All posts tagged hellgate

I just read the interview with Bill Roper where he confesses all the mistakes with Hellgate. Now that I'm involved in designing an MMORPG, albeit one aimed at the casual market, I'm particularly sensitive to the violation of what I consider the make-or-break of any MMO:

The first month's experience.

Why is this more important for MMOs than for other genres where a bad first hour means we just buckle down and sweat it out?

What Bill Roper's and his team didn't get was that you can't build an MMO off of great ideas. At least at this stage in the MMO industry, if you want to compete with the big boys, you've got to innovate off of them, not invent a whole new wheel. Indie MMOs of course are a different matter.

The reason that polish trumps brilliance in an MMORPG is because an MMO is a service first, not a game. Gameplay is its function. Think about the way subscription feels compared to a purchase… in the consumer's mind, it buys entitlement because he feels the company is equitably "entitled" to a constant stream of payments that, neuroeconomically speaking, we've already paid into the future for the moment we signed up. The subscriber doesn't expect $15 of service for his first month, he expects some derivative of the whole $180 he'll be paying for the rest of the year that he expects to be playing. This is only compounded by the fact that he's shelled out $60 already for the initial game box.

So while Roper is close in his assessment, he hadn't gone far enough. Sure, the motley features was a design problem. Sure there were bugs. Sure there were play-balance issues. Sure sure sure. But what I had coming out of the beta was the feeling that I wasn't needed in Hellgate. I made no impact, my character was placeholder, the story was a dead cat bounce, and the connection between the two was a corpse twitch.

It wasn't the plot or the play mechanics, it was simply the first two hours of my experience being wholly paint-by-numbers. Maybe feature creep sapped their energy, maybe ambition bought them too large a bite, but the design wasn't as fatal as Roper thinks. Even with a free-to-play model, I felt compelled to subscribe for the full experience, and given my experience was shallow, it was all or nothing. Like everyone else who had already subconsciously done the cost/benefit analysis, the game failed to deliver for the price we wanted to pay, and we had no confidence that would change.

(more PBF over here)

Now that World Jump Day is over, stupidity will diffuse more evenly among the 23.934 hours in the sidereal day. If you hadn't heard of it, it was a call for millions of chumps across the planet to jump up and down at the same time in order to shift the orbital path of the planet, and thereby bringing world peace, global cooling, and a climate of general inanity. C'mon folks, the idea makes no sense at all in regards to physics. If anything, if should be World Blow-Upwards-At-The-Sky Day and instead of spreading across the globe canceling out their own foolishness, they should do it all from one place… like a poisonous rainforest or something.

But the strategy they've come up with is not new. Dantesoft sent me a BBC article nicely summing up the troubles a giant EA has faced. From the folks I've talked to, what burnt people out wasn't so much the workload, but the pointlessness of said work when constantly defined and redefined by suits and producers, the worst combo for human health since the Big Mac and large fries. Try changing 3-4 managers a month. Try marketing perps invoking art/code pipeline changes. One gent, who was friends with the guy who filed the class action suit against EA, told me of a game in which developers would try to score points based on how many times they could get producers to say "in reality…," and of course bonus points if you could get them to play the crying card. I kid you not, they cried.

So I guess we are to believe that significant jumping up and down has changed the orbit of EA's heart. I'll believe it when interns stop abandoning their internships there.

But jump hard enough and you'll plummet through the Earth into China, where they're still busy at work ruining stereotypes for Chinese people stateside. Read this incredible story about how Massive Black, related to the artistic monument that is ConceptArt.org, had their business sabotaged and stolen shamefully and shamelessly by their Shanghai faction.

This is the John Grisham tale of the game industry. Where asian women here in the Valley enjoy the benefits of being stereotypical dragon ladies and kawaii dolls in the sensational yellow fever of the interracial dating scene, asian guys are haplessly painted as spies and fu manchus. Y'know why? 'Cuz of selfish assholes like James Xi Zhang and the massive fraud, embezzlement, and conspiracy he perpetrated against Massive Black. If Hellgate is delayed for this, he's a dead man.

Today's tragedy in Mumbai, India was almost as displeasing to me as the rumor floating around that the source code for Hellgate: London was stolen from its ex-Blizzard team at the incredibly talented Flagship Studios. Yes, insensitive, but my sensitivity is increasingly dictated by an increasingly local Sphere of Giveadamn.

Why are we not at all-out war with these fuckers? To put it provincially, that is. But I only see providence in province when dealing with terrorists, and I'm actually partial to violence in my worldview. How is the rest of the world not sick of the fact that since 1960, the number of terrorism victims has increased ten-fold each decade? And they aren't just bombing the evil wicked white men of the West, they're bombing the shit out of themselves!

To draw ample analogy, to me it's like the code heist of my beloved upcoming game. You'd think empowered rebels of the MAN would be out exposing the government's dirty secrets, instead of attacking an industry that was practically SPAWNED by hacking! Hackers cracking games I could rationalize, but hackers stealing from the very people they wrap the keyboard wire of their demimeaningful lives around just reeks of utter AOLification of a scene once noble through the works of 2600 phreaks and anarchists. No, not *a* scene, *THE* scene.

Listen up you hackers. Instead of creating the sixteenth version of a program to advertise porn in my blog, why don't you twats do something useful. Hack some terrorists. Hack some spammers. Hell, restore the chivalry of the cyberknight and go hack the NSA where your balls could get snatched and your ass landed in jail. In the days I remember, the technopirates of olde existed to hack those who deserved it. Bring me back those days of homemade napalm and multi-colored boxes, and when terrorists were actually guerrillas and minutemen, not like these puppets of Al-Qaida dancing within the skirt of a shattered Pakistan.

E3 pics are up!

Most of the big news probably slaps you in the face at each and every game site, so I'm going to stick with impressions and hands-ons, and leave headlines out of this. Overall, this E3 was probably the best one I've been to, with less focus on graphics and more focus on gameplay overall, with the exceptions of the two you-know-whos. Booth babe quality wasn't bad even with clothing restrictions, and watching Fatal1ty bring some wannabe to the brink of tears on the The Longest Yard conversion to Quake4 had me and Xstine laughing our asses off.

So without further ado…

Microsoft Impressions:
Xbox 360 games continue to look better, and I continue to think about getting one. Games look as a they should on a $400 system. Gears of War looked phenomenal of course, but Huxley was surprisingly fun too considering the amount of lag this FPS MMO had, and I was dukin' it with a roundtable of over 30 people. And its framerate was still a SIGHT better than the Crysis engine game, which when not in that Siberia known as the 10-minute loading screen, was trying to impress us with spring-collision driven foliage bending nonsense at a blistering 4 fps. 3D benchmarks are a FAR CRY from being games, please.
Still, Lumines on XBox Live and the announcement of Windows Vista allowing PC and console gamers to meet in sweet swiss bliss gave the system the edge. In Peter Moore's own words, why buy a PS3 when yyou can get both a Wii and a 360 for the same money? As much as I hate the guy, he's right as rain.
Oh yes, Viva Piñata looks rad (see pic), and besides some framerate problems, has got real style. Good job Rare… finally…

Nintendo Impressions:
As fanatical as the gaming media has been so far about the Wii, I have a huge complaint. I never got to play the damn thing since the line of lines, the sweat-infused meta-line that wrapped itself around the vortex of Nintendo's creative navel, was so entangled that I had not the ken to locate its extradimensional entry point. Dammit Nintendo, you spoke of playing is believing, but put your new console in the furthest reaches of E3's 9th circle of hell. My heart wept for a chance to play Super Smash Bros Brawl, but my melatonin begged for just one more day of sunlight.
Still, just watching the announcers playing Wii Sonic on the big screen by just tilting the controller left and right filled me with an instinctual, pheromonal kind of parasymptomatic gravitation back to West Hall over and over. Instead, I settled for some DS games, like Magnetica (aka Zuma) and Brain Training. Why is Sudoku so damn addicting.

Sony Impressions:
Let's forget about the price for a second, and the feature trickery. Do the games look good? Well, as you can see in the photos, their setup at E3 was still running on a bunch of dev kits, but at the moment it looks good. Not $200 good, mind you, but good. Warhawk wasn't very fun, but had that impressive kind of fluidity and SFX density that reminded me of great Dreamcast rail shooters. Madden looked godawful, honestly, with horribly overdone fur/grass. Heavenly Sword looked pretty good, like a PC version of Devil May Cry, although pixilated self-shadowing and jerky animation need work.
The booth area was pretty packed, and people were cheering like mad at the Final Fantasy trailers, but the actual wait time to get into the private showings was about 5 minutes. There will definitely be a market for PS3, evidenced my the throngs of people in the Singstar booth and the Country Karaoke Revolution game. The PSP, btw, went the way of the N-Gage.


PC Impressions:
I was pleasantly surprised. Hellgate: London continues to look great, and although the avatars are ugly, the gameplay is smooth and addicting just to even watch. The Conan MMORPG was graphically beautiful, especially the horse animations, but it seems like there was stuff being killed only when I looked away. Boring.
Xstine and I are both excited about Neverwinter Nights 2, and eye-rolly about World of Warcraft's expansion and its new Dranei Alliance race. NCSoft held a pretty exciting Guild Wars: Factions tournament with Koreans slaughtering Koreans, but nothing was nearly as exciting as THIS…..


Finally, some of the coolest things we saw there were these two toys: