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Grab Bag! | MMOrgue 17

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In lieu of the AoC review originally scheduled for this week, Jeremy’s decided to throw together some of the hottest stories that’ve surfaced over the past week in the MMO industry. Included in this grab bag of editorial goodness is the DCUO-F2P announcement, GamersFirst’s new “offer” venture, WoW’s unique features coming in patch 4.3, and Trion World’s charitable efforts.

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Show Notes:

DCUO announces going F2P

  • I just said last week that this needed to happen, since CO and COH are both free now, and Marvel U will be F2P as well (if it ever launches).
  • This just sounds like an excuse to charge people for future expansions, like they intended to do with Fight for the Light.

GamersFirst invites spammers onboard

WoW Patch 4.3 will bring easier PUG raids and cosmetic options

  • A new LFG queue that will automagically put you into lower-difficulty versions of the existing raids, with lesser loot. But 25-man versions ONLY.
  • These raids also don’t include lockout timers, which will be a HUGE boon to folks that regularly do PUG raids.
  • This will work GREAT in WoW due to the nature of the community, but I’m worried about this becoming a trend that other games may pick up on. Any developer interested in this trend needs to take a close look at their specific type of community before deciding whether to use this same methodology.
  • For example, WoW has a healthy PUG community, and a lot of smaller guilds that can only raid 10-man zones. So making a 25-man option more accessible actually allows MORE players to experience this side of the raiding game (which has a huge content focus in WoW).
  • Meanwhile, if a game thrives more on small groups and tight communities, implementing something that reinforces a PUG atmosphere would offer very little benefit while encouraging community fragmentation.

RIFT devs get awesomely charitable

  • Partnering with “Extra Life” to benefit Children’s Miracle Network

  • Devs will be creating a guild and inviting new characters to join them, and play for 24 hours straight.

  • They will also offer titles to anyone that participates (“the Charitable”) and for anyone that lasts the entire 24 hours (“the Insomniac”).

  • Also a whole mess of achievements/contests:

  • Highest Level Achieved

  • Most Favor Earned

  • Most Planarite Earned

  • Highest Crafting Skill (combined)

  • Most Achievements Earned

  • Most Dungeons Completed

  • Most Money Earned

  • Most Critters Killed

  • Most Artifacts Collected

Money from MMO subscriptions officially on the decline
- Money from F2P microtransactions is up!

SWG adds new feature, despite looming death knell

Rusty Hearts is now in Open Beta

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!

http://massively.joystiq.com/2011/09/06/dcuos-fight-for-the-light-pack-available-today/

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