Jack Emmert of Cryptic Studios gets honest with The Big Freaks.

Posted by on March 25, 2010 - No Comments »

My friends Ivan and Shamrokk over at The Big Freaking Podcast had a chance to sit down with Jack Emmert, Chief Operating Officer of Cryptic Studios. Cryptic has released two big AAA titles within 6 months of each other: Champions Online and Star Trek Online. He is proud to say that Cryptic is the only developer to release four MMORPG’s in its game developing lifetime. Counting City of Heroes, City of Villains’, Champions Online and most recently Star Trek Online, not many studios come close.

Jack Emmert, an avid comic book fan who reads over 90 titles monthly, says his favorites are The Green Lantern and The Hulk. He holds multiple academic degrees and was approached to do City of Heroes while he was working on his dissertation about animal sacrifices. He left a possible career of being a professor of Greek and Latin to create Cryptic Studios with Rick Dakin in 2000. While he reminiscing about the lean years during the parting of ways from NCSoft he says, “He never got misty eyed” over selling The City of Heroes/Villians franchise but thought they would be working on for the next decade. He claims that Cryptic and NCSoft had “divergent interests” and after rescuing the company from the brink of financial apocalypse they acquire the Star Trek IP along with the Champions IP (Intellectual Property, the right to an idea.)

It sounds like Jack Emmert has been through hell and back with Cryptic. He’s passionate about his products and like everyone who creates a product for a particular market he has to deal with the critics. The mention of the different ratings systems and the mediocre scores would seem to have an impact on future customers for both games. But as Jack Emmert explains how the ratings system itself is quite imbalanced. When websites like Metacritic, Massively and Gamespot reviewed Warhammer Online and Age of Conan they didn’t expect the player sudden player drop off. Leaving many of the reviewers burned [sic] by loss of credibility.

Jack Emmert says it isn’t the reviewers or the fans that are ruining the MMORPG industry, “Wow has almost destroyed the MMO genre” he says. “Not in a bad way”, he follows, it’s because (wow) epitomizes everything that an MMO is, leaving all the others to be compared to it. This is why many reviewers judge a game on what it is NOW instead of what it COULD BE. But he also feels that it will take a lot of money and a strong IP to rival the World of Warcraft. After spending over 100 million dollars he feels that Bioware’s upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic could be the game to rival WoW.

The future plan for Cryptic Studios looks very promising. Jack Emmert seemed very positive about the new upcoming updates for both games, Star Trek Online’s Season 2 and Revelations for Champions Online. An entire survey of the taken by the Star Trek Online community is going to be created into the next expansion called Season 2. “What the players want is exactly what we’re going to give them”, Jack says with authority. When posted a question of a death penalty or lack thereof, he admits that the community has strongly requested it and it will be in an upcoming patch. “What is fun about a death penalty” he jokes but then tells us a deep, dark developer secret that the only reason why a death penalty is incorporated into a game is to get the player to play longer.

There is one thing to be wrong, but not to stay wrong. At certain  times during the interview Mr. Emmert admits to certain points where bothChampions Online and Star Trek Online they could be improved. He is looking to improve the company overall and make better product for the public. But the problem is a logistical issue of manpower, he doesn’t want to be detract from the developer team that is making new content to go back and fix certain issues. Problems ranging typos to quests that don’t tell the player where to go and ultimately description of powers and items that don’t make any sense, it will take manpower to make these changes.

Their latest campaign is to actively reach out to the community and the press to find their place amongst this universe of games. One of the many steps they are taking is something they practiced during their days as developers of City of Heroes/Villains’, they did this from taking a page from Richard Garriot’s book. By creating characters and actively getting involved with the players firsthand they get to see the game through the gamer’s eyes instead of a developer. In doing this they are looking to bridge the gap between gamer and developer.

Enter Bill Roper, the good cop to Jacks bad cop. As Shannon Posniewski ascends from the position of a software engineer to an executive role, this frees up Bill Roper to be the one who is going to oversee all games. One of Bill Ropers new roles as troubleshooter is going to be “making sure he play tests all of the taskforces in Star Trek.” Jack abruptly ends this subject with, “there is a little bit more going on than everybody knows yet.” Hmm, could there be a big surprise coming from Cryptic this year at E3!

Could it be Jack Emmert’s dream project of making a Godzilla MMO? Nah, never happen and I’m not one to speculate but one thing is confirmed that it will not be made for any consoles. “Consoles are not a current focus” he confides to the surprise of both Ivan and Shamrokk, he says he’s looking to “make the best PC products they possibly can.”

I will stop here; I don’t want to give everything away, but this was one of the most in-depth, personal and honest interviews I have ever had to chance to hear. This is a man that has made some tough decisions, choosing on becoming a video game developer than a college professor. During many sleepless nights he held up this company with the help of his staff. His employees look to him and put their trust in him not just as their boss, but as a leader.

Jack Emmert and Cryptic Studios seems resilient, they have bounced back from numerous setbacks. The selling of a successful MMO franchise to release other successful MMO’s and in dealing with bad press they learn from their mistakes and keep the future in focus. According to Jack, 100,000 subscriptions is a success and their mission is to keep that level of quality. This builds confidence in their customer base and opens the door for future business.

But his main focus is on his employees that depend on him and his customers that look to Cryptic Studios to have fun by playing their games. That is the bottom line over at Cryptic Studios; they are just looking to make fun games, at the end of the day Cryptic is just a bunch of gamers. To hear the rest of the interview and catch up on past shows head on over to The Big Freaking Podcast, download and enjoy!

Until then…

Play safe,

Frank Inktomi

Packing For PAX East

Posted by on March 25, 2010 - 3 Comments »

We’ll be covering a wide variety of gaming and MMOG news from PAX East as part of our opening flood of content.  I am based out of Philadelphia, so I’ve decided to take a road trip rather than be molested by TSA screeners and forced to take my shoes off.  In light of the trip I’ve packed the essentials and avoided bringing the distractions.

Essentials:

  • HD Camcorder – I hear viewers these days demand video content.  Not just any video content, but of the newfangled “high definition” variety.  Lore Hound’s got you covered, and I even remembered a spare battery and memory cards.  Heck, there’s even a tripod!
  • Camera – I don’t think the cosplayers would like me following them around with said camera.  Better to snap a photo and move on.
  • Netbook & Desktop – Writing and editing on the go…and stationary!
  • Nintendo DS – Complete with a fresh copy of The World Ends With You.  A handheld of some kind is a requirement at PAX.  Where else have you seen 20+ Pictochat rooms?
  • Paper & Pens – Believe it or not people still use those archaic things.
  • World of Warcraft: Stormrage – Who knows, maybe I’ll have some downtime.
  • Snacks – One thing I have learned about myself at these shows is I hardly make time to eat.  I want to see everything, talk to everyone and document everything.  Portable snacks, like apples, granola bars and crackers, get me from breakfast to dinner.  And second dinner.
  • Miscellaneous – Voice recorder, microphone, backup electronics equipment, business cards, hygiene products, hotel reservations and directions to the convention center.

Distractions:

  • WoW authenticator – There’s already a dozen companies waiting for me to play games.  I shouldn’t have any need – or time – for my WoW authenticator while I take over Boston.
  • Non-gaming Girlfriend – Sorry honey.  Just like I don’t understand Real Housewives of Local Metropolitan Area, you don’t understand Penny Arcade Expo.  We’ve tried to make a go of it before.  I have the scars to prove it.
  • Costume – I’m only going to be posing for pictures and videos for the Lore Hounds (that’d be you).

Shit, I forgot clothes.

There we go.

Into the Dark Depths of WoW Hoarding

Posted by on March 24, 2010 - 3 Comments »

I never thought I’d be one of those WoW players. You know, the ones who obsessively collect mounts, pets, gear and other random odds and ends.  But in the process of leveling and questing, you already amass a hefty number of them. And then, for me, it became a question of “Why stop now?”

Now I’m at 70+ mounts and 50+ pets. Still, not the grandest of numbers compared to some of you who have been at the collecting process a lot longer than I. But all things considered, not numbers to be shy about, either.

Lately I’ve been focusing on the mount-tastic end of the spectrum. First, it was as many of the Argent Tournament mounts that I could afford between gold and Champion’s seals. Then, the Netherwing mounts stole me away for about a week’s worth of grinding. Just recently, I finished up the Mag’har rep grind that allows me to ride Talbuk. Now, I’m working on the Venomhide Ravasaur quest line added back in patch 3.2.

And I’m always on the hunt for rare drops. Whether in revamped Onyxia (the rarest of mounts I have yet to obtain), the Vault, Oculus, Sartharion +3 or any of the many old dungeons that are now soloable at level 80, lately I’ve always been looking toward that next cute little critter that I can strap a saddle on and ride around Azeroth.

But what is it that drives this need to collect? I know it afflicts several other ladies in my guild who seem to have a particular fondness for collecting. Mounts and pets aren’t physical items that I can hold and keep (aside from the recent flying mount plushies). Yet I still want to add them to my growing list and make room for them in my random mount macros. Part of it is the achievement system that rewards a large number of mounts or pets with, yes, yet another mount or pet.

Perhaps I’ll never quite get a firm grasp on this affliction that drives me to collect. But I plan to attempt to explore it. Check back at the site for a new video series that we’re debuting here on LoreHound. I think I’ll call it FOR THE HOARD.

Global Agenda Review

Posted by on March 24, 2010 - No Comments »

Look, someone who is different!

Anyone who makes it through this lengthy review of Global Agenda gets an anti-TL:DR cookie.  You all love cookies, yes?

Character Creation: Bottom line, it’s present only so it could be listed as a feature on the box.  Sure, you can make a character, play with some sliders to make it “yours” but it is all for naught.  Once you enter the game you’ll look just like every other character.  When you do get fed up looking like every other member of your class, and believe me, you will, you’ll have to plunk down large sums of credits for new gear skins and dyes to really diversify yourself.

Opening & Lore: Your character comes into existence during the (optional) tutorial mission.  The introduction video and eventual escape from a gigantic test tube is voiced with the background of how all player characters came to be.  The bit of lore is interesting, but it’s just a taste of something greater.  Something that’s never shown in the game again.

There’s actually quite a bit of well-written history and backstory for Global Agenda.  The catch is that struggle between the Commonwealth and the players isn’t documented in the game anywhere.  And that’s why the title feels soulless.  There’s no greater story thrust in our face at every turn to remind us why we keep fighting, who we are fighting for, and who we are fighting against.  To get a lore fix players have to head to the official website and read tales and history that should be presented in the game in some fashion.

Here is a bit of soul.

User Interface: To call Global Agenda’s User Interface clean would be an adequate description.  It’s not minimalist, but far from busy.  The HUD is laid out like most other combat-based MMOGs – hotkeys set to the number bar – but there are only eight buttons located at the bottom of the screen.  That’s not the “default,” that is all there can be.

Each button corresponds to switching to or using equipment.  Furthermore, the equipment is the same across all classes.  Meaning that ’1′ is always your melee weapon, ’2′ is your ranged weapon, ’3′ is your specialty weapon and so on.  The mini-map, party frame, personal frame, chat window and buffs are relegated to the outskirts of your viewing screen.  This leaves players a wide-open targeting area with a single distraction; two small bars displaying personal health and energy.

Global Agenda is a third-person shooter at its core, and the User Interface is designed with that in mind.  It’s just not perfect and the lack of customization doesn’t help.  The major point of contention comes from the Medic class.  Medics quickly learn to hate the UI due to its frustrating auto-targeting of friendly players.  Hi-Rez Studios touts the lack of tab targeting as one of the title’s defining features, but the design decision (and PR talking point) is one that medics whine over constantly.

Obviously, a medic does not point its gun at the thing it wants dead, but the player it wants to save.  When there is a group of players in a tight area, as there often is, a healer will invariably fight with the auto lock-on function of the gun.  It’ll hit the wrong player, stick to players with full health instead of half health, or lash someone far away when the person jumping in front of the gun is the intended target.  There’s nothing more frustrating than watching your assault bite the dust because the Healing Beam decided Mr. Cloaked Recon was more important.

Quests & Grinding: There are no quests at the moment – Hi-Rez Studios is planning to do its own thing – making grinding the only option.  The grind in Global Agenda isn’t like the repetitive monotony in other MMOGs.  Not entirely at least.  The only way to gain experience in Global Agenda is by completing missions, PvE or PvP.  Again, you actually have to complete the mission; a disconnect or crash results in wasted time and lost XP.  Talk about frustrating.

The way Global Agenda awards XP is through perks and bonuses at the end of missions.  Kills, assists, damage, healing, and other statistics are analyzed and calculated to award contributors.  Every player gets something, the skillful get the most.  Therefore, XP per hour is based solely on personal skill and teamwork.

That was me a few levels ago.

Dungeons: The PvE missions are the only thing in Global Agenda comparable to your average dungeon.  There’s only four strict PvE missions, with a fifth assigning two party members to be assassins on the other team.  Only having four dungeons may sound like an incredibly small number, Hi-Rez manages to keep things fresh by adding dynamic elements to each dungeon.

Maps and layouts remain the same, but the Commonwealth adapts to the invaders by mixing everything else up.  Mob count, pathing and placement changes per deployment.  Complicating matters is the addition of (generally) easy-to-avoid platforming obstacles – fire pits, poison rooms, and magmafalls.  That’s until shit hits the fan after a party member hits an alarm, spawning two helbots on top of you as you attempted to tip-toe around a flowing river of lava.  Let’s not forget the rotating team of boss mobs, each with their own unique abilities and attacks.

Believe it or not, Global Agenda’s missions are challenging.  It’s actually quite amazing when you consider how stupid the AI can be.  The Commonwealth’s guards may hide or cower in plain view and they often die to the traps in their own facilities. Very stupid.  Yet, the proof’s in the pudding; 50-70% completion rate is the going norm for a PvE victory, according to information from the Player Search.

PvP:  PvP is a fickle beast in the eyes of many a player.  There’s the group that loves it, the faction that hates it and the people who are indifferent.  This fissure is generally caused by the idea of ganking, or one player dominating another because of level or gear differences.  That doesn’t happen in Global Agenda.

The PvP system is designed so that everyone is capable of participating in all battles.  Two medics of the same skill but drastically different levels will heal on the same level.  That’s because the system rewards higher level players with gear that increases the versatility of a character, rather than its overall power.  There is simply no need to artificially boost or lower the abilities of a character to allow guildmates or friends to play together, because levels are relatively meaningless.  PvP is all about personal skill and teamwork, not time spent.

Player combat, either individually, as an Agency or as an Alliance, is the core experience of most players.  Players train for it, level from it and learn the ropes of the game from level 1 to 50 by murdering their fellow gamers.  Your basic random team PvP matches have a solid range of scenarios to participate in, ranging from payload and escort to king of the hill and assault missions.  The game offers nothing innovative to the idea of squad-based shooting, it just executes the staples well.

Unfortunately, the much touted feature of Alliance vs Alliance combat is not on par with standard PvP.  Large alliances have had a huge advantage over smaller ones – newly introduced Theft Missions notwithstanding – and these guild monopolies have even worked the system by allowing people to take territory, just to take it back for bonuses and perks.  It’s doubtful anyone expected a new mechanic to be perfect at launch, but there are some clear shortcomings to the system.  For instance, why bother having an attacking team load into a mission if there is nothing to stop them.  No players, no automated system, nothing in their way.  Player time is wasted, unless the defending Alliance quickly forms a group and joins before being too far behind.  It is a very annoying and frequent occurrence.

I think I will advance in another direction.

Polish: The core gameplay of GA is polished, period.  Shooting works, PvP is well balanced and PvE isn’t full of bugs.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of issues outside of shooting.  Hell, walking looks painful.  Crafting is annoying, and not worth the time or credits it takes to max level.  The mail and auction house system are archaic and the specialization trees are uninspired.  Even basic grammar and fact checking has been overlooked.  “You team has 90 percent” and an audio warning of “10 seconds remaining” when there are 30 seconds left are just two examples of facepalm-worthy slips.

It is plainly obviously that the gameplay was completed first.  Everything else was put on the back burner until shooting was deemed fun and enjoyable.  That’s actually a good thing though, because the game isn’t broken, just rough.

Technologically speaking, Global Agenda delivers a mediocre buffet of buzzwords and choices.  Graphically, the game looks like your typical Unreal Engine 3 game, meaning average.  Our ears fair no better, receiving a soundtrack and voiceover work that failed to move me in any direction.  There’s a generally acceptable ping for everyone and the game contains enough sliders and tweakable settings to support a wide range of hardware.  The one downfall is Window mode.  Its implementation is poorly executed with a hidden and locked mouse (hit enter to chat to bring it up, or alt-tab out) and persistent sound.

The offering is a lot like Old Country Buffet – there is a lot to chose from, but none of it is better than average.

Uniqueness: Global Agenda is a merger of Team Fortress 2, Tribes and EVE Online with a multitude of various MMOG staples sprinkled on.  I can’t name another MMOG that’s even close to that menagerie (PlanetSide would be the closest).

This is the only spot on this protective AvA dome that a player can land on. Easter egg!

Overall: Global Agenda has two things going for it, it is original and the core gameplay is enjoyable.  The next most important thing is that Hi-Rez Studios has already shown that it is willing to do what it takes to whip the rest of the game into shape.  Two patches have been released to address bugs and tweaks.  Each also included requested features, such as repair kits, and additional content, like new Alliance vs. Alliance maps and mission types.

Players looking for something different would be naive to pass up on Global Agenda.  After all, how many recently released MMOGs have had people talking about how well the company has supported the game and its subscribers?

Now if only Hi-Rez Studios would release some sort of trial to tease you with.  Global Agenda is now available for $39.99 from Amazon and has a slightly lower than normal subscription fee, should you chose to subscribe instead of the single-purchase method, of $12.99 a month.

Blizzard Plushies: Are They Worth It?

Posted by on March 24, 2010 - 2 Comments »

Everyone knows that I am a sucker for in-game pets.  I’ve spent countless hours farming for some, grinding for others, avoiding ninjas for more and dumping assloads of money for still more.  Achievements are Juggynaut’s thing, non-combat pets are mine.  Basically, I’ll go to the ENDS OF THE EARTH for some cute, cuddly creature.

Despite this infatuation with small animals – perhaps that is why I selected a gnome? – I didn’t break down and purchase either of the introductory pets.  Lil’ KT and Pandaren Monk have everything I want – coolness (literally in Lil KT’s case), custom animation and interactivity – but they also possessed a hefty $10 price tag.  I couldn’t convince myself to drop cold hard cash on them.  It turns out all Blizzard had to do was add an in-real-life item to gawk at.

Now the question to ask is, “Are they worth it?”  Check the above video to find out.

Last but not least, here is your gratuitous plushie-on-a-bed screenshot.

Look who found a pair of new friends.

MMOGs Heading To Facebook In Full Force

Posted by on March 24, 2010 - No Comments »

It strikes me as ironic that days after Activision CEO Bobby Kotick admitted that his company is hot and bothered by the success of Facebook games a pair of recent MMOGs will be getting a presence on the social networking site.  Sure, World of Warcraft has its own application – one that I refuse to use – but Fallen Earth and Runes of Magic will be taking it a step further.  Fallen Earth, LLC and Frogster Interactive are producing entirely new products set in the respected universe of the games.

Runes of Magic: The Challenge is being developed as a whole new game for the platform.  The app will utilize network gaming and viral communications to instill a sense of “adventure, exploration, and strategy elements” upon players.  RoM: The Challenge is being designed by Frogster to lure Facebookers to the free-to-play game by awarding cards with key codes for in-game items.

Fallen Earth: Faction Wars appears to have a different end game.  Icarus Studios is developing the title as a stand-alone game with no cross contamination to speak of.  But that doesn’t mean the game will stray from its big brother.  Faction Wars will have players fighting over nine “conflict towns” as they develop their characters via missions, crafting and even PvP.  The same classes and factions will be present, but the characters created will not be tied together in any way.  It appears that the game is nothing more than a marketing tool.

Obviously, both games are marketing tools, the companies are just executing the final push differently.  RoM is giving Facebookers a reason to check out their game – the in-game loot – while FE seems to be content with just spreading the brand.  There’s merit in both approaches but one thing is for certain, expect a ton of additional status update spam on the likes of Farmville’s scale.

Would you like to see the games more linked, possibly even importing characters (assuming security isn’t an issue)?  Or can we truly become too saturated?

RoM: The Challenge and FE: Faction Wars are both due out in Q2 2010.  Perhaps we’ll see more of them PAX East this weekend.

Final Fantasy XI – March Update Now Live

Posted by on March 23, 2010 - No Comments »

The FFXI March update is now live. This new add-on introduces a ton of new content to the world of Final Fantasy XI, including the Odin and Alexander summons previously mentioned at VanaFest 2010, the Wings of the Goddess storyline missions, several job tweaks – for Puppetmaster, Summoner and Beastmaster. Another new feature is the “Trial of the Magians”, a new title given to any player that completes a series of quests for level 75 characters. To initiate a quest in Trial of the Magians, players must speak with the “Magian Moogle,” an NPC located at H-5 in the Ru’Lude Gardens. Anyone interested can read the full patch notes here. So much for Final Fantasy XI shutting down..

Star Trek Online – Dev Chat

Posted by on March 20, 2010 - 1 Comment »

Today I had the opportunity to participate in a small vent chat with Cryptic_Gozer of Cryptic Studios. Gozer is the lead designer for several of the special task force (raid) missions in Star Trek Online, and took some time to talk about Infected and The Cure with us during his day off work. Here are the highlights and some never before released information he shared:


Regarding the Infected Mission:

1) The tactical cube in Infected drops a purple item if played correctly. Nobody has yet achieved this.
2) On the test server the gate health is now 800k instead of 200k and has a 20 second window in which the shields are down. One wave comes out and then the gate shuts down. The gate does not open again until every npc is dead. There are also no longer spawns above and below the gate.
3) When fighting the end boss (Rebecca Simmons), a player in the group will be targeted with a blue circle. That player will do damage to other players in the group within a particular range regardless of what that player does. The goal is for that player to get away from the other team members.
4) Borg will no longer double-spawn in the end room of Infected. They still respawn, but the respawn timer no longer starts until the borg die (rather than when they spawn).


This gate just got stronger



General Information:

1) Marks of Valor are planned to be tradeable for other badges/tokens in the game.
2) Dropping a STF mission will no longer allow you to retake it, unless the timer has reset already for that mission.
3) The first part of The Cure does not give marks.
4) Comparing Rebecca Simmons to the Borg Queen, Gozer stated “On a scale of 1-10, you guys are at a 2 right now”.
5) Khitomer Accord will explain why the borg were so weak in the tutorial (also created by Cryptic_Gozer) and hidden in the Khitomer Accord mission (not an objective) will be a way to obtain a borg bridge officer (with robotic uniform and not an engineer).