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7

“It’s Alpha”

I hadn’t heard this in such a long time — probably because of the people I surround myself with — but I heard it tonight: “It’s alpha.”

Long ago, we used to hear, “It’s alpha,” or, “It’s beta,” all the time as a reason to justify a game’s problems. Years, perhaps decades, ago this was probably true. A game in alpha or beta would be still heavily in development with issues that should be overlooked. That’s because back in that era the games stayed in alpha and beta for years and only the hand-picked select few actual testers gained access.

Tonight while watching some of the popular streamers playing Dauntless together, one of the streamers said he didn’t want to play Dauntless because it was repetitive and boring. As an aside, I agree that Dauntless looks boring. One of the other streamers suddenly became incredibly defensive and said, “It’s alpha, give it a break.”

Wrong.

It’s not true alpha. It’s a marketing promotional period for the game now. It’s a time to sell advanced founder’s packs for a game going F2P. Any game, not just Dauntless, in this position has left that stage where one can make excuses for the game. When you start taking people’s money and allow them to freely talk about the game, you lose the ability to disclaim that the game is not ready for people to critique.

In today’s “alpha” and “beta” ::gulp:: … “tests” … you’re a fool if you think that isn’t how the game will be at launch. Those systems? That UI? That’s launch. That’s what you’re going to play. If that game is boring, repetitive, sluggish, etc., then that’s how it’ll be at launch. Perhaps the only issues I would say you might have to overlook are server downtime and stability. Even then, I’d expect those issues — at least temporarily — at launch.

Launch doesn’t suddenly change the game. Launch doesn’t radically introduce a patch that makes the game go from being a boring repetitive mess into a sterling and cohesive package of fun. Why would it?

8

Hyping Legends of Aria

One of our readers and long-time community members (Pseudos on Discord) pointed me towards this up and coming game called Legends of Aria. I thought I hadn't heard anything about it, but turns out I had heard of its former name, 'Shards'.

Doing some minor research into the title, it looks like they're trying to make a UO game -- even a UO clone in many aspects. As far as I'm concerned, any MMO trying to emulate one of the greatest -- and truest -- MMORPGs has my interest and if legitimate, my support.

The official website provides some insight into conceptual systems, but little in the way of day-to-day gameplay explanation. 

There's a teaser video from PAX east. If you get past half the video being horses running through scenery, there's a little bit of tease toward what could be UO-ish.

The best resource I've found thus far is a Reddit post where an alpha player has provided bullet point information on mechanics. Well worth the read, and I want to comment on a few of the points.

Skill Systems that Make Sense

Skills are point based (use to gain) just like UO. Can lock skills to a certain level e.g. I only want to learn 30 animal taming so I can set the skill to 30 using a slider and it will not gain above that amount. [...] Right now there is an official server which is basically a UO clone. 700 skill point cap, same skills, etc.

I love this point system. It forces people to make decisions on the type of character they want to make.

That Beloved Virtual World Feel

Hunger plays a role with player effectiveness e.g. accuracy and stat regen. Not sure if it does/will effect stat/skill gains or anything else. Meat can be harvested from dead animals and cooked, foraged from plants or bought from vendors. Hunger also effects tamed animal companions.

I love how much this type of mechanic influences the immersion. Other points on the reddit post talk about crafting and repairing/enhancing weapons. Lots of emphasis on the player and their role in the world over the actual items.

Custom player housing with lock downs, storage, and vendor placement. Houses can be placed facing any of 4 directions. Can add fences and decorations and stuff to outside on the property, within the house lot. decorating tool is really nice. you select and object and have full control over it with an interface that allows you to nudge it east, west, north south, or rotate it 360 degrees, and move it up or down in elevation.

I really, really like player housing. I like creating communities of players and having a corner of the world where I can call my own. This added so much value to my experience playing UO. Finding that spot of my own, even if it was a terrible location, felt good.

Fully Modded and Player Run Worlds

Custom player run clusters which can have custom rules, items, npcs, events, monster spawns, and world themes. There will completely custom maps and custom assets in the future. There can be an unlimited amount of shards per cluster, which can be different worlds/maps but must follow the same ruleset/mod of the cluster​

Here's where things get questionable for me. There's a decent explanation on the official site about this idea of player-run servers and clusters

​Essentially, there are official 'clusters' which the devs create that have specific rulesets. You can spawn a "world" off this cluster which is like a zone. Your "zone" is under your control if you choose to play it as the owner, but you're bound by the rules of the cluster.

Players can also have their own clusters and custom rules. The whole thing becomes confusing to me when I try to think about how this is all connected. I'm not a big fan of major modding or god players.

I'll stick to official rules, and to the one closest to UO. I might start my own world if it means I can have lots of fun events.

There has to be stability in a world for an economy and permanence to take root. I'm curious how it will all pan out.

Business Model

There won't be any F2P crap. It's a one-time buy deal. There's a $40 package available to pre-purchase. You'll get access to the alpha. It'll wipe sometime this year and then those who pre-purchased get a 1 week each start on Steam.​

I haven't bought in yet because I'm burned my the idea of early access and pre-ordering for access, but the game is now high on my radar.

Cautiously Optimistic

Any try it out yet? Can you provide further insight/​clarification on the clusters/worlds? To what degree will the player modding or being a shard god devolve everything into a cluster-eff?

39

Keen’s Thoughts On Heroes of the Storm Technical Alpha

hots-shop

I finally got into Heroes of the Storm technical alpha a week or so ago, and after spending several hours going head to head with heroes, villains, and well-known characters from all of Blizzards IPs, I’m ready to share my thoughts.

First impression: Blizzard polish is (duh) amazing. They enter the MOBA scene years after so many others yet create a game that just ‘feels’ great. I don’t need to go into details about the UI being great or the game running smooth. The map is standard MOBA with a Blizzard flare (more on that in a moment). It’s all flawless, and that’s to be expected. Go watch a youtube video if you want to see more.

heroes-of-the-storm-raven

Heroes of the Storm is, essentially, a dumbed down version of other mobas at least where mechanics are concerned. There isn’t last hitting or denying. There are no items. Experience is shared across your entire team. Everything is super basic, but remarkably it works.

Gameplay centers solely around improving your team’s heroes faster than your enemy. Hero customization comes in the form of choosing talents and abilities that actually make the customization in HotS significantly better than most if not all other mobas out there. As you level you get to choose to upgrade abilities, and you have to make a choice of which ability will receive which upgrade. Upgrades may make an ability do more damage or gain an effect.

hots-arthas

As you play heroes more and win games you unlock new traits for them and gain experience to level those heroes up. This encourages you to pick a hero, buy it (yay cash shop?) and rank it up.

HotS also has mounts. It wouldn’t be a F2P or a Blizzard game without mounts. These can be activated by pressing Z and make moving around the battlefield when traveling a little bit faster. They can also be customized (more later).

hots-muradin2

What makes Heroes of the Storm unique is the interesting gameplay twists. Throughout the match there will be timed events to gather things or beat the enemy team at performing a challenge. In the Halloween map ‘Cursed Hollow’ the goal is to curse your enemies by collecting the tributes. This curse makes the enemy creeps have 1 HP — a great way to push their base. Another map I’ve played had players entering into a goldmine (good ole classic Blizzard gold mines) to slay undead and collect tokens to spawn a boss that would fight for your team.

hots-muradin

The free-to-play component of HotS disappointed me. I hate games that only make certain heroes available each week. It’s like League. I prefer DOTA2’s method of giving you every hero. You’re forced to buy heroes and they ARE NOT CHEAP. Some range from $3.99 up to I think I saw one for like $10? It’s crazy. Yes, you can unlock them with the in-game ‘gold’ you earn slowly by playing normally. Other things like mounts, cosmetic skins, and the usual fair can be found. Blizzard clearly likes Riot’s business model.

Worth playing? Yep! Heroes of the Storm is a lot of fun despite being a somewhat obvious cash grab. If you’re like me you’ll look to find the most value possible without paying a cent. I can have plenty of fun for free.

10

Camelot Unchained is Looking Real Good

My excitement for Camelot Unchained is really starting to ramp up. Such a welcome change from the dismal outlook I’ve had on MMOs lately. Camelot Unchained is currently in pre-alpha testing. I think I get access to some version of Alpha based on my support of their Kickstarter campaign… I just can’t remember when or how I’m supposed to be getting that access.

I’ll be the first to admit that I thought Camelot Unchained would look rough. I’m not a graphics whore or snob (well okay maybe a little).  When I saw the screenshots from the P.A.T. I was actually shocked in a good way. Take a look.

camelot-unchained-pre-alpha1

camelot-unchained-pre-alpha2

Pretty cool right? I’m liking how they’ve progressed from that tech demo. I think the character models already look good and have a lot of potential. I’m starting to get excited to think about playing this game and rekindling that sense of a big world of territories ripe for the conquering.

You guys know me. I’m typically a PvE carebear. When it comes to PvP I’m reluctant to participate and always have been since I started playing online games. The only game to truly capture my attention from a PvP angle was Dark Age of Camelot. It’s all about the realm, the large group, and the server battling together rather than guilds or individuals or teams. It’s grand scale stuff. My mind is creating these types of experience already in the graphical style of what I’ve seen in Camelot Unchained.

Something else I want to touch on briefly is the way in which Mark and his team are promoting/marketing/etc., CU. I love the blunt and matter of fact way in which they talk about their game. I’m a fan of the “our game is not for everyone” tone. I’m a fan of letting your game speak for itself rather than having to create marketing materials or bs videos of a dev sitting there talking. As Camelot Unchained enters a stage when they can start actually sharing the game itself, I hope the team at CSE keeps it up.

15

ArcheAge: Sandbox, Themepark, or Farmville?

Alright, let’s continue the ArcheAge commentary.  I’ve put in several more hours and I have a ton to say about several of the core game mechanics.

An Ode to Farmville ArcheAge Farming

Oh little strawberries so tiny and red,
I thought I would eat you but then suddenly read,
I need one effing hundred of you to complete this quest,
According to that annoying NPC’s demanding behest.
No big deal, I’ll just wait a few,
I had no idea how slowly you grew.
Five hours later, my coin purse destroyed,
Only then did I realize THIS is when I should get annoyed…

I think I missed my calling as a poet.  Anyway, that poem describes one of my first experiences with farming in ArcheAge.  I was tasked with making Strawberry jam to prove my worth as a hero adventurer farmer.  I was given a tiny little plot of land (8×8 or something) to use for completing these farming quests.  Farming in ArcheAge takes real time  and requires planting, watering, harvesting, etc.  It’s really neat for a MMO, and though I give it a hard time for reminding me of Farmville I think it’s fine.

This quest in particular had me plant about 30 strawberry bushes in order to harvest 100 strawberries.  They take about 2-3 hours per bush, so I was able to plant them then go hunt and come back. Long story short, I then had to run pretty far away to craft the jam, then realized I had to travel almost 40 minutes to turn it in at a location several zones away.  It takes so long because they slow you down while you carry the stuff.

The fun just begins, though.  Now to prove myself worthy of a donkey (to make these errands faster), I must obtain goose down.  To get goose down I must raise goslings that only eat beans.  Well to get beans I need to plant them much like the strawberry experience.  I need enough of them to feed enough goslings to grow into geese that will, one day, provide enough down to complete this quest.  I think I’m going to make a spreadsheet to manage the whole thing (3-4 down per goslings at 3 hours per harvest + beans).

For those of you who love farming, ArcheAge has you covered.

Quests, Quests, and MOAR QUESTS!

This is the part of ArcheAge I do not like at all.  The questing extremely shallow and really quite boring.  The quest text can just be skipped, it’s that good.  You just follow arrows around or look on your map for the indicators and do whatever it wants you to do.  It’s always click this or kill that.  Really too bad since I wanted ArcheAge to be a sandbox.  This questing-to-level system breaks what could have been a very, very good time.  I wish the questing was removed completely in favor of a big open world.  The zones are definitely linear, and you progress THROUGH the game rather than living in it as you grow as a character.

Ahoy there! A Ship!

I finally made my way into this zone where, if you can wrestle one away from someone else, you can try out the ships.  I sailed around for 45 minutes.  That was a really neat experience.  I loved boats in UO, and to think that the same type of experience can be had from this perspective… that’s easily the main draw for me.  Imagine just finding water and sailing out and fishing.  There’s combat out on the water, other people acting as pirates, etc.

If I could find a way to skip all of the questing and just get my ship and sail off into the horizon I would.

There might be a sandbox in here somewhere…

I’m starting to think the game as a sandbox doesn’t begin until level 50.  1-50 is just a filter and time waster.  At level 50 you’ll be able to afford the good ships, build castles, siege people’s property in wars, sail out into the ocean and live the life of a real pirate, drive in race cars, etc.  Until then it’s this weird quest grind.  I’ll keep you updated as I progress as far as I can during the alpha and beta phases.

42

ArcheAge VERY Early Impressions

Trion was gracious enough to grant me access to the alpha test phase of ArcheAge. I’ve had access for two days now and put in somewhere around 5 hours of play.  I’m still -very- early in the game and haven’t even gained access to most of the features I’d like to try the most (ships, housing).

I want to start sharing my impressions, though, because there’s going to be a lot to say about ArcheAge.  Let’s discuss the first few hours of play.

Visuals, Presentation, et al.

ArcheAge is quite beautiful.  You can glean that from watching most videos.  The engine runs well on my computer at maxed out settings with only the slightest hint of slowdown around what I think could be a shadow issue.  From a complete technical novice like myself, the game ‘feels’ well put together and as the end-user I have no technical complaints yet.

Some of the game is still in a language I do not understand — Korean?  Other than language, ArcheAge feels Eastern to me.  Character models all look feminine and ‘pretty’.  Back to how the game ‘feels’, I can ‘feel’ the Eastern influence in the controls and the gameplay.  Playing MMOs for almost 20 years gives one that sense to pick up on these things.  Keep in mind that’s not yet a negative thing by itself. Continue reading

18

Albion Online Alpha

Albion Online is a F2P sandbox MMO currently in alpha.  We received keys to participate in the alpha test that began this evening which ended up being so much fun that I had to jump on here and share my thoughts.  I would have had this post up yesterday evening shortly after playing, but my poor little laptop BSOD’d and I lost the whole thing. 🙁

Albion Online UI

UO meets Action RPG

Think of Ultima Online + a little bit of action RPG and you’ll start to form the foundation of Albion Online.  Played from an isometric perspective, Albion Online offers a completely sandbox experience on any device.  I was shocked to see that you can play cross-platform on iOS, Android devices, PC, etc.

 

Building

Players in Albion are able to build structures out in the world.  From what I can tell, there appear to be pre-designated spots close to the main city.  I haven’t explored far (the world is pretty dang big) enough to see if it opens up to more of a ‘place anywhere’ mechanic.  You can place storage buildings to help you store all of your heavy resources (there is a carry capacity), crafting stations, buildings to decorate, etc.  Like UO, you are safe in your building unless you built in the guild warfare areas.

Gathering and Skills

Albion Online Skills

This is about 5% of the skill menu

From the moment I started playing I realized how much time I could lose to this game.  The very first thing I had to do was gather wood, stone, and hides to craft myself some basic tools and armor.  I recommend making a shield and adding the Shield Wall spell — great survivability!  After crafting my tools I realized that everything in-game seems to be driven by the skill menu.  This skill menu is MASSIVE and makes Path of Exile look tame. Continue reading

6

Landmark’s Secret Building Menu

I am having a blast with Landmark.  I love making things.  The problem I am having is that I can’t seem to make things look good.  I’m hard on myself, I know.  I realize I am probably better than 50% or more of the players, but when I look at some of the work being tweeted and shown on streams by the devs I feel like I am finger painting with my thumbs in a class full of Rembrandts, Monets, and van Goghs.

Landmark Inlays

The process of creating inlays is intense. I wish they had an inlay tool.

Maybe these brilliant builders are all architects and designers, or missed their calling in life to be one.  I’ve tried watching HGTV and the DIY channels for inspiration but I can only take so much. I know it will take practice and time to get better.

Something bothering me, though, is the gap between those who can manipulate the game engine better than others.  Micro voxels, zero volume voxels, E=MC2 gigavoxels, etc., are all these new fangled ways of glitching out the game or exploiting one tool to yield unexpected results from another to create something that interacts with the world in a really, really neat way.  I feel like there’s this secret menu people can order from that I don’t know about.  While you are all getting your animal style fries I am stuck playing with the normal cheeseburger.

For example, in yesterday’s stream there was a trick to make inlays.  You had to cut out your basic shape, duplicate it, stack it 5 deep, fill in the original, smooth tool the duplicate, transpose the filled in original into the middle of the duplicate to get the voxels to snap to each other, then biopsy the final product.

Why can’t there just be an inlay tool?   Why can’t there be a microvoxel tool?  I hope the Landmark devs understand that while these are really awesome features (once called flukes) that some people are able to  take advantage of, there are those of us with zero talent who want to play with them too.  I have tried on numerous occasions to use microvoxels and I just can’t figure it out.  I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.  I’m starting to feel like I’m on the outside looking in at a bunch of people with geometry degrees.

This is Alpha.  My plea here may already be a top priority.  If it’s not, all I ask is that someone consider making these really neat tricks more accessible.

12

New Landmark Patch: Snow and Moss

Landmark received a rather large patch yesterday which introduced the Tundra and Old Growth Forest biomes.  I’ve been waiting to finally be able to have a real forest rather than a jungle-like area.

Landmark new biomes

I’m on the old growth shelf overlooking the valley.

My group relocated to Liberation -> Channel to the east of the spires.  We found a nice valley of snow with two flatter shelves of old growth.  We are also able to place two additional attached claims on to our master claim which triples our usable land.

Several quality of life improvements were added.  We can now craft plants, rock, and trees from every biome.  I noticed several new textures as well as new building materials like ice and snow which are in a new tab liquids tab.

landmark-tundra

The patch wasn’t without its issues.  Sometimes my materials, like a wooden platform I built, appear all black until I log out or change my display mode.  Sometimes those are the cause of the black textures.  It feels random, but we replicated it last night for multiple people.

My building plans in Landmark keep changing.  Now that I can make trees and have that old forest look I want, I’m going to make a tree village.  Take a look at the humble beginnings.  I only placed a few of these trees:

landmark-old-forest

I plan to scale some of them up to be huge and create massive platforms like Kelethin.  I’ll have rope bridges to different platforms each with their own buildings.  I’m thinking something like a small pub on one, a living quarters, a garden, and an outdoor social area.  Just a nice little village in the trees.

I’m hoping Landmark development turns toward the other avenues of gameplay now that building seems to have a lot more proprs and materials.  I want to get out there and explore underground, find rare resources, and even have a little danger mixed in.

Overall a great leap forward for Landmark’s development.  I hope they can continue to refine and polish performance, meet their road map goals, and be on track for beta.  It’s going to be exciting to see a huge new wave of players join us in our adventure.

9

Cube World Alpha

Cube World Crocodile Mount

Tame pets to fight for you, and even act as mounts.

Keen and I picked up Cube World yesterday. Like Minecraft you can purchase now and gain access to an alpha build. So far from what I’ve played, and have heard about, it seems like Minecraft: RPG edition. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

When you start the game up you get to create a character and pick your race/class combo. There’s a nice variety so far like Human, Elf, Orc, Goblin, Dwarf, Undead, Frogman, etc. Actually I think I might have named all of them. You also get to pick out some visual options for each race like hair and face. The classes right now are warrior, rogue, mage, and ranger. Supposedly more are going to be added but that’s it for now. Each class can also specialize in two different ways. For example, a mage can use water or fire magic and a Rogue can be either an Assassin or Ninja. The skill tree is pretty tiny right now, but they say advanced trees are planned. Each spec basically gets one ability line with three different abilities in it. Other than that you can put skills into swimming, climbing, and pet mastery which later upgrade into sailing, hang gliding, and riding, respectively.

Cube World Hanglider

Soar the skies with a hanglider.

The combat is fairly simple right now. The Rogue (Ninja spec) attacks with left mouse button and generates mana, or whatever they call it, and can utilize right mouse button for a special attack. I think the different attacks are dependent on not only your spec but what weapon you are using. Keen is playing a mage and when he was fire spec he shot fire and when he went water magic he shot water. However, when he held a staff his attacks created small vortexes but when he used a wand he shot bolts out. I haven’t found a new weapon yet for my character so I haven’t been able to test the extent of melee diversity.

The biggest problem with the combat right now is how easily you can get trashed. You will die a whole lot, even with health potions. There is an active dodge and some classes can use shields to block, but even then you can get easily ganged up on and demolished. Keen and I had made our way into a castle dungeon and we only were able to finish it because he changed to water magic and could heal us. Even then we died a couple times because there is just no way to sustain the amount of damage done to you. There doesn’t seem to be any death penalty yet, so dying is mostly just an inconvenience. When you revive you appear at one of the several revive statues littered all over the landscape. The frustrating part, however, is you and your buddy can die right next to each other but for some reason you go to different respawn locations far apart. It doesn’t always happen but it does happen way too often.

I haven’t delved much into the crafting side of the game but it does look intriguing. It’s not like minecraft where you mine some blocks and shape it into a sword. I’m not even sure you can mine blocks away in this game, only nodes. Instead you combine ingredients you find to make useful items like potions or new equipment. One thing that I thought was really cool was the ability to forge your weapons and actually change their. You can add more blocks to your sword to not only make it looked awesome but also increase the damage. The grander stuff like house building isn’t in yet but it looks to be pretty promising as well.

cubeworld fire biome

The generated worlds are really fun to explore. There are lots of cool geographical features and unique biomes. Keen and I just found some kind of barren wasteland/lava kingdom earlier with entirely different monsters, dungeons, and towns. We actually stumbled upon a giant pyramid which had some pretty cool mobs inside. Our next major goal is to find an ocean and try sailing it and then maybe try out hang gliding and animal taming. The game is only in alpha and is a little rough around the edges, but Cube World looks like it’s shaping up to be a really fun game. If you haven’t been following Cube World then you should really start now.

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