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.

Your EQII account has been activated for 7 days‏!

So?

Okay, I give them credit for implementing flying mounts. Something that WoW has had for two expansions (maybe and a half in there) and even failing games (like Vanguard) have had since release.

My first thought was, “Meh. I can’t go back to EQ2. I liked it way back when, but it doesn’t interest me now.” Really, through no failing of its own. It’s a good enough game, I just lose enjoyment of it after a month or two of playing it. Some of that comes from disliking the fact that things are zoned and these zones don’t feel as big as the ones in EQ1. Also, I’ve created a bunch of characters and leveled through the starting experiences several times. Qeynos, Freeport, Neriak, EoF, RoK and even did a trial of the Velious starting area when that was available. I get to a point (usually DoF content) and I lose interest. On the rare occasion I hit KoS content and lose interest again.

Meh. It’s not doing anything for me.

My second thought was, “How will this work in a seamed world? You know, where you have to hit a zone line and pop over to another zone rather than just fly over the rocks separating Commonlands from Nektulos Forest?”

Again, I think the small zones sort of kill this. On the bright side, you’ll be able to fly up and over some things that previously blocked you in some zones.

I see they’re giving away XP Potions – I already had a ton of them stashed away from length of subscription rewards so not really a motivator.

Nope, not going to do it.

And NO, you cannot have my stuff.

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).

Blast From the Past…

Earlier in the week I popped onto IM and saw a request from a familiar name so I approved it but it was a request sent while I was offline so he wasn’t on… or at least who I thought it was wasn’t online. But that’s a good thing. If it was some porn spammer I would have had immediate response.

I got an IM from him just a short while ago but was in a meeting.

Who?

Sabist.

He was a Wizard I played with on Stromm in EQ1 and later ended up with my level 65 Cleric in a three way trade (where Kaldonar ended up with Sabist’s Necromancer and I ended up with Kaldonar’s Shadowknight).

But that was awhile ago.

Sabist (and his wife) joined us in EQ2 when it came out where we created a guild together which later merged with another friend’s guild. In other words, a good number of my long standing MMO buds should remember him.

After EQ2 we sort of lost touch until Vanguard came out. Sabist gave it a try but didn’t like too much for plenty of good reasons.

Man, it has been awhile! Several years – I wonder what he’s up to?

Hai!

I was just reflecting on gear and some of my favorite items in the MMOs I’ve played. I think the recipe for valuing the gear is how long or what was involved to get it, what fun thing it does and how long it stays valuable.

I’m trying to think of what item would be considered my favorite of all time, throughout all the MMOs I played…

It wasn’t a weapon since they tend to be a little less exciting, just more damage or faster swings. Most don’t really have a cool proc on them.

It wasn’t armor, though there were a few out there that would have been cool to have like the chest plate armor that gave you invis in EQ1.

I think I have to go with the Levitation Cloak in Vanguard.

Why?

Well, the quest to do it took some time but it was possible to do solo. Unfortunately it was a dull brown color but it had a clickable levitate effect (there was a cloak in EQ1 that had a permanent levitate effect though I never aquired it). The effect was simple and let me run across water/oceans while mounted. It let me jump down from high heights. And it added something to my character’s abilities that he didn’t have through his racial or class abilities so that is always a plus.

Runner’s up would have to be an item we gained out of Greystone, in Vanguard, that allowed you to change form into a black skeleton. That was neat. The quest required a group and involved delving into various parts of the dungeon – which is always a plus in my book.

And, this was a close one, my epic water sprinkler for my Cleric in EQ1. It had a clickable rez on it making recovering from wipes easier. The usable effect wasn’t really what did it for me though, the thing that made it valuable was all the time I had to sink into getting it. I spent time camping a rare spawn goblin (even wrote an app so I could get warned when he was about to pop). A guildie passed down an earring that let me breathe underwater so I could camp a rare under water. Once that was done, there was a matter of collecting a bunch of components and organizing some raids for various parts. In short, the item was less of a reward than having everyone else help me out and the memories of what happened along the way.

Now?

Not as common.

Everyone seems to have to have their gear handed to them or items are so watered down that they just become numbers on your way to doing MOAR whatever.

I think Blizzard is taking a step in the right direction with some of the items coming out of Icecrown Citadel but I also think they’re losing sight of some of the things that made the original game so cool. Everyone ends up sort of the same at the high level… it’s like you’re rushing to the level cap only to find you’re character looks much the same as everyone else. There is nothing distinguishing other than maybe a title or a mount.

Blizzard is starting to produce less content for its subscribers. I think they need to adjust this model. Go back to having worthwhile drops from the raids instead of just badges and gear that doesn’t upgrade over badge gear – and if it does, it looks the same as badge gear. Leave badge stuff around for people that want it but make raiding more worthwhile than just “getting the same shit sooner” or in the current case of 25 mans, “getting upgraded shit that looks the same as none upgraded shit”.

Really the only other things of value coming out of raids are trinkets, possibly jewelry and hand items (including weapons and shields). The bulk of the armor, cloaks, and what not are all easily available through badges. Even the recipes don’t require random drops, just a Primordial Saronite.

Gone are the days of things being rare.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s good they’re trying to make raids more accessible to players and I like that they’re added in the hard mode switch for people that want more of a challenge, but the rewards just seem… meh.

If they’re going to make raiding more accessible, I think they should create a complete tier set of badge gear and a separate, better tier of gear that can be gained from raiding – and I don’t mean a simple upgrade to the badge gear, I mean a different look… not just flipping the color of the gem in my shoulder armor from yellow to green either.

Do it.

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.