What ever happened to /hail?

hailing

While marveling at SOE’s name giving for their newly announced MMO title, a recent twitter conversation with @Mylin1 made me painfully aware of one simple thing: how much I miss hailing in MMOs and all it stood for.

What ever happened to /hail? In my memory it was the most common greeting in older MMOs, certainly in Ultima Online and it wasn’t just for the role players. /Hail was part of early MMO culture, maybe MUD culture too (feel free to jump in), and it instantly gave every social exchange a more serious, almost solemn coating. It was like a portkey for immersion, a sign that this was a different world you traveled – a world of dragons and magic. In real life you were Sam the history teacher but here you were Lorella Stormcloak, five times Grand Mistress of Arcane Arts.

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image @ http://www.aschulze.net/ultima/stories/story027.htm

When and why exactly we lost /hail I do not know. Maybe it was that later MMOs outgrew the classic medieval setting of Ultima Online that set such a perfect stage for the odd Shakespearean prose. Maybe it’s that after WoW’s successes, the genre became too mainstream and “Mr. T-cool” to allow for this kind of geeky eccentricity. I remember still seeing /hail around in vanilla WoW but that’s about the last time I’ve encountered it in the world of online games.

Oh hail, how I miss thee. Like so many other things we’ve lost on the way, you’re a remnant of a bygone age, a symbol of our early beginnings.

Happy weekend holidays everybody and a solemn /hail to all of you! May your road be safe and your loot plentiful.

What the players want – who can say?

In a recent comment over here, blogosphere buddy Bhagpuss made an unsuspecting remark which at its core is a most familiar sentiment to all longterm MMO players, I’m sure:

[...]But that’s just what GW2 has become and, as people are prone to say, it is what it is. It could have grown into something very much more but apparently that’s not what the majority of players wanted so there you go.

I am going to blatantly take this quote out of its specific context and write a longer, more generalized post about it (sorry Bhag!).

What’s what the players want?

“What the players wanted” and any variation thereof is a commonly used phrase and reaction to MMO design, more often MMO design changes, that vexes me on a personal level. And oh, I have done it myself: how many times did I not do the “now reap what you sowed! (and I hope you suffocate on it)” fist-shake in gloomy retrospective whenever WoW changed for the worse over the years since 2004, in my very personal opinion? In a less considerate moment I’d love to blame all of you out there who are still playing for the state of the game. You ruined WoW for me or something.

But let’s get back to more rational debate. Every time MMOs change/evolve design direction the way so many have, the way GW2 has done from a non-commital “grind-and endgame-free” vision to what it is today, are we really in the position to say that it’s what the players wanted? If so, how do we know? More importantly, where would developers get such corroborated information?

(*)Not once in my 12 years-and-ongoing MMO career did I ever receive a developer letter asking me what I wanted. Not once did I receive a legit, official request or poll along the lines of “Dear Syl, please vote now if you would like to see achievements introduced to our game” or “…please let us know if you’re happy about another +5 level-cap increase with more gear grind at its end”. That would be spelling it out of course (and not a bad thing either).

Not once did anything remotely similar happen to me. And unless there is a secret society of select MMO players out there that receive these kind of emails when I’m not, other players don’t either. So, where and how exactly does the playerbase actively get to decide over an existing game’s direction? Surely not on chaotic message boards that no CM can effectively interpret and where it’s only ever the loudest voices that get noticed. Everyone should have figured that out by now.

DustSpeck

So maybe it’s the silent majority? Only, how does one speak on behalf of a silent group of people? Are they just “everyone else that is not on forums and twitter” that you therefore get to refer to easily for any given purpose since hey, it’s not like they’re saying anything to oppose you? Are we a homogenous mass of people just because we don’t scream and shout?

For me, it doesn’t work that way. It won’t do to retrospectively declare that things are the way they are because they went along with it. There’s a big difference here for me to actively shaping a process. To clarify: I’m not saying that developers should be telepathic and my main point is not to blame any particular group in the gaming industry for this situation (although clearly someone is to blame) – but you don’t get to tell me it’s what I wanted when it clearly wasn’t what I wanted and I never told you that it was.

Voting with your wallet blah

Here’s another catch-phrase I’ve come to dislike over the last few years: just vote with your wallet. The reason for my dislike is the simple truth of it and yet, it falls so horribly short in taking reality into account. I’m a part of a collective whose power is only as big or small as that same collective. I am also an enthusiast in a changing industry and on a wider scope, a human being in a constantly changing world. I’m not generally opposed to change; I’m constantly trying to evaluate which changes to embrace and which not to. Do I pay for an alpha? A beta? A collector’s edition? Do I pre-order? Kickstart? My head hurts.

I did vote with my wallet and unsubscribed from WoW at the end of WotLK, after a 6 years run of raiding madness. It has clearly made no impact whatsoever. If anything, Blizzard has become even less of a company I like to endorse than I did back then. But hey, I have the grim satisfaction of voting with my wallet, right? At least I don’t appear to be agreeing with this product anymore.

Whatever the silent player is supposed to do, I can’t seem to win. That’s why I object so strongly to the sentiment of absolute player/customer responsibility. As far as game design and development goes, the powers at work are way more complex and obscure than what any of us could influence. As much as players love to think they’re shaping games and as much as we love to blame others for when things turn badly, the much more likely scenario is that somewhere in an office, someone in a fancy suit with too many spreadsheets has figured out exactly which design directions to push in order to maximize monetization or subs or co-dependence. Sure, every once in a while a developer will ask us directly what we’d like on some social media platform, usually years or at least months before launch because that’s a good time to crowd-source and get cosy with fans. But videogame design is not a democracy, first and foremost it’s business and sneaky psychology.

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BLAH

And players tend to go along with stuff. There may be some fluctuation but overall we are a flexible bunch when it comes to franchises we’ve come to love or where we’ve simply invested so much time already that it’s hard to leave behind the trophies and fancy dresses. Design directions don’t change over night either; they trickle down ever so slowly until we’ve all but forgotten where we came from and one small change at a time seems as harmless as the last one. That’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s a way of doing business and shaping your audience to fit your product.

In summary to this conundrum I will say this: I never wanted achievements in WoW, the cross-sever dungeons or flying mounts. And I certainly never ever asked for an achievement tab greeting me at the login screen of GW2 – game of too many back items and weapon skins. I didn’t ask for that, more importantly didn’t vote on that. Maybe others did consciously and some unconsciously and I could blame that second group’s lack of action but it tires me to do so. As long as nobody is sending each and every one of their paying customers an official, transparent and individual request to vote on a game’s direction, I am sure as hell not going to take responsibility (or credit) for the way that MMOs are changing and neither should anyone else. Sorry developers but that one’s still on you!

(*) Clarification: I’m not saying I want these kinds of democratic player votes on game design; I don’t for various reasons. What I’m saying is since I am clearly not in a democracy here, you don’t get to share responsibility or retrospective blame with me democratically, either (let alone putting it all on players).

[Landmark] Losing your Claim and how to Avoid it

So it finally happened to me this last weekend: after patching Landmark for half an hour, I logged into the game to be met by a gaping void where I had grown accustomed to seeing a tall tree reach for the blue sky and the Inn of the Last home, my little Dragonlance homage I’ve spent a lot of time on since closed beta launch, had disappeared entirely. I had been under the impression that there was still 1 more day left on my upkeep but not so – my claim was gone including the landscaping work around the tall mountain I had made my own. Beta or not, backup copies or not, this made for a suprisingly distressing experience that gave me some pause.

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Where did it all go?

I’m with Tobold in that SoE will need to work out a decent and forgiving upkeep system for Landmark come official launch. I’m hoping they will look into a payment plan that doesn’t just consider “European holiday schedules” but acknowledges real-life commitments and obstacles in general. My stomach turns when thinking back to Ultima Online where players had to log into the game so frequently to maintain claims that it required them to organize for a substitute if they were ever away for a few weeks. When my brother went off to obligatory military service, I had the honor of “refreshing his towers” in Britannia.

I don’t expect a free-to-play title like Landmark to guard player claims forever but monthly upkeep payments from the very beginning should be a given in a game that inspires building effort and home base commitment to such degree. Once SoE have figured out their chat functions and other notifications, it would also be useful to install an alert-system outside of the game, sending an email to your account before claims expire.

It isn’t always disinterest that keeps players from an MMO and coming back to an empty claim is a sad affair, even if the spot is still free for the re-claiming (which it might not be if you’re very unlucky so there goes your neighbourhood too). That much I can confirm after this weekend: it’s remarkable how quickly we grow attached to our personalized spot in a game which is of course an open MMO design secret. Player housing in games, any and all forms of personalization and customization are the real longterm pulls of our vitual worlds. So here’s some friendly advice in case you’re new to Landmark and have recently managed to stake a claim:

  • Press that ‘U’-key frequently and make sure to pay your claim upkeep to the maximum (copper is cheap and all over Tier 1 biomes)!
  • If you’re uncertain of your weekly workload or RL commitments, have your phone or calendar remind you when your claims expire.
  • Stay away from attached claims. Your upkeep costs will double and triple if you expand, so unless you have lots of time to farm copper, sticking to a single claim is the way to go for a while.
  • Make a blueprint frequently. While there’s an automatic backup feature when you lose your claim, you never know and better safe than sorry.
  • In case you lost your claim: give the new claim a different name than before. Re-naming to the same as the backup copy might result in an overwrite should you ever fail to pay upkeep again in the future.

Oh and Liore has posted this simple guide on how to make your first claim if you happen to still be at that step. As for the Inn of the Last Home, it is of course back in the game thanks to backup copies. However, since re-shaping the mountain to fit the scene was too frustrating a second time around, I moved server and set up camp on Satisfaction EU / Kettle this time, where ”my” tree can be found just north of the spire. That is for now, anyway.

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Back among the living.

Digging Landmark and what we may expect from SOE

So between Wildstar and ESO, Landmark is the new star on the block that everyone’s talking about – everyone with a closed beta key anyway which seem to be an awful lot of people. It’s a beautiful game, too beautiful really for voxels which impresses even those among us who are not usually constructionists. Or gatherers for that matter; Landmark is all about the gathering and an admin mode doesn’t seem likely. I was worried about this before but having sunk several hours into Landmark by now, I am with Liore that the game features by far the most satisfactory gathering experience of them all. Mining and chopping wood has an almost therapeutic, calming quality – the motions and sound effects are great and the chunks and splinters come off seemingly at random as you dig down veins to see what gem might lie at the end.

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Landmark, for now, is also making things considerably more easy for you than let’s say Minecraft, which features tool decay at pretty irritating speed before you reach higher tier tools and weapons. A single mine or tree in Landmark yields a respectable amount of materials which makes the process feel rewarding. Besides that, Landmark lets you create all the basic and necessary crafting stations for little effort; it may have taken me four hours altogether once I understood where to find the required higher tier materials. It so happens that all you need to do is hop island.

For someone like me who is not into tedious gathering with steep progression nor into complex (aka grindy) crafting systems in MMOs, Landmark is exactly right. Unfortunately therein also lies mild apprehension because SOE still plan to overhaul crafting entirely until launch. Given how easy things are at the moment, I can’t imagine this going any other way than up towards more restriction and difficulty. Alas.

Remember the classes of EQN where you collect a whole bunch of them and you specialize? We’re going to be doing that kind of thing with crafting also.” So players who have learned specializations will be able to craft different and better things than players who haven’t. Additionally, players will have to work together to craft some really great things, as players will have different specializations. [Dave Georgeson]

So quo vadis, Landmark?

Two weeks ago SOE revealed their comprehensive roadmap for Landmark’s future, inviting players to help shape the development process of the game. MMO players rarely need such invitations – the forums and other social media platforms are bursting with wishlists and suggestions for the future. The game feels very playable right now but it’s lacking more practical and intuitive building tools along with many announced features in the roadmap.

What nobody really can say at this point is in which ways Landmark will truly be more than a very pretty and atmospheric building sandbox with a few social features. Even if the community is happy to visit and explore other claims at the moment, the game in itself isn’t particularly social yet, nor ‘massively multiplayer’. SOE have seperated Landmark from Everquest Next with the recent name change but they are still essentially selling an MMO idea here, while presenting EQN as the traditional MMORPG with y’know, character development and group content and endgame. Or whatever developers mean nowadays when they distinguish between MMOs and MMORPGs -

So what will be the state of Landmark at launch? For now, the roadmap plans for the following major closed beta implementations: introducing dangers (damage and death), combat, quests (journal) and achievements, a guild system, the crafting overhaul and PvP along with various additions to the landscape (caves, water etc.). I must say, the addition of PvP strikes me as the most dramatic and somewhat curious of the bunch; what kind of motives could drive players to kill each other in Landmark I can hardly guess. Special loot or resources? Claim rights? A PvP-related currency?

I’m sure that Landmark is also going to feature an economy of sorts before launch along with the Player Studio, which for now is reserved for American players but will add more regions come May 2014. However given the complicated tax situation, I have no hopes that this feature will make it to my place anytime soon.

That seems about it, as long as SOE don’t have any more undocumented tricks up their sleeves until official launch. One might speculate about the community’s longevity until that time – after all speculation is the province of the MMO blogger. Personally, I’m not too worried about Landmark but I still believe longterm, it will have to offer a lot more than social platforms and deeper crafting in order to retain a longterm player base. I look forward to see what else SOE come up with. For now, I am quite happy to potter (pot-hole) around.

EQN Landmark First Impressions: Landrush Stress and Location, Location, Location!

Yesterday’s EQN Landmark kick-off was a bit of a mixed bag for me and I’m almost hesitant to write about it. As far as the invite, install and intro movie to closed beta were concerned, the staff at Sony under Dave Georgeson couldn’t have done a better job. What a quick and smooth experience, what contagious enthusiasm. If for no other reason, you must believe in Landmark because of the people behind it. What’s currently going on on forums and twitter in terms of community interaction and communication puts everything I’ve experienced in the past to shame. Can’t find the bloody thistle trees in this closed beta? Why, the Director of development is happy to draw you a picture! We should probably not get used to that.

I went for one of the two EU servers called “Satisfaction” mostly because “Understanding” struck me as an odd name and I’m not sure how wise it would be lagwise to go for an US server this stage of beta. That said, you can constantly switch islands or server to gather mats and visit friends around the globe.

Some brilliant building expos and screenshots aside, I haven’t really paid much attention to Landmark’s alpha and so I went into this whole experience the way I always do – like a closed beta player without starting information. It is rather hard to ignore all the guides spam on the internet right now or the sometimes not-so-optional words of advice by passionate alpha players. I understand Landmark has lit a special spark already but the idea of “this is our game, please tread lightly beta players” is a bit much (not to mention territorial) in places. I hate breaking it to any of the early players but Landmark is still going to change. A lot. And the community is bound to change too as more and more of that free-to-play audience are going to join and ask for all kinds of features.

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Anyway, landrush. That was pretty much most of my yesterday afternoon experience and I can’t say I particularly enjoyed it. Missing Bel’s cool alpha composure, I eyed the rapidly shrinking landmass with hectic worry as I was scanning for claimable spots that would accommodate both myself and my best friend and Minecraft buddy Val. Navigating both our accounts since he couldn’t be there, I logged on and off the game trying to gather mats on two characters until at some point I realized “wait….same server, NOT the same map?!”. I didn’t manage to friend us by myself so essentially several hours of play went down the drain because it still required him to get online in the evening and join me on my instance….shard…..island.

That could’ve been the end of it until we realized that just because there were no claims around my area, that didn’t mean he could place one next to me because buffer zone. Which makes perfect sense and is likely to get a friend fix soon – still, imagine our frustration when there were no more free claims close to me after all.

Of course that’s the glorious beta experience. I can’t recall how often I’ve had the “what shard are you on, I can’t see you!”-conversation in past games, so by now it’s quite humorous. To be fair, Landmark’s friending and teleport-to-friend feature work perfectly fine already and so we decided on expanding and sharing my claim instead which has the most fabulous location – a criteria I was under pressure to fulfill.

Location, location, location

Every island in Landmark looks different and within the first few hours, you could already tell a majority of players are going for the same thing: mountain tops. I don’t blame them, I want a wide, nice vista as much as the next person in a game that I expect to spend a lot of time in . If we can’t afford that ocean-view condo in real life, or in my case the castle in the sky with thick fog around it, let us at least create our dreams in virtual reality. For now, Landmark is all about your personal home and neighborhood, so understandably the landrush puts strain on some individuals. I’ll admit I don’t like timers and first-come-first-served features in most games even if it can’t be helped in this case. If all fails, you can always build your own mountain.

My claim announced itself with a huge tree in the distance, somewhat off the busy spiral center and yet close enough to easily get there by foot. It’s a small peak between the snowy tundra and old forest biomes which for me is absolutely perfect. I love standing there and looking down into the valley or watching the moon rise. After all the afternoon gripes, it was saintly to just be there and listen to Jeremy Soule dousing the world in his magic.

That’s when I finally remembered why I was here.

mylm

Of course things aren’t gonna stay that way. Now is the time to build and bicker with my buddy because we can’t ever agree on the same style of building. I want a tree house, he wants an entire town in Fable / Harry Potter design. We’ll end up not pleasing either one of us and build another castle the way it happened in Minecraft before. That’s probably why I still feel reluctant about getting back to the game and why I’m not overflowing with ooooohs and aaaaaahs over the awesome building tools; this is my Minecraft experience all over.

Or maybe not. Maybe this time around I’ll manage to be cool and not give a toss about how our claim turns out. After all, Landmark comes with a great copy-paste feature so you can always dump and restart with ease. And else…..well, I can always join the circus like Bel and become a wandering minstrel, visiting other folk in Landmark and marveling at their homes while my own remains the road forever. Maybe I would like that.

(No really, am just gonna have my damn tree house. Sorry Val!)

Day/Night Cycles for a Chance of Sunset

So Wildstar has a day-night cycle as was inquired about by John in yesterday’s topic here. I’m not sure that there’s one for all the zones of the Nexus but given that I’ve experienced it several times over this past beta weekend in Celestion, Whitevale and Thayd even, I don’t see why the mechanic wouldn’t be applied across the board unless we are looking at different planets and solar systems in the future. Or non-solar systems respectively.

While elaborating on day and night cycles is hardly ever a priority on any devspeak’s list, players tend to care a lot about the question of changing light and different times of the day for new MMOs. How many phases are there and for how long? Is it a 24-hour cycle? How dark is the night? Where can I find the timer on my UI?

I am a passionate supporter of this feature for “authenticity’s sake”, wherever there’s a fitting context to be found which is the case for most fantasy MMO settings. Whenever a day/night cycle is missing I am the sadder for it, yes even in open world RPGs that often tend to disregard them. Without changing light even a virtual life feels oddly stagnant. It feels like a missed opportunity too for developers and designers to install different events and time-relevant encounters in the game.

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Rainbow over Oatbarton / mmorpg.com

There is an extraordinary creative power to light, no matter real light or fictional, that we can all recognize be we students of quantum physics or mere observers of all the indirect effects and cosmetic wonders that light bestows on our senses. There is such painterly glory in dynamic light changes to a point where even the more ordinary and literally lack-luster is elevated to a state of brilliance.

Dawn’s just a heartbeat away
Hope’s just a sunrise away
[Fear not this Night - GW2]

The night becomes frightening and mysterious for darkness’ sake, that absence of light. A morning heralds a better day, a day of possibility and things to come. Light is the great revealer of our reality but it is also constant interpretation and therefore it is poetry. There may be nothing new under the sun but neither is there ever the same.

24-hour cycles or multiple mini-days

One of the biggest concerns for MMO players has always been server-time versus artificial days or WoW’s 24-hour cycle versus all games that will allow a full run multiple times during a real-world day. There are many who dislike the classic WoW mechanic for understandable reasons:

I played an MMO where it followed the 24 hour cycle and I was kinda bummed because I’d always play at the same time every day, and it was ALWAYS night time on the server. The world was always dark and I rarely got to ever see daylight.

If the day/night cycles could be offset by a few hours, it would ensure that everyone will experience all the different times of the day since most people tend to play at the same time everyday. [source]

I remember the times in vanilla WoW when I was questing in Westfall and only ever experienced sunset, beautiful sunset, and then moonrise. While Westfall is a zone that has much to gain from the night’s black ink, I was taken aback when I visited during noon time for once several weeks later. So different was the atmosphere, so much more unnerving the shrill yellow all around. For other zones however, the night becomes an obstacle and players weary of hunting and questing for hidden objects that time of the day. They’ll take prolonged coffee breaks or re-schedule their ingame agenda entirely if they can.

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Light on a stick, I haz it.

I’m not sure personally which cycle I prefer the most. There’s a good argument pro multiple mini-days, at the same time I dislike MMOs that rush their cycles and rush transition phases especially. I am fine with several hours of night if only I get a properly long and developed sunrise phase in return. I am weirded out when there’s a new nighttime every hour, a schedule that exhausted me quickly in Minecraft’s unmodded version. What day is too long and which night long enough? It’s a tricky balance and yet a discussion worth having. Light is ultimately a very important factor to our overall gametime and gameplay experience as well as greater immersion (for us explorers and suckers of the second home). I’ll happily take tricky, prolonged nights over none at all and bear a toxic afternoon sun for a chance of sunset.

Thanks John for inspiring this post today. It was the waning light outside my window that told me it was time to publish and get on my way home.

Wildstar Panoramania

As a passionate screenshots taker in MMOs, I love the first few weeks when that folder is swelling on my hard drive because there are so many things to see and love. Back in August 2012 I did a series of GW2 panorama pictures and now that Wildstar is finally out of its beta-overlay phase, I had another shot at some of my favorite vistas in the game so far. I used to eye Wildstar’s cartoony graphics with worry but having seen the game live now, I am a sucker for the whimsical aesthetic and detail of the Nexus which outdo other cartoony titles by far.

All panorama pictures were created by myself and photoshop (I insist on not spoiling these by slapping on a fat mmogypsy banner or something). You can click individual images for a full-HD version. Enjoy! (as always all screenshots are best enjoyed while listening to Louis Armstrong!)

Sylvan Glade
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Algoroc
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Whitevale (my favorite zone!)
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Galeras
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Gallow (new!)
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Introducing Totally Legit VGMs, Battle Bards Episode #23 and moar Music!

It’s no secret, I love videogame music. I love movie themes too and classical pieces such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Mozart’s Magic Flute. Back in the 80ies and 90ies great VGMs (I insist on pluralizing this!) were few and far between although some ear worms did exist; I am not going to deny the merit of the old Castlevania or Turrican scores for example. Yet, we really started talking with the mp3 era and it were giants such as Nobuo Uematsu (happy birthday!) for the Final Fantasy series, who brought the booming choirs and orchestras, forever altering the significance of videogame music and blowing a young audience’s mind.

The rest is history. Over the past decade videogame music has become a wonderful and inspiring part of gaming, still overlooked in too many cases, with the potential to be just as elaborate, complex and deep as much-praised classical music. Developers will budget for professional composers, even live orchestra when particularly serious about a title. MMOs in particular are a spoiled genre when it comes to memorable compositions and impressive effort.

Almost a year ago now (!), the Battle Bards podcast was formed by Syp to bring the beauty and variety of MMO music to a wider audience. We’re a niche-inside-the-niche podcast for sure, asking for the type of willing audience that will follow our musical expeditions for a full hour every two weeks. In return, we’ll share our pearls with you and hopefully convince a few more listeners that MMO music has a lot to offer. MMORPG music that is, because we keep a necessary narrow focus on the show. Which reminds me, Episode 23 on epic boss battles is out now, with a very special intro if I may say! We’re always having fun on this show and we are not afraid to make fools out of ourselves for entertainment’s sake (QED).

Introducing: Totally Legit VGMs

Doing a full-hour bi-weekly podcast on MMO music does a lot to quench my thirst for VGM rambling among fellow aficionados. Yet, for a while now I’ve been trying to find outlets for a wider spectrum of music too to spread some love across all genres and platforms, usually via my twitter channel (where I frequently spam “OSTs of the Day”) or the Tunes of Magic series. What is a quick and easy way to draw some attention to random videogame music? How to best reach more players who may shy away from longer shows or articles?

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This is where the idea for “Totally Legit VGMs” was born – a new format spotlighting a different videogame OST every week, with only 5 tracks compiled in a 5minute youtube clip. The weekly spotlights will be featured on blogosphere buddy Liore’s Totally Legit channel, a cooperative of great fellow gamers and geeks. Episode 1 is out now on yes, World of Warcraft!

The whole point of TLVGMs is not to present an entire soundtrack so much as to say “here, this is good stuff and this is why. You should look further into it!”. I ask for 5 minutes of your time to present a sneak-peek into an entire soundtrack via 5 handpicked tracks! It doesn’t get much easier than this and allows me to share some of my most beloved tunes with ease. It’s safe to say, I have enough material for the next year already.

I hope this format manages to spread some more VGM love in the community. I don’t know how high the entry barrier is to VGM appreciation and obviously, it’s never for everyone. But really, what’s 5 minutes of your time, right?

Humble Rhythm Bundle

Coincidentally, this weeks Humble Rhythm Bundle is all about playing to the music! Not just game music mind but your personal library in many cases, so check out the current sale on different rhythm games (5 days to go!). My first ever such title was Vib Ribbon on the PSone whose controls I hated with a passion, however the fascination of a randomly generated gaming experience and to my favorite music no less, has never left me. There are many exciting avenues we have yet to travel and fully discover for this medium and I look forward to music being one of them.

A great weekend to everybody and happy listening!

Weekend Wildstar Beta Round-up

Over the weekend I’ve found time to catch up on the MMO blogosphere’s unleashed Wildstar impressions and by the looks, nobody is unhappy to have played in the beta. While several have mentioned the art style not being very immersive at first, everybody seems to agree that Carbine is delivering a fairly polished game with lots of potential for group play. Generally, enthusiasm isn’t exactly overflowing but given how most of us are grumpy veterans, that’s just as well. Caution, thy name is 2014 MMO blogging!

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Welcome to Whitevale / mmorpg.com

Since I didn’t really give a complete beta review in my last update but rather focused on the “Wildstar versus WoW”-debate, here’s a quick round-up of many interesting posts by fellow bloggers that when put together, paint a pretty comprehensive Wildstar picture:

  • Clockwork thinks that Wildstar is a great game overall but needs serious work in the camera and UI department. As for telelgraphs, they sure take some getting used to! I happen to agree with all his points.
  • Bel over at Tales of the Aggronaut is extremely torn: for him, Wildstar comes close to Las Vegas in terms of busyness, content density and sensory overload. Being fiercely in the ESO camp already, it’s hard for him to find good enough reasons to play (or pay).
  • Braxwolf Stormchaser can say with certainty that Wildstar is an MMO. He likes the game’s overall flair and music and despite its cartoony graphics, found it to be grittier than GW2 or SWTOR. Still, he isn’t over the moon about Wildstar just yet.
  • Stubborn goes on to explain that unlike me, he will name Wildstar’s core gameplay a direct successor of WoW and that’s not a bad thing. Wildstar is the more refined title and Carbine have done a fantastic marketing job – all that said, he has no plans to play at launch.
  • Kadomi at the new blog To Boldly Nerd is exclusively interested to play Wildstar this year. Her review is one of the most complete I’ve found and covers a lot of aspects and great details about the game’s current state, so check it out!
  • As for my Battle Bards co-host Syp, he has already shared his positive Wildstar review much earlier than us ordinary people. Now that the NDA has dropped for everybody, he is back to discuss different purchase and pricing options while being very disappointed in the lack of proper collector’s edition. The fact that releasing the OST doesn’t get mentioned anywhere by Carbine is a big let-down indeed.

If you’re still on the fence about Wildstar, these different reads will provide you with ample input although they might not convince you either way. That last leap of faith is still yours to make. As far as I’m concerned, that pre-order is a done deal.

In case I missed anyone’s review, let me know so I can add you to the list! Happy Sunday all!

Wildstar ain’t WoW – Wildstar is Heavy Metal

Suddenly everything is moving really fast. ESO is about to launch, Blizzard hints at launch dates and pre-orders, Wildstar takes another day to get real. And somewhere in between all of this, people are getting bored of Landmark’s alpha. Looks like this year of new MMOs is finally happening!

Sooo, Wildstar. I’ve played in the permanent beta since this January, not for any particular fandom but gloomy frustration over ESO. Clearly, going into this second MMO without much anticipation has helped a lot. I like Wildstar; not the way I love LOTRO or Guild Wars 2 but enough to pre-order come this March 19th. Smart of Carbine to move fast and set their launch well ahead of WoW – not because the two are one and the same but because WoW is always competition. To anybody.

That of course leads me to where I want to go with this post: how Wildstar doesn’t feel like WoW when you’re playing. The internet is obsessed with comparing the two for obvious reasons, the cartoony graphics and well, the classic approach. Yet probably 70% or more of all MMOs out there are themeparks with a holy trinity. If that’s the similarity you’re judging things by then Wildstar isn’t any more a WoW clone than Final Fantasy XI – a game that launched 2 years prior to World of Obsessioncraft. But hey, I too am guilty of early comparisons and Carbine weren’t exactly shy to point out their target audience in the past, either.

Contrary to the popular notion Wildstar isn’t WoW, more importantly does not feel like WoW. Much rather I would say this: Wildstar is heavy metal.

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A penetrating first look at Wildstar’s feels

From the get-go, Wildstar struck me as its very own thing. The overall feel and very consistent design concept seem well-known and yet aren’t, not after taking a closer look and certainly not within an MMO context anyway. If I had to describe the visuals to anyone, I would go with Brutal Legend meets Borderlands 2. That level-up animation still paints a wide grin on my face. This game is outspoken and slangy in its humor and despite the candy colors, it also has grimness and maturity to it (candy-color me impressed!). There’s the Firefly-like thematic fusion of a cyber-metal-punk wild west adventure…with pink bunnies.

The cartoony graphics of Allods mimic WoW in a way that Wildstar never does; more stylized, more artsy and whimsical are the settings of the Nexus and this painter’s brush is a different brush entirely. The world expands vertically as much as horizontally so the player character gets dwarfed more easily; a counter-immersive effect I’ve referred to (and complain about) as the goldilock’s experience before. Anyway, as a sucker for authentic and mature in MMOs it took me a good while to get used to the hyper-stylized graphics; staring at the grass in Wildstar for too long requires a willingness to suspend disbelief -

Spellsinger_Galeras
Whatever this is, it ain’t real grass!

But let’s rewind things a little and start at the beginning: the character customization. Wildstar offers as many options as vanilla Warcraft in terms of body and height variety which means well, none at all. That’s quite the flaw in 2014. At the same time, we are seeing some of the most exciting, accomplished and refreshing race design since Allods and maybe Tera. Boring and uninspired humans with weird hairdos aside, some of the Draken, Mordesh, Granok and Chua models are simply to die for.

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Once you leave character customization, Wildstar is quick to introduce players to combat with their very own tunnel scenario. Yeah, they do that. Once again, there’s much to get used to here and it’s safe to say the doubly active telegraph combat couldn’t be more unlike WoW even if Carbine are aiming for the same strategic depth and role-based play with their group content. In the same vein, their restricted skillset and talent system strike me as modern and light-weight in a way WoW is only just learning to be, simplifying things with every new expansion.

I could go on from here and point out how the (sticky) camera in Wildstar works differently which gave me pause. There’s no insta-turn and quick 90° cutting corners which some players will clearly miss for the first few hours even if it feels natural after a while.

Or I could describe the chaotic refugee city of Thayd that feels nothing like any Warcraft city I’ve ever been to. If I had to name something about Wildstar that really let me down it would be questing which, despite different path options, is very kill ten rats. In this there’s no letting off Carbine.

In summary: You should probably give this a try

So many aspects in MMOs make for that complex, intangible quality that we call “overall feel” and if nothing else, you should give Wildstar the benefit of the doubt as long as you haven’t played it. The Nexus is an odd place, alien yet familiar – not entirely new but new enough, a little more grownup than expected and every bit as polished as anyone could hope for. There will be things to love and things to hate but dismissing this new title over being a second World of Warcraft because cartoony looks, well that would be wrong entirely. Wildstar is a fresh interpretation of a classic, an ambitious and deep MMO world with an unmistakeable, stubborn and outspoken style. It doesn’t need to copy WoW any more than any of the other upcoming games do; I believe we can move on from this notion already.