Tech and Talent Trees

One sort of “RPG elements” that never felt like a grind was the StarCraft 2 armory. This gave a real sense of progress in that you upgraded a building and it stayed upgraded. Contrarily, you still needed to go through upgrading your vehicles every mission at the armory building. I get that the campaign armory and research were effectively talent trees, but it felt like there really was some continuity and meaningful advancement as a part of the campaign, rather than just starting over with a Command Center and a few SCVs every time. Because sometimes you get tired of learning Bronze Working every game of Civ.

I thought Age of Empires Online was doing that, but it turns out that you are unlocking the ability to train Wheelbarrows every time you play rather than simply learning Wheelbarrows. There are some permanent upgrades down at the bottom of the tech tree.

: Zubon

Peaceful Expansion

I have an irrational affinity for claiming land on the map. Civilization IV and V expand your empire’s borders through culture, somewhat like Zerg creep except that it just keeps going. Civ V took away the dueling culture aspect, whereby empire borders would fluctuate as one culture overpowered another on a tile. This makes the Great Artist’s culture bomb much less impressive, although more permanent; it also takes away the immensely satisfying culture conquest of cities, whereby cities in other nations riot and defect because you are just that awesome.

Expanding your cultural borders is an effective defense. The further away enemy units must stay without either your permission or a declaration of war, the more time you have to marshal your defenses when that war happens. It also lets you claim some nice tiles beyond your cities’ borders, because whether or not you can use them, you do not want anyone else to have them. You can also block major travel routes so that those not in your favor must go decades out of their way.

I’m sure this is some primal mammalian urge, the digital equivalent of peeing on trees to mark your territory. It is still enormously gratifying to see the entire continent in your color while the numbers on the meters at the top of the screen keep going up.

: Zubon

[GW2] Unshackling Guilds

As I’ve said before, with the mind crush of information coming out of PAX for Guild Wars 2 I have to focus on one feature with laser-like intensity for my sanity and ability to communicerfuffle*error*. Anyway, possibly one of the first features most players think about for Guild Wars 2 is the guilds themselves. We aren’t doing a guildless war, people!

Elixabeth, Bringer-of-Sunshine, finishes up her thoughts on day 2 at PAX, where significant news of guilds in Guild Wars 2 was released. There’s some cool stuff like gaining “influence” for a guild by doing activities, which seems to be getting more standard in MMOs, such as Rift. Guilds will be able to capture, hold, and upgrade keeps in the world v. world PvP combat zone, which again is pretty standard for an MMO with that persistent PvP zonage. I would say that these are pretty good additions, but the best news is how each player and that player’s character joins guilds. Continue reading [GW2] Unshackling Guilds

Age of Empires Online

It’s Age of Empires, with fewer civilizations and you need to both pay $20 and level grind to get full access each civilization. That is for each civilization, not $20 for the game. I can see where this business model would be great for Microsoft except for the “why would you pay for this rather than just buying an RTS?” part. They may have missed the “micro” bit of “microtransactions” with a $20 starting price point.

They are swinging for the home run, though, coming out of the gate with a $100 “season one pass.” They dream big, and MMOs are not the only ones asking you to drop multiples of a box cost for the promise of future content development.

Playing a little further, I met my first item that was no-drop, no-sell, “premium civilization” only. (Storage space is also strictly limited under F2P.) I think my exit point was meeting the Hetairoi, which are basically battering ram cavalry you can access with a “premium civilization.” I think the intent is “look at how awesome the paying customers’ toys are,” but the affect is “pay to win.”

: Zubon

Time Value

Item shops have done us the great service of asking, “How little do you value your time?” Putting a dollar value on what you are grinding for establishes that yes, you really are willing to do something you don’t especially enjoy for a reward worth a few cents per hour.

I mentioned League of Legends referrals lately. For each person who gets to level 5, you receive a 4-game IP boost (cost $2.23, although given the exchange between RP and IP, the value is about $1.00, so I assume people tend not to but those), and at 10 referrals, you get a free champion ($7.50). So a referral is worth about $1, maybe $2 if you can get 10 of them. You should put more effort into getting a free taco. Ah, but here is where it gets fun: people make multiple accounts and refer themselves to get the free champion. How long does it take to get to level 5? Not too long, I’m sure, and playing a few rounds of very low level LoL might even be fun, but people are going through that effort for the equivalent of $2.

See also: entering contests and drawings, where you can computer what fraction of a cent your expected value is. If you drive somewhere to pick up your lottery numbers, the gas you burned was probably worth more than the expected value of the ticket.

: Zubon

Item shops also helpfully raise the question of why you are paying to play a game where, given the option, you might pay to avoid playing (parts of?) the game.


League of Legends faces the same problem that many team-based online games have: other human beings. You are playing 5 vs. 5, and what are the odds that you can get 10 random internet people together without at least one feeding (intentionally or not), trolling, griefing, leaving… at least cheating, hacking, and glitch-exploiting have not been problems I have run into, despite their prevalence in other games. Even if everyone were trying, I don’t know how well the system does with balancing teams. The mix of newb and pro on each team often leads to some kind of balance in the aggregate, but then you have the apocalyptically awful as well as smurfs.

My rage of the day is simply getting a 5 vs 5 game going. Of my last 6 games, 1 had no disconnects. (Connectivity seems to be a commonly observed problem.) Some of those were against bots, so we had 4 vs 5 despite only have five possible points of failure. Even the bots are pretty rough in a 4 vs 5 fight.

: Zubon

More DLC as Something-Something

Borderlands with all the DLC now costs as much as the DLC, which is 50% more than the base game. (And it is all 75% off on Steam this weekend, so if you meant to try Borderlands at some point, $7.50 is a good price point.) (The Borderlands trailer is still pretty awesome.)

See also ongoing discussion of joyfully spending money on F2P.

: Zubon

League of Legends pimpage

If you are attending PAX and do not play League of Legends, I would totally take your Sivir skin code. Because, hey, you’re not using it, right? ;) [Update: thank you Chris Roddam! I am hereby coded. If anyone else has a code but no use for it, two of our blogger friends in the comments were also interested.]

And if you are not playing League of Legends, I would also totally take your referral credit if you wanted to try it out. Because, hey, free champion if 10 of you do, right? ;)

Long weekend for me, so I’m going to beat up some bots right now. Cheers!

: Zubon

[GW2] It Takes a Village to Raise an MMO

The one thing that I will commend ArenaNet for in this pre-release hype-building phase is that they are illustrating the time, work, and love that is being poured in to each ounce of Guild Wars 2. ArenaNet could do the simple thing and just prop up the charismatic Colin Johanson with a video blog. Maybe ask him to wear sunglasses, only black shirts, and sport an English accent to make it seem like developers are all rock-stars, but that’s not real. What is real is hearing from all the people that it takes to make one small part of a video game. In the latest ArenaNet blog post they do just that.

This beautiful article goes through a complete process of creating a single PvP map from lore to design to programming. Even my man, Peter Fries, talks about the PvP announcer’s voice with his cohort, Scott McGough. It is readily apparent that each developer wrote their own portion. Habib Loew raises the banner for game programmers and gives an overview of the programming required for PvP within the engine designed for massive PvE.¬†Shen-Ming Spurgeon goes pretty specific discussing one of the major visuals for the map: great balls of fire. I really like how in-depth Spurgeon went for the task.

It’s really a nice read, and I hope that the developers have more time to do this. A big challenge when the polite request is likely “how do I make my job interesting?” I think they did a great job. I think it really helped that these were all bounded in a focused part of the game rather than, “Yo, Chuck Knigge, tell us what you do.”

Like Rubi over at Massively says, there is serious information overload. So many interviews, articles, videos, etc. that it is nearly impossible to focus. For those wanting links I’d check out Guild Wars 2 Guru’s thread, Talk Tyria, and GuildMag for some great updates. For faster commentary than I can handle make sure to look up Hunter’s Insight. With PAX coming, it’s not going to stop for quite some time.


Quote of the Day

The only thing that is dead is the MMORPG gold rush, and that is something to be thankful for. It only created a huge number of very bad games in the hope of getting rich quick. Surprise, surprise, video game players aren’t total idiots, and bad games don’t really do well. Especially not if you have a business model where you expect your customers to keep paying for a long time, instead of selling them a game they can’t test first and running with the money before the customer finds out the game is bad.