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GamesCom 2011 | MMOrgue 14

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This week’s episode focuses on the biggest MMO stories that filtered out of GamesCom 2011.

The most impressive showing came from Guild Wars 2, which featured new playable demos showing off their dynamic event system, character customization, new playable races and classes, crafting, and PvP battlegrounds.

Besides GW2 however, also came Star Wars: The Old Republic, showing off a brand new twist on PvP battlegrounds, in the form of a bloodsport called Huttball.

Before we review either of those exciting new features however, we pull the lid off NCSoft and Carbine Studios’ newly announced MMORPG – Wildstar. We’ll tell you why this one is worth keeping an eye on, and why Carbine has a big job ahead of them to compete in the modern MMO market.

Direct Download Links:

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Show Notes:

Welcome back to the MMOrgue!

Where we take gaming to the next… LEVEL… see what I did there?

/T-Shirt:/ “Pwn Depot”
Available at
Glitch Gaming Apparel

Last week’s Best of MMO Music episode has been receiving some great responses so far. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, I like to think it’s worth a watch. Also be sure to check that episode’s show notes for so much more music!

GamesCom hit the industry like a massive tidal wave of awesome this past week. The convention itself saw record attendance of more than 275,000 gamers, and even exceeded the location’s maximum safety capacity at least once, causing the main entrances to be temporarily closed off. Rest assured that next year’s will be even bigger, but GamesCom organizers are already talking about finding a bigger/better location to hold it.

Now, let’s talk a little bit about the games that were shown off at the convention…

The Old Republic was, obviously, present at GamesCom, although their presence was underwhelming compared to their showing at ComicCon. Their big announcement came in the form of a new PvP gameplay experience known as Huttball, which I’ll spend some time discussing later in today’s episode.

As far as the MMO world is concerned, Guild Wars 2 has walked away as the big “winner” of the floor at this year’s GamesCom. The sheer volume of awesome videos, gameplay, feature walkthrus and other newsy bits that’ve come out of ArenaNet over the past week has been astounding, and I’ll be dedicating an entire segment of today’s show to some of those juicy tidbits.

Today’s topics are by no means going to make up the entirety of all of the incredible MMO news that filtered out of GamesCom over the past several days, but I simply don’t have enough time in this episode to cover everything that was shared with us, or announced. Check our show notes for a extra round-up of other newsworthy links and coverage, including:

The reveal that has garnered the most attention from MMO gamers over the past week seems to be WildStar – the new MMORPG from Carbine Studios that was recently teased in the “announcement of an announcement” by NCSoft that I spoke of a few episodes back. Although the game is still very much in its infancy, Carbine already had a complete gameplay experience ready to put into the hands of gamers, and we’ll be digging into some of those details a bit later on.

Wildstar

Carbine Studio’s new MMO offering landed on the scene in a big way, offering not just an announcement and trailer, but actual hands-on demo time for con-goers at GamesCom.
In light of the hype currently built around other upcoming titles like TOR and GW2, this was an absolute necessity in order to get any sort of coverage or attention right out of the gate.

As you may recall, Carbine’s original announcement of this game included the fact that this game is designed to “learn” from players’ choices, and adapt to how they want to play the game. In the demo offered at GamesCom, we began to see the first of what we’re told will be many layers, of just how this works. And it comes down to story.

The game is a blend of sci-fi and fantasy elements, showing off technology and magic living in harmony with one another, while the art style and animations are vaguely reminiscient of Titan AE and classic-era Disney, with touches of modern anime and stylistic flourishes everywhere. Despite being visually appealing, I have to admit that compared to other modern offerings like GW2 and Secret World, it looks dated. Not much better than the graphics offered by World of Warcraft or Forsaken World. That said, graphics aren’t everything, and this game’s devils are in the details.

When first introduced to Wildstar, you have crash-landed on a strange alien world. When creating your character, you get to not only choose your race and class from a selection that includes humans, rock monsters and bunny-people, but you are also asked why it is that you are on the planet to begin with. Were you exploring? Conquering? Studying? Colonizing? These choices will lead the game to offer a different advancement path and plotline, compared to the choices that another player may make, and successive choices are said to further specialize the game content as you continue to progress.

Already, folks are throwing around comparisons to Tabula Rasa, for a few obvious reasons. The most obvious comparison is the blend of tech and magic in the world, but perhaps more telling is that Carbine Studios’ developers are what many in the business would term a “dream team.” As some of you may recall, the same claim was made of the Tabula Rasa team back in the day, and turned out to be one of the major downfalls of that title’s development cycle. Too many “chefs” and not enough “cooks.” Carbine’s staff includes the former lead developer of WoW, the co-founder of Troika Games, and the co-founder of Turbine, as well as several other experienced and respected names in MMO gaming. This SOUNDS like it’s a very good thing for a game, but remember that Tabula Rasa (which was also under the direction of NCSoft, same as this title) ended up having to be redesigned from the ground-up several years into the development cycle because of creative disagreements among high-profile “rockstar” developers. Let’s hope that Wildstar doesn’t suffer from the same speed bumps.

I’ll be getting my own hands-on demo of Wildstar at PAX, so look for more to come on this potentially innovative gameplay experience.

Links:

Old Republic: HUTTBALL

I get the impression that The Old Republic has reached critical mass. Over the past month or so, we’ve seen very little announced in the way of new features, and most of the gameplay now available around the web is starting to feel a bit same-ey in terms of visuals. That’s not say I don’t wanna get my grubby little hands all OVER this hot mess, just that there seems to be very little else that Bioware can release that’s going to get me even MORE excited.

At least, that’s how I felt until I saw Huttball.
Introducing… HUTTBALL

So, at it’s core, it’s really just a variant on Capture the Flag, with a little football thrown in the mix for good measure. As well as some acid pits and flaming death traps. All good fun until somebody loses a limb, and then it’s HILARIOUS.

They’ve told us already that the teams will not follow the strict Republic vs. Empire party lines, and if the announcer from the trailer makes it into the game, you can bet there will be as many laughs as frags on the Huttball courts.

The concept of a steady stream of repeatable sports games is much more palatable to me personally, than an endless stream of “battleground” PvP matches, in terms of overall game lore. I mean, how did running a flag back and forth across Warsong Gultch really help the Horde’s war efforts against the Night Elves? At least in Huttball, we’re seeing something that can actually fit into the environment of the game, and make sense to a larger narrative. Even if the sense it makes is that it can be completely ignored and discarded by anyone not wishing to participate.

As with any feature announcement, there’s been a small amount of hubbub raised on TOR’s internal forums about whether or not it suits the game world, and a not-tiny contingent of pro-Jedi gamers have voiced their concern about having their favorite neon-swinging zen masters participate in what amounts to a bloodsport.

To them, I’d like to say first – Maybe the Jedi are simply out to prevent the Sith from gaining a positive public image as sports celebrities? I mean, think of the impact such celebrity status could’ve had for Darth Maul. Commercials, Wheaties boxes, merchandising contracts. These could lead to impressionable minds being swayed to the Dark Side!

Secondly, and more importantly – lighten up a little, guys. It’s a game, and Huttball looks like a ridiculous amount of fun that is likely to get even stalwart non-fans of PvP like myself, involved in the bloody game of bashing in my fellow players’ heads in a whole new way.

Guild Wars 2

Character Customization:

What is currently in the game, I find underwhelming. Compared to other “next-gen” character customization, as seen in APB and Eve, the customization in GW2 is fairly lacking. For the most part, it consists of choosing from presets of existing choices, plus a few tweaks available for individual pieces.

Given the amount of focus that ArenaNet places on art assets and visual impressiveness, what we’ve seen so far of customization is sorely lacking. It doesn’t live up to their established reputation as makers of beautiful games, or makers of innovative games.

We’re quite a ways from launch, though. This could easily improve dramatically between now and then.

Crafting System:

It’s rare in the MMO industry for a crafting system to get me excited, but GW2 has a few unique things going for it that have me looking forward to staring at a crafting UI for hours on end…

2 at a time, but can max them all
Must be a cost for swapping, or no point in limiting to 2
When you swap, you are back at the level you left off at, with all your discoveries intact

Discovery system allows you to learn new recipes through experimentation (or reading them from a wiki online, you lazy gamer you.)
It looks as though discovering a recipe rewards you with more xp than crafting it alone, leading to crafters using this system on a regular basis (even after all recipes are discovered and catalogued on wiki sites).

The look of crafted items will generally be more distinct than the loot that drops in the world.

Skill gains are steady and xp-based, happen regardless of what you’re crafting. No guesswork in leveling up.

Guild Wars Battle of Kyhlo

Champions / Marvel | MMOrgue 3

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In this week’s MMOrgue, we’re digging up the dirt on the world of superhero MMOs! Join us as we don our capes and tights to take a look at the latest troubling reports from inside Marvel Universe Online, as well as examine the effects that SOE’s network security issues and subsequent outage have had on DC Universe Online.

Last but not least, we examine the announcement that Atari is parting ways with Champions Online developer, Cryptic Studios. What has motivated this divestment, and what could this mean for the studio’s future and existing projects?

Direct Download Links:

HD Video | Large Video | Mobile Video | MP3 Audio | YouTube

MMOrgue iTunes Feeds: MMOrgue RSS Feeds:
HD Video
iPad & Apple TV Video
iPod Video
MP3 Audio
HD Video RSS
Large Video RSS
Mobile Video RSS
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Show Notes:

First, to respond to some feedback:

“The dark theme and name do not suit the show’s content.”

  • First the obvious reasoning behind the name: Everybody talkes about MMOs, and everybody considers themselves an expert worthy of a name and brand. Hence, MMO-everything is taken. I kid you not.
  • More importantly, the concept of looking at the inner workings of a living industry is very much in line with the idea of cataloguing and studying our dead.
    • I chose this theme and name to illustrate a scientific and analytic approach to the stories that will be covered herein.
    • The communities, technologies, and professionals of this industry are very much the heart, lungs and brains of any MMO. Without analysing what motivates and drives any of these, we potentially lose sight of the whole.
  • And lastly, the MMO industry is a dangerous place. Covering titles and technologies that are dead, and finding out what put them there, is something that WILL be covered on this show.

“You need a co-host.”

  • If this was a show about sharing the latest press releases and announcements, I would be inclined to agree. Finding commentary and conversation on such topics is easy, and flows best between separate minds.
    • However, as this show is 100% editorial driven, the content is created from the mind of its host. Increasing the number of minds involved would only fragment the content and any opinions contained herein.
  • That said, there will occasionally be important industry events which either slip my radar, or about which I know too little to accurately form an editorial opinion.
    • In these circumstances, I intend to invite “correspondents” to join me on air to discuss those particular situations. If you feel as though you would like to become a correspondent, please contact me by posting at jupitercolony.com, or by emailing jeremy@jupiterbroadcasting.com, to start a discussion on what content you would like to present to our audience.

DCUO and SOE outage

  • Infographic
  • On May 2nd, SOE went dark. Then hundreds of thousands of gamers cried out in frustration, and never went silent.
  • It took almost two weeks to get the network, and all of Sony’s games, back up and running and (apparently) secure from further invasion. That outage is estimated to have cost SOE a total of $171 million.
  • And this is AFTER a fiscal year that ended in March, which reported an annual loss of $3.2 billion for the company.

What does this rough patch mean for the future of DCUO?

  • Nobody at SOE is making any official statements yet, other than to say that DCUO’s population is currently “very good.”
  • In the past 3 months, there have been two replacements among the DCUO project’s upper management that were made from within … existing execs taking on extra responsibility instead of promotions, or new hires.
  • And this after the project suffered a round of layoffs in April.
  • It is likely that subscriptions will see a noteworthy drop due to the outage. Even with the incentives being offered by SOE by way of apology.
    • This comes down to Consumer Confidence, which is fancy way of saying “people don’t like to be jerked around.”
    • SOE has a large overhead, capable of supporting a few rocky patches. Even so, they’ve been known to shut down games (Matrix Online).
  • GOOD NEWS: Apparently this outage scared SOE into being more interactive with their customers, and their forums are now ablaze with Dev Posts at regular intervals sharing REAL info instead of SOE’s standard practice of silence and mystery.
    • Let’s hope it lasts.

MegaServers

  • Just days before the SOE network outage, it was announced that ALL of the existing DCUO servers would soon be merged into a few instanced networks called “MegaServers.”
  • Through the use of “phasing” technology, players will still be participating in areas that will have reasonable populations.
  • The benefit of this is to allow all of the back-end queueing for Raids, Duos, Alerts, and PvP to work across ALL players (on a per-platform basis).
  • The idea of server mergers has always been seen as a bad thing by the MMO press. It indicates a population decline, and a lack of interest.
    • This MAY be different, as this sounds more like a fundamental tech shift, and not just a run-of-the-mill merger.
    • However, it is still addressing an issue that would not be present if the game had a large and active population of gamers (queue times for instanced content).
  • Community outcry of “name collision” issues, and lack of solid responses from SOE, are causing additional schisms and rage among players.

Champions Online – Atari divests itself from Cryptic

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/34704/Atari_Drops_Champions_Online_Developer_Cryptic_Studios.php

First, rumor killing:
- Nothing is happening YET. Atari has only announced their INTENT to divest. They have not announced that they are seeking a buyer, nor that any change of staff will occur as a result of this decision.

Atari is making a Bad Choice

  • Investing in casual markets
    • Casual / Facebook games do not create brand recognition, fan loyalty or press.
    • As this market continues to mature, games will become more and more complex and impressive until their development budgets rival current standalone titles.
    • Long-term investment in this area will continue to require more and more finances to remain competitive. It is not a quick and cheap money-maker market.
  • Profits continue to rise
    • 17.3 million prior year, 7 million this year, next year = ??
    • While actively developing at least one unreleased title – Neverwinter
    • Early indications that Champions Online move to F2P has resulted in huge increase in profits, which only occurred in Q3 of 2010.
  • Foundry Tech
    • No other MMO has created such a successful and robust UGC tool, and it is now available to be ported to all titles using the Cryptic Engine: STO, CO and NWO.
    • Giving the power of content creation to users opens up new doors to new types of gamers, and creates a powerful sense of community.
    • Other MMO devs would probably love to get their hands on this technology…

Independence for Cryptic?

  • In today’s MMO landscape, no Dev survives alone.
  • They all need a publisher, and most publishers end up owning the Dev studio
    • Blizzard was acquired by Activision in 2007
    • Bioware became a part of EA in 2007
    • Turbine, the biggest example of a successful “indie” developer, was purchased by Warner Bros in 2010.
  • To date, no major developer has managed to leave its parent publishing company, and survive. In fact, it’s such a risky prospect that studios typically just dissolve rather than even attempt it.

So then, who buys Cryptic?

  • I think it’d be a bit presumptuous for me, as a gamer and not a financial analyst, to try and make an educated guess on this one.
  • MMORPG.com has a couple good editorials that cover most of the major candidates in this area. Check the show notes for details, as I don’t have much else to add to the discussion at this point.
  • Fans of Star Trek Online are hoping that the company is acquired by CBS, the IP holder of the Star Trek franchise.
    • Would CBS be interested in entering the online gaming arena? They haven’t yet.

Future of Neverwinter IP?
Possibly the biggest question mark in all of this…

  • Atari holds publishing rights on all Dungeons & Dragons products until 2017.
  • A lot of money and time already invested in the project, including a co-publishing deal with a line of novels written by R.A. Salvatore, and a deal with Wizards of the Coast for additional tie-ins.
  • Unlikely that Atari will let this one go completely.
    • It will either get pulled from Cryptic and given to another studio with Atari maintaining their publishing oversight, or a new deal will be worked out to keep Atari on board in spite of their divestment from the studio.
    • Either option discounts the title from being a bargaining tool in obtaining a new investment partner.

Marvel Universe

F2P

  • Attempting to live under the title of “First ever AAA F2P MMO in the West, at time of launch”
    • Color me completely unimpressed.
    • First of all, you can’t CLAIM a title like “Triple-A” without having a product. At this time, with the total lack of game footage, screenshots, timelines for beta/release, or even branding… what is here to lay claim to?
    • This just sounds like empty hype, from a company that has already started disappointing us with overblown hype for their other unlaunched MMO, Jumpgate:Evolution.

No Character Customization
Rank this as my “most worrying” concern for this title.

  • On the one hand, it will allow players to jump into game as iconic well-known superheroes from the Marvel franchise.
    • A lot of people will find this appealing, as evidenced by the outstanding sales records for single-player superhero titles like “Ultimate Alliance.”
    • Developers at Secret Identify Studios claim this will make everyone feel more heroic, and “we won’t be merely ‘sidekicks.’”
      • EMPTY CLAIM — CO allows heroes to feel like heroes, and even have their own Nemesis with minions and a base. What sidekick has that?!
  • On the other, how many Wolverines and Hulks will be roaming around? Or will each server have only one instance of each? Where’s the “massive” in this MMO, if that’s the case?
    • And how about progression? If you have to unlock the powers of your favorite superheroes, how do you explain them losing their abilities at the start of the story?
  • Possibly one of the biggest selling points of superhero MMOs to date, has been character customization. CoX and CO had it in droves, and DCUO’s comparative lack of options brought them a lot of criticism from MMO players and press.
    • This is a technological step backwards, and will only work if this is NOT a true MMO as we’ve come to define it.
    • If this is just another “X-Men Legends” or “Ultimate Alliance” with robust online matchmaking services, then it could work.
    • But any form of persistence, progression and community, will be lost without personalization of your avatar.

Written by Bendis
This has the potential to make me excited.

  • Brian Michael Bendis is the godfather of Marvel’s “Ultimate” universe, and creator of some of the most critically acclaimed stories ever to spring from comic books. Including “Avengers Disassembled,” “House of M,” “Civil War,” and “Secret Invasion.”
  • He claims to be writing stories for MUO that will portray some of the most iconic moments from each characters’ lore, and re-imagine them into events that players will experience in-game.
  • Not much else to say about it, really. Bendis has never really done anything ‘wrong’ (except, arguably, killing off Hawkeye… ) so it’s great news for the story side of the game.
  • Between this, and the news that R.A. Salvatore is writing for Cryptic’s “Neverwinter,” it could set a precedence in the industry to bring in more established high-profile writers to flesh out the story of an MMO. Nothing wrong with that at ALL. There’s a reason they are high-profile after all… it’s because they’re AWESOME.

http://www.mmorpg.com/showFeature.cfm/loadFeature/5187/page/1
http://massively.joystiq.com/2011/05/02/the-daily-grind-do-you-think-marvel-universe-is-an-mmo/

—————

Man… this whole episode was a lot of bad news, wasn’t it? And here I was hoping that superheroes were a HAPPY topic of conversation…

Well, maybe next week will turn some of that around…

+ RIFT feedback and discussion
+ 2KGames enters the MMO arena, through a partnership with XLGames (Lineage)
+ Bioware talks Mass Effect MMO