Kendrick @ Relic

Kendrick was one of Vanguard original designers and he left Sigil a couple of years ago, so not part of this last diaspora.

Now at Relic, the makers of Warhammer 40k Dawn of War and Company of Heroes:

Start work at Relic on Tuesday provided they let me across the border.

This would fuel the rumor about Relic working on a Warhammer 40k mmorpg, if it wasn’t for the fact that someone else has announced it.

That leaves space for some speculation.


Instead about latest Vanguard’s news, Shild:

So, is there about to be a large influx of resum├ęs floating around the MMORPG industry? Are some of them already flying about?

At this time though, I’m merely reporting what I’ve… heard. As such, do not consider this confirmation nor a denial.

Monday Morning Bad Awakening

It’s all ultimately good news

Maybe. Depending on perspectives. But your credibility isn’t that high at present.

I’ll make a tighter quote-play than Krones:

SOE is in discussions with Sigil regarding the future of Vanguard and Sigil Games

Vanguard is doing decently but not as well as we hoped

SOE is going to be getting more involved with Sigil and Vanguard – our relationship is going to become even tighter – much tighter

When people start getting burned out of the Warcraft expansion (pardon the pun), we need to make sure that the game is more polished and will play on lower end machines

they think to themselves, “ah well, were I younger and had my life not changed, I’d give it a shot, but I just don’t have the time for another EQ with better graphics right now.”

there are arguably a lot of people who by mid to end of this year in the MMOG gamespace for whom Vanguard could potentially be very attractive

Yeah, arguably. Pretty much the same number of players who can find SWG attractive post-Raph.

SOE is now, objectively, a dock where MMO ships go wreck. Vanguard, SWG, Matrix Online, Planetside, EQ and, to a lesser extent, EQ2. With the years instead of growing resources, SOE has worn them out.

I still see a 500k+ game, I was just off by a year for a variety of reasons

I don’t know, if this was politics the best thing you could do is to admit you were wrong and failed, and resign from a management/lead position to do something that fits you better.

I wouldn’t like seeing Brad fired or out this industry. But I’d like to see him stepping down from his position.

You had your chances. And a whole lot of them. Drop ego and pride, step back, and let others have their own as well now.

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The origin of the DC Universe

(I’ll trim the post later, now I’m tired)

I’m reading DC’s classic “Crisis on Inifinite Earths” to be ready to tackle the more recent “Infinite Crisis” and I’ve noticed that the triggers of the “Crisis” itself are two different moments with a lot in common:

1- On planet Oa one of the most brilliant scientists decides to discover the origin of the world, in spite of legends that foretell destructions if this happens.

In Mark Waid words: “Ten billion years ago when Earth was little more than cooling gases, the inhabitants of Oa, at the center of the universe, were immortal and had the powers of the legendary gods. They always strove for continued advancement, but their science became perverted, for one of them, Krona, swore to discover the secret of the universe’s creation. Others warned him away, vowing that legends told of destruction to come to any who plumbed the mysteries of Creation.”


(From: Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, October 1985)

(click to continue reading)

2- Pariah, also himself a talented scientists, discovers the origin of Multiverse and, from there, up to the origin of the universe, challenging a similar prohibition.

In Mark Waid words: “Parah now takes up the tale, explaining that he himself came form an Earth alien to them all, on which he was the greatest scientist, responsible for weather control, and the destruction of disease. He soon discovered the origin of the Multiverse, and used that knowledge to discover the origin of the universe, despite the legends common to all planes that such knowledge would lead to destruction.”


(From: Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, October 1985)

In practice everything is set in motion by a “thirst for knowledge”. Now this passage reminded me the book of the Genesis in the Bible: live and prosper in the garden of Eden, but don’t touch the tree of knowledge or you’ll face God’s anger.

Why this knowledge has to be considered as “evil” or deceiving? There’s a first explanation ala “Swamp Thing”, ecologist, that says that unrestrained knowledge brings to disharmony, ruin and corruption. But it’s not like this theory holds well in the original “crisis”, where nothing is really explained about the reason why the act of the two scientists was so inconsiderate and unacceptable.

So it came to my mind a book of Niklas Lumann (a genius modern sociologist) that may reveal the “true” origin of the DC Universe, and the true reason why that thirst for knowledge couldn’t have been tolerated.

What Luhmann explain is that anthropolgically both religion and magic have a specific purpose: create “meaning” without being put in doubt (or, more or less in his words: erase the improbabilities of the communication system). He says that there’s a tribe where the problems of communication are being solved, or at least “structured”, by repressing the communication itself. The society’s essential knowledge, meaning what is worth of preservation, hence the knowledge of holy matters, is made accessible only to males, and to them only after a rite of passages that is structured in seven grades. The preservation of the secret delimits arbitrariness. In other words, the knowledge must be protected from communication, since it exists only as the result of this protection. Otherwise people would rapidly become aware that “holy bones” are just… bones.

In my own words: the “magic” itself is in the prohibition to investigate. Why? Because if you investigate you would soon discover that, well, there’s no magic. Luhmann says that these “prohibitions of knowledge” are a necessity to preserve the secret that we attribute to religion. Because the trick is that behind the magic curtain there’s nothing at all. Or, better, there is something. Something absolutely precious: what people think is there. Beliefs, hopes.

There are some tribes exploiting one trick: if you go investigate the “holy” you aren’t anymore “elected” to see it. So you lose the possibility to see it. Meaning: you can “see” only till you keep your eyes closed. Brilliant ;)

So knowledge and magic are in antithesis. One the opposite of the other, one annihilating the other if both exist in the same place. A bit like the story of the Monitor vs the Anti-Monitor. Matter and anti-matter. And, ultimately, the war between good and evil.

In practice the “magic” itself is in the denial to discover the trick. Being unaware. Because if you are skeptic and go discover the trick then you lose the right to that magic, as that magic effectively doesn’t exist if not when believing it, let’s say, “blindfold”. Without proofs ;)

Now, what’s the “magic” to not be revealed in the DC Universe? Well, I was thinking about the image from where all begins. A “cosmic Hand holding the galaxies in its palm”:


(From: Crisis on Infinite Earths #7, October 1985)

What’s then this terrible secret that our heroes are forbid to discover?

Simple: the fact that the universe was created by a writer(s), whose hand symbolically holds all the universe in its palm :)

What DC heroes cannot discover is that they are made of paper and ink, conceived by a writer and an artist. And they cannot discover that the “Crisis” comes from the practical need of bringing back the continuity and proliferation of alternate universes to a manageable level.


(From: The Official Crisis on Infinite Earths Index – Flood Control Comics – March 1986)

This fracture between universes that DC heroes fight against is just the meta-narrative representation of a real fracture due to the dispersion of universes, comic books, and conflicting continuities produced in the years, that they (the DC heroes) cannot see for what it truly is, but only in its fictional representation.

As if at some point they started to fight against the “void” generated by a rip in the page… Something that Grant Morrison knows very, very well:


(From: The Filth, book 3 of 13 – Vertigo – October 2002)


(From: The Filth, book 3 of 13 – Vertigo – October 2002)


(From: The Filth, book 3 of 13 – Vertigo – October 2002)


(From: The Filth, book 9 of 13 – Vertigo – April 2003)

They harvest the INK. And the ink brings hings tay life. Forget god. Forget Greg an the cat an everyhin else. Time meenz nutten tay man green/man yella.

Here’s how it IS.

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Quote out of MUD-Dev

Sean Howard: Woah, no no no no. MMO gameplay has issues – usually philosophical and exclusionary issues – but the gameplay does not suck rocks… and I am the biggest opponent of many of the MMO norms. I very, very much believe that MMOGs could be really amazing, not by changing what they are, but by softening the edges and cleaning up their act.

It’s like, right now, all MMORPGs are pot smoking womanizers. They are bullies and sadists. We enjoy their company in spite of this behavior, not because of it. So, if they clean up their acts, they might even become somebody you respect and admire.

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(a)Vanguard

Four months later and Vanguard is now perfect.

…What? Isn’t what everyone used to say a few months back? That the game just needed a few more months of development to be ready?

shiznitz: Latest hubbub: Sigil UI dev quit a few weeks ago and the UI mod community is annoyed that no one is helping them any more. While reading the rants, I discovered my issue with having to click on spell icons twice to actually fire the spell was not my issue but a long known bug. Wonderful.

Devs, your UI is the first and last thing your customers see when they log in and log out. It should work and not suck. Looking like WoW’s isn’t enough.

Also, Nino seems to have left Sigil.

Kageru: Meanwhile I have no idea what happened with the game coding. The code seems to already have reached an unmaintainable state where bugs just can’t be fixed. I can’t imagine how else the act of forming a group, or not falling through the world, can still be so flawed. Meanwhile the rate of introduction for new bugs is scarily high.

I honestly can’t see the game holding enough subscriptions to fund the development it needs to be decent.

Rumors. My opinion is still the same, the game was broken this January, as it will be broken next January (if it survives till then).

And not much because of Brad’s hardcore game design, but more because of execution was poor (and planning, which is Brad’s fault in this case).

One player also noticed that quests don’t work in multiplayer, which would be interesting to discuss.

EDIT: New rumor. I doubt it’s true. And even if it’s true SOE will never admit the game isn’t doing well and will probably dress the press release so it sounds positive.

LOTRO Vs WoW

I’ve already clearly explained my point of view from the commercial perspective, so I’m not going to comment more about it.

I continue to read in forums and blog posts how LOTRO is a respectable mmorpg worth playing but I still see no trace of actual reasons or explanations about what this game does different or better.

Imho LOTRO isn’t just a game within a genre, borrowing many standardized mechanics. LOTRO is a rip-off, a plagiarism that doesn’t offer anything neither new nor improved. And if you play the game and enjoy it don’t just tell me I’m wrong. Tell me *why*, describe me what LOTRO does better, where are the fun points, what is different. And maybe you’ll even write a blog post that is interesting to read.

The real difference between LOTRO and WoW is this one: WoW is a game that fits in a well-defined genre. It is strongly influenced by other mmorpgs, replicates most of their features. But what is relevant is that WoW HUGELY IMPROVED what it borrowed. From the UI, to strict mechanics, accessibility, polish and flow. Every tiniest aspect in WoW was analyzed throughly, improved and refined. WoW took a model and improved it like no one else, set a new standard of quality and opened up a genre that was a market niche mostly inaccessible to the larger public because of consolidated bad habits that plagued it.

Turbine instead took a successful game and shamefully ripped it off in every aspect, hoping that the powerful license they purchased will compensate the complete lack of ideas, competence and ambition.

The difference is that LOTRO doesn’t bring any kind of worthwhile contribute to this genre, it just hopes to leech it.

People often talk about first, second, third generations of mmorpgs. I wonder which generation I have to wait to see dialog trees for NPCs or monsters stalking players instead of sitting while waiting to be pulled.

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That works

There’s a curious article on the Red 5 website fancily describing their revolutionary recruiting strategy.

Aside the way they “dressed” it, that’s how I always thought things should work: you go out to hunt and seduce talent, you don’t wait it to knock at your door.

Sadly I didn’t receive one of those invites ;)

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The LotR Online short-living bubble

I’m biased against Turbine, so read keep that in mind.

Months ago I was guessing possible subscribers numbers for the next Turbine’s game based on the Middle Earth and I said that I was expecting around 200k. More recently I noticed that the interest in the community was rising, in particular not in a specific niche, but in a more transversal way, so I thought that they could be more successful than I expected. 300-400k maybe.

I posted a quote from EQ2’s Scott Hartsman that is interesting to see in the context of this upcoming game. He says that the constant rise in subscriptions is a privilege of “the king of the hill”, while all other “players” live with the same rules upside-down: retention demands revolution, while for the king of the hill growth demands stability. This is not only true, but also particular enlightening, even if apparently so simple, because it explains so much.

I was finding something in common between these two points above. I said that I’m noticing an unexpected enthusiasm toward LotRO, but the real point is that when you dig in the enthusiasm you find out that is not just unexpected, but also unexcused. The enthusiasm isn’t backed up by actual solid points that justify the interest. You can call it classic beta hype.

WoW created expectations in the market, in the last few years since its release the market wasn’t really providing interesting alternatives, so the demand for “new” grew. People like to anticipate stuff and a big mammoth like WoW, while still top-quality, failed to renew that part of interest that is only awaken when you offer new perspectives. The Burning Crusade expansion is overall very well executed, but it delivers more in a kind of horizontal growth. Surely it doesn’t go to explore new frontiers, the game is enclosed in its boundaries and rules. It’s still an excellent experience, but you know what to expect.

LotRO falls in this particular “momentum” and it becomes a double-edged blade. From a side the game is “familiar”, and this is positive. People appreciate familiarity. I remember a post from Vanguard’s UI designer ,who joined late in development, who justified WoW’s UI ripoff because she said it is important that you carry over and respect some expectations, some standards. When the mass market is reached (through WoW) it’s convenient that you don’t impose a whole new language but instead integrate it. Instead of re-training players, you continue on the same path. You try to deliver on the specific genre, following its rules. Players come with expectations, directly compare features between games even when the comparison makes little sense, they impose their own needs and habits. If you want to be considered by an already formed audience you need to talk them in their language.

From the other side that approach becomes negative: the “sameness”. The feeling of “already seen”. This isn’t a problem of the first approach, I wrote not long ago how the first ten minutes are the very best experience in every game. During those ten minutes everything is a discovery, the brand new look. Even if it’s a familiar game it still appears very shiny. Things change with the time. The “familiar but shiny” loses its glint, the drug tends to fade and you look at things more consciously, you ask yourself what is deserving your attention and dedication.

I said that the enthusiasm I’m noticing about this game is both unexpected and unexcused. Unexcused because when you scratch below the surface you don’t find worthwhile concrete points. The most interesting feature I’ve read about is the “title-driven carrot”, depending on some actions and triggers you may unblock special titles, and there are a whole lot of them. Well, it’s nice, but this is what I call a “gimmick”. It’s not really part of the game fabric, it doesn’t affect the game rules and the final point is that, while nice, you surely won’t decide to play this game because “it has titles”. It is actually the perfect example of feature that gets your interest right away, part of the exploration and first impact. But three/six months into the game, do you think you’ll still be excited about these titles? It’s all presentation. Good presentation puts you in a good mood and it is very important, but you won’t stay because of it.

Is that where all the enthusiasm is coming from? There’s the “same girlfriend with a new dress” that I explained, and then there’s Tolkien. From what I’m reading Tolkien is really the whole point, what gives that particular flavor that people are liking. So it doesn’t matter if the actual art direction is just “passable”, it’s still Tolkien and (it seems) feels enough like Tolkien to trigger that special flavor.

And we arrive at the last point. For perspective I remind that Codemaster (euro publisher) is expecting 1M subs JUST for the european market. Then read again the quote from Scott Hartsman, is LotRO going to be enough King of the Hill to see a progressive growth in subscribers along the months? Let’s say it will be successful, do you think that WoW is going to lose from 500 to 1M subs because of LotRO (beacause for sure it won’t tap a new market with just a license)? My idea is that there’s a period when players keep their former account and also go try another game. LotRO may pulg there. I expect a good numbers of WoW players to try this new game and even like it. Either they are bored of WoW and so canceled their accounts, or they are still subscribed. In the first case I seriously doubt that LotRO will be interesting for them in the longer-term. In the second case I expect players to keep accounts active on both games and this usually lasts for a while but sooner or later they’ll decide one or the other.

I expect LotRO to be a short-lived bubble even on the forums. I don’t see the game having some serious draw that is not that special glint derived from the “newness” and “being Tolkien”. MEO will draw a lot of attention, it could initiate an interesting process of “mass-market”, but I also believe that it will be a comet. Big burst and then very quick fade.

My prediction is that the game, while starting quite well, will enter “subscription retention mode” very soon. Like two months after release.

It’s known that gamers have ADD. Especially those who go after the “shiny”.

Epic battle climax!

Related to the discussion about how to make hopeless PvP defenses a bit more epic and fun.

Music

– Develop a system similar to Lucasarts’ iMuse (music tunes dynamically adapting to the situation in the game). The zerg approaches and you are outnumbered, and a special epic badass music starts to play.

War skills

The Horn

Mechanic: This is a commander skill. It can only be used when the team in a zone is outnumbered. When used it works like a simple trigger, enabling the “Braveheart” skill on all the players in the same team and in the zone. The horn is also a huge physical object that cannot be transported, so a commander must reside at a castle in order to use it.

Metaphor: The horn is played and its deep sound will be heard through the valley. You hear the sound, your realm is calling you. Fight for your realm!

Braveheart

Mechanic: after you hear “The Horn” your “Braveheart” skill lights up ready to be used. When pressed your character is locked into place, building up a morale boost that enhances your stats. If you are hit in combat you’ll be interrupted. This “buff” has a cap, so once filled it won’t pass that limit (you get the visual cue of a bar filling up, so you always know the status of this buff). Around five seconds to go from zero to cap. Your morale will then slowly decay over time and go down every time you deal damage, proportionally to the damage you deal.

Metaphor: You hear the calling, your realm is calling everyone to arms. Your character rises his fist into the air (animation) and SCREAMS THE HELL OUT OF HIS LUNGS (sound). You are answering the calling. In a castle “The Horn” is played and all defenders answer the call by screaming at unison.