Dead Characters

I was just thinking about animations for characters and NPCs in MMOs and I realized the more successful ones (or at least the ones that feel right when playing) tend to have idle animations. Some are subtle (such as frosty breath in cold areas or actual chest movement from breathing) while others are somewhat more obvious and come with easy gains (such as head following nearby targets or people). Without some of these (and even with some of these done wrong) the character seems more a like a doll than a character.

When thinking about WoW; I can easily visualize a dwarf running in it’s awkward manner over the snow and leaving foot prints behind. The arms move back and forth over top its girth while the legs almost scamper quickly underneath. When they jump, I see their comical jump filled with start and finishing motions that are smooth and fluid.

I an also easily imagine the Night Elf female idle bounce and ears flopping when they run. The twirl when they jump or the mid-air somersault that is sometimes there. I can see the combat stance and strikes easily and without extra effects.

Thinking about other games, there is nothing really positive that stands out.

For EQ2 the models are very doll-like. They do seem plastic and lifeless – lifeless being the bigger turn off. This is further worsened by their use of the head tracking targets to the point you’d almost think they were owls. In some cases this makes them look like marionettes controlled by someone that forgets they have to control the head too. The system of morphing the armor to the models and the similarities in the majority of the models means they all run and jump pretty close to the same. The females look like they’re in a rush to get to the washroom while the males look like they walk on their heels and flap their feet down.

In LOTRO the models don’t really fit the world. They seem far more removed because the game world is just that good but also because they don’t impact the world in small ways – like leaving footprints in the snow (maybe that’s something only Elves do as the lore suggests – but I can’t recall my dwarf characters leaving footprints either). The run animations are nothing exciting or memorable and the jump animation… it has to be the worst I’ve seen so far. The combat animations might stand on their own, but it’s hard to tell because of the white flashes that accompany an attack or ability (these are really jarring and unnecessary).

Very disappointing but also true to Turbine’s other games. I don’t think they quite get this.

DDO seemed somewhat lifeless as far as characters go. They only got a part of it and didn’t follow through with Tumbling (or Acrobatics) – higher points in that skill made things look a little different. They seemed to stand about and do little else.

Some of the NPC actions are nice. I give them credit in LOTRO for that guy in the first town whot sweeps the dirt but I have to take it away when I head up the road and see the NPCs standing around at a farm gate with no animation. They just stand there doing nothing despite the quest they want to give you.

Vanguard suffered from this (among other things) as well. The models, short of the heads, were much the same and followed the same animations making the animations seem quite bland. At first you might not have noticed as much because most of the class ability animations seemed different (though some of it was reused with some different colored sparkles), but then if you saw more of the same class, you realized the animations were much the same (if not the same) no matter the race.

WoW isn’t perfect but they made the decision to make the races attack different giving the races more separation and personality. You get more of a feel for playing them. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the Eviscerate finisher for a Rogue; try it on different races and then try it on the same race with different genders. Watch the attack animations of a Blood Elf (female with a two-handed weapon is pretty cool) or a Tauren or a Dwarf. All really different.

Rift also had an element of this. I noticed the facial expressions, eyes blinking and some of the idle attitude the characters had. But a lot of it was too subtle and you were more likely to notice it on the character select screen rather than in game where the character’s back is to you. I don’t remember as much about the combat animations but I do remember a different feel for the classes (so far as animations went). The casters seemed to have animations that drew on magic, the rogues felt sneaky and the warrior types seemed to stand taller.

These weren’t dead characters.

Server Status on the Launcher?

I’ve always wondered why it was so bloody hard to put the server status right into the launcher. I mean, if you start the game and it takes you to a launcher before you can play, doesn’t it make sense to tell the users right then and there, “Hey, servers are down!” or “Server status is:  (list)”.

I understand it’s tougher for Blizzard to do since they’ve got more servers than some countries have computers, but a simple mechanic of setting up a server watch. Person fires up launcher, goes into options, selects Show Server Status, checks off a limited number of servers to watch, launcher pings those servers for status and displays them for the user so the user doesn’t have to click play, log in and discover the servers are down.

I’m not even really talking about Blizzard here.

Think about it.

  1. Start game.
  2. Doesn’t actually start game, it fires up the patcher/launcher. Okay, sort of needed for MMOs, gotten check files and make sure you’re up to date.
  3. Click play.
  4. Game actually starts. Depending on the game you might have to deal with the cinematic and various sponsors or companies involved. Some actually fail to have a mechanism to bypass this or require interaction to skip (WoW doesn’t it notes that you’ve seen the cinematic and likely want to skip right into the crack, er, game.
  5. Type username (if it doesn’t save it for you)
  6. Type password (maybe even an OTP from an Authenticator)
  7. You might have a loading screen here.
  8. Here is where games deviate; same will have a server selection, some will have character selection but almost all of them will tell you at this point if the servers are down.

That’s roughly 8 steps to tell you that the servers aren’t available when you could inform them as early as step 2, but instead you decided to fill the launcher with advertisements.

Yes!

Why wait or make a customer do a bunch of stuff only to discover the service isn’t available?

I’m flagging all the MMOs I think this applies to. I could be wrong because it’s been awhile since I looked at any of them and I hate to admit it, but I think DDO actually does show server status on the launcher. For others I simply can’t remember (DAoC, AoC).

Feist Needs to Make a MMO…

I just finished reading his latest book, Rides a Dread Legion, and it was quite good. I devoured the book and absolutely loved it. Someone needs to make a MMO based on Raymond E. Feist’s Midkemia world. I love the history of it, I love the locations, I love the factions with their complexities and I love how you can just grab a small portion of the world and have something happen in it.

I think it’s becoming clear that I’ll move on from WoW. The more I think about it, the more I feel like I’ve done what I can in WoW and I clearly see that I can do the rest if I’m willing to sink the time into it, but the steam (or gas) has been let out.

I’ve started poking around with LOTRO and it seems decent enough, but I don’t think I’m going to focus on playing it next. I’ll be content with having tried it out and moved on without dropping any cash on purchasing the game or playing it too far.

I do have to give LOTRO some credit, it is a decent game, it looks decent (aside from the character models) and I’d compare the environments to Vanguard, especially with all the bells and whistles turned up to max. Again, the models are a bit boxy and the animations are not very smooth, aside from some of the combat attacks – those are decent and quite good. Run and jump animations? Eep.

Still, that’s not enough to completely dismiss the game. I’m on the fence, maybe I’ll give it a go, maybe not.

I fully expect to get involved with Champions Online in some fashion (my son won’t let me skip it) and I believe I can hold off until July 14th. After that, I’ll likely try out Bioware’s Star Wars MMO. I’ll end up finishing off Fallout 3 (I was close, then something happened and I lost my saved games) and probably grab Mass Effect now.

Limbo, here I am.

WoWFail and LOTRO Trial…

Okay, not as a clever as Darkfail, but I wasn’t going for clever. I just noticed I haven’t logged in to play WoW since Saturday morning. Is that telling me something? I guess there just isn’t much more for me to achieve in that game that isn’t a shallow achievement (as much as doing something in a video game can be considered an achievement).

There is something to be said for taking a game and playing it at a leisurely pace.

There is probably something wrong with me because I did the unthinkable. I downloaded and tried out LOTRO last night. They have a 10 day free trial. I admit, I gave it the Eurogamer Review and only played for about 2.5 hours (please don’t check the server logs on me… I might not have gone the whole 2 hours).

I have to admit, there was a minimal amount of waiting for the game content to download. It gave me the basics, worked on the Tutorial in the background and then downloaded the whole game content (about 10gbs of it) over night.

I started it up, no crash (unlike DDO) and it noted my OS and card were DX10 capable and asked if I wanted to use it. I said, “sure,” then pressed the Yes button. Once it started up (in really low, non-fullscreen resolution) I was disappointed by what I saw in the character creation screen. Textures were bad, the models were okay, but the graphics weren’t what I was expecting for all the praise they were getting.

Yes, I know, it all comes back to having the minimal download… at least that’s what I’m hoping. In the graphics options I couldn’t really change anything – I could set it to Max, but the drop down would just flip to “Unavailable” which should mean I didn’t download the higher quality textures and what not. I’ll take a peek at it tonight at some point.

I created two characters; a Dwarf Champion (for me) and an Elf Hunter (because my son wanted a Hunter and thought the Elf looked cool).

I ended up playing the Elf Hunter for a bit. You seem to be handed the first few levels, which is fine I guess.

The UI was sort of simple yet ornate at the same time. There is just something about the way they do their UI that irks me. It’s unbalanced in its polish. You have this attempt at being intricate and detailed for the lower bars but then the tool tips and other dialogs that pop up look quite plain. I can remember that being the case with AC2, DDO and no LOTRO. It’s like they took the code and copy/pasted it in each of the game. There is something to be said about reusing code, but can they at least get some art assets to tweak it a little?

One other thing seemed a little off to me, the movement. It didn’t feel as smooth as in other games I played, but I’m wondering if that is due to the minimal graphic settings or something. If you’ve played Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and had ridden a mount, it almost felt that like to a lesser extent. Now that might have been my keyboard setup so I’ll have to take a look again.

Gameplay was about what you would expect for a MMO. I had three attacks to start; Quick Shot, Barbed Shot and some melee attack. Quick Shot seemed fast but if you used it after Barbed Shot, there was actually a casting bar to it? (I seem to remember a certain blogger ranting about casting times in WAR for things like throwing axes or knives – why is there a casting time for Quick Shot? :P)

I was happy to see the starting area was tailored towards being an Elf and not a central starting area like Turbine did in DDO. After working my way through it, I learned another ability, which I can’t remember the name of. It fired a bunch of shots in succession and did lots of damage (it also had a casting time, but that’s okay, because it’s not supposed to be “Quick Shot”). I did a few quests in the area and had to stop because my son was losing interest and wanted to go play Lego Indiana Jones.

It’s probably for the better, when I give it a look the next time, it should be in all its glory since the rest of the game downloaded over night.

I also did a quick search around this morning and noted Mass Effect for the PC was only 19.99$ on Steam. I think I’m going to have to buy that one finally and give it a go though maybe after fiddling with LOTRO for a bit.

NOTE: I started on Arkenstone or something like that… I believe Scott from Pumping Irony actually plays on that server but I could be wrong.

Whew… I Almost…

… went ahead and tried out LOTRO. I know, I’m waaaay behind the times. I went looking for a trial, just to see what it’s like since Scott seems quite content with it. Fortunately, Turbine has disabled their trial period pending the release of Mines of Moria.

And I won’t buy this game without a trial to ensure it will work fine (unlike DDO).

I also almost picked up a year subscription to D&D Insider. It is reasonably priced if you buy for a year, it’s about the price of any PC Game. However, I’m not sure how that would work out for a number of reasons.

1. How good are the tools?
2. How much time do I have to sink into playing around with it?
3. My D&D group hasn’t bought into 4e so I won’t get added benefit from that.
4. Today was the first day all week where I was able to sit down and play WAR so will I even have time for it?

I’m also wondering if I should fire up WoW again and fiddle around with a Rogue, Mage, Shaman or Paladin. I’m not sure where that is coming from because I’ve no desire to go through TBC again or any of the earlier content yet again. I suspect Blizzard implanted subliminal messages in their sound effects and musical scores. Okay, I don’t really suspect that… but it did come out of the blue.

I’ve even considered giving Vanguard another look since I did enjoy most of it, I just found it leveled to fast to really explore and enjoy a lot of the dungeon content. Maybe I’ll mess around with the trial isle thing. I can just see myself end up playing the Cleric again, getting into raiding and getting burned out or bored of it all.

Which brings me to WAR… two of players in my D&D group commented that I seem to dislike WAR from all the complaining I do about it. That’s an interesting observation that I’ve been reflecting on.

Do I dislike WAR?

I dislike the lack of dungeon content – I’m talking EQ1 style dungeon content where there are always dungeons available. Zipping down into Mount Gunbad was neat and I do like that they’re open dungeons and allow you to go in with a large group/warband because they have PQs inside, but I miss the frequency of them in the game world. Caves/mines/tombs/etc. that take 20 minutes to explore solo, just don’t do it for me.

I dislike the lack of depth to the PVE content. It’s all very solo friendly so I find myself doing it alone even in spite of the fact that there are almost always good guild players to group with. The PVE content seems very directed and witht he built in location spoiler, it is sort of easy. Yeah, I could hop over to another faction (which I may have to do because I’m running out of content on the Avelorn side of things).

I dislike that the scenarios all seem to be the same ones popping. I’m also noticing that the bolstering of rank doesn’t really help that much. If you’re in the bottom half of the tier, you’re still going to get creamed while you’ll feel pretty godly at the upper end of the tier. To me, this just screams for a need to drop bolstering in the Scenarios and divide the tiers in half.

I do like the idea of PQs but I don’t see a lot of people on when I can be on* (more on that bit later) so it ends up being a grind to max out influence for the Chapter without ever actually completing the second step of it.

Open RVR is the best aspect of the game by far. It’s fun, the gameplay is variant, especially when it isn’t taking unguarded keeps. Right now it’s the main thing I look forward to, it’s just too bad there are all these levels in the way of getting to the point where the playing field is even and everyone can participate.

Is that a “the game starts at max level” thought? Ducks and hides from Ysharros Naw, I think its the same underlying hatred for the level mechanic and everything that it comes with.

Really, I enjoy the aspects of playing with others and trying to take keeps, defend keeps, grabbing objectives and having open field fights. It’s really too bad the whole level thing is there.

*Back to the point about time. Last week I spent more time at work than I did getting sleep. It was pretty rough and a big part of it is that the fun part of WAR – open RVR – seems to get happening late in the evening and run until midnight or later. That really hurts because I lose track of time easily and sometimes find myself going to bed around 2am only to get up at 5:30am.

Looking at the things that I like from WAR, it almost seems I’d be better off messing around with FPS games or something. The problem is, I don’t get that sort of feeling from the FPS games.

I’m sticking with WAR for awhile longer.