WildStar: Saying goodbye to Evindra

Last night was our guild’s — and our server’s — last night on Evindra before today’s megaservers happened, so being the fun-loving group that we are, we threw a huge party to mark the occasion!

party1I had never been to our guild home before, so I was in for a treat when I arrived to see an absolutely mammoth structure that took up most all of the plot.  Our designers didn’t opt for one of those pre-fab homes, oh no.  They built everything from the ground up to create a sprawling multi-level fortress with a dance room, a control room, a courtyard, and this impressive lobby.

party2I hung out and danced for a little while before taking laps around the place with my hoverboard.  Again I was reminded of just how robust WildStar’s housing system is and how creative players can get with it.  I’m doing good if I get a wall up at a 90-degree angle.

party3As for the megaserver, I’m fine with it.  It’ll be nice to have more folks around, and I can adjust with not playing today (WildStar wasn’t on the schedule anyway) and having a last name.  I like two-name characters in MMOs anyway.  Plus, Carbine did good with giving out 30 boomboxes and a day of game time to everyone — that will be appreciated.

Now on to drop 3!

How to make Guild Wars 2 more “sticky”

stickyBack when Guild Wars 2 was behind closed doors and ArenaNet was only letting little peeks into what this game would be, I remember taking these snippets and letting my imagination romp all around the possibilities of the sequel.  A mini-game in a city was mentioned, and I wondered what it would be like to have an entire world full of such encounters.  The personal neighborhood was teased (but not detailed) and I was excited about the notion of dressing up an entire town.

What I think my mind likes to do during the nebulous, information-scarce pre-launch times is to speculate on all of the ways that an upcoming MMO might stick with me and I with it.  I don’t see it as being naive, but hopeful.  I want games to be good enough so that I’m enjoying them just as much on day 600 as I am on day 1, and a lot of that has to do with how “sticky” the world is.  In other words, how attached and involved I get with the game and its systems.

Today, over two years after Guild Wars 2’s release, I have to say that while I love and admire the game for various reasons, it is not sticky — at least, to me.  While there are no financial barriers to be overcome now that I purchased it nor excessive demands on my time (as most everything can be done in little bite-sized sessions if wished), I can and have floated away from the game without feeling a compulsion from it to return.  I probably will one day.  But I’m not feeling any sense of loss that would go with some other titles I’ve played and left in the past.

So how could Guild Wars 2 conceivably become more sticky for me?  Four key areas come to mind:

1. We need real personal housing, and we need it now.

The instanced neighborhoods are as much of a joke as Trahearne.  Not only did they not change as much as we were led to believe based on the pre-launch talks of the personal story, but they’re pretty much useless.   Oh, you have a candy corn node in there that you can mine once a day.  That right there makes life worth living.

It’s so baffling to me that ArenaNet decided to eschew personal housing and even now, two years later, has yet to move on this.  This is a company that had terrific and useful guild halls in the first game.  Dudes and dudettes, your 2005-era game shouldn’t be eclipsing you here.  Star Wars: The Old Republic shouldn’t have beaten you to the punch on this.  Especially for a studio that does customization in other areas (in particular wardrobe) so well.

Give us homes.  Real homes that we can use, decorate, throw parties in, and make our own.  Give us space in Tyria that is truly ours to design and tailor so that we have the game’s perimission to plant roots.  And, oh yeah, give guilds homes too.

2. Allow players to design and run events.

I’m still not sold on the living story as either engaging content or decent storytelling.  If it was a novel, I would have already tossed it aside in favor for something less bland.  So while my confidence isn’t the highest in ArenaNet’s writers to pull us out of a narrative dive, I would have more hope that there would be one or two players out there who could do better.

Remember those zone events that used to be the big selling point for the game and are now just getting in the way of running to the next heart?  Those were not bad ideas.  I think ArenaNet needs to double-down on “dynamic” events, not by making more and increasing the rotations, but by inviting the community to assist and giving them the tools to do so.  Don’t make it free-for-all, but invite people and guilds to apply to be event creators.  Work with them or give them what they need to make a three- or four-event chain that could tell a fun story across a zone.  Have a dev team review it to make sure it’s in line with the lore of the game or whatever, but then release it with as much honor and fanfare as any other patch.  That could be potentially awesome.

3. Examine to other MMOs to see what fires up the playerbase and then shamelessly copy those ideas.

There are so many good ideas in other MMOs, past and present, that have gotten players really excited and worked well.  Players still yammer on about how much they love the music system in LOTRO — copy that.  Or allow us to have a Mists of Pandaria-style farm.  Or consider allowing us to gain minions (dare I say, heroes?) to help us and go on missions for us.  Or invest in a player-generated mission system.  Or give roleplayers better tools with which to do their thing in the world.  Guild Wars 2 doesn’t have to always be a unique rogue; it can be a shrewd thief instead.

4. Honor guilds with better support and systems.

Guilds are an essential part of the social backbone of any MMO, and yet I feel that they are still not supported as they should be in GW2.  I’m not just talking about a lack of guild halls (althought that’s part), but more robust tools for the officers.  An in-game guild finder.  A guild calendar.  Guild projects that could involve everyone pitching in together instead of grinding out legendaries separately.

And here’s something that would stick me to the game more — a way to chat with my guild outside of the game through an official app.  It’s 2014, people.  We have the technology and know-how.  Even if I’m not in the game or currently playing it, having constant contact with my guild would increase the chances of me returning.

RIFT: Dancing with blades

bladeIncreasingly my favorite soul as a Rogue in RIFT isn’t the Tactician, but the Bladedancer.  I got convinced to give it a serious try thanks to a post on the official forums outlining all of its virtues.  After having played it as my primary build for the past week or so, I have to say that it lives up to that post’s hype.

There’s something exhilarating about being a whirling dervish of death, a fighter who’s more focused on precision, speed, and agility than brute force and sneak attacks.  The Bladedancer’s greatest strength is her extreme flexibility that allows for on-the-spot adjustment to different battle situations thanks to a set of powerful 24-second buffs.  She can pour out strong single-target DPS, shift into more of a defensive posture for tough fights, or activate one of a pair of AOE attacks for groups of mobs.  The life leech from the Assassin line helps to keep me from dying too quickly.

Probably the biggest downside to this build is that I don’t have a lot of “oh crap” buttons — no emergency shields or heals or anything like that.  I try to keep some health potions around, but usually it comes down to a DPS race between me and a lot of very disgruntled mobs.

I’ve been tearing through the Droughtlands in my early 40s, hoovering up quests left and right to do.  It’s not the most visually dynamic of zones — it’s kind of an Arizona-looking place — but it’s well laid out so that I don’t have much running to do to get to the quests.

As I’ve been striking blows for justice left and right, I’ve enjoyed (at least in my head) the feeling of being valiant.  We toss around “hero” as some sort of player/developer aspiration in games, but that’s too generic and non-specific for my liking.  Heroism comes in many shades and flavors.  Some days I don’t want to save the world, I just want to perform acts of service for those in need.  Escorting refugees and helping a widow get justice aren’t going to shift the geo-political balance of power, but it will make those lives better.  Or, it would if those were real.  But hey, it’s part of fantasy to play-pretend at being valiant.

I did get a little Skrit hellbug pet from one of those Defiance crossover rifts, which made me pretty happy.  I’ve also upgraded my planar focus to the full version (2 greater/4 lesser essences) which is allowing for more customization.  So slowly but surely I’m charging toward the threshold of Storm Legion, and after that, Nightmare Tide.

Let me just check my (play) schedge

schedI was strongly toying with the notion of adding SWTOR to my play schedule (curse the allure of expansions!), but I don’t think I can in good conscience try to tackle more than four MMOs at a time.  While mulling over this, I sat down and sketched out a schedule to try out in order to balance the four games I do want to be playing (taking out STO and subbing back in LOTRO), with a play emphasis on WildStar and RIFT.

The idea is that every day I usually get at least two hours of playtime — sometimes a little more, but usually two.  Two divides by two easily, so I’ll focus on giving two games a day one hour apiece, which is my usual play session length anyway.  If I end up with more than two hours, the rest is free for whatever.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Sunday: WildStar / LOTRO
  • Monday: RIFT / TSW* (*weekly play group)
  • Tuesday: WildStar / LOTRO
  • Wednesday: RIFT / TSW
  • Thursday: WildStar / LOTRO
  • Friday: RIFT / TSW
  • Saturday: WildStar / RIFT

RIFT is the quickest game to jump in and out of, and TSW is the longest, so I think that those will balance well.  I do want to get back into LOTRO to go through the Dead Marshes, prepare for central Gondor, and perhaps do a new Beorning class.  Plus, this gives me one fantasy and one scifi/other MMO every night.

Saturday, the “extra” day gives both RIFT and WildStar an equal boost to play time.  Although I’m a little bummed that I’m giving up Star Trek Online for the time being, I feel pretty good about this schedule.  We’ll see how it pans out.

The Secret Adventures: Purple imposter (Kingsmouth #9)

(You can follow my playthrough of The Secret World on Bio Break’s projects page!)

ellisRunaway Lights (action mission)

  • Wow, are we to our final Kingsmouth mission NPC already?  I guess so!  This one here is Ellis Hill, who is (spoiler) not Ellis Hill at all.  The shovel-and-dirt trail leading into the airport hanger is one clue about this purple imposter.
  • “Ellis” is concerened that the airport generator is starting to fail, and even though my character refuses to shake his hand, I guess I’m the best one of the job.
  • Said job involves running through the various tunnels under the runway to check on the wiring and then knock out the mechanical golem that’s guarding the generator.  Doing this proves a little challenging, as some of these rooms are almost sabotage-like with environmental hazards.  The toxic water room and its narrow passage is the worst.

genThere’s Something About Ellis Hill (side mission)

  • A dead body by the airport generator clutches a note suggesting that “Ellis” isn’t who he says he is.  Now, I know the truth, but let’s pretend otherwise and go on a morbid scavenger hunt for clues!
  • The shovel in the hanger has a trail of dirt leading from it… and that dirt goes to the truck parked outside.  Inside is a plot-convenient GPS that traces a route back to the bike track.  Dunno why this guy needed a GPS to guide him all of a quarter of a mile, but oh well.
  • At the track, I find a semi-buried body of the real Ellis Hill.  Poor guy, and an Iraqi War vet too.  Geary suggests that this imposter is one of the Phoenicians, and I’m inclined to agree.  I really wish I could confront him about it, but nothing doing.

golden Dead Air (investigation mission)

  • Man this “Ellis” guy creeps me out, especially how he’s always poised to attack me when I come in the room.  I’m kind of wondering how such a huge guy was able to fit into the smaller real Ellis’ coveralls, but I should stop asking questions.
  • “Ellis” talks a bit about reception and moans about how it’s all static… when the radio starts chattering.  He switches it off in a hurry and rushes me from the room, which is all the invitation I need to go Scooby Doo mystery solving on his butt.
  • I take a quick break to join the rest of the server as they pile on one of the golden golems nearby.  Nice AP reward and it gets me a pair of fiery eyes.  Noice!
  • After checking out the radio mast at the airport, it looks as though it’s a little broken and in need of some “McGuyvering.”  There are a lot of parts lying around, so I pick them all up (I only need three, but I like picking stuff up in MMOs), go back to the mast, and fix ‘er up real good.
  • That’s when this investigation mission gets interesting.  The antenna receives a message in Morse Code, which contains the location of the next part.  Figuring this out either requires (a) abnormally good Morse Code skills, as the code goes by quick, (b) an app to hear and translate the message, or (c) a weak will that leads one to a guide solution.  I think I did it honorably the first time around, so you’ll forgive me if I was a little weak here.
  • The drop site that the coordinates lead me features a large box with a very ticked-off creature inside and two Phoenician troops trying to contain it.  Kill kill, dead dead, mission over.

copBadge of Honor (side mission)

  • With all of the Kingsmouth main quests out of the way, let’s wrap up the side missions before we return to the central storyline!
  • This mission was always a little disturbing to me, mostly because it’s about piecing together a story from its aftermath.  A short, gory story involving a busted-up police car, a blood trail, and some Draug down by the water.
  • After getting the dead cop’s badge back, I have to run it alllll the way back to the sherriff’s.  Man, I haven’t been here in a while!

mailNeither Snow nor Rain nor Zombies (side mission)

  • I should have done this one a while ago!  It’s almost, almost literally a FedEx mission — I find a post office truck and decide that, hey, everyone might be dead, but that’s no reason that I can’t impersonate my favorite Kevin Costner movie!
  • You can actually do this quest three times in a row, delivering packages to three different locations.  No sweat.

bodyThe Body (side mission)

  • There’s an “unfortunate corpse” underneath one of the bridges.  All corpses are unfortunate, in my opinion, although this one looks to have been murdered prior to the fog — he’s been chained to an engine block and thrown in the river.
  • A clue on his corpse leads me back to Edgar’s Scrapyard, where I poke around in trunks until I find a photo showing the man and a whole lotta money.  I’m not really sure what went down here, and I kind of would like to know.  Oh well.

The Slaying of Dixie Bull (side mission)

  • Another mission I missed that I should have gotten a while back.  There’s a black gravestone on top of a hill that belongs to a very dead pirate… well, he used to be dead, and then Kingsmouth happened.  So now he’s roaming around and as the duly self-appointed Pirate Patrol Posse, I need to put him back in the grave.
  • If you didn’t catch that, it’s Syp vs. an undead pirate from the 1600s.  Taking any and all bets!
  • Okay, yes, that was the easiest fight ever.  He didn’t even look very piratey!  /disappoint

Trapped (side mission)

  • There’s a dead Draug on the beach, which is always a cause for celebration, although it’s odd that it died from apparent bear trap wounds.  Well, my interest is sufficiently piqued as to who not only has access to a large collection of bear traps but is deploying them against sea zombies.
  • It’s time for another follow-the-trail mission (TSW has a lot of mission sub-types).  The traps lead me to the fake Ellis, which all gives me another reason why not to invite him to my Christmas party this year.

What should WildStar do with its business model?

squirgDue to recent developer comments that they’re “watching” player discussions as to the business model and the general state of the game, it’s safe to say that the business model of WildStar has come under scrutiny not only in the community but most definitely inside Carbine/NCsoft as well.

My general feeling on business models is that there’s no one best one, but the right one for each game.  With a small-to-modest player population, we must ask, is the subscription model the right one for WildStar?  Undoubtedly, the execs at NCsoft and Carbine were hoping for a World of Warcraft-like success with a top-notch product.  And while I’ll agree that WildStar is a great game, it’s no longer 2004 and subscription-only MMOs are in the vast minority.  Players have far more options that don’t demand a monthly fee, and they are exercising those options.

So going forward, what should WildStar do with its business model?  There are three main options:

1. Stick to their sub guns and do nothing

I see sites like WildStar Core in a mild panic as of late that Carbine might indeed be changing its business model, because for some folks subscription-only offers a perceived level of quality that’s “untainted” by free-to-play options.

“Baffles me how people so down-trodden on #WildStar’s quarterly dev cycle think going F2P will give studio funds for same quality content,” they retweeted, apparently ignorant of everything else in the MMO industry.  But that right there is the key argument for keeping it sub — that any other option will result in an income decrease and that the game’s quality will suffer.

It was foolhardy for WildStar to launch with a sub as a brand-new IP in a crowded field and up against much bigger names in 2014, and I maintain that today.  If WildStar does stay sub, it’s going to become even more niche than it is today, CREDD or no.  But… if they do stick with it, at the very least they need to implement a permanent trial (say, to level 10 or 15) to allow folks non-pressure time to get to know the game before buying into it.

2. Go free-to-play/hybrid

In my opinion, WildStar actually does have a good setup for a potential free-to-play conversion.  Whether or not this was being discussed at Carbine, it’s not as if we haven’t seen sub-only MMOs make the switch from 2009 on.

I would look to games like RIFT for inspiration for this model and continue to offer a premium subscription that includes bonuses and currency.  I would give away all of the gameplay content for free with no artificial gates, but instead focus on selling some of that much-ballyhooed customization.  Costumes, mount pimping, housing items — players love these sorts of things and they have little impact on power levels or competition.  Sell those.  Sell boosts if you must.  The upside is that this would encourage more development of cool customization options, which the game needs anyway.

The biggest advantage to this path is that it would completely eliminate an initial financial barrier with no initial or ongoing fee.  The biggest disadvantage is the perceived stigma of free-to-play and the “this game is dying” PR hit that sometimes comes with the transition.

3. Go buy-to-play

I think that WildStar would greatly benefit from looking at its cousin Guild Wars 2 and taking a cue from it.  Continue to sell the boxes, but make the rest of the game free with very optional microtransactions and sales.  The whole premium currency market could be translated into WildStar thanks to its CREDD system.

Otherwise, a lot of the same free-to-play pros and cons and ideas would stay the same.  Lockboxes would be a definite drawback, as it seems that B2P and F2P games can’t resist them (although different MMOs emphasize them differently).

So if you were in charge of WildStar and wanted to ensure its financial and operational future, what business model would you pick?

The Secret Adventures: Edgar and the Trash Can of Fire (Kingsmouth #8)

(You can follow my playthrough of The Secret World on Bio Break’s projects page!)

heliBlack Helicopters (sabotage mission)

  • As Blake Harrison walks out of earshot, Ann Radcliffe pulls me aside to say that Orochi’s been operating black helicopters out of the area and that, ahem, I should go investigate.  She’s one of the few Orochi with a conscience, I guess.  Good for her.
  • So guess where we’re going?  Yup, that’s right, back to the airport.  It’s pretty much ATC part II.  In fact, you get back into the same prohibited Orochi area by stealing the same uniform and using the same code (739241 will forever be burned into my mind because of these quests).
  • From there, it’s more sneaking around to access three laptops.  The last one is really tricky, since it’s inside one of the side rooms where an Orochi is looking.  Fortunately, I find a fire alarm, pull it, and watch her run out.
  • The big revelation of this quest is that the Orochi are experimenting on the draug corpses, but then, we kind of already knew that.

squidThe Tentacle Trail (side mission)

  • Before heading to the next mission NPC, I do a quick suicide port back to town and sell off my inventory.  Oh hey, somewhere along the line I got a cool Illiminati gas mask!  Gotta put that into an outfit.
  • I begin the jog to the scrapyard when I find a squid truck (a truck carrying boxes of squid, not a truck made out of squid nor a squid that fused with a truck) that’s been vendalized.  Time to follow the box trail!
  • TSW doesn’t always hold your hand — sometimes it expects you to use your brain and observational skills.  So with a quest like this, you aren’t given an on-screen pointer, but told to follow the boxes visually.  Kind of like the Hunger earlier on.  The boxes lead to a giant Blodugr Lord (a mini-C’thulu, as I call them) and an easy fight.

I Phone Home (side mission)

  • Right across the bridge from the tentacle monster fight is a damaged tablet that belongs to Danny’s dad.  Well, he’s dead, but I still have to jog over to his home anyway to fulfill that quest requirement.
  • Oh hey, he’s not home.  Guess I need to go to the skate park to Danny I COULD HAVE TOLD YOU THAT FROM THE BEGINNING, QUEST!

defScrapyard Defence (action mission)

  • We’ve got a lot to do at Edgar’s Scrapyard.  Edgar may be somewhat slow in the head, but he’s a brilliant mechanic who — and this is always important in Kingsmouth — is still alive.
  • Edgar’s a hoot, all rough around the edges but plenty lively.  He’s working on turning a school bus into a “Zombi-Waster” to get out of town.  You know, out of all of the survivors in Kingsmouth, I’d put my money on him.  I would love to see a cutscene of him crashing this bus through the Orochi barricade and laughing all the while.
  • Edgar wants me to set up some defenses around the scrapyard in the form of explosive barrels. I love this mission!  It’s three rounds of picking up and putting down various types of barrels, then taking out waves of zombies as they come in.  There’s some setup strategy, but it’s not that hard to do.
  • Some of the zombies are called “Tar Man,” which is a nice call-out to the famous zombie from Return of the Living Dead.

golemFull Metal Golem (action mission)

  • Edgar laughs derisively at the thought of me being a hero.  I get that a lot in these cutscenes, people mocking me as a hero even though I do help anyone I can and I don’t get to say a word in my defense.  It’s like the game wants me to feel defensive about having such notions.
  • He mentions how work on the bus is not going well now that piles of scrap metal have started up and walking around to become fearsome golems.  Out of all of the weirdness in Kingsmouth, I’m at a loss to explain the golems.  Is there any reason given?  Is it related to the mechano-organic nature of the bees?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.
  • Getting parts from four separate golems isn’t particularly hard, but it does make for interesting encounters.  First of all, the golems have a lot of broad telegraphs (albeit slow ones) that require some footwork.  Second, once you down them to about 75% of their health, the big golems shut down and several small ones attack.  You have to kill the small ones and then extract the part from the big guy before he powers back up again.  No sweat, though.

notebookIt Takes Two to Tango (side mission)

  • The highlight of this rather boring escort mission (in which you’re escorting a dog from the scrapyard to the airport) is a peek inside of Edgar’s notebook.  I love that he chronicles that the one night’s growling noise was his belly and not the fearesome creatures of the dark.

 Tango & Cash (side mission)

  • I’m really, really kicking myself for not remembering to do this side mission at the same time as Scrapyard Defense.  It’s basically free AP for killing the mobs during the assault, and if there isn’t anyone running that quest, you have to start it up to finish this side mission.  So, oh well, might as well do both like I should have in the first place.

floaterFloater (side mission)

  • What?  Whaaaat?  You’re reading this on Bio Break, might I remind you!
  • This innoculous toilet coughs up an Orochi drone that requires a little escortin’ back to the bridge.  No sweat.  Just make sure you wipe properly afterwards, little drone.