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

Chronicles of Spellborn Intro

Melmoth says it all. Keen echoes him. My main reaction was, “‘Go kill boars and bears.’ Are you serious?” Later this week, I will spin this comment into a post about how great the Warhammer intro is. I will otherwise quote them to review:

I had visions…that character customisation was aiming for City of Heroes levels of flexibility…. there are statistically a large number of overall outfits that can be created. Fundamentally though, there are a pool of five or six sets of matching armour available, and the same of clothing, and one can mix and match from each set to create a unique look.

Am I at fault for setting my expectations against the output of their hype machine? … I’ve come to realise that the amount of money these companies spend on marketing could be spent on improving their game such that it’s not an embarrassing bug ridden piece of half-realised promises and pie-in-the-sky design ideals.

Disappointment set in fairly early on in my experience…

I’ve experienced all of this through only the starter area, and people may decry my passing judgement based on such a small section of the game, but let me explain…

…the problem for me is nothing stands out and grabs me. I didn’t once feel like “I must play this game!” or “This game justifies spending money” or “I want to log in when I get home!” – ultimately I didn’t think “This is a ton of fun”. I had to think about why for a second. The answer here is that Spellborn just does not stand out. Why would I (or you) stop playing WoW, or LotRO, or Darkfall, or any other game to play Spellborn? I couldn’t come up with an answer.

If you have nothing better to do, or at worst want to risk downloaders remorse, give it a try. …

: Zubon

Great Quotes on PR

From Killed in a Smiling Accident:

Am I at fault for setting my expectations against the output of their hype machine? I used to think that maybe I was; I’m under no illusion that the promotion of these games is almost entirely undiluted finger-waggling horseshitery, as an MMO developer tries to build a critical mass of community around its forthcoming product. I should take it all with a pinch of salt, but lately I’ve come to realise that the amount of money these companies spend on marketing could be spent on improving their game such that it’s not an embarrassing bug ridden piece of half-realised promises and pie-in-the-sky design ideals. I find that it’s much better, for me, if I take the marketing of these companies at face value, and if they don’t live up to the tenet of what they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of $monetaryunit preaching to the masses, then it’s a fairly safe bet that there won’t be any substance to the game in the long run either.

Because you are judged against your hype.

: Zubon

I haven’t tried Spellborn yet.

Unlockables versus Items

How many mounts do you have or have you had? My Hobbit seems to be collecting ponies, and she does not get rid of them when a new one comes along. She has a Bree pony (low-level, slower), a blonde sorrel (first real mount), a chestnut (faction mount that survives more hits), a gray pony (white horse reward for finishing Volume One), and however many seasonal event ponies she has (plus tokens for more). These will soon be replaced with a Nimble Goat, which can be used in Moria.

I could sell a pony every time I get a better one, but they are ponies. My wife might never forgive me, and maybe today I want to ride a different pretty pony. What I would prefer, rather than having an inventory item for every possible mount, is to have a single mount item or power. When I get a new mount, I get a new option for that single mount. Give me a drop-down menu on my character to set my mount choice. (I am aware that I just asked for a pony menu on my paper doll. You cannot have my man card.) If the mount color is not considered PvP-relevant, I should be able to set the appearance to any mount I have unlocked — separate functionality improvements from appearance options, and leave me all my appearance options.

That is a general principle. As with most appearance issues, City of Heroes does it right. You start with a variety of options for what your sword looks like, and when you get a new option, you get a new sword appearance option on your list rather than a new sword to carry around. You unlock costume pieces through badges, task forces, microtransactions, and veteran rewards.

If you have item sets for each class, make that a deed, accomplishment, badge or whatever you call it. Once you finish the set, you permanently unlock that set appearance. You already have a cosmetic equipment tab, don’t you? Have another option on it: pick a completed item set from this drop-down menu.

Or better yet, everyone start using a system like the City of Heroes costume designer. I am looking forward to what Champions delivers. I still need to see The Chronicles of Spellborn’s version, once my addiction to The Lord of the Rings Online™ Volume Two: Mines of Moria™ fades.

: Zubon

New Chronicles of Spellborn Site

The Chronicles of Spellborn has a new site live that is actually good. It may not be the best of all things, but it has what I want: gameplay information at the top. The game has an odd take on hotkey bars: you get one bar at a time that rotates with each attack. What especially interests me is that they have learned from City of Heroes:

Dress to Impress — What it really means.

  1. Right at character creation, you can choose from a large variety of clothing and armour, i.e. there is no “newbie clothing”. In other words, “you can look cool right from the start”
  2. Pick a ranged and a melee weapon from a vast assortment. Your attacks are based on Skills (like “Slash”). Such Skills can be executed with any melee weapon, be it a long-sword, double axe or dagger. That means, you can freely pick any weapon that looks cool on your avatar. When a Skill is executed, the avatar will automatically equip the designated weapon. E.g. when you use “shoot” the avatar will switch to his range weapon. With the weapon choice, you also determine your visual fighting style (one-handed, one-handed-with-shield, two-hander).
  3. You can wear the weapons and armours in any situation you want, because you can upgrade and customise them. You do not need to switch to uglier equipment because it is “better”. It means that even the short dagger from character creation can become your personal “epic” weapon if you upgrade it with powerful sigils.

: Zubon

New MMO malaise

I wish I could get really excited about one of the new MMO’s coming out.

Warhammer seems to be the biggest hype machine right now, but for all the neat-sounding gameplay offerings, I just don’t like the visual feel. It seems kind of lifeless to me, a bit like Everquest 2. Like the buildings are made of cardboard, and the players are painted wooden mannequins. Reminds me a bit of Everquest 2. WO’s gameplay may turn out fantastic, but I just don’t know that it’s a world where I’d actually enjoy spending time.

Conan looks much nicer to me, but I’m kind of iffy about the whole barbaric blood-and-guts vibe. The Conan universe is never something that I’ve felt drawn to in book or movie form, and my impression of the game isn’t feeling that different so far.

Like Conan, The Chronicles of Spellborn has some really beautiful imagery; that looks like a world I think I’d like to spend some time in! Unfortunately I don’t have much faith that it’s going to be a solid product. For example, their website doesn’t clearly explain how TCoS will differentiate itself in a way to make me want to spend dozens or hundreds of hours with it. Instead they spend time explaining to me that resistance rank zero to rank +5 is an exponential curve divided in 64 points, which may be a perfectly good design decision , but is just a tad more detailed than I’m really looking for. And if they can’t don’t even have a sense for what I, as a consumer, want to see from their website, I’m not too optimistic they’re going to have a good sense for what I want to see from their world.

So I’m waiting to see what 38 Studios and BioWare have up their sleeves, and keeping my fingers crossed.

– James

Phat Lewt in the Costume Creator

City of Heroes Issue 11 brings weapon customization. Open that link in a new window and look through it. That’s hot. I know that we are used to getting all kinds of pretty swords and guns in other games, but this is something new for City of Heroes.

Note a feature that Chronicles of Spellborn intends to use: appearance is independent of function. These weapon options are available in the costume creator. Apart from a few unlockable pieces in each set, these are all available from level one, and you can switch between them when you change costumes. You get your pretties immediately, and the developers only need to balance one set of numbers per power.

Unfortunately, applying this to all powers will be far more difficult. The developers have pled that no one realized how popular this (customization, the famed costume creator) would be during the original development. You have a long time to wait before you can start using green fire and black ice, if that gets added at all. Given how often costume options are obscured, this seems more important to me than the costume customization.

And yes, there is a shovel available for axe and mace users. Rejoice, The Shoveler cometh.

: Zubon

Decorative Armor

Cameron of Random Battle tells us that EQ2 will allow you to wear purely decorative armor, replacing the graphics (but not stats) of the armor you would normally wear. Go for the best stats, but cover it with your favorite look.

Awesome. I am also looking forward to Chronicles of Spellborn’s plan to decouple appearance from stats in equipment. Of course, I am spoiled by City of Heroes, where you can pick your look at any time (but half the powers hide it anyway).

If you are committed to the standard loot-centric model, this is a nice way to work around having everyone look the same. I wonder if it applies to weapons; I have this image of someone using a very fast weapon but showing a huge slow one, so it does the giant hammer swing at lightning dagger speed.

: Zubon

Chronicles of Spellborn

I have just added The Chronicles of Spellborn to our list of MMOs on the side. (They’re hiring, by the way, if you want to head to The Netherlands.) I have had some interest in the game, especially since reading that they planned to deal with weapons by giving you the stats and letting you pick the weapon appearance you want (i.e. Warrior 20 does 50 DPS; do you want that to be a blue sword, a green spear, a red club, whatever). Or maybe I have that wrong. Rather than display further ignorance (or do any research when I am already running on caffeine tonight), I thought I would punt this one to our readers. Have any of you been following the game and wish to introduce it to the rest of us in the comments? Heck, if the developers have a 1000-2000 word intro that they would like us to post, we can do that.

: Zubon