GenCon Indy part 2: The Games

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.

Myself, Bob Mull and Andy Belford
Myself, Bob Mull and Andy Belford

MYTHIC

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).
Yeah, I'll tank.
Yeah, I'll tank.

BIOWARE

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.

Jack Emmert and I on our first date
Jack Emmert and I on our first date

CRYPTIC

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.”

gencon2e

MAGIC ONLINE

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.

14 thoughts on “GenCon Indy part 2: The Games

  1. I dunno if I’m happy about Champions on a console. I’m looking forward to begin open beta testing next week but I’ve always had reservations about an MMO both on PC and on Console. I believe the idea was bandied about for Age of Conan – but that seemed to get nowhere.

    I’m trying not to be a PC elitist but I just get bad mojo on crossing the streams here and fear that something with the game will inevitably suffer so that both parties can meet on a level playing field.

    Still have high hopes for the game and hope that it remains a PC MMO first and foremost. However if additional revenue streams come into Cryptic to make Champions a better MMO through console expansion I certainly won’t begrudge the move.

  2. I don’t know about Pauper being an “official format,” but there are certainly already lots of options for people who play pauper decks. You can filter by pauper, most sellers mention the words in their ads, and you can set up pauper only games in the gaming room.

    So if you like playing pauper, you have good company in MTGO.

  3. I have fond memories of going to Gen*Con when I worked for SWG Stratics as an admin and talking to the SOE guys about Jump to Lightspeed and playing it for the first time. Unfortunately, Gen*Con didn’t recognize me as press (it was before blogging and such became more respected as a media outlet), so I didn’t get into any of the neat press only sessions, but the SOE guys and Bioware guys (when they were working on Jade Empire) were wonderfully nice and talked all about what was going on behind the scenes.

    I think the Turbine team was there just after they announced DDO, too, still letting players get a sneak peek at it.

    I’m glad to hear Mythic is still so amped about WAR, honestly. If CO goes poorly, I think WAR might be my one subscription later this year.

  4. No DDO at Gen*Con. Freaking weird.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us, dude. I am very grateful for the glimpse.

  5. Interesting rumblings from the big shots, not that you would expect them to tell the press (grats Syp, you’re the press now! ;)) that their games are terrible and going to die miserable deaths.

    I played the online version of the LOTR card game at its launch (the devs were bought by SOE and now produce all of the station CCG’s), and I’d take the moves to accessibility with a grain of salt. The developers can OFFER wallet-friendly formats that are accessible to players with small collections, but that doesn’t necessarily get players to USE those formats.

    The sad truth is that, if you hop online at some odd hour of the day, the person who is going to be around to play you is probably going to be on the more hardcore side of things. Maybe they’ll be willing to play you on your terms because they’re nice, bored, and/or like a challenge. Maybe they won’t. If not, you’re back where you started. The devs can try to drive demand for accessible formats with tournaments etc, but they don’t exactly want to discourage players who WANT to spend thousands of dollars on card either.

  6. Wonder what perks, if any, Lifetime Subscribers to CO get when this multi-game account goes live?

    I’d actually welcome a MMO other than FFXI on the consoles. Wonder if they’ll have separate servers for console players?

  7. Hah! The same Andy from Second Skin! I remember that he got a job at Mythic, but pretty cool to see him randomly pop up in a blog. Hope they pay him plenty so he can support those twins.

    Now let’s see that CO NDA lift. I like the game a lot, so that’s a hype train I’ve already bought a ticket for. I wonder, though, if Cryptic is skimping on the marketing budget and just relying on word of mouth too much. We’ll see in the next few weeks, I guess.

  8. I love the idea of console MMOs. FFXI Online had a lot of shortcomings, but it worked well on PS2 as well as PC. More MMOs are gearing towards consoles these days, but I’m learning that it needs to be implemented from the beginning. Final Fantasy and DCUO seems to be having good progress on this. AoC did not have such good progress, and I’m predicting that CO will run into the same issues. I’d say it’s mostly due to lack of popularity… one of those *well, if the game does well and gives us the finances we need, we’ll bring it to consoles* kind of things. That’s just how it seems to me.

    Mythic’s combat does not feel synced with my actions… if they change that and if Aion fails worse than WAR did.. I may come back with enough convincing.

    Champions Online is beautiful and looks awesome, but I don’t see any good ideas to keep me playing once I hit max level. I’m disappointed by what I’ve seen of PvP in videos. CO’s official trailers make it look good (but what company doesn’t master this art?) Doesn’t seem like there’s a whole lot going on (based on advertisement) for raids, dungeons, etc beyond the Nemesis and daily dungeon quests. Beautiful game, and I’d give it a chance to be successful in end game… but I’m skeptic now after trying to sell lifetime subscriptions with automatic Star Trek Online closed beta test keys. It’s almost like they’re counting on Champions to be shallow and short lived so they can get enough revenue and balance the bugs in their servers and game engine… all so that Star Trek Online will be successful. Afterall… it resembles CoH an awful lot from what I’ve seen, so they just had to make an updated version of their old ideas – taking what’s currently out there.

    You know they want to put more emphasis on Star Trek Online, based on the number of fans Star Trek already has. They need a very stable game for that one to be successful. Now they’re talking about multi-game subscriptions and a third MMO?? I’m skeptic of this… I’m going to get DCUO because it’s on PS3 and I can play beside Batman. It can be as shallow as Champions, as long as it runs well and I can play with Batman (instead of Defender… lol)

  9. Thank you for the write up Syp. A lot of that sounds really exciting. I’m already regretting not going! I will be at the much smaller Dragon*Con in Atlanta. I know Funcom will be there.

    I’m not sure if anyone else will be though.

  10. Syp, with regards to Mythic listening to players, exactly how are they doing that? Also, did Andy mention anything about one of the biggest problems I had with the game – having interesting stuff to do besides roaming the RvR lakes looking for a fight? It would be awesome if you did a sit down interview with him for Bio Break. As someone who really wants Mythic to succeed, I’d love to hear more on what improvements they are thinking about.

  11. @ Rorik – He said that they took a step back and went through a huge process of taking in information from all sources: forum posters, players in-house, bloggers, etc., and compiled a big list of the top issues to address. Unless he was outright lying to my face, which he was not, they are dead serious in listening and fixing existing problems, and have made great headway into it. One of the problems they have is perception — if they don’t tackle an issue near and dear to a particular player’s heart, at least right away, then that player just assumes they aren’t listening.

    I did not go into greater detail about the workings of the game, just the direction Mythic’s moving in and whatever else I posted. I’d recommend reading up on Gaarawarr’s blog — he posted quite a few interviews with Mythic’s peeps as of late.

  12. “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.”

    Yet the characters in Aion look way better than in WAR.

    By the way, this

    “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).”

    and this

    “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.”

    in context together gives me nightmares.

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