Tag world of warcraft

The art of imitating the art of World of Warcraft

Are you in charge of development of a new fantasy MMO, free-to-play or subscription based (or even both)? Is your game’s artwork very much “inspired” by World of Warcraft? Chances are that it is, so take a long look at this screenshot:

Were gonna eat your face.

We're gonna eat your face.

Can your art-department create characters that look this awesome while still being very much inspired by the boys and girls at Blizzard? If not, sack them and find new ones. Or just skip the whole inspiration-part and do something else. Oh, I don’t know, something a bit more innovative than carbon-copying the art style of the biggest MMO on the block (which you will fervently deny while dodging the whole point).

The above screenshot comes from Allods Online. Allods Online looks a lot like World of Warcraft, but somehow the art-guys at Astrum Nival managed to make their game look really, really good. Some of the concept art is truly fantastic and AO is a pleasure to look at. It’s in closed beta, but a few places might have keys left for it.

Note that I didn’t say anything about gameplay. AO still has to prove its worth in that department.

Update: While I was finishing up this post, Sera’s latest Anti-Aliased column was published at Massively, also touching on a similar subject. Go read!

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Pick a MMO for 2009, or should I just sit down, shut up & get out?

No hugs in Fallen Earth!

We don't hug in Fallen Earth!

I can be so weak when it comes to MMOs. I bounce back and forth and I still have a hard time finding a place to call home – the only place that even resembles one right now is Atys. I’m slowly settling in the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is Fallen Earth‘s Grand Canyon, having teamed up with the Casualties. As I’m writing this, I’m AFK-mining in EVE using an Iteron V, hoping to at least make a few ISK without raising so much as a finger – even though my pride has taken a bit of a hit after I decided to go from PvP pilot to miner/industrial. I love all three games, but something in me feels restless already.

With the fall of 2009 here, the major MMO push is over for this year. As far as I can tell, unless I’ve been struck by a complete black out, there’s no other interesting MMO being released this year. I’ve already given up on Aion (as Wiqd said, “why play a WoW clone when you can play the real thing?“) and Champions Online never managed to grab my attention. Actually, it bored me to death, so I never saw a reason to keep playing it.

That kind of leaves me with the games mentioned above, with a few others circling around me, poking at my interest. I do miss Middle-Earth sometimes, I never did get to Moria after all, and I can’t help thinking that I don’t want to miss out on World of Warcraft’s patch 3.3. Star Wars: Galaxies still feels interesting, especially after the server mergers. And Vanguard will always be Vanguard, especially after Stargrace has started to blog about it again.

So, I’m trying to figure out what games to stick with for the rest of the year. At the same time I can’t help drawing parallels between my bouncing between MMOs and the way my head is wired in general. Right now I’m writing this, AFK-mining in EVE, poking around an EVE mining guide, trying to make the last few fixes to a review in OpenOffice, playing Brütal Legend, chatting on Skype and MSN, eating a banana (yum!), reading the Fallen Earth forums and considering doing a dive into various Star Wars: Galaxies-resources.

Brain...hurts...

That’s not very good at all. I am sure my friend Breki would chastise me for it. I need to learn how to focus on one thing at a time, instead of doing everything at once. I know my brain can handle it, but I’m not sure my mind can, especially since I’ve long since started to identify stress symptoms. Not being able to settle for one MMO is probably another sign that I have problems focusing on one thing, desperately seeking stimulation from multiple sources at one time.

So, perhaps I should just stick with one. Or three. Or maybe a fourth one…hmmmm. Ok, I might need help.

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The End Times: Immersing in the Apocalypse

Immersion. Ah, that magical word. It’s the Holy Grail of MMO design, or at least it should be. In theory, it is what every company that decides to give the genre a try should aim for.

I say “in theory”, because sometimes I feel that the word doesn’t carry as much weight as it should, at least according to my – clearly biased – standards. Building immersion in a virtual world, at its core, should be to create a world or a setting that somehow makes sense. An immersing game should have as few “breaks”, moments when you remember that you’re only playing a game, as possible – it should be self-contained and follow its own natural laws and rules. It needs to be as consistent as possible.

Time... running out... cant fly...

Timer... running out...

Aion is a good example of a game that sacrifices immersion for the sake of gameplay – giving you the ability to fly, yet restricting it by artificial means like a timer or taking away the ability completely in certain areas. I’ve talked about it before and it is one of the major axes I have to grind with that particular game. Instead of working gameplay around the ability to fly from the start, NCsoft have instead worked the ability to fly around gameplay, not intending to fully deliver until much later in the game. Why else are you not be able to fly in Pandaemonium or Sanctum, even though they both host hundreds of Daevas, or find yourself stuck on the ground as soon as you venture into Moslan Forest?

Blizzard did a similar thing with Wrath of the Lich King, where they took away your mount’s ability to fly in Northrend until you hit level 77 – it made sense from a gameplay perspective, but instead of building the gameplay around Northrend, Northrend had to change to accommodate Blizzards’ desire to tell a story. As immersing as that story could be, a certain rendezvous with a Lich springs to mind, the world itself had been sacrificed and with it, immersion took a blow.

I know I can be extremely picky when it comes to my personal “breaks”, which include too much zoning (EverQuest II, Age of Conan) or instancing of open zones (Champions Online, Age of Conan, Aion). I guess Fallen Earth is, in many ways, the perfect MMO for me. Just like EVE Online, where the “zoning” makes perfect sense (jumping from star system to star system) and the gameplay is actually supported by the lore, Fallen Earth delivers a world that makes sense. It feels, up to a point, real.

Its a goldmine!

It's a goldmine!

What Fallen Earth manages to convey is a sense of desperation in a post-apocalyptic world. The small makeshift towns are surrounded by bandits and wild animals, the people that are trying to rebuild society are all trying to do it in their own image, dividing the human race into factions in the process. You don’t only mine copper or gather herbs, as you do in most MMOs, you also scavenge through refuse and garbage bags to find materials you can use to build your weapons and armor. One of the most priced resource nodes is a burned out car, as they can yield a whole bunch of scrap fasteners if you’re lucky.

The sense of desperation also affects the interaction with other players. Even though Fallen Earth isn’t a free-for-all PvP game, there are PvP areas where anyone is fair game (as far as I’ve understood it, since I haven’t been to one yet). That means the player that is helping me today, or is accepting help from me, can be the same guy that puts a bullet in the back of my head while I’m scavenging from a valuable node in a PvP zone. I also know that I might be the one that’s bashing his skull in with a lead pipe. After all, resources are scarce and it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. Fact of life in post-apocalyptic Grand Canyon.

It’s been a long time since I saw a new MMO take immersion this seriously – as the genre goes forward, that trait becomes increasingly rare. Fallen Earth has many flaws, which I will return to at a later point, but it’s hard for me to shrug off the thought that this might be what I’ve been asking for so many times in the past. Will we have to look to the indie games for fascinating game worlds while the major MMOs lock themselves into the typical questing and level treadmill without offering any form of immersion in return?

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Gender, feminism and their future in virtual worlds

Disclaimer: This post is all about my experiences in MMOs. It’s about what I’ve seen and should not be seen as a statement on how things look in virtual worlds in general. It’s not 100% truth, it’s all subjective and not very academic. It’s written in a rambling style because I’ve had too much coffee. Remember, please, that this is a blog, not a classroom or an academic institution. With that said, feel free to criticize me and my ideas. I always, always reserve the right to change my mind if I believe I’ve been proven wrong. Thank you.

Gender-play in MMOs is hardly a new subject. We’ve known about it for a long time – people like to play characters of the opposite sex. Sometimes they even roleplay members of the opposite sex. That last part has been the main interest of academics, especially the ones with a gender-slant, for a long time. For an obvious reason, it’s  interesting and fascinating. But it’s becoming old and for most MMO-theorists it’s old news.

That does not, in any way, make Sera Brennan’s recent post on Massively any less interesting. More often than not, the theories about why people gender-play in MMOs are written by heterosexual males or females from a distanced viewpoint. Sera, on the other hand, identifies himself/herself as a transgendered, as a female stuck in a male body (while still being heterosexual, mind you – far from all transgendered are gay). Not only does it take a lot of guts to write a post like that, it also brings a fresh perspective, written in the first person for once, about the subject of gender-play.

It got me thinking about my own experiences with gender in MMOs over the last couple of years. I believe I’m heterosexual, as far as I know I’m not attracted to men enough to call myself bi-sexual but I’ll keep an open mind, but I almost always play a female character in games when given the option to do so. It’s not about the old axiom that men like to play female characters because they would “rather stare at a female behind than a male for hundreds of hours” (that’s really getting tiresome, guys). It’s generally about female characters often being better designed than male (with a few exceptions, including EverQuest II and Lord of the Rings Online), probably because the designers are often male and have more fun designing females, or that it is much more interesting to identify with a virtual female than a male. After all, I’m male in the real world, something that I won’t be able to change until Kurzweil’s reality-bending nanomachines become a reality, so why play one in a virtual world when given an option to try something else?

Before we go any further, let’s take a look at feminism. That word is usually an invitation for trolls to come crawling out of the woodwork, stating that males and females alike are all burdened by gender stereotypes (usually wrapped in more or less veiled insults). That’s indeed very true, but feminism (for me – remember that this post is all subjective) puts the focus on the submission and oppression of women and how that relationship between male and female creates a reality in which everyone suffers. Men are supposed to be dominant, and many suffers from that, while women are supposed to be submissive, from which they suffer. By eliminating that dominance-submission relationship, feminism is able to deconstruct the gender-roles inherit in that particular relationship for the benefit of all. It’s all about where you look and (for me, again) feminism strikes from below, while other views on gender-problems looks at the problem from another direction. Read more

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Ryzom gets dedicated roleplay-site

Roleplay, for nubs or not? I don’t really know anymore. I started out on a roleplay server in World of Warcraft and it became quite obvious rather quickly that Blizzard do not care one bit about roleplayers and have no intentions whatsoever to actually enforce their own roleplaying rules (that document is a joke). I’ve seen the roleplay, at least on my server of choice, erode away and now nothing remains. We had some really good roleplaying guilds that gave a lot of flavor to places like Stormwind and Aerie Peak. Those days are gone and I got the feeling that most roleplaying servers have seen the same development.

So it amazing to see certain MMO-companies not only encouraging roleplaying, but also helping the roleplayers out. One game which has had a strong RP-element to it for a long time is Ryzom, and the company behind the game is now launching a dedicated roleplay-site. Even though the site is still rather barren, it is such a great idea that it makes me want to log in and never log out again, even though I don’t actively roleplay anymore. This is how you build a loyal customer base from at least one of the subgroups that play your game. It’s not that much work and if you put some effort into it, it can yield amazing results. Add a team that only works on live roleplay events (called “Animation” in Ryzom) and you got a winning combo.

The full e-mail is quoted after the jump. Now go give Ryzom a try.

Read more

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And then there was E3

I have this love/hate-relationship with E3. First of all, I’ve never been to the expo myself – as a European game journalist you’re at the mercy of whatever budget the publication you work for has. This year we decided to send three people, which included a camera man, and since I was number four on the list I got to stay home and try to cover it from here. Only because you’re not on location you don’t get to slack, so we’ve been working a lot to give our Swedish readers the best E3-coverage we could. And, I must say, we certainly delivered (link in Swedish, of course).

ffxiv

The really big MMO-announcements were lacking from E3 this year, but that’s probably because the major movers have their own events later this year. Who knows if SOE got something big to show at Fan Faire (hopefully Tipa’s “Free Realms-based” EQ3 or something completely different) and Blizzard probably saves the next expansion for World of Warcraft until Blizzcon. Instead, we did get Heroes of Telara, which looks pretty neat. And, of course, Final Fantasy XIV. OK, so that was a pretty major announcement. Shut it, E3 always makes my brain melt a bit. The whole concept of a new FF-MMO, playing on the PS3, sounds freaking awesome to me, so I guess I will have to get back to that in a later post.

Bioware did give us a incredible cinematic trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic, and even though a cinematic trailer for any game is just that – cinematic – it’s still the best Star Wars-related film produced since, well, 1983. I am almost looking forward to the next trailer as much as the actual game. Come to think of it, I’m not even sure I’m looking forward to the game that much, at least not as a MMO. Currently it seems like they could just have done KOTOR3 instead of what they are doing now. If you want to tell a story that bad, go single player instead.

I also know that my RSS-reader is filled with MMO-related posts right now that I haven’t had time to read over the last couple of days (394 posts and counting). I guess I got myself to blame, since I have a tendency to add any MMO-blog I come across to it. So I’m going to get cracking on reading those between Aion beta game sessions. I’ll get back to Aion as well, the beta event they got going right now will only last through the weekend. But first impressions? I love, love the art. The world and the design is what currently make it compelling, since up until now it’s a pretty standard MMO. We’ll see how it develops, hopefully we’ll get to try some nice PvP in the near future.

One thing is for sure – it was really hard to jump from Aion to Vanguard. I’m still enjoying Vanguard, finished the Isle of Dawn-questline with a nice group yesterday, but when it comes to graphics and character design it is certainly lacking. It’s a problem most of SOE’s games suffer from, perhaps with the exception of Star Wars Galaxies where I think the characters do a pretty nice job. Vanguard still got that whole “enormous epic world”-thing going for it and I’ve decided to trek to Tanvu instead of just taking the riftway from Lotus Hold. If the world is there, and you want to experience it, teleporting just doesn’t cut it. I’ll see if I have time for it this week when the Aion server closes.

And I want to level my high elf in Sacred 2 on the 360, finish inFamous, try out Valkyria Chronicles, finish Assassin’s Creed (since AC2 looks great)…and get all the writing I have to do done. It’s official, my life completely revolves around games. This weekend I found a Sega Master System in my wardrobe I forgot I even had. I would sigh at myself if it wasn’t for the fact that I love it. With the personal problems I mentioned a few posts ago slowly getting better, let’s see what we can do with this gaming life of mine. Toodles for now, though!

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MMO-quote of the day #3: What’s that smell?

Blizzard can list all the reasons under the sun why they haven’t implemented Player Housing, but when several smaller MMOs already have Player Housing, and have done a fething good job with it, Blizzard are just blowing smoke out their arse. (source)

Cap’n John on the subject of player housing in WoW over at Wolfshead’s blog. Take time to read the whole entry, great stuff and I very much agree. World of Warcraft not having player owned housing yet is borderline pathetic. “[I]t’s incredibly complex to do right and we’re not sure yet if it’s going to be the right thing for WoW in the long run”, my behind.

(I had to fight the urge to add a lolcat-pic to this entry. I’m very proud that I resisted.)

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Let’s go to Ulduar! Wait, where did you guys go…?

When Ulduar was finally introduced to the live realms in World of Warcraft, I started to consider going back to World of Warcraft for a bit just to see the place. It seems like Blizzard actually have addressed some of my concerns with WoW and that Ulduar is more challenging than Naxx. The fights all sound fun, the design of the place looks great, and the graphics are pretty. And since I’m not actively playing a MMO that steals all my free time, a trip or two to a  new raid sounded like a good idea.

A quick look at my guild’s forums later and I’m as desillusioned as ever. They are going back to Naxx?! What just happened? The officers’ desperate threads for Ulduar raids get more or less no sign-ups, while Naxx raids are full? There’s just been a whole new raid introduced to the game and people want to go back to the same raid they’ve farmed for months?

I can only see a few reasons why this could be happening. It could, of course, just be a bad week. For some reason almost everyone in our guild is away on the Ulduar raid days, while available to raid Naxx on the non-official raid days. That could be it. It’d be a weird coincidence, but hey – anything is possible.

I know that my guild did have some initial troubles in Ulduar. It could be that people feel they need better gear. Which I really doubt, since they’ve been farming heroics/Naxx/Malygos long enough to at least have more than 10 people ready to hit higher content. I haven’t been playing since February, but I’ve been keeping track of our forums almost daily since then (force of habit) and there’s been two or three raids every week. Add all the heroic badges I know people have been getting and you got at least one Ulduar-team ready to go.

The last reason I can think of? People are lazy. Naxx made them lazy. Naxx was easy, people got used to it and when they are suddenly faced with a real challenge in Ulduar, they get scared. Wiping is no longer a way to learn, it’s now a sign of boredom and frustration. They’ve already forgotten what it was like to learn Kara, or they never wiped for weeks trying to down Vashj. I don’t know.

/sigh

Good thing Free Realms went live, I suppose.

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This little rogue had to stay at home

Colin over at Massively has written a new Anti-Aliased post about dual-specs in World of Warcraft. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the system, at least not the way Blizzard plan to implement it, but I haven’t really figured out why I don’t like it yet. I’ll get back to that subject at a later point. But there’s one thing he writes, something that I’ve seen written across forums and blogs before, that I’ve always wondered about…

Groups will find that they can do dungeon easier with less people, as players will be able to switch across multiple roles. This means pure classes, such as the mage, priest, and hunter will also have a tougher time finding groups. Why take the hunter when you have a paladin who can do protection and retribution and has the gear to outclass the hunter in both cases? Certainly it’s bad now, but it can get even worse because now the paladin can fulfill both roles while in the dungeon, when the hunter cannot.

Seriously, what kind of people do you guys play with? I’ve played a “pure” class, a rogue, in World of Warcraft for the last three years or so. I do DPS, period. Even when the rogue QQing on the official forums was at its peak, when rogues everywhere were lamenting the fact that there were so many classes that would be chosen before them in raids, have I had to stand on the sidelines because of another player with another class taking my spot.

Really? Rogues might not be the insane DPSers they once were, but if you are playing with people that won’t have you in raids because of your class and the minuscule amount of damage difference between you and someone else, quit your goddamn guild and find a new, more understanding one. And if you don’t get into a PuG because of your class, do you really want to be in that particular PuG to begin with?

People keep whining about other classes making their own obsolete, but does it ever actually happen? Or is it just a typical example of misplaced QQ? The grass is always greener and all that.

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All your quests suck (almost)

questingI just wrote a long version of this entry, it was just too bloody long so I decided to edit it down. Instead of going through Kaplan’s keynote point by point (Scott Jennings did such a great job of that already) or coming up with ways to improve quests by improving the game world (Dusty Monk has done that for me), I’ll just sum up my thoughts on quest design with stating that quests in a MMO suck. They are a cheap way of creating immersion. And very, very frail.

  • Quests are a great way of creating content and control where you want the player to go and what to do. It’s a good way to teach people the game and lead them towards that magic place called ”end game”. But if you don’t have enough quests on the way there, the player will get confused and angry. Here’s looking at you, Age of Conan. Quests might make ”easy” content, but you will also teach players to rely on quests for fun.
  • Quests are very sensitive to changes in the game mechanics, such as changes in the levelling curve. If you don’t change all the content when you start to offer more XP per quest or kill, the whole house of cards will come tumbling down and your game (while perhaps entertaining to a lot of people) will be broken and not working the way you intended from the start.
  • Quests can kill immersion. Quests to kill certain named characters become pointless when that character will respawn a few minutes later. Kill-quests can become annoying if the mob that you are supposed to kill has a really frustrating ability. Collection quests are a huge pain in the behind if they don’t make sense (the good old ”why doesn’t this bear have paws”-problem).
  • There can only be so many quests. Players that play a lot will run out of quests to do. Daily quests are a good cop out, since you can sneak them in as ”real content”, but sooner or later the player will be bored with them as well. Then they will cry for more quests. You have a constant desire for more content to fill, while more and more players become confused and bored.
  • Did I mention that daily quests are a cop out?

If you make a list of problems with quests, you should always have a solution at hand. If you don’t, you’ll get flamed (”rofl, try making a better game yourself, nub”). Luckily I do, a solution that I find quite elegant.

Simply, design your game primarily without quests. Make sure that even if you take away the quests, players have something to do. If you want quests in your game, for story reasons or because you know that’s what some people will expect, do it after you got a solid game without them. That way, if the players do run out of quests, they will still have a lot of stuff to do. If you do break them because you changed the levelling curve, or don’t have enough of them to carry a player from his/her first step in your world to the level cap, you don’t have to worry that much – you can always take your time and fix things for the better without having the community breathing down your neck, jumping ship to find new quest based MMOs to bitch about.

Some people will always complain about a lack of new content, so even if you skip quests completely or do not put much focus on them you will need to add stuff to your MMO continously. Of course, of course. But if you look at games like EVE Online, Ryzom or Darkfall, people are enjoying themselves without having to rely on the developers to constantly feed them new updates. The missions in EVE are mainly a way to make money, the missions in Ryzom are horrible and can be skipped 99.9% of the time (you really only need them to level your fame with various factions, they don’t pay nearly well enough or give XP worth the hassle) and Darkfall was never intended as a questing game – it’s built for players keeping themselves occupied by, well, chopping other players to pieces. Or “interacting”, whatever you want to call it.

Without quests in, for example, World of Warcraft there really isn’t much else to do. Battlegrounds quickly become repetitive or a grind, crafting isn’t immersive enough to stand on its own (EVE, Vanguard and Ryzom really got WoW beat there) and just doing rep grinding over and over isn’t very entertaining for long. Quests used to lead to raids, like the quests from the Hydraxian Waterlords or the Onyxia quest chain in Vanilla or the Vials of Eternity-quest in TBC, but Blizzard decided to not implement any in Wrath of the Lich King. Confusing? Yup.

Build a world first, then spice it up a bit with quests. Don’t rely on the quests to do the immersion work for you.

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