August 2001

SIERRA GONE? [Author: Arcadian Del Sol]

First stop is the King of All Internet Rumors, Fatbabies, who has reported here that “…Sierra was cut virtually in half, with multiple projects being canceled. The Hoyle line will be retained, as all it takes to sell another 400,000 copies is to repackage the thing in a new retail box. Everything else at Sierra was reviewed\’e2\’80\rdblquote no project escaped the microscope.”

They also point out that fan favorite developing house Dynamix has been dismantled and destroyed (Not unlike Red Baron II). Given that fatbabies is prone to exagerration and speculation, lets see what 3D Shoot-Fest Blue’s News has to say about the supposed destruction of Sierra.

“Other reports, including [a] message board post by former Dynamix employee Scott Youngblood, take this a bit further, suggesting that Dynamix, the studio behind TRIBES 2 has actually been shut down. We try not to post things like this until they’re officially confirmed, but we have heard this from multiple sources suggesting that there may be some truth in it.”

Blue’s News reports that after reaching a Sierra representative for comment, they were told that there was in fact, no comment to be made because he/she had personally not been informed of any Dynamix/Sierra layoffs. They cite as their primary source a report on the popular site fuckedcompany.com – famous for its collection and dissemination of corporate expirations. The discussion thread at that site seems less doom-and-gloom, and at least one contributor poses the theory that Havas is simply down-sizing Sierra into just another development studio ala Blizzard North. If this is the case, well nobody should be surprised. Havas doesn’t need a redundant “front office” when all they really wanted was another game producing facility.

WARNING: Editorial Content to follow

When Havas purchased the right to kick Sierra’s ass all around the Upper North West United States, Sierra had a bright future ahead of it. They had an established fan base eager to gobble up the various sporting titles, and they would soon find themselves the owners of such coveted game lisences as Babylon 5 and Lord of the Rings. But then they kicked their sports fans in the nuts by basically lying to them right in the face and running away giddy with their money, and then they futzed around and wound up breaking the bank trying to make a Babylon 5 version of StarFleet Battles (in all fairness, nobody knows what really happened aside from the developers. And even they might not be giving out a balanced perspective of the saga). Finally, they cited vaporous reasons as they dismissed the Middle Earth team, shut down the development, and then secretly began working on a new version – unfortunately, there seems to have been a contract breach in the process (‘seems to have been’ becase we are currently waiting for a federal court case to determine this). The best they could muster was digging up the bones of the long-since-dead Hoyle card game franchise because life just isn’t worth living without yet another 5 thousand ways to play a card game BY MYSELF – and let us not forget the replacement of sporting standards like baseball and football with RODEO BULL RIDING (note: the press release excitedly listed that you could play through an entire career as a bull-rider OR as the bull!!!! KEEN!).

In my opinion, Sierra was terminal about 4 years ago, and Havas was content to keep the life support systems running. I suppose they’re just ready to now say goodbye, and pull the plugs.

And lastly, on a personal note, big shout out to a former Sierra employee who had (has) a great talent for storytelling, for comedy, and for living life like it was a carnival ride. When I was in my early youth, I wrote a moderately successfull BBS based gaming magazine, and Josh Mandel was gracious enough to grant an interview for the inaugural issue. So in a way, he got me started, and if anybody wants to know who to blame for the scourge that is Arcadian Del Sol, you can dig out an old copy of Freddy Pharkas or some of the middle generation King’s Quest games, and look for the name Josh Mandel. If you have the King’s Quest that had all the islands in it (and that embarassingly sappy “Girl in the Tower” pop single), you can even catch of glimpse of Mr. Mandel in the role of “genie in the bottle”.

If not, then accept this subtitute and just pretend that it is Josh.

UO NEWS AND WHIRLED REPORT [Author: Arcadian Del Sol]


PAGE ONE: Now we can’t get them to shut up.

Remember when comments from the Dev Team used to be something that the Crossroads Network boasted about? Or when the House of Commons Chats were the only stage in town? Then came the UO.com “Comments from the Dev Team” which shortened a lot of leashes, and served more often than not, as a barrier to information than an outlet for it.

I’m not sure what is being put in the coffee at Starbuck’s on 6th Street, but in Austin, they’ve decided that we’ll be hearing “comments from the team” with greater frequency. To prove it, you can check out Cal’s latest contribution and notice that it falls almost within the SAME MONTH as the previous comment; which was something to the tune of, “Hey I was digging around with the code and discovered that UO’s economy is in shambles.”

DO TELL, VEX.

Anyway, not to beat up Vex, Cal’s contribution is about Artificial Intelligence and Monsters, and begins with…The dictionary defines artificial intelligence as: “The ability of a computer or other machine to perform those activities that are normally thought to require intelligence.”

That rules out most of the factions system, which oddly enough, IS a monster. If someone were to give it AI, it would immediately storm out of the castle and toss little girls into the river to see if they float. Despite my unfounded and baseless attacks, it is a good read. If you are having a slow day at work like I am, but you don’t have a r33t website to update, you can give it a gander or two. Hell, give it three. Calandryll is one of the good guys. He has no problem coming here and talking common sense with the goodly folk of our discussion boards. You’d never find him wasting his breath on any of those boring cut-and-paste non-news websites. He’s got standards and whatnot.


PAGE TWO: Calandryll speaks to Stratics.

He’s lean, he’s mean, he’s saucy like a half-rack of baby-back; he’s Calandryll, the People’s Champion. In a joint venture with Der Ultima Online Website Auf Deutchland, An_Stratics_Updater_00 inteviewed him and here’s your highlight (yes, in English):

Are there any plans to support player made quests? The tavern keepers are a step in the right direction, but are not enough. For example, we need the ability to save some items for a group of players or to generate monster spawn. We’d like to do more, but many of the good ideas are also filled with loopholes and exploits.

As you said, the first step is the barkeep, but I doubt that will be the last thing we do for player events. I’ve seen ideas (both by players and people here at OSI) for player spawned monsters, player controlled monsters, and player created event items. But all of those systems would have serious balancing and exploit issues. I think there are already quite a few systems that help players run quests. The guild system allows players to run PvP oriented quests without fear of others interfering (in Trammel), house banning lets you run events with the ability to remove unwanted guests, etc. There’s still more we can do, though.

Good to see that despite having dismantled and dismissed the entire Seer program, OSI is still looking for ways to replace them with software features and abilities. One point of clarification however. The Seers did not run “quests” – they ran EVENTS. The players have always been the ones to provide quests for themselves, and finally it looks as if they’ll be able to do them properly. Because Barkeeps rule, right Gromm?


PAGE THREE: Gromm being the best Gump he can be

Known mostly for the fact that he has not yet quit to go work for Destination games or Sony Interactive, Gromm has been steadily cranking away at one of the coolest updates in a long time. Barkeeps are a new kind of hired npc for home owners, and they can take on a variety of roles and serve a variety of functions. They can respond to a short number of code words, possibly giving guests clues for some player-run quest, or just inform as to when the owner will be back. They can be bartenders (and serve drinks, dude!), Bards, Drunkards, Gamblers, or any one of over thirty character types. Tavern owners and quest coordinaters – welcome to the next level. Please direct all your adulation to Gromm, who has taken this project and run wild with it. One note: when UO:3D was released, one of the complaints was that the gumps had been sterlized as part of the “make it fun for the 1.5 million online Koreans” project, and all our scrolls and packs and crates turned into Flintstone-esque tablets. While the return of actual “atmosphere” to UO is nowhere in sight, if you look at some of the screenshots of the Barkeep gumps, you have to give Gromm some credit for at least making an effort to dress up those chalkboard pop-up windows that we all know and hateth. Now if only he can help me with the riddle of ‘steal’, maybe I wont die so much at the Britain bank.


PAGE FOUR: LumtheMad.net to offer naked pussy pics to increase revenue and pay hosting fees.

PREVIEW

By clicking HERE, you testify that you are 18 years or older and have no problem seeing adult content on the internet.

LATE NIGHT UPDATE: GORDON ON BEASTLORDS [Author: Snowspinner]

Quoth Me:

Caster’s Realm has parsed the spell file on the Test Server, and uncovered the latest product of the Verant’s Magical Wonder Crackpipe(tm), the Beastlord Spell List, which gives us the first real insight into what this class is all about.

Quoth Him.

One of these days we’re going to look into obscuring the spell file.
There’s a bit of contention on the team in that regards as in the past
people have, by virtue of that knowledge, brought potential issues to our
attention before if it had the opportunity to affect the game. Of course,
I’m sure the same argument could be made if we publicized the item database
which won’t happen:)

In this case though I’d have to say that it does more harm than good. That
is a very preliminary spell list and we won’t know how they play out in game
until we have a fair amount of play-testing done. There’s also the fact
that many of the spells use unique code specific to those spells. People
won’t really have an idea what they do until they observe the spells
first-hand. Not to mention, by it being more or less public we of course
have to deal with repetitive “Buff! Nerf! Buff! Nerf!” cycle that is
inevitable when we’re in the process of balancing the class.

Quoth me:

So what we’re faced with is a class that has the chance to be unbalancing gods, if their pets are at mage strength, their spells are as listed, and their melee capabilities are high. They’re also a class that has the opportunity to be complete gimps, if their pets are wimpy, their melee is mediocre, and they don’t get any roots or snares.

Quoth Him:

You know us: We’re not going to purposely put them in as “unbalancing gods”
any more than we’d purposefully put them in as “complete gimps”. I suspect
that it will be somewhere in the middle 🙂

-Gordon

_______________________________________

Gordon Wrinn

Associate Producer, EverQuest Live/Luclin

Sony Online Entertainment

www.everquest.com

And there you have it.

AN OPEN LETTER TO VERANT INTERACTIVE [Author: Snowspinner]

And it should come as no big surprise to you that the reputation of your CS is, frankly, shit. I’m sure you’re aware of the reasons for this. You seem intelligent folks. You surely recognize that policies that lead to people seemingly arbitrarily getting banned from your game, constant reports of rude GMs, and a complete lack of awareness as to what the major bugs are in your game does not and never will come across as quality customer service.

Let’s face it here. You’re not exactly going out of your way to address concerns. A full week has passed since the Sleeper awoke, and you haven’t gotten around to telling us if we’re right, and you still didn’t finish the script. Instead, you’re giving us breaking news about lying down. Thanks, Verant. That really, you know, makes me feel like you’re looking at important problems in the game.

No doubt, at this point, you expect me to go off about how maybe it would help if Absor or Abashi or someone ever bothered to stop by the Lum boards and post a quick note telling us what’s up with some aspect of the game. I mean, we’ve got other developers who stop by here pretty regularly to tell us things like that. Ashen Temper all but owns our Shadowbane board. You guys seem, however, conspicuously absent. Maybe you expect a string of expletives. A reference to your Magical Wonder Crackpipe(tm).

Nope.

Why not? Because, frankly, I’m obviously in the minority in caring. Because apparently your player base is expanding. And, yeah, I could go off about how the next generation of games will kick your ass because of their customer support. But the next generation is already here, and their customer support seems to be taking all its cues from you. Maybe DAoC or Shadowbane will put you down. But I doubt it. You’re already pretty well entrenched.

Yeah, the sentiment that your CS is a steaming pile of shit is a pretty popular one around these parts. But we have what, 3265 registered users here on the message boards. Probably a bunch more who read the articles, but that’s not even close to your player base. And not all of the people here even play EverQuest. And how many of the people here are really talking about quitting the game?

Not a hell of a lot. And a whole bunch of the people who have quit from these boards have gone back. Some of them three or four times. I could try to start a campaign to get people to cancel their accounts, but you know how much support I’d get? Right. I thought so.

And, frankly, I wouldn’t support myself either. Because, like the rest of your players, I’m willing to put up with the bullshit you try to pass off as customer support. Because I’m addicted. Just like every fucking one else. And you’re not banning me, or anyone I know (Not that I can honestly say I’d quit if you banned someone I know). You’re banning a bunch of nameless, faceless people out there that I can easily block out of my mind. Mystere? Whatever. Conquest? OK, sure, exploiters, right. Tweety? Great website, but eh. And those are the high profile ones. You bet your ass I don’t care about the little guys who don’t make the headlines. I just wanna play my game in peace.

Outrage is easy. Action is hard. And, as you seem to have figured out, most of us aren’t gonna take the plunge and do something about it. I know I’m not.

Congratulations, Verant. You’ve figured out how to fuck us up the ass and make us like it.

So when will that lying down command get implemented, anyway?

NEEDFUL THINGS [Author: Lum the Mad]

Many of you play online games.

Many of you are married or in otherwise somewhat meaningful relationships.

Occasionally the sets merge. And this can cause problems.

Take, for example, this note from a place where you wouldn’t ordinarily expect such… well… “sharing and caring”, the EQ Sullon Zek board. You know, sharing and caring are for carebears, right? Well, no.

It’s not just EQ here. EQ is just the tip of the iceberg. Last night she was scheduled to work late. I admit that I was a little excited to have some time to play for a change. So I logged on… and she came home 5 hours early. That was fine, but I really wasnt ready to log yet. I had notified my friends I would be on, we were actually having a lot of fun together and although she didnt say a word to me… she was mad because I didnt log right off. When we went to bed she didnt say one word to me… when we woke up this morning she didnt hardly look at me. I’m just tired of having to feel this way. So this morning I deleted EQ off my computer and canceled my account.

From other comments in the thread, most peope could relate.

I spoke with her very seriouly 2 weeks ago saying, “listen if the game is on our computers.. I will play it.. there is no controlling it in me at this point (2+ years in). To rid this lets just get rid of it totally and I will just move on” We thought on this alot. I then said.. well hey what happens when Star Wars Online comes out.. or the AD&D MUD? Is this saying I cant play games anymore??

Im married, 2nd child just got here last week (both children born during the time I played EQ). All the conflicts with family caused me to delete EQ from my computers about 2 weeks ago. Im still lurking the boards, and keeping my discs in storage (in case I ever decide to come back) but some things are worth more than others. My play-time was damaging my relationship with my wife and job. Playing a cartoon game isnt worth screwing up your RL. Take a good break, Im going to.

You are lucky to have chicks if I had one I wouldnt touch my computer. You guys need to grow up and quit playing games designed for people MY age.

(OK, so not everyone could relate.)

Closer to home, a friend of ours has been relating for some time now horror stories of a turbulent marraige that she’s trapped in for various reasons. One of her escapes is Everquest.

She hadn’t logged in for a while, which caused some concern. My wife finally talked to her and found out the reason for this — it seems her husband took her Everquest CD into work one day, installed it on his PC, somehow got her password, and methodically deleted almost every character she owned (most of which were 56+).

When confronted with what happened, his response was “Good. Maybe you’ll be normal now.”

I wish I had an answer for her. We offered her couch space, but for whatever reason she’s sticking it out. The guy who posted on the SZ board is staying with his wife. Funny how that goes.

Because, you know, if you go through hellfire and damnnation to stick through a broken marraige, well, that makes you normal now.

From my own perspective, I’m married to a wonderful woman who spends even more time in these virtual constructs than I do. Many folks are as equally lucky. After all, more than a few of them actually met there, “in game”. For these folks, they have at least one thing in common with the people whom they chose to spend their lives with, until death or divorce do they part.

And when there isn’t that shared addiction — if you are playing an online game in spite of your spouse’s disapproval — there are some issues there.

Jealousy — you’re spending more time on “That Game” than him or her.

Betrayal — you’re probably talking to Other People. You probably have more in common with Those Other People. It’s threatening.

Loathing — games are “immature”. If you didn’t spend so much time on “That Game” then you would probably be working harder and making more money and buying her more stuff and spending more time on his needs.

And finally – above everything else – Confusion. What is this thing that you stare at, that takes more of you than I can?

What it all comes down to — for many, these games are escapist art. If you are attracted to escapist art, there is something you need escaping from.

And s/he knows this all too well.

PH33R THE B3A$+L0RD? [Author: Snowspinner]

First, a disclaimer: All of this spell data is preliminary. It could well be that when Luclin comes out, Beastlords look nothing like this. It should also be remembered that Verant has been known to put complete lies into the spell file, just to humiliate people who post articles like this.

Beastlords are more or less a Shaman hybrid, except that they’re a pet class. This isn’t something we’ve seen before, so it’s a little difficult to judge without some actual playtesting. But premature judgments are my job, in this case, so I’ll try anyway.

Currently, Beastlords get one pet spell, and an additional line of spells that buffs the pet. The buzz is that the pets will zone with you, and level. No one has really taken up the issue of what consequences, if any, there are for your pet dying, at least not that I’ve seen. I doubt there will be many, but it could be interesting if there are.

Beastlords do, however, get a fucking awesome line of heals for their pets, culminating in a 250 mana complete heal. (Clerics, by comparison, pay 400 for their complete heals.) They also get pet haste spells. And slow spells. And normal haste spells.

This adds up to Beastlords having the opportunity to be complete killing machines.

Note that I said opportunity. There are still two obvious questions that need to be answered before any “verant hates me fuck you absor im playing shadowbane now!!!1!!1!!” posts are in order.

#1. How well can Beastlords tank?

If they tank like warriors, place you order for DAoC now. Honestly, with the pets being as important as they are, unless they tank like rangers or below, there are going to be problems here. Especially in light of the fairly uber buffs, slows, and DoTs they have The current buzz says that they’re a leather class and that they will get EITHER dual wield or double attack, which means that there’s hope in this field. No word that I’ve seen on whether they can taunt yet.

#2. How uber are the Beastlord pets?

Someone on The Crucible claims to have parsed the spells out and gotten a pet strength table that is better than necros, but not as good as the mage epic pet. I don’t trust any spell-parsings that aren’t quoted on Caster’s Realm, but make of that what you will. Obviously, a lot of magicians are screaming bloody murder about the pets, in any case.

Here I can see their point. Beastlords have significant melee capabilities, presumably, and their DoTs are nothing to sneer at, peaking out with a 39 shaman DoT. They’ve also got, at high levels, the ability to nuke about half as hard as a mage, albeit only cold-based. And they’ve got the pet heals to end all pet heals. And their slow series stops one short of the Shaman series. I could mention their uber pet-haste again, but I think we’ve killed that horse now.

That said, they don’t have ANY root or snare spells, meaning their best crowd control is Flash of Light. If you’ve ever tried crowd controlling with Flash of Light, this idea should send you into giggle fits. Mages at least have the earth pet to do some roots. A Beastlord soloing a multipull, however, looks likely to say “urk!” a lot.

Still, mages are probably right that Beastlords will outsolo them. In groups, however, I’d be shocked if mages were any less popular, beacuse in terms of group dynamics, it looks like beastlords probably suck. They’re, hopefully, a mediocre melee class, with spells that make them the “Shit, there’s no shamen or druids in the zone” class. Their pets may or may not even this out for groups, but it looks like we may well have a class that’s less popular than rangers here.

So what we’re faced with is a class that has the chance to be unbalancing gods, if their pets are at mage strength, their spells are as listed, and their melee capabilities are high. They’re also a class that has the opportunity to be complete gimps, if their pets are wimpy, their melee is mediocre, and they don’t get any roots or snares. From what we see, it looks like unbalancing gods is a bit more likely than gimps, but it’s way too early justify the screaming this is getting.

Of course, the people who are screaming probably posted to Whineplay back in the day too.

A PALADIN IN ANARCHY ONLINE [Author: myschyf]

In a world where swords, shields, sorcery and scantily clad women are almost synonymous with massively multiplayer online RPGing, one could describe Anarchy Online, Funcom\’e2\’80\’99s answer to the success (if you can call it that) of Ultima Online, EverQuest and Asheron\’e2\’80\’99s Call, as innovative. OK, so they still have scantily clad women in Rubi-Ka, but for God\’e2\’80\’99s sakes, it\’e2\’80\’99s a desert planet. Cut them AND me some slack.

Innovative. AO is the only one of the current \’e2\’80\’98Big Four\’e2\’80\’99 (which is a small group which includes UO, EQ and AC) MMORPGs that is set in a futuristic sci-fi setting. It also has several key differences in gameplay from its competition, and it boasts a so called \’e2\’80\’98epic story arc spanning the four year life cycle of the game, shaped by individual player actions\’e2\’80\’99, a far cry from UO\’e2\’80\’99s \’e2\’80\’98add a new monster or item and call it a quest\’e2\’80\’99 philosophy, not to mention EQ\’e2\’80\’99s \’e2\’80\’98a huge, cool looking uber-mob killing everyone IS a quest, damnit\’e2\’80\’99 mantra and AC\’e2\’80\’99s \’e2\’80\’98screw quests, the customer base just wants a new wardrobe\’e2\’80\’99 mission statement.

Innovative?

But is it fun? Is it any good? Is it worth shelling out the $50 US down (six point five billion Canadian Funds), $15 US a month to play? It has always been my experience that to form a sound, set in stone opinion of a game, you need to log at least ten hours playing it. Play Black And White. This is a good example of the best nine and a half hours of a game you will ever play in your entire life. Wait \’e2\’80\’98till the tenth hour rolls around. You\’e2\’80\’99ll want your money back AND EA\’e2\’80\’99s head on a platter.

(NOTE: The \’e2\’80\’98ten hours for a sound opinion\’e2\’80\’99 Teirism does not work for
anything but computer/console games. If the sex only lasted eight seconds, it was most likely really bad. If the movie was longer than three hours, it was probably Titanic or Pearl Harbor, in which case it was most likely really bad. I\’e2\’80\’99m glad we understand one another.)

Having logged 40+ hours in AO now, as several professions, I think I\’e2\’80\’99m more than qualified to pick the game apart.

Let\’e2\’80\’99s start with the pros, shall we?

First off, the minute you log in (whether it\’e2\’80\’99s the first minute you sat down, or one minute before you stick a gun in your mouth from frustration; see below) you will notice that the graphics are beautiful. Like EverQuest, only several times better and without ogres.

Pretty quick, you\’e2\’80\’99ll soon recognize that the guys at Funcom have a pretty sharp wit. The character creation system is a stroke of genius. No separate menu or anything. Just a \’e2\’80\’98clinic dungeon\’e2\’80\’99 which lets you choose many parameters for your new \’e2\’80\’98buddy\’e2\’80\’99, and randomly assigns you a first/last name combo for color. Outside in the newbie garden, you can strike up a conversation with one of the local newbie creatures, the \’e2\’80\’98Leet\’e2\’80\’99 family. Yes, they\’e2\’80\’99ll talk back to you.

This reporter managed to nab an exclusive interview with one of the Leets just this morning:

Teirlap: Hey, Leet.

Leet: sup

Teirlap: So\’e2\’80\’a6 Real sorry about killing your brother earlier, man.

Leet: whats ur equip

Teirlap: Oh. A couple of Freedom Arms handguns. Hehe. He really made a cool sizzle sound when I offed him.

Leet: stfu

Teirlap: Sorry, dude. Didn\’e2\’80\’99t mean to hit so close to the mark, there.

Leet: kthx

Other interesting tidbits include the \’e2\’80\’98pillow\’e2\’80\’99 weapon, and some of the comments on various equipment, notably Martial Artist techniques.

Equipment is pretty much readily available, a pro and a con, and most, if not every item in the game can be purchased randomly in a shop. Of course, it probably won\’e2\’80\’99t be too cheap. Missions also cough up equipment that can be easily utilized seconds after acquiring it, a rarity in most games, like in EQ, where the best stuff has to be camped for.

Missions are another plus/minus of AO. The idea of walking up to a \’e2\’80\’98machine\’e2\’80\’99 and having it assign me a quest, complete with reward I can actually use and randomly generated dungeon is a veritable wet dream to me. Missions can also be tailored for \’e2\’80\’98alignment\’e2\’80\’99 (Good/Evil), reward (Cash/EXP, although you also get a random item upon completion) and several other parameters.

The world is also quite large. I\’e2\’80\’99ve barely scraped the surface of it, but if the press releases/hype are true, there\’e2\’80\’99s a lot of open \’e2\’80\’98outside\’e2\’80\’99 space to run around/kill people in, as well as unlimited indoor space. The apartments, although a tad dicey at a moment like most features, are quite an interesting concept. I love my little fridge. *smirks*

PvP, while I haven\’e2\’80\’99t done a lot of it, seems to be somewhat well balanced between the different professions (barring a few isolated cases) and is readily available, be it within cities in free for all arenas, or in \’e2\’80\’98political\’e2\’80\’99 and \’e2\’80\’98mayhem\’e2\’80\’99 zones outside the major urban areas, where you can combat players in opposite factions (Clan VS Omni, etc.) Even team PvP seems all right. Which I find bloody bizarre.

That\’e2\’80\’99s about where the pros run out, and the cons step in and start kicking the pros asses, until the pros start crying like small children, only they can\’e2\’80\’99t get away because they are pros, and pros don\’e2\’80\’99t have legs to run away with. Yes, it\’e2\’80\’99s that bad.

First off, you\’e2\’80\’99ve not doubt heard of the massive technical problems both Funcom\’e2\’80\’99s servers AND the game software have been taking flak for. Now, I got the game to work after three reinstalls and about fourty-five minutes of patching/work. Apparently, that\’e2\’80\’99s almost unheard of. I still hear tales of people who cannot for the life of them figure out how to get the game in and working.

The account creation system is better now, but near release, it wasn\’e2\’80\’99t even a secure server. Not that it needed to be. I\’e2\’80\’99m perfectly fine with some hacker in Paraguay knowing my credit card number and expiry date (shout out to Pedro). Aside from a few bugs, it seems to work all right.

If you can actually get into the game, the lag is, at some points, almost unbearable. Also, the game has this funny way of crashing sometimes when you zone, walk around, begin a tough battle, or basically try to do anything but stand still and admire how beautiful your character looks standing still. Don\’e2\’80\’99t ask me why it\’e2\’80\’99s like this, I am not a programmer. I just don\’e2\’80\’99t think having as much \’e2\’80\’98crash fear\’e2\’80\’99 as I have when I play AO is normal.

However, I consider myself a pretty fair guy, so I\’e2\’80\’99m going to retract myself a little. It\’e2\’80\’99s not quite as bad as I say it is. I\’e2\’80\’99m exaggerating to prove a point. MOST MMORPGs are buggy, etc. at release, but come on. When this game was released, it was probably Beta 3 quality, if that. It\’e2\’80\’99s about 110% better now (I used that number for a reason\’e2\’80\’a6 call it a silent protest) than it was at release, but saying its 110% PLAYABLE, as Funcom did a while back, is a joke, and undermines my intelligence as a paying customer and loyal gamer. I stick with the crashing and lag because I have incredible patience and faith that someday it will all be better; that someday a magic patch will come and I can truly enjoy my gaming experience without fear of crash. In the meantime, any improvements Funcom can make with server/client stability and lag would be greatly appreciated. I have still managed to log 40+ hours, regardless, keep in mind.

Other than the technical glitches, AO has one other major sticking point. I don\’e2\’80\’99t know what went through Funcom\’e2\’80\’99s heads, but along the line somewhere, the game design got to the point that the line between MMORPG and just plain ORPG became blurred. I\’e2\’80\’99ve gone entire multi-hour game sessions without ever hearing another player. I think I\’e2\’80\’99ve grouped maybe\’e2\’80\’a6 ten times. The missions are a big factor in this. They are basically little \’e2\’80\’98single player\’e2\’80\’99 games you do to build up your character\’e2\’80\’99s resources. Don\’e2\’80\’99t be surprised if you see ten-fifteen people crowded around a mission terminal in a busy city not saying a damned thing.

The chat feature is another nail in the \’e2\’80\’98massively multiplayer\’e2\’80\’99 coffin. It\’e2\’80\’99s functional, sure, but it\’e2\’80\’99s damned clunky when you first start out, in part due to lack of proper documentation. I have never seen so many \’e2\’80\’98mistells\’e2\’80\’99 in ANY system, chat or game, in my five year experience with the Internet.

Incidents like the following are almost commonplace:

[Clan shopping 1-50] R0x0r: i want to lik you all over, babey mmm

[Clan shopping 1-50] R0x0r: uh

[Clan shopping 1-50] R0x0r: lol missend

[Clan shopping 1-50] Teirlap: \’e2\’80\’a6

True story.

What really boggles my mind is how the Shopping OOC chat channel is
available only in major cities. If you\’e2\’80\’99re hunting in the middle of nowhere, if you\’e2\’80\’99re not in a group, you\’e2\’80\’99re basically alone unless you have friends to chat with over /tell. The Shopping OOC channel does not even function in buildings, or on missions. Even if you\’e2\’80\’99re in a SHOP. SHOPPING.

This is a fatal flaw in AO, unfortunately. I\’e2\’80\’99ve heard of people keeping EQ accounts for months after they lost interest in the game simply because they had friends there. The OOC and Shout channels are home to a lot of idiots, but also a lot of friendly banter between players, and are a great way to start friendships, and eventual guilds and the like.

AO NEEDS that sort of OOC channel. Perhaps one that spans the whole server, in buildings or not, on missions or otherwise. I myself would have no qualms with that.

If that wasn\’e2\’80\’99t enough, there are a few other small problems that simply rub salt in the gaping, and slightly gangrenous, flesh wound that is AO.

Pretty much anyone with firearm skills carries two of what are called
\’e2\’80\’98Freedom Arms\’e2\’80\’99, pistol weapons which do Fire damage, and quite a lot of it, to boot. The game, while having many diverse weapon types, and ways to use them, really only has a handful of weapons that are worth a second look. Major balance problem there, which pretty much kills the skill system\’e2\’80\’99s so called \’e2\’80\’98diversity\’e2\’80\’99. \’e2\’80\’98If you\’e2\’80\’99re not using (gun x), you\’e2\’80\’99re not doing things right\’e2\’80\’99 is not a phrase that should carry any weight in a \’e2\’80\’98diverse\’e2\’80\’99 system\’e2\’80\’99.

The skill system is all right, but does need some tweaking. IP progression (the points used to actually increase your character) is slightly flawed, and there are still skills which you absolutely MUST take, or your poor character will be little more than wasted storage on Funcom\’e2\’80\’99s already laggy servers.

I could go on for a lot longer than I have, but I\’e2\’80\’99m going to wrap this up now.

Anarchy Online has a lot of potential. It has to have a lot of potential. Otherwise, all these people who are logged in, building their characters every day and every night wouldn\’e2\’80\’99t be playing anymore, and people would not keep repeating that AO has a lot of potential.

I may make it seem bleak in my synopsis, but let\’e2\’80\’99s remember that this is a MMORPG. Everything I have outlined is FIXABLE. You just have to have faith. You have to keep logging in. And you have to hope Funcom DOES fix everything, and does not go bankrupt before that day arrives.

So. We are back to our question from several pages back.

Is it fun?

Yes, and it will only get more fun.

Is it any good?

Yes, and it will only get better.

Is it worth shelling out the $50 US down, $15 US a month to play?

Perhaps.

But this Paladin says wait a while.

——————————–

Teirlap Carooe

Paladin of the Balance

Self Proclaimed Steiner Nazi

AVATAR OF WAR: “OKAY, NOW WHO AM I SUPPOSED TO HIT AGAIN?” [Author: Tick]

Except is wasn’t, like, a bug. They put it there on purpose…

In the June 27th patch message, Absor posted (among other things):

– Aggro Changes: We’ve made an adjustment to the way that NPCs choose their targets. It’s a rather simple change, one that makes a lot of sense. But we want you to be aware of it so that it won’t surprise you too much, and so that you won’t think that it is a bug. NPCs are now much more aware of the vulnerability (or, more precisely, the invulnerability) of their targets. NPCs will now be very unlikely to waste their time attacking a target that they can’t harm.

Well, it appears that perhaps instead of making the aggro AI a little more dynamic, they added a single line: If pet=TRUE, attack pet. This works just fine when the pet is one of your standard summoned throwaway jobs with fewer hit points than the meatshields it’s attacking along side of. Pet dies fast, stops doing damage. On the other hand, when an Enchanter brings a high level giant (some of which have between three and five TIMES the number of hit points of a high level Warrior) into the fold against a mob like the AoW, it can make the encounter a “trivial” one, if you call having 75 people die between one and three times each “trivial.”

Okay, so now it aquires “bug” status. But don’t worry, Absor won’t ban you for it:

I know the next question, and let me answer it right now. This is a new bug, and it could be argued with some conviction that players using it to their advantage were unaware that it wasn’t purposeful code change. In the case of the abuse of safe zones, it is well known that using such locations is against our rules. It can’t be reasonably argued that any player with a character over 50th level doesn’t understand that.

The emphasis is mine; see, they meant to have NPCs target the pets (and the classes that summon them), ’cause that’s supposed to make it harder. When it turns out that simply targeting pets is a two-edged sword, well- they didn’t mean that other bit. They won’t ban you for it, though.

This time.

I hope they told their GMs that.

STUCK IN A RIDDLE WITH YOU [Author: Arcadian Del Sol]


Developers are often faced with a double-edged sword. If they release a product before it is ready, they will lose money on premature evaporation; and if they hold out too long, they’ll never be able to live up to the over-indulged hype and expectation of an impatient 0-5 minute warez marketplace. Once in a great while, a game will release at the peak of freshness, harvested at the perfect moment, and allowed to ripen on the retail shelf just long enough. These games never win any premature “bought-and-sold” game awards; but rather, they develop in obscurity, where the proper pace and rhythm of development can march to the beat of its own drum.

This almost happened to Majestic, but in many ways, you can’t blame the developers at AnimX, a company that, in hindsight, may or may not even exist. Quite a few Majestic players are convinced that AnimX was a fabrication from the start – a device used to lay the foundation for the game itself. Majestic sows seeds of doubt and suspicion from the moment it begins, and does its best to lead you down garden pathways until you’re not really sure what to do; which in itself, is another double-edged sword for Electronic Arts.

Much has been made lately about “the opening act” in computer games. Much like a good novel or a good film, the job of the opening act is to take you to another place, where the walls of your own life are sluffed away like an old snakeskin, and are replaced with the surroundings of the imagination. Games that flat-out nailed it are Fallout, Ultima VII: The Black Gate, and Return to Zork, where the zork faithful like myself were at long last able to look at that simple white cottage in the woods after so many years of “You are standing in front of a white house…” text prompts. If you are a true zork zealot, then you know where I’m coming from – that opening act was nothing short of a religious experience.

So what can be said about the Majestic opening act? Well, without giving away any spoilers, it is basically a tutorial of the game’s interface. I’ll pause here until the cheering and applauding simmers down. Things do pick up, and towards the end of the opening act, you are definately in a “what the hell?” frame of mind; which is exactly where EA wants you to be. The bad news, is that “what the hell?” takes about three to four days before it turns into “what the hell am I doing wasting my time with this glorified AOL commercial?”

Because that’s what Majestic is. While playing the introductory act, I decided on just one evening session, to count the number of AOL banner ads I was exposed to by EA. In one half hour of play, I saw twenty-four different ads from AOL advertisers shilling everything from internet spy-cams I can use to look at pretty girls to websites promising me airfares so low, I could buy out half the airplane for myself. Somewhere in the midst of this click-through jungle, lies the skeletal remains of what was once a great game called Majestic. Of course, the “great” part was during the early testing when nobody really knew anything about it, and the ‘game’ was mostly a figment of our collective imaginations.

And there’s the far side of the development cycle I referred to earlier. Majestic was so tightly under wraps and so closely guarded, we really didn’t know a great deal about it until a month or two before the actual release. We envisioned a game that captured the conspiratorial controversy of The X-Files (the good seasons), the international intrigue of The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the curious foppishness of The Prisoner, and the never-ending mystery of The Fugitive (original series only, please). What we finally got was an internet browser, AOL Instant Messenger, RealAudio, and WinAmp. A collection of gizmos and gadgets most of us already have on our systems, and probably abandoned for more robust applications that serve the same purpose.

I’ve played the entire introductory chapter of Majestic and I have to caution you about one thing. The claim that “it plays you” is poppy-cock. Majestic doesn’t play you. It asks you to play it. The catch is that it will only allow you to play it when it deems that you are ready to move on, and when it feels that you have played enough for the day, it informs you that you are indeed, finished until tomorrow. You cannot glance at the clock, figure you have an hour to kill until the new Friends is on TV, and kill that time by playing Majestic. Instead, you’ll be eating dinner, or in the shower, and Majestic will telephone you, or email you, or Instant message you that it is ready for you to play it. More often than not, your session is over in fifteen minute spurts of streaming video and AOL banner ads. And forgive me for the sin of using the word “play” in reference to Majestic, because it is not a game you “play” – it is a game you listen to, watch, and read. It does not simply lead you down the garden path. Majestic ties a leash to your neck and drags you Planet-Of-The-Apes style down the corn rows. In an attempt to give you an idea of what Majestic is like, without spoiling the game, here’s a stereo-typical Majestic session:

*boot up computer*

*log onto internet*

*Click yes to pop-up: Log onto Majestic?*

*Click yes to pop-up: Majestic requires Instant Messenger? Logon?*

*check email – read email from Majestic NPC*

*Go to URL given by Majestic NPC’s Email*

*Go to Majestic homepage and type in information found on URL somewhere between 5 AOL banner ads*

*Check Majestic Alliance Interface*

*Check Majestic homepage again and see that you have new email*

*Check Email*

*Realize that new email is email you already viewed*

*Check Majestic Alliance Interface – Your status is STILL “Acquire”*

*IM someone on your ally list – “Dude, I’m still on Acquire”*

*Go to Majestic Homepage and search for: Keyword given by IM Ally*

*Go to URL produced by keyword*

*read some information tucked between three AOL banner ads*

*Send email to webmaster of URL*

*Check Majestic Alliance Interface – no change*

*Look at Clock – time for new Friends Episode (leave PC on)*

*Just as Joey is about to engage in goofball antic, you hear an IM pop-up*

*Check IM – Majestic Bot #4 asks if it is you.*

*You say, Hi yes it is me.*

*Majestic Bot #4 asks if you read the email*

*Majestic Bot #4 asks if you viewed the URL*

*Majestic Bot #4 says to wait until tomorrow when it is safe to contact you again*

*Check Majestic Alliance Interface – status is now: Standby*

*sit and stare for a minute and wonder at what point you actually played a game*

*log off Majestic and play some Quake III or Free Cell.*

That’s pretty much the typical Majestic session. Did I like it? At first, yes – but quickly, the routine depicted above becomes mind-numbingly predictable. Majestic is not a game you play; it is big red button that dispenses a peanut each time you click it. Read an email, gain a point. Watch a streaming video, gain a point. View a URL, gain a point; well, you get the picture here.

By now, we are all familiar with the exploitable nature of Majestic. The registration process warns that if you sign up using someone else’s phone number (thus sending some very strange and disturbing phone calls to them), that you could be subject to legal action. Don’t be frightened by this hollow promise – they say the same thing about hacking and exploiting in Ultima Online, and so far, I’m aware of no pending litigation where an individual or individuals are going on trial for electronic theft of UO items or accounts. EA’s response to this is to suggest that the individual players consider legal actions on their own, and they even go the extra mile in promising NO ASSISTANCE unless a judge orders them to assist. This little warning in the Majestic registration process makes me laugh so hard, a little fart comes out.

I’ve heard stories told that once you get into the billable portions of the game, it gets much more difficult and much more interesting. Perhaps if they showed some of that interesting content in the introductory session, I’d be inclined to pay money for more of it. If I wanted to pay another monthly access fee to browse the web, get instant messages, and receive emails – I’d buy an AOL account. And from some of the banner ads I saw while playing Majestic, I can tell you that AOL has some pretty good offers this month.


Note on lack of screenshots: Having completed the initial introductory chapter, if I were to show you screenshots of the interface, there is a very good chance it would spoil certain key elements in the mysterious plot of Majestic. Given that the whole purpose of this game is to discover clues to unwravel that mystery, it would be in bad taste to offer up entire portions of the plot as a result of posting a few screenshots of the items I have acquired, and the contents of my Majestic homepage.

Rating: 1.5 BattleCruiser CDs (out of a possible 5 Fallout CDs)

IT’S BEEN… TWO MONTHS SINCE WE LOOKED AT YOU… [Author: BruceR]

Well, as anyone who still cares knows, Cornered Rat Studios finally got the big 1.2 patch out a week and a half ago. The good news is that it actually fixed some of the things that were really bugging people. Time to get in the game has been considerably reduced. Grenades and binoculars (both useful implements of modern warfare) finally showed up. Buildings don’t disintegrate so fast; rapid building construction and tree growth are making the place begin to look less like a moonscape and more like the Ardennes Forest. Nearly everything was tweaked (perhaps 10 per cent of the current bug list, is one estimate). All and all, it certainly didn’t make things any worse.

The bad news is it may have been too little, too late. This last week has seen the beginnings of a small exodus of players from the servers. Whereas last weekend’s peak traffic was in the same 3,000-3,500 range it’s been since the game launched, this last weekend it has struggled to get above 2,000. If it came close to 3,000 at any point, I missed it. Conservatively, we could be talking a 20 per cent reduction in the active player base, post-patch. Now some of that may be the 1,000-odd inner circle of closed beta testers (which I’ve affectionately taken to calling the Marmots in honour of their l33t bug-quashing abilities) still bashing away in their Fortress of Ineptitude at v1.21\’e2\’80\’a6 it’s hard to tell how much. But their absence wasn’t this obvious in the runup to the last patches.

Why are people leaving now? The patch is certainly part of it\’e2\’80\’a6 if only because it couldn’t possibly have lived up to the expectations that had been placed on it. Another part has to be the reviews this game is getting now. How can you extoll the virtues of WW2O to your friends when PC Gamer (never a font of harsh reviews) gives it a 50/100 (crediting it for its “mind-numbing tedium, frustration and irritation”)? When Computer Games magazine gives it 1 star out of 5? The game is somewhere close to Battlecruiser 3000 on the All-time Craptacular Games list in the public mind right now: and gamers don’t like looking like chumps.

Okay, that’s the good and the bad: what about the ugly? Well that would have to be the blade in the ribs by publishing company Strategy First this week. President Don McFatridge (yet another victim of unfortunate naming) told that third games magazine (what’s its name, the one Arc writes for?) that SF took no responsibility for the decision to publish, which they placed solely at the feet of developers Cornered Rat Studios, or their closely interrelated online gaming arm, Playnet…

We could have launched in three months and it would have been better. We were willing to give Playnet more time. We did NOT force them to publish. They felt they were ready.

Ouch. Coming after months of CRS/Playnet officially saying publishing on June 6 was either a “joint decision” and fanbois claiming the completely premature launch was all SF’s fault, that’s gotta hurt.

But the real reason people are giving WW2O a rest has to be that it still isn’t a very good game. Two months after launch, this new persistent world has never been anywhere close to persistent. Instead of One Big War, there’s still the same multiple shards, with bored players fighting meaninglessly over the same few acres of Belgium as before, practicing for a real war, with real consequences, that is nowhere to be seen.

How buggy is it? Here’s a partial list of bugs, all unfixed from launch, that players still have to cope with before they get INTO the game:

**Every time you put the CD in, it tries to install the game again.

**You cannot click off the intro movies.

**The settings menu has a Help button that doesn’t do anything.

**The same menu saves your settings file in the wrong place, so your changes aren’t saved anyway.

**Whenever you use the keyboard mapper, you will likely end up disabling your Quit Game key.

**The Play shortcut doesn’t send you to the Play webpage.

**With infinite screenshots to choose from, the loading page still shows the same damn climbing-into-a-halftrack screen every single FUCKING time. It has imprinted so far on my brain, to the point that last night I reconstructed the entire scene during dinner with a platter of mashed potatoes and a spoon I stole from Tick.

I’m not even going to talk about the bugs IN the game. (It should be noted that all the problems above have been solved or worked around, through no small amount of undocumented fan ingenuity… but you have to know where to look to find the answers for what otherwise seems an unplayable mess.)

I’m not going to say anything about the frame rates, either. If you don’t like them, buy a better computer, or stop playing. If you do, though, make sure it has 384 MB of RAM. That’s how much memory the game really takes up, before the leaking starts. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And don’t expect to fly online unless you have a 800 MB CPU and a 32 MB graphic card. Fortunately that’s not a particularly expensive setup to buy these days: but you have been warned. (By any reasonable standard, that’s the point at which the pilot graphics and frame rates will just begin to not suck.)

Okay, let’s get realistic here: what does the future hold? Well, you can forget this game simply dying off, as even some diehards at the better boards are beginning to doomsay. It won’t. These guys at CRS/Playnet are zealots. They do not care about tawdry concerns such as MONEY. It is their most lovable affectation, in fact. That’s why this game is still going to be free to play for at least another month: as John “Killer” MacQueen of Playnet said in one of his more uplifting posts on the official message boards:

There’s no way we would expect folks to pay a subscription fee for WWIIOL until the major issues are ironed out, AND basic features are included…like:

1) Blue and Purple Skies 🙂

2) CTDs

3) Ranks / mission

4) One persistent game world

Just so you know what we are thinking on this 🙂

Just speaking as a gamer, YOU’VE GOT TO RESPECT THAT KIND OF CLASS. Given minds like that at the helm, the worst case situation is that this sim sputters along, with development money coming from the staff’s shifts at the local convenience stores, adding a little bit more whenever they can, for years to come. Like its progenitor Warbirds, the flying MMOG. Eventually they’d start charging, get a few thousand diehards, shut down everything but the one big server, and have some fun together for a few years. There’s no honour lost were that to happen. At those numbers, the whole game could be run on a single 25 Mbs pipe, and with the remaining fans easily good for $100K gross a month in fees, they should be able to keep that level of service, along with a skeleton development staff, going almost indefinitely, assuming they got the investors off their backs with the better-than-expected box sales. (One expects the publishers are seriously considering switching distribution to mail order like Warbirds’, too; whether any future supplements should even see the inside of a store has got to be a big question mark in their minds about now.) About a tenth the overall size of Asheron’s Call at its height, true; a commercial failure, possibly; but still not too a complete disaster.

What about the best case? About the same, really. For clearly, what the game is now bumping up against is the limits of what is possible in the MMOG genre without any actual persistency in your game. The soldiers have no careers, no meaningful goals. Hence they have no reason to play. Killer is right that this must be fixed soonest. Fortunately, the decline of player numbers and the steadily rising capacity on the biggest server (Test) seem to be coming close to intersecting now at about the 2,000 mark. So the technical limitations that prevented persistency from being implemented heretofore may end up vanishing, ironically enough, if the desertions continue.

Once that’s done, the next big question will be how many times can we play over the Battle of France (historically itself only a month long) before it gets tired? Given the current size of the game world, and the pace thus far, my guess is that if the “war” (ie, the persistent world) were to launch tomorrow, one side or other could force a reset by bagging the entire virtual Belgium in about a week. Then there’d be no choice but to do it again\’e2\’80\’a6 and again. But for how long?

THAT’S the big problem now. In two months of patching, CRS has managed to introduce five new equipment/soldier types into the game, on top of the 22 it started with. Six more, and they’ll have caught up to the promises on the box. Now let’s be optimistic, and say they still have the resources to up that pace, to one new tank/plane/whatever a week, along with accompanying terrain, etc. At that rate, they could be caught up to the box cover as early as mid-September.

The next logical theatre, assuming they do abandon Belgium at some point, is Africa\’e2\’80\’a6 if only because many of the vehicles and soldiers can be painted sand-colour and reused. But they’ll need a minimum of 20-odd new fully fledged model/character types, not to mention whole new terrain, to switch fronts like that\’e2\’80\’a6 even at the same optimistic pace given above, we’re looking at next February before Rommel can ride again, and the game can renew itself. That’s also assuming no major resources are diverted to the mythical “naval expansion” which, given the complete absence of even a screenshot of any kind to this point, seems essentially to have been vaporware all along.

To make even that date, though, the devs will have to resist any urge to perfect any kind of game balance before the “real war” begins: that would be wasted effort at this point. With half-a-dozen or more runthroughs of the Battle of France to come before the theatre switches, with each side able to lose some and win some in this iterative Blitzkrieg simulator… there’ll be plenty of time for tweaking.

Note that this is all just conjecture based on their record thus far. And for a few thousand Warbirds-style diehards, that pace will be fast enough… maybe. But a lot of regular gamers will have left the game long behind them by the time that khamsin rolls into town. 2002, Africa\’e2\’80\’a6 later that same year, Russia\’e2\’80\’a6 2003, Normandy? Maybe. By then I may have a computer good enough to allow some flying time, even.

Is there a BETTER case than this? Something that would change that prognosis by more than a month this way or that? Not one easy to see from this vantage. Having given the last two months of my spare time to this game (and with the prospect of several more years of the same) I’d be ecstatic to be proven wrong. But I don’t think I will be.