticizing both the rather bland character design, the environments and the chaotic combat system.

When the game finally launched the following fall, the first thing that struck me was that it was exactly the game that we had played during our stay in Texas. It felt as if though the months between me flying out there and it ending up at retail had brought nothing to the game at all. I am sure developers and fans alike can point out things that actually had changed, but in the end the beta we played was the finished game we got. A lot has been said about the Tabula Rasa beta, how it “ruined” the game and expectations, and I mostly agree – it should have stayed out of the spotlight longer and Destination Games should have polished it a lot, lot more before release (and open beta). But then again, money talks and NCsoft were probably just trying to cut their losses at that point.

In the end, I miss Tabula Rasa. It’s gone, will never come back and we will never see what it could have been. The servers are closed, perhaps formatted and re-invested into Aion. What do I know? But together with Auto Assault, it probably taught NCsoft – and other MMO-companies – not to go out on a limb and invest in something different again. Too bad. I’ve said it before – believe in your product, give it support and love and it might just turn around. Tabula Rasa was hated from the start. No wonder it died before its time.

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