Archive for 2009

Five Things That EQ2 Does Better Than WoW

"Eeeya!" Thumbs up for EQ2

"Eeeya!" Thumbs up for EQ2

Professor Syp (a wise man indeed but I have a mild inclination that he’s not a real professor) issued a general call today for bloggers with experience with Everquest 2 to write an article about five features or aspects of EQ2 that are better than World of Warcraft. Being a EQ2 fanboi, how could I refuse? Name five things? Easy! I could write ten. But I won’t.

Note: in the interest of continuing to explore the multicultural aspects of MMORPGs, I’ve decided to number each reason in a different language. Bonus points and imaginary high-five to anyone who can identify all of the languages.

Uno: Open Dungeons

I harp on about them quite a lot but open, or public, dungeons are an amazing feature which World of Warcraft is completely devoid of, totally to it’s determent. Instances are all very well but they limit social interaction and the randomness of interactivity that creates the spice of life. Some of fondest memories come from open dungeons in EQ2 like Fallen Gate, Runnyeye, Permafrost, Castle Mistmoore and Karnor’s Castle. Open dungeons + PvP = a lot of fun.

Ni: Mentoring

So, the most popular MMORPG of all time allows low level players to gain experience whilst grouped with those at the level cap? And they exploit this ability so they can be quickly “boosted” through instances to accrue easy experience and jump levels? And there’s no such feature as mentoring e.g. the ability for a high level player to reduce their level to a low level friend and thus be able to group and play properly with them? Riiiight.

Dos: PvP Servers

Battlegrounds are fun but the PvP servers in World of Warcraft downright suck unless you enjoy being mercilessly ganked by level 80s in full raid gear constantly as you struggle to level up. The EQ2 PvP server, Nagafen, offers the best faction vs faction PvP I have ever experienced. It limits the attackable level range based on what zone you’re in thus making combat fair, it offers good experience and rewards thus actively encouraging people to do it, and, best of all, taunt actually works thus making proper tanks a valuable component of a PvP group!

Fünf: Voice overs

Voice overs may require a lot of hard work but they add a ton of immersion to a game. Don’t believe me? Just create a character and walk around Freeport and you’ll never think that Stormwind is “busy” or “full of character” ever again. Oh and stop by Boomba on your way into the Commlands. Incredibly funny and a bit of nostalgia in the mix.

Fare: Shinies

Everquest 2 is with no doubt the ultimate collectors game. It has little shiny sparkles called, um, shinies randomly scattered on the ground throughout the land and they can be picked up by anyone to reveal little items that can be added to Collections. Complete a collection and you’ll be rewarded with some experience and sometimes an item or other reward. Be warned though: shiny gathering is highly addictive, very competitive, and has been known to cause the wipeout of many a group, usually right after someone can be heard saying, “oooh, shiny!”.

Worldplay Project

Yesterday I received a very nice email from a fellow called Aaron, an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Trinity University (Texas) asking for some help in promoting his research project. Being a former scholar (and easily susceptible to flattery) I, of course, agreed.

The project is called the Worldplay Research Initiative (WRI) and aims to explore the ‘issues associated with cross-cultural interactions in virtual worlds’, a topic that I actually wrote about back in July of this year in an article entitled (originally enough) ‘The Multicultural Aspects of MMORPGs’.  Aaron read the article and found me through it, assuming I had a similar interest in the subject. He was right.

Aaron has approximately 18 students on his course Games for the Web, all contributing to his project and undertaking research into virtual worlds and MMOs. As part of their course, they each play different characters in Dungeons & Dragons Online and observe and interact with foreign players. They’re aims are to explore the internationality provided by these worlds and games and investigate how transnational cooperation affects players and can be nurtured and extended by both developers and the community.

All-in-all I think it’s a very cool project. As a Scot who’s played on both US and heavily mixed European servers in a variety of different MMORPGs, it’s something I find incredibly fascinating and a subject I hold dear to my heart. It’s like living in a little microcosm, just watching how people from different cultures interact, how each society evolves and how differently events are seen and undertaken (e.g. Koreans and Americans have vastly differing views on PvP).

If you want to read more about the Worldplay Project, check out the Trinity University webpage here.

There’s also a short 10 question online survey which Aaron would be incredibly delighted if anyone who had 5 minutes to spare could fill in. Hopefully you will find it as fun and interesting as I did.

My final thought is simply how jealous I am that I wasn’t able to do any sort of course like this when I was at university. In a contest between exploring the multicultural aspects of MMORPGs and learning about TCP/IP protocols and network transport layers, I know which wins. Hint: it’s not the networking.

P.S. Aaron’s also a big fan of Brian ‘Psychochild’ Green (as am I) and expressed how awesome and informative his comments are. I couldn’t agree more.

Dragon Age PS3 – First Impressions

Last Friday I picked up Dragon Age: Origins for my PS3 (dunno why but it was delayed on the PS3 in the UK) and thought I’d share my first impressions of it with everyone. To summarise: ’tis gud.

I won’t bore everyone with the ins and outs of the game as there are plenty of other blogs and articles out that cover all of the nitty gritty of it. If you’re looking for a couple of good, thorough and insightful reviews, I’d recommend both Tobold’s review and Tipa’s over at West Karana.  Their reviews are for the PC version of the game though whereas I bought the Playstation 3 one.

As I said, even though I’ve only played Dragon Age for a handful of hours (pesky real life and work keep getting in the way), it’s an enjoyable game and pretty much everything you’d expect from a mature, high fantasty RPG by Bioware. In saying that, however, there are two things that really ticked me of. One is due to poor game design and the other to console limitations.

The first thing that really bugged me, and then actually became comical, was the fact that I designed my Human Warrior to be a bald, feeble old man with a big bushy white moustache. He looks about 60 years old and I even planned a whole backstory for him and was looking forward to playing it out. Then, of course, I started the game and everyone started calling me “pup”. Turns out the game actually forces you to follow a predetermined storyline in which you’re a young man, completing contradicting the way my character looked. Irritating at first, it actually become funny after a while as I was running around the castle with my “mother”, a woman who looked about 10 years my junior (if I’d been 10 years younger, I would’ve been all over her). If the game is going to let me create an old looking man, don’t force me to play a young character. That’s bad design.

The second thing that ticked me of (and still does a bit although I’m getting used to it) are the PS3 controls. Yeah, I know, I should’ve bought the PC version. Dragon Age is just begging to played with a mouse and keyboard and I find it an absolute drag to go through my inventory or issue orders in battle. I should’ve seen this coming and it’s my own fault for going with the PS3. Oh well, live and learn.

At the end of the day, Dragon Age: Origins is a lot of fun and I’m enjoying playing it. Still, it makes me look forward to Mass Effect 2 more than ever because I feel that it’s a stronger license, more exciting, and a lot more innovative. Dragon Age feels a bit like your cliché fantasy RPG that I’ve seen a hundred times before.

New Zombie MMOZ (And How I Predicted The Future)

A few months ago I wrote about how I’d love to see a Zombie MMORPG and what I’d like to see in it. Today, my fantasy has been birthed as I just discovered that Jeff Strain, veteran Blizzard programmer and Guild Wars founder, has started a game development studio called Undead Labs in order to “create the definitive massively multiplayer zombie game”. I think I just pee’d my pants a little.

Information about the game is pretty patchy because, by all accounts, it’s just kicked off so there’s nothing to really know at this stage. Suffice to say, after checking Jeff’s resume, I feel comfortable in his hands. He worked on Diablo, Starcraft, Warcraft 3 and was the original lead programmer on World of Warcraft before creating Guild Wars. Of course this is no guarentee that he will create a great Zombie MMO but it certainly stacks the deck in it’s favour.

However, no cloud is without it’s grey lining, and apparently this MMOZ will be for…um… “console gamers”. Confused much? Well, after reading his interview on Eurogamer it sounds like Jeff’s on a mission to reinvent the MMO console game, just like Bungie did with Halo on the Xbox. This won’t be your normal MMORPG then.

I still think my idea of an EVE like sandbox, tough-as-nails, zombie survival horror MMORPG would be awesome. But then I would say that, wouldn’t I? Perhaps it’s still not to late to influence ol’ Jeff. Anyone got his email address?

P.S. If you’re wondering how I “predicted the future” on this it was, um, because I had an idea for a zombie MMO a few months before this was announced. Hence why I believe I had a premonition.

P.P.S. Big thanks to Andrew over at Of Teeth and Claws (a mighty fine blog indeed) for letting me know about this news!

Grouping Is Where The Fun’s At

Had a blast in World of Warcraft this morning when I took on Wailing Caverns with my new Undead Warrior along with two old friends from previous MMORPGs (they just started playing WoW). Now that might not seem like much worth blogging about except that it is for me when you consider that this is not only the first time I’ve done the instance but one of my very few times grouping with anyone since starting the game back in October last year. Kinda sad isn’t it?

I always just figured I was kinda lazy (there’s no doubt an element of that in it, regardless) but I just never needed to group much in all of my time playing WoW. Even by the time I was adventuring in Outland, there really was no need to group. Soloing was a lot more convenient and a heck of a lot faster. Even today in my WC group I had an absolutely great time yet only chalked about half a level of exp (granted, I was level 25 though).

I compare this back to my days of Everquest 2 when grouping was a perfectly viable, if not preferable, alternative to soloing. They were both well defined options for progress. Soloing was seen as the “I’m just on for a little while” or the “I don’t want to freaking talk to anybody” option whilst grouping was the “fast exp, good loot, fun social” option. Only got 30mins before the wife kicks your ass? Go solo. Got a whole a morning to kill? Grab a group and hit an open dungeon for hours on end.

Somewhere, somehow, it just all got a little muddled up in World of Warcraft.

I know I’ve harped on about this before but the grouping aspect of WoW is pretty terrible and, in my opinion, perhaps the biggest – and maybe even the only – failing of the game. The lack of grouping incentives and focus purely on closed instances (as opposed to open dungeons) has bred unsociable players (I’ll include myself in that). No wonder PUGs have gotten such a bad name from WoW. Had grouping been a tad more vital, and a tad more appealing, players would’ve yearned to group, feared being ostracised and perhaps behaved a little better.

Although I think it creates a few issues along with solving some, patch 3.3 and the new cross-realm LFG system does genuinely excite me though. Not quite sure how it will work in terms of building up relationships and friendships (can you be friends or communicate with someone on another server?) but at least it will certainly address the issue of the time taken to put together a group. Whether or not it will actually make grouping more enticing or the party members any more responsible and well mannered is another thing entirely.

The RMT Industry – What I’ve Learnt

Last year I briefly worked as a designer and developer for a Norwegian company that built and sold power plant management software. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the industry (I’m sure most of you follow it with deep fascination), when the majority of power companies were privatised in the 1980s, a whole new sub-industry was inadvertently created. Instead of the state owning, running and maintaining a power plant, now they were available for sale to the highest bidder. What this also created was effectively a stock market of power. Power can now be bought and sold back and forth into the national grid at different rates by different companies and (this will annoy any Eco-Warriors out there) so can a plant’s surplus Kyoto Protocol quota.

Anyway, the reason for that boring (yet educational! just imagine yourself retelling that interesting bit of information to your folks during Christmas dinner) intro was because it has a lot of similarities to the gold selling industry in MMORPGs. Like those companies or not, you have to admit that it’s pretty fascinating how an entire sub-industry has crept out of the shadow of another. Although I don’t really think I have the heart of a capitalist, I think this sort of thing is pretty intriguing, especially when you imagine how many jobs that have been created as an extension of the MMO industry.

The feedback I received on my article about the comparison between Victorian sex and RMT and the poll I put up asking directly if anyone has ever bought gold has been both tremendous and incredibly insightful. Although my poll is very minor, the results were interesting and showed that approximately 35% of everyone who answered had, at some point, purchased gold. That’s a pretty big number and obviously explains the demand for it. Now, as I said, it’s just a tiny poll so honestly it’s hard to draw any accurate conclusions but I’d love to see a site like Massively run one (hint, hint) and see what sort of response they got.

So what else have I learnt? Well, for one, buying gold happens and it happens a fair bit. Poll aside, plenty of the comments I received were incredibly candid and honestly spoke about personal experiences of buying gold. It’s obviously not a minor occurrence and not something that MMORPG companies can keep quiet about and ignore.

I also learnt that the majority of people who bought gold did it because they wanted to circumvent a particular type of gameplay they didn’t like, the grind. Players didn’t want to grind the gold required to equip their characters to make them competitive in PvP or the vast amounts of money needed to buy epic mounts.

At the end of the day, I don’t think the RMT industry will go away by banning accounts or invoking harsh penalties but rather, personally, I believe it will be solved through game design and game design alone. Gold selling exists because there is a market place for it and that market place exists due to the necessity of invention. It’s a way of players bypassing the grinding and arduous tasks in a MMORPG and only once those chores are eliminated will the RMT market decline.

P.S. If you’re looking for some articles about the gold selling industry, check out this great article about PLEX in Eve Online over at The Ancient Gaming Noob and another one about the dark side of RMT by Scott Jennings on Top reads.

Code of Everland – UK Government MMOG

A friend of mine on Facebook told me about Code of Everand, a new massively multiplayer online game developed by the UK government’s Department for Transport (DfT) designed to help children, aged between 9 and 13, gain essential skills for staying safe on the roads. Finally, the government safety MMO we’ve all been waiting for!

Code of Everland

Code of Everland

I haven’t played it yet but Code of Everand looks pretty interesting (well, if you’re a kid or have particular problems in crossing roads… and no, jaywalking isn’t illegal in the UK which explains why something like this is necessary). It’s a Flash based browser game and is totally free to play. Much like any traditional MMORPG, your character accrues exp, levels up, embarks on quests, and uses their powers to safety cross the “Spirit Channels”. OK, not quite like your normal MMO then, but heck, at least it’s teaching children something.

OK, I’ll admit it, I’m impressed. Not only has the UK government actually done something innovative but they’ve commissioned a project which might actually appeal to children and help get their point across. Plus it just goes to show how mainstream MMOs are becoming these days. Top it all off with what looks like an actually very comprehensive and full-fledged game and you’ve got a product that’s made me look at the Department for Transport (DfT) in a whole new light. And here I was, cursing their name on a daily basis.

So anyway, I’m going to go register for Code of Everand and check it out properly.

Of course, I can’t help but think that the whole issue of road safety could just as easily be sorted by criminalising jaywalking in the UK like in the US. Yeah, I know all about it in the States… I’ve seen the movies.