Posted in Music, Podcast, WildStar

Battle Bards Episode 206: Warping back to WildStar

Episode 222: World of Warcraft Dragonflight Battle Bards

Will our fascination with giant, skyfaring, flame-belching lizards subside? World of Warcraft bets not, as it's currently soaring through its Dragonflight expansion. Will the music also ascend to lofty realms or fall to the earth with a dud? You'll have to listen to the Battle Bards as they figure out the answer to that question! Episode 222 show notes  Intro (feat. "The Dragon's Hoard," "Riverbends," and "The Isles Awaken") "Take to the Skies" "Giants of the Span" "Windsong" "Tyrhold" "Ramparts of Valdrakken" "Gardens of Unity" Which one did we like best? Listener Notes: George and Bullwraith Jukebox Picks: "Encounter Elite" from Sea of Stars, "Jubilife Village Theme" from Pokemon Legends Arceus, and "Density" from Citizen Sleeper Outro (feat. "Life Pools") Talk to the Battle Bards on Twitter! Follow Battle Bards on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Google Play, iHeartRadio, and Pocket Casts! This podcast is produced using copyrighted material according to Fair Use practices as stated under Section 107 of the 1976 Copyright Act.
  1. Episode 222: World of Warcraft Dragonflight
  2. Episode 221: LOTRO Before the Shadow
  3. Episode 220: Guild Wars 2 End of Dragons

It’s been a long, long time since the Battle Bards have ventured down to the surface of Nexus — at least, as a full episode. Now, it’s time to warp back to WildStar! But after having featured this amazing soundtrack so often on the show, are there any good picks left… or just the dregs from a former civilization?

Episode 206 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Main Theme,” “A Tropical Getaway,” and “Sea of Green”)
  • “March of the Empire”

  • “Operation Northern Wastes” 

  • “Legend of Blue Horizon” 

  • “A Very Dominion Shade’s Eve”

  • “Clear Skies”

  • “From the Ashes” 

  • “Grist for the Mill”

  • Which one did we like best?

  • Listener notes from Friendly Necromancer

  • Jukebox Picks: “Main Theme” from Wild West World, “Main Theme” from Metroid Dread, and “Fading Twilight Battle Theme” from Dungeon Encounters

  • Outro (feat. “The Malgrave Trail”)

Posted in WildStar

6 reasons why it’s high time WildStar was resurrected

I don’t know if you realize this, but this weekend marks a sad anniversary for some of us in the MMORPG community — it’s the third anniversary since WildStar was shut down by NCsoft. This happened back on November 28, 2018, and a lot of us are still feeling the aftershocks of this even three years later.

Again, boilerplate disclaimer applies whenever we talk about WildStar: This wasn’t a perfect game. I know that. Carbine was a bit of a mess. I know that too. But it was a game that I loved dearly and miss quite a lot.

While I suppose there are only so many of these “boo hoo I’m sad my game is gone” posts that can be written before there’s nothing else to say on the subject and my readers are annoyed that I keep bringing it up, I want to go beyond a residual regret to lay out a quick case for why it’s actually a great time to bring back this MMO.

1. It’s a solid product that’s generating zero revenue for NCsoft. Even if you’re not going to commit to forming a development team to continue expanding a game, it’s not too difficult to hire a few people to maintain some servers and keep it in maintenance mode while you rake in some extra cash.

2. NCsoft would generate a nice amount of publicity and goodwill by bringing the game back — or handing it off to the community or another developer to handle. Again, WildStar is doing nothing for the company right now. A free shot of PR isn’t a bad thing.

3. MMO players are starving for good releases. Just look at how popular New World’s proven to be this year as the first really big launch we’ve had on the level of WildStar and Guild Wars 2. And with so many disaffected WoW and Blizzard players out there, WildStar’s colorful world and ex-Blizzard developer design might hit the spot.

4. WildStar’s built up some solid word-of-mouth recommendations in the past few years, creating more interest in a potential future community of players. Sometimes games — like TV shows or movies — need some time to find their footing and audience.

5. People can’t stop talking about WildStar. It’s weird, because it HAS been three years. There’s been no peep from NCsoft on this property. But as one observer noted on Twitter:

6. In 2021, we certainly see that MMO players are very open to titles being brought back from the dead as official games (Fallen Earth), emulators (City of Heroes), or legacy versions (WoW Classic). Players aren’t just looking forward for their entertainment — they’re looking back in time as well.

So what do you think? Is it high time that WildStar defies its own death and emerges back into the MMO space?

Posted in WildStar

Why WildStar failed

This month, former WildStar lead Stephan Frost posted an epically long Twitter thread about what he saw as a sad and frustrating “flat circle” of MMO development. It certainly was an interesting behind-the-scenes read about the struggle and race to get a functioning MMO out the door while building up (and keeping) a critical mass of players. He doesn’t seem very optimistic it can be done.

It doesn’t take much reading between the lines here that he’s primarily speaking of WildStar as the inspiration for this post. I think what rankles me — and others who read this — is that while many of his points are true, Frost was leaving out a whole lot of personal and studio blame for why MMOs (again, primarily WildStar) fail. He makes it sound like it was out of his hands, just a tragedy of a lack of funds and time.

But that’s certainly not the full story of the late Carbine’s MMORPG. WildStar is beloved to this day because it did a whole lot amazingly well — housing, animations, outfits, choice, races, vivid NPCs, marketing, holidays, and so on. However, all of this was severely hamstrung by issues that went far above and beyond what he talked about in his pity party post.

If I had to sum up, here’s what I see what helped WildStar to fail:

  1. It was clearly marketed and angled to the casual set — until you got to “elder game” when it switched up to be a brutal, take-no-prisoners romp. Even your standard dungeons were too tough and too frustrating for many players. Nobody appreciated this switcharoo.
  2. In fact, too many Carbine devs had it in their heads that we all WANTED hardcore design. Which wasn’t the scene then nor the scene now. So the raids and PvP warzones ended up appealing to very few people despite lots of resources going into them.
  3. It launched without a free-to-play or buy-to-play option and switched to F2P far too late. I remember interviewing Frost at PAX one year, incredulously asking why Carbine was pushing out a subscription-only MMO in this market. Carbine wasn’t worried, he said. Until Carbine wasn’t Carbine.
  4. There was a serious lack of cooperation and cohesion between WildStar dev teams, resulting in half-baked systems (i.e., Paths) that seemed more designed by committee than the result of a focused vision. Too much of the game was all over the place.
  5. For a story-driven experience, the standard method of quest delivery — the “Tweet-sized” quest chat — was terrible to relay narrative. Again, here’s a great example of how the studio was all over the place. It wanted to tell this amazing mystery with all of these woven threads… and it hamstrung itself from being able to effectively do so.

We could also argue that scifi is simply harder to market in this genre, although that wasn’t Carbine’s fault past choosing to go that route in the first place.

Frost made it sound like WildStar and other MMOs are simply doomed by the complexity of design and the difficulty of their construction, but we know from actual MMO history that isn’t true. Plenty made it out of the gate and continue to run profitably to this day. So perhaps it’s not a circle at all. Perhaps it was a bad trip with a lot of critical miscalculations along the way.

Posted in City of Heroes, Warhammer Online, WildStar

How can I get past my distrust of MMO emulators?

In the year of our good Lord 2020 A.D., there is certainly something to celebrate in the MMO scene: the rise and acceptance of emulators. Rogue servers, as we call them at Massively OP.  There are so, so many of these out there, and while there’s not one for every dead MMO that exists, plenty of these former projects are being preserved with love and care by diehard fans.

Today, you can step back into games like Star Wars Galaxies, The Sims Online, and Earth & Beyond, even though these MMOs have been shuttered for many years now. And not only can you play them again, but you can play them with thriving communities of modern day players. That’s pretty amazing.

All of this gets my approval — I have no ethical or moral qualms about preserving shuttered MMOs — but I’ve also noticed that I am emotionally wary about getting invested in such games. Last year’s revival of City of Heroes, amazing as it was, wasn’t enough to keep me coming back for too long. It wasn’t that I was uninterested (nor am now), but that there are some yellow flags that warn me away.

I feel likewise with Return of Reckoning, the Warhammer Online server that I keep promising myself I’m going to check out. You know, one of these days. Sometime. It still hasn’t happened.

I think it’s a mixture of the following:

  • Distrust of volunteer developers who may not always have the best interests of the players at heart
  • Perceived instability of these projects and their coding and backend tech
  • Concern about long-time commitment to maintaining these games
  • A lack of legal approval

None of these are deal-breakers — I have played City of Heroes, Chronicles of Spellborn, and Star Wars Galaxies emulators — but they do a lot to make me hesitate getting that invested into MMOs that could end up folding overnight if the team doesn’t pay the server bill, dissolves in a fight, or gets slapped with a C&D from the IP owners.

We’ve been waiting over a year now for the City of Heroes Homecoming group to work out a deal with NCsoft for actual ownership or official permission to run these servers, but I’ve getting more doubtful the longer these “talks” continue that it’s actually going to happen. If they did go through, I’ll tell you that it would work a lot in the game’s factor to attract me.

Of course, the project I really want to see happen is a WildStar emulator. I think I’d rather NCsoft sell the game to a company that’d be interested in running it as a legit thing, but I’d be happy if someone managed to jury-rig WildStar up on an Amazon server and let us return to Nexus. I’d still be worried about the state of such an emulator, but… yeah, I’d play in a heartbeat.

Posted in EVE Online, Fallen Earth, Lord of the Rings Online, RIFT, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Warhammer Online, WildStar, World of Warcraft

MMO fonts: The good, the bad, and the ugly

In my effort to start clearing out my drafts folder here at Bio Break, I’m digging out this topic that I started (checks) back in 2017. Anyway, fonts are most likely a part of online games that you never think about. Once you’ve been in a game for a while, you get used to its user interface and don’t really notice or acknowledge it.

Yet fonts are important, because a game usually just licenses (or creates) one and uses it everywhere — and if chosen poorly, that font can slowly and surely drag down on the user experience. So let’s take a look at eight MMO fonts today — chosen semi-randomly — and see if they’re easy on the eyes or not.

We’ll start with Warhammer Online (above), which prompted the writing of this piece. The font itself gives off a Ye Olde English fantasy vibe, which is good, but it’s not that easy to read in large chunks, especially when italicized. There isn’t enough spacing between the lines, either, so it comes off as crammed. Sometimes getting a little fancy with your font works against you.

We’ll move on to RIFT, which I always thought had a very clean and modern-looking font. Maybe a little too modern. It’s easy to read, which is a plus, but doesn’t do a lot to convey personality of the game, which is one of the jobs that fonts have to handle. Generally, though, I like it.

You know I had to include the itty bitty, smooshed-together font of EVE Online on this list. It gets points for a futuristic, minimalistic look, but dang is it always hard to read. It’s gotten better over the years, but my eyes have never leaked tears of joy to behold it.

And we’ll go with a classic — World of Warcraft — with this one. Blizzard did a great job all around with this font. It’s oozing personality (especially on the header fonts), has good kerning, and is easy to consume quickly without eye strain.

WildStar… sigh. WildStar had SUCH great art and interface style, but its font was terrible. From the color choices (blue-greens on blue-greens) to the thin, small style, it was too difficult to read without really focusing on it.

I’ll be fair and include Lord of the Rings Online here. It gets middling reviews for me. I think it does lend an appropriate personality to the game and is readable (especially if you increase the font size), but it’s not the quickest read. And considering just HOW MUCH text you go through, it could be better. I do adore the header font, though. That’s spot on.

Fallen Earth always struck me as a game that purchased its font at lowest bidder. It’s like a default Windows font that did nothing for the personality angle and wasn’t as eye-catching as it could’ve been.

I could keep going on, but I’ll end with a look at Star Wars: The Old Republic’s font. It definitely has that thick, bolded Star Wars look about it, and the spacing makes it easy to read. I think it does a pretty good job, all things considered, even if I feel like the text is yelling at me much of the time.

Posted in WildStar

Could a housing-only WildStar work?

I’ve been very WildStar nostalgic over the past month or so. When you miss something, it’s easier not to think of that thing than dwell on it, I know, but every so often something reminds me of this wonderful, flawed space game and I desperately wish I could be back in it. Something like running around in another MMO like a plodding dinosaur and remembering how fluid WildStar’s animations and double-jumps were.

Heck, I’d gladly limit my wish to just — just — having access to the WildStar housing system. Just a game where it’s a bunch of housing islands, with players hopping between them to socialize and see what others are doing. But could that work? How would that work?

Let’s assume that in this hypothetical situation, players would only have access to their housing plots, their characters (locked at max level with default stats and given combat gear appropriate for their class/build), and all social features. There would be no level or gear progression or traveling outside back into the wider world of Nexus and all points after.

You could do it in a way that you’d just unlock, well, every single housing item and blow open this whole experience into a sandbox. Let anyone make anything they’d want, without restriction but perhaps with item placement limitations due to server capability. It’s one way to go, and for some folks, it would be perfect. No limits, just creativity.

But I think that there could be some measure of progression and collection in such a hypothetical game, and that having players “earn” stuff would increase engagement and long-term interest. Obviously, housing plots had a lot of functionality to them, with material gathering and crafting stations, so the whole crafting system could be brought back — particularly with the focus on outfit cosmetics and housing decor. Institute some sort of auction house and vendor system so that players could generate currency to then spend on the housing store to unlock goodies.

Additionally, we mustn’t forget that houses here had challenges and pocket dungeons, both offering limited slices of WildStar content that could be used for currency acquisition and achievement hunting. In fact, achievements could be expanded to include all sorts of social incentives, like visiting 10 other player plots, beating 10 challenges on other players’ plots, and so on.

It could be a very Sims-like building simulator, indeed. If the right hands got ahold of it, I could even see someone making the housing islands’ biggest weakness — the placement tools — much better with UI improvements and permanent mods.

I’d love to be able to log in and tinker with my own housing while chatting with others, even if it was just a half-hour here and there. WildStar did an amazing job with its housing, and above all else, I’d want to see this preserved.

Posted in WildStar

I want WildStar back

A decade or so ago, I still labored under the impression that there should be one be-all, end-all MMORPG for me, and if I could just find it, I’d stay in it forever and that would be everything I needed. The lesson disabusing me of that notion took a long time to come about, but eventually I realized that — as with non-MMOs, books, movies, TV shows, and all forms of entertainment — it’s not healthy to stick with just one thing forever. There’s burnout and boredom lurking at the corners, and when I fully embraced diversifying my time in online games, I became a more content and well-rounded gamer.

So my fondest wish of a be-all, end-all MMO changed into a different wish as I grew older: That the many MMOs I enjoyed would stick around for a good long while so that I could cycle in and out of them as my interest dictated. I wanted games to still be there so that I could rediscover them after breaks when my interest became revitalized. I’d say right now that there are a good dozen or so MMORPGs that fall in this category and that are still running, but several others that are no longer accessible  that I had hoped would be around for years to come.

Out of all of these MMORPGs missing in action, WildStar is perhaps the one that grates the most. It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t handled by a studio that had it all together, but it was pretty dang awesome. I loved its style, its scifi setting, its housing system, its fluid animations (double-jumping FTW), its colorful alien races, its wardrobe system, its abundant amount of possible activities, its overarching narrative, its pets, its rewards, its art design, its amazing soundtrack, and… so many other things that I could name.

When it died, I did my best to stay occupied with other games and just not think about its loss. That’s another benefit of diversifying your online game portfolio, you can take these hits and keep on going instead of coming to a hard stop. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t pine and you aren’t reminded of what you used to have.

So yeah, this might be a long-winded way of saying this, but I want WildStar back. I really do. Even if it never got another day of development and existed in a maintenance mode forever, I’d take it in a heartbeat. This definitely would be a game that I’d want to return to time and again, as I did when it was running, and enjoy the wide buffet that it had to offer.

Posted in WildStar

The WildStar farewell tour, part 2

I finally got some more time to go on my self-appointed WildStar Farewell Tour a little while back, mostly thanks to Massively OP’s MJ, who dragged me along for a Halloween livestream on November 1st. Hey, Halloween isn’t over until the devs say it’s over, OK?

I fully expected us to be running the Shade’s Eve instances, and so I scooted my hoverboard over to the festival area and put on my bandage/mummy outfit. My character looked back at me with eyes that asked, “Can you take me out of this game and with you? Please?” Would if I could. Would if I could.

We had a bit of a two-person fashion show and dance party, since pretty much nobody else was around. I think WildStar’s remaining population has up and left already. I was in serious danger of delving into a lot of self-pity for the character, costume, and goodies I was about to lose when MJ suggested that we go check out random housing plots. Great idea!

We visited all sorts of bizarre homesteads, starting with this color-vomited pillowscape. I think part of my brain rebooted when I saw this.

This one player had created five absolutely incredible areas connected by a community plot. I really liked this little cafe that used the various magazine posters as kooky wall decorations.

We saw at least two plots with working (!) ferris wheels. Nothing delighted me more that night than riding these over and over again. I kept thinking that the creators of these plots had no idea that we were there or enjoying their handiwork. I really wish they did. At least I took screenshots to immortalize them.

Christmasland! With a giant Protostar gingerbread man!

The sheer density of this bar’s environment left us breathless. I can’t imagine how long it took to make this.

We also had a good time touring around a genuinely creepy horror-themed plot. The basement of this one house contained a room full of (a) stabbed voodoo characters, (b) eyeball children run through with spears, and (c) an upside down man hanging in chains. Brr!

Anyway, if you want to watch our full adventures, here is the stream:

Posted in WildStar

The WildStar farewell tour, part 1

With WildStar on the way out, I wanted to say farewell in fashion. And if that mean putting myself through the torture of reinstalling the game and logging in, then so be it. There are screenshots to be taken and accomplishments to be preserved!

For this first excursion, I wanted to take pictures of my characters. In the end, I had two primary characters at level 50, both named Syppi: a Medic and an Engineer. But I also wanted to touch base with my lowbie Aurin, Jem Hologram:

She… she does not look happy about being consigned to the eternal void of doom. Poor girl. You deserved some actual play time from me.

At least she’ll be able to take her faithful party Rowsdower with her when it all goes down. Nice color matching, too!

Next up: Checking out all of my outfits for my Medic. The purple/aurora snow hat look was most definitely my favorite of the six, although that cowgirl one looks pretty tough…

My Medic’s housing plot. I didn’t do much with this after Carbine vastly expanded the available space on which to build, so this looks pretty empty. I really liked the little hedge maze plug over there.

I took lots of pictures of the insides of my houses, but for the most part, they aren’t that impressive (or finished).

I didn’t do a lot of actual play, but I quickly got refamiliarized with WildStar’s movement. And I have to say that it is still really fantastic. The animations, the feel, the double-jumping, the swooshy hoverboard — all slicker ‘n snot.

I didn’t regret buying this Halloween second house for my plot — but I did regret never actually finishing it as a fully-functional haunted house!

Making this tranquil little pond took me way, way too long. But I think it was worth it.

The WildStar nativity that I made for several Christmases ago. It’s adorbes!

My Engineer outfits. Top left was the coolest, top right was my everyday wear, and bottom middle was my funkiest.

Arcterra — a zone that I never got to explore. Looks winter-sharp though!

Posted in WildStar

A requiem for WildStar

Life is slowly starting to settle back into something resembling normalcy after last week’s craziness in which we packed up our house and moved to a new state. It’s a lot to get used to, and I feel like most of my life has been upheaved. For a guy who craves stability and routine and comfortable surroundings, it’s pretty jarring.

So I didn’t need to hear that on the day of my move NCsoft announcing that it was going to shutter WildStar. I didn’t need that. I was so physically and emotionally exhausted that day that the news didn’t impact me much because there was nothing left, but now that I’ve had a few days to process this news, I find myself incredibly sad over this sunset.

WildStar wasn’t a perfect game made by a perfect studio — I think we can all agree on that. Carbine was a mess internally with too many forces pulling in too many directions, and the end result was an MMORPG that had ambitions but also misunderstood the market by being subscription-only with a hardcore endgame design. It hyped up paths only to give us this half-hearted system that failed to live up to its potential. It went a little over-the-top in some areas, like how the announcer would scream at you for challenges and level ups.

But it was a game that I loved, despite all that. There was so dang much to love about WildStar. The fusion of scifi and western with a touch of horror really worked. Nexus was a fascinating planet full of secrets that I genuinely wanted to uncover. There were abandoned laboratories, a ghost girl, a spreading infection known as the Strain, space pirates, amazonian natives, sentient veggies, and more.

Out of all of the MMOs that I’ve played, WildStar easily has the greatest collection of memorable NPC races assembled under its roof. From robot cowboys to the loot-obsessed Lopp to the clones of the Protostar Corporation, everywhere I turned I saw personality bursting at the seams. It was like the best Saturday morning cartoon had come to life and we got to play in it.

The graphics, the visuals — maybe not your cup of tea, but WildStar will always be one of the loveliest and most striking games that I’ve played. I adored the stylized and colorful graphics that didn’t make scifi this sleek and pristine thing. There were couches with busted springs and goofy-looking spaceships and hologram taxi drivers who would actually chat to you while you were en route to your next destination.

Undoubtedly, WildStar’s greatest legacy will be twofold: Its housing and its music.

My only quibble with the housing system was its slightly awkward placing tools, but past that, I adored it. Your own personal sky island where you could customize everything from the ground to the sky to your house outside and in? Functional plots that could be used to gather mats, take on challenges, and dive into pocket dungeons? It was amazing.

Because the art style of this game grooved with me so much, I really enjoyed setting up my home using parts of it. Being able to collect and even craft housing decor was the greatest carrot that this game dangled in front of me. I was never a master architect, but I had a blast putting together various homes and trying to figure out how to do fun things like give an unorthodox spaceship multiple interior levels or put a light source behind a window so it looked like sunshine was beaming in.

Jeff Kurtenacker’s score will be the only part of this game that will live on in a way that we can experience it, and for that, at least, I am glad. WildStar’s expansive score is flat-out stunning in its mastery, diversity, and enjoyability. It could be goofy, sad, creepy, stirring, and exciting in turns, and it lent a lot of personality to an MMO that already had a lot of it.

What else can I say? The holidays, the hidden secrets, the amount of stuff to do, double-jumping, hoverboarding, the crazy amount of pets and mounts, the fun of scenarios, that one dungeon where your party went insane and had to battle a giant vending machine, the zone where you had low gravity and could jump for miles, the joy of playing as a robot-toting Engineer, the tremendous costume system — it was all really, genuinely great.

It might seem hypocritical to say all this while not having played WildStar for well over a year now, but we all saw the writing on the wall. WildStar wasn’t going to make it, and there was little point putting in game time to an MMO that wasn’t being actively supported and developed. If we were living in an alternative universe where WildStar was reasonably popular, had a casual-friendly endgame, and had a studio that was pumping out regular updates — then yes, I’d still be playing. Heck yes, I’d be playing.

As it is, I feel heartsick over this shutdown. There’s a really good game here and so much work that’s being tossed into the trash. I don’t have any hope that NCsoft would sell or hand off this game, so that’s that unless we enter into emulator territory.

So I guess that there’s only this — thank you, WildStar, for a wonderful ride. You weren’t perfect, but you were far better than most people realized. You deserved much better than this.