Archive for the ‘Vanguard’ Category

On Graphics

I went home last night to visit my family and watch the Colts game, but more importantly, to see my brothers new computer run Vanguard.  I was utterly shocked by the amount of detail that went into the graphics in this game.  While I knew the graphics were astounding, I couldn’t believe the degree of detail on everything.  Games like this are fun to look at for a while, but they also present a serious problem for me.  When everything becomes this photo-realistic, I tend to notice every little flaw, which irritates me far more than it would in say World of Warcraft.  For instance, when he was riding around on his horse and jumped, his back stayed perfectly straight, and I couldn’t help but think how unrealistic this is.

While these minor details do irritate me, I find that the thing that upsets me most is that without a top-of-the-line computer (and router as he quickly discovered) these games just don’t look right (at least in my estimation.)  This was my biggest problem with EQ2.  I would watch him play on his computer with the settings maxed out before heading home to play on my PC that’s two years old, where everything was slightly blurry and distorted.  I would much rather play a game that sets the bar a little bit lower but does so in an excellent manner than one that sets it so high that only 5% or so of all players can run it at the max settings and play it the way it’s supposed to be played.  Yes, I had other problems with EQ2 that lead me to stop playing, but this was the ultimate deciding factor to be sure.

I’m honestly not sure whether the point of this post is to note the incredible graphics Vanguard has, or the problems that can come alongside them.  In any case, I’m pleased with the graphics of World of Warcraft for the time being, at least until a better balance between realistic graphics and realistic actions is found.



Uncanny Valley and MMO’s — Part 1 of 2

A few months ago I came upon the hypothesis of Uncanny Valley (in relation to MMO’s). In a basic summary, it means that as robotics become more realistic, humans will begin to think of them more in terms of a human than a machine and will develop sy(e)mpathy for them. I’m looking at this in relation to MOGers and their avatars. I suppose the title of this post is a bit misleading, because I’m twisting it (or perhaps pushing it further.) While I can see players thinking their characters are realistic, and seeing them as more of a real entity, will the average player (barring psychological issues) ever relate to their avatar enough that they feel a part of their character? MMO’s can be incredibly enjoyable and you can have a lot of fun with your characters, but rarely (at least for me) do I ever feel as though I have just experienced it rather than my character. I’m going to break this up into two elements which are technical and emotional. I’m going to focus on some of the technical aspects here that I can currently think of, focusing on how realistic your character looks and their movements and such. The emotional will focus on character freedom and social interaction and such which I’ll look at in another post.

There are definitely several elements to this, but I think currently the main element has to be graphics. As of now, there aren’t really any games out there that are realistic enough to be considered lifelike to sympathize with your character or actually feel connected to them. While Vanguard and Lord of the Rings Online have upped the bar on graphical expectations of MMO’s, they are still not realistic enough to feel as though you are looking at a living, breathing being. Perhaps with the wave of MMO’s hitting the shelves in Q4 2007 through Q2 of 2008 this distinction will become less noticeable, but it isn’t likely to see extremely lifelike characters until probably 2012 or later. Is that enough, though?

As an extension of the graphics issue, character creation is not nearly customizable enough to make a character that really looks like you currently. Also, there are a lot of people that won’t want to make a character that looks exactly like them anyway. Most people want to make characters that are aesthetically pleasing, regardless of the fact that it won’t look anything like them. This isn’t that unusual as it is a game hence it’s a break from reality, so making a character unlike yourself isn’t strange whether we could do it or not. So if we choose to make characters that don’t look like ourselves, does this break the possibility of truly relating to our character? This is also taking into account only human characters, not elves, dwarves, gnomes, ogres, etc. To me this doesn’t seem possible to truly relate to your character as a different race, but maybe that’s just me putting a limit on my imagination.

Another element that I think breaks the illusion in MMO’s (and many other games) is the third person view. This is sort of bordering on emotional, but it is also technical in the way you actually see your character. While you can use a first-person view in most MMO’s to do so would greatly reduce your field of vision and hamper your game play, so it’s not really feasible to do this. That said, if you are looking for more a role-playing version of the game, then you can do this, but you would always be facing the fact that you are limiting yourself, so could you do this?

The last aspect that I want to focus on right now is actually controlling the way your character moves. While this might not be possible with the current mouse-and-keyboard setup, this will be a very big barrier in terms of believing in our characters and believing they are an extension of ourselves that needs to be solved for this possibility.

I guess the bigger question that needs to be answered is whether we even desire to relate more to our characters or not. I’m sure there are a lot of elements that I haven’t covered, but I’m in a slight hurry right now but I really wanted to get this out, so let me know what you think and I’ll be back later with the second part of this topic.


A Return to Asheron’s Call

So yes, it is going to happen. After playing for around a week, I’ve decided that I am going to give it another go. Sure the combat system (for melee classes) is a bit rudimentary and the engine is a bit dated, but there is still a lot to offer, especially since I haven’t played in nearly 3 years and Turbine puts out monthly content updates and there is a whole new expansion to discover. There is still a decent sized community on my server Leafcull (about 300 accounts active each night) and the three things that mean the most to me in this game (besides the combat system) are community, exploration, and the skill-based system. When I say skill-based system I don’t mean the skill you have to play your character, but rather the idea that all the experience you get can be put into whatever skill you choose, rather than improving your attributes through leveling and gear. To me this is something that other MMO’s need to implement, as it gives you much more control over your character, and makes you feel as though your character is YOU, and not a replica of nOObPWNr.

My character maxed out at 126 when I was still playing and the current level cap is 275, so that should say something about how much new stuff there is to do. Even the graphics have gotten a huge update, and while they are limited by the engine, they are very crisp and greatly improved since I last played. While it is difficult to determine just how long I will stay, I’m quite sure that I will not be bored within the first month of play.

Given all of the hate that I’ve dropped on Vanguard, it is still calling out to me, and I will probably give it a shot after three or four more updates, and I for one don’t see any problem with teleportation devices if it means easier grouping and the like. Also, who cares if SOE takes total control over it? I agree with Cuppycake in that SOE probably has a larger role in the game than we know, and likely has the ultimate decision on what goes into the game anyway, so what does it matter?

Oh, and by the way, I am officially done with WoW for good. I just came to the conclusion that while there are new instances, gear and creatures, that is all they are. Nothing innovative was given to the players with the Burning Crusade, just more of the same, and I for one am not going to pay to spend four hours four nights a week playing the same instances I have played for the past year. The climb was fun once, but I don’t want to do it more than that. Change end-game, and I might change my mind, but we won’t see another expansion for 1.5-2 years in my estimation, so that won’t be for a while.


Building an MMO for the Future — Suicide or What?

I just can’t help but wonder what Sigil was trying to do with Vanguard building it for specifications that won’t even be possible for another 12-18 months. It’s true that technology doubles very quickly, I believe it’s 18 months, but still… is that any kind of way to advertise your game?

“OK everybody, we are going to have an awesome game for you to play 18 months after we release it! I know this doesn’t make any sense, but we actually need that 18 months to fix all the bugs that we failed to take out in the longer-than-usual production time we had to build this game. So even though there will be more than a dozen new MMO’s for you guys to play, we feel confident that you will be ready to try our game once you can buy a computer than can run it at more than 20 FPS”

I don’t know about everyone else, but that to me seems like exactly the message they should have slapped on the box of this game before it shipped. My only question is this; How many gamers are actually going to stick around for a year and a half waiting for this game to become playable, when there will be new games coming out left and right (LotRO, WAR, AoC, Spellborn, Huxley, Tabula Rasa just to name a few) that surely won’t have such high expectations of its players bank account to buy a top-of-the-line PC? It seems like this is the problem with EverQuest 2. I have a pretty decent computer… 2GB RAM, 2.8 Ghz Pentium 4 processor and a Radeon X600 256MB graphics card. It’s a decent computer and I can’t even play EQ2 on high settings or else my graphics card shuts down every 5 minutes or so. I’m not going to play a game that I know could look good with a great PC if everything looks blurry and faded on my PC, especially when the game came out over 2 years ago. Just use common sense Sigil. Sure, you will get a few new players when tech rises, but it won’t be anywhere near the 1-300k you probably lost by a) releasing too soon and b) asking far too much of your customers. Get it together, and hopefully other companies will realize that they need to build their game for today, not for three years from now so they can retain customers better.


The WoW Expectation

As you know, I have been jumping around from MMO to MMO for the past month or so trying to keep myself busy and entertained, but as of now, I still haven’t found anything that captured me the way WoW did pre-70. I am of course excluding Asheron’s Call from this statement as I had a lot less real-life obligations and things to keep busy with out of the game, so for that reason I was much more immersed in Asheron’s Call than WoW or any other game, and probably any other game in the future. Anyways, getting back to my point, I believe that the main reason (not only) reason for this is the fact that WoW’s incredibly unparalleled polish makes me want every aspect of an MMO be flawless in its execution. Even if I find something new and revolutionary or just interesting in a new game I try, if there are flaws with it, then I have trouble getting really excited about it or delving into it for hours at a time and loving every minute of it. My brother used a great analogy of HD TV. WoW is like watching Office Space in HD, as opposed to the Matrix on a standard television. Office Space isn’t really known for looking or sounding really cool, but if its in HD, it will look really nice. Matrix would look amazing in HD, it even looks really good on a normal TV, but if it were in HD, it would blow Office Space out of the water. Hopefully you understood that, but I’ll follow it up by saying this; While WoW didn’t push the boundaries or take any serious risks with the initial creation of WoW, it worked for them simply because everything was implemented so well that no one had any problems with what they did do. This is both a bane and a boon for the rest of the MMO industry. It is good because it raised the expectation of games in terms of polish. Players have grown to expect it, especially if WoW is their first and only MMO. If they jump into Vanguard and their character gets bugged and loses xp, or doesn’t recieve an expensive item they just purchased, chances are that is the last they are going to play the game, even if Vanguard has lost of new features and a much larger, realistic world. This goes for everything from the newbie experience, to questing, to raiding, to exploring, and so on. Even though I understand this, it doesn’t mean that I can overlook certain flaws in other games, realizing that Blizzard is THE exception that is the definition of polish in MMO’s. I still find myself comparing it to WoW, which ends up being the bane. Perhaps Blizzard simply has far more manpower and money than the rest of the companies, and they can afford to spend an extra six months prepping a game for launch, or fixing a quest that doesn’t give the proper reward, unlike some other companies. Maybe these are the things that we just need to learn to live with and lower our expectations to pre-World of Warcraft.


Immersion in MMOs

I’ve recently been looking at reviews about Vanguard and most people’s severe disappointment in it, and was wondering what the term “immersion” actually means to an MMO. While it means different things to everyone, some of the things I find to be important are exploration, history/lore, and a sense of importance.

Back during my 4 years of Asheron’s Call, I would simply spend hours exploring the continent of Dereth, discovering landmarks that I have never seen before. Dilapidated bridges, old sanctuaries that are no longer being used, shrines, or the hundreds of dungeons that had virtually no use, except that they were fun to explore. I loved seeing just random little landmarks that made the world seem like it had some real history and depth. I have played a half dozen MMO’s now, most for at least two weeks, and I have yet to find one that rivals AC’s sense of immersion. Sure WoW has tons of stuff to keep me busy and lots of eye candy, but I still don’t really get a sense of history or a sense of exploration. I am simply going somewhere to complete a quest or to get to an instance. I like the idea behind Caverns of Time, but it still isn’t really what I’m looking for.

Another aspect of immersion that I think is important it having an impact of the world. Again, CoT is scratching the surface with this, but Chronicles of Spellborn sounds like this is going to be a much heavier element in their game with the ancestral quests. These really give you the since that history is important and that you have made a difference, whether you have or not. They also have the shard exploration aspect to consider. Players will be able to discover new “shards” which are landmasses within the Deadspell Storm. This adds an element of adventure, and also gives players the opportunity to truly discover something that no one else has seen yet.

Another aspect Spellborn wants to implement is control over these shards. There are five “houses” in Spellborn each with different doctrines, which will be able to control certain things in the game, like parts of shards, mines, etc. This is huge in immersion as you and your fellow house/guildmates will actually be able to help keep/gain control of certain things in the world.

Anyways, there are a few things that I find to be important when thinking about immersion in an MMO. It sounds like the Vanguard dev’s promised a lot of these elements, but due to a rushed release or for other reasons, have left most of their players wanting, which has caused many to leave. Perhaps they will be able to turn it around after a few months, and regain these players, but for now, it sounds like a bug-ridden, most unoriginal, MMO. One thing that I am looking forward to is LotRO. While I haven’t seen much, I have seen most of the Shire, which I think is amazing, with the landscapes looking similar to Asheron’s Call 2, only slightly improved. This is one game that I have hope for in terms of a sense of immersion, but I’ll post more when I have seen more of the zones.