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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.

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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