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Old Screenshot Brings Back Memories of Warhammer Online

I found this picture randomly in a directory on my hard drive and was immediately inspired to share it with you guys and reminisce about the… good old days? Well, perhaps not so good, but they were certainly the old days.

Looking at this screenshot, I’m reminded of a lot of awful things we went through in Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. Those were certainly some of the worst days due to how hyped we got, and how far we had to fall. That said, I do have some fond memories.

I remember how much I really, really liked that Shaman class and the WAAAGH! magic. The AoE healing everyone did was stupid, especially for PvP, but the class itself had fun mechanics. I’m also reminded of how fun and unique the races and classes looked, and how neat it was to equip trophies and see them appear on your character.

The dungeons were terrible. The RvR was a zerg fest with small maps. The crafting system a complete and utter joke. The balance was completely shot. The world was truncated and linear. The leveling and character progression a grind. While almost everything ended up being a flop, they did manage to capture that Warhammer feeling for me.

Anyone have memories — fond or otherwise — they’d like to share from WAR?


WAR Returns and Nintendo Remains Awesome

Sorry for the slow updates! I’ve had a busy week with work projects, and I haven’t had much time to game or write. I need to catch up on a couple of things I missed.

return of reckoning
Well this is a thing, I guess. Someone decided to emulate Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. I’m all for these kinds of projects. I’ve played on many of them ranging from Star Wars Galaxies to Dark Age of Camelot, EverQuest, etc. I wish someone would make an EverQuest Online Adventures emu… yeah, get on that would you?  Anyway, WAR is back and alive. What they should honestly do is fix the stuff that sucked in WAR and try to tweak it until it’s fun.

Nintendo Doesn’t Want Whales

This is one of the many reasons why Nintendo remains one of my favorite companies. They’re not after the few people who spend lots of money in their game; they won’t analyze those whales and figure out how to get them to spend more. If they did that, Iwata says, “I don’t think we would be able to entertain hundreds of millions of consumers all around the world or to produce large and long-lasting achievements.” Mr. Iwata, I salute you sir. That’s a great way of saying that those who hunt whales are a flash in the pan. Nintendo focuses on making games fun and available to children and adults of all ages while staying true to their brand. Has it always been profitable? Not in the past couple of years, but that changed in their recent earnings report. Why can’t more companies emulate Nintendo?

Nintendo is also launching a new service in the near future all about bridging the gap across platforms. They want one single login for multiple devices that will link communities and create an ecosystem of tracking and rewarding players. Seems like it has potential. Oh, and they have this secret NX project coming soon… what could it be?

I’m excited for Splatoon to come out on May 29! Can’t wait to play with Graev and have another great game on my Wii U.


Reflecting on WAR

WAR bears bears bearsThe time has finally come — Warhammer Online Age of Reckoning is shutting down in December.  Sometimes I forget the infamously botched MMO is still around, and other times I am reminded of the horrific mistakes I made during the anticipatory hyping period prior to its launch.  I made a mistake.  I was sucked in by horrible marketing because I was desperate for a good MMO and blinded by my hope and belief that DAoC could actually be repeated by the same studio.  I still believe I am the self-proclaimed biggest WAR Fanboy of all time.  I made today’s crazies look sane.

We don’t need to rehash the awfulness that is WAR.  Promises were broken: Bears bears bears.  Promises were kept: WAR has Five Years of Content (I’m laughing out loud right now at the irony).  Carrie Gouskos (who was the Tomb of Knowledge person when I interviewed her back in 2008), now Producer, says she doesn’t think WAR’s critics would ever call it boring. No… no, it was pretty dang boring.  Honestly, the WvW RvR was horribly boring.  The PvE was dull.  Then world was uninspired despite being set in one of the best-known fantasy IPs ever.  It wasn’t good.

5yearsofwarCarrie is right about one thing, though.  WAR absolutely introduced features which are now considered industry standards.  I still remember sitting down with Mark Jacobs for an interview during E3 2008.  We sat in a little side room of EA’s big E3 booth.  Mark, Graev, and I sat at this circular table and Mark let me bombard him with questions.  Besides Mark’s shirt (which I believe was a black polo) only one thing has stuck with me… Mark said, “Public Quests will be something game developers blatantly rip off for years to come.  It won’t even be subtle.  That’s what developers do – we steal each others ideas.”  (Slightly paraphrased).  Sure enough, five years later developers are still blatantly ripping the idea.  I don’t know if I should laugh or cry.

Seriously, let’s think about what we can learn from all of this.  If some good can come from WAR, I hope it’s developers everywhere learning that it’s not enough to think you have a ton of great ideas, a history of success, and a fanbase.  If you put it all together and your game just isn’t fun — you failed.   Personally, I learned how not to market a product — a lesson which has stuck with me now into my marketing career.

So long WAR.  Please take the last five years with you.


PvP rewards without a cost for failure

Let’s start the new year off with a discussion about PvP.  I was thinking about why PvP — more specifically RvR/WvW — hasn’t succeeded or ultimately been a lot of fun for me in the past few years.  We had a brainstorming session on our Ventrilo server, and I think we nailed it.

PvP has too many rewards in all the wrong ways, and there is never any consequence or punishment for failure.

Take Guild Wars 2 where taking a keep grants a huge sum of points.  What happens when that keep is lost?  Nothing that matches the bonus for taking it.  What happens when you retake that keep?  You get another huge sum of points.  Why defend?  Why would anyone when there is more to gain from losing it and taking it again. Players will always seek the path of least resistance where they gain the most reward.  Then there’s the fact that death means nothing.  Die and you can be back at the keep in 4 minutes tops.  You probably miss out on next to nothing.

Here’s why taking and holding keeps in DAoC mattered: Losing them sucked!  The frontiers were a great place to exp.  When the enemy owned the keep near my favorite spot, guards would patrol and often kill me.  More players were also likely to be in the area.  Losing that keep also meant losing a bonus to experience; Leveling in DAoC wasn’t easy.  Losing a keep also meant losing relics with bonuses we wanted.  All of that might have been enough, but there’s another reason losing the keep sucked: Darkness Falls.  Whoever owns the most keeps has access to a dungeon with the best loot exp’ing locations.

Here’s a way to start fixing WvW/RvR and that type of PvP:

  • Remove immediate rewards for taking keeps.  No point gains, no experience.
  • Implement more indirect rewards like a dungeon for having the most keeps and meaningful/sought after rewards for being on the winning side.
  • Create ways to indirectly punish players for losing them. For example: Guard spawns I mentioned or not having access to an extremely desirable location.  Losing ground also means you probably won’t be killing as many players, so you probably won’t be on the winning side gaining points for killing other players.
  • Make keeps/holdings more difficult to siege.

The lack of risk and indirect loss for failing in PvP is game breaking for me.  If you’re not happy with the PvP in a game you’re playing, see if the rewards outweigh the penalties.  Chances are you’re not actually PvPing at all — you’re just gaming the system.


MMOs are not given room to grow anymore. Launch perfect or die!

When World of Warcraft launched in November 2004 is was new, it was shiny, but it really wasn’t as polished or infallible as people think of it today.  Aside from WoW’s launch issues, which mostly stemmed from Blizzard not anticipating the demand, WoW had issues that crop up in most contemporary MMOs.

WoW was evolving constantly back then, and surprisingly continues to evolve regularly even today.  There were itemization issues, stat issues, and content issues.  End-game wasn’t clearly defined.  PvP was anything but defined.  It was clear that Blizzard was learning like the rest of us how their future would unfold. I was there for all of it.

I remember playing and having discussions in general chat with the other players about raids.  All we knew at the time was that there was a raid.  Looking back at the 40-man raids of WoW’s launch and all they entailed, then looking at the raid finder experience of today, it’s truly mind blowing how WoW has evolved.  If you played the entire time, you’re even more aware of how many changes the raiding system has gone through and different systems/mechanics/features/implementations the content has seen over the years.

Then there’s the PvP system, which started out … actually it didn’t.  There wasn’t a “PvP system”.   There weren’t battlegrounds, rewards, titles, or gear.  It was just the ability to kill other players in zones like Hillsbrad.  Evolving just like raids, PvP has gone through countless changes over the years.

What am I getting at by giving you this history lesson? Continue reading


Warhammer Wrath of Heroes

I’ve given up trying to keep track of what to call them these days.  It’s not Mythic Entertainment, EA Mythic, or EA Bioware-Mythic.. I guess it’s just “Bioware” now that handles the Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning brand.  Whoever they are, they announced Warhammer Wrath of Heroes at Gamescom.   It’s part of EA’s Play4Free push.  An exciting idea.  A new Warhammer game?  No, it’s not.  Despite the “3 teams” thing that is being pushed, it’s the exact same game.  Just watch the video and it’s plain to see that everything about Wrath of Heroes is just WAR Scenarios re-boxed under a different name.  It’s like saying “play WAR’s scenarios for free and let us find a way to add microtransactions”.

What would have been neat is a Thidranki (DAOC zone, small, coined the term “battleground” and was always open rather than being instanced) style zone.  My DAOC veteran readers will know what I’m talking about.  What we have here is, in my opinion, a waste of rehashed resources.  I don’t mean to come off insensitive, but it does seem like there are people left over from WAR with nothing to do, so they’ve been tasked with this little project instead of being re-tasked to new teams or let go.

If someone can make sense of this, by all means clue me in.  What about this game isn’t just WAR 6v6v6 scenarios?

Update: Some more details I’m collecting make it sound like an attempt at being DOTA.  I still can’t shake the re-purposed WAR, though.  Had this been -any- other game but WAR I would probably think it’s a great idea.  Perhaps just the horrific stigma attached to all things WAR is tainting any opinion I have about this, but I won’t deny the validity of such stigmas or my reason for feeling them.  I still think that this should have been an idea built from the ground up without all the recycling.

– Abilities on cooldowns, instant cast
– No armor, just skins.
– Tactics (LoL’s Rune System)


Ultima Online 2 rumors

I don’t know what to make of these rumors floating around about an Ultima Online 2.   All of the news entries about the rumors all start with a build-up about how Ultima Online was one of the first MMORPG’s and then say a sequel might be underway … and then they remind the reader that EA owns it all. That just about squashes it for me.  Realistically, EA will never, ever, see the light of reason and create a game that pays tribute to the original — ever.  I’m not being cynical here, I’m being real.  All of the nerdgasms and excited are for naught and the proof is in the track record of EA putting out games and sequels.  I would love a UO2, but I don’t want an EA McMMO that merely tries to capitalize on the namesake of UO while exhibiting none of the traits from the original.

As for Paul Barnett’s alleged participation, I’m also completely indifferent.  I like the guy as a person.  I got to hang out with him a little bit at E3 2008.  He’s smart, knows a good deal about video games, but unfortunately, in my opinion, falls victim to the reputation of the company.  All of the bitterness over WAR often gets thrown in Paul’s very public face.  Is he responsible for the hype or was he just doing his job?  The answer could be yes to both questions.  I don’t really know.  If he were on the alleged project then I would still be indifferent.  Paul’s a creative guy and a marketing guy, whether his job description says so or not.  I do not see how blaming one man, especially one in his position, for WAR is possible.  Personally, I have a very long list of who was responsible and Paul is near the bottom.

UO2 would be awesome, but if it happens it won’t be anything like the original.  EA would have to radically alter their modus operandi.  I do not see the epitome of corporate gaming woes being the one to turn things around.


Of World PvP and Battlegrounds

The thought of world PvP and battlegrounds has been on my mind lately as I think on the subject of dynamic content and experience games like Rift and WoW with their battlegrounds.  We really hashed out this subject a lot when WAR launched and we saw the immediate negative effects from their scenario/battleground system.  Over two years later we are still seeing games launch with battlegrounds while trying to emphasize that there is open-world pvp too.   The two can not co-exist as they are.

World PvP should create a sense of connectedness between players, to both each other and the world they’re playing in.  When done well, and even poorly sometimes, it changes the world for players or at least their perception of it.  Is it dangerous?  No longer accessible?  Something I want to claim for my realm or want to defend lest it be taken by the enemy?  These feelings are then experienced 24/7 — or at least they should be.

What happens when you introduce a system that compartmentalizes PvP is that you take away those feelings, thoughts, or desires.  You take away the connected feeling between the players and most definitely the world.  Another problem that arises from the battleground system is that you often see them mistakenly being the source of the best rewards.  Now we’ve lost the experience and the drive to be apart of your world and interact with other players.  It’s been replaced by the path of least resistance, the desire for improving oneself and the selfish nature that comes along with it.

Themepark designed games thrive upon this idea of creating ways for players to want to focus on themselves.   They also focus heavily on the path of least resistance and upon variables they can control.    While I won’t say that this is a bad thing, because clearly millions love it, I will say that I believe there is a viable alternative and in my opinion a better way to present PvP.

Dark Age of Camelot accomplished something that many overlook.  DAOC could easily be considered a close relative to the themepark model.  The PvE zones or realms were like continents accessible only by your fellow realmmates.  There was absolutely no PvP that went on in the world.  It had dungeons, albeit not instanced but rather open, and a few quests, grinds, rare spawns, and in its good ole days only a minor drive (yet still a drive) for better gear.  However, it also had another focus.

Accessible only by a portal, DAOC had these places called Frontiers which housed the entirety of the game’s PvP.  For all intents and purposes, these could be looked at as 24/7 battlegrounds.  They were ginormous though and at times felt bigger than the PvE lands.  In them were Keeps that could be claimed and defended.  What else was in the zones?  There were PvE mobs that provided some worthwhile benefits like EXP that people wanted.  These frontiers also housed Relics which were inside large keeps called Relic Keeps.  These Relics bestowed upon the owning Realm gains to various things like EXP, damage, etc.

DAOC also had battlegrounds, yet they were not like WoW’s battlegrounds.  These were like miniature versions of Frontiers and no bigger than Alterac Valley if it were squished wider.  A keep was in the center and it was vulnerable 24/7.  The goal?  Own the keep.  That’s it.  It was one of the biggest successes of DAOC and spawned the battleground phenomena.

The point of all that DAOC talk?  DAOC seperated PvE from PvP and made PvP voluntary.  At the same time, they created such a large open-world PvP frontier that players forgot they were separated.  They also created a desire to go there to PvP because of relics, guild and personal prestige, the fact that it was the only area to PvP, and because players took pride in owning the land.  There was also the fact that the best PvE open-world dungeon became available to only the realm that currently owned the most keeps.  Note: Physical ownership of keeps mattered and there as no ridiculous point system for zone ownership.  Your realm owned a keep or it didn’t.

Why then can’t this work in themepark games?  The answer is that it most definitely can work.  It can work in themepark games just fine and absolutely thrive in the more open or sandbox styles.  The small-scale focused compartmentalization and reward taking the focus off of the world and the connection between players would just have to go.  It’s a complete opposite of everything world PvP tries to accomplish and actively inhibits it.

I’m anticipating that within a year we’ll see a studio announce a pseudo-themepark pseudo open/sandbox like DAOC with PvP being separated from the world and voluntary, but woven into the game’s soul.   LotRO was soooo close it hurt with the Ettenmoors.  All they needed were more meaningful claimable objectives (like Keeps) and a more fleshed out Monster system (ideally 3 sides).  It’ll happen soon and it will, hopefully, open some eyes.


WAR’s new dungeon is a mistake. Here’s a better idea!

DAOC's battleground format would help turn WAR around.

Mythic made several mistakes when making Warhammer Online.  If you believe there is nothing wrong with the game then stop reading now because we already disagree greatly and I will not entertain yet another discussion which goes back and forth debating the issue.

What I want to present to you is a mistake they made and have not learned from because they’re about to repeat it again.  I’m talking about the purpose behind why things are done in Warhammer Online — the reason for players to participate in or perform certain activities.  This stretches beyond player action into the general feel of the game and into the spirit of the game and into the design as well.  Let’s just get right to it so that this starts to make sense.

Thanquol’s Incursion is an instanced, Skaven themed, 24 v. 24 RvR dungeon planned to be available in Tier 4 for players of Renown Rank 65 and above.

I like dungeons, especially ones with RvR.  That’s why I was so disappointed when Mythic did not bring along one of the most important ingredients from DAOC: Darkness Falls.  They attempted to remedy its absence in WAR by adding the Land of the Dead.  It didn’t do crap to fix the RvR in the rest of the world and thus had little purpose except being an isolated RvR lake with some PvE bosses.

Alright, so what’s so bad about this new dungeon?  I’m going to shoot some quotes your way from this article explaining Thanquol’s Incursion.

One very important thing to keep in mind: While there are Skaven Bosses in the dungeon, they do little more than “get in your way.”

That sounds like such a … stupid way of selling us on new boss fights.  Why would I want to go into a dungeon to kill bosses if they’re meant to just “get in your way”?  They go on to say that the bosses just stand their ground and from the sound of it are nothing but damage sponges.   It must be because it’s all about the RvR! Let’s look at how they plan to handle player vs. player interactions.

During Boss fights, you will see a new UI element; something we, in the office, lovingly refer to as the Win-o-Meter. A horizontal bar represents the total number of points possible in the current boss fight. Shields above and below this bar indicate your realms’ progress: the farther to the right the shield is, the greater number of points your realm has earned. At the end of a Win-o-Meter enabled fight, the side with the most points wins!

Am I the only one facepalming after reading that?  Win-o-Meter?  That sums up 50% of what’s wrong with Warhammer Online.  They’ve made it all about getting points and emphasizing point gain over a greater purpose such as realm pride or territory control.  It’s always just about accruing points to flip a zone or points to get into LotD or points gained in a BG or now points to win a boss fight.

I do not understand the reasoning behind it.  Mythic, are you sitting in your meetings and actually getting excited about this stuff? “I have an idea! Let’s have a win-o-meter!”  You guys just do not get it at all.  What’s even worse is that you’re gating your content to level 40’s with RR65 and above and maxing it out at 24 v 24.  It’s not just that the dungeon isn’t DF though.  The entire idea lacks depth, purpose, and shows that they’re not learning anything.

Here is where I once again try and provide feedback that will improve Warhammer Online.  I’m not just complaining.

Mythic desperately needs to create an area in the game with territory that has some meaningful reason to be fought over.  Fighting for PQ bags or just for slaughtering other players in an arcade-like way isn’t enough.  Look at how GW2 is creating a system where players within the servers (translates well to Realms) will want to care about and help each other because they’re all fighting for a common goal — the key word being goal because it plays into realm pride when you obtain it.  Consequence of loss is also important.  If the enemy takes your territory they not only push you back but owning the land/relic/whatever confers a bonus.

Right now there are no social dynamics.  Since it’s all about your individual points and not about the other players or the land, no one cares about anyone outside their circle of friends or guild.   Even when participating in city and keep sieges it’s so compartmentalized and put into such an autopilot mechanized procedure that you can simply watch TV and follow along tab targeting and pressing 1-2-3.  I know because I’ve done it!

Ideally, Mythic would scrap their entire game world and make the world contiguous.  Since that won’t happen, we need a very large land mass added to the game that resembles DAOC’s original Frontiers.  An Emain macha combined with a Yggdrasil Forest maybe.  Heck, to be honest I think a DAOC Caledonia/Thidranki type Battleground would solve it all.  You guys remember that, right?  DAOC was the first and last to get Battlegrounds right.  They were teleported to (just like everything in WAR) but instead of being instanced and temporary fights that could be “won”, they were persistent.  A keep was in the middle and it was fought over by all three realms.  Each realm has a big border keep where players can stage with 1 shot guards so no spawn camping occurred.  Fighting over the center keep seems simple in concept, but with a moat, bridges, all the amenities of a castle (walls, corridors, etc) it made for some pretty epic battles.

In fact, that sounds like an awesome idea.  Forget trying to make a contiguous world with meaningful RvR  (slap in the face: I don’t think they’re capable) and just give the game a DAOC Battleground.  They’re fairly large, having areas for players to PvE (make it really worthwhile), and provide an isolated way of providing a meaningful fight.  Let this battleground provide the realm that controls the center keep a really nice bonus that will get players wanting to work together — it has to be worth owning if it’s going to be worth fighting over!  Ideally this is where a dungeon like Darkness Falls comes in as a reward or even their new dungeon (if the bosses were worth killing).


You’re just telling us what we already know, Louse.

I’m not going to comment much on this story about the supposed EA employee identifying why WAR failed.   Whether or not it’s true doesn’t matter.  I’m sure most of the major themes are true to an extent but like most of these whistle blowers the details are probably iffy.  The absolute bottom line here is that it identifies an environment of hostile management and ignorance.  If you followed DAOC, or better yet Mythic, long enough this doesn’t sound surprising after seeing how WAR turned out.

I stated it long ago that the ultimate reason WAR failed was zero vision and ignorance as to how they succeeded with DAOC.  Try and write it off all you want, but no one in their right mind purposely avoids repeat success.  “They didn’t want to make DAOC 2.0!”  Bull.  They wanted very much to make DAOC 2.0.  Even with an entirely different pre-existing IP they brought in Keeps, RvR, talk of “realm ranks”, and pushed hard to capture the spirit of DAOC.  Bottom line, they were ignorant and their work environment didn’t help them any to identify what they were missing.

I’m starting to think that perhaps no one we even know by name is responsible for DAOC.  It was probably some guy in a cubicle who had a decent idea and pitched it to the people we now know infamously by name.  They took credit and thought, “How hard could it be to do it again?”.  I guess we know, right?  This boils down to two points in the end: 1) Those who deserve credit rarely get it and 2) Trying to copy success without understanding it is a recipe for failure.   #2 is a point I have beaten to death over the years.  Oh what the heck, let’s throw in 3) If you’re going to copy a game (like WoW or DAOC) then at least make it an actual copy.

This changes nothing for me, reading this real or fake commentary.  It’s just telling us what we already know.

P.S. I can’t get this picture out of my head. Louse? Is that you?

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