DCUO Reviewlet

I’ve had a mostly enjoyable time with the low-level content. DC’s big advantage is its iconic characters; how many other MMOs get to bring IP with the heft of Superman or Batman to the table? (Even SW:TOR loses here because it is TOR.) Play is dynamic and I have enjoyed both the setting and particularly the use of significant but less popular DC villains early on.

My experience is mostly low-level Metropolis. Unlike CoX, you can fly from day one, so you get the immediate experience of soaring over rooftops. It’s soothing, and the urge to wander around and look at things is rewarded by collections and clickies scattered across the map. I have really enjoyed reaching the iconic villain at the end of each arc, both seeing them in combat and then the cut scene where the villain speaks about his/her plans, hatred, etc. The take on Grodd is centrist, neither comic nor horrific (I’ve seen both in comics), while the Doctor Psycho scene is one of the best things I have seen in-game in a while. You never knew you wanted a scene with some Wonder Woman villain you’ve probably never heard of, but it sketches the character with surprising depth in one minute, including the use of images to show things left unsaid and explain about our unreliable narrator. (This is a common problem in comic books and graphic novels: forcing the text to do all the work rather than letting the images carry their own weight.)

The gameplay is simple, basically targeting an enemy and clicking until it falls down. The simple gameplay is explained well. For anything more advanced, you’re mostly on your own, enjoy clicking through menus. You can pick things up and throw them at enemies, although I have yet to find a car I can use like that. The basic enemies are plentiful, not terribly interesting, and only present a challenge in their absurdly quick respawn timers (for all the players in the area). You get to feel like a superhero as you endlessly beat down theoretically even-con enemies.

DCUO is F2P. The main limits for not being a subscriber are (item and character) slots and a cash limit. If you spend $5, you get the medium tier with 6 character slots and some restrictions removed, so that’s going to be worth it if the game has any appeal to you at all.

: Zubon

Achievement Spread

Games with achievements do better. I’ve lost my citation of the Microsoft data analysis that showed this, and it would be a stronger effect there because you have an overall score for total poundage of achievements there, but at least grant it for the sake of argument here because the point lies beyond this. Players are more likely to buy a game, play it more hours, and rate it more highly when it has achievements.

My question is how you set those up. Take two rather different MMOS: DC Universe Online and Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates. DCUO has hundreds of in-game “feats,” of which 23 are Steam achievements. Most of those are “beat the game as x” or items from the DLC. Puzzle Pirates has 220 Steam achievements, many of which are the ranks of the various mini-games. I haven’t played Puzzle Pirates in a long while, but I’m guessing it is not 9.6 times as much game as DCUO. DCUO gives you an in-game feat after any story arc or minor accomplishment, but outside the game you see one at the start and then come back for a few shinies when you beat the game. Puzzle Pirates thinks it better to give Steam achievements to you constantly.

I’m wondering to what extent these are business or game design decisions, or perhaps very little thought goes into them at most shops. Achievements seem used to note progress, to highlight nice touches, to reward people for doing difficult or poorly designed content, to incentivize perverse behavior in team games, or to reward very long term play of the “collect 1 billion x” sort. See Torchlight for examples of most, from “Find the entrance to the mine” through the course of the game, over the game’s various difficulties, and into long hauls (100 levels) and the WTF of “talk to the horse 100 times.” Alternately, see Grotesque Tactics with just 10 achievements, 4 of which you can/must complete in the tutorial, and I assume the game slows down that pace or else the whole thing must be about two hours. (I and many others must have picked this up in a sale pack, because 62% of owners never made it as far as the first fight.)

There must be some optimal system of achievements that serves as verbal praise to encourage and reward the player. (I’m also fond of games that give bonuses for them, like DCUO’s feats that grant skill points.) It’s strange how rarely achievements are treated as a serious development subject, since they affect how players play games and feel about them. Like drugs and other things that affect your meat brain, psychological tricks can still be quite effective even if you know they’re there.

: Zubon

If you don’t care about achievements, you don’t need to comment to tell us that again. Really.

Misleading Metrics

I wanted to give DC Universe Online another shot, so I booted it up. “Download a GB.” Hmm, I have a bunch of other games I could play right now. Before bed, I started a bunch of games and programs that needed updates. They were all ready to go when I next came back. But Steam is now under the impression that I have spent more than 12 hours playing DCUO.

I’m wondering how many other /played stats are driven by overnight AFKs. In City of Heroes, it was common for badge hunters to leave the game running overnight to farm healing, damage, or time under crowd control effects. The /played will be how much time that character has been logged on, but it’s not quite what we mean by how much time you’ve spent on that character.

: Zubon

Level 1 Superman

The DC Universe Online tutorial takes place in one of Brainiac’s ships. While I respect that unity in the storyline, unless levels work radically different here, it is hard to take seriously a Big Bad when players solo his invasion ships at level 1. If Brainiac is not up to containing level 1 characters, he may not be much of a threat.

I picked Superman as a mentor, so he joined me at the end of the tutorial. (I presume that’s why, rather than everyone’s getting Superman.) This is another problem of scaling, because Superman is (depending on the latest universe reboot) kind of a demigod. Any problem I can reasonably address at level 1, he can solve without stopping. Big Blue should be smashing those robots faster than I can see them, and I’m pretty sure he can fly through the side of the ship rather than waiting on that teleporter. You can play Robin to Batman, but next to Superman, you’re Jimmy Olsen.

Comic books usually hand-wave the MMO problem of different levels. I think Daredevil knows that he’s not in the same league as Thor, but you at least pretend for a few pages that the heroes can meaningfully challenge the Silver Surfer.

: Zubon

(Super)Men in Tights

Less than a week ago, I was forwarded a 10-day key for DCUO since I apparently mentioned that I’d not tried it. Having no new content in LoTRO to play with, I figured I’d give it a try. I posted about my first night’s comments, but I would be remiss if I did not post beyond that, because I feel it left an unfair sheen on the game, especially since no one else here has given it a review. I seem to be the beta/trial guinea pig. Maybe I should apply for hazard pay.

Anyway, I’ll get into my usual wordy, detailed review in a bit, but a quick summary for the skim readers: It’s a fun game. It’s the lovechild of World of Warcraft and City of Heroes. Actually, that’s not really true, but that’s a lie you can understand (/hattip Discworld). DCUO is faster paced than CoX, yet allows you to have the same type of fun that CoX does with being super. My main complaint is that it is a very fast burn – I hit max level on day 4 of my 10 day pass.

Continue reading (Super)Men in Tights

The Eyes Have It

Last night a friend sent me a 10-day pass to DCUO so I downloaded and played it briefly this morning. After what seemed like a 15 minute introduction movie, and several other movies, I struggled through the character creation process. I found it to be somewhat unforgiving. When it came to the selection of custom powers/uniform or copy a DC character, I clicked Luthor out of randomness, then the others. For some reason, DCUO really wanted me to be Luthor, as my “Superman” model was still green and purple and bald. It took about 10 minutes to undo the changes, and then the first item I looted overwrote what I was wearing. Lego Universe has this same thing, which is very annoying. Why even give me the option to select custom boots, gloves, chest, etc, if it will be overwritten by any gear I wear? In any case, I made it through the very long intro (which did a good job of explaining the controls), and found I really hated the permanent mouselook model it apparently is on. If there’s a way to turn this off, it’s not in the Control menu, so please let me know.

I just barely made it out of the intro scenes when I had to log out, but one thing stuck with me, probably because it was constantly on the screen – why does Luthor’s “bad eye” keep switching? In the “current time” he has a lens covering an injured right eye, and in the “bleak future” he has no left eye at all, and a healthy right eye. Art error?

Also, I found it slighty humorous that DCUO’s entire story is based on the “time traveler trying to prevent apocalyptic future” story theme, which of course is the basis for the Defiant faction in Rift (and any number of sci-fi stories).

Horrible Introductions

I picked up Batman: Arkham Asylum GOTY on the holiday Steam sale. Before you even start, the business side of this game makes it clear that it hates you and any of the game developers who want you to like the game. It incorporates at least four kinds of security, required me to sign up for a new account that I needed to verify twice, and returns the same error message when any of the seven-plus steps to start the game did not work. Sign in, update Steam, update the game, sign in, download profile, update your Live account, I think I missed a step or three, and there are definitely at least six loading screens worth of companies who thought this would be a good time to advertise themselves. Because while you are putting hurdles in your players’ paths, putting your corporate logo on those hurdles is the way to make friends. Oh, and Windows Live helpfully mentions that it may reboot your computer. And it does not update to the latest version in one attempt, so you repeatedly go through the multiple log-ins and multiple loading screens until it is happy. The reboot warning was actually helpful; Windows Live needed to reboot to finish updating, and didn’t, and didn’t mention it, so the lack of reboot was the only indication (?) of a problem.

It may make more sense to buy a legitimate copy then just download a pirated version without all the BS. Pirates actually care if the game is playable. As I type this, my irritation is strong enough to rub off on FF XIV and DCUO because related companies are advertising themselves as involved. Oh, and Steam? Having the same button for “exit to the Steam community” and “close this pop-up window”? You’re being idiots too.

The game itself is excellent, and I will likely have comments on it to come.

: Zubon

2011 – Hopes, Dreams, Fears

I am too antsy to work. Most community managers on the West Coast aren’t even awake, but it is the first business day of 2011. The 2011. The Year of the MMO. It feels like something should be coming any second, but I have to tell myself that things were not so different a week ago. All morning I have been trying to write this post. What are my baseless speculations on the MMO genre this year?

Continue reading 2011 – Hopes, Dreams, Fears

In the Future, We Will All Be Hybrid DPS Classes

One positive incremental change in the MMO world is the introduction of different character modes. That is, you can hit a button and switch the focus of your character. You can fulfill multiple roles, but not all at once, with a way to switch between them. Examples include Champions Online and DC Universe (no classes, just modes), dual talent specs and Druids in World of Warcraft, and the Minstrel and Rune-keeper in The Lord of the Rings Online™. If you have the skill points and cash, you can also switch ships in EVE Online easily enough, which would be like hopping classes in another game.

These vary in their ease or extent of switching between modes. The two main LotRO healing classes need about 10 seconds to switch modes fully mid-combat. My WoW Paladin lost all her mana when switching. Other games might require you to go back to town to switch, which is still nice although certainly not the one-click, mid-adventure thing I am talking about. The effectiveness of doing so depends on how flexible other aspects of your character are. In LotRO, you must visit town to change your traits, and I know how I hate it when our healer is traited for damage. In WoW (late game), you would want to be carrying a second set of gear if you switch from Retribution to Holy.

Another way to implement modes is to switch focus within a role. A Lord of the Rings Online™ Hunter has solo and group DPS modes, the former with higher threat and mana costs, the latter decreasing them but losing bonus damage. (Solo mode: good for pulling targets off the healer, not worth much else post-Siege of Mirkwood™.) Switching your Warcraft Mage from ice to fire is probably a less dramatic change.

While I love my alts, I am in favor of anything that will let you stick with one character. Let me stack all my options on one guy and switch which option I use, rather than switching between Zubon, Zuba, Zoobown, and Zupwn. While that will make hotkey management interesting, it saves me from having separate friends lists, guild rankings, vaults, key bindings… (You could also implement saved (and importable) or account-wide friends list, guild affiliation, shared vaults, key bindings…)

: Zubon

[Update: I see that Tobold just hit this theme from the POV of a DPS class in the post-LFG WoW world. Yeah, dual-spec does not seem like a huge boon for them. Having played ranged DPS in quite a few games, while I cannot address how WoW is this week, we are generally doing fine and soloing brilliantly, even if we are over-competing for group slots. I feel more for my healers, like my poor CoH Controller who fought bosses by putting his damaging hold (“stun” for WoW folk) on auto-repeat while I went AFK and waited for the pitiful DPS.]