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Friday, October 27, 2006

I Heard You Missed Me, I'm Baaaack

OK summer is over, my insane travel schedule is over for the year, my guild in WoW has hit a wall that the leadership seems too dense to get over (and I sure as hell don't need another responsibility right now, so I'm not volunteering to help,) and the lion's share of my background work is done for setting up some of the web stuff for my Vanguard Site and my other, unannounced, MMO site.

So what, you say? Well I'll be back here starting to write again, and I'll be working on the Vanguard site pretty diligently. I'm also going to start a podcast. Evidently, I don't have enough responsibilities to ignore at the moment.

Please stay tuned in the coming weeks and months. My writers block feels like it's gone, the site is ready to be built upon, and I have a lot of things to talk about.

Thanks for visiting here, and I hope to see you around a lot in the future.


Friday, May 19, 2006

I AM Brain-Damaged.. SOE is OK?

I must be losing my mind.  You all have seen my posts here and you can tell that I am obviously no fan of Sony.  I own a lot of their products, true, and have subscribed to some of their services and will again.  As most of you know, SOE, the mutant child of Sony will be co-publishing my beloved Vanguard: Saga of Heroes when it ships.  Here is the weird part.  I’m OK with it.

Here’s why;  All of my problems with SOE as a company are related to game design issues.  While I have heard the hue and cry of others in the community that decry SOE’s “horrible customer service,” I have never experienced that myself.  What I have experienced are wholesale changes in game play, multiple times, to the same game.  Since it’s the most glaring example lets look at SWG.

Branyanu and I started SWG pretty much at launch.  We’d messed with it a little during beta, and there were a lot of things that we liked.  Let me start off by saying that the game was obviously broken at launch.  We didn’t start out doing a lot of adventuring but instead took to crafting at the outset.  The first time we went adventuring with our friends I could see that something was, to use a Texas phrase, bad wrong with the game.  Our friend had a character that was low-level.  In a level-based game he would have been the equivalent of a level 9 or so character.  He was a Creature Handler (CH) and when we went hunting, he ripped out his 2 or 3 (I don’t remember the details) Rancor pets.  These things were as big as my house and bad-ass.. and we tore through content with them.  Of course, SOE nerfed the CH.  This brought an outcry from the community (“I thought this game was supposed to be solo and casual friendly!” ”How can I survive without all my uber-pets?”)  I thought the complaining was ridiculous since it was the most obviously broken class I had ever seen in any game.  So good job, SOE, right?  Well not so fast.

SOE followed up the needed nerfage with unneeded meddling with the game.  Maybe the game was underachieving and they felt that they needed to do something.  I would have suggested adding content and new ways to interact with the existing world.  I would have suggested fixing bugs.  I would have suggested more aggressive marketing.  SOE gave us the combat “upgrade” (CU.)  

After the CU, I logged in one day to find my beloved Wookie being owned by a very low level bug in the grass. I tried to shoot him, but my weapon was not equipped.  When I tried to equip my pistol, which by the way was customized and had my name on it thanks to my favorite weapon smith, I was unceremoniously informed that I lacked the skill to wield that weapon.  Turns out everything I knew, combat-wise, was in the toilet.  OK, I always have my crafting to fall back on.  Now for a long time I was a Master Architect.  I made harvesters which required a massive amount of resources to build.  These were used, in turn, to gather more resources.  I spent tons of time and I forget how many credits getting them all built.  At the time I made them, there was no way that you could influence the quality of the harvesters so I made them with whatever resources were available.  SOE changed the rules and made quality of construction count on harvesters, rendering mine inferior and basically forcing me to start that part of my career over if I wanted to stay competitive.  This was a design decision that could have been foreseen and should have been made, in my opinion, pre-launch.  Worse, in my opinion, they made it so you could grind your way to Jedi status.  This broke the game further by breaking it into 2 classes; Jedi and non-Jedi.  The differences were glaring and if you didn’t want to do the “Jedi grind,” as it came to be known, you were further devalued in the game.  Regardless, I took advantage of my opportunity to respect my character and made a non-crafting Wookie out of him.  Then came the New Game Experience (NGE.)  

The NGE was purported to make the game more attractive to new players.  Evidently, the game had continued to under-perform, in spite of SOE’s “adjustments.” This made more changes necessary.  This time, all the classes in SWG were reduced to a few, and all of the “support” classes were eliminated.  This disenfranchised thousands of crafters and dancers and other classes that had enjoyed the game at a different level.  Tens of thousands reportedly left the game.

At any rate, I’ve begun to ramble but the point is that SOE as a game design company has demonstrated that they don’t “get”  MMO gamers.  We pour tons of hours and care into our characters and that has value to us. To rip those from us in the name of gaining new subscribers only alienates us, the people that HAVE been paying to play.  New players often come and go, and are more transitory in nature.  Now SOE has eroded their core base and subjected themselves to the whims of a much more transitory “twitch” gamer, who notoriously moves from game to game just looking for something new and hot.  I guess they forgot about how MMO gamers stick with games for years at a chunk instead of weeks.

So how does this relate to my being OK with SOE hosting the Vanguard servers?  Well, Brad has always been very honest with us, and he looked me in the eye and told me “never” when I asked him when SOE might have control over game play.  That is good enough for me.  Brad has occasionally stubbornly stuck to his guns when he needed to make a concession, but he has never lied or intentionally misdirected the community that I have ever seen.  

So as much as it will pain me to see that SOE logo on the Vanguard box, you can bet that I will be there when the doors open at Fry’s and I’ll be among the first to be on Vanguard Live.  Sometimes the devil is entertaining when you put him in a little box, anyway.  If nothing else, this should make for some interesting observation over the next few years.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sony, what's that flushing sound?

Sony is sick, and the heads aren’t done rolling over at SOE. Maybe Sony should change the name of the company to Woe. It seems it would be more in keeping with the way things are going for the Japanese electronics giant. This week, a source with connections deep within SOE told me that preparations are being made for the departure of John Smedley. I know that is breaking a lot of you up. Choke back the tears for a second. Smed has been at SOE for a long time. And you can’t say he hasn’t accomplished something. Clearly we can’t lay all of Sony’s woes at Smed’s feet, but let’s do a little inventory of how things have been going for Sony.

It’s the early 90’s and Sony is all but ubiquitous. They are a market leader in stereo components, VCR, video cameras, and several other consumer electronic devices. Sony’s Walkman and Discman portable tape and CD players are dominant in the market they created. They probably made a bunch of cool shit I can’t even remember.

Late 90’s, and the PlayStation is HOT. It’s the must-have console for the home gamer. Sony owns the licensing for the games, and so has a continuous revenue stream for it’s intellectual properties. Discman is now IT for portable music players. Sony’s Vega televisions are the top rated sets on the mass market. Sony is beginning to have a real presence in media, with motion picture, gaming, and record label properties. Verant Interactive finds a golden vein in continuing subscription revenue with Everquest.

From the very beginning of this decade, the Sony fa├žade starts to crumble. Competing products are challenging Sony’s dominance in almost every one of their traditional markets. Some highlights;

Apple computer not only takes Sony’s lunch money by taking their leadership in a market Sony made, portable media, but stomps a big-ass mud hole in them.

SOE starts to bleed customers from EQ for, of all things, DAoC. This might be the first indication that their subscribers are sick and tired, and they aren’t going to take it any more. Sony seems to believe that the MMO market is a niche that has capped out at around 250-400 k subscribers. OK, then. By the end of 2006, world-wide subscriptions for MMO will probably be at around 10 million. This is including the Chinese subscriptions, which are done on a day-to-day basis, and are much easier to cancel. By my reckoning (as we say in Texas,) Sony has a whopping 4% share of that. That's down from their 50-plus share they held at one time. Hell, Blizzard has 10x the base that Sony ever had in a game.

SOE so royally screws up Star Wars: Galaxies that the ungodly loyal user base there that has stuck with them through think and thin for a couple of years finally tells them where that Wookie can shove that light saber.

Sony publishes CD’s with a root kit on them, and forgets to tell us how to remove them. Because you can’t. And they hope you didn’t need that CD drive for anything else now, did you?

Sony announces that they have delayed their new console until after the first of they year on 2007. Xbox is kicking Sony’s arse. I’m willing to bet that within a couple months after launch, Microsoft will announce that they now have more people subscribed to Xbox live than Sony has sold PS-3’s.

Sony announces that Blu-Ray isn’t quite ready juuuust yet.

Sony stops making the PS-1.

And today, it was announced that the movie industry is going to discontinue publishing movies on the UMD format, which is the only thing that ever sold any PSP’s. That one had to be hard to screw up that bad.

What happened to Sony? It’s my opinion that they just got too damn big, and started to think that they were somebody. They should have remembered that people came to love them for being innovative, smart, and fast to market. That was the old Sony. Today’s Sony is big, fat, and stupid. Except for the stupid part, is just like me. And I won’t be dominating the world any time soon.

Bye Sony, we hardly knew ye.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Defacation is Impacting the Thermantidote at Sony

Well the rumors continue to fly about what is going on over at SOE.  Only one thing is for sure, and that is that Raph Koster is out over there.  Other rumors regarding the company include that Raph’s heir apparent, Cindy Armstrong, is also off to greener pastures.  Also, word on the street has Lucas Arts wanting to revoke SOE’s SWG license.  This seems unlikely, since there aren’t a lot of people out there that can really handle a property that large and unwieldy.  Reading the media on the subject it appears that those last two are still very much in the rumor stage.  

Whatever turns out to be true something is hitting the fan over there at SOE.  Raph IS gone. Armstrong may or may not follow.  And keep the license or lose it, it’s doubtful that SWG is a winning proposition for Sony at this point.

Overall, it hasn’t been a good week or two for Sony.  The PS3 is still vaporware, BluRay is too, and now this.  And that is just March.  The odd thing is that the bleeding seems to have stopped over at EQ, and EQ2 is even in a sort of a comeback stage.  They are making some good decisions for the health of EQ2, almost as good as the SWG decisions are bad.

If I had Sony in my portfolio, I’d be selling.  It’s difficult to comprehend how far this once-proud brand has fallen.

Stay tuned.

Is Character Customization Worth the Overhead?

I’m noticing more and more that people have different words for things in MMO’s.  For example, people call client side low frame rates “lag,” even thought that is not what it is.  Lag does occur in MMO, and if you played WoW during the first months that is was out, you know very well what that is.  Another thing that I hear a lot of people talking about is character customization.

Now, before I go into a Genda-tangent, let me give you a little background.  When I was playing EQ, Genda’s nickname was “GQ,” because he always had to look cool in his gear.  If I got a piece of gear that wasn’t as good but looked great I would definitely wear it.  I killed to get my epic so I wouldn’t have to carry around a blunt weapon any more.  If you knew me in real life you would know that I’m anything but GQ.  Picture a 6’7” offensive tackle from a football team, but without the difficult-to-obtain body and muscle tone.  I used to care a lot about how I dressed, but I’ve developed what I like to call a casual style.  At work, I don’t have to wear a coat or tie, so I’m usually in loafers, khakis, and a white company oxford.  Classic, if not fashion-conscious. When I’m not working you can usually find me in a t-shirt or polo and jeans or shorts. Basic.

I’ve thought about what made me so particular about the character’s appearance in MMO. What I’ve come to realize is that there is nothing that drives me more toward accomplishment in a game than how cool my character will look once I get there.  I’ve rarely played pure casters in the games, and I think I have just realized why.  I don’t like how casters look in robes.  They just aren’t as cool as armor.

OK, back on track.  One thing that I’ve noticed is that once you have started playing a game for a while, you don’t notice the finer differences in a character’s appearance.  In SWG, you would notice if someone was a blue Twi’lek or a red one.  You would notice the fur pattern or color on a Wookie, but you don’t notice if their nose is narrower or wider.  All of those little details are taking proc cycles, though.  

One of the more visually stunning games I’ve seen to date is Lineage ][.  All the characters look pretty much the same.  Depending on your aesthetic, you could argue that all of them are beautiful.  You cold tell people apart by their armor and weapons.  And it ran a lot better than most of the current MMO at the time.  Getting back to the SWG example, that game STILL doesn’t run well on my system.  I’ve got a system that is way beyond what was available at the time that the game shipped.  If I turn on most of the options, it’s an effing slide show.  Wow didn’t allow major customizations and it runs like a champ.  

What I’m getting at is this.  Where is the line for trade-off worth it?  At what point is that extra detail on your character’s face worth 4-5 FPS (Frames Per Second?)  I’m getting to the point where I say that you should make your models look as good as they can, make them scalable for size, and let the character get his “GQ” from how he is dressed.  I LOVE how smooth WoW scrolls on my box, even with all the options on.

I’ll take that.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

I'm the second best gamer in my marriage

It’s official.  My wife is now the best gamer in the house.  I don’t know when it happened, or if I even ever was the best gamer here, although she would have me believe that I was.  She’s about the perfect companion.  She’s tall, over 6’, likes gaming, is fun to be around, and is my best friend.  I was playing Guitar Hero with her last night, and it was really no contest.  As I sat on the couch, watching her shred my scores and my dignity, I realized that even as we play MMO games, she is better at them than I am.  

Now, I will frequently have more knowledge about the game.  That evidently does not translate into effectiveness.  I gather that gaming parallels real life in this manner.  Now, I do have my advantages.  I’m hopelessly stubborn.  This actually helps in some difficult gaming situations.  She tends to be a little more easily bored, so she won’t stick to stuff as long as I will.  This is often to her benefit.  

The cool thing is, well the cool things are; I have a cool gamer as a best friend who looks good in her clothes and I get benefits, I’m OK with her being better at the games than me, and I have a duo partner in MMO just about whenever I want one.  

I hope one day all of you end up with someone as cool as Bran, although I doubt that is possible.  Most of all though, I hope that some day, if you figure out she’s better at gaming than you, you will be old enough to not only tolerate it, but appreciate it.

Keep your stick on the ice!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Vanguard Gameplay Video and TV Ad

Wow, didn't think I'd find this while I was surfing Google Video tonight... but here it is....

Wow, just wow.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Sorry for the ad content....

Hey everyone,

I’m aware of the gold/farmer ads on the blog, and I’m working to get them off the site for good, but you have to delete each one from Google adsense individually, and they take up to 24 hours each.  Over the next few weeks, hopefully we’ll get them all off and have something else to click over to that is more interesting.

Thanks for your understanding,

Thanks friends,

I just wanted to post a note to say that even though it’s been very difficult for me to participate on the forums lately (both VC and VSoH) I have been very encouraged by how supportive most of the folks have been.

I’ve been going through a demanding time in my personal life, mostly demands of a very demanding job, and my desire to make sure that job doesn’t blow up the wonderful relationship I have with my wife.

Still, my faith in human nature and my feeling about the Vanguard community in particular is restored.  A bit of background;

Last year, I took a new job that took me away from home. I was traveling pretty much non-stop on business from May to December.  This put a huge stress on the people that care about me, and on my health.  If you haven’t traveled like that, it’s hard to explain how it takes it’s toll, but suffice to say that the term “bone-weary” came home to roost.  By the time the holidays came around, I had successfully made it through the months of pent-up demand for my services, and was ready to spend some time at home for the holidays and with my family.  During that time I had at home, I managed to get stomach flu, some other kind of flu, and then I had a bad allergy attack.  Now I’m not one to complain about my health.  I hate it when people do.  I just wanted to let you know why I didn’t take that time to seize on my online duties.  I guess when you pretty much go all year traveling without being sick, your body wants to cash that check.  Especially at my age.  Once I got back to work, I started training the new guy and traveling again.  That brings me to now.

I want to apologize to anyone who has felt abandoned or cheated by my absence, and ask for those who have not already expressed their support to me to please stick with the site, and let’s keep up the great thing we have going.

And thanks again to all who have been so supportive.  You have no idea how much it means to me.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Are you discouraged?

I’m discouraged.

Well, that isn’t that unusual by and of itself.  I’ve vacillated between discouraged and disappointed most of my life.  I’ve been disappointed in myself, my ex wife, the other people around me, and many, many other things.  Oh, and I forgot disillusioned.  Yeah, I’ve been disillusioned too.  Quite often disillusioned.  Pretty sure I’m a disappointment to the family too.

What’s different this time is that I’m discouraged by what I see coming down the pike from many game developers.  Seems like the marketing department has taken over at a few places, and the purse strings seem to be managing the creative process at others.  You all know that I’m pretty excited about Vanguard.  I also recently got the opportunity to beta a different “MMO” that just had it’s NDA lifted (you can figure it out.)  I couldn’t get myself interested in it, in spite of numerous attempts.  

When it comes to single-player games, I’m pretty much a lamer.  I don’t have a problem with that, as long as I can enjoy the game, I don’t care if I’m exhilarated or if I’m just entertained.  I’ve tried some single player games in my travels, and when even I can finish them in a day, that pretty much tells you that they don’t have a lot of meat to them.

Branyanu and I have also tried myriad MMO’s looking for something entertaining.  Over the last couple of years, we’ve burned through SWG (had potential, but was and continues to be bungled badly,) L2 (would have been good, had they gotten the farming under control early on.  It’s beautiful to look at and challenging.  Was fun, but discouraging,)  City of Heroes (Fun for a little bit but lacks depth.  Lacks breadth too, now that I think of it,) City of Villains (CoH with different costumes,) and we even dabbled in the EQ2 beta (coma-inducing) and tried our hand with a couple lesser-known titles.  We have actually been playing WoW again lately.

Here’s where I don’t quite feel right.  None of those quite feel right.  What did feel like a great game? You guessed it, Everquest.  Still, we haven’t played EQ in over 2 years.  We tried to go back a while ago and the noob experience is a little, well, diluted.  The next closest thing is WoW, which while lacking depth, has wonderful breadth and an unbelievable sense of humor.  We are pretty much all-horde and play on a PVE server, one of the more popular and populated.  While the community there is non-existent, and the occasional jackass does pop up to just grief or spam the channels, overall it doesn’t deserve the reputation it has as a home for nothing but b-net kiddies.  That element is there, certainly, but as the higher level dungeons devolve into farms, the tactics of the groups and guilds there are finally becoming highly developed, much like they were in EQ.  It’s not a 5-year MMO, unless they get the depth issues worked out, but the content is handcrafted in a lot of cases, there are plenty of dungeons with different tactics, and the characters are interesting and fun to play.  

So what’s next?  Other than Vanguard, which there is a dearth of information on currently because of beta and NDA’s and a news blackout, What ARE the exciting prospects coming up?  Certainly none that I can imagine.  There are some promising single and multiplayer games on the horizon, but nothing that will hold my interest for long, and I’m guessing that if you are reading this you will feel the same.  

So I’m back to being disillusioned, disappointed, and discouraged.  I guess that is my own version of 3D.  Maybe one of these titles will snap me out of my funk, but unless Vanguard is all it can be, I guess I’ll be a WoW player for a while.  Heck, I almost have my shaman to max level (finally,) and he’s mastering his crafting and cooking skills, and with some luck and skill in the AH, he’s managed to put away a few gold, and fund the family’s needs.  Too many more Horizons or L2’s showing up on the gaming landscape and I’ll be thinking more and more about console gaming, and that can’t be a good thing.