All posts by R.E. Davis

PvP Updates for F2P Titles

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning isn’t the only title that should be rolling out some updates this March. For those a bit more on the frugal side of gaming, or people already fed up with Darkfall’s launch, there’s some low-budget PvP goodness rolling out in the very near future.

Requiem: Bloodymare Update 5.0

Requiem is probably the first F2P/Cash Shop title I played where I felt it was worthy of me tossing some coin in their direction (that’s usually a sign that they offer good perks without making you feel premium membership is required). I’m a big fan of the game for its dark setting, fun game play and was actually impressed with its instanced dungeons. The one thing I felt was always lacking though was the options for PvP. They offered two Battlegrounds, both of them hardly played on, and they both cater to large level ranges (we’re talking 20 levels difference).  They do have an Open PK server, but due to any lack of reward or consequence it’s not really enough to carry a hardcore PvP element.

Update 5.0 is introducing a new Battleground, offering Server vs. Server warfare. The two PvE-minded servers will be pitted against the PK rules server in a massive Capture the Flag battle that will allegedly support up to 1000 players in an instance. To make this even more interesting, it will be held 3 days a week, twice on those days (Apparently one in the morning, one in the evening).

The other thing to note: It’s open to all characters of all levels and class. I guess now we’ll see if zergs of midlevel toons can be worthy opponents to small groups of high levels. Still, it’s an interesting concept and I hope they put some thought into giving both sides an even chance.

If that’s not thrilling enough to hear, they’re now adding a reward for special Dungeon Keys in exchange for points earned in the different PvP Battlefields. These keys can be used for three new Dungeons that are being added across different level zones to intice players for the chance at some bitching gear. Also, something about a new player dismemberment update to the new battleground….

[Modok, if you’re reading this: Yes, they made the carrot bigger and the stick longer.]

Runes of Magic: Arena System announced
Runes of Magic is a new game that is taking the definition of WoW clone to the extreme and making people really wonder if a $15 a month sub is really worth it when this game seems to be taking everyone’s good idea and putting it all into one game.  Imagine WoW, if it was all humans, but you can learn any craft skill and actually pick up a second class to level up and mix up the skills/abilities. Now throw in player housing at level 6, and you’re getting the idea. It even has Add-On support hosted by Curse.com….probably the first F2P title to do so.

The PvP element as it is right now is the usual Flagged PvP system on most servers and special PK rules servers that use a sliding alignment system for open world PvP (kill anyone, start going evil. Kill an evil, start gaining good. Extremes of both reward you with buffs and titles).

Well now they’ve announced an Arena System that will be coming out this month in the Open Beta that will be based around 1 on 1 combat.  Allegedly the mechanics will involve an NPC who will pair up queued combatants against opponents roughly even in skill level and stats to battle head on, with matches that will feature special buffs during certain time intervals.

While they’re working out the kinks in their Guild vs Guild system, I’m guessing this could actually be a fun way to test your skills out as well as an opportunity to analyze your builds performance.

Dungeon Runners:  Just some awesome shit coming.

Okay, it’s not a PvP update and thus is totally irrelevant to this post. If we have to make it relevant, it’s the fact the Dungeon Runners is probably one of the best arena PvP games you HAVEN’T played even if you’ve played Dungeon Runners! Regardless, it’s one of my all time favorites in the low budget gaming, and now I’m going to tell you about the lovely things that are to be coming soon:

  • New Website, which includes a way to play through your web browser.
  • New client updates that will feature some new shiny graphics and the ability to stream content in similar to Guild Wars.
  • Microtransaction system in the works that’ll offer some swank new things for DR players. Allegedly, this includes items pertaining to player housing.

Introduction: Say hello to “T.”

Good day everyone, most denizens of the net know me as “T.”  I will be contributing some works to this site hopefully sooner rather than later.  Current projects that will receive excerpts and information from this site include:

“Sprites” – A table top roleplaying game, based around faeries, gremlins, gnomes and other small people.  The system and world is being worked on from the ground up, and from time to time I’ll post short stories as well as struggles in crafting this world.

The Harbinger Saga – Is a book/series I’ve been working on for about ten years now.  The only excerpt I’ll post on here will be the Prologue, although I will post information on the world itself, history and what not to help drum support.

I have another book in the works, but will not be posted here due to the political nature of it, and not going to saddle that on our gracious host, Rev. Lazaro.

If you have any questions at all, or wish to contact me, feel free.  I hope you guys enjoy.

SOE hands over 60TB of Server Logs to Researchers

From an Ars Technica article:

Thanks to a partnership with Sony, a team of academic researchers have obtained the largest set of data on social interactions they’ve ever gotten their hands on: the complete server logs of Everquest 2, which track every action performed in the game.

Researchers ranging from psychologists to epidemiologists have wondered for some time whether online, multiplayer games might provide some ways to test concepts that are otherwise difficult to track in the real world. A Saturday morning session at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science described what might be the most likely way of finding out. With the cooperation of Sony, a collaborative group of academic researchers at a number of institutions have obtained the complete server logs from the company’s Everquest 2 MMORPG. Read the Full Article at Ars Technica.

For the most part, the article is an interesting read about what kind of information and practical use this kind of study can lead to. There’s been many attempts at studies involving Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMO’s), especially with Everquest II. Not long ago there was a survey done with ~2000+ users asking them a wide variety of questions concerning their gender, gaming habits, age etc. However, those kinds of study are depending on the honest input of the participants involving an environment that is all about the avatars and game face and online persona, not neccessarily the reality.

However, there’s already quite a bit of an upset in the online gaming community over this. Prime example includes this thread started over at MMORPG.com, one of the largest community sites for the general MMO crowd on the net. Many people feel that having all of their actions, trades, and communications in the game over the past four years just handed over to research freely was in direct violation of their privacy. For many, the game itself is more than just a game but also an online social experience. Guilds of players are formed, friendships are established and many people connect together in a virtual world almost as intimately as, say, gathering at a friends house every weekend. To have all of their IM’s and interactions given out is regarded like having all of their parties, social gatherings, and even intimate times with family, lovers and friends being recorded and then handed off to researchers without inquiry of consent.

Did S.O.E. violate the players rights?

My 2 coppers:
Sometimes players forget that these virtual worlds that they’re running around in and socializing, interacting and competing with others in are still not their worlds. They are a data network, owned 100% by the company, who makes a business off of selling client software to access their games and often times charge for their services for continued membership. When you install and play the game, you’re often prompted with an End User License Agreement (EULA) stating rules and policies and legal mumbo jumbo for the company. Part of that is usually that all actions you are doing on their servers will be monitored and logged. The only legal promise of privacy is that your real-world info in terms of credit card numbers, login names, emails and passwords will not be given out or sold. Every action you do in a game: Killing another player, running a dungeon, or having cybersex IM sessions with your Guild Leader’s sister, is logged and is information rightfully owned by the company.

MMO’s are not democracies. Even if the most sandbox and diplomatic player ran communities, in the end anything you say or do — even in whispers, private messages and IM’s….if it’s done in-game, it’s the network admin and owning company’s right to log. If you’re paranoid about the information getting out, don’t fucking blab it in an online game. Use your IM’s, emails, voice chat — anything that really is intended for private communication.

Did S.O.E. violate a player’s right to privacy? No.

Did they fuck up? In my opinion, yes.

S.O.E. has been nothing but controversy over the past few years. From drastic overhauls of their popular games that result in totally crushing all the work their thousands of subscribers and fans worked towards, changing the EULA immediately after releasing expansion products without warning (thus getting all the cash for the product prior to performing an act that they knew would offend the community); and plenty of other blunders that have turned off interest from their ever shrinking subscriber base. To make a move like that when the general online gaming population already thinks of you as the devil in terms of ruining great product lines and not listening to the community was just plain butt-humping stupid.

All because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

I was talking to a developer who was discussing the use of in-game communication being a vital tactic in online games. He proposed the concept of developing ways to “intercept” in-game communication. We’re talking even going as far as being able to possibly ease drop on voice communications of other players using the in-game chat. I told him that while that would add an element of paranoia and a whole new level of hardcore gaming experience, it would also deter a lot of people from the player base knowing that anything they say could be intercepted by other players. Many players would feel violated if they knew a conversation that they were having with, let’s say, a real life friend while playing pertaining to personal info might be used against them by a rival player out of game to harass them. And let’s be honest: The competetive nature of the assholes who play games just to grief people would take it that extra step. Besides, it would only take guilds and clans resorting to using 3rd party programs like Ventrilo or Teamspeak to circumvent that.

Regardless of what you say or do, online gamers do put an element of trust into the developers and operators of these online games that those in power won’t meddle in the affairs of the players and won’t give out the chat logs of everything said in the Guild Chat or in the private messages. SOE probably felt like they were handing their data over to analysts for the sake of learning something about their demographic and market. But the reality is, they handed out the actions of all their players in the past 4 years because a team of academics asked if they could put players under the microscope, so to speak.  We may be open in our blog cultures, but even there we’re selective and responsible for the content we share with the world.

The best advice I can give any developers or companies that lend an ear: Be upfront. Players may not like it, but we’d rather know ahead of time, and be given chances to back out. Hell, we’re usually more willing to play along if you approach us and give us a choice first. The whole “forgiveness is easier than permission” approach is bad business sense. Sure, you’ll have plenty of players who don’t care and will stay. The problem is: It’s the vocal minority that heads to the community boards and raises Cain that you need to be concerned about. They’re the ones that will probably be affecting any newcomers and potential new customers. I’m not saying you necessarily have to appease these crowds; but definitely be less shady about your practices (especially when you’re suffering from a bad track record already.)

On the flipside: If the company has such an awful track record, do you expect any less of them?

Making d20 not feel like “D&D”

I want to take the base, open sourced d20 system and rewrite the rules to be pretty much a new game. I want to keep a lot of things that players will instantly know and remember from playing any other d20 system (stats, modifiers, skills etc) but get rid of the things that make many d20 games “D&D-like”. In no way am I trying to make “D&D but different”, but a variant rules of the base OGL d20 rules set. This isn’t even a unique idea; systems like True20 and Mutants & Masterminds already do a similar concept. But, I’m broke, and I want to custom tailor the system to my liking. If you don’t like it, tough shit — I’m doing this for my amusement and for the people who are interested they’re free to comment and suggest things as I work on this.
Basic Outline of What I’m Trying to Accomplish:

Objective: Rewriting the d20 OGL rules to not be focussed on levels or classes. Rewrite them in a way that is fairly scalable, can work with any mood or setting any GM wants to run, keep the familiar concepts and tactical nature of the system while also loosening it up to focus more on character development in terms of story progression and skill advancement than levels and classes.

What I want to keep:

  • Base Mechanic: 1d20+Skill+Modifier vs. Difficulty Rating
  • Core Abilities: Strength, Dex, Con, Int, Wis, Cha. Scaled 3-18+
  • Basic Combat Mechanics: Initiative, rolls to hit, threat to crit….a system that can run in the abstract or use miniatures for the more tactically inclined. If you’ve played D&D 3rd edition, I want you to feel at home in this system.
  • Skills & Feats: I want the long skill lists, and I want them to use the same dice mechanics. I want Feats to remain, but will probably be used more like other systems “Merits” and “Edges”. I’ll probably remove mechanics such as cross-classing penalties, as well as consolidating some skills together for simplicity.

What I want to get rid of:

  • Levels: Let’s say I’m running a modern/near future game involving criminal investigations. A cop chases a suspect down a crowded street, pulls out his gun and lets go a few rounds. I don’t mind the criminal limping away…what I do mind is the criminal taking 3 critical shots but still barely flinching as he has 8-10 Hit Dice. On the same token, I don’t like the idea of the grizzled experienced cop being about to shoot wildly into a crowd and manage to land insane shots like it was nothing. Levels detract from realism after a while. I want a system where regardless of experience, a close quarter gun fight or being jumped by a few hoodlums is just as dangerous as when you started your career. You can trump them with knowledge and skill, not by having more hitdice and better attack bonuses because you’ve survived 20 sessions straight. This also means that regardless of what the players are up against, I want them to feel they have a chance.  I don’t want them bean counting level differences when being faced with a mob boss, for instance.
  • Classes: I don’t mind archetypes. I don’t mind templates and concepts to work towards. But I want a system where the player is free to branch out and learn the skills and talents they want without being restricted by the rules. I know, d20 is very laxed even with its classes, but I just want to open it up more where the player feels like they truly have options for advancement of the character they want to play. Sure, this may theoretically lead to swashbuckling mages….but remember Jacks of all trades are Masters of none.
  • XP System: Since I’m ditching the levels and the classes, the XP system is going with it. Instead I want something more like Shadowrun Karma systems or the Storyteller system’s Experience hand out: Points you use and save up to upgrade your skills, buy new ones, improve your stats etc.

What I’m debating on keeping or modifying:

  • Vancian Magic System: By default, I don’t even want there to be a base power list except for Feats. Still, it would be silly to imagine an RPG system based on d20/D&D 3E to not want to have powers or spells of any kind, or rules to allow it thereof. If I did decide to write some base rules on Spells, how should they function? Would it be worth keeping the default Vancian magic and “Spells Per Day?”  How would I balance the lack of levels? Treat everything as base level 1? Require the user to maybe pick up a Feat per caster level? Wouldn’t that defeat what I’m doing? Or would it still be accepted and forgivable?
  • Hitpoints: Right now I’m thinking everyone gets a “hit die” based on race. Humans get a base d8 hit die. Bigger humanoids/creatures get bigger dice (consider a hobbit having a d6, an elephant having a d12). It wouldn’t just be HP+Con modifier, maybe an additional flat +10? Maybe hit die + con rating? In order to obtain more HP, you may purchase a feat for an additional HD. If I did that, should it be capped? Once? Twice? Available at char creation? I figured some settings would offer additional methods to stack more on (cyberware, genetic mutation etc). If I do keep the HP system, I will be adding conditions and penalties as you lose them.
  • Armor Class: Not the first time this has been altered in a d20 setting. Should I stick with regular AC rules, or instead go for base attack difficulties which vary based on circumstance, and instead Armor is used for soaking damage?

These are just the current drawing board thoughts. I want to emphasize again that this isn’t me trying to brew up a variant way to run D&D 3E or even d20 Modern for that matter. Complete compatability with previous d20 system rules isn’t a priority in this endeavor. Instead, I just want something more custom-tailored to the styles and worlds I want to run while still using a set of rules that many can dive in and grasp.

Killing more teenagers than a Deathwish movie!

When I was growing up, my dad always referred to the Deathwish movies as “Charles Bronson killing Teenagers.” As a kid he scared the crap out of me; in my young adult life I get a freaking kick out of the guy. And now, after being subjected to many years of shit talking, I have a new found appreciation for any time some spastic kiddies start wigging out and verbally assaulting me in-game. Their tears only make me stronger. I need a life.

I love a good FPS. I especially love a fast, frantic death match. What I don’t like is being forced to listen to kiddies shit talk all the live long day. That was the one thing I absolutely despised about Xbox Live — listening to all the lovely adolescents (both young and old) who thought saying a bunch of swear words and talking about rape was a clever skill in video game combat ( as opposed to, you know, actually fucking playing.) Don’t get me wrong: I love a good shit talking during a match. I just hate it when kids think they can say anything they defecate out of their mouths because mommy and daddy aren’t around and cussing is cool. It’s a waste of my time and makes me feel dumber for being submitted to it.

At least in Combat Arms, a free-to-play First Person Shooter from Nexon, there is no built in voice communication. There’s plenty of shit talking kiddies…but you get the luxury of not having to hear them and only reading their “I’ll rape your dog/sister/mother/your face” banter after they take a few bullets in the face from you. Satisfaction rating: Awesome.

So I suppose the real question is: Does this Free-To-Play First Person Shooter, despite having a community filled with adolescent fuckwads who couldn’t get an ePeen stroke playing more popular commercial shooters, actually stand on its own as a decent fragfest?

Let me get out of the way this game offers nothing new. Standard FPS controls here: WASD movement, switching weapons with 1-4 number keys, and mouse used for looking, firing and aiming. I was kind of dissapointed that the mousewheel did not automatically cycle weapons; but was surprised to find out you can swtich firing modes (single shot, burst fire, full auto etc). It’s not a unique feature; just a feature I didn’t expect in a free to play.

The style of the game is more team based Deathmatch oriented than objective game play like you’d find in Counter Strike or Battlefield. To be honest, it feels more Halo style with a modern military design. This isn’t bad in my book as I usually prefer more fast paced, arcade combat in my spare time. I enjoy good tactical shooters (such as the Clancy games)…but for the sake of being able to hop in and start kicking ass, the more action over realism approach works for quick gaming.

Like the rest of Nexon’s games (like the infamous Maple Story) this Korean-made game uses an item shop and leveling up system. I’ve seen this before with online shooters (such as WarRock) but I’d have to say Combat Arms does a good job not making me feel like I’m gimped by not shelling out any cash.

For one thing, almost all of the weapons can be purchased using in-game gold which is rewarded from playing matches and wracking up the kills. You also gain EXP, which levels up your rank, which really doesn’t have any true game function other than a lot of weapons and gear aren’t available until you reach certain ranks. All of the guns and gear also have an expiration date…giving players incentive to keep stocked up on credits to keep their favorite gear outfits.

They do have a special market for items using “NX” Points (their item mall currency) which means, yes, someone has to blow real cash to get these.  These are special items you can’t purchase on the normal market; but after looking over them, none of them give any real edge. All of the weapons list “equivalent stats” for non-item shop weapons and what mods to put on them. The only real edge is some newcomer or wanker can come in and use his credit card instead of earning them….but that’s not a big enough difference. Also, special character player models are available on this market. Which bothers me, knowing there’s both grown men and young kids who are probably buying the Nexon point cards from Wal-Mart so they can look like a hawt commando chick.

If you’re good, you’ll do fine with the default weapons layout. On top of that, you don’t even have to shed your in-game gold to get different or better weapons. Whenever a person is killed in a match, they drop whatever gun they’re armed with. So, yes, a newbie coming in who even has a smidge of Unreal Tournament experience can come in, headshot the guy with the badass sniper rifle, and has a new toy to play with.

Unfortunately, as with most online Korean shooters, the game has its share of hackers and cheaters. Typical bullshit you see in any FPS game: Speedhackers, aimbots, and guys who find a way to place themselves outside the battle area and snipe everyone from glitched safety. To be fair, I’ve seen this in every shooter….it just seems more apparent in free to play shooters when they used centralized servers instead of private servers hosted by the community (go figure.)

Of course, with all the Hackers present, there’s an equal problem of people who’ll report anyone who has more skill than them for being a hacker. My third match in and I was accused of hacking for getting 5 consecutive knife kills….but I wear that shit with pride. Score a double kill headshotting a couple on the other team and I can’t help but grin when the chat interface is flooded with OMG HAX!

Even better is when people begin to accuse rival team members of hacking, and I’m able to go up and shiv them or pop a couple pistol shots in said hackers head. In all the matches I’ve participated in with actual hackers, I’d have to say it doesn’t completely cripple the match. Yes, they have an unfair advantage and they’re fucking punks for doing it. But when you stomp them playing legit, again, that feeling of awesome knowing you’re making some kid demolish his keyboard in rage.

If you’re really not into dealing with cheaters, like any game, it’s usually better to connect with your own circle of friends (or atleast meet a few cool players in-game) and just locking the doors. The game has a lot of coolness to offer to the online shooter market: The maps are actually pretty well designed, with plenty of close quarter and sniper nests for different play styles. They also have all of the standard game modes…Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, CTF, even a fun “Spy Hunt” mode.

I’ve played a lot of shitty shooters, both paid for and for free. This one, while nothing new, does offer a fun experience and has a solid look and feel that makes beating up the kiddies plenty of fun. And, it doesn’t cost you a cent. Unless, of course, you really want to doll yourself up to look good in the sniper scopes of your foes.

Check out Combat Arms at Nexon

Final Thoughts:

Pros: Graphics aren’t as bad as you’d think (I liked them over CS:S to be honest), standard caveats of FPS Deathmatch shooters are present. Even though it’s a game that makes you work for your rank and money to get the guns, it’s just a matter of picking them up off a dead corpse to get to use them. The satisfaction of getting to beat up shit talking kiddies without ever having to really listen to them. The maps are well thought out and the variety of game modes keeps it fun and interesting. Wacky arcade-style pop up text for Headshots, Double-Kills and killing sprees. Lots of boom boom.

Cons: A community of shit talking teenagers, although I’ve met plenty of cool peeps too. People seem to have the urge to join games still being setup spamming GOGOGOGOGOGOOOOOOO. Cheaters and Hackers, as well as an abundance of people who’ll accuse legit players of cheating and hacking for being better than they are.  Player movement seems a little twitchy at times….it’s not a perfect lagless game, but it sure beats the hell out of the lag I’ve been getting on low ping Battlefield 2 servers. And you get to read such colorful chat.