GenCon Indy isn’t much about video games as it is about pretty much every other kind of game ever made: LARPs, card games, board games, RPGs, miniatures, etc. But it did have a section of the exhibit hall reserved for electronic games, and that’s where I made my first stop: Mythic Entertainment.
I was both excited and a bit apprehensive about re-visiting the WAR folks — excited since Andy made it a point to ask me to come over and talk, and apprehensive because I was sure they were going to gank me for shuttering WAAAGH! and I’d never see my wife and son again. Happily, it was a good talk — we’ve always said that Mythic has one of the best, most approachable and friendly development teams, and they continue to prove it with stuff like this. Andy and I talked for well over an hour about the game — where it faltered, what they’re working on, and his personal mission to try to woo me back to the fold.
I don’t know if that’ll work or not, but I told him I’m always willing to revisit it in the future, as has my colleague Snafzg in his new “Return to WAR” article series. Here’s a few of the more salient details from our discussion:
- Despite what some may assume, the Mythic crew has strong morale and continually excited to be working on WAR — a game that they all play daily, by the way.
- Andy underlined Mythic’s new/revised approach to WAR’s development: lots and lots more listening to the community about what works and what doesn’t, and a very dedicated focus to improving the base game, getting rid of the bugs, increasing performance, and holding back from more sensational updates until they’re (and we’re) happy with the game at its core.
- A common misconception is that Mythic could have improved performance by just throwing more or better servers at the game — in fact, Andy said that the servers have performed far beyond what they ever expected, but that some of the server code was less-than-ideal, which they have been working at improving (this is in regards to some of the lag of the graphics-intensive mass combat battles).
- Andy mentioned how Aion’s models involved far less polygons than WAR’s — on the same level of WoW’s — one reason why it has such fast performance.
- I asked Andy about his feelings of being included in the MMO gamer documentary Second Skin, and he felt generally pleased about the end result.
- From his perspective, recent player response to patches and city siege improvements have been overwhelmingly positive
- I asked what Mythic’s relationship is with BioWare these days, and the answer is that it’s mostly brainstorming back-and-forth between the teams. BioWare is providing Mythic with story advice, and Mythic is giving BioWare information as to their engineering systems.
- The big bottom line that Andy kept stressing is that Mythic is listening — and they want to continue to be open and communicative with its playerbase, while earning every sub they get with good word of mouth as folks hopefully realize how much the game’s improved since a year ago.
- We talked about branching out in gaming, and how trying multiple titles strengthens us as gamers and them as developers. Andy is a monster player — not only does he play WAR, but he subscribes to FIVE other titles as well (one of which, and this is true, is Pirates of the Burning Sea).
I was pretty jazzed that BioWare had a presence at GenCon, but I quickly realized that it was for Dragon Age and Dragon Age Only — no Mass Effect 2, and definitely no TOR. Even so, I quickly got sucked in by just how awesome DA looks (I am definitely snagging that title), and had a chance to talk with one of its developers. Dragon Age is definitely set to be a franchise, and I asked if characters saved at the end of the game would be brought into the next — the response to that was a veiled “maybe”. We had a good chat about how BioWare is advancing their morality system past KOTOR’s rather extreme “good/evil” slider to more complex choices and surprising results.
Very, very excited to head over to the Cryptic booth, especially since we’re on the verge of Champions Online’s launch in a couple weeks. They had it playing on resolutions my computer could only dream about, and boy did it look fan-freaking-tastic. I cornered Jack Emmert for a few minutes, and spent a few more with another developer whose name I forgot. Jack spilled a few eyebrow-raising beans:
- I got a bit of glare from him when I said that there was a perception that Champions is not doing enough marketing/hype for being this close to launch, but then he shrugged and said that once the NDA drops, it’s all word of mouth, and he trusts that people will try it and like it.
- I asked if they’re going to try to get Champions out on the XBox 360 before DC Universe Online launches, and he said, “Oh, definitely. And the PS3 too.” (I don’t know if he was kidding on the last part, but he was dead serious about the 360.)
- He wouldn’t talk much about their speculated third MMO that’s under development, except that it should be announced relatively soon (within six months? don’t quote me here), and that Cryptic is trying to become a major MMO player by developing a wide selection of games fairly quickly that stay outside of overpopulated genres (read: fantasy).
- The biggest “Oh COOL” moment was when I point-blank asked him if Cryptic was going to do something with a multiple MMO subscription plan, a la SOE’s Station Access. The answer? “Yes.”
I didn’t plan on swinging by Wizard of the Coast’s booth, but when I saw that they had a group of Magic Online’s developers there, I couldn’t resist. I had a lot of gripes about the game, particularly with the 3.0 version, and wanted to vent. In what became one of the highlights of the convention, the developer above — Matt who has a last name but I didn’t write it down — sat down with me and patiently addressed my concerns.
He agreed with me: Magic’s 3.0 interface was a horrid mess (which has gotten better), and they are still falling woefully short on supporting clans (mini-guilds) in the game. However, the new 10th edition of the base game has been a huge success online, and he then went on to drop two big bombs that got me to agree to check Magic out as soon as I got home:
- We talked about the success of XBL’s Magic: Duel of the Planeswalkers, and I shared with him my feelings that it was weird how much that was a popular success while Magic Online remains very niche — kind of an intro Magic and advanced level Magic without a middle ground. He said it was funny I mentioned that, because they’re going to allow Planeswalkers players to import all of those cards into a special lobby in Magic Online that they could continue to play (while learning Magic Online’s interface).
- Then he revealed that Magic is now supporting Pauper as an official format. Maybe that’s old news to Magic players, but I hadn’t heard it — Pauper is where you only play with commons; no uncommons or rares allowed. It’s for us cheapskates that are sick of getting schooled by folks who dump loads of money into the game to make all-rare decks. Pauper is my personal favorite format, and if this is true, I will definitely be getting back into the game to try it out.
All in all, it was a good place to hit up a few of these game developers, although I felt the absence of two companies in particular. Considering all of the D&D action and booths going on, it was just criminal that DDO wasn’t present. And although Blizzard has its own con, GenCon spends a lot of space on the WoW miniatures and card game, so it would’ve been nice to see them make an effort to get there with their MMO as well.