Pretty video for EQ2’s exp pack

Since I’ve commented the other (leaked) one (it’s there after the comments on Vanguard), I’ll also spend a few words about the official one (if it’s the official one).

At first glance the video is rather well done and looks very pretty, it even fools you believing that you can see all that in the real game. But then if you pay attention you can see smaller details that don’t look as good.

The new zones still look a bit too bare and empty, the ground textures still too clean and replicating monotonous patterns and the grass blades still follow this awkward choice of being made as a flat block spread horizontally that makes them look more like quite awful placards instead of “decorations” (if you expand horizontally a flat surface you only obtain to make it look even more flat, if the grass was made more like a single vertical blade or flower, it would instead look much better).

The overall layout of the zones seems to be of a good impact but then it’s again the detail that misses and makes these zones feel like just big containers with not much to see from the player’s perspective. Look at the 2:12 minute. There’s some sort of flower-lamp at the border of the road. That’s the kind of stuff that the game definitely misses, the detail at the player’s point of view, more organic terrain, less pattern-like. But then there’s also to consider that EQ2’s engine already doesn’t have a great performance, and the more detail you add, the more it is going to struggle.

The same for Kelethin, the tree city. The layout doesn’t look too bad, but it seems to lack detail and I wonder if a place so big will also have content to fill that space with. “Huge” is good, “wasteful” not so much. I think the noob island in the game looked much better exactly because, being smaller, it was much more detailed and carefully built. More organic and alive. (and I would have loved to see the bridges connecting the platforms on the tree city animate and sway in the air)

The video also does a good work at hiding the glitches that you can see daily in EQ2. I’m not sure if the animations were tweaked specifically for the video or are going to be tweaked for the expansion, but the running animations definitely look much better than what I see in the game right now. The characters don’t look as if they are moving jerkily at super-fast speed as they always do in the game. There are three chars in the video. The tall woman, the dwarf in the blue armor and the gnome in red. Of the three the woman is the one that moves more realistically, with the running animation paced rather well. While the other two have the animation even running too slowly to look as good. The little floating robot elicopters also seem to move rather smoothly, but I suspect it’s again another feature of the video as EQ2 has the flaw of having quite jerky updates on the monster movements (it’s the first thing I noticed coming from WoW).

Nitpicking you can see the woman shooting at the huge mechanical thing right through a tree, and it would be nice if the animation could match the angle at which the bow should be rised (the animations points the bow straight forward, while the arrow is fired upwards). Then that mechanical thing also shows some unrealistic gliding on the terrain as the animation isn’t perfect. At a point a flooded area is shown with boiling water and geysers, all good but the way the smoke blows out is just looks too unrealstic, as large clouds of smoke just don’t move that fast even with a strong wind (the smoke quickly loses pression as it gets more space to expand). And the “Faes” are supposed to float, even if their wings barely move…

Even after all these critics (the game still has many, many weaknesses, even if it largely improved) I still believe EQ2 is a better base to build upon than Vanguard. This despite some claims that I found lost in my notes file (so I don’t have the original links):

Vanguard uses a lot of newer tech that the EQ 2 engine doesn’t have because it’s a newer engine. Ryan Elam and I have listed a lot of these differences in the past. Someone like Ryan would have to post to get into the details, but the big obvious differences are more advanced character customization, lighting, pixel shader 2.0 min spec (and therefore more advanced shaders), seamless world, advanced LOD and portal engine allowing for flying and such in any region, NPC wall, cieling, and sky pathing, world lighting, dynamic weather system, and much more.

None of this is to say anything negative about the EQ 2 engine — the Vanguard engine is simply newer, faster, takes advantage of the latest tech, etc.

Mostly yes, but we are still adding some class specific anims and a few other special ones. Some of the races are still getting some tweaks (like the Raki), and there are a few more sets of hair and face options to add to character customization. And there will always be clothing, armor, weapons, etc. added to the game, pre and post launch.

There are also a few tech tweaks to the characters that will make the animations run more smoothly and interpolate better. We also have a lot of action/reaction animations (like the guy shoots an arrow at you from 100 feet and the guy he shot at blocks it, and he raises his shield to block the arrow at the right time — synchronization) to place and tweak. Lastly, as machines grow faster and we optimize the game, animations will automatically look better because the faster the framerate, the more frames of the animations play (we sampled the animations at quite a few frames, so they’re very smooth at high FPS).

Probably some things I’ve forgotten, but it’s mostly there now and it’s all about polish, variety, quality, quantity, and synchronization.

Why every time I talk about EQ2 I have to talk about Vangaurd and vice versa?

Because they are going to overlap. They are going to collide and compete against each other more than EQ classic and EQ2 ever did. I just don’t think there is going to be a place for both, in the longer term.

And that’s what will matter above everything else.

Katamary Damacy aliens called for help after WoW patch woes

I hear the servers are having some problems but this surpasses everything.

Taken from Q23:

MarchHare: If I wanted to complain about WoW, I would have started a thread talking about all the server instability yesterday that resulted in hundreds of players falling through the world and ending up in a stack of corpses piled high in the air (with no way to return to your body).

mouselock: There is no perhaps about it. It’s rare to find a screenshot that amply and unambiguously demonstrates the fubardness of patch days in the way this one does.

Instead if you are one of those interested in the vain speculations about class developments in the expansion, there’s a link with some unconfirmed news leaked from that “Friends and Family Alpha Test” that Blizzard tried badly to keep hidden:

[23:40] : oh btw there’s this totally sick herb in the BE starting area
[23:40] : called bloodthistle
[23:40] me: yeah?
[23:40] : it increases your spell damage and healing by a small amount for 10 minutes
[23:40] : but
[23:40] : when it wears off
[23:40] me: the herb does this?
[23:40] : yeah
[23:40] : but when it wears off you get a 15 min debuff called “bloodthistle withdrawal” that reduces your spirit by 5 :P
[23:40] : BE’s = potheads

[23:54] me: how’s the zone look?
[23:55] : badass
[00:00] : umm… the blood elf male ears bounce in even more annoying a way than the night elf
[00:00] : and they have three basic types of hairstyle
[00:00] : you can be Elrond
[00:00] : you can be Legolas
[00:00] : or you can be OMGDRAGONBALLZSUPERKONNICHIWASAN ^_______________^;;;;

What I’m wondering is the reason of the secrecy. I applauded them when they decided to drop the NDA from the beta long before the original release. I think it was a good thing for the game and contributed to its success and polish. That NDA was dropped around February. The release was at the end of November.

Now we are still supposed to see the expansion released before the end of the year, but it’s the end of August and we still know very little about it.

Or the lessons learnt during the beta were forgotten, or we’ll hardly see the expansion this year.

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Comments on WoW’s “world PvP”

Yesterday the 1.12 patch went live with those two BattleGrounds-like world PvP things.

I don’t have much to comment as I already wrote extensively about all that. I patched the game but still haven’t logged in. Nor I have an interest to, so I’m probably only going to follow how things go “by proxy”.

Here are some comments carefully picked out of context from FoH’s:

Quineloe: I think Blizzard was just trying to prove the point that world PVP is stupid. Good job on their part.

Cuppycake: Well what the heck did they think was going to happen? That’s *not* the kind of World PVP that anyone was ‘missing’ or ‘wanting.’

Etadanik: Actually, the only thing they proved is that they suck as PvP system designers.

Frott also makes some interesting points. There would be more to say about those but, again, I’ve done that already.

Blizzard will never get PvP right. Mark my words.

EDIT: Some comments about the problem of “worthwhile rewards” added to PvP.

No, the only problem is that if they make world PvP actually fun and rewarding it will become obvious how the BGs are stupid and all the work that went into them suddenly wasted since noone would bother with them. As people have and know already better games where they can play CTF.

They cannot afford that. So they keep designing world PvP rewards that sucks so that they cannot compete with BGs.

They just cannot allow that “world PvP” becomes a valid competitor of the BattleGrounds. They just cannot allow that the players have a real choice between one or the other.

In the exact same way they cannot afford 5-man/casual content to really compete with raids.

Watch out, I have a poisoned tooth.

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Gothic 3 to use crap-engine too

I was looking some screenshots from Gothic 3 on Evil Avatar and thinking, “Uhm… this looks awfully familiar.”

Look at this screenshot.

See that waterfall on the left? See how the terrain goes suddenly muddy and blurry after it? See how there’s a definite SHARP LINE between the two kinds of texture?

Yeah, it’s the crappiest LOD ever and I definitely recognize it! It’s Gamebryo/Netimmerse and a quick search on Google confirmed it. Gothic 3 uses that engine, the same of Oblivion.

And it uses SpeedTree as well.

Why people don’t learn to STAY AWAY from it? I mean, there MUST BE a better choice than an engine that guarantees memory leaks and awful memory management, stutters, hiccups, overall bad and progressively degrading performance and the most awful LOD managment ever. I know it’s “pretty” but it’s just way to buggy to be acceptable. I don’t care if it makes pretty screenshots if it’s unplayable. I cannot suffer Oblivion for more than 30 minutes due to how buggy is the client, no matter how much I like the game.

With a windowed mode that is instable and unusable due to some kind of bug in the processor usage and application priority that makes the framerate stutter and warp. Maybe a broken windowed mode isn’t a so huge issue for a single-player game (for me, it is), but for a mmorpg it’s a sure damnation (I’m looking at you, DAoC and Warhammer).

For God’s sake, stop using that crap.

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The “labyrinth” confirmed as RvR dungeon

From an interview with Sanya:

The dungeon (with its maze of twisty passages all alike)

It sounds more like the art team going lazy or moved to Warhammer :)

I’ll repeat:

– The RvR didn’t need more space added, it needed space cut and consolidated
– If you think about it for more than two seconds a maze-like environment doesn’t look so great for PvP action
– “twisty passages all alike” and “largest single dungeon in any MMO”, I’m sure you get the point

There’s a confirmation that the dungeon will be RvR, though.

How can this be a good idea? I’ll wait for more details to be revealed.

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The evolution, from the “mechanics” to the “metaphor”

Originally I was planning to write in this post just about the concept of “roads” in my dream mmorpg and its design implications, then I bit onto something.

It starts again from the long debate with Raph about the role and relevance of the “mechanics” and the “metaphor” in games. Raph thinks that the only essential one is the first, without which, we have no games. My belief is instead that they are strictly connected. And more than that, that one is the evolution and continuation of the other.

The raw theory behind these thoughts is rather simple to explain. We are cultural beings and we experience the reality only through the egg-shell of the “culture”, rarely in direct contact (and no, drugs are symbolic and cultural. As are games). So our perception is filtered through that shell. As Raph says, games tell us lessons about ourselves and the world. This is why the strict mechanics are much less powerful than a “metaphor”, because the metaphor is what adds the cultural value to something. Life-like patterns that are easier to recognize and that communicate their messages much more efficiently. In a word: immersion.

The basic critics I was making is that when we “simulate” something in a game we surely cannot replicate every other element. But we should choose the elements and rules that we are going to use to “make sense” in the game world. So, even if choosing a few elements, they must be drawn from a reality. If there are going to be five basic mechanics, those five should be “life-like”. Immersive. They should tell something concrete.

Years ago when I was working on a MUD concept there was an idea I really wanted in. NPC guards that would enforce realistic behaviours. At that time I was only playing Ultima Online and always thinking, “the guards should take all these people going around naked and throw them in jail”. And there were a lot of people running around Britain in underwear when I was playing. I couldn’t swallow that. As I couldn’t swallow all the stupid names that people used. I just didn’t like how awkward was the simulated world. For me the immersion has always been everything, the reason why I play. I imagine a game as if I’m being there, as a movie. I don’t think that a movie about Ultima Online would tell 50% of the walk-ons, “go sit in the set in underwear”. It just isn’t realistic and I always thought that if I was going to build a “world”, one day, this would be as immersive as possible, in all its smallest details.

Let’s see at this from a completely different perspective. Let’s take the Doom’s toilet. See, this means a whole lot. It tells us the evolution of games. The mechanics of FPS haven’t really evolved much. But you can see a definite, fundamental trend in the evolution of level design. In the classic Doom the environment didn’t make much sense. Raph would say that their function was exclusively about the mechanics. Long, narrow corridors, bigger rooms, moving walls, raising platforms. These had a role and this role was about creating a variation in the type of challenge, with a mix of different monsters and situations. Secrets to discover, puzzles to figure out. Everything was there with a purpose and the purpose was to create fun situations. The level design had the only purpose of creating fun and varied gameplay. Mixing the right types of rooms and environments with the right monsters.

That toilet represent the seed of an evolution. That toilet was out of place in that game. An anomaly, as it didn’t create any form of “gameplay” on its own. Think about it.

The evolution was about moving away from those generic rooms strictly with a functional purpose to reproduce more “life-like” environments. Think at those elements that made Duke Nukem 3D so popular. The interactivity, the voice comments, the dancers in the bars. Compare the classic Doom to the modern FEAR. The level design in itself isn’t so different. We still have walls, ceilings and doors. But today the designers and artist go in great detail to model these environments to look as realistic as possible. Instead of having rooms that are just rooms without a “metaphor” or an actual context, now we have enivronments that are reproduced as photorealistic as possible. We model officies, depots, parking slots, industrial complexes, and then desks, computers, cans, cables, ducts, sidewalks, manholes, posters and so on. More and more we go into the detail. And then we add physics so that all these objects also behave more realistically.

For me those levels in Doom that somewhat replicated more realistic environments were by far the most fun and those that I replayed more. Urban-like combat was the most fun to be had. The less linear was the level the more I enjoyed it. The mechanics weren’t “better” in those cases, but the “metaphor” was much more powerful. The game communicated better with me and it felt much more immersive. Running around an urban environment was for me more direct and powerful than moving around rooms connected together with little sense. I loved so much Doom 2 because it moved in that direction. I remember that when I played in multiplayer with my friends we used to give nicknames to the different zones in a level, the “house”, the “bridge”, the “refuge”, the “jail”. We were parsing those environments to make them look more familiar.

Think about it and you’ll see how the evolution we had is exactly that. We moved from the generic rooms in Doom, to reproduce realistic environments in the tiniest detail. Rooms that are linked together with a sense. Not because those details really add a lot to the gameplay. But because they add so much to the immersion and the results is significantly more powerful that you can imagine. These games communicate better. They establish a better link with the players. Today people love to play stealth games, from Metal Gear Solid to Splinter Cell. The immersion is everything. The only real difference from a normal shooter and a stealth game is that the latter replicates patterns that are more immersive. Where you have to think with the mind of your opponent, study his behaviour, follow where his eyes are looking, look around the rooms to locate the spots where you can hide better. The patterns that these games replicate are just more “life-like”. More complex and immersive.

Take also the AI used in FEAR. It was the must praised element of that game but I didn’t find so great as I expected. Imho the game isn’t all that much more challenging compared to other shooters. What I noticed is that if you move around the level trying to mimic a realistic behaviour, leaning past the corners, duck behind things, the enemy AI seems to react much more realistically. But if you take the “run & gun” classic approach the game is even easier and the bad guys look as dumb as in every other game. The thought I had is that the AI in FEAR isn’t harder to defeat or more challenging. It just tends to behave and react more realistically. And people love that. They like to go in a message board and write down a play session like a story. And this story makes sense. It’s not just a game. It’s pure… roleplay.

People seem to love to roleplay shooters. An enemy that yawns, sneezes or starts smoking. When they play a game and there’s something that behaved realistically they go “Cool!”. It’s the “wow factor”. (and take even the example of my short report about Sin) They call their friends and say, “Look at this!”

Is this more fun? Hell yes! That kind of “sophistication” isn’t anything else that the link between the bare mechanics and the “metaphor”. The life-like patterns. The immersion. “Being there”. Communicating in the most efficient way as possible.

Games tell us about life. Reality and the world. But filtered through the culture. The level of the metaphor is what bring that culture in a game. We like sex and blood and things that go BOOM! in games not because they are more fun (oh yes, they are) but because they are metaphors. Nothing else.

Take someone who never played a game and that thinks that games, comics and animated movies are things for children or nerds. Then show him Pac-Man, Tetris and Bubble Bobble. Then show him that fake trailer of Killzone 2. What you think will impress him more? What you think could “win” him?

And this brings me to what I really wanted to write about. The concept of “roads” in a mmorpg and a simulated word. Right now we have various levels of implementation:

1- In some games the roads are nothing more than a different texture on the terrain to give that “life-like” impression.
2- Then in other games the roads are used to lead the player. If you follow a road you’ll eventually arrive somewhere.
3- In fewer cases the roads are also safe spots, where wandering mobs do not pass, so a better choice if you don’t want your travel continuously interrupted. In the case of WoW there are also NPC patrols to guarantee that the monsters stay away.

One thing that I really wanted in my dream mmorpg was varying running speed and an active role of the environment in the game. So that, for example, it would be more convenient to pass over a bridge to cross a river instead of just swimming through it. For me these are fundamental issues because, again, I aim to create game worlds that can make sense. That are immersive and where the elements have a purpose.

In the recent games we always have maps but I remember that when I played DAoC I usually had to stick to the roads to not get lost. With the maps, those roads become more like superficial graphic features than something that has a “role” in the game. In these game worlds the roads don’t have a similar purpose like in our real worlds, where roads are sort of indispensable.

The idea was to change all that. What’s a mount in WoW? Well, a mount is just a well-animated model below your ass and a bonus to the running speed. Then, if we nitpick, a mount defines also a social status. It says that your character is at least level 40, and if it is an epic mount it says you made a trip to IGE or that you catassed or cheated enough to get one.

The idea was, again, to change all that. Everything pivots around the keyword “realistic inventory”. And then “realistic loot”, but this one I won’t discuss here. A realistic inventory means that I want the “weight” back in the game. It also means that a bag isn’t an icon on the lower right of the screen, but a physical object that you have to wear in certain locations. And in that bag you can fit only something that is at least equal or smaller than the dimension of the whole bag. The quests tells you to bring back twenty goblin skulls? Well, you’ll have to find a way to carry them.

Here plugs the idea of mounts and caravans. They are used to transport stuff that you do not usually carry with you. You can buy a cart and tie it to your horse. But the horse will run slower if you do.

And the roads. The roads will have a definite role because the carts and horses move much more quickly on cobblestones than they do on raw grass. And for sure they won’t go up a mountain. If you want to transport goods between a town and the other, organizing a caravan would be required. The purpose is to give the environment a role, and more, a realistic role.

In a PvP world the players could control, camp and block roads because those roads aren’t there just as a different texture on the ground, but because they were built so that the carts could move without breaking up. As it happens in our real world. This brings to an immersive game, but also to a game that has a better complexity, where the players can play actively with these elements because these elements have that realistic role that then behaves in a meaningful way.

Giving a purpose to the “roads” is just the first step to bring in the game another layer of complexity that enables the players to have a control over those elements. Patrolling and controlling roads will have a definite use. The game world would start to become more “life-like”. More immersive and deep.

If you think about this, it’s the path that we should take toward an evolution of these games. We always moved from a superficial reproduction of elements to then progressively add more complexity, more depth, more “meaningful” interaction. So this path is already traced, I’m only better defining it with concrete ideas. I believe it would lead to better games. Immersive games that communicate more effectively. Realistic loot, realistic inventories, realistic aggro behaviours, monsters attacking in teams instead of getting “pulled” one by one. One day these things will go away because they are only “temporary sketches”, temporary compromises.

It happens everywhere. It happened when for the first time we killed the dragon in D&D to find piles and piles of gold, but instead of becoming suddenly rich the master said, “how are you going to carry all that gold?”. And it happened in today’s comics, where Brian Michael Bendis took the Avengers and made them live stories that are truly “dramatic”. We don’t have anymore Capitan America fighting against 100s nazis with a smile. We don’t have anymore the superficial propaganda. Instead we scratch and scratch more on the surface. Give realistic and deep relationships to the characters, give every element a “weight”. Even the random combat scene isn’t anymore just a generic sequence of punches. Instead the backgrounds get more detailed and the action flows much more organically and consistently, with the “actors” respecting their positions and states. It’s a more detailed and careful description. More realistic, and more immersive.

“What would you do if?” The roleplay. Immersion. Being there.

Simply put: immersive games lead to stronger bonds. They communicate more efficiently.

“Sin” is modestly enjoyable

I use to enjoy playing FPS between one game and the other, and I enjoy the mindless shooters in particular.

I bought “Sin” on Steam early this month because the price was lowered from $20 to $15, so I thought it was more acceptable for a few hours of play. And it wasn’t that bas as I thought. Only playing it right now because the download was quite huge (3Gb or so) and I even forgot I had bought it for a while. With the game (that is built with the exact same engine of HL2) you also have bundled the original and quite old “Sin”.

“Sin” is like a cheaper version of HL2, that doesn’t take itself too seriously. HL2 tends to be more sophisticated and ambitious, precise and polished to the extreme. Sin is instead more like the summer movie without pretence. With a liberal use of digital boobs (that do not bounce really well, to be honest) and the usual type of shooter “on rails” with minor scripted events that lead you around.

Some parts can be fun. For example I reached a room that was shaped like a “T” corridor. I step in and I hear gun shoots toward me. I see the decals and sparkles on a box to the right so I guess a few enemies are part the left corridor and I step back to avoid getting shot. I notice an exploding barrer right near the left corner so I grab it and then toss it forward, then I lean to shoot at it and go back to cover. The shooting barrels have the usual behaviour, they get set on fire (and people near get on fire too, screaming and running) and then explode. BOOM! Enemies dead. But I still hear some radio chatter. I notice a fire extinguisher on the right. These explode after a while like the barrels, but while the barrels sit in the place, the fire extinguishers start to run all around the room like a pierced balloon as they are hit, before they explode. So I shoot on it and see it zip on the pavement to the other corridor, pushing away a box that was blocking it and moving out of my visual. I wait, it seems that it doesn’t explode, then… BOOM! And I see one dead enemy body being projected by the explosion and falling right in front of me in an awkward position. And I go.. “Strike!” Quite satisfying :)

The second initial sequence where you are chased was quite enjoyable and at least moderately dangerous, If you don’t act too oddly it flows rather well and has a good feel. I’m still moving around the initial level but it feels a lot like HL2 beginning. There’s even an Alyx-like character that leads you around and at times if feels like if you are playing a spin-off more than a whole different game. The fact that the character doesn’t say a word like Gordon Freeman strengthens that impression.

Till now there are a lot of dialogues but they are quite decent. And the opening song is remarkable.

Every time I play a game that isn’t exactly at the top line I start to try to figure out what it misses. The textures are of a similar style of HL2, not really of the same quality, but we are there. There’s overall a slight less polish, less attention to the detail and some textures that cover too large blocks, or lower resolutions used here and there. Some lights not so well lit. The environments are ok, not too inspired, a bit repetitive and generic but still better than the absolute monotony of FEAR, imho. At least they aren’t completely monocromatic. The exteriors have a good atmosphere, with a warm light. You still run around docks, sewers and the usual kind of industrial/city complexes. Not too imaginative but not too disappointing either. Urban combat tends to be fun. The character textures are of an average quality, the same for the animations, which are serviceable. The characters look like automatons as they turn, but I’m nitpicking. The models instead are a bit lackluster and way too blocky when they try to model clothes. The “heads” are well modeled, even if not on the same level of HL2, everything below much less (the hands are the worst part). The physics engine is the exact same of HL2 with random pickup objects always around, and it even has a better, stronger feel compared to HL2.

I cannot comment yet about the length of the game and its overall value compared to the price as I didn’t finished it. But I already know that it will feel too short because every FPS I play usually feels like that and I like long games where I can lose myself. The game has also an “Arena mode” with various settings and different maps to choose. It shouldn’t be multiplayer but only something like a survival mode with monsters spawning continuously and you going in a killing spree. I think I could like these kinds of things but I haven’t checked this out as I’m still downloading the game and it looks like that part is still missing.

There are also some other nice touches, like the possibility to shoot at the health pack “bottles” instead of picking them up, breaking the glass and making them release a cloud in the room. And the game has also a “difficulty slider” with a wide range that goes from “casual” to “hardcore”. Not sure what it does exactly but the game is moderately challenging with the slider exactly in the middle, and I read it becomes quite challenging at the highest difficulty mode. There’s also another slide below that one that is supposed to calibrate the “extra help” if you struggle in one part of the game, and it goes from “quickly” to “never” (I have it on “never”). Then the game tracks a bunch of stats while you play and it even makes some fancy graphs that you can observe. I wish they had an help mode to understand better their meaning though (like the comparison between “skill” and “challenge”).

Overall it’s not a masterpiece or that game that you cannot miss, but now it’s cheap and moderately fun if you like the kind of game. The AI of the bad guys isn’t particular smart and more scripted than dynamic and adaptable. I read the game only have very few enemies types to it may feel not so much varied. On average those guys feel a lot like the basic Combine soldiers on HL2 but at least they represent a decent threat if you compare them with the sit-in-the-place-and-stare grunts in Prey. The weapons you use are a bit lackluster because there’s nothing new. I still only got the pistol and the rifle but I don’t expect much more coming. The pistol hits right in the center and you can shot with an absolute precision even on long distance if you aim well. While the pistol alternate model has a quite pretty Matrix-like effect. The bad guys always die with two pistol bullets, one if you get an headshot. Death animations are good, ragdolls less.

Next time… More digital boobs please! I like games were sex is liberally used as I like games that take themselves more seriously. Variety is good! (and thanks for the captions, they are always appreciated. Even if I would also like a log)

I’ll try to add later some screenshots.

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EQ2’s exp changes

From the most recent Test patch notes:

– While we feel that solo quests can be quite rewarding, we were not satisfied with the experience from solo combat alone, especially for those characters who prefer to target slightly lower creatures. Therefore, we have increased the experience earned in the following situations:

* Non-Heroic creature experience has been increased slightly.
* Experience for blue con creatures has been increased slightly.
* Experience for green con creatures has been increased significantly.
– In addition, we also wanted to increase the reward for defeating the nastier foes you meet during raids. Therefore, epic creature experience has been increased significantly.

Hm, I don’t know if I like these.

Solo *quests* aren’t rewarding at all. The problem is that right now, even before those changes, killing random monsters gives already WAY TOO MUCH experience compared to the experience you gain from completing a quest.

I know because I use to play with combat exp disabled and only getting it directly from completed quests. I can complete ten or more of them and my exp bar only inches forward. But as I enable the combat exp and go kill a monster I see the exp bar moving much more consistently just after a few kills.

What I mean isn’t that I want more grind, but that I would like the proportion between “killing creatures” and “completing a quest” better balanced. And better balanced toward the latter.

“Completing a quest” already implies that you have to go kill a number of monsters. What I don’t like is that I get 90% of my exp or more for killing them and only 10% when I return to a NPC to complete my task. I don’t care about the amount of total reward, but I would like it to be better distributed between those two moments. So that there’s an actual incentive to go questing, discovering the world and lore and all the rest that makes the game slightly more complex than progressquest.

WoW for the first time made the quests the core of the game. But they didn’t become the core of the game just because they were accessible and fun, but also because they were an efficient way to level and get good equipment instead of just killing the same mob on the same camp spot.

So, if the balance is already so disproportioned toward the direct kills instead of quest completition I guess that after these latest changes the situation will be even worse.


Hype about Ultima Online? What?!

*rubs eyes* …maybe Sunsword leaving was a good thing?

A brand new client and UI is in the work for the classic Ultima Online:

We won’t be releasing more details for a bit, but we do want to let you know a few things:

1. We are completely re-building the Ultima Online client with new graphics and a new easier-to-use interface.
2. It is an in-place upgrade. That means you will be able to keep your characters, items, houses and everything else you’ve earned over the past nine years.
3. We are committed to maintaining extremely low system specs. They will be higher than what UO launched with in 1997, but will still be far lower than almost any other MMORPG on the market.
4. The launch will happen in 2007.
5. There are many, many more surprises in store.

The Ultima Online development team has been working hard for the past eight months to make real the vision of a thriving, vibrant Ultima Online.

Producer – Ultima Online

Screenshot 1Screenshot 2Screenshot 3

Still nothing about the UI, though.

This looks like a 2D client with all the art assets redone and rescaled a bit. If it’s true I’m quite impressed because redoing ALL the art of the game is definitely a daunting task. Redoing all the wearables, all the locations of the game, all the monsters and animations. That would be HUGE.

Technology-wise I’m glad they stick to 2D. I think they didn’t have many choices about it, either. Redoing the world in 3D would mean building an odd tile-based 3D engine so that all the environments of the game could be quickly assembled. And even creating 2D scenery that isn’t based on old tiles would still be something nearly impossible.

I’m quite suprised that they aren’t using 3D for the characters and monsters. The old 3D client was really bad, but it was mostly a matter of execution gone wrong.

The question now is if this new client is going to replace the other two, or if EA will have to continue to maintain all three. The players may scream aloud if you steal them the familiar look, but the compatibility with the older clients could become a significant obstacle for the development of the game and the UI.

The graphic looks decent, but I’m not so impressed. The new textures/tiles aren’t too bad but I’ll have to see all that moving to have a better idea about it. The avatars are the part that worries me more and the result will depend a lot on how well they are animated, along with all the wearables that they’ll have to convert.

If I didn’t know already it was Ultima it would have been quite hard to recognize it in those screenshots. At the same time, if you take the screenshots and don’t know what game they are about you couldn’t say that it looks so great that you want to play it now. It has a vague amateurish feel, but then again the artists were forced to match the exact tyles of the current game. So it’s from that perspective that things should be considered.

As others have commented, the game needs much more than that. Redoing the UI could be a significant step forward as UO has never received a true development on that front and the old UI was really clunky with bugs left in there and never addressed (hello corrupted text and health bars not updating). I think it’s also the time to remove the dependence from 3rd party programs like UOAssist. What the player needs should be integrated in the game, not requiring the purchase of an external program.

Sticking with 2D will also mean trying to solve the problems linked to that choice. For example the varying resolutions. The area of the world that is visible shouldn’t shrink or enlarge based on the resolution, but that would also mean developing a system to rescale the tiles, that would have the side effect of blurring out the graphic or making it too blocky. Looking at those screenshots and observing carefully along the tiles you could notice some odd jags, and that’s probably because they have already an auto-scaling system in action.

I hope the graphic window on the world will be full screen and that the UI will also be scaled in proportion with the resolution and get layered on the graphic window like the recent 3D games, instead of being pushed out of the margin of the window as in the current UO client.

This has the potential to reawaken and renew this classic game after the relative staticity of the last years. Dropping the old clients completely so that the client can loosen its constrictive legacy would be a too daring choice that I don’t think will be made. But it’s still a decent “beginning” that, in any case, would be interesting to follow.

A note from the devs:

This was in production before EA bought Mythic.

(originally I thought that they slightly lowered the angle of the camera as you can see more toward the top of the screen. Then I noticed that the angle didn’t change, it’s the avatar to not be centered. The “new” screenshots is shifted toward the top, the “old” one shifted toward the bottom. What fools you is the little pool at the bottom right that seems to have the same position in both screenshots. If you notice it’s not a change of perspective, in the new client that pool has been moved *physically* on the left. Confrontate it with the walls at the other side.)

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