We interupt these services… Monday, Oct 5 2009 

I’ve been pretty happy with the growth of this blog. As vanity projects go, it’s been fun. And while we’re not talking thousands of visitors each day, I’m proud of the growth this blog has experienced.

While I make no claim to being anything but an “enthusiastic amateur”, I hope some of my thoughts have been interesting to those concerned with all things MMO.

I’ll be taking a AFK break for the next week with Real Life projects. Thanks for stopping by and reading.

Cheers,
Augustine

Aion Goldfarmers: the sequel Saturday, Oct 3 2009 

Credit where credit is due.

Aion’s GM Silverfang replies and lets me know the bot/gold farmer account has been banned. Fast response… OK, my nerd rage could have been tempered somewhat. Still, a simple tool like the one Blizzard implemented would make it easier for players to help the developers police gold farmers.

A timely response.... nice work NC Soft!

A timely response.... nice work NC Soft!

Having said that, full marks for Aion’s community management team!

Aion Goldfarmers: let us police them NC Soft Saturday, Oct 3 2009 

My ticket on left, bloody gold farmer on right... take that!

My ticket on left, bloody gold farmer on right... take that!

So far my time in Aion has been terrific. I’m really enjoying the starter zones for both the Elyos and Asmodians. But there is a little black cloud hovering over Atreia’s horizon… gold farmers have descended on Aion like a plague of spamming/whispering locusts.

The chat channels have been rendered useless thanks to the gold farmers. I’ve also received numerous “whispers” from farmers.

Gahhhhhh! Bloody gold farmers!

Sure, I blocked their names and even reported one by using the in-game ticketing system. But letting gold farmers sit in a trade channel and nuke it with spam FOR HOURS is f**kin ridiculous. Come on NC Soft, there are plenty of ways to restrict their actitivities!

Take a leaf from Blizzard’s book: they understand how a players experience can be ruined by gold farmes.

Blizzard gives their WoW players a simple tool to help police these buggers. While in-game, I can select on a gold farmers toon, right click and select a “Report Spam” option. The moment a little gold farmer pops up in General or Trade Chat, I’m right clicking.

Allowing players to police gold farmers behaviour is a simple and powerful way to keep them under control.

Sure, gold farmers are a fact of life in MMOs… however at present they’re casting a dark cloud over the enjoyment of players such as myself.

Phew, there’s today’s quota of nerd rage.

The legacy of WAR: a former player’s eulogy Thursday, Oct 1 2009 

After the battle, when all is said and done...

After the battle, when all is said and done...

 “But here I am to speak what I do know…” ~ Marc Antony, Julius Caesar

I cancelled my subscription to Warhammer: Age of Reckoning last week.

It saddened me to do so, as it’s not a bad game. Aspects of it approach true greatness: Open Realm versus Realm (ORvR) combat where parties of Order and Destruction slugged it out was always thrilling. Sure, keep fights where repetitive and the PvE game was open to charges of being monotonous and boring.

However, I found the range of WAR’s classes interesting and enjoyed the games art work and aesthetics. I’d rather not slate the game, I think WAR has been subject to enough trash talk on the interwebz.

When people talk about failed MMOs they mention WAR and Age of Conan in the same breath. The less charitable compare it to such notable failures as Vanguard and Tabla Rosa. But I’m not here to do that. After all, I invested a lot of time and energy in the game. I don’t see that as wasted effort.

I had a lot of fun in WAR, and have some great memories of the game. If I’m going to make one, final dedicated post to Warhammer: Age of Reckoning I’d rather do it out of respect. Respect for the hard work of developers. No doubt they sacrificed years of their lives. Also, respect for what is still a solid, though flawed, MMO.

Did the game fail? Yes, even EA/Mythic employees are talking about it’s major shortcomings and referring to it as a “magnificent failure”.

Still, let us speak fondly of a game that was once held to be a challenger to “The MMO that shall not be named”.

I come to praise WAR, not bury it.

I would rather pay tribute to WAR then condemn it. This, my eulogy, will praise the legacy of WAR…

Public Quests

A notable innovation, the public quest (PQ) allowed players to easily group and take on elite level MOBs and gain higher level gear and rewards. Players could simply open the “looking for group” window and join a group anywhere in a zone. Starting a PG group was just easy, and removed the need to constantly spam the open chat channels for party members.

This mechanic easily encouraged grouping, and as the groups numbers grew you would often convert the group into a “Warband”. Then the fun really started, as you and your little army went off to hunt enemy and capture strategic points in the ORvR areas. No doubt PQs will become a standard in many MMOs over the coming years, and can be rightly stated as true innovation.

Introducing PvP to a broader audience

Many gamers have become accustomed to the PvE tread mill: click NPC, get quest to kill ten rats, kill ten rats, come back and get rewards. Repeat for several years. Players were ripe for a change, and they looked to WAR for a different experience. After all WAR advertised itself as “the player versus player” experience: no doubt many flocked to WAR’s banner because of this very promise.

Fighting a MOB with scripted moves is one thing. PvP players know taking on another player is a thrilling challenge. WoW’s PvP is rather dull in comparison, restricted to Battle Grounds and a few open areas (Wintergrasp). I’ve never felt the same sense of danger or anticipation in WoW’s PvP than I did in WAR. No doubt the interest Aion has a lot to do with it’s PvP aspects. Thanks to WAR, many formally PvE centric players have had a taste of PvP and are keen to experience it in greater doses.

How to manage pre-launch expectations

It’s fair to say that pre-release, WAR was subject to enormous hype. Viz, Mark Jacobs very public statements, the bold claims made for it’s success and how WAR was going to take on WoW. In the months leading up to WARs release, I like many other players where *pumped*.

However, the games infamous post-launch issues dashed the hopes and dreams of many gamers. It was if there was a great disturbance in the MMOsphere and hundreds of thousands of gamers cried out in frustration all at once.

In contrast, witness NC Soft’s low-balling of expectationshas with the Aion launch. They’ve tried hard to walk the tight rope of building awareness and anticipation for Aion while not setting themselves up for massive failure. Mythic as taught the industry a valuable lesson: be careful what you say pre-launch.

Oh, and Blizzard will face stomp you if you dare try to take a shot at their crown.

Community engagement

Despite the often acrimonious relationship between Mythic and it’s player base, one could never fault the companies commitment to engaging and communicating with the WAR community. Even as a casual player, I had a good sense of the direction of the game and how issues where being resolved thanks to the frequent communication from Mythic. It sets a benchmark for other companies, and Mythic should be applauded for setting new standards of engagement with it’s player base.

Focus on polish

WAR was not polished enough at launch. The rough, unfinished Tier 4 and endgame experience dissapointed most players who got there. Bugs riddled the game, leading to almost daily hot fixes by Mythic during the first few months. The client would often crash, and server performance was subject to the ire of many players. In contrast, Aion has offered a relatively smooth launch experience. Despite the long server queues that some have experienced (at worst I’ve had a ten minute wait) there has almost no QQ about client/server performance. The game is relatively bug-free and runs smoothly.

Hopefully, developers will learn from WARs post-launch blues and ship a quality, polished product and not hope players will “stick it out” for a few months unit they get it right.

They first few months are when players such as myself are evaluating the game and deciding whether or not we’re going to maintain our subscriptions. Treat us well at the beggining, and we might just stick around.

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”?

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