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Secret World | MMOrgue 16

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In today’s episode, we’re going to take a first look at Funcom’s upcoming Horror/Conspiracy MMO, The Secret World. Despite not having the hands-on demo they hoped to have available at PAX, they still dropped a boatload of information onto awaiting fans, including several innovative features and game mechanics that make this game worthy of attention.

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Show Notes:

In addition to that, we’ll cover some recent news from DC Universe, as well as updates on the F2P conversions of City of Heroes and Fallen Earth.

Before that however, I’d like to share some potentially upsetting news about the immediate future of SWTOR:

SWTOR – Release Delay Imminent?

Beta Weekends Cancelled: LINK
Official Statement
Release Date Might Slip

Anyone following the beta news closely may have already heard that Bioware recently chose to cancel a couple of their beta test weekends, after the first round of them went in a few unexpected directions. They’ve spun this as being in the best interest of potential players and testers – and honestly, I believe that assessment to be true – but it’s still another potential red flag that Bioware may not be completely ready to be in charge of a top-shelf MMORPG such as this. I hope they DO take their time with this beta process, and work out all the kinks prior to launch. But at the same time, too many hiccups similar to this one may begin to erode consumer confidence in the eventual launch of the title.

And, as if this beta cancellation wasn’t enough bad news for the game’s supporters, it recently slipped out during an internal conference call that EA already has contingency plans in place just in case the launch of TOR may slip from Q4 of 2011 to Q1 of 2012. Could a launch delay be imminent? I can trust that’d be in the game’s best interest if so, but I’m hoping that it’s smooth sailing for this title from here on out, simply due to the amount of attention the title is receiving in both MMO communities, and gaming communities in general. As I mentioned a few episodes back, this game has enough hype behind it that any potential missteps by Bioware through this process have the potential to further reinforce the poor reputation that MMOs have for launching in a buggy, unplayable manner. Please Bioware… get your act together, for all our sakes!

Secret World

PAX Info from Funcom

Based on the gameplay footage I’ve seen of this game so far, I’ll admit that I’m not all that impressed with the game as a whole. My primary complaint being that this is supposed to be a SECRET world of conspiracy and intrigue, and everything we’ve seen so far shows hordes of magic-wielding superheros doing combat with monstrous zombies and cthulu-esque creatures that stand 2–4 stories tall. Not so secret looking, if you ask me.

Then there’s the development process itself, which has been suffering from repeated delays and mixed messages. Despite already having publicized a launch date of March 24th, the game is not even in Closed Beta yet. This, to me, feels like jumping the gun in a very big way, despite that launch date being more than 6 months from now.

But, my personal gripes with a few of the game’s details do not diminish the innovations that are taking place in regards to a few specific mechanics within the game. Some of them are inventive enough that I’ve decided to take the time to showcase them in a brief preview.

  • Environmental Interactions
    • Ambient critters will react to environmental stimulii. The examples we’ve so far seen are car alarms getting zombies’ attention (and spawning extra baddies), and light sources attracting the attention of baddies in the dark.
    • This added layer of complexity assists in keeping the game in the Real World.
    • This light source mechanic can also be utilized in PvP, where some maps will be too dark to see clearly in, but using a light source will attract the attention of enemy players. Meaning you have to choose between being seen, and being able to see.
  • PvP outfits
    • When entering a PvP match, players will have their appearance automatically altered to match their “role” based on the powers they have chosen. Healers will end up looking like healers, stealthy melee types will look like thiefs, etc.
    • While this diminishes the players’ ability to show off their custom avatar in PvP, it also makes it easier to be able to pick targets in a match. So your allies will know who to protect and synergize skills with, while the enemy will know who to focus their attacks on.
  • 3-faction gameplay
    • This is something that Funcom is not talking much about, but that I feel the need to draw attention to.
    • The only prior game that I know of with a 3-faction PvP gameplay mechanic, was Dark Age of Camelot, which is still considered by many one of the best PvP experiences that has ever been available online.
    • The strength of 3-faction PvP comes in the form of a socially-driven balance. It is exceedingly difficult for any single faction to gain dominance over the remaining two at any point, because which ever faction gains such a strong foothold will inevitably be targeted by the other two.
  • Skill System, No Respecs
    • Over 500 unique skills (not just improved ranks of other stuff, but unique effects)
    • You earn more and unlock them as you adventure, but start with a full suite of abilities.
    • Much like Guild Wars, you can freely respec at any time. Swapping out a full set of 7 actives and 7 passives, for any other skills you have so far learned.
    • Funcom claims that the difficulty of this game is based on players’ skill, and not the abilities in the game scaling up. That even “starter” abilities are viable later in a players’ life, and will scale up based on your equipment, and not any set of stats or level.
  • ARG – Investigation Missions
    • Scattered throughout TSW will be missions that inspire the player to investigate strange leads OUTSIDE OF THE GAME.
    • This is perhaps the most importantly unique aspect of TSW, as it allows players to feel like a real part of their world, rather than playing in some fantasy realm. It adds an extra level of instinctual immersion when visiting iconic cities like NYC and London, when you are also asked to research the history and myth of these locations in a real-world scenario.
    • One example given, is a locked crate in the wreckage of a shipping barge. Using the internet, you can look up the ship’s manifest online and cross-reference the crate number printed on the side of the shipping container in-game. Following these clues will lead you to the access codes to the crate.
    • Some are FAR more complicated than this, requiring players to actually research occult references in general, drawing the player further into the game’s mythos.
    • The downside here is that, unless Funcom is able to author a full suite of these missions anew every few months, players will quickly solve them all and post the solutions online for anyone to find without having to follow the clues.
  • There will also be events that take advantage of this mechanic, and are cross-faction competitive. Whichever of the 3 factions solve it first, gets a boost of some sort as a reward that affects the entire faction.

Subscription Model
Monthly Subs + Cash Shop
We’re TOLD it will be “cosmetics and conveniences only” … but we’ve been told the same thing in other games, and it never quite works out that way. So, time will tell if they can stick to their guns on this.
Really, though, this is GOING to upset players. Subscribers are left asking why, exactly, it is that their monthly subscription fee doesn’t get them the entirety of all this game has to offer, when it does in other competitor MMOs. Why should they be asked to pay extra to have a specific look?
To quench those fears, Funcom needs to make these same cosmetic items available in-game in some manner. In fact, offering a way for players to acquire those items in-game may even drive additional cash shop sales of those same items. I know it seems backwards, but MMO players are generally more likely to buy the CONVENIENCE of being able to bypass a time investment, than they are to simply buy an item that they cannot otherwise obtain.

Fight for the Light – FREE!

Many of you may recall that I covered SOE’s big PR blunder a few weeks back, regarding their decision to charge subscribers for the “Fight for the Light” mini-expansion to DCUO. I was not alone in my outrage over this decision, especially considering their prior promises that future content would be delivered free of charge.

Well, I have a bit of good news for anyone still following this subject… SOE has mended their ways, and decided to offer the Fight for the Light expansion free of charge to all subscribers.

In my opinion… this is too little, too late.

The damage to their reputation over this violation of trust has already been done. I don’t foresee them digging themselves out of this particular blunder simply by going back on a bad decision. The decision was still made, and they took too long to recognize their mistake. It’s nice of them to have eventually come around, but I believe the damage has already been done.

Additionally, with their competitors in the Superhero MMO genre both now offering their game under a F2P subscription model, I don’t foresee a bright future for DCUO. Which is a shame. I had high hopes for this title for many reasons, not the least of which its action-oriented combat which I’d like to see more frequently in the MMO arena. It would be a real waste to see an innovative set of mechanics like this be buried by poor management decisions on behalf of SOE.

Free-To-Play Conversion Updates

Fallen Earth – F2P launching Oct 12th
Link directly to matrix of subscription levels

Before I sign off for this week, I’d like to do a quick update regarding the impending F2P conversion of City of Heroes and Fallen Earth.

First off, we now have an official launch date and subscription matrix available for Fallen Earth, which will undergo its F2P conversion on October 12th.

Based on my review of the matrix, it looks like they’re doing a good job of incentivizing the subscription options available. Even the cheap-o $10/mo one looks nice. But the $30/mo subscription looks to have very little benefit for players going into the game alone, as its primary benefit is in the form of an aura that bestows “premium” boosts similar to a $15/mo sub, on anyone grouped with the $30/mo player. I could see that being handy, but the value is questionable in my opinion.

It’s nice to see the trend of offering stipends to subscribers is continuing, however.

City of Heroes – VIP access starts this week!

And City of Heroes undergoes a launch to existing subscribers on Sept 13th… in fact, by the time you’re seeing this episode, VIP members (those with active subscriptions) will already begin playing the game with the new set of features.

They still haven’t announced a solid launch date for when Freebies will be able to join the rank and file of Paragon City’s superheroes and villains. I’m taking that indication to mean that this is a sort of beta period rather than a head start. So subscribers get to be the guinea pigs before the unwashed masses are let back in. Now that’s what I call a subscriber benefit!

Wait… what?

Next Week:

Age of Conan – Unchained

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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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.


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.


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