Monday, March 26, 2007

4 More Days...

4 More days and my real time in Lord of the Rings Online can actually begin. Pre-order access to the open beta, with character roll-over into release (capped at level 15) starts on Friday. I am stoked to say the least. LotRO receives a lot of flack around the web for being nothing new. Or for not having magic, or too much of it to some of the Lore Nazis. Me? I enjoy the game. I have since I started in Alpha 2 back in August.

Call me crazy, but I'll simply play what I like. It helps that I love Tolkien, but this could be Asheron's Call 3 or some entirely new IP, and I'd still be playing it. Why? Because what it is as a game works, and works well. LotRO doesn't seek to reinvent the wheel, it just wants to take an already perfectly rolling model of said wheel, add some white-walls and some nifty tread, and roll on.

This is not to say it doesn't have its own new fangled gadgets to play with. Anyone in the beta will tell you the Music system is something out of this world, and Monster Play is at the very least a new take on PvP in these games. But inherently, LotRO is an amalgamation of many past successful MMORPGs. I for one am grateful that they didn't try to be too radical with their design concepts. Other may disagree. But come the 30th, this Friday, I won't be looking back.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Jeff Smith's "Bone" Collection

I just ordered the complete Bone collection in one volume off of Barnes and Noble. I feel exhilarated. Bone was one of those comics during my youth that I was never able to find, but always heard about. Now someone has gone to all the trouble of putting the entire series into one volume just for me. I'll update after I've gotten my copy with impressions and musings.

Did I mention I'm a closet comic geek who thinks the next evolution of literature is awaiting the arrival of more truly great Graphic Novels like Smith's work, and that of Frank Miller, Alan Moore, and many other talented artists writers alike? I didn't? Well now I did.

And to wrap this post up, and because I like to recycle my writings, here's an article I posted on the LotRO Vault inspired by Cuppycake. Just because it's important enough to me that I feel it should be posted twice.

Polish: The Key Ingredient

No, I’m not talking about the sausage or nationality. The polish I’m referring to has nothing to do with Poland. I’m talking about what you do to your dress-shoes, your hardwood floors, and if you’re a game developer, what you absolutely need to do to your games. As pointed our by blogger Cuppycake, there have been some interesting chats going on at the GDC this year, in particular one between several icons in the MMO genre, like Raph Koster, Marc Jacobs of Mythic, and even Rob Pardo of Blizzard. The topic was what, if anything, developers can learn from World of Warcraft’s titan-esque success. The general consensus wasn’t anything to do with copying them, making a WoW clone as it were, but rather that the biggest detail Blizzard got right, and that other companies need to take to heart, is polish.

As our friend Cuppycake pointed out, Marc Jacobs said it best:

“Here’s another thing: you don’t have to out-content them. But you do have to polish. If you don’t, even if you have a really interesting game, the people who play WoW won’t be impressed. This is really, really crucial. Polish it until you can see yourself from miles away.”

So often these days, and only in the PC Gaming arena, publishers seem to be forcing their developers to release unfinished content at the sake of saving some cash. If only they realized that there would be more money to make from a polished and complete product rather than one rushed out and patched later! But the problem is no one but the developers and the gamers seem to know this. I mean how many of you out there have ever bought a bugged game and said to yourself, “Gee, this would have been much more worth the cash if it was done right in the 1st place.”

For single-player games, maybe that’s not a necessity. Because once they’ve (the customers) have bought the box, you owe them nothing from that point on. But when you’re a developer and publisher of a major online game, one that asks its players to pay a monthly subscription, you had better be on top of every little bug like a cat on a glorious pile of nip-stuffed toys and baubles. Polish is not an option in the MMO space of games; it’s an essential ingredient in the games we all love. Especially more so now after over eight-million people have flocked into Blizzard’s megaton game and seen just how clean and crisp it is. In the post-WoW era, you can’t come out with a product that’s not ready to see retail and just expect people to be okay with because you’ll “patch it later”. Brad McQuaid and crew at Sigil games ran out of time and funds, and had to come to an agreement on a release date with Sony Online Entertainment. But looking and the potential that Vanguard has, I would have fired whoever was in charge of making Sigil push forward with release instead of optimizing the client first.

The point I’m getting to, and I thank you if you’ve read this far, is that if games and more specifically MMOs are ever going to be more than the media’s whipping boy “hawt new addiction”, the publishers of said games had better start taking a serious look at the quality of their products before pressing the “It’s Gone Gold!” button. Polish your games, developers. And EA, Atari, Midway, Vivendi… all you rowdy lot, let your game makers do their jobs. It’ll be nothing but good for you all in the long run. Polish won’t guarantee your game to be the next Warcraft, but it will guarantee that the gaming community doesn’t turn its nose up at you and scoff when you release an unfinished version of a game and charge us fifty dollars for the wrapper.

Rant off.

Monday, March 12, 2007

New Condo, New Video Card

Sorry for not posting over the weekend, but I was a bit pre-occupied with moving into my wife and I's first home. We've gone from a tiny one bedroom apartment, to a 2 floor, 3 bedroom condo... I'm lost with what to do with all the space. But honestly, it was amazing to see how it filled up with all of our wedding gifts and the random junk we had piled up in our apartment. George Carlin was right, you buy a home not to live in, but so you'll have a place to put your stuff.

Also of news, I was able to convince the Missus to let me do one more upgrade to my PC (I recently bumped up to 2G of RAM). Went to ATI's site and used their trade-in feature to upgrade my dusty old Radeon 9800pro 128 to a spanking new Radeon x1650 512MB. :) Bildo's a happy camper. LotRO will be running on high just as soon as they ship the dang thing and get it in my greedy Irish mitts!

Anyone else do anything exciting this weekend? I was actually saddened to not be able to see Frank Miller's 300 on opening night, but I'm due to see it this Tuesday. If you caught it, was it good?

Oh, and one more thing... over on LotRO Vault I posted a news blurb about our upcoming Beta Event: a Naked/Drunk Race to Rivendell. If you're in the beta and want to get to know some of the Vault staff, come on out on Friday, the 16th at 9pm EST on the US Beta server Brandywine.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Sony "Awakens"?


"All in all, the world is much as it was yesterday. Sony is still trying to sell an extremely expensive games machine, with a limited number of blockbuster games, and a legacy of poor performance. But the Blu-ray factor has now been conjoined with an obvious understanding of all this community and UGC stuff that, as Harrison says, “will shape the decade ahead”. Doubtless the PS3 story still has some set-backs and disappointments ahead, but finally, we get the feeling the worst is over."

I really, hope for Sony's sake, that this is true. The full write up covers the key components of Phil Harrison's GDC presentation today, including some extremely promising software like HOME and LittleBigPlanet.

I'm a long time Nintendo fan, but I'm an equal-opportunity gamer, and have owned everything from an NES to a Dreamcast and a PSOne even a little ol' Gamecube, and most recently a Wii. Nintendo's got my heart when it comes to their IP and 1st party games, a strength that Sony's never had.

However with the announcement of HOME and LBP, I think Sony's going to be making a name for themselves all over again that could pull them away from all the bad press they've been getting with the PS3. Networking, user-created content, and the like are all the future of gaming, whether people want to believe that or not, and like Microsoft before them (Xbox Live), Sony's diving head 1st into that space with the PS3's forthcoming updates.

Now if only my Nintendo would get the hint...

MMO Fatigue... Is There a Cure?

One of my favorite bloggers, Tobold, has recently been showing some frustration with the fan-favorite MMO, World of Warcraft. I have to say, I'm right there with him. It's been nigh two and a half years since I started playing WoW, and for a while now I've been suffering from the titular "MMO Fatigue". I'm sick of the game... I don't want to log in... and yet for the past 6 months I've been feeling this way, I keep resubscribing, trying to play, trying to love it once more... but I can't.

I bought the expansion on opening night like the rest of the world, and my fervor and zest for exploring the Outland lasted only as long as it took me to realize I was still just a casual player with nothing to look forward to at 70 except waiting for the level cap to be raised to 80. I'm not a fan of raiding, been there tried it, enjoyed it once or twice, but I prefer small group content.

There is a TON of small group content in the Burning Crusade, but I'm not excited about it anymore. Why? Because I've quickly realized that it's the same as small group content in Vanilla WoW: fun, but with rewards on the lowest end of the totem pole. I love doing the dungeons but it's hard to feel motivated to complete them more than once when you know that you're missing out on the best gear (WoW's only real form of progression at the level cap) by not raiding or PvP-ing. I'd be fine without the good weapons and armor, if only there was a better form of character progression at the maximum level... which in WoW doesn't exist as of this writing.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'm sick of WoW... finally. I still have very strong ties to the game, as it was the 1st MMO I truly went full-steam into (not just for a couple of months before leaving), but I think my time with it is done. It really did open up the genre to a lot of people who never even considered it, and it's certainly a high-quality crafted game. One of the best I've played for all intents and purposes, on both consoles and PC... but it's no longer for me.

I also have the feeling many folk like me are realizing it's not for them anymore. The game is more and more shifting into old EQ territory... for the "vocal minority, and less for the non-vocal majority" or something of that nature as Tobold put it. And the more they go into that mentality, the more I feel like I'm being told by Blizzard to GTFO.

I'll wrap this up. I'm sick of WoW, fatigued by the grind, I don't think there is a cure, and I'm now looking forward with cautious optimism at Lord of the Rings Online. Similar mechanics of gameplay to WoW and a host of other classic MMOs, but with a real focus on story, casual play, and equal paths of all kinds to the best of the game. I only hope all that it looks like it will be, it really will be.

AC was and still is friendly to all manner of folks, AC2 was as well, and DDO is more and more. Turbine's the 1st company to cater to casual people with real lives that come before their MMO lives, and I hope that stays true with LotRO... keep Tigole and the like far away from Middle-Earth please. I don't want to be making a post like this in another 2 years for my favorite fantasy setting turned MMO.

Am I alone here? Is anyone else feeling the same way about the 800 pound gorilla that is WoW?