So have you heard about Ashes of Creation?

One of the greatest things about blogging for a longer period of time is followers coming up to you saying “you’re wrong about that” or “you forgot this”. This is genuinely beneficial and helpful in so many ways even if it ends in heated debates and disagreements sometime. At the best of times, we discover new viewpoints or just new THINGS we never heard of – and new games! So it happened with my last week’s post where I researched upcoming MMOs in 2017-2018 to get excited about. Shortly after, a friendly person on twitter poked me to ask:

Have you heard about Ashes of Creation?

I admit that I hadn’t up to now! I am aware of few titles from the more distant future, like Amazon’s New World, but I missed last December’s news on the big Ashes of Creation reveal and first look video on environments. So it appears there is another big scope classic MMORPG title in the works currently, by former SOE and Daybreak MMORPG developers no less – who knew? After some research, it does not appear that Dave G. is part of the crew however, in case you were wondering!

ashes of creation first look

An Ashes of Creation First Look

Ashes of Creation development started 2016 which means the title is still a long way off and additional crowdfunding via kickstarter is planned to go up at some point. At a first glance, the game aims to follow the classic fantasy MMO formula, doing a little bit of everything with a focus on dynamic world building. This was something promised in EQN and we’ve yet to see a bigger title actually deliver on this front, so color me interested. Another feature that jumps out immediately is Intrepid Studio’s approach to housing which, according to their FAQ, is going to be both open world as well as instanced –

Q: Can I own land?
A: Our land owning system has an integrated personal housing and farming system to allow players to claim land in the open world. This land is the same static size for all players. You may then acquire blueprints for structures to build on that land, such as a home, stables for animal husbandry, crafting stations and more. In addition to open world housing, you will also be able to own homes within a Node itself; these homes will grow as the Node does, from a small cottage to a sprawling mansion! Certain Nodes will also have instanced housing. (source)

While there’s no definite word on the 8 different races and classes as of now, the different info on the housing and node systems make me wonder if there will be full non-combat classes? Many open questions like these are likely to be answered in the coming months and it’s worth checking out MoP’s interview with lead designer Jeffrey Bard as well as MMOGame’s recent interview with founder Steven Sharif for further inside info. From the many provided answers, I definitely prefer the below one from Syp’s interview:

Q: How will this game differentiate itself from everything else that’s out there or that is in the making?

A: Our hook is deeply integrated gameplay. When players first log in, they’re going to see Creation, beaten and broken. Outside of some few outposts of huddled masses, civilization doesn’t exist. It will be up to the players to invest life into the world, and bring villages, towns and cities into being. At the same time, they will need to protect what they’ve built, from the creatures they’ve disturbed in returning civilization to the world, as well as from each other. (source)

ashes of creation first look

It’s the one million question: How is your MMORPG different from those that came before it? Considering how 99% of all MMOs start their player journeys the same way, the above statement is great news! Maybe Ashes of Creation will be the first title to really tell a story from the other end – from a world of destruction and desolation that’s waiting for players to rebuild and heal the land. Too often have we started our journeys in the sheltered lands of Elwynn Forest, Queensdale or The Shire, only to meet our inevitable Mount Doom as endgame progressed. How many times can we stomach traveling from soft greens and golden colors to black, brown and lava red?

To hear a developer say “we’re flipping the coin” is actually pretty exciting! It’s early days but yeah, consider Ashes of Creation added to my list of hopefuls. I guess they need to come up with a new shorthand though, AoC is already taken folks!

Which MMOs to look forward to in 2017 and beyond?

I mentioned in my recent New Year’s post that I no longer look forward to any upcoming MMORPGs in 2017 and beyond. In fact, I have a hard time remembering many titles and the ones I do know, aren’t exactly my cup of tea. Judging from the reactions within my twitter verse, I am far from alone in this sentiment.

Now others have pointed out of course that gaming has never been more diverse and better than today and that is completely true. I can return to established MMORPGs and still find a lot of content to play through and get busy with. But with way fewer new projects on the horizon, I will still miss the excitement of looking forward to something new, diving into unknown worlds with other people. That’s just something I have always loved, that newcomer feel and collective excitement.

This encouraged me to actually go and do some research on upcoming MMORPGs for 2017 – 2018. As expected, it’s a different world from few years ago but I still managed to identify a few titles that may pique my interest in time:

Chronicles of Elyria

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There’s been some buzz around this title for a while now and I admit some of the developer’s ideas, such as aging and living through several lifespans with your characters, sound interesting. As a kickstarted project it’s got a lot to prove but there’s no harm in following what already looks like a fairly promising indie project. Release date estimated at Dez 2017 earliest, so double that probably.

Pantheon, Rise of the Fallen

pantheon

I know next to nothing about the great Everquest legacy and its associated heroes but I’m reading “high fantasy open world” and “focus on social and group play” and yeah you got me, I’m desperate! Bhagpuss has recently brought this title to my attention again and I’ve always trusted his savvy on the classics such as EQ and Vanguard, so color me mildly interested in Pantheon (once I got over the graphics, anyway)! Alpha/beta testing to be commenced in 2017 – release date who knows!

BLESS

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BLESS is a Korean title set in a medieval fantasy world, composed for by legend Hans Zimmer which has caught my attention in the past. While the game inhabits the crowded space of “very pretty looking, grindy Asian MMOs with ingame shops” together with upcoming Revelation Online, its overall aesthetic is significantly more mature (no colorful wings either which is good news). Like Revelation Online, BLESS is another F2P title, so I may or may not find myself downloading the client at a very weak moment of MMO desperation. That is, if it’s actually available sometime – a somewhat curious topic of late!

….Aaaand that’s it! This is already the end of my list for 2017 – 2018 MMOs and this summary frankly hasn’t done much to lift my spirits. Granted, I am a fantasy MMORPG traditionalist, so PvP titles like Camelot Unchained or Crowfall are missing. These are no doubt interesting titles to a select audience but they ain’t mine. Are there any other upcoming games I should know of – and if so, where are they hiding??? :halp:

A Year in Review: Top 2016 Games and Soundtrack!

2016 has come and gone and if my social channels are any indication, most people people are glad to leave this arbitrary number behind. I don’t personally believe 2016 was the awful year it’s made out to be in the media but it’s certainly been exhausting on a personal level, despite some successes on the writing and day-job front. I’ve pushed myself to leave the safety (and lull) of a stable workplace for more flexible and lucrative work that doesn’t come with the security of a permanent contract. While I am content with my progress thus far, it’s also a stressful situation to be in at times and my constant struggle to find peace of mind inside our daily grind remains one of life’s great challenges. Alas!

top 2016 games and soundtrack2016 wasn’t a rocking year for me gaming wise, either. I arrived with humble expectations and browsing through my blog and steam library, I realize I’ve played much less than in years before. This was also definitely not a year of MMORPGs and I find myself in that strange position now where I am no longer looking forward to a single upcoming MMO title in 2017 and beyond. It’s a weird and melancholic feeling because MMOs have been a big part of my life for the past 15 years. With the exception of Black Desert Online, I’ve barely played anything besides some brief visits to Eorzea in the first half of the year. MMORPG players have seen this coming for a while and it certainly feels like our favorite genre has come to somewhat of a halt; that is, if you’re not still a follower of well-established titles such as WoW or GW2.

My Top Video Games of 2016

For reasons explained above, my past year in gaming wasn’t all about the MMOs. While I still haven’t gone back to GW2 for the expansion, two of last year’s expectations did hold true and then, it’s also been a year of small, unexpected delights. Without further ado, here are my top 5 titles of 2016:

top 2016 games and soundtrack

5. Owlboy
Owlboy by developer D-Pad Studio only came out in November 2016 and while I haven’t finished playing it, it’s already fulfilled all my expectations in terms of being a fun adventure with beautiful visuals and music. There are some unforgettable moments and quirky characters in Owlboy that make it a safe choice for anyone into whimsical and charming adventure platformers that aren’t overly complex. Only minor gripe: no keymapping for gamepads!

top 2016 games and soundtrack

4. Portal Knights
I’ve praised the concept, visuals and soundtrack of Portal Knights on MMOGames and if you ever wondered how a minecraft sandbox meets level-based gameplay would play, this is the title to grab! The game is especially fun for short-session gameplay together with up to 3 other players (also great for kids), while you can still put those solo hours to good use, base-building, gathering and crafting. Controls and GUI management aren’t perfect in Portal Knights but definitely manageable.

top 2016 games and soundtrack

3. The Witcher 3 (DLC)
The Witcher 3 was my GOTY in 2015 and remains my most beloved RPG title of this year – and possibly all eternity. I’ve lived and breathed the Wild Hunt again over the Xmas holidays and I am still so impressed and delighted by this title, I got no words! Not surprisingly, the Hearts of Stone and Blood&Wine expansions have been nominated for great honors again in 2016. I’ve only started to catch up now and intend to make the most of what CD Projekt Red have stated will be their only Witcher 3 expansions! :sadface:

top 2016 games and soundtrack

2. Black Desert Online
I’ve spent copious amounts of time in BDO between spring 2016 and summer, exploring its fantastic persistent world, writing guides for its complicated subsystems, joining a guild and decorating my house. While the game has had its issues and share of monetization scandals, it is still one hell of an experience for anyone looking to explore and travel a magnificent MMO world solo! I never reached PVP “endgame” in BDO and didn’t care to, but I had fun with almost everything else including its different approach to combat. The game remains an “alone together” experience for anyone not looking to join competitive PVP which is good or bad, depending on your personal viewpoint!

top 2016 games and soundtrack

1. GOTY: Overwatch!
There is no way around giving Blizzard the credit that is their due: they knocked it out of the park with Overwatch in 2016. As far as impressive comebacks go, only Square-Enix have managed a similar feat with a Realm Reborn – a persistence we rarely get to see in the video game industry. From the ashes of Titan, Blizzard have salvaged not just an incredibly accessible and fun hero shooter but one that’s so full of charming characters and iconic lines and gameplay moments, the Overwatch roster is already as popular as any other Blizzard IP heroes. I gave this game a 9/10 and there’s nothing else to add here, Overwatch was one hell of a successful release in 2016!

Best Soundtrack of the Year

As far as great VGM went in 2016, I’m sticking with the tradition of my annual youtube recap which you can find below! It’s been a good year for video game soundtrack and the Battle Bards podcast keeps going strong, counting its 4th anniversary soon. There’s been an official twitter account now for a while, too. I am still having as much fun as ever talking MMO music with fellow bards Syp and Steff.

Top VGM of 2016 list:

12. Civilization VI
11. Destiny: Rise of Iron
10. Overwatch
9. Enter the Gungeon
8. Hyper Light Drifter
7. Stardew Valley
6. Owlboy
5. Portal Knights
4. The Last Guardian
3. Revelation Online
2. WoW Legion
1. Black Desert Online

Let me know what your favorite video game soundtrack has been of late and another Happy New Year to all of you! Let’s see what 2017 will bring in terms of digital delights and virtual world travel – it’s all a blank open space for me from this point forward!

Non-Gamey Creative Projects

I’ve not been playing too many games of late, mostly because work has been too busy and pre-XMAS time is usually packed with birthday parties and other social events over here. I’ve started tackling several home improvement projects too, such as turning our spare guest room into an atelier / hobby room so I can get back to some of the crafty hobbies I used to pursue, like water coloring or pottery. I’m also madly in love with bottle charms right now which is a project I definitely want to have a go at, soon – how cute are they?!

charms

image @ deviantart.com

I’ve been doing more cooking experiments again, baking a little (although I’m not very good at that) and trying recipes from my childhood. I love Asian cuisine, particularly Middle-Eastern and Thai food and I’m slowly getting into a bit of Japanese cooking too. I had the opportunity to enjoy some Okonomiyaki (aka Japanese savoury pancakes) the other day which are easy to prepare, highly flexible and very tasty if you’re into cabbage. I am definitely gonna make more of that!

My most recent project is a 30L nanocube aquarium which I received as an early birthday present from the better half. We’ve had many different fish tanks over the years, starting off small with fish like Tiger barbs before upgrading to bigger tanks with Mbuna cichlids, then downgrading again to only a single fish tank with one grumpy looking Channa Pulchra (snakehead). I’ve had a thing for siamese fighting fish, aka Bettas, for a while now and since they’re a solitary breed perfect for smaller tanks, a nanocube is a great solution that also fits perfectly in my gamer room. Meet Rubeeo!

rubioo

I’ve spent the weekend planting an all natural habitat for my new roomie, including sand substrate and plenty of water plants to allow for cover and a sleeping nest. Betta Splendens tend to “park” themselves on big leaves or shrubbery for rest which is incredibly cute to watch. They’re labyrinth fish, meaning  they breathe atmospheric air that gets stored in a special organ in their head, and they’re bubble nest breeders which is rather interesting if you’re into observing the natural behavior of animals. Bettas are obviously popular for their splendid colors first and foremost but there’s a lot more to them and personally, I like how attentive and responsive these little guys are.

Planting the nanocube was very enjoyable and I’m already thinking of ways to improve my initial setting – although for now, what it really requires is patience. I hope that my carpet plants will expand over the coming months for a fully overgrown ground level. Aqua Scaping is a patient art and there’s a lot you can learn on the way to an all-natural looking and balanced underwater environment. I’ve a feeling this could be pretty addictive too!

What creative endeavors have you been up to lately?

Starbound and the Hopeless Quest for Space

So I recently started playing Starbound and it is worlds and galaxies better than expected. I made some bad beginner experiences with Terraria in the past which almost cured me off 2D ant farm builders for good. I’m glad, I gave Starbound another shot though – it’s quite the wonderful space odyssey with vast and very satisfying exploration! The graphics are much cuter than Terraria’s too and there’s the whole Firefly space hub theme which is obviously awesome. Oh and you can play instruments in a band and collect pets and fossils, so what’s not to love?

Naturally, Starbound also comes with complex crafting and progression as well as free creative building, with a million fun deco items to collect. Instantly, the building and decorating fever caught me the way it has done before in Minecraft, Landmark or Portal Knights. And in very much the same way did I find myself in desperate need for more and more SPACE before long!

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Playing the guitar in my own spaceship is pretty stellar!

It makes me laugh how all these building sandboxes follow the exact same script from initial delight to panicky overwhelmification, or at least that’s how it always goes for me. Every single time, I find myself in the same psychological spiral plummeting towards deep frustration with my very imperfect build. The same old inner monologue ensues –

“Oh wow this world is awesome, I need to create my hub asap and collect all the things!”

/builds small hut with door, roof, windows.

“OMG there are so many different blocks and plants and crafting items – I NEED MORE SPACE!”

/expands house with second level and basement.

“I carry too many items!!! I need more chests to organize all these materials that I need to keep forever!”

/creates 20 chests for different mats. Also expands basement.

“Where did I put the wool?? I can’t find ANYTHING in this mess! Need better organization!”

/expands all rooms, builds different storage with labels.

“I found this lovely new wallpaper and ornate wood blocks! These will look so much nicer!”

/starts redoing entire house structure, swap materials, add little details.

“My house looks so cool now but I still have so much more furniture to place and all these ugly storage chests everywhere! I really need MORE SPACE but there’s this horrible mountain to my left now and I already hit the vast body of water to my right. This is hopeless, I can’t work like that – I NEED TO START OVER ENTIRELY, ARGH!”

/frustrated noises.

….

You might argue I know better by now; that I don’t need to create a definite hub right away, or hang on to every and all materials – or alternatively, I could just build with a lot more foresight and planning.

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So…much….vexing….chaos.

Well, I don’t! I do try but I am always overwhelmed by micro-management halfway through and my inner perfectionist hates how shabby things start looking further down the line, once you discovered the fancier building blocks and items. Starbound has some fine tools to help with re-decoration and item management too (the pixel printer gotta be the greatest idea in the world of builders ever, but I don’t have it yet!) but it’s not gonna save me from the hopeless mix and match or storage hell I’ve already gotten myself into.

So, I guess I’ll start looking for an entirely new location to build from scratch again soon and transfer all my preciousss belongings…it’s a daunting prospect already but of course I’ll do it anyway, because I’m crazy like that! Prepare for that interstellar burnout!

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Tomorrow is a new dawn with so much to organize!

For National Poetry Day: To Steam

To Steam

“When in disgrace with gaming and press hypes,
I all alone peruse thy endless list of tags
And trouble aging friends with early access gripes
And look upon my log and curse my slack,
Wishing me back to days of simpler choice,
Of fewer desires and more fulfilling quests,
Desiring this game’s art and that game’s poise,
With what I most enjoy presented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
I ponder rows of boxes, broken dreams
Acquired dearly (with no hopes arising
For fixes or for more connected means).
– Such sweet, convenient comforts well recalled
I loathe to change my state for days of old!”

(Based on Sonnet #29.)

So Amazon is Making an MMORPG

You might have heard by now that Amazon Game Studios, yes from that Amazon, have finally revealed three major game projects currently in the works: a MOBA title, a sports brawler and god help us all, a sandbox MMORPG called “New World”!

Amazon is Making an MMORPG

Internet retail giant or not, I was more than a little stunned to hear Amazon chose to take on the plague that is MMOs for their debut in video game development. Haven’t they heard there’s no money in MMOs these days – or do they know something we don’t? The project sounds ambitious enough judging from the marketing blurb and early sneak-peeks, but I’m with Endgame Viable here that it’s all buzz words at this point, from the “open ended sandbox” to “emergent gameplay” promises. I’m also not remotely interested in in-built twitch features but that’s me.

Still, along with Sypster and Mersault, part of me is excited to hear there’s a new player on the MMO market and one with unlimited funds at that. New World present a new hope, something to look forward to with some curiosity, whatever your reservation. It’s also good to hear there’s veteran developers on board, given things weren’t always looking that rosy at Amazon’s game division.

In this current dried out landscape of AAA MMO titles to look forward to (thanks Blizzard and SOE!), New World sounds like a mythical beast right now. I’m not going to get my hopes up but it’s fair to say I am intrigued – and I will be following things much more closely from here!

The 11 Commandments of Great MMO Player Housing

Briefly, for a split second last week, I was considering re-subscribing to LOTRO for the upcoming winter season of Q4. I have loved the world of LOTRO ever since joining late in 2013 despite its many flaws and these days, I like to call it my favorite MMO that I’m not playing. There’s always that pull, the call of Middle-Earth to return to its glamorous wide vistas, its merry horse rides and romantic visits to the Prancing Pony. How I miss playing my lute, sitting on a lonely rock under a tree.

The 11 Commandments of Great MMO Player Housing

But I know myself too well and the fickle beast that is MMO nostalgia. Jumping back into LOTRO would mean jumping back to the Gates of Moria grind of the mid-40ies, dealing with an overwhelming number of features and systems that are poorly introduced to newbies and the same old static MMO combat. It would also mean dealing with the loss of my housing plot which was lackluster to begin with, yet I gave it my all to make the little hut by the waterfall somewhat comfy and welcoming. For years, I’ve hoped Turbine would up their housing game as so many have – it’s one feature that would get me to re-sub in a heartbeat, if only it were properly revamped and made accessible.

Yet once again, it’s not to be; watching the upcoming LOTRO patch features has left me forever disillusioned with this developer’s idea of a good housing system. LOTRO’s premium housing is as expensive and inaccessible as ever, not that I had my hopes up for “premium” housing in the first place. Still, it’s grinding my gears! Player housing should be an integral part of MMOs these days and yet over and over, players are being let down in this department. When will this long-awaited “future of better player housing” finally arrive?

I guess it’s fair to mention Wildstar and Black Desert Online in this context, two titles which both made laudable attempts at accessible and fun player housing in more recent years. I loved my sky plot in Wildstar, the crazy customization and design options, yet Wildstar housing is so disconnected from the rest of the world that it never quite felt like a home but rather, that side-game you go play at when you need a break from being social. That’s the issue with instanced player housing which is both a blessing and a curse in so many ways. Pearl Abyss tried to solve this very issue most expertly in BDO – yet all seamless phasing and great housing options aside, the fundamental questions of “what to do with all this stuff now?” and “what is it good for?” remain mostly unanswered.

The 11 Commandments of Great MMO Player Housing

The 11 Commandments of Great MMO Player Housing

Musing on all my gripes with player housing old and new has inspired me to come up with a definite list of commandments or guidelines to ensure housing features are a fun addition to games rather than frustration. Your mileage may vary but here go my personal commandments for great MMO housing design –

  1. Thou shalt not make your MMO housing an exclusive or expensive feature.
  2. Thou shalt not create a limited number of housing options that are up for FCFS land grabs.
  3. Thou shalt not exact weekly or monthly housing tolls / upkeep costs.
  4. Thou shalt not pre-define indoor/outdoor decoration options and location of hooks/plugs.
  5. Thou shalt not unreasonably restrict the total item number of decor items.
  6. Thou shalt allow for social sharing of housing rights and visitation.
  7. Thou shalt not disconnect housing from the rest of the outdoors / world.
  8. Thou shalt offer great variety of cosmetic customization for housing, such as layouts, colors, styles, materials and music.
  9. Thou shalt give housing a meaning beyond cosmetics, such as storage, crafting, stabling, shops and neighborhoods.
  10. Thou shalt offer housing items from various sources, such as questing, raiding, crafting and trade.
  11. Thou shalt enable players to expand their housing space over time.

And yes, this is all easier said than done. I realize, I don’t know of any MMO that meets all commandments although Ultima Online came reasonably close and I also keep hearing the praises of EQ2. Then again, I’m not looking to play 2D top-down and generally much older MMORPGs these days, sooooo……I guess I want too many things! It’s a nice thought, though.

Friday Conundrums: The last Game of your Life

This week while casually browsing my twitter feed, I came across a short exchange between fellow blogger Braxwolf and Michael on their love for Civilization 5. It was one line by Brax there which completely took me aback –

In over 5 years of video game blogging and discussion with other players, I have never once asked myself the proverbial question of “if I could only play one game for the rest of my life – which one would it be?”. The fact that I still don’t have the faintest idea after several days of musing on this topic, gives me pause.

The “three things to take to an island” thought experiment is a fond memory from my school days, naming your most important movies or books which I generally find easy. Heck even the question about which food I’d go for if it was the only thing I could eat, forever, is easily answered: Pizza! I have weighed all the pros and cons of other food items and come to the solid conclusion that I could live out my days quite happily on a balanced pizza diet.

But when it comes to video games, I am at a loss. The intuitive thing would be to name one of my all-time favorite titles surely, Chrono Trigger or The Witcher 3 or some other RPG or adventure with some substance to it. Yet – I am not so sure! If I REALLY was to name one game for the rest of my life, it would probably need to be a smarter, more long-term choice: a game that allows for plenty of repetition and customization, something open-ended rather than a heavily story-based title that’s also final. Either way, it would be a matter of time before I came to hate it with a passion, but anyway.

Tetris? No. Minecraft maybe?

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Forever on MC Island?? (justminecraft.tumblr.com)

Really, I haven’t got a clue and it amuses me how I freeze at the mere idea of this fictional scenario. Happy weekend everybody – and which game would you choose to be your sole companion for all eternity? It’s a scary thought!

Blaugust 2016 Review

You know the old blogger saying: I was gonna write more but then life happened. There are at least another six topics I’ve been meaning to tackle this Blaugust but I’ve enjoyed myself nonetheless. The goal I initially set for myself was a month of non-gaming related and more personal blogging which proved to be more challenging than I expected. I’ve been an MMO blogger for over 6 years now and I didn’t even mention where I live for the first three, let alone share more intimate details or real life pictures. I guess I’ve gotten more comfortable in our blogosphere “neighborhood” over time (only very few of you bite!) and I’ve also come to see the value of sharing certain things that go beyond in-game diaries and MMO screenshots. In summary, my blaugust posts of this year:

As always I give thanks to everyone who commented either on the blog or twitter, or shared a more personal story of their own! I believe I will continue writing more off-topic articles in the future, although I will likely start using my Medium profile for that in case you wanna add me or follow me there.

And now, big congratulations to all the new and returning Blaugust attendees this year, especially those who went for the 31-days of blogging achievement!

This year’s list of blogs in alphabetical order:

Thanks Bel for keeping tabs and coming up with a super relaxed edition for Blaugust 2016 – I believe this made it easier for a lot of people to participate in the fun! Let’s do it again next year!