Spotted in Aion: celebrity sightings Tuesday, Sep 29 2009 

I’ve frequently mentioned the depth of the character customisation tools of Aion and the power it gives the player to create a unique Avatar. Combine these tools with a great sense of humor and you get some interesting results. Viz, the profusion of toons named after a players favorite “actor” or performer.

So, I present Spotted in Aion, a round up of the rich and famous of the entertainment industry currently playing Asmodians.

Thriller?

Thriller?

Does this count as an official Michael Jackson sighting? I’ve heard his ghost is haunting Neverland… but Aion? Anyhoo, welcome Michael. Can we expect a world tour of Atreia?

I've never seen one of her movies, honest!

I've never seen one of her movies, honest!

American “actress” Jenna Jameson has also been spotted in Aion. I think Machinima is about to take off in a whole different direction…

"What you talkin' about..."

"What you talkin' about..."

Yes, that’s right. Gary Coleman. A diminutive one foot tool Scout with an Affro. Don’t mess with him. He’s tiny, angry and armed with two very sharp knives.

Aion versus “The MMO that shall not be named” Tuesday, Sep 29 2009 

"Go on say it biatch! My MMO is the best!"

"Go on say it biatch! My MMO is the best!"

It’s fascinating when a new MMO drops and witnessing the ensuring controversy, blog commentary and inevitable comparisons to “The MMO that shall not be named” (TMMOTSNBN is a mouth full, so lets shorten it to “The Unnameable MMO” or UMMO for short).

Yes kiddies I’m talking about the supposed battle between World of Warcraft and Aion. But let’s be honest: this isn’t a fight.

Aion is aiming for the number two spot of Western MMOs. Why? Because they’ve seen plenty of other MMOs try and fail.

Fight! Fight! Fight!

If it was a cage fight – UMMO vs Aion – we know who’d win. UMMO is in a different class all together. It’s too big, too powerful and has the subscribers and resources to take on anyone and anything. UMMO has a punch that will knock down the most confident of challengers.

Just ask Mythic. They’re still on the mat, dazed, groggy and punch drunk long after the referee has finished counting, the crowds have gone home and the stadium lights have been turned off.

But the comparisons made by bloggers, players and forum trolls will continue for weeks, if not months. The most anticipated event after Aion’s release will not be the announcement of a new expansion, but when NC Soft releases subscriber figures for Aion. It is then that the interwebz will pronounce Aion a success or failure.

For the moment we’ll have to put up with the simplistic comparisons. We Fly Spitfires notes how the General Chat in Aion is dominated by WoW/Aion comparisons:

“Aion has a pretty lively General Chat channel on my server and one of the topics that seems to crop up on a regular occasion is World of Warcraft. Usually it’s initiated by someone saying something like “Aion is way better than WoW”, “go back and play WoW”, “WoW is for care bears” or the witty “WoW sucks”. Suffice to say it’s enough to cause a storm in the chat channel as the few people who actually seem to like Warcraft try stick up for it against vast, insurmountable odds. It seems like everyone’s a WoW hater these days. I guess it’s no surprise considering how WoW has so few subscribers compared to the other MMORPGs out there. Oh wait…”

It was exactly the same on my server. It was also noted by the store assistant when picked up my collectors edition: “I’ve heard great things about this game, it’s supposed to give WoW a run for it’s money!”

Well, it’s good that Aion has great word of mouth. But I’m not sure the UMMO/Aion comparisons helps. Bottom line: it’s far too early to tell. Well get a true picture of the game once a sufficient number of players reach the “end game” and there’s been time to reflect.

Aion: the case for cautious optimism

Wall of Text makes a great point, noting time is needed to judge a MMO. I have to agree:

“The moral of the story is to temper your enthusiasm about a game until you’ve experienced more of it. A lot more of it. Just a dose of reality for those enamoured with Aion, Fallen Earth, or even Champions Online right now. Give it time before singing its praises, you could end up eating your words…”

Right now I’m enjoying Aion. Graphically it’s a stunning game. I don’t think this is too controversial a point to make. However it’s still too early to say much else.

Presently I’m playing both a Scout and Warrior – both of whom are about to “ascend”. I’ve not decided on which will be my main: I’m experimenting, testing the mechanics of each class and deciding which play style I enjoy more.

However I’m not prepared to claim Aion “Worlds Best MMO!”.

Instead I’m cautiously optimistic. I think it’s an enjoyable game, well produced and with great “polish”.

That does not mean I’m about to cancel my WoW sub. I’m too deep into the end game to simply give up. Aion gives me variety. How far I go into Aion will depend on how much I personally enjoy the game.

My recent travels through out the MMO world have convinced me that most games have their strengths and their inevitable weaknesses.

The moral of the story? MMOs come in different flavours: it’s a question of personal taste which one you enjoy most.

Aion: five tips for new players Monday, Sep 28 2009 

Character customisation: go nuts!

Character customisation

Character customisation

Aion’s character creation tools are simply wondrous. Since stepping into Atreia I’ve been amazed by the variety of avatars players have created. I’ve seen diminutive one foot tall warriors, eight foot tall, muscle-bound hulking sorcerers, pixie-like Chanters, bird-like avatars, sultry Amazonian Priests, dashing Scouts and everything else in between. It’s a riot of colours, hairstyles, body shapes and names. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the look of your toon.

I strongly encourage you to explore all the tools, options and styles available in character customisation. Individuality in MMOs is a rare thing: take the time to create an avatar that is just right for you.

X marks the spot: use the dictionary

Use the dictionary function

Use the dictionary function

The Dictionary is a handy in-built feature and will make intuitive sense to you if used to add-ons like quest helper in Warcraft. When reviewing your quest log you’ll note that some of the words in the text descriptions appear in blue: as expected these are hyperlinks.

Quest objectives can be easily located

Quest objectives can be easily located

Clicking on these will open up a small window providing more detail on the item, monster, location or NPC. You’ll also note there is a “Locate option”. Click on that, and the Map will open with a small purple X indicating where you’ll find the item/MOB in question.

The dictionary acts like a “mini wiki” within the game: it’s great as you don’t have to Alt-Tab out to a third party site to look up locations or descriptions.

Heal thyself: comma and bandages for rapid healing

Bandages: actually do something

Bandages: actually do something

Compared to say WoW, combat is slower in Aion: MOBs hit hard and they’ll take down a fair percentage of your health points (HP) if you not paying attention. Fortunately you can rapidly regain HP through resting and the use of bandages. After a fight hit the comma (,) key to rest your character. They’ll sit for a few moments, allowing HP/mana to rapidly regenerate. Alternatively you can use bandages. The good news is bandages seem to be an effective tool for healing. They’ll regenerate most of your health, have a very fast cool down and can be purchased cheaply from NPCs (50 kinah is typical for a stack of 50).

This is great for my Scout, a melee DPS class. They hit hard, but wear leather and can sometimes take a fair bit of damage – especially if I attempt to fight multiple MOBs. Fortunately down time for regenerating HP is not long, resulting in very little down time.

Buy and sell: jump into the economy early

What ever your selling, I'm buying

What ever your selling, I'm buying

It’s about the economy people!

The economic system of a MMO is critical in bringing people together. Aion does this really well by allowing players to set up their own stores anywhere. Frequently you’ll find players have set up little stalls around quest hubs: take the time to check out what they’re selling. More often than not you’ll pick up a great armour upgrade for very little.

To browse a player’s store simply walk up to them and click: a window will opening listing all the items and their sale prices. Alternatively, set up your own store!

Don’t make the mistake of vendoring all the trash or items you can’t use. Green quality armour and weapons drop frequently from MOBs so put these aside for the moment until you can sell them.

Often you’ll find five or six players selling items: check out each store for the best bargains. I upgraded my armour to mostly “green” quality items in a few minutes by using the player run stores for very little kinah.

Allowing players to set up their own stores turns quest hubs into thriving markets.

Don’t race to level cap: enjoy the trip!
Last, but not least, please don’t race to level cap! Take the time to enjoy the scenery and art-work. Aion is a beautiful game, and if you’re an explorer saviour the incredible vista’s Aion has to offer. I’ve not enjoyed levelling a character this much in a long time. Sure the quests are standard “kill ten rats”, but reading the quests text and exploring has been immensely enjoyable.

If you’re an existing (or ex) WoW player, you’ve been trained to power level all the way to 80. Put that habit to one side and enjoy the levelling process once again.

Aion: award for most beautiful game world Sunday, Sep 27 2009 

Visually, stunning.  

Look Ma! I can fly!

Look Ma! I can fly!

 

I’ve spent much of my game time in Aion this weekend. There’s a lot to comment upon, but at this point all I can say this is simply the most beautiful game world I’ve experienced. The artwork, design, landscapes and environmental effects are second to none.

I’ve played at least six MMOs in the last year, and Aion is by far the most visually stunning. If you’re playing, or interested make sure you take the time to explore and relish the visuals.

Is there depth to this game? That’s a good question. I’ve only just scratched the surface. I’m playing multiple alts, trying them out to see what feels comfortable.

Alt crazy: and why wouldn’t I be?

Without doubt, the avatar models are simply gorgeous. Thanks to the powerful character creation tools the “toon” you create will be unique. I’ve probably spent as much time creating characters as playing the game.

I’ve created two Elyos alts. Severen, a Warrior who I’m thinking about making a tank…

A career in tanking?

A career in tanking?

…and Aigiline, a priest. Perhaps a Healer:

Or even healing?

Or even healing?

Of course, I’ve had to create Asmodian alts as well. Severan’s evil twin, another warrior:

Brooding and blue

Brooding and blue

And Lokee, a Scout (i.e  rogue) who I’ve already gotten to level eight:

Have swords, will travel

Have swords, will travel

I’m taking my time in Aion, I don’t want to level too fast. I want to saviour the experience.

Aion Friday, Sep 25 2009 

Meet Severen, Aion Warrior

Meet Severen, Aion Warrior

Loaded last night onto PC. Logged in 6am this morning and created character.

My first impressions? Character customisation: amazing.

Created a Asmodian Warrior, planning to make him a Gladiator (DPS melee).  Got him to level three within the first half hour.

Visuals: stunning.

I’m intrigued…

Guild mate: defining a new form of relationship Friday, Sep 25 2009 

What do the following words conjure:

Friend, spouse, lover, workmate, team-mate, colleague, buddy, father, mother, mentor, partner, husband, wife, grandmother, son, daughter, uncle, aunt, mate, nephew, niece…

We know what these words signify: forms of relationships. We know intuitively what it means when someone describes another person as “a friend”, “their husband” or “my son”.

The very use of those words conjure expectations about the nature of those relationships. Parents should be loving, workmates professional and team orientated and friends should be interested in your life.

In some ways we are defined by our relationships to others. We draw identity from being a “good father” or a by being a “supportive friend”.

The phrase, no man is an island is very much true. We thrive when we feel part of a group or a community. Evolution shaped us in this manner. We all crave, need and desire interaction with others. It what makes us human.

But what does this mean in the context of online gaming?

Social networks: the foundation of all MMOs

Instinctively we search out relationships and communities when we enter virtual worlds such as WoW, Aion and WAR. These virtual communities are fuelled by our ancient, instinctive desire to group and share our experiences with others.

The basic unit of social organisation is “the guild”, a collective of players who agree to group, share resources and form a community of interest. Guilds are made of “guild mates”, players form an association very much like the medieval guilds of old.

But what do you call the people you play with, and how do you characterise your relationship to them?

Defining the relationship is important, as it sets your expectations. You know what you expect from your spouse. But what do you expect from your guild mate?

What’s in a name

Well, let’s start with definitions. I searched the internet for a definition of the term “guild mate” but could not find one.

So, I thought I’d create one myself:

Guild mate (noun)

1. An individual member of an association of players in a massively online game (MMO).
2. An individual within an MMO you frequently play/group with.
3. A person with shared interest in online gaming who a player frequently interacts with.

Variations: guild member(s), guildie(s).

I think that’s about right.

Guildmates are very much like sporting team-mates.

You have a shared interest, or passion in a particular MMO. You frequently group to run dungeons or complete quests. What do you value in your guild mates? For me it’s skill, communication and respect.

However, it’s important to remember guild mates are not (always) friends. You can spend years grouping with some one and not know anything about their life. You may not even know their real name, just their avatars handle.

Are these relationships real?

Yes, as real as any others I’ve listed above. But they’re new form of relationship, peculiar to the internet age. A person can be a guild mate for a few weeks, months or years. But what links you is the interest in the game.

The term “guild mate” characterises a new form of relationship spawned from the world of online gaming.  

With time, a guild mate may become a friend. If not, don’t worry. 

What’s important is enjoying the shared experience of running Naxxramas in WoW and flipping a Keep in WAR.

So, what do you guys think? What are your expectations for your “guild mates”?

Tasty MMO goodness! Thursday, Sep 24 2009 

There are days when I just love the playing MMOs. Yesterday was one of them.

I collapsed into bed well after midnight feeling warm and fuzzy about all things MMO last night. Two things made it a great day…

Aion: got the box

Firstly, I picked up my collectors edition of Aion. It’s pretty and has a cool figurine.

I’m going to wait a week until the usual launch issues of server queues and connection issues shake themselves out. I’m not too concerned about what I’ve read in other blogs… I’ll wait to see myself.

Being a proud MMO tourist I have no issue in dipping my toe into Aion’s waters to see if I like the game.  However Aion is not front of mind at present… especially since my WoW Group finally cleared Naxxramas last night!

Woot!

The Fall of Naxxramas

It’s taken nearly two months and a lot of hard work, but our group finally cleared Naxxramas last night. We took down the final boss just before midnight. The feeling of the group was ecstatic. I feel I’ve passed an important MMO milestone: clearing and endgame instance. 

It’s only been in the last few weeks that the group line up become solid. Once we had the right players we started breezing though content. The tanks, well tanked. The healers, healed. The DPS did some serious damage. Our co-ordination was great. We worked as a group with a common interest. We also had a lot of fun as well.

This is what can make WoW’s end game so enjoyable.

Sapp was one shotted. Damn we were pretty pleased with ourselves:

One shot

Not so tough now eh?

Kel’Thuzad we took down on the third attempt. Massive cheers and clapping could be heard over Vent.

Up popped the achievements and “Gratz” flowed in from the guild.

I also picked up two more Tier 7 pieces last night, so I’m feeling pretty special. OK, they’re Tier 7 and item level 200 (For non-WoW players you can get Tier 9 sets). 

Sure, there’s better gear out there… but I look hawt!

I love the smell of victory...

I look like a professional raider now.

It also means I’ve made the final graduation from casual  to serious raider. With Naxx under my belt I’m ready to move onto Ulduar.

It was only in late July that I entered the world of raiding. All the research, collecting gear, working on building a team worthy of the challenge… it all paid off.

What I felt last night was enormous satisfaction. Sure, killing a dragon in an MMO does not change the world. But everyone in the group felt a real sense of accomplishment.

This is why I play games such as WoW: for the shared experience. Ten people who would otherwise be strangers get together and set out to achieve a goal.

Naxxramas is the perfect level entry raid dungeon. Ulduar may test the group in other ways, but I’m confident we’re up to the challenge.

By the time Patch 3.3 hits, this group just might be ready to take on Arthus.

A Tale of Two Paladins Part Three: Combat Mechanics Tuesday, Sep 22 2009 

Combat: a significant difference

Before moving on to quests and exploring the worlds of DDO and WoW it’s worth examining their respective combat systems. If there is a real point of difference, it’s DDO Active Combat System (ACS) versus WoW tab-target auto-attack for paladins.

Active Combat System: DDO’s tactical approach to battles

Swing, miss! And there's the D20 dice!!!!

Swing, miss! And there's the D&D dice!

It’s with combat that we see a real difference between WoW and DDO.

DDO utilises what it calls the “Active Combat System”. Combat happens in real time, and is dependent on your ability to actually aim your sword at the enemy MOB. Indeed, DDO combat reminds me of the same mechanics as a first-person-shooter: there is a small red circle indicating where you attacks are aimed.

In order to swing you weapon you have to click the left mouse-butto and be in range of them.  Combat involves a lot of clicking: you will miss a lot. Enemies can block your attack and will frequently move out of the range of your sword blows. Often you end up chasing them to deliver a final, killing blow.

As a nice touch, the famous twenty sided dice (the D20) can be seen rolling in the bottom right of the screen indicating your “hit roll”. Pen and paper of old players rejoice!

Combat in DDO is fluid and dynamic, as MOBs dance and jump away from your sword. Situational awareness is crucial: when fighting more than one MOB you often need to decide on taking down the monster wailing on you or running over to take out that pesky caster throwing damage your way. You also need to be careful taking on multiple MOBs when soloing.

I rather enjoyed the choatic, free-flowing feel of the combat. It’s like being an old 1930’s Errol Flynn film where you chase the enemies around a room wildly flinging your weapon at them.

It’s also a lot of fun.

  • Advantages: tactical combat that is interesting and skills based, therefore more of a challenge.
  • Disadvantages: it can take some getting used too, especially if you are used to conventional MMO combat systems.
  • Rating: 4/5

Warcraft’s Tab-Target approach: familiar MMO territory

Die magic eel!

Die magic eel!

We’re in safe and familiar territory with the WoW combat system: target your MOB by either clicking on them or hitting the Tab key; pull them with a spell or get within aggro range; let auto-attack do the work and cycle through your abilities in the Action Bar; watch your health so you don’t die; rinse and repeat. Abilities will be subject to cool downs: manage these as best you can.

MOBs in WoW are suicidally stupid. I mean, really, really stupid.  They will run up to you and stand there until they die. Occasionally humanoid MOBs may try and run away. Unlike DDO’s MOBs who jump around and try to avoid being killed, MOBs in Warcraft have a death wish.

Knowing what your abilities do is obviously helpful, so take the time to learn these. As you level you will get more offensive spells (Judgements etc.) and buffs that will enhance your defence or attack capabilities.

Situational awareness plays a small part in combat, at least in the early parts of the game. For a plate-wearing melee class it’s enough to simply walk up to a few MOBs, throw a Judgement of Light spell on them and whack, whack, whack.

The combat animations and sound effects are themselves interesting: and they have to be. You don’t actually need to pay much attention to the combat on the screen, unlike DDO when a MOB can dance out of range of your sword.

WoW combat is about managing your cool downs and your health.

  • Advantages: it’s simple, it works and anyone can master the WoW combat system.
  • Disadvantages: no real disadvantages to WoW’s combat system, except that it lacks any excitement. This is especially the case at the lower levels, where the lack of offensive spells and abilities for the Paladins mean you’re almost completely reliant on auto-attack.
  • Rating: 3/5

Achievements in WoW: a tool for discrimination? Monday, Sep 21 2009 

Achievements in WoW are often cited as being fluff: somewhat worthless and having little impact on the game. At best, they can reward the player with titles and mounts. Some have become notorious for their impact on player behaviour.

Viz the “What a long, strange trip it has been” meta-achievement. Completing all WoW holiday related achievements will reward the player with a Violet Proto-Drake, a rare flying mount with 310% speed.

How Blizzard created and manages the achievement has been controversial… still players have some choice in pursuing “What a long, strange trip.” I’d like the Drake, but I hate WoW holidays.

But have achievements had any other impact on the game? From what I’ve observed: yes.

The impact on PuGs: the new discrimination

Achievements are subtly changing the end game experience, especially when it comes to a players ability to jump into Pick up Groups (PuGs).

Groups now use two benchmarks to filter out players: gear and achievements. It’s now common to ask prospective party members to link a instance/raid achievement as proof of their ability to run it.

Previously, you could only trust the word of the potential PuG member if they’d run a particular instance/raid. Achievements provide proof. Thus, more and more I see the following “Looking for Member” (LFM) spams in the general channels:

LFM H 25 man VoA must link achievement…
LFM heals/tank 25 Naxx must link achievement…
LFM H ToC must link achievement…

It seems to be a real issue with Vault of Archavon groups: once a a faction takes control of Wintergrasp they can run VoA. Who you get in your party can be a real mix.

PuGing does has it’s risks. It’s great when you find a really good tank or healer. It’s disastrous if you get the Huntard, Deathnoob, Ninja Looter and Offensive Jerk.

Achievements offer groups a somewhat legitimate way to sort the wheat from the chaff.  But PuGs are a great way to meet new players, pick up recruits for your guild and fill otherwise empty raid/instance spots.

Now,  I’m a fan of the PuG. Over the last few months, my Naxx group had to PuG empty spots. Doing so has allowed us to recruit some great members, and my Friends list is much expanded.

A vicious circle?

To be honest, I’m in two minds about this development. Having run a raid group, and relied on PuG’s I can see the sense in asking players to link their achievement. But a reliance on achievements as a measure of effectiveness may disadvantage catergories of WoW players:

  • The newly capped level 80 wanting to make the transition to endgame raiding and running Heroic instances
  • The player not part of the large guild that does not have regular raids or instance runs

Some members of my guild – both good players and reasonably equipped – have noted they can’t get into VoA groups because of very strict gear and achievement requirements. These are players with substantial Naxx, Heroic and grouping experience.

It’ creates a vicious circle: it’s hard to get the Achievement if you don’t have it.

Gawd, two months ago I’d barely grouped let alone stepped into Naxx or VoA. If I didn’t have a large enough – and supportive – guild, I’d have little chance of meeting the requirements for some of these groups.

So another subtle form of discrimination has entered WoW: you’re judged on both your gear and achievements. If your the casual player looking to run endgame content, or someone in a small guild, you might just find it that much harder to be accepted into PuGs.

Things fall into place Friday, Sep 18 2009 

Last Thursday’s Naxx run was perhaps the groups best.The infamous Four Hoursemen went down, one shotted actually. The week prior we repeatedly wiped in them. This week, things fell into place. We went from this:

OK, let's try that again...

OK, let's try that again...

To this kind of run:

... now that's better!

... now that's better!

Two quarters cleared in the run, not a single wipe. All the bosses one shotted. I also managed to collect my first piece of The Hero’s Redemption set. Yep, my very first piece of tiered gear! A personal milestone: a few months into raiding and it’s starting to really jell. After nearly eight weeks of learning how to group, swapping individual team members in and out we finally hit our grove. And damn it felt good!

The group agreed to lock out the raid: next week we’re aiming to take on the final bosses of Naxxramas.

Next Page »