Bob the new EA Mythic Community Relations Director

EA Mythic has a new Community Relations Director.  His name is Bob.  Hi Bob!  Mr. Bob is basically in charge of all the communities crap stuff for Mythic including DAOC, UO, and WAR.  I’m not sure how Mythic is going to set up their community hierarchy; whether it will go Bob the Director > *insert Manager* > James the Coordinator or if they’ll skip the manager step altogether for WAR.  If you’re interested in MMO communities nearly as much as the games themselves, like me, then it’s always nice to see a new face out there.

Welcome Bob!  Now please get me an invite to WAR beta.  kThx.

Click this link here to see Bob’s hello –> Continue reading

PotBS immersion: where art thou?

Gamespy held a dev chat with a few of the FLS guys last night which I unfortunately did not attend.  I haven’t been able to find a complete log of the chat but here’s a link to one missing the first ten minutes.  Given what was included in that chat log it doesn’t look like much of anything new was said that can’t be found already on fansites.  I don’t really blame the devs; most of their answers were fine.  The questions though were really bad and it makes me wonder if the people were just simply not interested in new info or if they were really uninformed.  A few things did catch my eye though that aren’t new but worth talking about more so that those who were not in the beta can have a greater understanding of the game.

[19:49:04] <[Admin]Angelic> *Dvour-gs* Is a lot of the content instance based?
[19:49:50] [FLS DEV]: Ok, I see a lot of confusion about ‘instances’ in our game, so I want to try to clear this up.
[19:50:19] There are two things you might mean when you say ‘instance’. One of them is what WoW does with instancing: gives you and your group your own private copy of an environment to play in.  The other meaning is just ‘a separate environment for some element of the gameplay.  We do a lot of the latter, and not as much of the former. Here’s some examples: If you attack someone at sea, you go to a ‘ship battle instance’. All that means is that we move you and your target to a ship-scale battle room. We leave a marker behind on the open sea so other people can see there’s a battle taking place. In fact, if they get there quickly enough, and it’s a PvP battle, they can join in.  If you go into a tavern, we move you into another room — the ‘tavern room’. That’s not an ‘instance’ in the sense of it being a private space just for you; it’s a shared, persistent space that happens to be on the other side of a (short) loading screen. I see a lot of people calling that an ‘instance’.  On the other hand, in our missions, we make pretty extensive use of ‘instances’ in the first sense of the word: private spaces.  For example, you might have a mission to defend the town, which is under attack by pirates. When you emerge into the town, it’s an instanced private copy of the town in which the attack is taking place. We do this mostly for story reasons, so that we can tell a coherent and sensible story.  But when someone says ‘PvP in PotBS is all instanced!’ I /facepalm, because it’s not, at least in the sense they mean. So hopefully that clears up the instance issue. Probably not, though. 🙂

The dev said they do a lot of the latter, but having played the game I would say that much more of the game is truly instanced – as in private encounters.  You enter combat with a player or a npc and it’s private (some pvp encounters can be unlocked for others to join).  If you want to do a mission you’re swept away to a private encounter.  Those things account for well over the majority of their game.  Instancing or “loading/zoning” is a given in PotBS and most games these days.  You want to go into a port or out of a port?  You zone out.  You want to enter a building?  You load.  Basically anywhere you go you load (instance, zone, whatever the heck you want to call it).  I don’t so much care about the loading.  We’ve been doing it since EQ and we’ll continue doing it.

I’m irked by the manner in which they use instancing and zoning which leads to the destruction of immersion that drives many players away.  When you’re sailing the open sea in what I call “map mode” you don’t get to sail up to a port and tie off your ship.  You get close enough to click on it and be instantly loaded in.  You “pretend” that a longboat rowed out to pick you up and drop you on the dock.  Now that you’re in the port, what if you want to do a mission?  You receive this mission to go attack a port or save a ship or ANYTHING and guess what?  You simply click the NPC, click the name of the mission, and BAM you’re there.  Are we supposed to pretend that we somehow got here?

I understand the use of private encounters to tell the story easier.  I understand the use of loading.  I don’t understand the way in which they utilize both.  I WANT to sail to the port.  I WANT to find the enemy ships out in ocean.  I appreciate the instant gratification and removal of what is considered by some a time sink but what it’s done is over simplified many of the actions that make these games what they are.

Check out the dev chat log and definitely keep researching the game if you’re on the fence.  I plan to write at least a blog post a day about various PotBS topics covering both positive and negative to help you on the way.


The 50’s are kickin my butt

Khek my Sarnak Shadowknight is now level 52 and I’m really starting to feel the hurt.  Stargrace told me that she always hated the 50’s and I didn’t believe her at first.  Sinking Sands had been so dang good to me.  I went from 45 to 50 in like 2 or 3 days which was a shocker to me given how bad 40-45 felt.  Right now Khek is working through the Lesser Fay quests and he’s not having trouble killing mobs.  He’s 52 and able to take on a level 60 mob with no difficulty at all (although it uses half his mana in 1 kill) so difficulty in killing isn’t an issue… I think it’s the zones that are getting at me.

I don’t like Lesser Faydark and how it’s laid out.  Every 2 feet I run into an aggro mob that snares or knocks down.  Also, being evil I am not welcome at the Fae Court area so those quests are off-limits to me.  I have about 5-6 quests right now but 2 are heroic.  Each quest is becoming increasingly more difficult.  Pillars of Flame is also another option for me but when I went there I nearly become ill when I couldn’t find my quest objectives and couldn’t wiggle my tail without hitting a mob.   Cramped zones = Not very fun for me.  I like having some room to maneuver.  I like quest hubs being located in outlying areas and sending you off to do quests.  I’m less enthused about having to run back and forth between camps and fight my way to them.

I’m almost tempted to use some of my enhanced exp /claim stuff to get past this rut.  A guildy told me about “basket quests” in Tenebrous Tangle… what are those?  He had to log before he could properly explain them to me so all I know is that they give good exp.  Anyway, that’s my brief EQ2 update.  I sure do want to get out of this rut.


I take ‘click to accept’ contracts too seriously

I checked my blog stats this evening and noticed that I had about 300 more visitors than normal. The source? Tobold’s Blog. I guess he read the little comment at the beginning of my PotBS beta impressions post and took it personally. Tobold then had the following to say.

I did apparently break the PotBS NDA by posting my review 12 hours before the NDA drop was officially announced, but I thought the devs saying on the beta boards that the NDA dropped on the 3rd was sufficient. Now Keen is pissed at me. Not quite sure whether that is because he has a much more strict legal interpretation of “click to accept” contracts (which aren’t necessarily legally binding in every country) than me, or whether he just felt I cheated in some imaginary “who gets the review out first” game. You should read his review anyway, it is quite good. Keen was one of the prime sources of PotBS information over the last months, and now he is writing on the IGN PotBS Vault. Sorry, Keen, I just wanted to get this out as fast as possible. I would say that our purpose here to spread the good word about PotBS is the same, and it wasn’t my purpose to “beat” you or anyone.

Where to begin? I guess I’ll address the “keen is pissed at me” part first. I’m not pissed at anyone. This is blogging about gaming and not some weekday soap where drama fuels our daily lives. I avoid drama on the internet. I’m not upset or pissed. I simply pointed out that if you agree to not disclose information until you are released from your agreement that you should at least honor your word. That leads to the part where Tobold states that I might be more strict on the interpretation of “click to accept” contracts. I don’t care if they’re legally binding or not, nor if they apply to those of you over the pond. If you click accept and agree to the NDA and test their game shouldn’t you then respect it? Maybe I do take them too seriously. If I give me word, I’ll do my best to keep it.

Now I’ll address the laughable idea that I am somehow feeling cheated that I didn’t get my review out first. Come on Tobold, do you really think anyone cares about that sort of thing? I don’t think posting your opinion 12, 24 hours or one hundred years before someone else makes anyone else’s opinions less valid nor do I care who reads my or your opinion first. I don’t even need to go into the fact that your blog receives 4x the traffic mine does thus nullifying any imaginary contest between us. I’m not racing, and I hope you’re not either. I never claimed you or anyone else tried to “beat” anyone.

Why did I even mention the NDA violations out there in general? Communication between developers and players is already strained enough. The last thing I want is for the bloggers to suddenly be considered press sites and be barred from beta testing or to have us take 10 steps backwards. I personally want devs to communicate with the gaming communities more in the development of their games. Blogging is quickly becoming a great way to communicate with developers and to have so many blogs and news sites out there jump the gun breaking the NDA just doesn’t help any.

If I took this too seriously for you or others out there then we simply don’t see eye to eye. I have no animosity towards Tobold or any other bloggers/newsites that broke the NDA. Peace.


My in-depth PotBS Beta Impressions

According to the Official Pirates of the Burning Sea website the NDA has been lifted as of approx. 11:30AM PST.

I guess I’m one of the few out there who waited for the NDA to actually drop officially. They announced to the testers that the NDA would drop on the 3rd but that doesn’t mean people should jump the gun and get their reviews of the beta up at the stroke of midnight. Wait for the public press release before you break the NDA folks. It’s been common practice for over a decade in MMORPG’s to make a public press release when the NDA is lifted. Anyway, yes I was obviously in the PotBS beta and I would like to share with you my in-depth impressions of the beta and explain my thoughts on each of the broad aspects of the game. Obviously this isn’t a review of the game itself nor will I be scoring it in any way. I simply want to tell you all what I liked and what I disliked about what I saw over the past few months.

In addition to this review of my beta experience I also invite you to check out my Captain’s Blog that I write over on the Vault Network. It will rehash a lot of what has been said here since, well, I wrote it also but nevertheless it’s a good read with a neat parchment background. I’ll be updating that blog usually once a week.

How does the game look? When I first began testing the game, it was several builds from where it is now. The game still felt the same but it was definitely lacking the polish of a release build. They have since polished the game immensely and I can say, confidently, that PotBS is a beautiful game with some of the best water effects I have ever seen (all in Dx9 too!). Avatars are real looking yet they still provide that fun “avatar” look that sets them apart from what the real people would look like back in the 1700’s. There are still a few issues to be worked out with shadows and some articles of clipping issues. The ports themselves are beautiful and alive. On the open see though I feel the world was really dumbed down in order to make traveling quicker.

Pirate Clothes Some animations in the game are still a bit wonky. Characters have a very peculiar way of running that takes some getting used to. In their defense though, in many MMOs, running feels slightly odd at first. Combat animations are top-notch. In PotBS, land battles are definitely a lesser form of gameplay because the majority of the game is spent out on the waters of the Caribbean. Ship sailing in both instanced and open sea feels like you’re truly sailing a ship. When sword fighting with an enemy NPC, you engage in what feels like a real sword clashing fight. Like many aspects to the game, land combat has evolved slightly since the start. In early beta it felt like it lacked any form of challenge because enemies would drop in just a few swings of the sword. However in this latest build, players will truly have to overcome their opponent’s balance in order to land hits. Quite well done, in my opinion. Aside from the battles, little time will actually be spent on land. Ports are not much more than quest hubs.

Ship Combat Where PotBS shines is definitely at sea when doing battle against another ship. This is the heart of the game here folks. Ship combat is very simple: get in range, turn your ship to line your guns up, and press the space bar to fire. Get your enemy’s ship to zero “health” and it sinks. Sounds too simple, right? Where skill comes in is most definitely the wind and maneuvering your ship. Knowing your enemy is also a key to ship combat. Many ships are weaker in certain areas than others. If you’re going up against an enormous Ship of the Line, it would be foolish to sit there and take a full blast to your broadside. Use speed to your advantage and out maneuver the SOL by coming up behind him. Using various types of ammunition you can also out class your opponent. Wrecking sails, for example, is a great way to disable an enemy. Don’t forget about boarding. It’s the simple process of getting close to another ship and grappling – then it becomes a land battle. FLS got it right with ship combat but it may not be apparent to everyone right away. A huge bonus? Levels play absolutely zero part in the combat equation. Levels simply unlock the abilities to use better ships and give you more abilities.

Pirates of the Burning Sea offers a lot of customization to both character and ship. Character creation options are plenty, though not quite the City of Heroes range they wanted. Ships can also be customized with sail patterns, ship and sail colors, a name, and different weapon outfitting. Character’s can visit a tailor shop in most ports to change the appearance of their character instantly (and currently for free in the beta). Although the sail patterns are only permitted through approval via a vote on the message boards it’s definitely worth doing because it adds a new level of personality to a hunk of floating wood. Characters need only worry about a few pieces of equipment and most of them are for looks. This is definitely not a game of gear grinds. Skill is everything.TalentsCharacters are also able to customize their skills and abilities. Each level you are given 1 point to allocate into your class skills which act as a form of talent tree. You unlock abilities farther down the line as you get the prerequisites out of the way. These abilities are very important because they offer your character things such as faster reloads, more defense, more offense, the ability to cloak on the open sea, ad hoc PVP, etc. You are also able to train in your swashbuckling skills which will give you more abilities to use in land combat. Some of these abilities are leaps and bounds better than others but they’ve done a nice job of explaining each one. Make sure you read them and pick the ones that sound powerful – they are.

You’re probably wondering what everyone at this point wants to know. Where’s the downside to PotBS? It’s not a perfect game and many aspects of gameplay do require more work. The biggest issue facing the game right now is missions/quests. This is the fastest way to level, and believe me it’s pretty fast, but it’s also downright dull. Currently there are only so many different “types” of missions and you will experience most all of them from the very first port. It brings a whole new meaning to the “go here, kill X” quest formula when nearly every encounter appears to look the same. The land missions become repetitive and look almost identical. Each villa or jungle is laid out nearly identical to the last and you get a strong sense take they took some pretty big shortcuts when designing these missions. There are also only so many different ways you can instance the ocean before water starts to look like.. well.. a whole lot of water. You’re going to burn out quickly and have very little fun if you approach PotBS from a quest grind to level direction. I advise you now – don’t. At least until they add more variation or develop this system more.

World Map I’m also not a fan of the way everything in the game is instanced. If you see a ship out on the ocean and engage it you are taken into a private encounter or instance where only you and the ship(s) you’re fighting can see each other (and often the scenery around you is completely different than it was on open sea, heh). I guess it might be one of the best ways to do it given how big ships are and how virtually enormous their game world would have to be in order to accommodate the ship battles of everyone, but it still bothers me when I’m sailing the open sea and there’s these two ships circling each other to indicate someone is fighting there. To add more on top of this I do not like how you are teleported to mission battles both land and sea. You simply talk to the port authority figure, click the mission you want to do from that port, and poof!… you’re suddenly in the middle of this instance doing the quest. For me it hurts immersion and takes away from the experience. If FLS is smart they’ll take this idea and use it to their advantage. Instancing content allows for much more intimate encounters between the players and the content the developers intend to portray.

Boarding Combat Avast ye me hearties! There be PVP in this game yo ho ho! That’s the biggest draw of PotBS for me and probably for a great many of you out there. You want to fight for the Pirate Nation or bring glory to the crown of France? It’s that sense of pride in your nation that will add lasting appeal to this otherwise shallow ocean. The map is a true layout of the Caribbean and each nation has a few ports which are considered uncap’s. You won’t be able to take over the newbie starting port and you won’t take the capital port either. You will however, be capable of gaining enough influence in a port to turn it over into contention. At that point a big red circle appears on the map showing where PVP is enabled. This is where the meat of the PVP in the game will take place because outside these red circles there’s not much else you can do to get attacked. If your nation is on a roll you’ll be able to take a large portion of the map in your conquest. There are also other options for PVP which include the ability to go into a “battleground” type instance with objectives. I’m hoping this will see more attention when the game goes live because right now it can be somewhat a ghost town. PVP needs some work. Since so much of the game is instanced already, would it hurt to allow us to attack and lay siege to a port instead of just influencing it?

I want to talk about the PvP a little bit more; infact I want to include some PvE mechanics in this too. This isn’t a game without risk like some of you might be used to. In PotBS your ship can sink if you’re defeated in PvP AND PvE. When your ship sinks, depending on the ship, it may be lost forever. Ships have durability points and once depleted they are destroyed for good. Let’s say your ship has 2 durability and you die once. You’re sent back to the nearest port for repairs and your ship now has a durability of 1. If you get sunk again your ship is destroyed and you are stuck at port given the newbiest of vessels until you procure another. This is where Pirates are vastly superior to the other nations. Pirates have the ability to capture ships when they do battle. You can actually disable and claim another player’s ship or an NPC ship. This makes being a Pirate so cool – you can stock up on ships for free instead of having to purchase them from auction. The risk in PotBS is high and so is the reward. Even if you’re not a pirate you can claim some of your opponents cargo. The seas are a dangerous place.

Auction HouseThe economy in PotBS, probably one of the most talked about aspects of the game so far, is completely player driven. Everything from a barrel of rum to cannon shot will be made by players. I like a player driven economy because it adds another side to the game and in turn adds more lasting appeal. There’s even a class dedicated to this side of gameplay which tells you something: they want their economy to be a huge asset to the gameplay. It’s really well thought out and their approach works. It is however, like missions, a little disappointing if you’ve built yourself up thinking it’s going to be something more. There’s always talk of “build your factory and have your workers make this for you” but you never, ever, see your factory or your workers. In fact the structures you build are nothing more than little icons in a tab on the interface. You macromanage your structures without ever getting to see them and that was a huge disappointment for me. I wanted to see my buildings, open a shop or house, and have a true “place” in a port. Turns out I only have a “slot” in my interface to call my own.

I built myself up to think a lot of things about the game that won’t come true. I had originally thought the game would be big and open like a normal MMO and that I could get with a few of my buddies and just sail out toward the horizon and come across enemy ships or island to search and plunder. I’m slightly disappointed to find that the open world is more of a birds-eye “map negotiator” type experience. With instances and teleporting to missions the sense of exploration is 100% missing from PotBS – that could hurt them. It’s not bad… it’s just not what I had hoped for when I originally envisioned sailing the burning sea. I do however think that their PVP system and the way you engage in nation-wide pvp has merit. Ambushing players who sail into contested waters will be a blast.

It’s always interesting to look at how a developer works with their testers to perhaps gain some insight into how they will handle situations at release. FLS was a pleasure to test for and their GM staff was always helpful. Their servers were a bit rocky at first but I think they have their stability fixed. The game uses SOE’s patcher which I abhor for its slow download speeds but there’s not much we can do about that. Overall I am looking forward to seeing how FLS does as they set course into uncharted waters.

Overall, Pirates of the Burning Sea has a solid foundation from which to launch a very new and unique approach to MMOs. There is a lot of creativity put into making sure this experience is unique. Even with the faults that I find in the game, I am still accepting of them for now because of how different FLS has tried to make this game. I am absolutely excited about what PotBS can become and I can’t wait for launch. With great potential comes the great chance for disappointment and I plan to blog about all sides of PotBS for my readers.