EverQuest Next: Recap

Using a forum post to clarify my position, and this will probably be enough for quite a while.

Calelari: HRose, do you ever plan to make your astounding game design genius available to world and actually do something? This constant pissing in everyone’s cheerio’s was tiresome years ago. Now it’s just sad.

On another forum someone wrote: “It always amazes me how people who have been looking forward to the next big thing and getting burned by it for like the last FIFTEEN YEARS keep getting suckered in by… the next big thing.”

Or: “So far they’ve been vague enough to make people think of grand possibilities, but the likelihood of those possibilities coming to fruition is slim at best. Like EQ’s planes, back when it was in beta they were giving interviews and mentioning the elemental planes and how awesome characters could get to them and find these amazing places. They basically made it sound like Planescape. What got delivered was not Planescape. The planes were just dungeons.”

I’ve been saying some hard facts clashing with pipe dreams and pies in the sky. The hard fact is that this announce showed no real game, it only tickled players’ fantasies and relied on imagination to complete the idea of a game that isn’t there.

I simply stated:

1- At this point the game can’t be judged (positively or negatively) because they only showed suggestions, instead of a real game.
2- This is practically Vanguard dev team being recycled.

While #2 isn’t a definite condemnation, it’s a good reason to keep expectations and hype low, and skepticism high. Those NAMES are names one should identify with OLD AND TRITE AND DERIVATIVE, because that’s what they’ve concretely done in the last decade (or more) regardless of fancy claims. Vanguard was through the roof with the hype, at the time. It also was all about “suggestions”, smoke and mirrors that never became a concrete game. I just have a longer memory than the average forum guy and not easily distracted by commercial ads.

The UGLIEST sign about EQ Next is that they only hinted at things like voxel and total destructible terrain while COMPLETELY AVOIDING all the concerns and side effects that such features bring up. As always in these cases, it’s more important to look at the side they don’t want you to see, than the side they show you enhanced with sparkly effects.

The piss in the cheerio’s already there. I just warn you before you eat them. Or at least spare you a couple of years of hype that will eventually come crashing down. Just as usual.

Everyone’s attention is probably better spent on something else (at least for a while).

EverQuest Next: Pie in the Sky

I was waiting the announce of EverQuest Next and I’m seeing the hype is now rising quickly.

My comment at this point is: “Too thick vaporware, didn’t see if there’s a real game in there.”

Slightly longer version: I remain curious about it, but what they showed is a spiked tech demo that can’t help understand what the actual game will be.

It’s curious that something similar happened with Brad McQuaid’s Vanguard, on different premises but with similar patterns. What is in common is that now the big public out there has an idea of the game entirely built on fancy expectations. SOE didn’t show an actual game, they showed suggestions about a possible game. Smoke and mirrors. Every potential player out there right now has his own personal idea of how the game will work, making it coincide with a personal ideal. Which has probably very little in common with how EverQuest Next will concretely work. Wishful thinking.

Roll back seven years ago, when Vanguard’s hype started to rise. Thankfully I have a site with hard memory:

Your report becomes: “Vanguard will be wonderful because it will be the game of your dreams”. And the game of your dreams cannot be bad, right? This is the sense of your article. A failing-proof slogan.

As long we deal with dreams we can be happy, but someday this EverQuest Next will have to launch. It will need to put fancy ideas into a coherent, pragmatic whole. That’s when all the different ideas people right now have of the game will have to crash down into one.

When you announce something you should announce something concrete. You should put the foundation of your product on the hard rock of solid ideas motivated as a coherent whole. Stuff you can touch and that surprises your target public because of its reality. Here instead we just have vague fluff thrown with a vague gesture just so your imagination fills the rest and makes of it whatever you like. It’s not a real game, it’s not a concrete thing.

Hence, EQ Next can’t be judged at this point. We know nothing more than before. We just saw some fantasy-style models moving within Planetside 2’s engine, and that’s it.

Seven years ago Vanguard claimed being a third generation MMO. I remind everyone that in 2013 we’re still stuck at generation 1.5.

Edit: The parallel with Vanguard wasn’t far fetched at all. Here’s what I found out:

Fun fact: EverQuest Next big guy (Darrin McPherson), aka Lead Designer, was Senior Game Designer on Vanguard, before moving back to SOE.

My primary focus has been the development of the Vanguard combat system and the design of our adventuring player character classes.

Before Vanguard he was at EA working on Earth & Beyond.

Same for Jeff Butler, who’s Creative Director on EQ Next. He was Co-Executive Producer and then PRESIDENT (of Sigil) on Vanguard. At least he was also an old timer of Everquest who moved to Vanguard with Brad McQuaid.

Anyway these are the real guys making this new game. Both of them coming straight from that amazing piece of game design and astounding success that was Vanguard. In leading positions on it, and even more prominent on EQ Next. An industry built on merit.

Oh, Moorgard too is back. Coming straight from that other astounding success that was Kingdoms of Amalur.

At this point I wonder why they didn’t hire Brad McQuaid too. He would fit in perfectly.

Two words about the fireworks

The year starts refreshingly.

I noticed this old-style drama, yet about Vanguard, on both Plaguelands and K10R. Fun stuff, reminds me of old times.

Just a few words:

1- While I don’t believe every word written, I think there may be some truth and it is not a complete hoax.

2- The guy isn’t scared about burning bridges.

3- Comments about private life are always inappropriate and should be omitted. Those were gratuitous attacks.

4- I was the first to call Vanguard vaporware when Anyuzer started to drink the Kool-Aid, years ago. I spelled it out: it was vapid. Those comments, while poorly written and making me ashamed, are still mostly valid. Vanguard wanted to be a design innovation, but it didn’t innovate anything aside some very vague (almost valid) concepts that weren’t properly made a whole (as game design should be).

5- I would defend Brad McQuaid. I think he proved that he believed in the game and that he had a vision. Debatable, but still personal, strong and competent. I’m sure that he saw the thing sinking from far away and still blindly continued to hope in some kind of external intervention to make the miracle. If they say he didn’t do shit in the last year of development, I would believe. But I don’t believe that he didn’t care about the game and that he was slacking. I just don’t believe in this drug-addicted image of Brad McQuaid, careless and hands-off his game.

6- Vanguard, once again, was a failure for *technical* execution first. Programming. Graphic engine. Server stability. Art and animations. Controls. Game design comes after those, and in that Post Mortem there’s no mention of those flaws, as if the game’s faults were all about high-level design. The game didn’t fail because of Game Design, it failed because it was a POS close to Shadowbane. It was broken. Not because the newbie quests weren’t written by senior designers, but because it ran poorly even on powerful hardware and yet looked awful. You need the basics to work, then you can think about the rest.

7- If Vanguard had a good technical execution but poor game design, it would have survived. Not a success, but something viable (see LOTRO, a game with zero ideas but good execution overall). So it’s the technical execution the most relevant aspect of Vanguard’s failure. And the one that is still ignored the most in discussions.

8- Brad McQuaid has responsibilities as he wasn’t just responsible of the game design, but of the project as a whole. Including the technical execution. In particular: you have to bargain between ambition and concrete possibilities. Especially if you are forming a brand new studios. Start small and improve from there. Aiming too high is another relevant factor behind Vanguard’s failure (and probably others on the horizon).

9- Let’s talk about something else. Thanks. This drama is now about as relevant as Glitchless’ Dawn and Dave Allen’s Horizon. I hope we are past that swamp and that we can expect and bitch on a different level of quality and competence. Good and interesting discussions for the genre are somewhere else.

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:

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.

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:


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.

More on Vanguard and world design

Not trying to vehemently bash Vanguard, just explaining better what I mean for decent “world design”.

Since people say I’m deliberately picking horrid screenshots to ridicule Vanguard (the truth is that I picked those that illustrate better my point), here’s a good looking one that still shows what I pointed out. A lack of world design. There’s this bumpmap effect applied to all the terrain everywhere but it seems that the textures themselves are random noise patterns with a varied hue.

The lack of “world design” isn’t the fact that there aren’t many objects visible. But that those that there are, like the boulder, the fence and the tents, seem all completely estranged from the environment.

How would it look if there was an at least passable world design? It’s not that hard. The lines (textures) between objects shouldn’t look so definite. The areas around the tents should have probably used a different texture that shows there’s activity in that place and the sand near the fence would surely look different. Since there’s water, a possibility of high tide, along with the fact that the sand is soft, that big boulder would have likely sank more in the sand creating a hollow in the area, maybe even a small pond. And I also doubt that a cliff so close to the water would look like that and the same for the transition between the rock area and the beach.

EDIT: Credit to Jpoku for a much better “reading” of the scene (and this is a very good design lesson):

the connectivity is poor for whatever reason. It just doesn’t feel as alive. The fence, gate’s and tents look like they are about to fall down. The sea creature looks like it has just fallen out of the sky and landed on the ground rather than having led there for ages. Also someone could just swim round that fence. What’s it defending against? No signs of it being a real barricade. WoW here would have supplies behind the fence, strong supports holding it up. On the other side there would be bits of broken wood, swords or corpses (like a fight has happened there so a fence is needed)

Another example. If in the real world you make objects on the terrain invisible, you would still see many evident cues that something WAS there. Now imagine to remove all those objects you see in the screenshot. Well, There would be no sign at all that something was there. The terrain would look uniform.

Vanguard world design is this: a fractal terrain generator on which were then dropped with no real logic a number of trees, rocks and buildings of various type. It’s the opposite of an organic world design.

In general there’s always a glaring clash between the terrain and the objects/models. As if things were photoshopped into the scene. It gives a very “false” feeling (and this is the result half of the art quality of the textures and half the graphic render they coded, which sucks. See Black & White 2 for a terrain render that looks amazing).

Now take these other examples:

1- Transitions. Can you see how in this case the transition between the beach, the grass and then the rock areas is much smoother and organic (dithering aside)? And how the result is a believable, immersive scenery?

2- Detail. Notice how the terrain is painted to have some kind of trailing effect near the wooden planks, as if some water dribbled around them. Imagine to remove these planks and the terrain would still reflect that something was there.

Now go and see if you can find in Vanguard a similar example. WoW can deliver some organic scenery even with an empty landscape. In Vanguard the terrain looks as if it was colored with the airbrush in MS Paint.

Try to walk along the coast in Westfall and you’ll see plenty of wooden planks, barrels, tree trunks, shipwrecks and so on. That’s world design.

Please understand that this isn’t a Vanguard vs WoW. I’m just pointing out one of Vanguard’s flaws and using WoW because it offers descriptive examples of good world design.

And consider that I’m pointing out only one tiny aspect of what I consider world design, just because it was the easiest to explain. I hope it illustrates better the kind of point of view from where my comments were coming.

I know very little of “world design” and I doubt I could do a better work, I don’t have any practice with it. But I see something that looks amazing and then something that feels like crap. What I do is just to ask myself why. I try to analyze and dig what I see and try to understand what makes the difference. So I’m trying to learn by myself. I compare things to learn the differences. It’s not simple but I expect that those who actually ARE WORKING in the game industry know these things I’m trying to teach myself.

Vanguard day

Woot! Five days without writing. I CAN resist!

Now, in honor of Vanguard’s launch, here’s my view.

I expect Vanguard to perform worse then EQ2 in the mid term, not because of game design, but because of execution. Bad production choices, bad focus, bad UI, bad engine, bad art, bad models and animations etc…

Bad pretty much down to the little things. Bad for example in something that shouldn’t be all that hard to achieve in a AAA title: fonts.

What saved EQ2 was the obstinacy and dedication of its devs. Despite the horrible premises the game improved considerably. It required time and work. I doubt Sigil will do the same, especially when Brad McQuaid was already talking about their second and third mmorpg when Vanguard wasn’t even in beta.

In the case I’m right and the game won’t perform well, I blame Brad for bad direction first, not for bad game design. I see the popular “hardcore vs casual” debate as secondary in this case.

The awful premises of EQ2 equal pretty much the bad premises of Vanguard. I don’t think Sigil will match the dedication of EQ2’s team, so this is why I believe it will perform worse. I had NO faith even in EQ2’s team, so this doesn’t mean that also the Vanguard guys cannot prove me wrong. We’ll see. At the same time I also think the two games will compete against each other and I just don’t see enough space for both. Either EQ2 or Vanguard will have to withdraw. It’s not a good scenario.

From a more general point of view I don’t think that having many MMO titles is going to payback, especially in the longer term. The increasing competition will contract the market and push the most strong titles. I don’t see as a very smart plan to disperse your resources too much. I think SOE should instead focus on fewer things and try *harder than ever*. This was already proven true when with EQ2 they decided to make less expansions and make them more polishes and well-rounded.

Scott Hartsman confirmed that the choice had a very positive impact. I believe the same principle is valid for SOE as a whole.

On the forums I see Darniaq and Geldon defending Vanguard rabidly (and in a few cases not even objectively), I respect and value their ideas, but I have to say they have terrible taste with games ;)

Now a few quotes. Haemish:

I’m pretty sure that no matter how many subscriptions VG gets, we’ll never hear a straight, true number of subscribers out of SOE anyway unless that number beats WoW.

Which it won’t.

What’s relevant is how profitable is VG, and those numbers we’ll never get. The rest is dick-waving for press releases, and I’m pretty sure the milimeter beater that will be VG’s subscriber numbers won’t be the subject of a press release. We might get the “X number of VG boxes sold!” back-patting press release, but that’s about it.

And Shild:

That’s exactly it. There’s nothing left to rant about in any way. If these fuckers don’t even want to try to create an engaging experience from the first moment you log in, then fuck’em. These people are never, ever, ever going to learn. And when I say these people, I mean MMOG devs. No one wants to think outside the goddamn box, and the people that do think outside the box almost never create any sort of cohesive experience. I realize f13 started off pretty MMOG-centric, and I realize I used to be a lot more tolerant of MMOGs. But it’s just not worth the expulsion of any sort of energy anymore. The most any shitty game is going to get out of me is some obscure joke and a photoshop. I just don’t have the sort of time to waste that I used to have on this sort of shit. There’s too many good games. When a _good_, from the get-go, MMOG comes out, I’ll gladly come back and talk about it ad nauseum. But until then? Meh. Waste of customer’s money. Waste of development money. Just a big waste of money. Want something positive? I’m sure there’s lots of good people at these companies, and I’m glad they have jobs. The videogame industry is a harsh place and those people are the glue that keeps it together. Too bad QA doesn’t get paid enough to have the cajones to call something as they see it. When that happens, we might see some positive change.

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:

Vanguard, unibodies, unianimations and the Philosophical Stone that turns digitalized stones into real gold! All true!

I’m not at the AGC but this is my rant.

One of the most popular discussions at the moment about Vanguard is the choice of using “unibodies”. It sounds as the most irrelevant detail you could discuss about a game, instead it’s the one between those that will matter more and that will be brought up more often.

What’s a “unibody”? Well, it’s just a fancy term to define the design choice to share the same “body” for each character’s race while only changing the scaling (which is as simple as setting a variable) and the head plugged on that body.

This means that all the playable races in the game will look alike, but it also means that it is much easier to create armors and clothes as they don’t need to be race-specific or tweaked to fit the different models and silhouettes.

Imho the compromise is completely unacceptable and the real, deeper reason is similar to the old debate about the balance between handcrafted and generated content. The reason is only one: not using “unibodies” and “unianimations” would actually force the developers to, you know, DO SOMETHING.

Since there’s nothing new under the sun, I can draw from very old forum posts that I happned to reread recently:

SirBruce: The first panel I went to was “The Right Content Mix” with Starr Long, Rich Vogel, and Jason Durrell. The panel debated what was the right mix of static vs. dynamic content in MMOs

HRose: Oh my god. These guys are able to repeat the same theme for every conference?

They aren’t intelligent enough to realize that “the right mix of static vs. dynamic content” is ALREADY a wrong premise that won’t bring anywhere?

Yeah, like if there’s a “right mix” of doing and not doing your work. Or the right mix between good and bad art. Or the right mix of content and lack of it.

“How can we do the less possible and make money?”

If you START from that premise, you’ll never go anywhere. This is very close to what Rob Pardo wrote and that I quoted. You don’t polish later. You polish from the beginning. It’s a mindset. The “culture of polish” he speaks about and that is the MAIN DIFFERENCE between Blizzard and EVERY OTHER MMORPG STUDIO OUT THERE. Every single one.

Create art and style that is specific to a race. You know, *content*. You know, what the players are supposed to pay for, instead of just a hole with nothing into it if not an excuse to ask for money.

Even Valve with Team Fortress 2 has understood how important is the “typization” of the characters, how important is to have recognizeable silhouettes.

We pay to have lore, to see beautiful locations, the consistence of a fantasy world. Giving each race unique-looking models and animations is part of the same creation process. It is *what we pay for*. It is part of the “value” that the developers are going to sell.

So yes, if each race, and even sex, needs unique models and animations it means that the devs will have to work on that. But, hey. That’s what they are paid for.

If now WoW raised the bar and player’s expectations for every other mmorpgs out there, then I’m HAPPY. Because others developers won’t get away with their horrible design choices. And all those attempts at creating “fun” random generated content will fail horribly.

It’s not so far away from what Lum ranted about:

The primary task of an MMO provider is, again, to provide the MMO.

Yeah. And the secondary task is to provide the content. You CANNOT get away without doing that. You cannot find “shortcuts” because there are no goddamn shortcuts. There is no game that builds itself if not as a stupid, ingenuous dream that many in the industry share.

The better is the content, the more work goes into it, the more the game will be successful. Well deserved success.

As I wrote in a comment there isn’t a single mmorpg out there that I think deserved more than what it got. Nor a mmorpg that deserved less than what it got. WoW is up there, far away, because that gap is a gap of QUALITY. Concrete quality. No PR stuff or brand or whatever. It’s *quality*. Quality, hard work and dedication that paid back.

If mmorpg developers decide to take the shortcuts then the players will see. If you flip the pages of a book and there’s a blank one, you will notice. YOU WON’T GET AWAY WITH THAT.

As in the “emperor’s new clothes” story, the king is naked.

Continue that way. Right along with the generated and player created content. All stupid excuses to find ways to sell a VOID. Tho sell the LACK of something. The “Philosophical Stone” that turns digital rocks into real gold.

About the unibodies and unianimations, this is another very old discussion. So interesting to reread nowadays (and at least acknowledge how what I write long ago stands the test of time):

Raph: The tradeoff is that SWG permits greater animated expressiveness for every race. This is, again, mostly a matter of taste. There are technical challenges both ways as well, of course. In WoW, tying each animation set to each character type means that you have to assume a budget for animations equal to having every animation set on screen. That almost certainly means less animations total in the game. It eats into your skeleton budget, and requires greater animation time, of course, which could have been spent somewhere else. In SWG, you lose distinctiveness per species. This gets spent instead on character customization…

HRose: I like way better WoW approach. I don’t need “fluff”. I feel more important an unique feel of my character than setting the pattern of my beard. The only thing I’d change in WoW is the possibility to set an height. That’s it. Specific animations really give you a different “feel” of the character, imho. More than the control of details that create lag, problems to the netcode and are barely noticeable by anyone aside you.

Raph: Yeah, to me the Tauren walk is the fluff, and the beard matters to me. *shrug*

I’m sure out there you can find someone who believes that WoW’s success is only due to the race-specific /dance emotes. Of course it’s an exaggeration, but even today part of what people are interested about the expansion is the new dance emotes for the two new races. Go again to read what Rob Pardo writes about “polished features”.

SWG didn’t have the unibodies, but it did have the unianimations. And it sucked. Vanguard will have both unibodies and unianimations.

Brad McQuaid: “Given the fact that we’re likely the only other AAA MMOG for the year 2007 means that we can do no less.”

Eheh, come back in a year and tell me I was wrong: “Warhammer will be more successful than Vanguard”.