Star Trek Online – Pre-order Penalty

Posted by on March 1, 2010 - No Comments »

Star Trek Online LogoIt should stand to reason that pre-ordering an MMO should result in nothing but benefit; at least compared to someone who purchases it within the next few months. Over the weekend Atari offered Star Trek Online at a discounted rate of $10 off plus 60 days of additional free gameplay (for a total of 90 days). I would expect this kind of promotion to run a year or more after release, but certainly not 3 weeks after launch. Are players upset about this? You bet. They take it as a virtual slap in the face. Wait, it gets worse. Due to the tremendous outrage of the current player-base and the numerous posts that followed, Atari rescinded the offer from their website. Not only did they cancel the promotion, but they also canceled the extra 60 day deal they had made with players who purchased it over the weekend. This reminds me of a Dilbert cartoon, and that did not play out well for the consumer.

Atari broke one of my rules of operating an MMO; “For every new player award, there shall be a veteran reward”. Keeping players is important, so it is good business to reward existing players with something of equal or better value than what you are awarding new players. Now the question is raised of who is actually responsible for this. Atari published the deal, so personally I am resting the blame on them. Whether or not  Cryptic Studios is completely exonerable, they are taking most of the flak. At the time of writing, they have not released a statement. At its neonatal stage, the last thing Star Trek Online needs is more controversy. I would like to hear your opinions though, and we promise not to ban you for it.

World of Warcraft Authenticator Hacked

Posted by on February 28, 2010 - 135 Comments »

WoW-Authenticator
The worst possible thing to happen to a MMO player is getting their account hacked. All the work that you put in to your account can be gone and the process of getting your character and items back is a painful and long process. Companies of course take steps to protect customers like Blizzard’s Authenticator for World of Warcraft but recent events show that even these aren’t fool proof.

The Authenticator for WoW has a reputation for being hack proof and because of that a lot of people own one. Basically what it does is it gives you a set of random digits that you put in with your original password. So every time you log in to your WoW account you get an extra random password that only the owner of the Authenticator can know.

From what I know there hasn’t been a case of an account that used an Authenticator getting hacked but that changed today. There is a virus going around that can hack the World of Warfcraft Authenticator. The virus intercepts the Authenticator code when you log into WoW and sends Blizzard a wrong one (which is why you can’t log in since you will get a “Wrong info” error) and then the people behind the virus have a few minutes to log into your account with the real Authenticator code. A Blizzard employee said this about the recently hacked WoW accounts that used Authenticators.

So the Authenticator is not a fail safe way to keep accounts safe but it is still a very good investment. If you want to check to see if you have the virus just search for the file “emcor.dll” on your computer. If you have it then your account most likely has already been hacked.

Tools like the Authenticator can only do so much. It is really unfortunate that people are getting hacked even with this security measure but it all comes down to the user. Safe browsing habits, a good anti-virus, common sense (against phishers) and things like an Authenticator can make your account virtually hack proof.

Mortal Online Open Beta a Dud

Posted by on February 28, 2010 - No Comments »

Normally when a MMO game reaches the open beta phase of its development cycle, it is pretty close to the version that will be released, minus a few changes and bug fixes.  However it seems that Star Vault, the developers behind Moral Online, have decided to go into open beta while the game is no where near a complete product.  Mortal Online entered the open beta phase a month ago today on Feb 1st 2010.

To me an open beta is that final extra push to get gamers excited about their game, to create buzz and to start lining up pre-order sales.  But when it comes to Mortal Online, not only am I not excited about the game, it completely crushed all my expectations.   Mortal Online was one of the top three games I was looking forward to in 2010, but after about an hr or so in open beta, I don’t think there is a chance in hell this game will even be released this year.

Almost nothing in the game is complete and in the 60-90 mins I spent in game, I couldn’t find one NPC that had any quests. [edit: there are no quests in Mortal Online, which I actually love, so don't flame me for this comment]  The game looks great, but to be in open beta just seems silly to me at this stage of the games development.  I can list all the incomplete features I found just in the short time I played, but even that would be a monster list.

Currently the games release date is stated as the first quarter of 2010 and with only a month left, I seriously hope they push that date way way back to maybe Q1 2011.

Aion Magazine Announced

Posted by on February 27, 2010 - No Comments »

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NCSoft has announced Aion Magazine, the brand new digital magazine to their latest MMORPG, Aion. Each issue will contain an exclusive in-game item and will cost you 3,99$, although there will be discounts for when buying either 6(10% off) or a 12(20% off) issue package, either of which will also include an array of in-game items. Details:

The Official Aion Magazine offers the high-quality design and editorial of a printed magazine together with the interactive content only offered by a digital magazine. Issue 1 is a massive 100 page issue, but each issue you can look forward to…
- Over 60 pages of editorial in the digital magazine every month
- Exclusive interviews getting you behind the scenes of the game
- Guild of the Month and Players of the Month features
- Getting Started section, helping you understand your class, the game, and key areas throughout Aion
- Expert Guides to key content to help you hone your Aion skills
- Bonus unique in-game item with every issue, exclusive to magazine subscribers

Preorders to the first issue, which will be released on March 26th, are being taken as we speak. If you are interested in ordering one for yourself, you can do so here.

Global Agenda First Impression

Posted by on February 26, 2010 - No Comments »

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February 2 saw the release of two MMORPG.  Both have subscription fees, both offer PvP and PvE content, they include guns and are set in science fiction universes.  The similarities pretty much stop there.  Cryptic Studios’ Star Trek Online is geared to satiate the hungered trekkies out there, while Hi-Rez Studios hopes to appease the Team Fortress 2 crowd.  The main content, philosophies and core mechanics couldn’t be more different.

Global Agenda starts players off in an optional tutorial that explains the basic features of the game, squad-based third person shooting.  The developer used this normally boring ordeal to explain the world, how the player came into existence and their reason for being.  It’s a creative way to introduce players to a game, one that tackles two problems.  First off, it details the absolute basics of the game – movement, jumping, crouching, etc.  Things that MMOG players know.  Thanks to the interactive story running alongside the tutorial players are not bored to tears.  I rather enjoyed learning about the world as I was making my escape.  Too bad I haven’t seen any interesting blend of gameplay and story since.

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Pros:

  • Gameplay polish – Too many MMOGs are being released with all sorts of bells, whistles, trinkets and garnish, but no meat and potatoes.  Global Agenda has offered polished gameplay since the closed beta period.  PvP combat is fast, accurate, relatively lag free and well diversified.
  • Mission briefings – Mission briefings are exactly what they sound like.  Short, non-interactive descriptions of the various PvP locations that a player may find themselves a part of.  The briefings not only describe the objective(s), including a fly-by, but why the scenario is an important asset to claim.
  • Timed missions – It doesn’t matter which you enjoy more, PvP or PvE, both types of combat are timed.  This may annoy some players, but it definitely gives everyone a sense of urgency to finish the goal.  Players seem to be a lot less likely to stand around in PvE, and far more aggressive in PvP when there’s a clock winding down.
  • Bit-sized gameplay – The combination of instanced and timed mission along with Global Agenda’s own matchmaking system means that gamers can get in and out of a play sessions very quckly.  Global Agenda is a title that is easily digestible in small bits, and easy to level without a guild.  That makes it a good game for casual players until level cap.
  • Payload – As characters level up they unlock additional items to equip on their character.  Gear only offers small upgrades, so a player’s defensive and offensive skills are paramount to the success of a mission.  The diversification is as extreme as a few teched out items, or a jack of all trades character.
  • Semi-dynamic encounters – In damn near every MMOG, running the same dungeon gets boring as soon as the players learn the ins and outs of pulls, encounters and line of sight abuses.  The developers at Hi-Rez Studios mix it up a bit by changing the positions, mobs, pathing, level layout and even bosses for each instance.  Traps and environmental damage make dungeons even more replayable.
  • Stable server & quick support – No MMOG launches without its issues, some game breaking, others just tedious.  Global Agenda’s launch was relatively smooth.  Little to no lag, no queues and with enough population and level distribution to carry out any mission in the game.  That being said, there were small issues present.  Most of them were quickly hotfixed and patched the week of release.
  • Diverse PvP arenas – Global Agenda launched choke full o’ PvP arenas.  Players can join a good range of scenarios including payload, attack and defense, king of the hill, objectives and escort.  And soon we’ll be able to decide what we want, instead of it being random.

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Cons:

  • Stupid AI – The artificial intelligence for the PvE NPCs is atrocious.  Robots can easily die before reacting.  They may hide or cower in plain view and they’ll die to the traps in their own facilities.  Sorry, but these robots and elite assassins should know they’ll get squished or melted in their own facility.
  • No world or universe – The Mission Briefing feature I touted above would make you think there might be a universe, but there isn’t.  There’s no where to walk around and take in the sights.  Even Dome City, the game’s home base, is incredibly boring.  There’s lore sprinkled in from the website and a dash in the PvE system, but the briefings will deliver the majority of context the game has to offer
  • Ranges on guns – Global Agenda’s successful ad campaign lambasted the cliches of most MMOGs, but the game has some itself, including range.  Various, but not all weapons, have undisclosed range limitations.  It’s incredibly annoying when a weapon is fired and it doesn’t reach the intended target.
  • Uninspired specialization trees – One way to specialize your character is through skill trees.  By selecting one tree over another a class can change quite dramatically.  For example, a medic, your typical healer, can morph into a healer that can deal a dangerous amount of poison damage to the other team.  The specializations are nice in theory, but the talents within them are uninspired.  Want to heal more, then select Beam Heal Boost (+4% healing), or Jetpack Power for addition flight (-50% power cost).  Then move on to Beam Healing Boost II (+6% healing) or Power Pool Increase (+50% power pool)!  It’s not only a lack of interesting spells, but a lack of spells in general.  In fact, if you ignore the tiers of spells, then the healing tree only offers seven unique options.
  • Lose of XP – Losing XP as part of a death penalty is one thing, but losing it to a disconnect or crash is another.  If a player is dropped from a PvP or PvE match for any reason they are sent back to Dome City.  Their place in the battle isn’t reserved for when they return, and it isn’t filled either.  Because Global Agenda awards XP upon the completion of a mission, getting dropped means you’ve been robbed of whatever XP was coming to you.  It doesn’t matter if you left in the first ten seconds, or the last, nothing is awarded.  I’ve been stripped of XP around a dozen times now.
  • Crafting – It’s clunky, time consuming, expensive and unfriendly.  Thankfully, Hi-Rez is already working on an overhaul.
  • Non-unique characters – Compound the boring skill selection with few cosmetic options and you have many characters that look exactly the same.  There are costumes available, but few players bother to pick them up due to costs and because the outfit isn’t that different.
  • Poor windowed mode optimization – One of the loading tips is that the game runs in Windowed Mode.  It does, it just doesn’t run all that well.  The game will sit on top of the taskbar, you’re forced to alt-tab out of the game to capture your mouse, it has uninspired taskbar art and defaultly spouts its sound whether the window is active or not.  I can’t find a way to stop the sound either.  All of the issues are minor, but they need to be addressed.
  • Bad auto-grouping – The various auto-grouping techniques employeed by the multitude of MMOG developers have often been hailed as one of the best features of their respective games.  Hi-Rez Studios’ effort is not in that category.  I understand that getting people in a mission quickly is the utmost priority, but I am willing to wait a few minutes to avoid three medics or three recons in the same foursome.
  • Tutorial – The introduction was great, but that’s all it was.  There’s far more complex features, tactics, abilities and choices that are left unexplained in Global Agenda.  The title needs additional tutorials to help new to intermediate players morph in to powerhouses..

I’ve yet to get in to a solid guild/alliance to really dive into the Alliance vs Alliance part of the game.  I was lucky enough to partake in some AvA matches with developers and players during beta, and it was fun.  Essentially, AvA battles are large scale PvP missions against pre-made groups.  I’ll have more on AvA for you as I gain more experience.  To me, half the fun in AvA is making the tactical decisions on the hex grid.  It forces the leaders to be true officers.

The core of Global Agenda offers a well polished, fast paced battle against player combatants or not-so-smart NPCs.  The game shines when you’re in the heat of battle against other opponents.  The rest of the title is lacking in comparison.  That being said, Hi-Rez Studios gave players two months of free play while the company works out the kinks.  I’ll be around for at least that long.

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Check out the rest of our Global Agenda coverage here.

Dungeons and Dragons Online: Eberron Unlimited – Over One Million Players Since Re-launch

Posted by on February 26, 2010 - No Comments »

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Turbine has announced that Dungeons and Dragon Online‘s community has welcomed over one million new players since re-launching the game in September 2009. The success of the new free-to-play/subscription MMO is unquestionable and it makes you think – why don’t more companies do it, instead of failing miserably. The end result: DDO’s population has doubled since Turbine adopted the new subscription model.

Turbine also noted the success of the DDO Store, with the rate of transactions tripling the industry’s average since September, resulting in the addition of over 500% to the franchise’s revenue. For more information on Dungeons and Dragons Online – the game’s official website is right here.

Mytheon Closed Beta – Now Live

Posted by on February 26, 2010 - No Comments »

mytheon

True Games Interactive has announced that the closed beta for Petroglyph’s mythology themed MMORPG, Mytheon, has officially started. While this is technically a closed beta test, anyone is free to sign up and participate in the Mytheon Closed Beta by simply visiting the game’s official website.

Of course, it may take some time(up to a week) for you to receive your closed beta key, and there is an NDA in effect, but Mytheon looks like it’s worth it – a rich lore, combining different mythologies and blending them with fantasy, classical hack ‘n slash gameplay with a pinch of RTS. Did I peak your interest? If yes, click here to sign up immediately.

Competitive Dungeoneering

Posted by on February 25, 2010 - No Comments »

olympicsI still seem to be hooked on the topic of risk and reward in MMOs. This article continues along that vein, but instead of the harsh, cold realities of item loss, we are going to think in terms of the spirit of the Olympic Games and talk about the sport of Competitive Dungeoneering.

Betting – In this system, some instances are only accessible to teams willing to pay the ante. Depending on the instance, this ante can be in the form of gold, experience, or interesting items. A low level dungeon might require 50 coins, or a green weapon to enter. A high level instance might require 1000s of coins and an epic piece of equipment. Any items bet cannot be used until the team has completed their mission.

Very simply, if your team completes the mission, they get their bet back plus an appropriate reward. However, if they fail the instance, they lose the bet and their stuff is lost. The definition of failure would vary each instance. A party wipe could mean failure, or the mission might require that a certain player or NPC never die, or the mission might be timed.

One variation is to allow players to up their ante, thus increasing their reward if they win… and possibly the power of the enemies in the instance. This is a pretty direct way to climb the risk vs. reward curve.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is contrived, and requires a lot of meta-gaming on the part of the players… but MMO players ought to be used to meta-gaming, right?

Item World?– One interesting variation steals from console RPGs like the Disgaea series. Instead of betting gold or experience, players put up items to enter dungeons. Groups that succeed in conquering the instance find their items returned to them, but with significant upgrades in their stats and powers.

dungeon_board_gameCompetitive Dungeoneering — The next step in this idea requires that we devise a system by which we can score a team’s performance in our dungeon. Missions could be timed, or we could score based on monsters killed, or treasure found. Deaths would likely count against a team’s score and a party wipe could mean the team is disqualified.

Similar to the betting system, teams would enter the dungeon only after putting up a decent amount of cash. Once the team completes the run, their score is calculated and recorded on a leader board. At the end of the week, the best teams split a hefty portion of the bets placed by all the groups that week.

Variant Dungeons– This system lends itself to tons of variations. Instances could be created with the competitive dungeoneering concept in mind. You could have dungeons where teams faced wave after wave of monsters with little time to rest in between. The team is scored based on how long they can last. Some instances could consist of long hallways filled with platforms and obstacles and teams could engage in a timed race to the finish… with monsters thrown in to slow them down.