The Problem With “Future of MMOs” Panels

Every year at PAX East there is a panel called “The Future of MMOs” and as someone who enjoys MMOs and really cares about them, I always attend this panel. It isn’t always hosted by the same publication, this year it was done by MMORPG, but regardless of who is leading the panel it always has the same huge failing. The focus is never on the future of MMOs but on whatever games the panelists happen to be working on.

Now you might think to yourself “if the game they are working on isn’t out yet, then talking about their game is the future” and in a very small sense you would be right. The thing is, any MMO currently being worked on and played, even in closed betas, is part of the current landscape. People are experiencing the game and pushing its current development. It might be idealistic of me but when I think of the “future” I tend to think in terms of more than a few years from now.

I’m not saying people currently working on MMOs shouldn’t be on the panel, they absolutely should be. They just shouldn’t be focused on promoting their individual projects. And mentioning the games shouldn’t be forbidden. Absolutely introduce each person and their game, heck even give a quick synopsis of the game; it gives the audience an understanding of where each panelist is coming from. But then move on to the broader topics MMOs face, there are so many to choose from.

Here’s a few choices topics which could easily fill an hour long panel.

The first is “leveling experience versus endgame experience”. Anyone who has played multiple MMOs knows there is often a huge disconnect between how a MMO feels while leveling and how it feels at max level. Often players find the way they were able to play while leveling doesn’t work well when they move on to max level content. The end result is often one of two things. At max level the player discovers either the class they thought they really enjoyed and liked they don’t enjoy anymore, or the player misses out on playing a class they would enjoy at a lot at max level because the leveling experience isn’t fun. In the end this is a problem because it creates a barrier which causes people to stop playing.

Another interesting topic is payment structures and pitfalls. I know many Devs would rather not think about the monetization of their games, but it is a business and MMOs aren’t cheap. No matter if a game is subscription, buy to play, or free to play the choice of which model to go with will have an affect on the game and who is willing to try it. The MMO community has a lot of differing opinions about the payment models and hearing Devs discuss them in an open and honest way could be a really interesting discussion.

A related but huge topic on its own is, how fears about ‘pay to win’ are affecting MMOs. No MMO wants to be labeled as ‘pay to win’ but what does it even really mean? There have been huge discussions, and arguments, in the MMO community about at what point a MMO becomes pay to win. In fact it seems the only thing the community agrees on is pay to win is universally bad. The one thing I haven’t really seen is Devs talk about it, except to say their game isn’t/won’t be pay to win. This could actually be an interesting discussion if people didn’t spend the whole time trying to sell their game.

I’m also not saying mentioning how something is done in a game to illustrate a concept or give an example is a bad thing. There’s just a pretty big line between giving an example and promoting a game. One problem of course is at shows game developers are very much in the “promotion” mode. Breaking them out of this mentality to get to the deeper issues could be problematic, but it also is probably easier than some would assume. I have to think at the end of the day most people making a MMO are doing it because they actually like the genre. And because they work on them they have to at least thought about these issues on some level.

The real roadblock would probably the panel “moderator”. I say moderator in quotes because very little of what happens at these panels resembles moderating at all. Most of the time questions are thrown out, and then there is no attempt to keep things on point. Finding someone who would be willing and able to push back and really lead an in depth discussion of real MMO issues seems like it could be the real barrier. I mean, this year there was one panelist who talked about how no publisher is willing to pay for a fantasy MMO anymore. The kicker was he was sitting between two people who were doing just that. One who’s game has been out and successful for a few years, and the other on a game which just recently came out. It was mind blowing.

A panel which is focused on current issues and how they might or should be solved would be far more interesting than a panel about “why this game I am working on is awesome”. I am probably foolish in holding out hope this might become a reality… but it was be amazing.

Review: Bloodborne, The Unforgiving RPG

Originally posted on Gamebreaker March 23,2015

Bloodborne is a new Action RPG by From Software for the PS4. For anyone who didn’t play Dark Souls the main thing you need to know is… this game is brutal and very unforgiving. Be prepared to die. It is also completely worth the pain if you can take it. For anyone concerned about spoilers, I am going to try to keep away from anything

Gameplay

 As someone who mostly plays MMOs the fact Bloodborne can’t be paused wasn’t a huge issue for me, however not being able to save whenever I wanted to was a bit of a transition from most RPGs I play. There are checkpoints in the form of lanterns which can be activated as progress is made throughout the game (finding new areas, killing bosses, etc…). There aren’t very many of these though, and you have to activate them when you find them or else you won’t be able to use them.
Bloodborne™_20150322132326

Bloodborne™_20150322132326

Bloodborne also functions a bit differently from other RPGs because every time time you zone in or out or die, all the mobs respawn on the map. That is nice for helping gather Blood Echoes (currency), but it can be a bit of a pain when you die after running through a very long section. It also caught me quite off guard at first.

Speaking of Blood Echoes, they are needed for buying new items, upgrading and repairing weapons, and a little thing called leveling your character up. All stat increases cost a certain amount of Blood Echoes and this is the main way characters are leveled. A certain amount are rewarded for each enemy killed, harder enemies give more.

One thing I was at first saddened by and then intrigued by is when I died I lost all the Blood Echoes I had collected (and not spent). However they could be recovered. They were either on the ground where I died, or one of the enemy monsters might have picked them up. If they were picked up all I had to do was look for the guy with the glowing eyes and kill him. However, if you die on your way to retrieve the Blood Echoes they will be lost forever. This resulted in me, rather hysterically, scrambling to pick them up mid Boss fight on a few occasions.

The zones are pretty huge and have a ton of hidden paths. Exploration and repetition are a huge part of Bloodborne. Not only will shortcuts be found, which are hugely helpful after dying, but sometimes a way which had been blocked will become unlocked. For instance in one of the first areas there is a gate which can’t be opened from the side you’ll be on. However, as you explore you’ll find a lever which will open the gate and will let you pass through. Ways which are unlocked in this manner will not reset when you die. I’d suggest checking everything out, and if you get to a point where you can’t figure out where you should be going… look for ladders or boxes blocking passages.

You will die in Bloodborne, accept it now. It’s ok. In fact in order to get your first weapons you have to die in the first fight in the game. So that is gotten out of the way quickly. After the first death the player is transported to the Hunter’s Dream which serves as the player’s main hub. This is where the player obtains their first weapons to be able to effectively fight. Check back often because new things will show up as progress is made throughout the story.

Combat

The combat is very fast paced and the enemy AI is sort of interesting. Nearly all the monsters will use a variety of tactics when fighting, which will change as you level up. However, they are apparently all deaf. There are many occasions where I’d be brutally and noisily killing a mob right next to another one but they wouldn’t even notice. Learning what would and wouldn’t cause aggro was interesting since I was sort of expecting some of the mechanics of stealth games to be in play.

The off hand guns can be used to interrupt an attack, and if timed correctly it can be followed up with a very brutal killing blow. It would be gruesome if it was more realistic, but it always feels like a bit of an accomplishment. This stunning effect doesn’t have as much of an effect on the Bosses, but it is extremely useful for most monsters encountered throughout the game.

Bloodborne™_20150322170315

Bloodborne™_20150322170315

All of the main hand weapons have two forms. They have the smaller 1h version which does slightly less damage but attacks really quickly. The quick attacks are very useful for quickly overwhelming a monster before it can attack back (they’ll also do this to you).

By pressing L1 the main hand weapon will transform into a big two hander (Hunter Axe shown here). As expected this form will be a bit slower but will do more damage per hit. Additionally you’ll be able to hit things further away, and in the case of the Hunter Axe AoE damage is also a bonus.

Combat also seems designed around staying mobile and using the terrain to your advantage, especially when it comes to Boss fights. Range attacks can often be avoided by simply walking after the shot is fired or stepping behind a pillar. For other attacks running or dodging is generally required, though both of those consume Stamina which is also needed to attack. Managing Stamina consumption is extremely important.

The last part of combat to be aware of is the Regain system. When the player takes damage they have a small window of time where they can regain the health by dealing damage. However, this doesn’t mean it is always best to just charge in and be extremely aggressive because what you can get back might be less than the damage you could be taking. Again it’s about finding the right balance and timing things correctly.

Multiplayer

The default asynchronous multiplayer is one of my favorite features in Bloodborne. As you wander around you and other players can leave notes about all sorts of things. Some notes might be helpful, warning you about an impending ambush, while others might be decidedly less helpful. Other players can vote on each note they discover as to if it was helpful or not. My only real complaint with the note system is it’s all prewritten text.

Bloodborne™_20150322173645

Bloodborne™_20150322173645

Also every time a player dies they will leave a red bloodstain where a tombstone will rise, and by interacting with it you can watch their final moments. This is sometimes funny, but it can also be helpful in avoiding potential danger or figuring out how to win a fight. Additionally as the player increases their Insight level they’ll more often see ghosts of other players running around which can be distracting but it also can give clues about where to go.

CO-OP Multiplayer is also available after obtaining the Beckoning Bell and Small Resonant Bell. The Beckoning Bell is how a player invites others to join, and the Small Resonant Bell is how other players signal they would like to join a multiplayer game. There is also an option to set a password so only people you give the password to can join. Each session costs an Insight point and up to 3 players can play together at once.

PvP is also available for people who are interested in it. An Insight level of at least 30 and a Sinister Resonant Bell are required to take part. The goal is for the host to reach the Boss on the map before either one or two other players kill the hosting player.

Technical Aspects

First thing first, Bloodborne is a beautiful game. All of the environments have a ton of detail which helps to set the Gothic/horror setting. All the character models have a ton of detail as well, including hair movement which is often an issue in many games. I often notice when playing characters with longer hair it often moves in just weird ways, which can be distracting. From Software’s attention to detail overall is really impressive.

Overall the game runs really smoothly as well. I had no stuttering or visual issues at all. In fact gameplay was pretty much bug free. The only thing I experienced which could fall into the realm of a bug is when I first start up the game player notes and tombstones won’t load up. However, the first time I go to the Hunter’s Dream and back everything loads up no problem.

There is one aspect which was a good bit frustrating though, the loading screen. Every time you die or go to/come back from Hunter’s Dream you get a loading screen… and it is generally long. My loading screens were so long in fact I started timing them. The shortest one I got was 11 seconds and the longest was 41 seconds, which is almost a minute. Overall the average length of my loading screens was 30 seconds… which was extremely frustrating. I started feeling like the real downside of dying wasn’t losing my echoes and the items I used but the loading screen.

Conclusion

Overall Bloodborne is an excellent game. I didn’t even discuss the story, character creation, or chalice dungeons at all but they are all highlights as well. This game is not easy though. People who get frustrated at dying might have a hard time getting through Bloodborne. Blindly running in and just whaling on mobs will only get you so far, tactical play is really emphasized. Additionally the “tutorial” is extremely limited. Most everything is left to the player to figure out; which is an awesome departure from the norm in gaming these days.

Bloodborne is an Action RPG for PS4 and will be released in America on 3/24 and in Europe on 3/25. It has an ESRB rating of M for gore, violence, and unrated content created by players.

Pax East Interview With Colin Johanson And Isaiah Cartwright

Originally posted on Gamebreaker March 10th, 2015.

During PAX East Guild Wars 2 game director Colin Johanson and lead game designer Isaiah Cartwright took some time to go through their Heart of Thorns demo with me and answered a ton of questions about the upcoming expansion. Unfortunately, there is still a lot information they aren’t ready to talk about yet, but what is available so far is pretty interesting.

Story and Feature Updates

The storyline for Heart of Thorns picks up the very next day after the last episode of Living Story Season 2 ends. This of course means between now and when Heart of Thorns launches there won’t be living story updates. For people who really enjoy the story and seeing the world progress this is a bit of a disappointment because we will have awhile to wait before the story continues.

This, however, does not mean GW2 will be stagnant until then. The recently announced camera changes will be live in the game in a couple of weeks, and they have more unannounced feature changes planned as well. In addition there will be other events similar to the Lunar New Year festival. So while we are all anxiously waiting to see where the story goes next, we won’t be left with nothing new in game in the meantime.

Surveying WreckageGuilds are a main focus in Heart of Thorns

One of the main things I was hoping to learn more about is what they have planned for guilds in the expansion. So far the only thing which has really been announced is the Guild Hall, which although interesting and exciting seems a little light for an expansion. Guild Halls on its own seems like the sort of thing which could be implemented as a major feature patch if there was nothing else to go with it.

Unfortunately they weren’t prepared to reveal anything new for guilds today. However, Johanson did emphasize guilds are a main pillar for HoT. They really want to make having a guild and being in a guild matter in a larger way in the game as a whole. For example making it easier for guilds to work together to accomplish tasks in a collaborative way is something they are interested in.

They couldn’t get into specifics of course, but something which seems likely is improvements to how guild missions work when multiple guilds are trying to do them. For example, rushes currently work really well with multiple guilds, but puzzles are often problematic. Expanding out guild missions as a whole seems a likely possibility as well as giving us new types of content to do as a guild. Also there was mention of more support for guilds doing “non-standard” types of events.

Revenant_1Revenant

The playable demo had a level 80 Revenant available to play with the Hammer skill set and the two Legends they have announced already Mallyx the Unyielding and Jalis Ironhammer.

As previously revealed which Legend the player currently has active will determine what skills are filled in the 6-0 slots. Currently, the functionality is there so the player can switch which ability is in which slot. So instead of having the chain skill in the 8 slot the player could change it to the 9 slot. There is the potential for there to be more skills available than can be slotted (similar to how skills in other professions work) but they haven’t really decided on it yet and they expect it’s one area where the beta will help fill in what is needed in terms of customization.

Hammer as a ranged weapon actually works fairly well mechanically. It is sort of similar to how a Mesmer uses a Greatsword where there are various effects which come out from the Hammer. It’ll be interesting to see how everything functions and works when everyone is playing a variety of professions and specializations instead of everyone playing a Revenant. Though the chaos which ensued might be a good indication of what the first few weeks after launch will be like.

There have been some people out there wondering if perhaps the Revenant will start off at some level higher than level 1 to give players an easier time catching up and to be able to play the new content quicker. However, Johanson did confirm they will start at level 1. So everyone planning to roll a Revenant right away should stock up on those tomes of experience.

Pale ReaversRelease Date and Beta

They’ve just opened up sign-ups for beta here at PAX East and on the GW2 website by signing up for the Guild Wars 2 Newsletter. There won’t be an NDA for the closed beta which makes life a bit easier for everyone. invites will be staggered to slowly ramp up and test their systems. Content testing will also likely be staggered.

One thing Colin was pretty emphatic about is they don’t really have a set release date for the expansion. Heart of Thorns is going to set the foundation for how Guild Wars 2 will grow and expand over the lifetime of the game, so they really want to make sure they have it set properly before release. He expects a lot of changes will happen during beta and they really want to make sure they have the flexibility to adapt to those changes.

Next Week at EGX Rezzed

A lot of the focus here at PAX East has been on getting players into the demo and experiencing the first taste of the new areas and mechanics. Next week at Rezzed the focus will shift a bit to be more on the new Boarderlands map and WvW as a whole. Johanson indicated they have a lot of changes planned for WvW, so next week should be interesting.