Posted in Aion, Music, Podcast

Battle Bards Episode 16: Aion

Fresh off their Lunatic Lutes World Tour, the bards have decided to do one encore presentation (until the next show, that is).  The topic du jour?  It’s Aion, baby!  Your ears will thank us when this hour is over and you’ve experienced the exciting, lovely music that’s contained herein.

Episode 16 show notes

  • Introduction (including “The Still, Sad World” and “Solid State Battle”)
  • “Utopia 3.0 main theme”
  • “Tower of Eternity”
  • “Song of Katalam / 4.0 login”
  • “Fortress of Gods”
  • “Death Waltz”
  • “Steel Rake”
  • “Canyon”
  • Which one is our favorite?
  • Mailbag
  • Outro (“Marks of Dark Wound”)

Listen to episode 16 now!

Special thanks to Tesh for the Battle Bards logo!

Posted in 10/10 Project, Aion

The 10/10 Project: Aion (Day 2)

Aion0001I know that I’ve not been kind to Aion in the (far, distant) past, but for the sake of this project, I was more than willing to put any past preconceptions aside and meet it on its own terms.  After all, one of the points of doing this is to broaden my horizons and try new things.  I don’t know many people who play Aion today, but back when there was a lot more chatter about it, I do remember enthusiasm for its looks and polish.

So while I put myself in as neutral of a state as possible, Aion itself apparently held a grudge against me.  Seriously, it was a day-long process just to get signed up and download the client.  For whatever reason, the NCsoft signup page really, really hated Firefox and wouldn’t let me use drop-down menus that were necessary for the forms.  After too much fiddling with that, a friend suggested a different browser, which did the trick.  Then came a gargantuan download which wasn’t helped by the fact that it got about 90% done before my computer halted it to tell me that, hey Syp, you’ve finally reached the limit on your 1TB hard drive.  So… delete programs, defrag, re-download… and I was in.

It really wasn’t worth the hassle.

It was pretty, sure.  It was polished, more or less.   It was also quite underwhelming.

Sure, some MMOs take a while to get rolling, but there’s got to be something that grabs you from the start to keep your interest — the story, the looks, the combat, the character system, something.  Here there was pretty much nothing.  Something that Aion couldn’t help is that I generally am not a fan of the Asian style of graphics, particularly character models.  I did give the game props that you could create really chunky or eensy-weensy characters if you so desired.

And none of it was really ugly, to be frank.  I’ve seen much worse-looking titles.  What I bumped into from the start is that the beginning zone (I went with the only-slightly-less-dark-than-the-good-guys faction) was really “busy” with its colors and textures.  It felt like there was too much to look at and my eyes grew fatigued making out what was important from what was in the background.

So what was a few hours with Aion like?  Very rote MMO gameplay.  I played a mage and thus juggled spells like fireballs and roots.  I clicked on mobs with marks over their heads, read the rather dull text, and dutifully did whatever they asked.  I know that this is 90% of what’s out there in the rest of the market, but without anything exciting that was hooking me in, it was just… boring.  Not bad, not unplayable, just boring.

It probably didn’t help that a level 2 mob killed me after I fought a third one in a row without pausing to heal up.  It’s been a long time since a wee little level 2 anything killed me, so that was somewhat of a novel experience.  I also haven’t seen that much blatant gold spam in quite a while either.

Would I play it again?  No way.  At least RuneScape was interesting and put some effort into its quests; this was pretty with little apparent substance.  Maybe it gets better later on.  Maybe flying is awesome and advanced classes are the bomb, yo.  But based on a first impression, I had no problems deleting Aion from my hard drive and not looking back.

Posted in Age of Conan, Aion, Anarchy Online, City of Heroes, Dungeons & Dragons Online, EVE Online, EverQuest, Fallen Earth, Final Fantasy, Global Agenda, Guild Wars, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Wizard 101, World of Warcraft

Where to get MMO soundtracks

Yesterday on Too Long; Didn’t Listen (you know, that podcast you so adore!) Dodge and I were talking about MMO and video game soundtracks, a topic which I quite adore.  I wanted to follow the podcast up with a quick post about some places that I’ve found legal ways to obtain these scores:

Free MMO soundtracks:

Amazon MP3 downloads:

Direct Song:

Blizzard Store/iTunes/misc.:

Let me know if I missed any and I’ll add them to the list (I’m not looking to list/link torrents and CDs, however)!

Posted in Aion

Adventures in Bizarre Marketing

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Aion: The Magazine!

Anyone have flashbacks to Spaceballs: The Flamethrower?  I know I did.

So Aion now joins WoW in the height of hubris by publishing a magazine dedicated to their game, except that this one is a “digizine” published online.

Question: why should I pay you for an online magazine that you use to talk about your game when pretty much every other MMO studio does so for free on their websites?  What is so captivating, so rare, so exquisite that it justifies actual monetary transactions?

Oh.  Because you get in-game stuff.

So the Aion magazine is — correct me if I’m wrong — RMT disguised in the form of a magazine, which is justified by withholding printed content from their players as some sort of hostage situation?  Bravo, NCSoft.  Bravo.

P.S. – Head over to Mutant Reviewers today to read my review of The Guild seasons 1 & 2!  Do so now, and I’ll toss in an origami hat and a broken white crayon!

Posted in Aion, Allods Online, Champions Online, Dungeons & Dragons Online, EVE Online, EverQuest, Fallen Earth, Global Agenda, Guild Wars, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Trek Online, Warhammer Online, Wizard 101, World of Warcraft

The Great Login Experiment – Results!

First of all, a sincere thanks to everyone who helped me test login times for their various MMOs.  We didn’t cover all of them, and there’s never *enough* data for this sort of thing, but I was curious, and I thought you might be as well.

So here are the results — how long, on average, it took readers to go from clicking on the desktop icon to being fully in the game.  Take these all with a huge grain of salt — some of the games we had a lot more data, and some the “spread” (between lowest and highest) was more pronounced.  So I’ve included how many samples and what the spread (low-high) was to help with the analysis:

  • Lord of the Rings Online: 145.8 seconds (7 samples, 61-173)
  • Aion: 140 seconds (1 sample)
  • EverQuest 2: 129.3 seconds (3 samples, 78-175)
  • Fallen Earth: 107.1 seconds (10 samples, 50-145)
  • Champions Online: 97.5 seconds (2 samples, 94-101)
  • Atlantica Online: 75 seconds (1 sample)
  • Dungeons & Dragons Online: 74.5 seconds (2 samples, 53-96)
  • Star Trek Online: 71 seconds (3 samples, 55-99)
  • Warhammer Online: 62.7 seconds (4 samples, 50-81)
  • World of Warcraft: 48.7 seconds (21 samples, 22-87)
  • Wizard 101: 42 seconds (1 sample)
  • Allods: 41.5 seconds (2 samples, 32-51)
  • Global Agenda: 36 seconds (2 samples, 26-46)
  • EVE Online: 26 seconds (2 samples, 23-29)
  • Guild Wars: 21 seconds (2 samples, 20-22)

Again, I wish we got more samples from some of the under-represented games, especially ones where the spread was so big.  Even so, it’s interesting to note the bulky titles — LOTRO, EQ2, FE — and compare them to the lightweights — EVE, Guild Wars, Global Agenda.  I’m impressed that WoW came in well under a minute, and thought DDO would’ve been a lot quicker for some reason.

Thanks again to everyone who broke out their stopwatches to help out with this — we truly have made a huge difference for the greater good!  Well… we satisfied a curiosity, at least.

Posted in Aion, Champions Online, Dungeon Runners, Dungeons & Dragons Online, Fallen Earth, Flushies, Guild Wars, Lord of the Rings Online, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Tabula Rasa, Torchlight, World of Warcraft

Presenting the 2009 Flushies!

Hey, if one of the perks of writing a blog is that you can arbitrarily create an award show with precisely one judge who hands out shinies from above, then you’d be a fool not to take advantage of that, right?  Right?  So I now present to you the 2009 Flushies, Bio Break’s first annual award show to whatever I remembered of the year previous.

Also, there are toilets.  We have a theme to uphold.

Sleeper Hit of the Year – Fallen Earth

If you told me back at the beginning of 2009 that I’d be playing this unheard-of MMO — and more than just playing it, raving about it and loving it to pieces — I would have smacked you silly with a smelly fish.  Yes, I keep smelly fish around just for that purpose.  But in one of the most delightful surprises of my MMO career, Fallen Earth slammed through my monitor and knocked me breathless.  Whether it be the post-apocalyptic setting, the bizarre sense of humor, the awesome dev team or the sum of its parts, I’m still recovering.

Innovation of the Year – LOTRO’s Skirmish System

Although I was only with LOTRO for a few months this year, I enjoyed my stay (but curse that North Downs duldrum!) and am continually rooting for this solid title.  Their mini-expansion, Siege of Mirkwood, unleashed a brand-new feature that’s already having other games lusting after it — the Skirmish system.  A fast-paced customizable instance experience, skirmishes let you hop into a quick battle either solo, in a small group or in a raid, and give you a companion character to equip and train for these encounters.

Flash in the Pan Award – [tie] Aion and Champions Online

While their settings, history or gameplay couldn’t be more different, both Aion and Champions shared a couple of eerie similarities.  Both released in September after roaring amounts of anticipation, both were praised for their looks and accessible gameplay, and both were dropped from the public consciousness (as well as several subscriber’s budgets) by mid-October or so.  Once the honeymoon ended, judgment hit these two titles hard, and both were found lacking of substance and long-term interest.

Fall From Grace Award – Warhammer Online

As much as Fallen Earth brought a smile to my face, the saga of Warhammer Online saddened my heart.  By January 2009, WAR was still fun and we were holding out for future greatness — greatness that never seemed to come.  2009 hit WAR hard, with layoffs after layoffs at Mythic, subscriber defections, and a much-hyped Land of the Dead “expansion” that didn’t do much to reverse WAR’s fortune.  Although they hit a couple of right notes with the unlimited trial and the Mac version, WAR’s fallen on hard times indeed.

Biggest Blog Spat – Soloers vs. Groupers

When you write or read blogs long enough, you see recurring themes that never quite get satisfied and/or agreed upon pop up over and over again.  Out of these percolating topics, the biggest blog spat I saw in 2009 was the intense debate between MMO soloers (i.e. those who prefer to spend most, but not always all, of their time in game soloing and appreciate titles that accomidate that) and MMO groupers (i.e. those who feel that multiplayer games should always favor, encourage and design for grouping).  My personal bit on this topic was here, but passions flared bright and hot for a good two-week period before all calmed down and we started jawing about why you might play a character of the opposite gender instead.

Renovation of the Year – Dungeons & Dragons Eberron Unlimited

Seriously, who thought we would not only be talking about DDO at great lengths this year, but actually praising a game that most expected to be on the way out the door?  Not me, that’s for sure —  but DDO’s renovation as “Eberron Unlimited” has injected a huge amount of new interest in the title, and proved that a MMO can switch from subscriber to F2P and make it work.

Trend of the Year – Free-to-Play/Freemium

Microtransactions, MMO stores, Turbine Points, Cryptic Points, Free-to-Play, Freemium and more were all the rage around the virtual water coolers this year, as several titles started exploring F2P options, giving players an unprecedented amount of variety and depth for no money down.  And the good news for both sides is that this is trending well for companies with making money (if they hook you, your wallet will come) and for players on a tight budget.

Most Improved Award – World of Warcraft

It wasn’t the best of years for WoW — the China syndrome hurt Blizzard in the pocketbooks — but the MMO-that-could showed that it wasn’t afraid of reinventing itself with the upcoming Cataclysm, nor of continually expanding the game to make it more accessible and attractive to a broad field of players, with features such as their acclaimed Dungeon Finder tool.  My history with this title might be contentious, but only because there’s still some love there, and I have to give credit where credit’s due.

Biggest Surprise – Torchlight

As action RPG fans continue to wait for the decade-in-development Diablo III, Runic Games quietly came along and stole the show with a casual Diablo clone that took their classic FATE and did it ten times better.  Bloggers and gamers almost everywhere were loving on this title, which is a good sign as they prep to transform it into a MMO of some kind in the next couple years.

Biggest Disappointment – No Guild Wars 2 Until 2011

In 2009, the silence surrounding Guild Wars 2 finally broke, as trailers and first details about this much-anticipated title poured out of ArenaNet.  But almost as soon as fans were whipped into a frenzy, the bombshell dropped — we wouldn’t be seeing this title until 2011… at the earliest.  Suddenly, 2010 became a barren wasteland of a year for many souls.

Best Hype – Star Wars: The Old Republic

Hype’s almost a dirty word for many MMO gamers, but around here, it is what it is — an acceptible and traditional part of being a fan of this genre, and even enjoyable as you anticipate a (hopefully) good game coming down the pike.  Hands-down, Star Wars: The Old Republic dominated the hype-o-meter this year, continually resurfacing to announce new features and classes, and dethroning temporary hype kings such as WoW, Champions and Star Trek Online.  TOR’s hype is a creature that’s grown beyond BioWare’s machinations — the community for this game is absolutely huge, with multiple podcasts, blogs and sites salivating over this MMO.

Most Impressive Numbers – EVE Online Tops 300K Subs

Hitting 300,000 subscribers in a MMO is a respectable number, for sure.  Hitting it after six years of constant growth is, well, almost unheard of.  So kudos to CCP, showing us how to launch and grow a small MMO into a veritable giant empire in a shade over a half decade!

In Memorandum – Matrix Online, Dungeon Runners, Tabula Rasa, Shadowbane

It wasn’t the happiest of years for all gaming communities.  Small and “niche” as they were, these MMOs received their pink slips and went into that final death spiral — some leaving too soon, some lasting far beyond what was expected.  In any case, a toast to the fallen and to players who miss their virtual homes.

Posted in Aion, Champions Online

Aion: Fallen Angel

Fallen_Angel_by_DiegoUnspireIt’s been a running joke/competition in our Casualties of War ventrillo community to see how many players would be logged on to vent between the Fallen Earth clan and the Aion guild.  There were a few days where the Aion crew would outmug us, especially last month, but lately the FE team giggles a bit to see just one or two lone souls holding down the Aion fort while we continue to grow in numbers.  It’s clear to us, at least, that Aion is having difficulty holding onto players.

Okay, I promised way back when that I’d let my growing antagonism toward Aion drop, mostly because there really wasn’t a reason for it other than a kneejerk reflex against something everyone was crowing about being awesome, even when I could clearly see it as the emperor parading down main street in the buff.  At least he was rendered beautifully and with a great framerate. Polished more of the same is, guess what?  More of the same.  It’s not destined for anything greater than what preceded it.

So I’m not here to pile on Aion’s faults (feel free to head over to Screaming Monkey if you want that, or to Massively to read Snafzg’s balanced analysis), but just to note that we’ve gotten past the one month honeymoon period, and it seems excitement and die-hard affection toward this game has just about dropped to nil.  We’ve seen it happen before, and it will again, and Aion isn’t even the only September customer to be abandoned by a large core of its verbal supporters — Champions is also headed toward mediocrity, if posts concerning it are any indication.  Both games will survive and even thrive, as content is added and bugs fixed, but they aren’t the revolution — or even long-lasting diversions — that some hoped.

Posted in Aion, Fallen Earth, World of Warcraft

A Nice Niche To Call My Own

Um, not that kind of niche.
Um, not that kind of niche.

Now, don’t get me wrong — even though I find Syncaine’s speaking for everyone trying Fallen Earth these days to be a bit presumptuous (and according to some of the comments readers have left here, erroneous), it’s water off this post-apocalyptic duck’s back.  Not everything is for everyone, and I’m perfectly okay playing a game that might not have widespread appeal or millions of subs.  It’s fun for me, that’s the bottom line, ta da.

But I do have a bit of a quibble with his digging up the age-old “mainstream (mass market) vs. niche” examination, because if there’s anything that we bloggers have proved decisively, it’s that nobody can agree on what “niche” means in this genre, and what it applies to.  I mean, I will gladly label Fallen Earth as niche, but still be fuzzy on what that exactly means.

When it comes to categorizing games this way, are we talking about how the game is specifically designed, or  how many people are playing it, or what demographics are playing it?  Three different things, there.  If a game’s designed to fit a very specific, narrow role and gains widespread appeal and popularity, is it still niche?  If a game’s created to appeal to a mass market but only gathers a few hundred loyal subscribers, can we seriously, with a straight face, call it anything but niche?

I feel that these loose definitions stem from a matter of perspective — what’s niche to you might not be to me, and so on.  World of Warcraft might be 11+ million subscribers worldwide, but if I was to ask everyone at my wife’s work and at my own what WoW was, I’d bet dollars on pennies that only a small fraction would have an idea.  If I was to ask about Aion?  I’d be lucky if one of my teens even heard of it.  What’s a big fish in MMO circles is small fry in the larger ocean of video gaming as a whole, and teeny tiny when compared to all forms of pop culture and entertainment.

If the accepted definition of niche is “a specialized market”, then we could drive ourselves a little batty charting out all the ways our MMOs are specialized: PvP, fantasy, scifi, crafting, sandbox, free to play, browser based, minigames, economy model, etc.  Everything is a subset of a subset of a subset.  Maybe those add up and create a very popular subset, but still.

Not to mention that MMORPGs are still a baby of an entertainment genre, changing radically from year to year.  What was a mass market success in 2001 might be considered laughably small today — a shift of time and perspective.

Sometimes I wish we could just retire the word “niche” in our circles, because it’s often used as a way to slam or demean games we don’t like, even though pretty much all of our MMOs are niche in one form or another.  As Mark Jacobs entitled his blog, “Online Games Are A Niche Market”, and as Syncaine himself expressed, it’s all one big happy genre!