Storybricks Wanted to Buy Everquest

Straight from their “we’re closing the doors email” that went out a few hours ago:

PS.
There is one more story to tell before we part ways.

We fell in love with the EverQuest franchise and we wanted the best possible future for it. We knew Sony Online (300+ employees IIRC) was for sale so Storybricks (barely 10 people) tried to actually buy out the whole division.
We retained an investment banking firm as a proxy and they went directly to Sony Corporate bypassing the local executives. We would have been able to raise the necessary capital, and had interviewed new and existing management ready for a turnover.

Alas, it was not meant to be as the terms offered by Sony Japan were unacceptable to us and to our investors. It is my understanding that other buyers had the same reaction and, in the end, Columbus Nova got a completely different deal that the one we were offered, but by then our investor group had moved on.

Make no mistake the company needed cuts badly, and we would have cut and cut deeply. Possibly as deep as Columbus Nova did but maybe we would have cut more senior management and less game developers instead. It was our intention to try to acquire the 38 Studios assets and made them available to players in EQN. Moreover we would have probably changed the server infrastructure allowing people to run their own servers. It would not have been a very canonical EverQuest but we would have done the best to service our customers with the limited budget of an independent studio who wanted to punch above its weight.

We really did try our best. And our best was not enough.

I’m still gathering my thoughts, but in general I just have a lot of questions. Basically, if I’m reading this right, Sony Japan sold SOE for less than they could have gotten, to a company that didn’t know anything about games. Only way that makes sense is if there is some sort of pre-existing relationship between the people doing the deal at Sony and those at Columbus Nova. Like the Sony Exec’s godson/favorite nepher/golfing buddy is the big cheese/VP/owner of Columbus Nova. Either that or part of the deal was not made public or was done under the table. Either is a likely possibility.

#storybricks, #daybreak, #everquest next

A Few Words On Exploration

Werit had a solid post on Exploration a couple of weeks ago. The thrust of it was that Exploration in an MMO needed to be Interesting and Persistent, and that as a result, procedural generation was not a good option for it. The backdrop is STO and how to integrate exploration into it after pulling the plug on their previous system.

I have to confess I do not agree with this stance. I loved the Exploration system in STO and spent most of my time doing just that. It *felt* like the most Trekky part of the game. I would load my ship up with supplies and head into the unknown clusters. Each point of interest either spawned a shiny in the form of a crafting node, or a mission. Sometimes a planet to explore, sometimes an asteroid base to defend, sometimes a Borg invasion that I had arrive just in time to quell. And sometimes it was no mission at all, but rather aid and diplomacy – passing out industrial replicators or medical aid to a planet in distress.

At the end of the night, I would warp home, my bay emptied of commodities and filled with trinkets and crafting goodies, to receive a commendation from the Admiral. Even the duty officers had tie ins, with special missions to establish colonies and such and even recruit the rare species of that cluster on to the ship. In other words, it was very interesting, at least to me.

Was it persistent? Not in the sense that I could revisit the same planet twice, but then again, how often did they do that in Trek? How many Encounters were there at Far Point? Every episode was something new, and in that sense STO did it right. The point was not to find a new home base, it was to explore new worlds. And those I liked, I took screenshots of, which are what you see in this post.

I have never again visited the AT&T planet, as I called it. But it is persistent – I have a record of my time there, and I still remember the mission. Which is more than I can say for some of the “featured episodes” and definitely more than I can say for any Foundry mission I have ever done.

So…

To me, the real crime was that the system was simply dropped instead of being tuned and made better. How could they have done that? A couple of things.

The first was further tie in with the duty officer system, and in particular the Diplomacy subsection. Colonization and Diplomacy should have been broken out of the duty officer rotation and into its own reputation mechanic, much as they have done with the special Task Forces and New Romulus and so on. And exploring the planets and points of interest in the clusters should have afforded the commendations necessary for those unlocks. Here is where your Ambassador titles and cross-faction immunity buffs come from, as well as special uniform and item unlocks.

The second was to further flesh out some of the missions. The aid missions boiled down to dropping off supplies and a small pat on the back. Commodities, rather than being bought, could have been (and still should be) a crafted item, much as The Old Republic does with its new conquest system. Get enough commodities to the planet, and good things happen. This could even be a long term missions. Many people don’t realize that while the generation of the planet was in some way temporary, it was tied to your mission log. If you kept the mission open and uncompleted, the client/server was able to return you to the same system again and again. If the mission objectives were changed or made long term, you could keep returning to the same system, unlocking new sub goals (as you would in a regular quest) with each step of aid granted. Or perhaps they could be tied to the project system directly in the Reputation system as it exists today.

With some improvements, you have the PvE version of all the damn Reputation grinds that STO is so enamored with these days, all of which center primarily around PvP or required group content.

Instead, unlike other “useless” aspects of Star Trek (like starship interiors) that developers have realized are actually important to subsets of the community (like Roleplayers), and put a little bit of time and effort into improving and strengthening the tie ins with the rest of the game, it was jsut tossed aside, with nothing to take its place. It is mind boggling that any game would simply throw away content, particularly without having a replacement in development, or at the very least, to have an idea of what they eventually wanted to replace it with. It still ranks high on my list of “worst developer moves in an MMO” category of failures.

Would it work for every game? No. But in this game, with this lore, it was a pretty good emulation of what Star Trek is about. Exploration was not only possible, it was truly, for the first time in an MMO, not limited by the creativity of the dev team or artists, while also leaving room for the player to make his mark on things.

If You Can’t Go Back, Go Back Even Further

Wilhelm has a good piece up right now detailing the ins and outs of doing a progression server for EQ2, and how that probably would not, generally speaking, really be all that fun for anyone. The salient points, for me, were primarily that EQ2 was a very different animal back then, and the changes to the landscape and to the way characters are built have changed significantly since launch. This poses problems with progression mechanics and just what, exactly, you would be enacting.

However, if going back creates problems and lacks interest, maybe you’re just not going far enough back. Don’t turn back the dial to 2004. Turn it back by one thousand years, to Norrath as it was before even the original. Norrath as it was in Everquest Online Adventures.

EverQuest-Online-Adventures-Map

EQOA was in some ways the little brother of EQ2. Launching nearly two full years before, some of the flavor of EQOA resides in EQ2, though whether by accident or design I couldn’t tell you, I assume its by design. Both games at one time featured progression through classes as well as levels. Much as EQ2 simplified some of the controls and difficulties of EQ, EQOA was also catered to a more casual crowd, perhaps because of console limitations at the time. Many of the skills also overlap, or perhaps were tested in EQOA and later used fully in EQ2.

But two hurdles are fairly obvious from the outset: would anyone play, and how much work would it really be?

The first is easier to answer, using polls and other metrics, but I think the answer would be “yes” provided the opportunity was branded correctly. Billed as an opportunity to play your ancestor, perhaps with appropriate tie ins to the main game via account unlocks, it would provide some interest from role players and achievers alike. Not to mention explorers get a whole new world to roam, and raiders have a whole new set of boss mobs and locations to trash. And while EQOA’s fanbase was admittedly small, they were loyal enough to keep a dead PS2 game going for 9 years – including years well after anyone even continued to sell PS2, much less make new games for them.

eqoa

The second question (“how difficult would this be?”) I can’t really answer. SOE was game for the unusual and down to take risks at times. But now that they are not calling the shots, this is probably a pipe dream. Still, if you wanted to do it in an efficient manner, you could. Classes did not really have all that many abilities – taking the same simplification approach that EQ2 has – not giving each level’s identical spell new names, then most classes really had few spells (the toolbar in EQOA was 4 or 5 slots if I remember correctly – a very modern approach). If I remember correctly, my magician had light and heavy versions of cold and fire direct damage spells, a pet, and a couple of utilities available at any given time.

Quests were streamlined and small in nature. After starter quests each level to get you to 5, quests were spread out after that, with several levels passing at a time before a new one would open up. And quests (with few exceptions) were not class or race specific. The world itself had quite a bit of open space, but textures and animations could be reused from EQ2, and some of the locations would probably just need minor editing as opposed to full blown overhauls.

Fayspire

Its a pipe dream, and I know it. But I still think it would be a lot of fun to do. Who among the EQ2 crowd even knows what Fayspire is, much less having ever visited it? To open up even a few zones of recreated, thousand year old Norrath, for current characters would make for great nostalgia of a different sort in the game, and provide opportunities for some interesting quest lines and stories to be told. Its not the first time that an MMO has turned to time travel to explain zone changes, new zones, or expand storylines, am I right?

Well, in any case, I guy can dream. And if Smed drops by, maybe he can look into making it a reality.

#mmos, #everquest, #2015

Crowfall Will See You Now

The registration restrictions have been lifted from their website, and the vaunted Kickstarter campaign has begun.

Its basically Shadowbane: Game of Thrones Edition. Which is not a bad thing at all, from a marketing or gaming perspective.

Regular server resets with changing rules? Check. Character building with base classes, prestige classes, and disciplines, using a points system? Check. Kingdom building with resource gathering and base attack/defense? Check.

I liked Shadowbane. Its the only time I have really dug into and enjoyed a full on PvP MMO. Unfortunately, the game was shut down just as I was getting warmed up. Well that’s not quite true…I was wrestling with the multiboxing issues that were going on (something that Crowfall will have to address eventually as well). The variety of server rules, the ease of leveling to cap (set up more as a speedbump to curtail day one PvP and ganking), and the impressive array of character builds were all very appealing, as was the very group oriented nature of the PvP.

So I may very well end up contributing. But if I don’t I probably will be playing in some capacity, provided they do a decent job with it.

Crowfall: Not Really Interested In Your Interest.

…unless you are committed to it. These MMO “veterans” apparently deal only with the tangible.

Because if you want to read one of the articles on their website about their MMO, you’re going to have to register first.

Untitled

Apparently whatever the background in massive multiplayer design these guys have didn’t include angles on how to deal with websites and social media in the 21st century. Great start guys. ::thumbs up::

To the Surprise of No One…

Transformers Universe will die before ever leaving Beta testing.

Because all those 30-45 year olds with money and nostalgia are dying to open their wallets for a Transformers game using a continuity of the universe they know nothing about to allow them to play a twitch-based PvP MOBA with no storylines or familiar characters and all those 18-30 year olds who long for twitched based PvP MOBA’s are really into the cartoon series their kid brother is watching.

Told you so.

First Impressions, Again and Again

*Note, this post starts with War Thunder and branches out. IF you play MMO’s in general, this post is still for you…) One of the things that struck me, as I found myself playing War Thunder’s ground forces yet again last week, is how differently the aesthetic of the game is. And you can see it right from the very start. Here is what the beginning of a match in WoT looks like for me:

shot_016

And here is what the beginning of a match in WT Ground Forces looks like for me:

shot 2014.12.11 22.40.38

Do you see it? Granted in the first picture, I’m using a mod, so the names are a little more colorful than normal, but in that picture only three of the fifteen tanks on my team made it beyond prototype/testing. Everything about it, from camera angles to UI screams: this is a game!

But in the second picture, my team of twelve includeas all historical, battle tested vehicles, and in this battle – all from one nation, Germany. Its harder to tell because of the lighting, but the second picture includes my Jagdpanzer IV L/70A, a Jagdpanzer 38t, and a pair of Tiger I’s. And everything about it, from the minimal UI, to the models, screams: this…is…tanks!

And that’s the first impression you get, every time. It definitely sets a different level of expectations in your head as to how this is going to go down and how you should play it. And for me, that’s part of what brings me back. And, also, that is something unique about games – that intro music, that loading screen? Those are very important things for your Dev team to work on. Because they set the stage for everything else in the game.

I still remember the theme music, loading screen, and menu select sounds from EQOA. Same with EQ2. Even SWTOR, with all the baggage I have with that game, stirs something in me when the powering up sound effect tells you the launcher is ready for log in. Its a first impression that keeps giving, over and over again.

Even as Bhagpuss wrestles with the changes that are inherent to a living game over a long period of time, we can say that these first impressions are part of what combats the ennui or the growing distance with a game. They are part of what sets fire to the blood and conjures the ghosts of gaming past.

When I thought last year about where I might want to return to for a visit in 2014, I can tell you its not coincidence that the atmosphere of those games I pondered is what made them my main choice. They were games where I could get a fresh hit of that first impression all over again.

Maybe this is the essence of nostalgia. Or maybe its something everone has known all along and I’ve just now figured out. But whatever it is, it can be a powerful draw for me. And right now, its drawing me into something that, a year ago, I really didn’t think I would be interested in.

The Failure of HEX

It was an ambitious project, with deep aspirations for creating a whole new category of online gaming. The kickstarter was a wild success, driven by the vibrant personalities and veteran industry status of its visionaries and the promise of something that had never been done before.

hex-beta-dl-hover

And today, those same personalities will stand on a podium and tell you that with the release of set two for their digital Trading Card Game (TCG), that this is a cause for great celebration! That you should spend some money buying new packs or to purchase a ticket to enter one of their celebratory drafts. They will tell you that while they introduced three new troop powers and cards that allow for double socketing and double sharding, that there was not power creep in this set and that this will not impact the introduction of PvE at all.

And that is where we have to have some honesty. Hex is a decent, maybe even a good digital TCG. It is flashy, and it has some interesting mechanics. The art is above average. They did a good job of kicking the Alpha and Closed Beta off almost on their projected timeline, which is sometimes tricky with ambitious projects. Backers of the Kickstarter have been able to play the game for over a year now.

The problem is that Hex was never advertized as just a TCG. It was advertized as the world’s first MMOTCG. Create a character, gear them up, take them on cooperative battles against the AI, raid dungeons and face advanced AI bosses, collect treasure, join guilds. A year after backers got their first taste of Alpha, and now well into the game’s Open Beta, not a single one of these advertized features is available.

filkapeaax900

And with the release of the “celebrated” second set, all of those features will once again be backed up. Why? While PvP and PvE are confirmed to be separate development teams within the company, they are also very much interdependent. PvE had to create a working AI for players to play against. PvP had to design and balance a card set. PvP had to develop sealed and limit tournaments for players to participate in. PvE had to create starter trials and a tutorial…for PvP.

With the PvP team now releasing new mechanics and cards into the game, the PvE team will be forced to go back to the drawing board to update their AI with these new functions. And while the basic AI package is in place, this basic tweak does not apply to the dungeon and raid content which is forced to work with separate skill and rules sets that define the particular experience and decks they are reenacting.

The end result is that we have no idea when, or at this point if, any of the promises that were made to backers, many of whom dropped significant amounts of money on this game will become reality. Four of the five $250 tier packages in the kickstarter were geared to PvE, and none of them have received their rewards yet. Take a look at how many of the backer rewards are still missing (hint: everything in white).

Posters in the forums and on Facebook claim that the unofficial word is that PvE continues to be in development, and that they “hope” that players will start receiving the first components of PvE before the end of the year. But that word was given before the decision to release set 2, and nobody knows how far back that will push what was already a murky promise.

And communication on the MMO side has indeed been murky at best. The last official update was six months ago, in July. An article earlier in the year noting that they were working on completely redesigning mercenaries (NPC characters to lead your deck in place of your main character in PvE) was the last real word we had, and it was somewhat ominous that the general message of that post was that they were dumbing down the character development process. Mercenaries basically went from being able to level up and unlock four abilities down to just having a single active and single passive ability that were available from the start.

Further cause for concern is the couple of hiccups that HEX has already faced this year. The scrapping of the VIP/Subscription program was a big one. And the well publicized lawsuit from Wizards of the Coast has been another. Adding those two into the exclusive push to get players involved in tourenaments and PvP, and the release of set 2 looks like nothing more or less than a cash grab to make up for lost revenue in subscriptions and increased legal fees.

At this point, with the company remaining completely silent on the subject of the lawsuit and the status of the PvE, and with all the previous updates being negative in nature, I have to draw the conclusion that HEX, the MMOTCG that was advertized, is dead in the water. And that means that since I purchased the King tier at $120 solely for the purpose of backing an MMOTCG, this is the worst and most costly failure I’ve ever experienced as a gamer.

It takes over that dubious distinction from the crew over at Mechwarrior Online, who sold release packages almost right up until the day they cancelled and moved release. Then when development went poorly, they started selling a second set of packages, then ditched their design process to try to bring in more players and revenue, and then begged for players via email with a letter from the president, before finally deciding to do the on thing that has for two decades been the demise of every game set in the Battletech universe: introduce Clans! I only lost $100 to them. Only.

(Note: I guess I could add the SWTOR Collector’s Edition here, but since I did play that game for six months, it wasn’t really a waste so much as it was just overpriced…)

What is sad and disturbing is that HEX seems to have already started down a similar path. And I don’t have anything from other game’s development cycles or this developer that bring me hope. So, I guess I enter 2015 as a wiser person, having now been burned, like so many others, by the dreams sold on Kickstarter. Its almost like the 21st century version of Portobello Road, isn’t it?

Gaijin Made Me An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse

I often tease my wife about sale items – not sexist things like clothes shopping mind you, but in life in general – school stuff for the kids, or purchases we make together for the house, anything really. I tease her not because of the sale (which is good), but because sometimes I tell her I feel like we are just buying it because its on sale. And sometimes I get the response that its just too good of a deal to pass up.

Its that point where something is so cheap, even if its not something you wanted badly, you grab it up. Steam and GoG are really darn good at that, especially with their holiday sales.

So my third wheel game lately has been War Thunder’s Ground Forces. I just enjoy it, and after the awful grind fest that I had to endure Sunday in World of Tanks to get the free premium tank, I was ready for a change of pace. The mission was 25 kills (after having to complete easier missions for six consecutive days) and everyone was kill stealing, name calling, pushing, blocking…it was awful. It took me over 30 matches and I’m not a bad WoT player.

So I went over to War Thunder to cleanse my palate and remembered that it was their two year anniversary. They had some discounts earlier which had prompted me to spend all the free Gold currency I had gotten from tutorials and such. Their big offer was half off a year’s worth of premium subscription.

Now, War Thunder is fairly cheap as it is (roughly $10 a month) but since it was my third wheel and I’d had a hard time getting the hang of their flight model (which seems to favor joysticks), I’ve just stuck mostly to tanks and played the game for free). But I did some math and realized that $40 for a year of premium was a really, really good deal. Especially given that the boosts are higher than they are in Wargaming’s products. So I figured I might have to open my wallet.

But then I had an epiphany that turned an already good deal into a priceless one. Gaijin offers up some packs on Steam, including a big one for $40 that has a good bit of stuff in it – two mid level premiums, two months sub, and about $50 worth of Gold currency. Its a great hook and I realized that in War Thunder, you can’t buy time itself – you have to buy Gold outside the game and pay Gold in the game for the premium subscription time. And that Steam pack gave more than enough Gold…

So, long story short, I got the two premiums, about $10 in Gold currency, and 14 months of premium, for $40. My mind is still reeling from that.

On top of that, getting a measly five kills, without having to complete a week’s worth of missions, got you a random premium. I did that in short order, and suddenly I had three premium planes (along with the one they give you for completing the tutorials). So I figured I should give it a shot.

Maybe its because from time to time I do a Test Flight or a single player mission with the planes to work on learning the flight model, maybe its because I suddenly had incentive from having given them money, or maybe its because I had two epiphanies in one night…but all of a sudden, it clicked. I dominated my first match of the night, top of the scoreboards, multiple kills. And while I eventually lost a few, when the dust cleared late last night (much later than I had planned on), I was on cloud nine.

And I had managed to unlock an old favorite from my days playing Their Finest Hour, the Hurricane!

I don’t think this will affect my time in World of Warplanes, which I still love. But the population drop their has wrecked the matchmaker, and so one of my non-game complaints about War Thunder – the time to get into matches and then into battle once in the match, has been negated, because its now actually quicker than Warplanes is. So while I continue to enjoy the environment and playstyle available in WoWp, I’m glad to have a second option.

It Really Was The Final Fantasy

…for me at least. Syp has his latest top ten list active on his blog, this time for the original Playstation. (I love this series of his, btw)

And Final Fantasy VII tops his list, as I’m sure it does many other people.

The love for FF7 has always fascinated me, because for me that’s where the series died. That’s where it stopped being an RPG. That’s where they stopped giving me a story to play with my characters and started giving me a story to watch with their characters. If you asked me to describe FF7 or the ones I played after that, “boring” and “dull” would be the tags I would use. Final Fantasy X was the first one I played, and all I remember was how ridiculous it was, both in story and gameplay.

In fact, it was this trend in RPG design – to stop interacting with the players – that kindled both my fierce loyalty to the Might and Magic series through its later years (as they were seemingly the only ones left doing this in the SRPG category) and dialed in my interest in Everquest and the MMO genre as it started to ramp up.

In fact, I can give you my RPG timeline for that period fairly clearly:

Might and Magic VIII (March, 2000)
DnD 3rd Edition (August, 2000)
Final Fantasy X (July, 2001)
Grand Theft Auto III (October, 2001)
Might and Magic IX (March, 2002)
Everquest Online Adventures (February, 2003)

I threw in DnD 3rd because when those came out I began an active PnP campaign with some friends, and didn’t really have a CRPG I was playing at the time. And one bit is deceptive: I played Final Fantasy for all of a day before I ditched it and started looking for something else (Madden, as it turned out).

So, while I have always looked daggers at FF7 and the downward spiral it started the series into (IMHO), I am ultimately grateful that it brought me into the world of MMO’s. And I wonder if I’m not alone in that. Did the general trend towards JRPG’s linear, enclosed storylines have any impact on the subsequent success of Everquest, World of Warcraft, and others? Did the near simultaneous launch of Ultima Online and Final Fantasy VII in some way split the CRPG crowd into smaller genres of players?

I wouldn’t even know how to begin to collect the data on that, or if its even possible. But at moments like this, I wish I had traded in my psych degree for a sociology one, like my professor recommended…