When it comes to the MMO genre in 2013, a particular saying instantly comes to mind — “The more things change, the more they stay the same”. The formula for success has been been well and truly established, over the ashes of a plethora of failed titles. Developers now know what works and what doesn’t, replacing potentially risky gameplay mechanics with small refinements to well trodden, successful systems such as real-time combat and dungeon crawling.
So if anyone should be in a position to know precisely what failure looks like and how to hopefully alleviate it, it’s Cryptic Studios, reborn under the Perfect World banner to develop the second Dungeons and Dragons MMO – Neverwinter. With three (and a half) titles under its belt, Cryptic are one of the most experienced development houses in the industry, coupled with a publisher (Perfect World) considered a rising star after a host of successful free-to-play efforts in both Asia and the US. Can this team strike gold with one of their most ambitious projects yet?
Does getting access to an alpha allow you to influence the direction of a game — or simply constitute paying for an unfinished product?
This is the question we need to ask before we begin to fully embrace “Early Access”, the popular new trend that exploits the need for impatient gamers to play something, anything, that resembles or constitutes a game — and all for a fee, of course. “Supporting a developer” is the guise under which this particular scenario is being offered, in that the full amount is effectively a pre-order for the final product. Not only is this an entirely dangerous prospect for a potential customer, it’s actually quite a poor business model for the developer.
I wanted to play. I would jump onto my PC, browse Reddit and Twitter for a bit, and then stare at the client launcher on my desktop. But I knew that once I logged onto the server I’d be swallowed up for hours, catching up on all the time I’d “missed”, and avoiding the requests to jump on TeamSpeak. Burnout is a horrible thing, brought on by a toxic addiction that overrules everything else in your universe. Each full night you ignored your wife or ate dinner at your desk was just another sliver of life debt you added to the pile, like playing a great song on repeat for hours.
Eventually, and inevitably, the thing that you adore morphs into that digital version of hell.
Regional indie developers are a fast growing cottage industry in Australia, thanks to a gradual improvement to internet speeds and access to large markets of compassionate players, and the potential for the next big thing to spawn out of our wide brown land has become significantly more viable.
One of the more interesting projects I’ve seen of late is Black Annex, a Syndicate-inspired, isometric tactical strategy game that was designed entirely in QBasic. Yep, that programming language that many spend a year learning and subsequently forgetting, includes the clever feature of allowing compatibility across multiple versions of Windows. Anyone who knows the language and its innate simplicity can attest to the sheer difficulty of creating anything substantial in it, so for that alone it’s worth investigating.
We sat down to have a chat with Dennis Shirk, lead producer on Civilization 5 at Fireaxis, about the upcoming expansion Brave New World — but, well, I couldn’t resist asking a few questions about what the hell went wrong with the AI, and why so many core gameplay features ended up transposed into DLC. Read on for all the details.
The news was good. Two detailed EVE-mails, one from the CEO of my corp, the other from one of the alliance board, both revelling in the success of the month long operation. We had taken over the station, and subsequently, the system. Even though the enemy still had a defense presence in the form of two POS towers, which they used to both taunt and harass us for the next few weeks until we were offered opportunities to blow them up, we began shipping in our stuff and setting up our own infrastructure.
The problem was that — being so far away from everything — outside of the equipment we shipped in from highsec, we had very little available in order to start setting up industry and fitting our growing fleet of available PVP ships.
At the recent Elder Scrolls Online preview event in Washington, games.on.net had the chance to sit down with Maria Aliprando, creature combat designer on the game. She spoke to us about making monsters who work together, how the Finesse System rewards masterful play, and more.
Most of my alliance are — if they aren’t asleep or working — usually sitting in TeamSpeak, regardless of the situation occurring in game. Whether they are travelling halfway across the galaxy to find ship parts, mining ore in the local belts, or repelling an invasion of enemy ships, they scatter themselves across a series of self defined channels. Some of them are self-explanatory, “Mining”, “Main Lobby” or “AFK/Listening to Music”, while others are a little more specific, designating a certain use or permissions level, such as “Board Room” or “Operations 1″. Most of the time everyone is in the lobby, discussing everything from their son’s first steps to their latest kill or ship loss.
It’s amazing how quickly you can build relationships with complete strangers, especially when you’ve all shared the virtual blood of the enemy, or participated in a very well managed takeover of a contested system. You recognize voices after only a few nights, start to notice power structures and the lines of respect that hold everything together. Unlike guilds or clans in other titles, a corporation in EVE runs very similar to a business in real life.
Due to a scheduling conflict, our interview time with Paul Sage, the Creative Director and guru of all things Elder Scrolls Online, was limited. As a result, ace reporter Nathan Grayson from our friends at Rock, Paper, Shotgun and I joined forces to get some firm answers about our similar concerns with the game, ranging from overall scope, to combat, player control and choice reverberation. It’s a long one, but we think that the answers we were provided will help you understand the overall direction of the title into the future.
The Elder Scrolls Online finds itself in an unenviable position, where the two elements that it is attempting to combine are, ironically, quite incompatible.
On the one hand, you have the traditional Elder Scrolls experience — in this case Skyrim — that offers a reasonably ambitious sandbox in order to meet your armour hoarding, guard pickpocking, and naked dragon-hunting needs. On the other, Zenimax need to build a title within the MMO guidelines that define the boundaries of the online framework: a functioning economy, consistent access to content, and rewarding progression.
Thus the key to creating a successful fusion of these two competing sides requires a lot of careful research and experimentation — something that may possibly disappoint the stalwarts on the hard right and left of the spectrum. But if you’re one of those sitting in the middle, willing to compromise on a few freedoms here and there in order to enjoy what is actually quite a well designed rendition of The Elder Scrolls rolled into a theme park, then put on your knee guards and come hither.
You might be surprised to find that the world has not, in fact, ended.