Gaming Devs Gone Stupid

Awhile ago I wrote that I hoped for the best with Dan Stahl no longer at the helm over at STO. Turns out my hope was misplaced.

STO announced last week that they would be removing Exploration from the game permanently, and shifting any and all active gameplay tasks related to it into the (passive) duty officer system.

Literally every screenshot I have ever uploaded here comes from Exploration clusters and missions.
Literally every screenshot I have ever uploaded here comes from Exploration clusters and missions.

Want to explore strange new worlds? Hell no. You think this is Star Trek or something?

Have a roleplaying group and want to run a random mission together as the basis of your roleplay? Hell no.

Only have a half hour to kill, but want to enjoy some time in STO? Hell no.

The crazy thing is that they are not replacing this source of content. Their only suggestion is to play player-made Foundry missions. But those are an hour or more of gameplay, and someone else is writing the story for you.

Even crazier is the reason – new players might be turned off by this content. Um, 1) there are very few new players coming in at this point. 2) New players are pointed expressly to the storyline missions and new group content. And in a slightly related 3) Nobody is complaining about the extra content. Nobody.

Why, oh why, would you remove content from the game (without a replacement)? Content that people enjoy and that nobody is complaining about? Content that is in no way unbalancing to the rest of progression or anything else?

This is strike two for STO (strike one being the continuing addition of ridiculous Transformers battleships). At strike two, we are at the point where you get no more of my money.

The only thing I can say at this point is thank God I didn’t buy a lifetime sub!

Turbine’s Future

There have been a couple of posts lately about Turbine’s future – whether or not they would (or would be able to) continue licensing the Tolkien IP for LotRO and if they might be working on an IP of their own given the other titles in their library. Something’s in the wind for sure, and nobody I think can bring themselves to believe that Turbine is on its way out or into a significant downgrade.

After all, functional, profitable, and successful MMO studios are, if not a rare commodity, at least an uncommon one.

I agree with the feeling that they are not done and are either gearing up to work on something new or will be doing so soon. I’m surprised this hasn’t been the case for awhile now. Back in the spring of 2010 when Warner Bros. bought Turbine, I pondered out loud what that might mean in terms of new MMOs’.

I listed in that post some IP’s that Warner Bros. owned outright that might make for interesting MMO’s. One of those has come to pass in a fashion after the form of Infinite Crisis (DC Comics). So how about a look at those other IP’s once more, to ponder anew what Turbine might have up their sleeves for the future:

Harry Potter

Looney Tunes



Mortal Kombat

The Last Starfighter

Wizard of Oz

Nightmare/Friday the 13th/Texas Chainsaw.

And that list does not include the franchises that Warner has deep ties to and relationships with, including: Sesame Street, Pokemon, and Watership Down.

When It Is No Longer What It Was: The Tale of EQN

I played a lot of Magic: The Gathering in high school.   I still remember my first time watching a game, on a cheese wagon as the band went to its first away game my freshman year.   I was hooked.   And it all revolved around a lore set that drove the game mechanics:  you were a planeswalker,  an archmage traveling among dimensions, with eldritch ties to those various lands you had visited that powered your magic and allowed you to summon their inhabitants to your aid.   Each new set unveiled new lands, new peoples, new spells for the planeswalker (the player) to collect.   It was great!

Throughout college, my interest waned…and then died.    You see, with every pack I opened in college, I started noticing a trend.   The cards were no longer spells, they were actions of a predetermined set of characters, as Wizards of the Coast turned each set into a story.   Before a card that let you draw cards might be named after a famous planeswalker (not unlike Mordenkainen’s line of spells in DnD), now it might be named “Wisdom of Gerrard” after one of the characters in the drama, and the flavor text relating to the story of the Weatherlight airship and its current adventure.   Then we got cards that were simply not spells at all – Hand to Hand comes to mind.  Eventually we got sets specifically designed to trash rules that had been developed by the lore of the game – big powerful flying *water* creatures.  Regenerating trolls…that were part of the nature magic category instead of chaos and destruction.

Doesn’t look like an enchantment to me. The great wizard Oz has cast a spell that forces you to use your fists on each other?

For me, at that point, specifically when I unwrapped a pack and found a card whose name I don’t remember but that depicted the Weatherlight taking “evasive maneuvers” – I realized I wasn’t playing Magic: The Gathering anymore.   I was still playing a similar game mechanically, but so much had changed that was a hallmark of the game and its lore that I just wasn’t interested anymore.

And that is pretty much what I feel when I look at all the information about EQN.   I ask the question – how is this Everquest?  I mean, its fine for Trion to say “we’re not in Azeroth anymore” – but how would you feel if Blizzard said it?  This is Norrath – but not Norrath and nothing will be the same except for names.

And we can already see the edges of that.   Where are the Erudin?  The Trolls?  The Kerran are a staple now?  Why not call them Vah Shir again?  Which leads into questions about the art style.   We’ve decided to go down the road of giant shoulderpads and overly decorated shields.  That works for a lot of MMO’s, but that has never been a part of what Everquest is (Where are the incredibly done cloaks, robes and hoods?)  We really aren’t in Norrath anymore are we?


And that brings up classes.   Classes with unique abilities and a system of checks and balances – another well established feature of the game.   Sure rogues are pure DPS – unless you want to trade some of that DPS for some useful group buffs (bard).  Do you want a mage with some CC, or one that trades its CC for some extra heals?   Deep in a dungeon you probably want a purist tank class – but the casual grouper could use some of the self healing that shadowknight or paladin brings.    Everquest 2 went one step further and gave us classes that had trademark abilities revolving around throwing knives and calling a band of thugs, temporary pets from the abyss and a wide variety of healing from warding to reactive healing to HoT’s.   Some classes have pets but others can take direct control over them, fulfilling roles the group may not have.

All that is gone.   Instead we have gone the route of GW2, but apparently without even the most basic class anchors that they put in place.  Now we are playing Pokemon with classes (gotta catch them all!).    And if you don’t think that this isn’t a set up to sell you rare and unique classes in a F2P game, your head is either buried too far in the sand or too star struck to catch wind of the obvious incoming danger-close round.

Not to mention the music.  Oh god, the music.  Everquest’s main theme is epic beyond reason.   When you hear it, the reaction it draws is comparable to hearing the theme to Star Wars or Jaws.   It rips emotions out of you and throws them on the table for you to look back, and gives you flashbacks the likes of which LSD could never hope to match.   And instead of that, we get a new theme that has not even the barest of nods to the original.  Instead of calling us to adventure and awesome, it calls us into self-reflective naval gazing.


Add into that some further unknowns.   Over at the EQN website, they are asking about ninjas and shotguns.  Are we really still that deep in the conceptual stage?  Does that mean the game is still 3, 4, 5 or more years off?  What is Landmark really?  How much of it will take place in the real game and how much will be its own entity?  Are we really serious about letting players blow up the landscape?  If so…cool I guess, so long as you check & balance it, but again – how is that Everquest?

Will EQN be a great game?  Who knows.  Will it fulfill all our hopes and dreams?   Probably not, because we tend to have lofty expectations.  Will we enjoy it and get all hyped and excited?  Most likely.    But none of that really interests me.  Its the same drama that gets played out with every new MMO release.    The real question I have right now is – will this really be Everquest?   I’ve played all three Everquest MMO’s, both the console based single player RPG’s, and even the PnP RPG.  Right now, it doesn’t look or feel like it.   None of the things that make Everquest what it is are present in the game.  To me, it just looks like another new MMO.

And for the IP that all but gave birth to this genre, that’s about the most damning thing I could say.

The Wonderful World of Project: Gorgon

It was a crazy week at the HZ household.  My wife spent the week in LA, specifically the Beverly Hills Hilton, because it was her company’s five year anniversary, and they are rolling in money, so they decided to throw a big party.  Definitely not your normal business trip!  But last weekend, I got to experience something unique, and I hope its not the last time I will do so.

Awhile ago, The Ancient Gaming Noob alerted us all to a Kickstarter Project for an Indie MMO being worked on by some industry vets: Project Gorgon.  I admit to being a little skeptical.  One reason is that I have very little experience with KS.  Another was that I just wasn’t convinced that a small team could pull off making an MMO that I would enjoy and find immersive.  They take a lot of work and have long development times, right?

Long story short, the Kickstarter Project only got pledged to about 25% of its goal.  And I can tell you in hindsight that we all missed out on a great opportunity.  Towards the end of the drive, Eric opened up the server as a “Pre-Alpha” look at the game, with what they had accomplished so far.   We got to play around in what I would call the “tutorial” starting area, which lead into at least two overland zones and at least two dungeons.  There may have been more, that that’s all I made it to in the short playtime I had over the weekend.  The game currently uses “off-the-shelf” stock art assets, some licensed, some donated by fans, and had a pretty basic UI.   In other words, its not much to look at right now:

Still…not bad for a “pre-alpha!”

While you can catch up on all the development blogs on Eric’s website, I can tell you in short summary that his ideas on paper – are working in the game.  Quite well.  The basic idea is a sort of old-school, sandbox MMO.  By old-school he doesn’t mean “hard as hell, with no convenience” – he means, if you drop an item on the ground, it stays there.  If you milk a cow in the shed, nobody else will be able to run up and milk that cow until it produces more milk.   All while not creating a quest that requires every player in the game to stand in line for hours competing for rare cow’s milk.  And by sandbox he doesn’t mean you can go around slitting player throats and being an ass, but that one way to get cow’s milk might be to turn yourself into one and learn how to produce it.  I kid you not.   And I know it sounds crazy, and that you are dubious, which is why I am telling you now – it works!

It’s like tasting the rainbow – of yuck.

For character development – from being a cow to being a swordsman, are not classes in the traditional sense.  Nor is there a list of 1,001 skills to freeform your character with.  Instead there is a series of “skill sets” in the game that come with their own advantages and disadvantages (ranging from mild to severe) that can be learned and then leveled up.  Each character can operate two skill sets simultaneously (the left and right side of the armor/health meter in the first picture) and use generates XP that in turn unlocks new skills to use or improves existing skills or generates new perks that come into play while using the set.  Most of the sets will also give you a general stat bonus as you level them up, improving your health or stamina (which is used to power all those skills).

I got to play around with Swordsman, Hand to Hand, Combat Psychology, Alchemy, and Fire Magic in my short time.  In addition, there are several “tertiary” skills that can  be learned and placed on the left hand bar, not requiring an “equipped” skill set.  For example in my first screen shot, you can see on the top left that I have learned how to tame rats as a temporary combat pet.  This, in the nature of the game, requires cheese.  And while the rat will happily protect you if you give it cheese, it will not follow you three zones away from its home.  You see how the design philosophy plays out?

The skill sets above are fairly standard ones that you can pick up either at the start of the game as part of the tutorial, or by conversations with various townspeople.  But there are also some nonstandard sets.  Drinking the bad milk will turn you into a cow, there are ways to learn a Were-Wolf skill set that – yes, requires you to be in wolf form for three days out of every month and which means you won’t be headed into town, unless you have discovered a way to convince the townsfolk not to run in gibbering fear from your presence.  For every action and power – there is an opposite reaction and curse.

But you might ask about the gameplay itself – is it fun, or the usual?  Well, its a nice twist on the usual.  One of the twists is this: you’ll notice there is an armor stat in addition to the health stat.  This acts as a sort of second HP bar, that must be depleted before health can be affected.  Of course, some attacks do only armor or only health damage and so on.  Just this one wrinkle in the usual combat formula creates some interesting side effects that ripple throughout combat.   For example, fighting now with a sword and an open hand allows you to take advantage of some great moves from the Swordsman and Hand to Hand set that will break down armor quickly and also do some high health strikes.  The downside is that without a shield – your own armor score will not be nearly as high.  Magic doesn’t have to do huge DPS bursts to be effective and thus can be balanced along similar parameters with other skill sets, because they can be given some skills that will bypass armor.  By the same token, some defensive skills could be programmed to raise your armor – helping a mage against a swordsman, but not as much against another mage!

Group play becomes a nice bundle of give and take as well.  An armored giant (high armor) might mean that your groups swordsman takes center stage, while a giant spider (low armor, high health)  is best handled by trying to keep it under control while your fire mage whittles down its health.  You want a paradigm shift from the unholy trinity that still “feels” right to the players and doesn’t take an advanced MMO degree to learn?  This is a great way to make that shift happen.

I have more to say, so I’m going to break this down into two posts.   Tomorrow or Wednesday, I’ll talk about crafting, and the world of Project:Gorgon itself.  Stay tuned.

MMO Design Class: How to Do a Level-less MMO

So I’ve been holding this for awhile (like a lot of my posts sadly) and I’m sure I won’t do it the justice it deserves.  But…here it goes.  Want to do an MMO or and RPG without levels?  One where you don’t have to worry about capping?  Where friends can always play together regardless of how long they have been playing or how many hundreds of hours they have invested?  Where new players can step in after 3, 4, 5 years of uptime on your game and not feel so far behind the curve that its not worth trying to catch up?


Developers always hem and haw about how difficult this would be.  They assume the only solution is a skill based system, and “those are impossible to balance” and bla, bla, bla.   Look, the answer is easy.   Do everything the same, but don’t start at the beginning – start in the middle.  Only, make the middle the end.   By which I mean – do this:


Choose Your Adventure


Only, instead of miles and altitude changes, its about adventure and mob difficulty. When you (and your friends) set off at night to adventure together, instead of going to the one or two zones for players level x to y – instead you can choose any area to go to.   And you make that choice based on how much of a challenge you want that evening.  Do you need a night of casual ass-kicking to blow off some stress from work that day?  Choose one of the easy zones, where mobs are plentiful but die easily under the power of your skills.  Got your team together and you are ready for a challenge?  Ramp it up into one of the strenuous zones.  Need a full on night for your whole guild?  Time to get severe!   And guess what – while the landscape in those zones will stay the same – the mobs you face will not.


You see, its all a matter of what pieces of the game are static and which are progressive.  Developers spend the most time and resources from there budget keeping the dynamic bits dynamic, and only spent as little time as needed to update the static.  But what if we change which bits are where?  The standard MMO assumes that skills, gear, and adventuring locations are all dynamic.   Meanwhile, the adventures themselves, the monsters, the rewards – these are the things that are static.    So lets make a game where the skills, gear, and locations are static – but the adventures, the monsters, and the rewards are dynamic.


Lets take an easy zone above – maybe its a desert one.   It starts out as a casual “raid the tombs” area facing off against grave robbers and wildlife.   But through a centralized game calender, it changes – and now in the same tombs you are facing skeletons and mummies – with different AI – but in the same tombs, and with the same difficulty level.  Raiding the tombs and killing off mobs earns you a reward, lets call them “ancient coins” – that allow you to buy gear or housing items or mounts that are desert themed.   And on the nights where you face grave robbers?  How about you also gather “broken daggers” – that allow you to buy gear or housing items or mounts that are robber themed.  But on the night with undead, you collect the ancient coins, but instead of broken daggers, you have “mystic bones.”


Now you are doing this all with the same set of abilities for your character.  So what the developers spent time doing (instead of balancing – yawn) is putting together new gear, new shinies, new mobs.  Its like the holiday themed events we all love so much in the MMO’s we have – but you get new ones one a much, much more regular basis.


The question of course is with expectation.  Hard core raiders and PVPers expect that they will receive the best of the best for the level of investment and difficulty they face.  But isn’t that just extrinisic rewards?  Do the hard core people who invest all those hours in EVE do it for better ships?  Or do they already have the best ships and they do it because it is fun?  By the same token, do people level so that they can get the best gear, or so that they can face the most challenging raids and PvPers?  The reward is in the gameplay.  That’s not to say that the rewards in the strenuous and sever areas are no different than those in the easy areas – just that they provide no intrinsic power boost to the character.  Maybe there is a Shadow Chain Mail armor set in both the easy and the sever zone – but they have different art styles to them.  There is still an instant visual recognition of “what my character does” – but there is not “ramping up” process through static zones that then never get revisited and lie barren and dormant.


The tl;dr version of this is that MMO’s can use difficulty settings to replace the leveling treadmill.  Games have been doing it for years, why not draw on that fully functional mechanic?   Mario doesn’t become stronger over time does he?  The basic idea of leveling was nothing more than a way of rewarding time invested in the game – but there are far more (and better) options available to rewarding investment than a not-too-subtle power creep that ends up sucking away developer hours into new abilities that then have to be balanced against old abilities, instead of generating genuinely new content.


The crux of course, is generating a game that is fun to play.  But – isn’t every developer working on that from the very beginning?  And isn’t that process more than the sum of its parts?


Anyway, just some thoughts.  Feel free to jump in and bash me or ask questions below.

Another Toon Hits the Cap

As I mentioned yesterday I believe, I was getting close –


Energized with the power of Fifty…


And now I have a character at level cap on both the Starfleet and Klingon Defense Force sides of Star Trek Online.  It took me a while to get into the groove of the KDF side.  And I’m still not entirely there.  The dark tones make everything dim and illegible, and the ship bridges are horrifically red-lit (along with then entire UI – wish I could fix that).   Clearly I’m not much of a Klingon person – which explains why my character and my entire Bridge crew is made up of anything and everything but Klingons.  And…why I haven’t completed a single mission on the KDF side of the game outside of the introductory epidsode.


Yep, I literally leveled from 23 (or 22?) to 50 using nothing but the Duty Officer system.  Granted it would have gone a lot faster if I had been running episodes, but why bother when I could spend the time working on my main character while leveling this alt in the background?   The Doff System as it is called by most in game, is a prolific source of Skill Points (XP – the green double chevron).  Take a look:


Lackey…go forth and improve my skill!


Yep, that’s a regular, common duty officer on an assignment that is only uncommon (and thus fairly regular) in the system.  Generally, with a decent sized pool of Doff’s, you can rake in at least one such assignment every day.   To give you some perspective, that’s the same reward I would otherwise get for completing a full on Episode mission, which takes aroudn 45min to an hour to play.   But I got that while offline.   And it gets even better.  With an uncommon officer and an uncommon assignment, about 10% of the time you will get a critical success – resulting in this:




Now we are talking.  Even more amazing is that Cryptic has said that they are working on a mobile gaming component that would allow you to upkeep your Doff assignements through your phone.   Personally, I have no problem with this.  I enjoy being able to go back and do the missions at my leisure, with a full suite of abilities at my disposal, and my full set bridge crew in place for RP and story writing opportunities.


Some people have expressed distaste in this though.  The ease of leveling certainly makes one wonder “why bother at all, just give it to me at cap” – but I do think the little bit of work you have to put in, if nothing else, acts as a kind of tutorial and learning grade (not cliff a la EVE) to get familiar with the game.  The other complaint is that it makes some of the ship selection rather useless.  But truth be told, there is not a huge difference between the ships you have at, say, 20 and the ones you have at 50 (that you really got at 40).   While I haven’t tried it myself (but intend to this weekend) I’ve been told reasonably skilled players, with appropriate ranked equipment, can utilize those lower tier ships with no problem.   Remember that in STO, weapons and gear are modular on the skeleton of the ship – the only difference is in total hull hit points (which is modified by damage resistance plates by level) and number of weapon slots.  And these vary only by one or at most two slots between the tiers.  So I believe that’s not an issue – if there is a lower tier ship you enjoyed (and you don’t want to join a fleet and get the level 50 version) you can still play it with success through any missions.


Which leads me to the thought – why is it that more games don’t focus the core of their attention on endgame rather than the leveling curve?  And why box certain areas into certain levels only to see them deserted again?  When players are willing to camp out and play 20 hours a day to cap within a week on the staunchest and steepest of leveling curves – why bother?  Make a nice easy slope (with say a  two month expectancy for the average player) and then give everyone lots of goodies at the end.  That makes sense, right?

Overcoming Objectification

So when I was decided to do the TERA open beta, the last thing on my mind was character models. But as it turned out, that was what was on a lot of other people’s minds, in particular when combined with the open beta of Diablo III and its own related character model eyebrow raising.


Having read a good ten or so articles commenting on the subject, I’d like to weigh in on a few points that others have made, and then give my own two cents, with a bit of background on myself. Which will ultimately be a great lead in to the 20 days of “getting-to-know-you blogging” that I’ve decided to do.


First up, Donne over at Red Raiders decides that this is serious business, and goes so far as to pull out the APA’s definition:


The American Psychological Association (APA) defines sexualization as occurring under one or more of these four conditions:

  • “a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
  • “a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
  • “sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.”


So, here’s the problem. None of these can be applied to anyone’s characters. Without exception, in regards to the first one, a character will be valued for their skills and gameplay at every place in the game. Characters can be beautiful from the head up as well – look at this screenshot of my character from TERA, who I happened to think is beautiful:



If you agree that there is beauty on this model, or even *your* model, from the head up, then guess what? You’ve also just eliminated the second point from contention because the physical attractiveness has nothing to do with being sexy.   The third one is not applicable to a computer character, and in fact it is physically impossible to use the character in that capacity. The last point is also moot, since nothing is being imposed on a person. So, by definition, there is no sexualization going on in any MMO or even any video game, period. That’s not to say people still don’t have opinions on this, but it does mean there is no legal or ethical grounds for getting companies to change.


Second, Spinks, who I would like to give a nice H/T to for providing a succinct list of the greatest hits of this conversation, would appear to be in line with what Donne is saying above. I will note the line that gave me a chuckle though:


Note: Fanservice has minimal artistic integrity, by definition.


I love how we used the TV Tropes humor website for evidence of why these characters can not be considered in any way artistic. On those grounds, I think I will start advising my college friends to use Cracked as a reference for their next history paper.


And then we have Zubon, over at Kill Ten Rats, who, like many others, has delivered great humor to me by failing to provide adequate equivalency in his argument about false equivalency. This goes back to problems that many people have with creating valid analogies, by the way. Zubon argues (on something that is something of an old hobby horse I take it), that male models are not being implemented with the same ideal of sexiness that female models are, and blames this on the skewed sampling of an audience that leaves out a portion of the very population that would give the best input on how to make that a level playing field.  All while arguing that a level playing field would drive everyone away by making them intensely uncomfortable, citing the excellent LMFAO video as an example. There’s just a teensy problem with that though, and that is the basic information that said video has 230 million hits and has helped catapult the song into a #1 spot, while generating revenue that would make and MMO developer jealous.  The bigger problem beyond that teensy one is that the LMFAO video gives you no insight into the equivalency argument since it is played for laughs. Unless you think that TERA/Diablo III/whoever else is developing their character models for laughs.


Do you see now the false equivalency being used to sell the false equivalency argument? If so, you understand why I found the article humorous.


Then of course we have Flosch giving us all some great advice that I hardily endorse: get over it.



TL;DR Final Comments:  Or Why Should I Just Get Over It?


I grew up on the beach. I spent a lot of time in the sand, and I’ve seen all body types and all swimsuit types. And the end result is that I just don’t care. You see, after awhile, you get past the shock value of the g-string or the old dude in the speedo, and when that happens, far from objectifying the person, you start to see everything else about them.  The way to get past the objectification of women and an excessive reliance on sexuality in place of relational attributes and connections is not to shelter people.  Its to expose them to it so that they can normalize their reaction to it.


The end result is that those of us who are beach bums that spend time in the sand and surf, half naked with each other, tend to not give a rip.


I do understand the concerns over objectifying women, but I’m not sure what evidence can be presented to take this beyond the realm of personal fears. By the arguments I’ve seen in the video game context, I and everyone else who grew up on those beautiful beaches should be raving sex fiends, along with everyone who grew up in a school without a dress code.


And perhaps the biggest point and perspective I can provide is this: the viewpoints and issues our society has around sexuality are are so disjointed and fragmented, I’m not sure any one coherent ethics of sexuality could be agreed upon in general, and without that, you are never going to have leverage or impetus for a design philosophy that does not include sexual appeal in the arsenal.

Sandbox Vistas I: Visiting Istaria

So, at the urging of Ben and Flosch, I am undertaking an odyssey to explore some obscure sandbox games.  First up on the list is one that I’ve been curious about for some time, a game called Istaria.  Istaria has just recently (last December) celebrated its 9th year in existence.  That in and of itself is nothing to sneeze about.  Originally entitled “Horizons” the game had an ambitious development goal of a fully PvE game with an automated AI enemy that would actively oppose players and player settlements in a never ending conflict.  As you can imagine, this was difficult to implement, so it was scaled back to something more static in nature.

Currently the game is rolling along nicely with a standard and RP server, though I gather from the forums that the population of the RP server is fractured and at times contentious, in addition to being lower than the one on the regular server.  So naturally, I signed up there.

The two week trial account allows three character slots among any of the diverse races, though after some time delving in the outdated wiki and in the community, I decided to start with a human character and try a dragon character later down the line.  And boy am I glad I did.   Why?


I kid you not.  You can not swing a dead rat in this game without hitting five dragons.  The moment I exited the mystic portal from the tutorial island onto the live server itself, I was awash in dragons.  I’ve seen perhaps twenty or thirty players in the game thus far, and all but two of them have been dragons.

In fact, it occurred to me that, had I been really role-playing, my poor little character would have seen the dragons all lying around the starter village, screamed, turned around, ran right back into the mystic portal, and lived out his immortal life in the relative peace and quiet of that great utopia.

No idea who this guy is. Google image search ftw.

So, I’ve been spending a lot of time outside the village itself.  Where I’m alone with the baby pigs, and hatchling spiders, tiny grass beetles, skeletal warriors, aand OH MY GOD GIANT WOLVES AND MUMMIFIED REANIMATORS.

Yeah, basically there are two types of mobs thus far.  Those that you can kill, albeit with a large investment of time but little worry.  And there are creatures that will kick your ass into the ground without a second thought.  And telling them apart is almost impossible.   I was a level 8, and I was grinding level 5 and 6 skeletons (and boy was it a grind…) when a level 9 mummy thing wandered into the fight.   This guy is on a wide loop for his AI path, and I hadn’t seen him before.  But he was only a bit ahead of me, so I didn’t worry about it.  Until his first shot took 15% of my health.   And his second, another 15%.  And meanwhile, I was doing 3% a shot off of his.  It got ugly fast.  Fortunately, death is about as inconsequential in Istaria as any MMO, albeit they have cooler and more interactive ways to remove the death penalty, which I like.

You may think so far that I have not liked Istaria, but that’s not quite true.  I have enjoyed it a lot, and intend to keep at it for the remaining week or so of my two week trial at least.  The class/school system is great, keeping a familiar vibe going on in character creation and building, while allowing you to tweak your character in a way normally reserved to skill based systems.  The crafting is deep and gets deeper the more you get into it.    Harvesting is a bit of a chore, but there’s enough RP channels out there to keep you entertained, and on top of that, as an older game, Istaria runs fine in windowed mode, allowing you to browse and harvest at the same time.

Anyway, we’ll see where this takes us.  I may do another post on Istaria, or I may move on to some of the other options out there, like Wurm Online (which looks…complicated) or Xyson (where technology is rare or nonexistent…yet there is a screenshot with a car sitting in it…).   And hopefully Dawntide will come back up in the interim as well.   So my posting will be kinda…sandbox.  Heh.

The PvE Sandbox; or how PvP is ruining my MMO’s one by one.

Does it exist?  And if so where can I find it?  That mythical game with no PvP.


I am reading over at The Ancient Gaming Noob about how Rift is now traveling invariably down the same path that crashed Warhammer and Fallen Earth.  That is, turning your MMORPG into an a  competitive 3rd person whack-a-skill-watch-the-dps-meter-and-create-some-macros paradise.  Granted, Rift is not there yet, because they haven’t, say…changed their entire damage and armor mechanic because it wasn’t good for PvP, or scaled their XP progression primarily around how many matches it would take to cap level.  But its the beginnings of those paths.


I’m beginning to wonder if its a foregone conclusion for any MMO that decides to saddle itself with the burden of PvP.  Its like a cancer that eats away at the heart of the game.  I wonder how many developer hours are wasted on balancing and fine tuning classes/skills/macros/3rd party support that could instead be used to generate new content.


Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-PvP, or World of Tanks would not loom large in my life.  Nor would I have spent as long as I did in EVE.  But the games I play for PvE content always seemed to be subjugated for some bizarre PvP dominance, as it that were the lifeblood of the games players.   And perhaps it is, which leads me, for yet another reason, to ask the question about the PvE sandbox.  Even TOR does not seem immune to its effects, as the earliest indications of patch 1.1.2 indicate.


Just for once, I’d like to see some PvP players crying a developer said “no” to their desired changes on the reasoning that it would disrupt the rest of the game world who are playing (::gasp::) an MMO.

TOR Criticized for Being Too Realistic

A quote from Tobold, via Rowan Blaze:

“There is a sort of intellectual honesty about the evilness of the Empire, while the Republic comes over as the people who would like to be the good guys, but never really manage.”

So basically, what we are angsty about is the fact that TOR models the political and moral dichotomies present in reality too well for our taste.  We’d like our Axis a little more evil and our Allies a little more squeaky clean.

Look, this is not to point a finger, I’ve seen this reposted in lots of places from lots of people, not to mention the chatter in my own guild and on the forums.  It is simply to say that I’m not sure what people were expecting.   I had assumed we would delve into the Empire to find some of the evil was mostly a result bureaucratic or apathetic tendencies.  To quote an old movie:  “Very few people can be totally ruthless. It isn’t easy; it takes more strength than you might believe. ”   Likewise, I had assumed that under the  guise of altruistic motives and ra-ra patriotism, we would find that the Republic was ultimately tarnished.

(Ironically, from the Empire side, this is exactly what Darth Bane noticed, /facepalmed, and created the Rule of Two for.)

As for me, I’m satisfied.  Bioware did a great job of fleshing out two imperfect civilizations, and leaving room for all of us to navigate the waters of rebellion and heroism, good and evil.  If anything, they did too good a job – my brother’s Sith Warrior had to purchase a new lightsaber this week.  Turns out he enjoyed a storyline too much, and the end result was light side points he hadn’t counted it.  Which mean that his current lightsaber was no longer usable.  In other words – what he planned for his character met reality, and the result was a less than efficient character development.

Hey wait a second…a storyline so powerful it makes us change the conceptions of our character.  Weren’t we begging for that?

Congrat’s Bioware, you trolled us hard, on a whole new plane of existence.