Friday, September 18, 2009

Dust in the wind

"Don't hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky"  - Kansas "Dust in the Wind"

... And apparently gamers complaining.

When CCP announced the release of Dust 514 there were many bloggers posted in open rebellion. "How dare they not intend to release a PC version?" "What do you mean my game will be influenced by a bunch of low life console monkeys?" "Great, now I need two accounts just to affect sovereignty." On and on went the litany of complaints.  There were also a number of people who seemed genuinely excited about the prospects of this new game, and I have to admit that I fall in with them.

For the record, I am not a console gamer. I own a PS3 purchased primarily to serve as a media center in my house, a DVD and Blue Ray player, and it lets me play Rock Band (and I love me some Rock Band). I never fell in with the Halo crowd, if I'm going to play a FPS I want a keyboard under one hand while my other hand lovingly grips my mouse. Even then I'm not crazy for FPS games. I enjoyed them, I've played the litany from Quake and Doom through Serious Sam, No One Lifes Forever, UT, and of course every game the people who brought us Half-Life even glanced at. So I can't say I'm adverse to the notion of the FPS, but I'm hardly an expert - more of a casual gamer who likes to hang out with friends.

I can't understand why people are so upset about Dust. Yes, it will affect Sov. Yes it will be on a console. But it also has the potential giving Eve players another game to love and it has the chance to draw in some new blood to Eve Online. And to those who think new players in Eve Online is a bad thing, I have nothing to say to you.

I think that the men and women of CCP have proven they can deliver a unique and rewarding product in the MMORPG genre, why not let them have a go at the FPS genre as well? Perhaps they will bring some new ideas to the table that will make the game far more rewarding. Here are some things that I would like to see (let me preface by saying I've only really watched the trailer - so if these ideas are already in, great, if they have already been ruled out then boo.)

Skill System for Weapons and Vehicles - Much like what we have in Eve Online, create a skill system that allows a character to improve over time as a player. Whether they use the same real time training of Eve or whether they require you to be active in the game to improve is up in the air - however, it should not be based solely on in game performance because it would skew the field. The good players would get stronger while the less skilled grow weaker, this is not very Eveian. Real time skill training could mean Older players get more use of support vehicles, better armor, and weapon improvements such as firing rate, increased range, etc. These should be make or break skills, but it would definitely give people and edge.

Give Me Another Way to Play - Let's face it, FPS games are pretty standard. You shoot a gun, climb in a vehicle, you do something, and then you die. Even Team Fortress and Team Fortress Two have only limited class roles. What I really love about Eve is the fact that I can play the game so many ways. I would love Dust to be like that. Sure, it is fun to sometimes bust skulls in FPS glory, but ever since reading Ender's Game I have dreamed of sitting in a commander chair orchestrating the movements of squads, even whole armies. RTS games aren't as fun because the AI is very limited. I don't want a squad of mindless drones, but a team of players who will react independently to changing situations. I would love to lead individuals who could either follow my orders or thing for themselves. Creating a interface to facilitate this role and this style of play would encourage me to plop down the cash for Dust.

Tactics Must be Key - This ties into the skill system, but create tactical roles for players and make tactics important. Create an interface where team mates can clearly and quickly communicate targets without the use of microphones and voice chat. Target labeling, squad and unit formations, etc. Create a "Briefing period before all missions where players can develop strategies. Players with certain skill sets can serve as tactical advisors, given access to overview maps and advanced unit command options while newer players can serve as grunt soldiers, scouts, and other roles.

Variable Terrain and Maps - There are ways to create dynamic shifting maps that would require players to be far more adaptive and would eliminate the edge of map memorization that exists in other FPS games. Easy? Probably not, but imagine the results! It opens up the potential for a scout class that is actually useful, again giving a skill path and variable play styles a role in a genre that has been fairly homogeneous.

Make Death Carry a Meaningful Penalty - No, I don't want this game to be an RPG and I understand that the FPS genre is all about running around and dying a lot while killing people. But the problem is it creates a game devoid of tactics and realism in many cases. If you encourage players to fall back and stay alive rather than suicide Zerg then that would be good. Possible ideas include gear loss, skill loss, clone spawn cooldown. This will have to be carefully balance, too steep and people won't want to play, too weak and people won't care. While it will be hard to get this right it would be completely worth doing.

Create Linked Accounts - If Dust 514 is going to go into the realm of subscription based play (another potential first with an FPS) then they need to allow dedicated Eve Players a discount of some sort. If Dust costs $10 per month then active Eve Accounts should get it for $5. Hell, even better, send all subscribers a $10 off coupon on the release. Basically, if CCP extends an olive branch to the current players they might not feel as hurt.

These are just a few of the things that I think could make Dust an amazing unique game. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the FPS that CCP puts out will be amazing regardless of the specific features. But I don't just want amazing from CCP. They have to push the envelope, redefine the genre, and deliver a product the likes of which we have never seen. That is what they get for setting the bar so high in the first place.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Cold Calm of Space

"The Asteroid has been depeleted."

The soothing tone of the computer filled the cabin, the only sound other than the gentle humming whirl of the mining lasers and machinery deep within the ship, the subtle vibrations that play up and down and outer hull, and the soft and distant hiss of airlocks opening and closing as mining drones repeat their endless dance to and from the large rock floating in nothingness.

The soft moan of cushions as the chair moves, a few commands and the lasers shift to the next rock. Another touch and the targetting computers lock onto a new victim, placing the rock into queue for oblivion. A few more quick checks show that the cargohold is nearing capacity. A typed command informs the crew to intiate another transfer to the Orca that looms nearby.

All of the lights are turned low, that is how I like it. The dim readouts on the control panel provide all the needed illumination without taking away from the spendid kalediscope of space. The Orca hangs over my ship, filling up a portion of my view with the steady pulsing glow of her shields playing up and down the ship. I watch as the cargo containers drift from one bay effortlessly to the other, no tractors for guidance, just a simple push and physics to take care of the rest.

My lasers cut across the field of vision, adding their own bands of light to the fireworks display, and all set against the milky green blackness of Abhan's solar system. The sensation of just hanging in the maw of nothingness, a few feet of hull between me and complete emptiness beyond human comprehension is such a powerful feeling. For hours I will sit in the captain's chair and just wonder what it would be like to enter the airlock and hit eject without an egg, without a suit, with nothing but my nakedness touching the cold unfeeling soul of space.

Apparently I tried it once. I don't remember. Sure, I remember getting into the airlock and overriding the safety, but I don't remember what it felt like, to be truly alone in space. The MedLab techs said that it was too quick of a death for their to be any sensation, that my body would have merely vaporized from the depressurization. Another told me that it isn't uncommon to lose those last few minutes, especially if the ordeal is too traumatic for the mind. "Perhaps," she said, "We just aren't programmed to remember what death feels like."

I think it is something else though. Space is outraged at our audacity. We probe and prod and reach beyond all natural limits. We defy space, we defy death, we defy everything in our quest for power and understanding. Space holds tight to her secrets, she holds fast to whatever she can keep from us, making us tear the mysteries from her breast. But what space doesn't understand is I don't want her knowledge, I don't want her mysteries, I don't want her secrets. I just want her embrace.

"The Asteroid has been depleted."

Oh well, perhaps another day.

(My humblest of offerings to the great works of Fiction that Eve has inspired. Please let me know if you enjoyed this installment and I'll be sure to include more in the future.)

Why is Eve Online a good game?

(This is part two of my mini-series comparing World of Warcraft and Eve Online and highlighting the merits of both. My entry "Why is World of Warcraft a good game?" can be found here.)

So, now that I've alienated myself from some pretty fierce Eve Supporters I thought I'd share what I like about Eve as well. Just for background I've been playing Eve for less than a year. I've never been a pirate, never flown a battle cruiser, never ran a level four mission (though I have salvaged a few), I've never engaged in a duel, and I've never even set foot in a wormhole. My interests in the game have been more in the realm of mining, trade, and industry. I know that there are vast amounts of the game that I haven't even thought about let alone experienced. Which brings me to one of the first things I really like about Eve.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


My severe apologies if my constant edits and reposts of my last article caused any sort of spam notifications in feeds, it was not my intent. Still learning to adapt to the software as it is vastly different from Wordpress, which I use in other sites I manage.

Why is World of Warcraft a good game?

I know that this admission might make me a pariah in the Eve blogging community, but I am a long time World of Warcraft player. Allow me to be perfectly clear. I am not a reformed WoW player. I am not a converted WoW player. I still maintain an active World of Warcraft account. I have a level 80 character who is in a sizable guild that has completed most of the end game content including Yogg-Saron, Trial of Champions, etc. Before a server transfer with friends, I was a guild master in one of the oldest guilds on my old server. I still enjoy World of Warcraft and try to attend one or two of the three major raiding nights each week.

Now I am ‘less of a player’ in the eyes of some citizens of New Eden, and I can live with that. I have seen the trash talk of WoW in the Eve Radio channel and among various people in the more populated Local Channels as well as people within my own corp. However, I think that both games deserve a great deal of credit for what they have created, and I wanted to expound a bit on what I think Blizzard has done right with World of Warcraft and what I think CCP has done right with Eve Online.

Over 11 Million Served
Yes, numbers are not everything, but let that number sink in. 11 million people shell out $15 per month for World of Warcraft. This is compared to the much smaller number of approximately 250,000 Eve subscribers. Perhaps it is the type of game, perhaps it is the accessibility, perhaps it is superior marketing, but World of Warcraft is doing something right. Now, many people say “McDonalds serves billions of burgers, but it doesn’t mean they have the best burger in the world” and they are right. However, most people try to compare a McDonald’s burger to a steak house burger and miss the issue of price point and scope. No other business than McDonald’s serves as many $1.00 cheeseburgers daily, so in that regard they are doing something right. In comparison, Eve is like Wendy’s, similar product, similar price, not as popular. That does not mean that Wendy’s is bad, but they are definitely not the same corporation as McDonalds.

Responding to the Wishes of the Players
This is something I think both Eve and World of Warcraft have done rather well. I have not played Eve as long, but it seems to me from the developer blog and from the forums that the people down at CCP maintain a very bidirectional flow of communication. This is something that Blizzard has perhaps done too well. The belief of many in the WoW community is that he who complains most gets buffed. There are exceptions to this, the paladin class had issues for over a year before it was addressed, and warriors still have problems.

Nevertheless, no one can rightfully accuse the Blizz developers of not adjusting and tweaking their game to put more shine on it. Final Fantasy 11 failed because it was too slow to adapt and change, Everquest never really changed at all. Yes, there are things to be said for consistency, but it takes a much braver set of developers to release something that may have issues and then fix them afterwards. This development style is actually something that another “evil” corporation is famous for, and that is Microsoft. They would knowingly release a version of Windows before it was 100% tested and then just patch the bugs afterwards. This is predominantly becoming the norm in the industry as evident by Apple’s latest OS release.

New Content
Yes, World of Warcraft makes you pay for expansions. This is often cited as a “sin” of Blizzard and hailed as something that makes Eve better than all. I am going to be direct and make a few more enemies by calling bullshit on this count. The average expansion costs about $60 and lasts for about 30 months. If you play the game regularly that comes out to about $2 per month, it really is not a huge additional cost when you think that the average player is dropping $180 on subscription fees a year for either game. The people who it hurts the most is those who maintain multiple accounts, however WoW is not a game that is designed around the idea of players having multiple accounts while in Eve it seems more the rule rather than the exception.

Even outside of the expansions, Blizzard is constantly adding new content in terms of Festivals, new Dungeons, New Quest lines with every major patch. Wrath of the Lich King has had 2 entirely new Raiding Dungeons added since its release. The previous expansion saw several raid Dungeons that were approached in a systematic order as well as the addition of a new raid dungeon right towards the end of the expansion.

With each expansion and patch World of Warcraft is not only creating new content, they are fundamentally changing the nature of the game. Here is just a short list of things that have been added to the game since its original release.

  • Hard Mode Encounters
  • Arena Teams
  • Battle Grounds for PvP
  • RP PvP Servers (originally all RP servers were PvE)
  • Tier Tokens
  • Raid and Dungeon Instancing (huge idea that made WoW better right off the bat)
  • 10 Man and 25 Man dungeons to make end game content more accessible to different guilds.
  • Vehicles
  • Flying Mounts
  • Duel Specs
  • Two New Player Races (soon to be 2 more as well)
  • Death Knights as a Heroic Class
  • Glyphs
  • Two New Professions – Socketted Gear for Gems
  • Over 10 different season events
  • Duel Spec Sheets to allow for more character versatility
  • Badge Gear
  • An Honor system and Honor Gear

I’m sure I’m missing quite a few, but you can see why I find it somewhat foolish for people to say that we have to pay for expansions. To me it seems similar to complaining when you go to see Rush Hour Two that you have to pay again, because you already  paid for Rush Hour. Personally, I think we get our money’s worth.

To Wrap it All Up
I don’t think that World of Warcraft, or any other game, is perfect. There are plenty of flaws with WoW. The level gain can be a grind. The loot system is very arbitrary (though they’ve worked to improve that with Badge and Honor gear.) The reputation system and faction grinding can make you want to punch kittens (not that Eve players would know anything about that.) However, at the end of the day World of Warcraft is one of the most successful MMORPGs ever both in terms of player base and financial success. When you are at the top of the heap you tend to draw a lot of hate from smaller groups. For examples of this look at rabid Mac users get towards a PC user or how a Linux user scoffs at someone running Windows. Watch how defensive people who feel they belong to a niche group can become towards others. Eve is a tight knit community that is vastly different from World of Warcraft, but to say WoW is a terrible game is just very narrow minded

Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll share with you some of the things that I really think Eve has done well – it probably won’t be as detailed as this, I’m a vet player of WoW and a newb in Eve, but I hope you enjoy my perspective.