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game reviews

MMOre NNews

by on Dec.07, 2005, under game reviews, games industry, mmorpg


multiverse_logo.gif

From Terranova, I saw a recent post from Dr. Richard Bartle detailing a new game engine and MMO platform called Multiverse.

Its essentially a “do it yourself” toolchest for online game development. Their idea is to have multiple, singular MMO’s essentially linked to each other by a central registry. This is a serious foray into a distributed model of online games.

Aside from their bluster about “revolutions” in MMO development, its quite interesting. They give you the engine, some pre-canned assets, the server code, and an editor. Create the world you want and voila! Instant MMO. They even host it for you. They make their money by charging you a percentage of your game’s subscription fees.

The DIY aspect isn’t new. Bioware’s Neverwinter provided a dev toolchest with charge-for-use content and they seem to be very successful with it.

Yet, there does seem to be a lot of buzz around Multiverse. Bartle wants it for his research. I think others might like the challenge of making something fun with it. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. I’d like to see what the engine’s capabilities are. Check it.

In other news, I looked at the trial edition of Irth Online, just out of curiousity. Its a brand-new fantasy-themed MMORPG made by a smaller developer in Boston. I would be very tempted to call it an indie MMO, for a variety of reasons. It had almost no press or advertising, which struck me as odd for a brand-new commercial MMO. After looking at the game, I’m not surprised.

Its a complete clone of what we’ve seen already in that genre. Although they’ve obviously worked very hard on it, the most irritating aspects are that its very clunky, confusing and non-innovative. Damn. Every aspect of a typical MMO appears within Irth as if its merely fulfilling a checklist of what an MMO should have, all very hurriedly slapped together.

I don’t want to dismiss it out of hand, but there are quite a few problems with it. Generally, I find it very instructive to look at bad games as well as the good ones. In this case, I’ll suffer through the experience even if its merely to answer the question : is “Irth” an elaborate experiment or a true commercial product?

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Glancing at some greats

by on Oct.28, 2005, under game reviews, gaming, pc

sam.jpg


I have an assortment of posts on the backburner, but in the interests of maintaining a pulse here, I just decided to share some 2-line reviews of some of the new stuff I’ve tried in the last month. In case you’re interested :

Age of Empires III : A very, very pretty yet shockingly un-innovative version of AOE 2. Tweaks abound, but not much more, except for a very repetitive soundtrack.

Fun Factor : I liked AOE2 a lot, and the challenge is decent. So yeah!

Myst V : Sad to say, this last chapter in the Myst universe has the worst graphics of all of them. You’d think the engine was Lithtek. Having said that, I’m enjoying the challenge. A must for Myst-fans, a myss for everyone else.

Fun Factor : I cannot disguise my disappointment, but I intend to tough it out.

Splinter Cell : Chaos Theory : With the Amon Tobin soundtrack, absolutely kickass visuals, one could not go wrong with SC:CT. The odd spike of console-itus mars the feeling a little, but all in all a masterpiece of production by a fine studio.

Fun Factor : Hard to put it down! Every corner is lavishly created, and pulls you in. So great, I love Splinter Cell.

F.E.A.R. : Haven’t delved too deeply into the latest FPS favourite, but surely impressive (if not a little gruesome).

Fun Factor : Firefights are spectacularly intense, and its a challenging and interesting experience.

Guild Wars : Not new, but new(er) to me. The “all instance all the time” model defies the “massively” in this MMO for me. Its treats you with a lush environment with interesting combat, quests, and gorgeous player models… and punishes you for having invisible walls and absolutely no JUMP!! Arrhhh!!

Fun Factor : Do I care about the plight of the Regents of Ascalon? Not really, LOL. I paid for this diversion, and thats what I got.

Having an interest in design theory and computer games, I thought it interesting to do somewhat of a survey of top-selling games for my own edification. There’s even a contest going on out there, although I confess it might be a little out of my reach to evaluate 100 PC Games!

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Dystopia

by on Sep.11, 2005, under game reviews, gaming, mods, pc

dyscorps move out!

Dystopia is a brand new HalfLife Source Mod, fusing Shadowrun with CounterStrike. These guys have done such an amazing job. Hats off to their prowess and execution!

Its quite kinetic, but certainly not shallow. There are different loadouts, roles and goals baked into the game. If you try it, check out the player guide to figure out the innards, as its not totally apparent how things are done.

I particularly liked the objectives listed as waypoints during gameplay. This means that one can join up in the middle of the action and know exactly what needs to be done. On the negative side, I’m not entirely sure what the actual purpose to the missions actually are. The objectives seem somewhat arbitrary, other than to “win”. But don’t let that stop you, its one of the most lavish and appealing mods I’ve played in a very long time. Again, congratulations to Team Dystopia! So stop reading and go try it!!!

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This is not a post about Battlefield 2.

by on Jun.29, 2005, under game reviews, games design, mmorpg, WoW

Shadowfang
Binds when equipped
Main Hand Sword
29-55 Damage Speed 2.70
+4 – 8 Shadow Damage
(17.8 damage per second)
Durability 75/75
Requires Level 19
Chance on hit: Sends a shadowy bolt at the enemy causing 30 Shadow damage

I have done well in my life to always heed the words of Mutha. So when he says, “Don’t miss out on the FPS Squad game of the year”, you no longer have free will.

So of course I listened! I rushed out and bought Battlefield 2 as soon as I could. Well, actually, I tried. Virgin Megastore Vancouver has been axed by its distributor so no more PC games for a while, LOL. I am certain that the competition will be happy to hear this.

Instead, I bought Diablo 2 for 10$ in the clearance bin. 🙂

Note : I did get Battlefield 2 eventually, so watch for a review soonish.

So I took my new 10$ purchase home, installed it, and levelled my fresh and sparkling Paladin to 7.

So what the hell did I do that for? Why should I waste money, time and CPU cycles for a game that was originally released in June 2000? Doing it just for clicks? A click down memory lane? Gah, sorry about that. Diablo was alllll about the clicking.

The main reason was Blizzard, actually. I must admit to some fascination with their story. Although the Blizzard of today is probably different than the creature that created those cool games back in the nineties, I think that the core staff has probably remained. Blizzard games have rivalled iDSoftware Valve in both their fan and developer devotion. Today, it is owned by Vivendi Universal, a French media conglomerate that includes DefJam Records and STUDIOCANAL. Their most recent release has become one of the world’s biggest and most popular MMOs. In fact, their subscriber numbers so exceeded their best-case scenarios that they’ve had to madly scramble to produce more boxes, add world servers and hire personnel. Quite the success story!

But back in the day, there was Diablo. Not high tech, even for the day. But solid. Well constructed. Playing Diablo today allows me to re-experience that polish and attention to detail, as I click my character through each hackfest on his way through the story. And the more I played it, the more I realised that really truly, the template for the design of World of Warcraft exists soley within the domain of Diablo.

Looking back to this game, I was shocked to see how far the roots of WoW extend. Aside from the obvious and unavoidable similarities with other games of the MMO, RPG and MMORPG genre, I see a complete replication of core Diablo elements that make me wonder why they chose Warcraft as the centerpiece theme of their new MMO at all (most likely a market decision, not a design one). Examining the “Diablo on steroids”, World of Warcraft exists as one absolutely gigantic treadmilling machine. In every conceivable direction, the game has been designed from the very foundation to keep as many people playing it for as long as possible. Again, the game was not designed to disguise this, because the treadmill is the fun.

It owes this to Diablo, which turned into its own phenomenon because :

  • It was exremely simple to learn.
  • Little effort was required to excel in the early game.
  • Did not overextend the technology so that it ran well.
  • Clean and predictable RPG UI. Didn’t rock the boat.
  • Attention to the “feel” of the world. Sound effects and music, etc.
  • Happy to be stupid!

Was it stupid? Well.. yeah! As a player, it was a repetitious, grinding machine. it barely had “virtual worldness” in its 8-bit universe. But because everythin was so complete, it was a place you could sort of hang out in. It was predictable, at least in the established visual language. Just like WoW. But there was something more to Diablo 2 that kept a significant fanbase playing…right up until, well, last night! How could a mindless hackfest do that?

RPG Combinatorics.

  1. Combine item A with item B and you get item C. [Crafting / Loot]
  2. Equip character X with item C and receive benefits Y and Z. [RPG abilities]
  3. Allow these “world primitives” to be interchangeable and collectable. [Game mechanic]
  4. Then combine it with competitive or cooperative online play [Quests / Instances]
  5. Add a touch of visual reinforcement to show who was better [Characters]

and voila! People are still playing it today. Warcraft 1, 2, or 3 did not achieve this.

Obviously there are other elements involved in these games. But if you look at the long-term viability of World of Warcraft, you need only look as far as Diablo. The items are the game. In fact, the loot is so important, that the upper level WoW game (the “uber game”) is exclusively devoted to the procurement and display of the most powerful and unique items in the game. And it is so important that its almost like gambling when you hope that the next drop will be one that nets you tangible in-game benefits. And really – how does gambling in virtual space really DIFFER from gambling in real life? Our world of dollars is truly as constructed as the so-called “fake” world of gold. Even WoW has a rudimentary economy, just as evolving and dynamic as the western world’s.

This is an MMO that is essentially designed to make the players feel unique, and does this through stark, staring materialism. It really does say something about the depth and genius of the WoW game design. It takes all of these elements and wraps them up perfectly! (except for the grind, aspect, ahem)

Its amazing what games can teach us about the world we live in.

I found it hard to write about Diablo without writing about WoW (and vice versa). They are the same game. So… when my new Paladin struts around, swinging his “Green Curved sword of the Fox” against Troll Priests, I know that I’m really playing…. which?

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A Game for Grrrlz

by on May.04, 2005, under game reviews

Diner Dash!


What do you get when a game has :

  • Food as the subject matter?
  • 60’s-stylized cartoony graphics?
  • Rewards players with the chance to design or colour something?
  • Simple, straightforward gameplay?
  • A “regular” female as protaganist (not a buff super-warrior female with large breasts!)

You get a game designed to appeal to grrlz!

So refreshing and different, and its fun!

My girlfriend pointed this one out to me, and lamented that you can’t even buy this game in Canada. Shame on Yahoo! for requiring a U.S. zipcode to purchase. I can see a lot more people wanting to play this than just in the States!

After trying out the demo, I had to admit how fun it was. Kudos to Mel for finding this cute little gem.

Jump in and try it here [yahoo.com]

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The Matrix Online and the Simplest Possible Terms

by on Mar.27, 2005, under game reviews

matrix_logo.jpg

Its one thing for a game to have bugs. Surely an acceptable thing, as I’m a forgiving sort. Games are hard to make. Good games – extremely hard!

So what to say when you are confronted with a game that has such incredible resources behind it? With an extremely compelling backstory and characters that are already well known and beloved in the hearts of its audience? When the producer is one of the largest media companies in the world [WB]? With a developer that has developed excellent games [Tron, No One Lives Forever] in the past? When the publisher has released some of the hottest games ever made?

I would say it would be nearly impossible to go wrong.

So when a game has bugs, has some design flaws or other problems, yet there is manifestly some serious effort and thought in it…… or when its actually fun despite the problems.. I am forgiving in the extreme.

So when a game that has this background, when its been pushed to release, amidst fireworks and wide-ranging hype (as in, the type of coverage that only a large sum of money and notoriety can achieve), and when it is thrust upon you with a message like, “You have been waiting for this from us. Here it is. Now go pay for it, play it, and enjoy what we have wrought.”. When this happens, I get riled, even a little insulted. And especially when the game sucks. And boy. Does it ever.

MxO is awkward, stuttering and buggy. And thats just the beginning.

  • Dialog gets cut off by someone else during a scripted session.
  • The intro tutorial sessions leave you hanging on what to do or where to go next.
  • Very little explanation of features and abilities.
  • Game code crashes my whole computer.
  • Mind bogglingly bizarre intro quest and quest mechanism. The arrow pointers that show you the next waypoint disappear after you finish the first stage (so you can’t possibly know where to go next).
  • Severe latency issues.
  • Painful UI requirements. No cohesive design.
  • Awkward combat system.
  • Terrible keymapping system
  • and on and on….
    It seems to me, and forgive me if I’m reaching, that this is a product of how a large media organization thinks. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. We will release this and they will like it anyways.”
    That may well be true for most forms of media. But not a game, and most certainly not a MMO.

    I wanted to like it. I’m a Matrix fan. And a well-conceived, futuristic MMO is definitely ripe with possibility. I even gave it love on our gaming news page [param01].

    What were the Stratics people smoking when they said,

    It’s a hyperjumping, bullet-time, ass kicking extravaganza.“??

    Find my copy on E-bay.

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Squares!

by on Mar.16, 2005, under game reviews


squares!
Originally uploaded by Kafka_.

Squares! Its a game. Unique, simple and highly addictive (even uses one of my favourite Daft Punk tracks).

Red is bad, black is good. Don’t waste your time reading the manual. Just start playing!

My highscore is 19814. If you beat that in your first twenty tries, I’ll be very impressed!

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