VGM of the Day: “Mount Stiirhad Combat” from Vanguard

This is certainly an unusual combat theme; it’s almost sad and ominous in turns, but certainly not some sort of stirring action sequence. I think that’s what I like about it, that it gives the feeling of a hard journey, of a drawn-out struggle rather than a quick clash. Plus it’s just soaked in atmosphere!

Quotes of the Game: Vanguard reactions

“[With] Vanguard I was late to the party but I invested in this game to support it, it is one of my favorite MMO games, there isn’t anything that feels like it. This one really hurts to hear.”

~ ECTMMO.com

“When Vanguard takes its final curtain call there will be no such second coming. If it was hard to say goodbye to a beta character just a few months old, knowing that, while he took his well-earned rest, for me the adventure was just beginning, how much more painful will it be to watch one of my favorite characters ever disappear into the good night? Along with all his friends and helpmates. Forever.”

~ Inventory Full

“I think that the closure of Vanguard will be a loss for virtual worlds. For all its failures and problems it is a beautiful and ambitious game with love evident in every leaf and tree. It’s the only MMO that makes me feel like I am visiting a world rather than playing a game, every time I log in.”

~ Ardwulf’s Lair

“Because I do love Telon and the vision and the game. I love that this is the last great achievement of Keith Parkinson before his passing. I love that this game had the balls to do things that no other game after it has even dared to attempt.”

~ Harbinger Zero

“As I sit here and think about everything I’ve done in game and browse through the thousands of screenshots I’ve taken I can’t help but get a bit teary eyed. I doubt any but those closest to me know just how much of myself I poured into this game and how much it has given back to me over the years, helping to keep me sane when the world around me was a disaster.”

~ MMOQuests.com

The SOEpocalypse is upon us

Have we ever seen a studio announce the shutdown of four MMOs all at once?  To my recollection, no, although sometimes these foreign studios do wipe out a bunch of tiny ones in one go.

But man… this is a huge event that SOE decided to cushion itself by (a) waiting until end of business on Friday to announce and (b) mix in some good (if not new) news with the All Access changes.

So we’re going to be saying goodbye to Vanguard, Clone Wars Adventures, Wizardry Online, and Free Realms come this March and July.  CWA and Wizardry don’t surprise me, especially the latter, but the other two do.  SOE poured in a lot of money and effort into a free-to-play Vanguard and to my knowledge Free Realms was doing just fine.  I guess the beancounters either saw that these properties were losing money, not likely to gain much more money, or would be better off not dragging the studio down as it looked to soar with DCUO, PlanetSide 2, and the EverQuest titles.

So Dragon’s Prophet made the cut?  Huh.  I mean… really?  Huh.

As many people have noted, this kind of puts an end to seeing SOE as the studio that champions and sustains MMOs that would have faltered elsewhere.  Maybe it’s just done with that, having cast off EQOA, EQMac, Star Wars Galaxies, and (most likely) PlanetSide, not to mention sending Pirates of the Burning Sea away.  It also lessens the value of the new All Access pass because fewer games.

It’s not the end of the world, of course.  Of some worlds, but not the world.  For most players, it won’t be a blip, as these aren’t the most populated and played games out there.  Maybe pruning the SOE tree of dead weight is needed to create a stronger company in the end.  But it’s still a little bit of a shock to see something like this hit all at once.

Guess it’s time to go update the Timeline page once again!

Battle Bards Episode 18: Vanguard

For their final podcast (of the year), the Battle Bards are singing the saga of heroes.  If that’s too vague, we’ll just be up-front.  It’s Vanguard.  We’re talking Vanguard’s OST.  It was a difficult soundtrack to review because it contained a paradox.  What is that paradox?  Listen, we’re not going to spoil everything here — just listen to the show!

Episode 18 show notes

  • Introduction (including “Main Theme”)
  • “Brightwood Dells”
  • “Celestial Hills”
  • “Steppes of the Sunset”
  • “Grotto of the Sea Hags”
  • “Kaon Mage School”
  • “Falgarholm”
  • “Bamboo Forest”
  • Which one was our favorite?
  • Outro (“Bamboo Forest Combat”)

Listen to episode 18 now!

Special thanks to Tesh for the Battle Bards logo!

Quote of the Day

“So here we have a game with the clear appearance of being unloved by its publisher, with a visibly minuscule player population, in a period when cancellation would have surprised absolutely no one and would seem to make sense on the face of it for a number of reasons. Yet Vanguard, despite all this, and despite the proclamations by naysayers that shutdown is right around the corner, gets a new lease on life this summer. Why? I can think of four possible reasons.”

~ Aardulf’s Lair

Play Diary: Mad Gods (#swtor #lotro #vanguard #gw2 )

SWTOR

My Bounty Hunter, Door, is deep into the thick of Dromund Kaas, which I consider to be the superior of the tier 2 planets (Coruscant is too busy and too much like Nar Shadda to be engaging).  I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that I might even like her more than my Agent.  The Dark Side choices, while morally repugnant for the most part, often come with hilarious one-liners that make the genocide worthwhile.  And as a Mercenary, I’m just blowing crap up from here to kingdom come and loving how un-subtle it all is.  Sometimes you want complex mechanics, sometimes you just want to hit a couple buttons and watch things go “boom” and numbers go over 9000.”

She’s still trying to gain access to the Great Hunt, and I’m not quite sure if BioWare’s toeing the line of how long they can stretch out this application process without it becoming a running gag.  I mean, I thought I was in it back on Hutta, but apparently that was like getting engaged to become engaged someday.  I’ll tell you this, however: Even though the huntmaster is a giant Wookiee, I’m not above shoving a blaster up each of his nostrils if the next time I go there he says, “Oh, just ONE more thing you gotta do!  PLANET SCAVENGER HUNT! WOOO!”

So in the meanwhile, she’s ripping up the planet left and right, and figuratively mooning every Imperial she can.  Because, Imperials.

LOTRO

I’m pushing hard to finish up with Enedwaith’s epic storyline, and there’s some impatience there because I’ve already done it and know how it ends.  Yet as with my SWTOR Bounty Hunter, I’m taking great pleasure in having a DPS-slinging tank at my disposal who doesn’t like to die, ever.  Hitting a devastate on an AOE swing is pure joy, my friends, even more so when I can activate one of my finishers because of that.  And my ghost archer, Gozer the Gozarian, is an invaluable assistant, especially when I want to go to ecto bars in downtown Galtrev.

I had to remind myself last night to “play in the now” instead of thinking about just how much content I had to get through before checking out Update 6’s new zone.  I know I have plenty of time left before this fall’s expansion, so I’m expecting that April and May will be spent going through Isengard, with the summer devoted to the Great River and various side-projects (skirmishes and Virtues and the like).

Realm of the Mad God

After hearing some chatter on this over the past couple weeks, I gave Realm of the Mad God a try and found it… okay.  On one hand, I like the retro pixel look and it’s easy enough to move and fight and level.  Yet it’s also frustrating because you can only see a portion of the battlefield from top-down, and I wasn’t sure how you could group up with others and where to go.  Maybe I should do a little more reading on the subject.

Vanguard

I’m not going to subscribe, but I was just way too curious about this game following the F2P announcement that I downloaded the trial and spent some time in the newbie zone.  I probably only clocked an hour or so, but I have to say that the reports are true — it IS a very beautiful game with an excellent soundtrack, and I really would like to explore it in depth.

I rolled a Gnome Necromancer and am excited to start patching together her first undead abomination, but I guess that’s not coming for another couple of levels.  Next time I log in, I’m going to go through the Diplomacy tutorial.

Guild Wars 2

Can I just say that after this past press beta weekend that I’m even more excited for this game than I was before, and leave it at that?  I’ll leave it at that.  /bouncing happily in my chair

Could this year be the Summer of the MMO?

Eh, close enough. They both start with "M".

If there’s one constant in MMOland — nay, video game world — is that summer, for reasons beyond my ken, is a game release dead zone.  Spring, fall, Christmas — those are the expected launch windows.  And yet, 2012 is bucking this trend in a huge way.  It’s quickly becoming the summer of the MMO, and I’m certainly not complaining.

I’ve always thought that summers would be ideal time for MMO releases, as school and college students have copious amounts of free time, as well as many of us working schlubs who take time off for vacations.  I mean, that’s why Hollywood focuses on the May-June-July corridor for the big budget blockbusters, right?  Maybe the MMO industry is just wising up, maybe it’s a coincidence as all of these projects converge, or maybe the end of the world really is coming and we might as well have a few months to play Guild Wars 2 before it happens.

After the sparse desert of 2009-2011, we seem to be drinking deep of new releases, expansions, and F2P conversions.  This winter’s already been busy, what with SWTOR, STO’s F2P and EQ’s F2P.  Coming up an a cavalcade of awesomeness: Aion’s F2P is hitting next month, TERA and Diablo III are arriving in May, June’s playing host to DDO’s first expansion and The Secret World, and MechWarrior Online and Vanguard’s F2P will happen sometime in the summer.  On top of all of that is my strong hunch that ArenaNet’s also targeting June for GW2 — just a guess, but the way the beta is going, I think it could happen — and this could be the most fun (and hectic) summer gaming season ever.

Speaking of Vanguard, I’m actually pretty excited about it going F2P.  It’s been on life support for many years now, and not just a few people predicted that SOE would pull its plug (as the company is doing with EQOA).  Instead, it seems as though SOE is investing some faith — and money — in the game, taking the effort to create a F2P version and beefing up its dev team.

Vanguard was a huge topic of discussion leading up to its 2007 release, and I for one kept a close eye on it.  The saga (no pun intended) of its development, of Brad McQuaid’s audacious claims, of the crash and burn, of its limping into SOE’s library, and of its critically lambasted launch left this game bruised, battered, and with a reputation that would ensure it could never run for public office.  And yet, strange things happen when an MMO endures — they often get better.  The events of the past fade a bit and people start seeing the game for what it is, not the hoopla surrounding it.  As a result, it’s garnered an admittedly small but very positive fan base that love this game.

It’s that game I want to see, the game that had really interesting ideas — some misguided, some inspired — but I never wanted to see it so bad as to pony up a subscription.  I remember back in 2007 being fascinated with the idea of a necromancer building his pet from parts (if this actually went in or not — or was a dream of mine — I can’t say) and the wildness of the world.  But then LOTRO came along, and that was the game focus of that year for me.

So Vanguard at least gets a try for me, and since I know my summer dance card is filling up quickly, I’m going to take it out for a quick test drive.  The game’s got a 14 day trial, and I can’t be the only one who heard yesterday’s news and am downloading it.  Several bloggers I respect love this game, so that gives me hope there’s something here worth checking out.

Six steps SOE needs to take in 2012 to survive

It’s hard to overstate just how brutal 2011’s been to Sony Online Entertainment.  From layoffs to hackings to a one-month shutdown of the game’s services to titles being axed to Star Wars Galaxies’ shutdown to botched F2P launches, it’s just plain sad for all those involved, including fans.  What once was the undisputed king of the MMO mountain is now struggling for relevance and even, dare I say, survival.

Now I don’t think SOE is on the verge of closing up shop or anything, but it certainly reeling from multiple blows and is suffering from poor public perception.  It’s hard to define what SOE is to the MMO community these days.  Is it the rebel upstart?  The aging Galactic Republic?  The ancient master in exile on Degobah?  Seriously, what’s with my Star Wars fixation today…

In my opinion, SOE needs to be bold and make significant progress in 2012 to overcome the nightmare that was 2011.  Here are six ways I think it could happen.

1. Pull out the stops on development of EverQuest Next and related publicity

After axing The Agency and announcing that SWG was going to join The Matrix Online in the MMO graveyard, SOE’s future roster of titles is looking thin and unexciting.  I’m sorry, but I’m starting to think that SOE assumes everyone’s going to go bananas over PlanetSide 2 when we’ve seen virtually nobody clamor for a sequel to one of the company’s lesser populated titles.

No, the focus right now needs to be on EverQuest Next.  Why?  EQ is SOE’s flagship franchise, and people ARE genuinely excited about what a new one could bring.  Yet since the 2010 announcement that it was happening, we’ve heard next-to-nothing about it since.  EQ Next shouldn’t be rushed, but it should be pushed to the front of the queue and the company needs to start releasing information about it to recapture interest.

2. Resurrect The Agency

Speaking of interest, people were pretty dang psyched about The Agency.  A spy-ish MMO hasn’t really been done thus far, and from what I saw, it was looking pretty good.  Forget PlanetSide 2 and pull a Lazarus here — resurrect The Agency not just because it had potential, but to show the world that you’re staging a comeback from 2011’s defeats.

3. For the love of God, stop rushing free-to-play conversions

I know Smedley now has a romantic “thing” for F2P, and that’s all well and good, but dang if pretty much every F2P conversion the company’s done so far has backfired in some way or gotten too muddled.  SOE’s currently trumpeting how many players are trying to cram in DCUO’s doors, but it’s overlooking how bad the company’s coming off by not being prepared for them.  EQ2X was a fine idea, but segregating servers and creating a needlessly complex “matrix” chart for it was not.

I’m not saying don’t DO free-to-play, just do it right.  Rethink the stupid mess of EQ2X and consider integrating free and paying players together.  Make the payment structure a lot more simpler and easier to access.  Don’t make it worse, though.

4. Keep experimenting and having fun with EverQuest

If there was one triumphant story from SOE this year, it’s that EverQuest stayed pretty relevant in the news.  It got into the Hall of Fame at the GDC Online Awards, it’s going to release a new expansion, and its new progression servers were the talk of the town for several weeks.  EverQuest is a perfect place for SOE to experiment with different server types and promotions, as it’s pretty established and can only benefit more from publicity.

5. Acquire a hit franchise

In the past I admired how SOE snagged struggling MMOs into its growing Station library.  Players could enjoy a whole host of titles for a single monthly fee, and SOE enjoyed its status as a genre unto itself.  But with many of its current titles aging, being cancelled or otherwise not being played at all (Vanguard?), it’s time to get some fresh blood in there.

Why not take a cue from GamersFirst and snap up some promising MMOs that have already done most of the development?  Or what about getting a hot MOBA-style game as part of the team?  It’s got to be cheaper than starting from scratch, and if Smedley is serious about F2P, there’s plenty of promising prospects out there.

6. Focus on cornering the kid MMO market

You know what are two of SOE’s biggest successes right now, both financially and reputation-wise?  Free Realms and Star Wars Clone Adventures.  You know what SOE should do more of?  These.

They may not be the type of MMOs (or online experiences) that you and I go for, but they’ve proven to be a huge hit and have tapped into that same exploding kids demographic that Wizard101 enjoys.  So why not specialize in this instead of trying to butt heads against World of Warcraft, RIFT, Guild Wars 2, and Star Wars: The Old Republic?  Just cut your dead weight and refocus on what’s making your company successful.  Again, I’m saying that “PlanetSide 2” isn’t the answer here.

Six MMO Concepts I’d Love To See Revisited

It seems unfair to me sometimes how the MMO genre latches on to some features while letting others fall to the ground after only one try.  Here are six MMO concepts I’d love to see picked up, dusted off, tweaked, and used in future (or even current) titles:

  1. Tellings (A Tale in the Desert) – ATITD is fairly unique in that it hits the reset button on the game every year or two, wiping clean all of the achievements and starting a new version of the game.  Although I can see this freaking out a whole bunch of players in other titles, I think there might be a lot of appeal in hitting a reset switch in a MMO, as long as the next iteration is different someway and the game is built around it.  After all, people are just excited as all get out over WoW’s earth-rending reshaping of the Cataclysm, and that’s as close to a reset switch as that game’s ever going to get.
  2. Diplomacy (Vanguard) – It’s an interesting idea to treat conversations and interactions with NPCs as a full-blow part of the game, with strategies and levels and whatnot.  If someone can figure out how to do social/diplomacy right in a MMO, they might be on to something.
  3. Trophies (Warhammer Online) – WAR had a lot of neat ideas, but I really grew attached to the trophy system — trinkets you could collect that you could affix to different places on your armor to further customize the look of your character.  It was a shame that too many of the trophies in WAR were tiny and/or only collectible at the end game, but they were still neat to get and show off.
  4. Ascension (Kingdom of Loathing) – A different kind of reset than A Tale in the Desert’s tellings, Kingdom of Loathing encourages (but doesn’t force) players to go through a process called “Ascension” at the end game.  It essentially allows you to start a new character (and pick a new class) while retaining special items and bonus abilities depending on how you played the game.  Looping through ascensions has given KoL an infinite leveling experience while giving players a good reason why they should reboot their toons now and then.
  5. Pay For The Box/Expansions Only, Play Forever Free (Guild Wars) – Explain to me why this model, which has been both insanely popular and profitable for ArenaNet, hasn’t been copied and reused anywhere else in the MMO world?  People love it, and if the game is expanded enough, it continues to make the dough.  (Of course, as I write this I hear that Global Agenda just switched to this model, so there you go.)
  6. A Dungeon-Centric Format (DDO) – Many people disliked how DDO skewed from the typical MMO format (open world with a few dungeons vs. a city hub with tons of dungeons), but there’s something worth revisiting with this, especially now that DDO’s gotten its second wind.  A focus away from an explorable open world means more time to create and develop specific instance experiences, and that might be a good core of a future game.