DAoC to launch soon nostalgic servers

While some players would have loved a truly “nostalgic server” without the new frontier zones, new classes and spellcrafting, the plan Mythic decided to follow is to launch two new server with an “alternate” ruleset around the middle of July.

The three relevant differences are:
– Removal of the /level 20 command (which was allowing the elder players with already a maxed out character to start another one bypassing the first twenty levels)
– Removal of the “Trial of Atlantis” expansions with the exception of the new races (which was the “catass” and less accessible part of the game that everyone finished to hate)
– Removal of the possibility to take advantage of buffs outside a group (buffs will be group and ranged based, removing directly the possibility to use external buffbots)

These changes are enough to trigger discussion threads on all the main forums I follow (and that I have to systematically troll, it seems) and in general the feedback from current and former players has been positive. The problem is that some aspects are different than how they appear and what is happening is interesting to consider from different perspectives instead of a superficial glance. This is one of the comments I wrote:

…try something new? Where?

These new servers add nothing at all. They remove:

– They remove a whole expansion
– They remove the possibility tu use buffs outside a group
– They remove the possibility to use the /evel 20 command that directly destroys the community at the lower levels.

Believe me, there is NO DIRECTION from Mythic here. There is NO WILL to experiment and NO deliberate choice. What happened is that they are simply trying to give the players what they asked for so long. It’s two years that they blame “Trials of Atlantis” and unfair mechanics like the buffbots and the /level 20, now Mythic decided to feed them with what they asked and see how it goes.

What they offer here is simply a bandaid (in fact none of those points is a “solution” but it is actualy a withdrawal from addressing those problems). A workaround to glaring problems in the game at a radical level that they are too scared to address properly.

Now the point is that a large part of the players is drooling over those workarounds because it’s better than nothing. Better than ignoring those broken mechanics altogether.

What will happen isn’t that positive. The two servers will be SWAMPED by players and I really do not expect them to be playable as they launch. I’m not sure how Mythic doesn’t see these issues coming. At the same time this will damage even more the population on the “standard” servers, making them even less playable and accessible (both already consistent problems).

All this means something different than offering a service that the players are asking. It means that the design of those parts failed big time and Mythic was unable/too scared to fix. They are removing a whole expansion. Imho, this definitely isn’t normal and would require some serious thought.

What happens here should question the stance Mythic maintained in these years, and not simply second the desires of the players as the most natural thing in the world.

The first problem is directly in the words of Walt Yarbourgh:

Yes, this is aimed at many of our former customers, not our current ones. Our satisfaction is high in the polls that we take of our current customers.

This already shows how wrong is the perception he has of the game and the playerbase. I’m rather sure that it’s nowhere useful to read the results of the polls in that way. I rather believe that the current subscribers like what they play, but that they are also enduring the problems. Those problems exist and are not a subjective perception. The fact that there are satisfied customers doesn’t mean that they approve directly everything Mythic is doing in the game. This is why I consider that comment completely off-track. It’s a huge mistake to consider these new servers appealing just for former players. They are appealing for everyone simply because they finally do something about some of the radical problems that the game has and that Mythic never cared to solve.

As I wrote above the new ruleset isn’t going to solve anything. It simply attests a design failure that Mythic is still refusing to acknowledge completely. The removal of consistent parts of the game (instead of fixing them and make them fun) is a denial of those problems even if still a way to second the playerbase. The position isn’t moved, they aren’t admitting that some parts of the design are flawed and would need an aggressive rework, so they feed us an “alternate ruleset” that is supposed to alleviate some gripes. If you read some of the defenses that the players write about the buffbots and the other broken features you’ll see how all their reasons are coming from consequences of radical problems. For examples the buffbots “cannot” be removed because the game has been balanced with them in mind. Absolutely true but this doesn’t justifies the existence of the buffbots, it just shift the attention to the REAL problem. Which should be addressed instead of being seconded or ignored. Again another example is that buffbots are required to not make the PvE in solo too slow and boring. But it’s another justification of a consequence of a real problem: the fact that the game needs a reconsideration of the downtimes (health and mana regeneration while not in combat). In a similar way the /level 20 command is absolutely required (along with the “free levels” idotic mechanic) in order to ease an awful treadmill. But again the problem is not that the treadmill is slow per se. But that it is DULL. It’s dull for an hour as it can be dull for a week. The problem isn’t again in its length, but in its direct gameplay.

What I’m saying is that DAoC is surely a game with its own merits as well as serious problems in the gameplay. Mythic has always refused to address those problems aggressively and the game has kept lagging and persisting in those mistakes. The point is that seconding the playerbase or heaping workarounds is again exactly what Big Bartle described. Instead of letting the game grow and improve you cut its legs. In the short term all those solutions will offer a sensible benefit but in the long distance the game will pay the price of this dodging approach and will sink more and more till it will be time to hide the skeleton and replace it with “new shiney” under a new name and a new flagship (DAoC 2: Warhammer). Bandaids always work temporarily but they do not heal anything and are typical of a superficial approach. Again it’s all about “choices”. What works in the short term isn’t always good even in the long term.

Each of those design points would deserve a deep analysis. The problems of the buffbots cannot get solved by making them group/range based simply because the true origin of the problem is deeper:

The problem with buffbots isn’t the mechanic of the buffs, it’s about the design of the classes.

World of Warcraft has demonstrated that you can design fun classes all around, without specific roles that just suck like a character that is specialized on buffs and does exclusively that. What sucks in DAoC and other games with a similar approach is that your character does just *one thing*. And the gameplay of some specific classes like buffbots and healers just sucks.

In WoW you cannot build a buffbot because there isn’t a class that can buff you with everything available in the game. There is no class with such an horrible role. To get buffed completely you’d need at least a priest, a druid, a paladin and a warlock.

The “buffs” aren’t anymore the specific role of a character that is supposed to just sit on its ass and, maybe, throw a weak heal (due to specialization issues) every few minutes. Instead they become a mechanic shared between all the classes.

That’s the real point. In DAoC there are basic design holes like the role of healers and the enforced specialization (in order to brag the number of different classes you can play) that Mythic never cared to address.

The ranged/group buffs are a workaround to a problem they do not plan to solve.

I’ve always agreed with you about DAoC’s overall design. The fact it attained and retained so many players is, to me, one part timing and one part good company relations. The game itself is some of the worse parts of EQ except for those players that know the game so well they know what to avoid.

The reason I said it’s in “maintenance mode” is exactly as you wrote. There is no concerted effort to solve the core problems with the game. Maybe there never was. Maybe they think everything’s fine.

I’ve been arguing a similar point for some time. I think Blizzard made a brilliant move by limiting the number of classes. EQ2 and SWG like DAoC and EQlive before them got into some sort of wierd overdesign mode where the developers thought more classes were better.

Not so. More classes just means more balance headaches at best, or marginalized classes at worst. They inevitably become super-specialized, and in ways that become boring for most players. Darwinized playstyles emerge. If a class/template is boring to play but deemed a requirement, it will be bot’ed. The developers can get pissed and ban players and cajole them and pay them off and invent new servers all they want, but they’re fighting a losing battle.

Don’t make boring classes. Anyone with a conscious can identify boring classes. Your players will. Better to do so before launch though.

Having a few classes that can do many things is better than having a zillion classes that can only do one.

The last point is that aside all these considerations there is also the problem about how the game will be maintained from now on. The two ruleset are divergent. It isn’t possible to balance the PvP of both with generic patches and I really don’t think that Mythic is going to double their work to let these two rulesets continue on opposite paths. Mythic designers know what they are doing? It seems that the whole idea of the poll just cornered them and now they are going to screw it no matter what they choose.

The idea to use alternate rulesets to fix important gameplay problems simply cannot be justified. While this reaction is better than nothing I believe that it will bring along many other problems, making the game progressively harder to manage. Exactly because this isn’t a good path to pursue.

By the way, in the case I have time to play I’ll resubscribe for the occasion (I canceled again recently after the announce of Warhammer). The brand new servers along with the removal of the “/level 20” command and the new work on the guild system could help to let a community develop. Aside the gameplay problems this is the most serious issue of the game. The only players left are in closed guilds and it’s basically impossible to enjoy the game casually and find people to group with. The game is silent, very silent. As always the most important part of a game is the community and this is the real reason why I’m interested on the new servers. Before the gameplay changes.

No buffbots, no twink characters, no powerlevelling and an economy not completely inaccessible and inflated. For some time it could be fun.

In the meantime Lum poked the fun on me, disproving what I wrote some time ago. It seems that the new player models added with the “Catacombs” expansions are, in fact, available to everyone for free through an optional patch and already bundled (along with the new tutorials and town art) in the free trial client. So it’s true that this time they are going to show to the former customers that could come back to check the new servers the best profile of the game. Instead of an obsolete and limited client as it happened till not long ago. Good choice.

He’s “sorry” to be that blunt but I’m sure he enjoyed that quite a bit :)

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