Early, Middle, Late

For a game that depends on a stream of income from subscribers or RMT shoppers, the first hour of play must be the top development priority. This is where you hook players. After that, the endgame is important because that is where your players will be spending time indefinitely and where your game’s chatter will come from in the long run. Next is the early game, when you build momentum. The mid-game has already fallen this far down the list, as you have certainly seen in a lot of MMOs, and frankly few care much how good the late-game is because they are already fully committed and racing for the end-game.

I stand by my repeated claim that optimizing the new player experience is of paramount importance. You must grab my attention within five minutes, and you must deliver a satisfying hour or two for my first play session. Without that, any free trial is worthless, and you may even lose some people who have thrown down $50 for a box. This is the part of the game that every single player will see on every single character, and if you cannot do a good job here, I have no hope for the rest of the game. Yes, it is hard to make things interesting while giving the player only a few buttons to play with. Suck it up, we all have hard parts in our jobs. That’s why they pay us. Continue reading Early, Middle, Late

Come Back to Age of Conan, Get Beta For The Secret World

I just got an email from Funcom making me a reasonably tempting offer:

Special subscription offers and double XP throughout November!

Today we launched a new campaign with some massive rewards on purchases of longer period subscriptions.

If you extend your subscription to Age of Conan in November, you will receive some amazing rewards:

  • Extend by 3 months and get a guaranteed access to the beta test for The Secret World *
  • Extend by 6 months and get an epic helmet for Age of Conan with a 10% XP boost + the reward above
  • Extend by 12 months and get the Age of Conan: Rise of the Godslayer expansion for free plus both rewards mentioned above **
  • If you just recently extended your subscription, don’t worry. Those who have committed to the 6 month or 12 month subscription after the 6th of October 2009 will automatically receive the corresponding reward too. Gametime purchased now will immediately give Veteran Points.
  • This offer is available until December 1st 2009, so don’t miss it!

    To properly celebrate this campaign we also activate double XP in Age of Conan for everyone all through the month of November! Use the /claim command to receive potions of double XP!

    * Access to later stages of the closed beta, date of access to be announced
    ** When launched in first half of 2010
    Each bonus item can only be received once per account. The helmet is made available to all characters on your account.

    This will require some quick contemplation. Most likely I’m going to pass.

    – Ethic

    Happy 1st Birthday, Age of Conan

    Today marks the one-year anniversary of the full launch (in the US) of Age of Conan. It did technically launch a few days earlier for some but let’s not pick nits.

    They are giving things away in game, like fireworks and extra character slots. Congratulations, Funcom!

    It’s definitely been an interesting year, full of challenges and adventure, and we are really looking forward to the coming year as well. So the toast at the King’s Table is to the year that has passed and in anticipation of the year that is to come!

    – Ethic

    Openings, Good and Bad

    Your MMO must convince me that it is worth playing in less time than it takes me to download the next one. If your tutorial/introduction does not include heavy doses of awesome, soon, you will not be getting my credit card information. If you cannot bother to make the game look good in the one bit that you know every single player will see, I must assume that the rest of the game is worse.

    Warhammer does this very well. Tutorial? More or less none; proceed straight to the war. You start on a battlefield. I started as a Greenskin, which is probably why I bought the game. Take a few steps forward from the log-in spot, and you can see dwarves attacking. The Dwarf area is much the same, with squigs and goblins running around the cave next door and giant cannons pointed at the enemy. NPCs are blasting each other in case you did not get the idea. The elf pairing has the gentlest, and therefore worst, introduction. Your starting spot feels safe, and your first enemies are tiny fairies. Even there, you have attacking forces 10 seconds away, and the good guys get to shoot down harpies with a ballista. Win.

    The Lord of the Rings Online™ does this pretty well. The opening is pretty tame, but it immediately tosses in the things you want from Lord of the Rings. If you are a hobbit, you immediately see a Black Rider. Dwarves start next to Gandalf in a scene referenced in The Hobbit, and they proceed to a troll fight. Elves get a troll too, and humans and elves both start with the world burning down around them. It is not a great, action-packed intro, but it gives you the setting while you get your bearings.

    City of Heroes is a mixed bag. Outbreak is very weak, notably the “run in a straight line” bits. Breakout is better, with a more interesting map and a mass NPC slugfest. The real awesomeness of City of Heroes, however, is the costume designer. Even before you put your character in the world, you pick from a mess of powers, see the cool toys that lie in wait, and then probably spend a ridiculous amount of time playing with paper dolls. That kind of thing makes the slow start of actual gameplay tolerable.

    Many other games do it badly. I don’t even bother to mention most that I try. They were not worth the time to download, even if I downloaded while I slept. That thread has a bit of hate for Age of Conan, but they had the presence of mind to make the 1-20 game one of the most celebrated bits of content around.

    : Zubon

    Anyone want to comment on WoW’s opening? I tried a few way back in beta. The Undead was the most impressive. Dwarves were kind of meh.

    Of Games and Glory

    Given last week’s fun and games, I would like to hit the wayback machine to 2007.

    If the game is irredeemable dreck, there is no point in discussing its problems.

    Bugs, queues, and crashes are upsetting because they stand between us and the fun that we know to lie just beyond them.

    Or as Rog puts it, “It’s because the game is good that makes it worth discussing and even bitching about the bugs, issues and design oversights. If it wasn’t good, who’d care?”

    Or sometimes silence speaks louder than words.

    : Zubon

    Bonus points if you thought of Marit Larsen.

    Sexist DPS

    Ever have one of those stories you meant to blog about, but you put it off for a few days, then assumed that everyone knew and there was nothing new to say a week later? Part of the fun of Age of Conan is that, with its patch cycle since release, everything is forever new.

    With a hat tip to, oh, everyone, female characters do less damage in Age of Conan. Not on every possible attack, but at least on that revolutionary melee combat that will change everything, female characters do less damage. They have longer animations with no corresponding improvement in damage. There is no evidence that this was intended, although you can easily find comments about how women should do less damage in a Hyborean setting (and if you think so, try a Gorean setting). No one properly tested the differing animations. [fixed that for you – ed.]

    And it will not be fixed for months. This is understandable: check and possibly change every animation in the game, get it right this time, and see if there are related balance issues. These are good things to check before selling the game, but they are biting that bullet. In the meantime, this is very convenient for bloggers. You get stories when the bug is noted, when players test it, when Funcom confirms it, when Funcom announces the delay to fix, when the fix eventually arrives, post-fix testing, each of several patches to fix the fix, and every patch in the meantime when you can snark, “Funcom is looking at female characters’ animations again. But they’re still just staring at the boobies! lol!” So I’m getting my shot in now, between waves.

    : Zubon

    Blindsided By Conan

    Age of Conan has left me without much to write. Well, what I really mean is that I’d rather play AoC than write about it. Funny that, I was not even planning to give this game a try and I normally try all the MMOs after release at some point. For some reason, AoC just did not grab me at all when reading the previews. Honestly I expected it to be a disaster. But now that I have been playing it for a while, I’m having a hard time wanting to play anything else.

    Lord of the Rings Online had been my main game for the past year and I was not expecting to stop playing it until Warhammer Online came out. After a few weeks of AoC, I can’t even bear to play LotRO at all. I love the lore of Middle-earth and I know next to nothing of the Conan world and yet, I find myself eagerly reading all the Hyborian quest text presented before me.

    Continue reading Blindsided By Conan

    Mostly True to Howard

    If you start a new pen-and-paper campaign, it is important to get a sense of what sort of world you will be in. A good question for your new GM is what fictional world his most resembles. James Bond can walk into the villain’s lair with a tuxedo, small arms, and his wits; in a gritty realism campaign, that is suicide. Is this the sort of world that encourages the heroic charge or kills the first man to show his head above the trenches? High magic and epic adventures, or carefully ration your stock of potions?

    My favorite example is the classic wall of fire. If you run through it, will you (a) shrug it off and crash into the cowardly wizard behind, setting him ablaze as you cleave him in two (in slow motion, with blood spray); (b) take a level-appropriate amount of damage, slightly softening you up before the big fight; (c) slip harmlessly through the gap in the jets of flame that you keenly identified; or (d) be instantly incinerated down to your skeleton, you idiot, why did you run into a giant wall of magic hellfire?

    In the world of Conan the Barbarian, muscle beats magic. (This is by reputation; I have not read much of the original.) Spells are time-consuming, difficult and, easy to disrupt. If the wizard begins chanting as you enter his chamber, you will probably have time to dispatch his bodyguard, clear any obstacles, flex your mighty pectorals, and plant a large blade in his chest before he finishes his spell. Tying up your victims for sacrifice is popular when battlefield magic can get you killed.

    Please see this Age of Conan spellweaving video. Explanation here. Yes, that person is spending more than two minutes straight spellweaving, with a few fun debuffs that leave him vulnerable the whole time. The special effects build in impressiveness as the magic reaches its crescendo. You can imagine the dark wizard summoning his forces of fang or flame about him, calling together eldritch power with a look that vacillates between triumph and terror as the hero catches his eye and rushes across the field of battle. The air becomes hazy and palpably vibrates. Our hero briefly contemplates throwing his axe before committing to the charge, weapon held high, ready to slash the wizard from throat to hip. Will the villain cry the last word of his spell, turning the blood in our champion’s veins to fire, or will he simply cry as he chokes on his own blood?

    : Zubon