If there's a game on the horizon that I'm truly excited about, it's the Undead Labs 'Class 4' project. Unfortunately there's not a great we know about it yet, but I have an immense amount of faith in the studio to pull off something fantastic - here's why:
Back at the beginning of March, Rift looked like just another new MMO queued up to take a futile swing at World of Warcraft. As a subscription based fantasy MMO with thoroughly convention MMO mechanics, many wondered how it would differentiate itself.
In this pseudo-review I'm not going to delve into the specifics of what I liked... Mainly because it's much easier to criticize. Rest assured that rift events, artifact hunting, exploration, public grouping, dungeons, and an impressive level of polish all had a hand in keeping me going along the way.
So with that aside, let me get stuck in to the things I didn't like..
Character creation, that thing that prevents you from actually playing the game for the first ten minutes. Choosing the craziest facial hair, tweaking largely trivial statistics and traits that are notionally related to our personality... Somehow that is supposed to provide a stronger relationship with our chosen avatar. I don't buy it, at least not for single player games where recognition isn't a factor.
Many of the great classics of our time start off by placing us in the shoes of an already fully developed character. April Ryan, Guybrush Threepwood, Jade, Kate Walker, The Nameless One... The list goes on. They are charismatic, deep, interesting, compelling, and memorable.
Does it bother me that I may not share their gender, attitude, or physical appearance? Of course not. Do you feel like a good book is less entertaining because you can't choose the physical and psychological attributes of the protagonist?
The whole character creation thing revolves around getting to create your very own bad ass alter-ego! Sounds great, right? Unfortunately no matter how much you scroll through those same old options (cheekbone height, SWEET!) you will inevitably produce the usual shallow, dull, generic character - no matter how crazy your facial hair choice. It's ok though, because you'll end up covering up all of those finely tuned aesthetic details with gear anyway, and any stats you picked will be obsolete by the time you've progressed a few hours into the game.
Like multiple choice dialogue options, alternate endings, and optional side quests, it's just an illusion of ownership, there to make you feel like you are making a difference rather than following a trail of breadcrumbs.
Cross posting from my guest appearance on the Relics of Orr blog, earlier this week.
Last week saw the release of ''A Rewarding Experience', another highly praised installment in ArenaNet's series of articles about Guild Wars 2. It came packaged with the usual promises of innovation and improvement in the MMO genre, and as usual was well received by an eager audience...
Well, generally well received...
In a recent post, Border House blog talked about Ada Lovelace Day, a day chosen to recognize women in the field of technology or science. The post is centered around the games industry specifically, and there's one example I found particularly interesting.
I'm not going to go on about specific cases or certain idiotic developers. I will simply say this:
Why, if your goal is to prevent piracy, would you make it inconvenient and painful to use a legitimate copy of your product?
For now, listen to Good Game's interview with Valve's Gabe Newell (and a few others), in which he tackles the problems caused by DRM and the importance of good service.
He gets to it about half way through part 2, but it's a fantastic interview all round, so I highly recommend watching it all.
Towards the end of part 2 he also talks about a business model remarkably similar to the one I began outlining back in June last year. I'm not implying he stole it from my little blog, but it's great to hear the 'community funded development' idea is being tossed around by a serious developer.
Jeff Hollis of IncGamers, on including non-human races in your MMO:
The developers behind both Fury and Tabula Rasa openly indicated they didn't want to spend the additional cash on this, but instead wanted to invest that money elsewhere. In both cases, the developers defended this decision in a quite genuine manner. They seemed to have thought about this, and felt they were doing the right thing.
That decision, as it turned out, was unwise.
the most dominant MMO in the history of the genre offers a nice, wide variety of race and class combination. In fact, WoW keeps including more races with each expansion. Maybe, just maybe, they know what they're doing.
Vaulting cleanly over any appeal to logic, Jeff reaches his conclusion: 'Human only' MMOs are doomed to fail.
Perhaps the MMOs that have to sacrifice 'cool stuff' such as multiple races to meet a bare-minimum budget are likely to struggle to produce something on a par with their established competitors - regardless of racial diversity. Every one of his 'human only' failure examples had been plagued by a list of typical MMO issues.
Does it really make a difference if I'm playing a human, a humanoid with green skin, a humanoid with pointy ears, or a humanoid that's 4 feet tall? Certainly not if the game blows anyway.
Tune in for next week's column: 'Why you can't make an MMO without red health bars and blue mana bars''.
PR 101: Managing the expectations of your customers. In the case of video games, this usually refers to the temptation to describe key game features which are not yet set in stone or even close to being implemented.
To the surprise of many, NCSoft has brazenly ignored this cornerstone of public relations with the release of their "Visions" trailer: A true antithesis to the conventional wisdom of "don't talk about it until it's finished, tested, and going in the next patch". However, they have done it on such a grandiose scale, and impressed so many, that they might just get away with it.
The vision trailer is not a specific patch/expansion - it's a vision of what we're hoping to get out there in the future.
- Sebastian "Ayase" Streiffert, Aion Community Manager [source]
Jeff Strain (ex Blizzard/ArenaNet/NCSoft) made some waves last night, with the announcement of his new MMO studio 'Undead Labs'. As the name implies, Undead Labs will be focusing on a zombie apocalypse survival MMO for consoles.
"The Seattle, Washington-based studio is “on a mission to take online gaming in bold new directions”, beginning with it's in development zombie MMO for consoles." - Source: EDGE Online
They have even gone so far as to reveal some interesting gameplay info:
""One of the things that is key in [the zombie] genre is really giving players a sense of purpose that is not just kill monsters and level up," he tells us. "MMO players like to have a home, and that is one of the reasons I'm not going to throw them out into a post apocalyptic world. The goal here is to make them feel like there is a purpose. You're trying to restart society. You're trying to reclaim the world. One of the very first goals is going to be to get together with other players and establish a place that you can call your own that you must actively maintain and defend, and that over time will allow you to have a home base that will allow you to restart the economy, start trading with other 'blue zones' and feel like you have a home again." - Source: Destructoid
It's a cool idea for a game, certainly, but as an MMO? With a subscription? On a console? That just seems crazy.
I could be wrong. Perhaps by the time it releases the gaming landscape will have evolved enough to be more accepting of an idea like this. I hope so, even though I would be forced to sell my soul and buy one of those pathetic little boxes with their silly, awkward controllers.