January 27, 2008

You might think you’re uber….

But does your guild have a theme song? Uh huh, thought so.

The Revelry and Honor Theme Song

Mirror Site

Kudos to the creative talents of Faeran, Nicilie, and their adorable daughter who stole the show in this song! There are a few “inside” jokes, but plenty that any gamer can relate to, and the chorus is very catchy! Hope you enjoy!

To the Chandelier!

Posted by jayernh under Archive | Comments (8)

January 25, 2008

How to do “Newbie” Right

It’s amazing how much importance a newbie experience can have on the success of a game. For argument’s sake, let me make a few stipulations about what the early levels tend to be like in MMOs:

- I define the newbie experience to be levels 1-20.

- It goes fairly fast, which I assume is because it’s intended to be a morale builder. (Lots of dings make people feel good!)

- It’s designed to be soloed, not done in groups. And, in fact, it goes by slower if you do group.

- It’s not very complicated. This is because it’s aimed at giving new players the chance to learn the game mechanics. And of course, it furthers the commonly held notion among high level players that newbies start off with the IQ of a small bunny. (Have you ever seen a small bunny try to play a cleric? Not very pretty)

The newbie experience is the content that game reviewers base their judgements on. It still amazes me how many game writers only experience the early content of the games they write about and promote, but that’s a whole other entry. It’s also the game content that will be most seen by the playerbase, and sometimes they’ll see it multiple times if they roll up alts. It has to have “The Hook,” that reels people in, peaks their interest, and inspires people to stick with it through the mid level grind. So while the raid content of a game tends to be the most complicated and elaborate stuff, it’s the newbie area that needs to be done the best.

I’ve been spending my time lately over in the Sarnak starting area of Timorous Deep, and the more I play there, the more I realize how well they put it together. This is what a newbie area should be! Here’s why:

Lots of eye candy. Starting areas always tend to be sorta bland. There’s a small village with some quest NPCs, a big wide field littered with small rodents, and maybe a small tent with some pint sized bad guys off in the distance (like orcs or murlocs). It’s always flat, simple, and very non-descript. Timorous Deep is way over on the other end of the spectrum, so much so that it’s often mentioned by EQ2 players as one of their favorite zones overall. The music is compelling. The mobs are unique. (I love the Throms!) The environmental sounds, like the echoing songbirds, make you feel like you’re deep in a tropical forest. And the zone has a stunning amount of vertical depth to it. This is something that I will always appreciate about Vanguard’s world, and it needs to be in all future games. You shouldn’t feel like you’re boxed in by zone walls that are not-so-subtly disguised as mountains or thick forests. Also, having to pay attention not only to what’s next to you, but also what’s above you (or in some cases below you), adds a lot of fun to the game.

Easy to find the quests, easy to do the quests, easy to turn in the quests. Some will argue that this is dumbing down the game too much, but if the newbie zone’s primary purpose is to teach the player about the game, they shouldn’t have to waste one extra second trying to fruitlessly run around tracking down NPCs. Being able to quickly find a hard-to-find NPC doesn’t have any bearing on how good of a player you will be in higher levels, so it’s not at all a beneficial game feature. Plus, even if someone finds it quaintly fun to run around talking to newbie NPCs, it loses the fun factor pretty fast the 5th or 10th time you do it with alts.

No Quest junk to lug around and clutter your bags. Often, you’ll get a newbie quest (or 10) that ask you to go kill a certain mob, loot some particular quest item, and turn it in for a reward. The problem is, we’re newbies and we have one bag and about 10 total inventory slots. Space is an issue! The irony is that I recall doing the Island of Refuge in EQ2 “back in the day,” and getting through about 3 quests before I started to get the “Inventory Overflowing!” message. It was impossible to avoid too – even if I looted nothing but the quest items and the rewards, my bags were overfull. Timorous Deep doesn’t have that problem at all, luckily. Most of the quests give you update messages, rather than items. It’s a small thing, but not so small when you have to delete stuff and waste time with inventory management at level 2.

Dynamic and compelling content. I will admit that I didn’t pay much attention to the quest scripts, but I still got a good feel for the storyline, because it was literally going on around me. Usually, in a newbie zone, old man questgiver will ramble on and on about the battle, and how I’m needed to help by killing…..snakes. And my response is usually, click, click, click, click, click, accept. My attitude is, “maybe there’s a battle somewhere, but it’s not in the newbie zone, so maybe I’ll see it when I’m high level or something, but until then, just give me the stupid quests and let me level myself out of here.” Again, I always loved the orc and half elf starter zones in Vanguard because they plunked you right into the middle of chaos, and you ended up spending the first few levels just trying to figure out what the heck was going on. Timorous Deep has some areas that do this nicely too. Walking up the pathway to see the Sarnaks being overrun by Aviaks was really neat. And yes, I stood there a bit too long watching the Sarnaks fire their cannons and turn the birds into exploding puffs of feathers – so cool! Often, turning in a quest not only gives a reward, but triggers a little scene afterwards. Again, it’s small, but to me, there is a big difference in having some npc yap about my effort making a difference, and actually seeing it make a difference.

Timorous Deep is a great newbie zone. I want to reiterate that I don’t feel that all of these game features should necessarily carry though to the higher levels though. And what’s ironic is that the Kunark expansion actually seems to have incorporated a lot of these aspects into the higher level content – specifically the 70-75 content. So, many are soloing their way through the early 70s, getting the great upgrades, and skipping out on grouping and dungeon crawling, especially since dungeons like Karnor’s were way too difficult and not as rewarding enough to be an appealing option.

The newbie experience is totally different from the higher level experience, and I don’t mean in terms of skill.  Every new player starts out on his own, learning a new set of game mechanics, the UI, and the nuts and bolts of the game.  A well designed newbie zone makes that easy to do, but also wets your appetite for more challenging, and compelling, content later on.  Higher level content needs to cater to solo players, but it also needs to provide incentive for groups and guilds to tackle the hardest dungeons and raid mobs.  They really are two separate spheres inside a virtual world, and need to be treated as such.

Posted by jayernh under Archive | Comments (4)

January 24, 2008

AoC…Deja Vu?

So I ran across the news about Age of Conan’s delay, from March till May. Boy, does this sound familiar! Here is a collection of grumblings about the game:

- The game is full of bugs.

- The newbie content is fine, but the gameplay drops off substantially and lacks content at the higher levels.

- They had to trim away two classes.

- The game was already delayed because they had to completely revamp the combat system.

- It’s now going to ship very close to the release date of Warhammer Online, which is not at all an ideal situation if the game is in sketchy shape and is about to directly compete with another new release.

- There are performance issues.

- PvP is an afterthought, and isn’t being treated with much focus.

- The producer’s letter contains bizaare, random, analogies (woman in an elevator with her finger near her nose? The heck!? Might as well talk about crypto-zoology and mesoamerican mythology while you’re at it), expresses a little too much love for its community, attempts to use the community as the reason for the delay (the old, “you guys are great and deserve better” mantra) and uses the cringeworthy phrase, “this game will rock!” Too much hope, not enough reality check.

These are, point for point, the exact same things that Vanguard went through in its later stages of beta. If true, this is going to turn into Vanguard pt. 2, only with a lot more skin. Actually, I take that back. If these complaints are true, it will be in worse shape than Vanguard was at release, because people will not forgive a game for ignoring Vanguard’s lessons. It’s the old adage of, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.”

Posted by jayernh under Archive | Comments (6)

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