Archive for 2009

2009 Predictions – Review

Like every other blog on the planet, I’m going to review the predictions I laid down for 2009 at the start of the year. It’s a fun process that reflects back on the last 365 days and determines how right or wrong I was about it all. Here’s what I predicted:

SW:TOR, STO and DCU Online won’t be released until 2010.
Bingo. Although, to be honest, a pretty easy one to predict.

WoW won’t see an expansion until 2010 and the dual talent system will be delayed until the Spring.
Bingo again… and yep, another easy thing to predict. The dual talent system was delayed until the Spring and was extremely well received when it arrived. How did we ever live without it?

EQ2 will release a Luclin expansion in November.
Got this one completely wrong. EQ2 gets it’s new expansion in February 2010 and it’s about Erudin, not Luclin. Oh well, it was a good guess.

EQ will open a new nostaliga server in March.
It had already been announced that Everquest would open a new server in the Spring but the type wasn’t chosen until May. So was I right about it being a “nostalgia” server? I guess you could say so. The winning choice was the 51/50 server – all new characters start at level 51 with 50 AAs. I’m going to count that as nostalgic.

LotRO continues steadily along and nothing exciting at all happens…
Yep, right on the money here. OK, it did get the Mirkwood expansion but otherwise it’s been a pretty dull yet steady year for LotRO.

AoC gets a new expansion in the Spring.
Totally wrong… which is surprising actually. I was sure AoC would get an expansion in 2009 as the game desperately needs one. And still no release date for Rise of the Godslayer but hopefully it’s not too far off.

WAR gets get cross realm scenarios (battle grounds) and announces a new expansion in the Summer.
Odd one this as I managed to predict the WoW cross realm LFG system (in a round about kinda way). Still no expansion plans for WAR which is a shame.

Vanguard gets a new expansion and just won’t die.
50/50 here. No expansion for VG but it’s still alive and (barely) kicking.

Tabula Rasa closes.
Y’know, I honestly can’t remember if I knew about this before I predicted it. It’s quite possible so I’m inclined to scratch this off the list.

Darkfall doesn’t really amount to anything.
Call me an oracle cause I got this one absolutely right. To be fair, not hard to predict that a low-budget, independent hardcore sandbox RPG wouldn’t be a massive success.

Overall, not a bad score I’d reckon although I don’t think my 2009 predictions were anything radical or exciting but, then again, neither was 2009. I’ll post my 2010 predictions soon, taking a stab at how the forthcoming year will pan out.

How did your 2009 predictions do?

I’m Your Hero, Baby

I guess I’m not your average hero. When I create a character for a RPG, there are usually four golden rules that I follow:

My Dragon Age Origins Character

My Dragon Age Origins Character

  1. Go for the direct approach. My preferred play style is that of grabbing the biggest, meanest looking weapon I can find, walk right up to the my enemies and recklessly attack them straight on. I don’t do subtle. It’s just not my style.
  2. Look different. Crooked nose, balding head, comb-over, moustache, gaunt, fat, anything but your stereotypical heroic hunk. I want to look like I’ve got character and a story to tell, not that I walked off the set of Baywatch (no offense to The Hoff if he’s reading).
  3. Be a mavrick. I don’t like to play by anyone’s rules, even my own. If there’s an opportunity to be evil or the bad buy in a game, chances are I’ll take it. What can I say, I just like being a bully and a brute… probably because it’s so utterly different from own personality in real life.
  4. Have flaws. I don’t my want my character to be perfect. No one is in real life so why should a virtual avatar be any different? Sometimes that might mean making life difficult for myself but that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

Most MMORPGs cater to point 1, some cater to point 2, almost none cater to point 3 and absolutely none (that I know of) cater to point 4. Single player RPGs usually cater to more of these points, such as choosing to be good or evil or making decisions that may penalise you for the sake of roleplay, but either way, I try my best with what I’ve got.

Creating a character is an important aspect of any game for me and I’ve really got to buy into him in order to be able to enjoy the game. The more flexiblity and variety there is for play style, appearance, and general character building, the more likely the game will immerse me into it’s world. I think it’s a little sad that a lot of MMORPGs have forgotten this fact and just tend to be action games with stats rather than true RPGs. When was the last time you, or anyone you knew, made an in-game choice for the sake of roleplay rather than “being the best”?

I guess what I’m saying is that my preferred hero is unique and flawed, not a perfect Warrior with maxed stats and the most effective talent build. I’d like to see more MMORPGs offer the flexibility we often find in single player RPGs. It might mean making a character who isn’t perfect but instead marred with petty human qualities or choosing between truly being good or evil and not just have it appear as some item on a quest journal. I want our character decisions to affect the MMO world we play in and the way we play and interact with NPCs and PCs alike. I think that would be a heck of a lot of fun.

I Pre-Ordered Star Trek Online

Title says it all, frankly. Even though I’ve been feeling (and still feel) very lukewarm towards the forthcoming Star Trek Online, I decided to pre-order it anyway. It was a combination of a beta-access (even though I recall swearing I’d never beta test another game) and head-start promise and some well-received Amazon vouchers as a Christmas present.

I Want A Khaaan! Emote

I Really Do Want A Khaaan! Emote

Although Direct2Drive are offering a “Digital Deluxe Edition” for £45/€50/$72 which comes with a bunch of goodies including a personal shield, original Star Trek uniform, KHAAAN! emote, NX ship registry prefix and access to the Joined-Trill race, I still decided to just buy the vanilla version from Amazon UK instead. Don’t get me wrong, those items are very tempting (especially the KHAAAN! emote) but I can’t really justify the extra cost for a few fluff items, especially for a game that I’m not totally convinced by. The Amazon version is only costing me £25/€28/$40 and it gives me an exclusive Borg Bridge Officer crew mate. No KHAAAN! emote but still, pretty cool.

As you may have gathered, I’m still very sceptical about the game and the more I read about it the more my cynicism grows. Oh how I worry Star Trek Online will turn out to be piss… but at least with low expectations all of the surprises will be pleasant ones. Yes, it’s with this pessimistic outlook on life (or at least MMORPGs) that I intend to guard myself from the ineviteable Anti-Hype-Letdown that seems to affect everyone about 3-4 weeks after a new MMO comes out. Age of Conan has no content? Really? Aion is a mega-grind-fest? Really?

Of course, I say all of that but then there’s always that little glimmer of hope that lurks depth within my brain and whispers to me, “y’know, maybe it will actually turn out to be good”. And hence the pre-order.

Should MMORPGs Be Simpler?

As Tobold points out, with the release of Cataclysm Blizzard will be simplifying many of the stats that are currently in the game, including things like Spell Power, Attack Power and Defense. Check out his article for a full list.

I’m in two frames of mind about the whole thing. I agree in principle with what Blizzard are trying to accomplish (making the game more accessible and streamlined) but I also wonder if it’s taking away a lot of what we love about MMORPGs – choice. Part of the fun and drive of these games is to improve your character through itemisation and by removing statistics and components like Attack Power, Defense and Armor Penetration, they are effectively reducing the pool of options available to us.

The flip side of the coin is that statistics will be a lot more instantly recognisable and players won’t need to rely on stat calculators to determine what item gives them the best increase. Blizzard are also being careful to help simplify the gearing process in groups and raids by making sure that plate wearers will only want plate items and won’t be tempted on rolling on leather or mail items just for the stats. It’s a clever move which should help eliminate a lot of squabbles.

Overall, I don’t think this move will have a large impact on me as a WoW gamer as I’m just a very casual player of the game. Still, it does make we wonder where the balance lies. I want my RPGs to be fairly complex as, traditionally, they have always been that way and required a little bit of thought and foresight in order to gain the best benefits. It may also remove a lot of choice from the game and make items a lot more samey and less interesting. However, saying that, I also understand that some statistics are just silly and unnecessary and complicated for the sheer sake of it.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out with the release of Cataclysm. Undoubtedly there will be the usual cries that Blizzard are “dumbing down” the game and, well, that is hard to argue with in this case. But is it the right move? Will it improve the game? As Blizzard are often the trendsetters in the MMORPG universe (with new games copying their approach in order to try and recreate their success) we will likely see a lot more of this in other games. That’s the most worrying thing to me: seeing Blizzard’s approach mimicked poorly in the next wave of MMORPGs, leaving us with games that lack any sort of variety or complexity.

One Year Of We Fly Spitfires

Not only is today Christmas Day but it also marks the first anniversary of this blog. Crazy huh? I can’t quite believe it’s been one year since I started it, it’s just passed so quickly, nor can I quite believe how popular it’s become! When I first started writing I thought I’d be lucky to get a handful of visits and now I’m getting hundreds, sometimes thousands, every day. I’m incredibly thrilled that people seem to be genuinely interested in what I have to say and, as a blogger, it’s very rewarding to get such excellent feedback and comments from so many people.I’d like to take this opportunity to say a huge thanks to everyone who reads We Fly Spitfires and takes the time to comment here. A blog is nothing without an interactive audience  and your feedback and comments have not only spurred me on when I needed it but helped me gain understanding and insight into such a fascinating and deep gaming genre.

Since today marks the first birthday of We Fly Spitfires, I’d like to highlight some of my most favourite articles, ones that I’ve got a true kick out of writing and have hopefully given you as much pleasure as they have me:

MMORPGs Are A Lot Like Women
With a shadow of a doubt, this is my most favourite article that I’ve written so far. I was worried that it would be misconstrued as being sexiest or some such when it was released but the feedback was both tremendous and overwhelming. I’m so glad so many people got as much of a laugh out of reading it as I did writing it.

With a staggering 116 comments, this is the most popular article that I’ve ever written… now I only wish I could actually create the game we were all talking about! I discovered in writing this that people are crying out for something new to hit the genre, something a little different from your standard run of the mill fantasy MMO.

When Did Groups Become PUGs?
My first ever article. It sucks. Don’t read it. But I guess it will always have a place in We Fly Spitfires history.

I Have An Ogre Fetish
The moment when I announced to the world that I had a well-hidden Ogre fetish. The news was surprisingly well received.

The Sting Of Dead
I died for the first time in EVE Online and it inspired this article about using consequences to invoke emotions in our MMORPGs. It wasn’t until I wrote this that I truly started to understand and appreciate the design behind EVE and all of the clever ways that it subtlety affects us.

So there you have a brief selection from some of the articles of We Fly Spitfires Year One. I hope the next 365 days are as fascinating as these last ones have been.

Oh and merry Christmas everyone :)

Dragon Age: Origins – PC vs PS3

For some reason when Dragon Age: Origins came out I got it into my head that I wanted the PS3 version instead of the PC one and even ended up waiting two weeks to get it (for some reason the PS3 version was delayed in the UK). I think at the time I thought I’d rather play it on my TV and be able to trade it back into the store I bought it from when I was finished with it. Unfortunately the control system on the PS3 proved to be so utterly terrible that I never really got into the game and only scratched the surface of it.

Last weekend I decided to take Dragon Age back up to the shops and trade it in (most shops in the UK will buy back console games for a reduced price once you’re done with them). Although a little hesitant, I saw that the PC version of it was on sale for coincidentally the same amount as I had received from the PS3 exchange. Fate was calling me and I just had to answer. I bought the PC version and boy, oh boy… is it so much better.

I’m absolutely loving Dragon Age now and playing through it quite steadily on my PC. The user-interface is so much more friendly and I barely notice it, let alone having it obstruct me as it did on the PS3. Combat is also a heck of a lot easier and far less frustrating. Some games were just never designed to be released on consoles and DA:O is one of them.

Although I’m still dicking about a little bit in World of Warcraft, Dragon Age has taken up most of gaming time this week and will continue to do so for a little while longer. It’s actually very refreshing to play a SRPG after so many MMORPGs and I feel a connection with the story and NPCs that I never do in MMOs. Although it does feel kinda lonely at times (I keep instinctively looking for the chat window) and ultimately my in-game actions will die with my save game files, it’s kinda nice to be able to play through a predefined story and actually shape the world as I do it. Kill an NPC and they don’t respawn in 6 minutes, defeat a boss and he won’t be there the next time I return to the same spot.

Next on my conquest list: Fallout 3.

Mature MMORPGs

When Age of Conan came out last year it brought something new to the MMORPG genre – blood, guts and breasts. I remember there being some controversy as people divided into two camps about it all. Some deplored the idea of grotesque combat and nudity, arguing that it glorified violence and objectified women. A highly censored version of the game was even released in Germany and Austria, forcing many gamers to import copies of it from the UK if they wanted the full-on gore and frequent nipples. Of course, others applauded Funcom for taking such a firm stance and not comprising their vision of Conan. They also enjoyed the refreshing nature of the content and the “maturity” that it offered. We can watch violence and nudity on television, what’s wrong with a bit of blood and boobage in our games?

Just Another Quest In Age Of Conan

Just Another Quest In Age Of Conan

Funcom’s take on it all was that they wanted to stay true to Robert E. Howard’s vision of Conan. He is a barbarian after all, living in a barbaric world. Every medium that has depicted the character before has always emphasised the violence and nudity aspect of it and the MMORPG was to be no different. Ironically, although many have criticised Conan over the decades for it’s violence, REH’s meaning has always been to show that humanity has become corrupted and lost with it’s attempt at civilization; we are now living unnatural lives, far removed from our genetic pre-dispositions and nature.

Personally I welcomed Age of Conan from bringing something new to the MMORPG genre. It’s the only MMO that I know of that actually has a high degree of blood, fatalities and nudity in it. Yeah, it wasn’t enough to make up for the appalling lack of content but it did provide a solid degree of immersion in the world, very appropriate and suitable to the game’s lore. Aside from anything else, it just made the game a little different from anything else out there on the market and I enjoyed that.

Now we have games like Dragon Age Origins which have a similar level of blood and guts to Conan and a mature certificate rating to go along with it. Again, the violence doesn’t make or break the game for me (or anyone else I think) but it does add a refreshing aspect to everything. No longer are RPGs and MMORPGs the realm of happy little smiling elves and scowling goblins with a gentle pat on the head by an old wizard as a quest reward. Nope, now you can decapitate your enemy and laugh in the face of their severed head before you head off into the woods to perform bizarre sexual acts on your party members.

I’ll end with two questions for y’all. Mature MMORPGs, good or bad? And how long do you think it will be before we see the arrival of the sexual intercourse mini-game (Grand Theft Auto style) in a MMO?