PvP theory in Warhammer

Arthur Parker continues to leech informations, this time from the May issue of CGM. I’ll quote the relevant parts and add some comments:

Being Green In the Warhammer universe, there are 14 known armies and lots of other races that are references, but in the initial release, we’ll see only six (seven if you seperate Orcs and Goblins, which most people do not.) There are two loose aliance: Agents of Order – Empire (Humans), Dwarfs (not “Dwarves”), and High Elves – and the Agents of Destruction – Greenskins (Orcs and Goblins), Chaos (Humans), and Dark Elves. This provides for three battlefronts: Greenskins vs. Dwarfs, Chaos vs. Empire, and Dark Elves vs. High Elves.

This already says a lot about the RvR structure. Orcs and goblins are clumped together and count as one, so it’s basically two factions that can then be branched into three different contrapositions.

I’m not sure they are planning this smartly, though. It looks as the beginning of the game will have unique zones by race, so the PvP will be about the “one vs one”, instead of the “three vs three”. If this is true it will bring to problems. We already know that the “levelling game” (Warhammer seems to have no levels, but I’ll come to this point later) tends to work like a wave of water that progresses uniformly till it reaches a “wall” (the level cap) and then starts to stagnate. (see the second graph)

It makes sense, in particular in a PvP environment where you depend on other players to have fun, to clump together the players in the newbie zones so that they can meet more easily, then opening up the endgame, where there are more played piled up, so with the possibility to spread them more without having population issues. This already happened in DAoC, where they had to consolidate the starting points to one per realm because the early game was desolate and it was impossible to meet other players and group.

This doesn’t happen in WoW for other reasons. The newbie zones are fragmented because the game starts as “single player”. The newbie zone is nothing more than a tutorial and it is perfectly balance to have a single player flow, without your character depending on other players. You can easily do all the content available in the game without grouping till level 10, when you move in a larger zone and where you can find more complex quests that may need some collaboration.

But WoW at level 10 isn’t a PvP game, not even on the PvP server. This is why Warhammer will have problems if Mythic wants to support PvP from the first minute without consolidating the players as much as possible.

A model similar to a branching tree would be more appropriate, with one zone for each faction (three vs three) and then branching up in more selective battlegrounds and scenarios. For the “flow” of the game it would make sense to just start in your race starting zone. But this would be about replicating the WoW’s model, which is definitely smarter: the game starts “slow”, giving you time to grasp it in “single player” and then slowly moving out to the contested zones where the PvP becomes a reality.

Remember that the PvP in WoW was BRILLIANT. The best EVER.

What sucked (and sucked badly) is the whole endgame development, with those horrid battlegrounds, the ridiculous honor system, the itemization and all the rest. The early PvP (minus the honor system that fucked up everything) was PURE GOLD.

The game will have player-versus-player combat from the get-go, but people who don’t care to participate in PvP can just as well carebear their way through the game entirely. Mythic has designed the content in four “tiers” of areas, each of which will have both PvE and PvP content, except on the PvP servers, where it will be everywhere, all the time. As you approach a PvP area, a mysterious voice says, “There is no stopping in the red zone,” and you become PvP flagged after five seconds. You can then choose to proceed, retreat, or say, “The white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only.” Once you step back, you’ll stay PvP flagged for five minutes, though. “What we don’t want,” says content director Destin Bales, “is for someone to go across the line, throw a fireball, then step back and go, ‘Neener neener neener.'”

This is exactly what I expected by reading the first hints.

Think to a zone, add two entry points at the opposite sides, one for the good guys, one for the bad guys. Then divide this zone vertically in three sections. The two at the extremities, near the entry points, are the “carebear zones”, where you can do your PvE stuff without getting bothered. The protected space, the PvE game. Then, as you go outside your zone, you enter a PvP space. The transition is seamless but as you cross the border you are flagged for PvP.

They only need to add some sort of objective in the middle that attracts the players, or the whole PvP will be along the borders, no matter of the five minute cooldown (and will also lead to some dull gameplay).

My opinion is that this “recipe for PvP” could work. At least if the players aren’t too spread out between too many zones and if there are some interesting environments with OBJECTIVES to fight for. PvP in a flat plan gets boring quickly so they need really to make the environment have a primary role and create interesting *contexts* to fight for, not just personal rewards.

I still think my model would work better, though. It would be more appropriate for an open PvP server (more points the more you move closer to the PvP hotspot). It would also lead to a more natural and varied environment instead of a silly definite line between PvP and PvE with a voice announcing that you moved to a warzone.

Mythic’s model works, but it could be much better, and easily. It’s still better than DAoC, thanks to a more seamless and natural transition from PvE to PvP.

I had an half-written article but I’ll add here the main point. A PvP game could be successful and dethrone WoW with enough resources. But the key to make the better PvP possible is in the PvE. It’s a countersense but it’s the real secret. A full PvP game won’t go anywhere. A game with PvP and PvE as two separate entities won’t go anywhere.

The key to the success is about using the PvE as a “bridge”. As a “gate” to the PvP. It should work as a smooth transition. Exactly following all I said about the sandbox games. You need to lead the players there, you need to make them understand how the game works. You need to slowly have them getting more “secure” about the game and their character. Confident.

The best PvP game will be the one where the PvE has a great value and accompanies the players to the other, more complex, form of gameplay. The two would be tightly interconnected. And not alienated one from the other as two different games innaturally coexisting.

Warhammer’s model accomplishes some of this, but not everything.

Faction Fiction One thing that you’ll notice is that, right from the start, War is everywhere. The core of the RvR combat is based on four layers of increasing sophistication. The first type is Skirmish Combat, where two guys just cross paths, hate each other, and fight. The winner will collect various rewards in experience, coin, items – they haven’t really ironed out the specifics yet.

The second type is called Battlefields: these are basically hotspots in a PvP area to which players will naturally be drawn. For example, there’ll be a ruined Dwarf village that may have some resources that are valuable to both sides. “We have so many proposals along this front that it’s scary,” says Bales, as he pats literally mountains and mountains and mountains of printouts of gameplay content. The next level is the Scenerio, which is instanced, open RvR combat. The battles here are quick, repeatable, last about five or ten minutes, and will be objective-based, using many of the basic paradigms of CTF, Deathmatch, King of the Hill, et al.

Some of this we already knew.

It seems that the “battlefields” are just a smaller set within a bigger one. An “hotspot” (battlefield) within the PvP area (skirmishes), so again part of the same seamless model that blends PvE with PvP.

Instead it’s the whole idea of “Scenarios” to suck. Noone wants another WoW with that stupid, artificial PvP borrowed from the FPS. It’s not a matter of queues, it’s a matter of scope and ambition. One thing is about adding objectives to PvP. Another is to transform everything into basic, redundant arcades that are just not appropriate for this genre. It’s just a direction that holds no virtue here and an experience that other game genres can and already deliver MUCH better.

So why chase WoW in this absurdity?

But it’s not over, because this stupid part is directly linked with the whole point of the game:

The overall victor of a Scenario will gain control of the entire zone (Skirmishes and Battlefield victories will come into play). This affects the fourth style of combat, the Campaign, which is, at the macro level, the heart of the game. In the fourth tier of zones lies a capital city for each front, and the objective, as you may imagine, is to take over the opponent’s capital and kill the leader and everyone else there (via Scenerio). Afterward the victors will retain control for some arbitrary time, say 24 hours, during which they may pillage and plunder to their hearts’ content. After that period of time, the game rebalances, forces you out of the city, and resets ownership of all the different maps, and the battle begins anew.

It’s here that things start to sound too weak.

Just join one line to the other and you can see how this idea just cannot work on paper, even less in a actual game:
“the battles here are quick, repeatable, last about five or ten minutes”
“the overall victor of a Scenario will gain control of the entire zone”

It is so flawed that it is probably a mistake done by the writer, or an early draft that just doesn’t make sense.

So we have more precise detail about the start of the game, this part looks solid even if not perfect. While the hints about the latter game are still not so encouraging and confusing. A conquest system tied to an overall campaign is an interesting model, one that I’m supporting and elaboriating from a few years already. But tying this conquest system to quick, instanced battles with game-y objectives just doesn’t sound as a smart idea. It’s like throwing the whole potential out of the window.

This “macro level” is based on the wrong parts of the game. The idea of a campaign should be something that slowly progresses, the “context” of the war.

From my point of view Mythic is playing too much with these different models and forgetting that the main objective is to offer shared, consolidated goals instead of spreading the players between multiple zones and styles. I wouln’t be surprised if the game fails because all the players are spread around and there’s little to no actual PvP activity. Leaving the great majority of the zones completely deserted.

What they are hinting here is a model that looks to fragmented and granular. The PvP should work as a set. It should comprise and bring the players together. Create shared objectives. Mythic is putting together too many PvP models at the same time, while it would be much more convenient and profitable to build up a coesive model with a few precise goals. Something unique instead of a patchwork of PvP styles that are badly joined together with purely functional purposes.

Too many plugs. They need to simplify a lot for the PvP model to work and be strong. Focus on less structures and define less, but more solid founding goals to achieve.

C&C The basic character system that Mythic is using is not a typical “class system.” They’re keeping some portions of the Warhammer universe and adopting others. “The career system operates along the concept that we want you to be able to choose an interesting start to your character’s progression, sort of complete the chapter of your character’s life, and then choose a new chapter,” says lead designer Steve Marvin. So they’re using a basic progression tree where you start out as either a Fighter or Adept (read “magic user”) and then, at an arbitrary stage, you may choose your next career step either in the same path as your original choice or in a direction that moves you into a different career.

In essence, a path straight through in the same discipline makes you what, in other games, is considered “pure.” Or if you like a more balanced, hybrid approach, you end up being what most think of as “multi-classed.” You’d think that this sort of thing would be a real challenge to balance, but Marvin isn’t worried. “It would be a real nightmare if we didn’t have this kind of encapsulation that gives control,” he says. “Because we split the Fighter from the Adept, we’re not trying to balance all the magic with all the weapon attacks… that helps us.”

Most surprising is the absence of levels, replaced by a career system similar to that of the tabletop game. You choose a career, then select certain elements of that career which you’ll attain once you have acquired enough XP. So improvements are gradual, rather than an enormous leap with each new level, and entirely in the hands of the player. A character learns four careers thoughtout the game, building a unique class of choosen elements.

A class system. No levels. Hmm…

There’s a lot of vapor in the eyes, I think. They play a lot with the terms but it seems that they are just recovering the system already designed for Imperator. That is the same in the original EQ2 and that was recently scrapped because it didn’t meet the approvation of the players.

You choose a class and then further specialize it. Branching classes. You start from a few options and then the system branches up in more possibilities. Nothing new, just different names for the stuff we already know.

No levels? We’ll see, there are still not enough details to understand the system. We know that you select a basic class, then you’ll move through three other specializations (the four careers total). There will be xp points and probably these will go to unblock gradually specific skills.

Basically is a branching classes system with levels disguised as achevement points. A remix without significant or even noticeable and justified improvements.

This while Mark Jacobs continues to be as fun as ever:

Any PvP flagging we may use, keep in mind that I actually created the PvP flag concept (and called it that) almost 20 years ago in my first MUD.

No, really.

And the new alliance race is the murloc *gurgle*

There’s a screenshot leaked from beta that is circulating right now. It shows a character selection screen and a warrior murloc fully modeled and equipped, it even has the might helmet adapted to the shape of the head of the murloc. The server names says “Exp_US_test”.

As a fake it is way too complex. I’m going to believe to this one. The E3 is near and I bet it’s where Blizzard will reveal the alliance eace. Enjoy your month+ anticipation ;)

From Q23:

A buddy of mine who worked at Blizzard described the planned WoW expansion E3 trailer an in an IM:

10:57:15 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: starts with a scene underwater
10:57:18 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: the dark murky depths
10:57:32 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: then a gnomish submarine sinks and crashes into teh ocean floor
10:57:44 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: a few murlocs go inside and find all the gnomes dead
10:57:57 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: but the “TV screens” are still playing
10:58:09 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: with some gnomes say, “Are you tehre? are you there? Hello?”
10:58:16 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: and then the murlos look all confused and one of them mimics it
10:58:34 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: the words first come out strange and bubbly
10:58:46 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: but then the others chimein and after a few more tries, it sounds like almost perfect gnomish!
10:58:50 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: fade to black
10:59:07 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: a few years later, there is a thriving murloc community built around the gnomish submarine
10:59:15 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: it looks like they are rebuilding it!!
10:59:30 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: then you see a crew of murlocs get in teh gnomish submarine
10:59:52 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: they are piloting it back to an Alliance port, surrounded by an army of swimmig murloc escorts
10:59:58 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: it loosk like an invasion!
11:00:04 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: the alliance comes out in force
11:00:09 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: tense moments
11:00:18 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: mages, knights, paladings, etc, ready to fight
11:00:34 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: and then teh hatch opensup, and a murloc pops out speaking perfect gnome
11:00:42 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: “We come in peace…and to return your ship!”
11:00:48 AM EXBLIZZDUDER: the Alliance looks stunned and we fade backout

Of course, I assumed he was just messing with me. HMMMMMMMMM….

The 1 April is tomorrow. Maybe Blizzard wants to fool us. Maybe not.

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:

Geldon has finished Oblivion

Geldon is the weirdest guy on the internet. But beside this, he finished Oblivion. I think his post has an image that counts as a spoiler, so this is an excerpt that is still “safe”:

I pushed towards ending the main storyline in Elder Scrolls: Oblivion today. At level 35+, with ludicriously enchanted gear, my Agent character was long overdue to end it. I stuck with one character from start to end of a game for over 86 hours of play time. How about that? I guess I can stick with a single character after all.

Well, 86 hours sounds quite satisfying for an ambitious rpg like this. I love long games.

Since this post is short I’ll add some stuff I digged out:
– F1 to F4 work great as an alternative to “tab”. They bring up the UI at the specific tab you need
– From the game console type: set timescale xx – where “xx” stands for how many game minutes correspond to one real life minute. This is quite fun because if you set it to 1200 or more you can see day/night cycles at a super speed ;p

If you want to set the timescale permanently you have to save the game after you gave the command. You need to repeat this for every new game, if you want to set it as a default option you need a mod. The default of the game is 1 RL min = 30 Oblivion minutes. Which means that for every two minutes you have an hour and a whole day is equal to 48 real minutes. Consider that if you change the defaults even the fast travel option will factor the new timing.

Right now I’m using two simple mods. One is custom made and just changes the default timescale to 15. This slows down the game time by half as I felt the time going too fast for my likings and the night/day cycle way too fast. If you want to mod it yourself you need to get the editor, the setting is under the “gameplay” > “globals” > “timescale”. The other mod I’m using can be found here and slows down the skills by half, giving you more space to explore the world and do the side-quests without outlevelling everything too quickly and becoming too powerful. I use the 2x one.

See, I find amusing how we complained about slow treadmills and grindy stuff along these years, and now we create mods to slow everything down.

This is pretty fun also.

Posted in: Uncategorized |

Guessing numbers (and praying)

Again from Brad:

Obviously, I’m biased as all heck and very bullish about Vanguard, but my confidence level is very high. Let’s use conservative numbers. If we get most of the old school EQ players (say, 200k) and then we get just 5% of WoW’s 6 million (300k), that’s 500k subscribers, which is 45k more than EQ had when I left SOE and when EQ was top dog. And I think that’s conservative — I think we can do even better than that — with every 100 players WoW introduces to MMOGs, there must be at least 5 of them that are now or who will be looking for something more like Vanguard, so as they grow, our potential grows as well. And if Vanguard get’s 500k subscribers, we will be in fantastic shape financially from both Sigil and Microsoft’s perspective. Not that we’d mind more, of course :) Like I said, agree or disagree, but those are our conservative numbers (note I said more like 250k a year ago, but that was also when WoW was much smaller as well — like I said, everytime they grow the gamespace, they not only profit themselves, they also help every MMOG developer out).

He writes more about the progress on the beta here.

He even makes fun of me (btw, it’s not so hard to find Blizzard’s press releases).

I tend to sympathize with Utnayan (even if he lacks arguments). You cannot ask anymore the players to have “faith”. It doesn’t work anymore and we are much more jaded nowadays. Faith is something you have to earn.

As Matt Peckham said about Oblivion:

On the national cynic’s curve, we’ve all progressed mightily since 2001.

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:

Vanguard’s Senior Designer resigns – Part 2

EDIT- Since I noticed Joystiq linked here, these are the devs who quit we know about:

Lawrence “Myrlokar” Poe
Steve “Akkirus” Burke
John “Kendrick” Capozzi

These three being all senior designers.

Whenever I hear about some dev quitting Vanguard I go check Krones, he always knows more, and never deludes me:

Another epic Vanguard beta leak has recently surfaced and the news is unfortunate. Myrlokar is the moniker of Lawrence Poe who held a senior design position with Sigil for at least two years. Considering Vanguard is still in the crucial stages of beta development this is a tremendous loss for “the vision”. Lawrence Poe was assigned particularly to: mechanics, combat formulas, contest formulas, build the rulesets for the way spell effects scale throughout the levels, item point system, etc. Basically all the formulas and math on the design side of things — In addition to designing the spell/ability tool and the item tool.

He brings along with him his wife, who apprarently worked at Sigil as well as AI/pathing coder.

Quitting job is popular these days! Join the bandwagon!

On the FoH’s forum where the rumor leaked there’s now a post from Brad, flaming someone for spreading bad hype (which seems to be a norm, recently. Your beta testers suck).
Cutting out the flames:

Boats, player owned ships, pirates, ever increasing AI complexity, etc. are all going in right now or have been in. I demo’d player owned ships to testers and at Fanguards (read: the public) MONTHS ago — who pray tell are you to come here and post that they are likely going to be cut when they’re already in-game? Did I nerf your class or an item back in the early EQ days or something? Enough already.

Right now we’re adjusting wind speeds, tweaking travel time between Thestra and Qalia, fixing a few bugs when ships travel between server regions, etc. Tweaking and smashing bugs, not implementing core systems.

I’ve watched beta testers sail up and down the river outside of Tursh. I’ve seen the AI using water pathing to move an NPC driven boat (e.g. pirates) displayed to me by the programmer working on it. Under no circumstances are they going anywhere but into this game by launch (and not just by launch, but people will be sailing them between continents and through archipelagos in the next phase of beta).

Lastly, flying mounts are something we plan to do for sure after launch, but may possibly get in before launch, but no promises. I have been crystal clear about managing these expectations on our message boards and elsewhere. To what end would you lump in a possible feature with something we’ve committed to, like player owned ships?

You exhibit a fundamental misunderstanding here between implementing a system and then later tweaking it based on feedback from beta and completely starting from scratch and throwing out everything that existed before. It seems as if there is no in-between for you, that a system is either implemented perfectly the first time or if that fails, a completely new system must be created from scratch to replace the old. This is patently false.

The tweaks we are doing to balance, to make combat more proactive yet still reactive when it needs to be, the adjusting of formulas and experience curves, making sure casual content is viable, etc. are simply that: tweaks. And not all of them unexpected — much of the data we needed to make these more final decisions could only be gained through beta testing. MMOGs are so complex, with so many variables interacting with each other, that until you have at least hundreds of people using multiple systems at the same time, you cannot simulate much of the feedback you really need (despite attempts to use automation, bots, etc. to help with some of these issues). Others still require thousands and a full server/world/shard.

Minimal work is being re-done from scratch, but rather the bulk tweaks and formula adjustments. In fact, many of the changes are made in the database – they are data driven and don’t even require coding changes. The biggest loss of time has probably been the UI, which should be ahead of where it’s at, and does require re-work as opposed to tweaking. That is something we are pushing hard to get into the game before the next phase of beta. Like I said, the combat tweaks, or at least the next round of them, will go in in a few weeks and then we’ll see how they play out, and then make tweaks again if necessary: classic beta testing 101. Did it in EQ, and doing it in Vanguard.

We’ve always advocated long betas and are involved in one right now. EverQuest was in beta 9 months. We have better tools now and are more experienced, yet Vanguard is a more complex game. So I don’t know when we’ll launch exactly, but both Sigil and Microsoft are committed to shipping a solid game.

Will that mean that the game is ‘done’? It depends on how you look at it. To me, the beauty of MMOGs is that you can always add to them, both content and features. So from that standpoint an MMOG is never done. Rather, an MMOG should be launched when you feel you have enough content and features and balance to provide a compelling game to those players who are your target audience. Additionally, when planning an MMOG early on, now that we know they can be commercially viable for 5, maybe even 10 years, MMOG developers should also do as much as possible to architect their engine, tools, and content plans such that adding both features and content to the game post-launch is as easy as possible. We didn’t do the greatest job with EQ in this regard, because we had no idea it would last so many years. With Vanguard, however, we have features and content planned for at least 4-5 expansions already. And much of that planning was done at the high level very early on so when we architected our technology and tools, the coding was done keeping in mind not just what the game might be like, or look like, or play like at launch, but far after launch. Player controlled flying mounts is a great example. We already have them in from a technology standpoint – I can enter beta right now, mount a drake, and fly several km into the air and look down at our largest city with negligible fps impact. I can fly around, traverse the entire world, swoop up and down, etc.

Why won’t I commit to launching with player flying mounts then? Because such a feature requires more then the tech that is its foundation, but also justifies some cool game mechanics to accompany being able to fly about where you will, as well as some logical restrictions. And so that may be added post launch as a freebie or part of an expansion or any number of ways. So yes, under that scenario, we would be using subscription revenue to finish player driven flying mounts.

The key, however, is that we never promised player driven flying mounts as a component of Vanguard that would be available by launch. So an MMOG is not only done when there is enough content and features and balance to make a compelling and fun game for your target audience at launch, but also when you’ve done your best to manage expectations… have done your best to make sure the features you felt were truly necessary are indeed there at launch and that while you’ve talked about future features or content, that if you are unsure as to when they’ll realistically be ready, that you are up front with your future playerbase about those items well before launching the game.

Well, it’s long but it doesn’t really says anything worthwhile. What about telling why the game’s suffering all these devs leakage instead?

The third paragraph I quoted sounds like this:

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die.”

Gone to Oblivion

I received the box yesterday, played for four hours straight, mostly skipping dialogues and speeding through the initial dungeon to go see things outside so that I could fiddle with the options. I quit the game with motion sickness, a big headache and pissed off about the performance. The thing ran like crap. I was quite deluded.

Today I went for the second try. I started to tune things better, dropped the anisotropic filtering (I usually play at 8x, moved down to 2x). Things improved DRAMATICALLY. It was quite playable.

Slowly I started to sort things out, read the forums, ran around to take more tests. The intro movie was still running awfully, freezing for a second every second, with the audio also freezing (basically the video and sounds play alternatively, one second of video, then the video freezes and I hear a second of sound, then the sound freezes and the video restarts). On the forums I noticed that this problems was quite common and they suggested to go look at the bios and see if the “Fast Writes” was enabled for the video card. I know it wasn’t so I reboted and enabled it.

Now the intro movie plays ok, the main menu is also super-smooth (it was very laggy before) and I gained another 15-20% in performance. Turned on more stuff. Wow…

This games is mostly a tech demo. The main graphic render is the Gamebryo engine also used by DAoC and Civ 4, the vegetation (grass, trees and even butterflies) is SpeedTree, the physics engine is Havok and the character/face generator (also used obviously on every NPC) is FaceGen. Bethesda made the content, though, and it is indeed quite amazing.

This game is a direct improvement over Morrowind in pretty much everything. The only exceptions are that MW felt bigger and more varied. Oblivion is too dependent on the tech stuff and it looks too much as the same wilderness spreading everywhere. MW had completely different environments and felt more detailed and handcrafted. Oblivion is instead technically advanced but directly dependent on the engines it uses, so you don’t really see the scenery completely changing. It also takes place in one big valley and from what I’ve seen there aren’t different “cultures” packed together, with completely different types of villages and “feel”.

For the rest Oblivion improves MW in every aspect, which doesn’t mean that there are still things feeling wonky. The combat is finally enjoyable but it still feels rather clunky, the characters are much better than MW, but the faces look absurd and the bodies badly modelled, the dialogues work better but there isn’t anything deep that could even be compared to Ultima 7 and the animations, which were awful in MW, have more style now, but are still jerky.

If you go around hunting for inconsistences there are plenty. The physics model isn’t so realistic, in particular with the ragdolls, I’ve seen deers getting stuck everywhere and keeping running against rocks and even sink within them, unable to escape anymore. The biggest issue I’ve encountered is that I could shoot at things with my bow from a long distance without the target reacting at all, just sitting there till it died. If this wasn’t a special case it would be a quite significant exploit.

The animations are still awful. The single animations, taken one by one, are acceptable, but the transitions between them are still jerkly and this has a major impact on the game. Both NPCs and monsters just look like robots, switching states roughly with no realism at all. This affects badly even the combat because it makes everything too faked and inconsistent. A monster could switch from a super slow walking animation to a sudden leap toward you. These sudden switches from state to state makes things too jerky, breaking every attempt at “flow” during the combat.

Archery is fun but still subpar compared to “Mount & Blade”. There is no precision involved and if you don’t move you can center the exact same spot from a long distance with every arrow. There is no variance at all and you just need to calculate the bad physics model that makes the arrow slowly fall the longer it flies. The arrows are also too slow but I already noticed a mod that does exactly what I had in mind.

Some things are truly awful and I cannot figure out why they weren’t fixed. For example: if you walk against a NPC or an horse, or every other living thing, you make it slide unrealistically on the ground. You can basically push people around like pins. I guess this was to prevent stuck issues but I wish they had solved it in another way. And the jumping animation. This is still as terrible as it was in MW. Get a horse and the jump thing becomes even worst, it looks awfully amateurish. The worst of the worst. All the controls while on a horse suck, the turning animation sucks, the movement sucks. Just a bad implementation overall.

I also wish the “grab” thing had a stronger effect. It’s really hard even to throw something as light as a skull and if you want to drag around a corpse you have to push it inch by inch.

The persuasion mini-game is silly.

So. Graphically it is amazing. It relies too much on the middleware on which it is based and the environments are maybe too repetitive, but they did an impressive work with the textures and the shaders effects. The dungeons are MUCH better than MW, the exploration feels more satisfying and there’s finally a “game” to care about. The combat is more challenging even if it still has those issues with the animation systems. The characters are both good and bad. The faces are super-ugly but the tech is so pretty that you can easily pass over lots of ugliness and still feel impessed. The equipment has some wonderful textures but the naked body is as bad as it can be. Not on the level of MW but near. There are still obvious seams between the body parts, with the heads too often looking as implanted on the wrong body… Eww.

There is a clash between the super-realism and doll bodies+robotic animations. In a game so pretty as Oblivion the flaws are made much more visible and these contrasts more evident.

I still cannot comment about the story because I just digged the engine for now. After the initial disappointment about the bugginess and the impossibility to make it run in a playable state I have to say that this is a darn good game. Deep, sandbox-y, immersive. It has still plenty of flaws and consistency problems, but it’s a worthwhile experience considering that these types of games are rare.

And I love the textures. Oblivion, even if not as varied, shares the artistic quality of Morrowind and obviously improves on it with all the new shader effects and higher quality render. Things are so pretty and the towns in the game are the best of the best.

Simply put, it’s a Better Morrowind. You can take all the weak points in Morrowind (characters, dialogues, animations, NPC models, AI, combat, pathing etc..) and they are STILL the weak parts even in Oblivion, but much, much improved if considered one by one. Just not perfect and sleek as you’d hope. And what was great in MW (the environments, architecture, mood, immersiveness, freedom) is great even on Oblivion. It shines. Morrowind was a flawed game, Oblivion is still flawed in similar ways, but exponentially better.

About the hardware problems: there are lots of tweak and fixes that you can find around. There’s a technical FAQ that could help solve some problems. Yes, the game has a memory leak, many players are reporting this (and crashing while exiting) and it is true as it was true for every game that is based on Gamebryo. It has been like this for years, so don’t expect Bethesda to push out a “miracle patch”. Gamebryo sucks, I had to deal with that crap for years on DAoC, now all those quirks and problems are exposed to a larger public.

If you have a Nvidia video card I suggest three things (that improved things significantly for me):
– Check if you have the “Fast Writes” option enabled in the video and graphic driver
– Use the coolbit trick
– Drop the Anisotropic Filtering to 2x or below

Right now I’m playing at a widescreen resolution (1088×612) even if I have a normal 17′ monitor (just shrank manually the image to keep the aspect ratio). It is much prettier because it expands the view horizontally, which truly improves these sort of games with a more “panoramic” screen, so I suggest to experiment with that. I also have HDR on even if it hits hard on the performance because it truly enhances how things look, it makes the textures more vibrant and the environments more “alive”. I turned off the shadows completely, with only the trees casting them. The rest is pretty much turned from medium to max, with the grass to 1/4 of the slider. Vsynch and Anti Aliasing off, I hate blurred textures but I don’t mind the jaggies. I love pixels.

I have also the difficulty slider moved up to 3/4. This is something they did really well. Not only it affects how much damage you receive, but also how much damage the NPCs can take. So if you move it up you don’t just get hit for more, but you also need to land more attacks, making the fights lasting more time and feeling more satisfying instead of just a couple of hits.

The only manual tweak I made to the oblivion.ini (which is NOT in the main game dir, you have to go find for it in the “documents” folders) is to increase “fDecalLifetime” from 10 to 120 (how many seconds before the blood splashes vanish) and “iMaxDecalsPerFrame” from 10 to 20 (how many decals/blood splashes in the general area). Then set the file to “read only” because the games overrides the first option as you enter the “video” menu. Then I enabled “bAllowScreenShot” to get the screenies (print screen), but this only with HDR, if you have Bloom on it probably won’t work.

If you want to see the framerates in the game just press “~” and type “tdt”. It’s built-in.

I’m going to experiment with the archery mod I linked above and I’m looking for another to the physics engine (if it’s possible) to make the “grab” command stronger and one that disables the characters sliding on the ground if you bump against them. I also wish the ragdolls were less “tense”, when the NPCs are dead they are too stiff. I wonder if the physics properties are moddable…

Btw, I’m probably the only one out there to love the UI. I just wish there was a way to create shortcuts to the various menus or a quick key to switch the basic modes. But it’s just the detail and I really like how they organized the whole thing. I didn’t feel the need for anything more customizable. The auto-scaling is also very good.

I’m going to get much more screenies. For now I just have… a door.

Posted in: Uncategorized |

Mark Jacobs invented the mmorpgs

More amusing than ever:

a) I/we were doing MUDs before 99.999% of the world’s developers had even heard of them (let alone MMORPGs).

b) I actually (with Richard Mulligan at GEnie), tried to convince Richard Garriot to sell us the rights (or co-develop/publish) to do an online version Ultima back in the late 80s. Richard told us he didn’t believe in online games.

Posted in: Uncategorized |

Wolfpack blowing up

From Grimwell, a few days ago (now edited):

– Wolfpack and Ubisoft not so friendly. Ubi dropped the price to “FREE!” and there is no SB2 announcement. Sat in on a PVP roundtable moderated by Damion Schubert and he didn’t mention this, neither did the other WP friends. At the end of the day SB didn’t bring the $$ on a large scale despite doing many things right for MMOG’s and PVP. Possible, but not verified.

Then Ashen Temper (Wolfpack Community Rep/Designer?) somewhat disproves the rumor:

While I do love a good rumor mill, let me point out that Wolfpack is not a third-party development house but is a studio of Ubisoft (we were not originally and some people still think we are). While I would love to talk about why Shadowbane is free at the moment, I can’t until an official announcement is released (from higher up the food chain than me).

As for any future announcements (pertaining to other “possible” projects), let me say three things: (1) I learned with Shadowbane that it is not a good idea to announce a project too early in its development. Having a rabid fanbase for roughly three years was hard to manage without having more than morsels to feed them for the first two years. (2) GDC isn’t the only gaming convention in the year and I know many marketers prefer E3 over GDC. (3) That I really can’t say if or what we are working on (aside from Shadowbane) but there seems to be a lot of bread crumbs out there…

And NOW, he reconfirms it:

I wasn’t going to post this initially but I figure the word is already out (I’ve already seen it on a few webzines as well as a multitude of forums). Yes, the rumor is true: I am looking for a new job. No, I did not get fired. Nor am I the only one looking for a job. We were recently informed that as of mid-May 2006, the doors of Wolfpack Studios will be closing. Ubisoft, our parent company, will be refocusing their efforts on the console market with the new fiscal year, what with the new systems coming to market such as the X-box 360, PS3, and the Nintendo GO! (or so the rumors call it lately). This is not an unheard of practice; many game publishing companies tend to put a majority of their efforts into development of games for new systems. It is best to strike when the iron is hot, as the saying goes.

What does this mean for Shadowbane? Truth be told, I really don’t know. I wish I did because I don’t only work on the game, I play it too. Once I do know something and can officially state as much, I’ll let you all know.

From mmorpg.com:

In total, approximately 25 people at the Austin, TX studio have been left without work.


And Ubiq?