Thursday, March 12, 2015

Joel is no longer master of it all!

It seems like yesterday when someone from Funcom dropped a hot tip in the comments saying "Everything is true, Joel is "the master of all" now.."


Now, almost 2 years later Joel Bylos drops unexpected news on us in latest AOC dev letter.

Game Director gave us some hints about him stepping down from his current position:



I'll chip in a bit.
I haven't died guys, and I haven't left Funcom.
I've been asked to work on something that is super exciting and totally not something I am allowed to talk about, and the time commitment means that I can't keep up my duties on TSW and AoC (AO I have been mostly advisory for a while anyway).
But I am still right here. The entire roadmap we went over in the US is based on my planned outline for the game going forward (yes I still have plans through Issue #24 or so). I'm a message/call away for Tilty and Scriv and work aside, we're pretty good mates so I will be talking to them regardless. I'll also be playing the content and sending my feedback to the team.
I just can't keep up with the day-to-days of TSW and AoC while doing this other thing - it's more work than one person can do. TSW has been going from strength to strength lately - all of the live games have - and my moving off is actually more of a consequence of that success.
And while they need to change my forum tag to a retired tag, I am still going to pop in and post. They can't stop me (actually they can, but please don't Tomium)
See the source.

This reads like either "Funcom has a new project and JB is going to handle it" or "Lego MMO is tanking and I am supposed to save it and sound excited at the same time". I find JayBe to be very genuine so I am assuming that indeed Funcom has something new going for them and Joel is the right man for the job. I think a lot will be revealed in FC's Q1 report which is due soon.

Joel Bylos had 2 years to tackle AOC and here is how I would grade his performance:

8 out of 10

Right off the bat: Joel didn't have a huge team or budget. It is hard to do extraordinary things without extraordinary money. It is just that simple. If I had to point to strongest points of his regin as Game Director it would be this:

Improving existing content, quality control, bug fixes
I always hated how old content in AOC, even when obviously messed up, was left there to rot (I am looking at you Bori!). Joel had a clear vision of refining existing stuff and a clear example of this are World Bosses. This content was already popular, but Joel and the team tinkered with it some more and made it great. Obvious bugs and flaws were very quickly adressed (like guards and criminal debuffs in Pvp daily zones) and bad systems are due for a revamp (like a notification system which is badly needed for things like PvP events).

Being ready to back down from previous decision
Joel displayed many times that he can drop some idea on the community, listen to the feedback and then decide to change his stance. Unchained PvP Revamps and The Great Hyborian Race are good examples of that. Both were a horrible ideas and when asked about them Joel was ready to admit that it might not be best content to throw money at. Same goes for pvp systems: at first Joel said NO to even simple pvp weapons stats changes and then gave as a full blown pvp items revamp.

Nailing it 
With his limited time and resources Joel made few good decisions that paid off immensely: achievements, loot Progression in Tier 5 raids and T5 unchained raid. Not many truly believed in achievements to have any meaningful impact on AOC and yet here we are with boards full of achievements related posts and Tortage filled with new and returning players. New raid, while totally a re-used content, was badly needed to keep the raiding hordes of Crom in the game while waiting for T6 Palace update.Changes to the T5 itemization where great for two reasons: those open new possibilities for the future loot updates (legendary cloak is a good example of that) and it terms of power it has little effect on PvPers.  

So why 8 out of 10?

Joel Bylos, unlike many AOC forum posters, is not perfect. I have few grudges:

Not adressing group pvp issues
While the team did a lot of the pvpers the main woe remains: pvp minigames are still "solo" pvp content that you play with random strangers over and over again. Pvp streak system seemed like a perfect opportunity to bring back Tournament mode and it was even mentioned in directors letter. For some reason the team backed down from this design and never really mentioned it again. The added new pvp stat that counts minigames left is a pille of mess that counts the amount of bugs players encountered rather than actually games they abandoned.   In Joels defence I have to mention that he did change his stance on PvP Arenas, but we don't know how that is going to turn out.

Cash shop taken to the extreme
The cash shop updates for AOC were horrible money grabs. Don't get me wrong, the game needs money and I am providing it for years now, but it just screams bad design when certain items are real cash only. Everything should be available through content event is reserved only for premium players. Prime examples are chests that expand your inventory. Why can't we get the from just playing the game? It is "pay us not to get screwed overy by obviously flawed inventory system" type of message.
Indemnity consumables are even more atrocious: it is an item that you consume in order to prevent your pvp streak quest from failing when you lose a minigame. Ideminty protects the player not only from more skilled opponents but also from AOC bugs (like server kick, being CCed under the map, joining minigame with cowards shame debuff) which are there, ready to mess up your streak.The problem is that indemnity is a cash shop exclusive and it is another example of "pay us not to get screwed over by both the bugs and random people we are forcing you to play with".

Lore fail
I simply can't stomach lore behind the pvp events. The very idea of picts just chilling in major cities all over Hyboria gives me a nerd rage debuff.



The story is bogus and it doesnt make any sense (and BTW the story in a nut shell is: "we are doing the events so we get to hang out where we want, but don't worry, we are kinda good picts").
Anyone that have read the original REH Conan stories will know that it's against the lore.

It was Arus, a priest of Mitra, that brought Picts into contact with Aquilonia.

"Picts now came and went freely into Aquilonia, under safe-conduct, and
they returned with more information as to armor-forging and sword-
making. More, they entered Aquilonia's mercenary armies"
 
- REH, The Hyborian Age

The only problem is that happened for the first time about 500 years after the events shown in Age of Conan.The story in the pvp event is poorly written. It is actually the first time I have seen AOC treat cannon lore badly.


So there you have it folks! Joel Bylos, overall, did very well and I am sure he is the right man for whatever new project Funcom is cooking up. 


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Achievment unlocked!

 Achievements are in the Age of Conan as of now and I am all in. As always I want to give you my personal take on it and I want to make that clear because achievements mean veeeeeeeeery different things for different players. More so even if I am pumped for achieves in AOC I couldn't care less about them in other MMOs.

Why?

I am at "mastery phase" in AOC and very much at "you suck noob phase" in other MMOs (which I don't play, just dabble with from time to time).

I don't think achievements are content per se. If someone left AOC because of lack of content this update is not substantial enough to give them a solid reason to re-sub. For people like me, AOC veterans, achievements is a perfect desert. For new players achievements are a side-dish. For people in between? I am a bit lost in my food analogies so I will just say that it might not be for them. 

I am very much stuck in a same place for far too long now. Are achievements addressing that? No. Achievements are a neat distraction, they provide just that little bit of gratification necessary for me to actually enjoy re-running 7 year old Villa content (which I haven't done since... patch 1.6?). I had like a 10 minutes this morning so I fired up AOC and completed some old old Tortage quest for achievement. I got the kick out of reading lore bits (Pool of the Black ones implementation in AOC is jaw dropping), I got achievement and loged off. I enjoyed it.You could argue that I could have gone back to Tortage questing any time I wanted and that it provides ZERO challenge and that is true, but I guess achievements is that special sauce that makes everything taste better. That or it might be pure EGO thing. Whatever rocks your boat, achievements work for me.

 I don't want to give achievements too much credit or make it sound like FC all of sudden re-invented the wheel and turned MMO industry upside down. Not by a long shot, but when to comes down to clost-to-fun ratio I will say that I was a good idea to dedicate resources to achievement system. There are some hick-ups like awarding certain achievements retroactively to seasoned players (I prefer hick-ups over "screw you guys, want all achievements? Reroll!"), but overall I think its well made. The UI looks a bit out of place but then again most of UI elements were developed pre 2008 and quite honestly no post 2008 update that added new UI elements was able to fit them perefctly into existing interface. The UI is clean and usable which is all I need. If I had to complain about something it would be....rewards. The rewards are  mostly titles and teleports. I care little about titles and AOC already had WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY too many teleports. I was hoping for more social items like hair styles, tatoos, vanity armor - the works. I suppose it is the first iteration of achievement system so maybe the experience in the future be more ....rewarding. 

I am glad that my feedback regarding kill count in pvp got noticed, because at first top tier pvp kill achievement was ....5 000. Now it's 50.000 so if you are boasting "The Slaughterer" title like I do you really earned that. 

On a personal note I am trying not to get overwhelmed by the system and picked stuff that I want to do first. Going back to old zones to finish quests from 2008 and beyond gives me that nostalgic feel which I personally enjoy so I have decided to tackle zone mastery first. I was surprised to find how quests I have finished in each zone because back in 2008 I rushed to lvl 80 like there was no tomorrow. Good times.

The achievement system overall rewards my type of gaming which is focusing on one character. Since I don't care about account wide achievements I will get most of them eventually (saved for gems like "get all classes to pvp lvl 4", I ain't doing it). For those that have a lot of alts and on different servers there are two bad news: most achievements are NOT account wide and "account wide" does not mean "cross-server". Luckly that second issue is being addressed soon enough.

DeveloperCirithGorgor's Avatar

Funcom

Quote Originally Posted by Norther View Post
Account wide achievements are not account wide, but server wide. Any plans for fixing that?
yes,
but as the achievement data is completely separated between servers it is not as easy as gaining the account wide achievement and then having it passed across immediately to the other server(s). The solution we have to go with is for these achievements to be credited across the servers during the weekly server restart. So you should first start seeing these being credited between servers after the downtime next week.
This of course only applies to 'account wide' achievements and the only scenario where this isn't instant is when it goes cross-server.

Last thing that I hope Funcom will address are bugs related to not being able to finish old quests (tons of feedback here). Nothing takes winds of out my sails than not being able to finish zone mastery achievement just because some Tortage quest is not finishable after beating the main story line.
Overall If I had to grade Funcom in this feature I would give it a solid 8/10. The foundation is there but the system as a whole still needs some kinks being ironed out. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

[Guide] Soul Shards

Since my pre 1.5 soul shard guide is out of date I have decided to re-do it and talk a bit about basics of soul shard management.

Soul Shards are located near your health bar and you can have no more than 5 of them at any given time. The Soul Fragment system has been changed as part of the Assassin changes in patch 1.6 and Assassins will regenerate Soul Fragments at a rate of 1 every 8 seconds.

Every skill that uses soul shards in any way have information about in it's description.

There are 5 different mechanics related to soul shards management and those are:
  1. spenders
  2. consumers
  3. generators
Spenders are those skills that won't work at all without required amount of soul shards available. Miasmas (face stab, lotus dart, soul strike) need as little as 1 shard, but CCs need 2, Lotus Pollen as much as 3 and Avatar/Lotus Overdose a whooping 4. Most of assassins skills are spenders so if you find yourself out of shards your options might be very limited even if none of your skills are on cool down.

Consumers are those skills that will only use up soul shards if those are present. Snap Kick for example will consume shard if you have one, but there are no benefits to using kick with a shard. On the other hand Death Whirlwind/grave blossom will use all soul shards that you have, but the more they can consume the harder those combos will hit.

Lastly there are generators. Crystallized Lotus Extract will grant you instant 3 soul shards while Necrotic Empowerment will give you 4, but over the period of 16 seconds. Castration perk (gained via Alternative Advancement) will grant you 2 soul shards on successful combo hit. Lastly soul corruption will speed up your passive soul shard generation, but in it's current form it is not worth any investment.

 Q&A:

Are there any benefit to spending/not spending your soul shards?
None. Soul shards don't provide any bonuses on their own. Think of then as currency that you use to "pay" to be able to use your stuff like CC. Anything close to soul shard related bonus are damage buffs to DWW/GB based on the amount of shards.

Why do assassins "pay" with soul shards for things that other classes have for free? (Fear/Stun).
Back in 1.6 CC worked differently: those were instant and you could effectively "stun lock" your target by chaining CCs together. Soul Shards were a system designed to limit assassins power.

How many generators do I need?
My stance on generators is that you need both Crystallized Lotus Extract and Necrotic Empowerment to be effective in both PVE and PVP

Should I spend my soul shards or conserve them?
It is very situational but my rule of thumb is spend, spend, spend and use Crystallized Lotus Extract and Necrotic Empowerment whenever the cool down has ended.




Sunday, December 28, 2014

1 year in review - 2014

Yet another Hyborian year has passed and it is time for my savage review. When you look at the list of things that were promised in 2013/2014 it will be pretty obvious that most of the stuff did not get delivered. On another hand new gear mechanics had to be introduced to add any new meaningful content to AOC. Lets see what was going on in Hyboria during those 12 months.



COMMUNITY MANAGMENT
  1. All Your Tomium Are Belong To Us
  2. [Forum Event] Epic Tales of Uncertainty - a forum game
  3. Halloween Streaming!
  4. Adventurers vs Kang - Hardmode! - youtube re-post
  5. Player Spotlight Rishis
  6. Forum re-design
I often give community managers a hard time because I feel like so so very little has been done over the years to really help AOC and it's community. I spilled my beans on that subject here. With an addition of new community manager I didn't expect for things to change drastically, but I gave the benefit of doubt. Without being an asshole about it the above list is what pretty much has been done for the community over 12 months. Epic Tales ended on a less than epic note. Halloween Streaming was two community managers giggling on Twitch and dieing on their low level characters. It was painful to watch as it was pretty obvious that community managers had little to no idea how to play the game. If someone expected insights about AOC, Q&A session with a dev or learning anything about the game then it was a big let down. I don't mind that "shits and giggles" approach to streaming once in a while IF it is a break from your regular streaming that has both purpose and content to offer. If just laughing your ass off for 2 hours on Twitch is the only thing you are going to do over 12 months then why even bother. We also had one youtube video re-post and one player spotlight. What was that about? Why even bother to do something once and then abandon it completely? I am not going to talk about forum re-design. I will just mention that old design was the best thing I have seen when it comes to MMO boards and I am saddened to see it gone. However if it was needed for technical reasons then be it, it's not that super important. Community management, again as always, resorted to posting server status and path notes with addition of Tomium offering a wide array of snarky comments to the players (which is less than welcomed and opposite to helful).

EVENTS
  1. Age of Conan's Sixth Anniversary!
  2. Age of Conan Halloween
Sixth Anniversary was a bit of a let down because of poor writing. The story was rushed, uninspiring and to make it worst it was used later on for PvP events lore. Halloween even was on the other hand very well put together and pretty much addressing ALL of my concerns about this type of content in AOC. Bonus points goes to Funcom for sticking with this new philosophy of adding something new to the events in every year. 

WORLD BOSSES
  1. added a buff which will give players amnesty against criminal/murder status
  2. The first kill of each month will now provide a new Portent Token which can be claimed on each of your characters.
  3. Portents spawning on the PvP servers now have lower health to compensate for the increased challenges provided by these locations. 
World Bosses are here to stay. While WBs are glorified, gigantic pinatas but no one can deny that it is a super popular content. The improvements to the WBs, especially addressing the problems on PvP servers (where sometimes it took more than 1 hour to take down bosss) made things a lot better.
I only wish that Funcom has went a diffrent route with WBs and instead using gigantic monsters they should have used armies and generals. Cutting through the ranks of Nemedians to kill their general would be, at least for me, a lot more epic than sticking my dagger in some fat, flying demon. This content is what it is and recent changes are appreciated.

ITEMIZATION
  1. Update to all PvP vendor weapons to have improved stats that should make them much more competitive in a PvP environment
  2. Stats have been redistributed on all tiers of PvP armor. Tier 3 PvP gear should now be of a similar standard to T4 raiding gear.
  3. New social items have been added to the Contraption Merchants for purchase using Conquest Trophies.
  4. New vendor offers unique new items in exchange for Victory Tokens.
  5. New mechanic in a form of Finesse hits,
  6. New mechanic in a form of set bonuses
  7. New mechanic in a form of item buffs
Even thou changes to existing pvp gear were deemed "very hard" by the Game Director later on we got awesome stats re-balance which resulted in closing the gap between T1 and T3 pvp gear and making T3 pvp gear more desirable for pvp than T4 pve gear. Great change! I did't enjoy pets this year. Pets, pets, pets, everything gives you pet reward. New pvp currency in a form of victory tokes can be spent pretty much on more pets. At very least  with the planned addition of solo arena all those pets are making sense now. The single most important addition to AOC this year were new gear mechanics which were needed for AOC to expand and provide future content. Developers have coded themselves into trap post 1.5 because with no stats cap item budgets could only gone up resulting in T4 gear making pretty much everything painfully obsolete. New mechanics are great for adding new items that are not simply a flat power upgrade and also set bonuses encourage mixing and matching between set pieces. Bonus points goes to Funcom for making finess hits a PVE exclusive and thus avoiding the age old issue of PVE gear being more valid for pvp. Check out more info on new mechanics here.

RAIDS
  1. changes to memory cloud, loot has been redistributed over to The Zodiac & Emperor Yah Chieng
  2. changes to Temple of Erlic T3.5 raid. At least 1 of the new weapon and accessory items are guaranteed to drop from each boss.Some bosses drop Dragon's Tears, rares, minipets or Phials of Heavenly Knowledge.
  3. All existing raid vendors now offer weapons and accessories for sale in exchange for their respective tokens.
  4. All existing raid vendors now offer weapons and accessories for sale in exchange for their respective tokens.
  5. A new vendor offers new unique mounts, social pets, and morph abilities in exchange for tokens from Tier 1 to Tier 3. This new vendor also offers an exchange for Simple Relic Is > Simple Relic IIs and Simple Relic IIs > Simple Relic IIIs.
  6. T5 unchained raids.

I am not much of a raider so I can offer a little insight about raid related changes. T5 raids are developers buying themselves more time in order to pump out T6. Adding T5 was a smart move because it was painfully obvious that T4 raid was .... raided to death (sorry for this bad pun) and PVE players were ready to move on (to another game most likely). T5 raid uses old bosses and raid zones but has new mechanics. I would call it a blatant attempt at stopping PVE population from leaving if it wasn't for the addition of gear with new mechanics.


PVP

  1. The contraption merchants now offer an exchange of Campaign Badges into Conquest Trophies.
  2. PvP Festival events
  3. Daily PvP Questing System
  4. White Sands Isle is now PvP Enabled on all PvP servers
  5. PvP Minigame streak system
  6. A new item, "Indemnity", has been added to act as insurance against a minigame loss
  7. Individual minigame statistics are now visible on the player info window. New statistic added in a form of minigames abandoned count.
PVP Festival turned to be something oh-not-so-hot (check my article here). Most of the veteran pvpers ignore daily quests and pvp festival as they have nothing to gain there and what is left are mostly alt farmers that are making the events into Bori 2.0. The event and daily pvp zones lack of proper UI solutions (on screen messages and whispers are lackluster and remind me of MUD games) and it's not even clear where the even/daily quest is taking place, players must go from zone to zone and discover it for themselves (hint: most don't even bother).
But events are what they are: cheap content delivered very fast and I cannot argue with the cost-to-quality ratio because, in all honesty, it still beats Bori by far. 
What I am very upset about are Minigame streak system and minigames abandoned count. Game Director promised that Minigame streak would be also made for tournament mode so to encourage group play in AOC. He didn't deliver on that promise. Furthermore minigame streak quest can be broken/failed not only by losing the game but also via abundance of bugs like server kick, or getting CCed under map. What is Funcom solution to that? New item called Indemnity which pretty much acts as insurance against losing. So what it bad about it? Its cash-shop exclusive item and that is just evil. It's Funcom saying: pay us not to get fucked over by AOC bugs. This item should be buyable with tokens and the fact that it is not is a blatant money grab executed in a worst possible manner. To add insult to injury minigame abandoned count, a new type of visible stat, doesn't really count minigames left but rather the amount of bugs. I for exemple didn't leave a single game and I can boast an amazing 13 minigames left. You can check a video of me getting 2 minigames abandoned in one game (while staying in it!) and see the bug report thread. If I had to sum up pvp content for the year 2014 I would say: most noble of the intentions, most poor execution.

FIXES AND CHANGES
  1. Requirements for gaining offline levels have been adjusted. In addition to premium account status, players must now possess a level 70 character before offline levels can be earned on the game account.
  2. The active PvP Daily location now provides all players with a buff which will block criminal/murder status.
  3. Guards will no longer come to player's aid during the Pictish Festival of Bloodshed (daily or festival week) in the festival location.
  4. Players below level 80 will receive PvE XP boosts in the festival location.
  5. It is now possible to signup for minigames from the Border Kingdoms : Cimmerian End, Border Kingdoms : Aquilonian End and the Border to Kush.
  6. An Auto Loot feature has been added
I really liked how the devs quickly responded to obvious problems. In previous years it took months for anything to get fixed and now a lot of stuff got hot fixed within a week or so. An auto loot feature is amazing addition to the game.

CLASS BALANCE
  1. changes and fixes to a lot of classes
  2. alternative advancement changes
Changes to the classes were very welcomed as it's been years since even most simple tweak. I especially like how Conqs got finally toned down a bit. Alternative advancement changes were a nice try, but as long as the game rewards stacting +crit everyone will use same set of AAs.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

My horse is amazing!

I have made this post so you can look at my horse and decide for yourself that....my horse is amazing. It happens that I have recently received two rather sweet mounts.

One is Strategists Steed offered via Kickstarter campaign for...Age of Conan Board Game (more info here). I was looking to buy that board game for some time and KickStarter offer loaded with extra stuff made it only a sweeter deal. Strategist Steed is a code which you apply to your account and then you receive the mount via /claim command. The Mount is account wide with unlimited claims and it a bit faster than swift horse (or at least as fast). The claimed mount icon is epic in color and surprisingly it has no description.




Tarpani Stalion is a different beast. I wrote about this mount in this post calling in an undead magic mount. Well you get this mount via quest chain which can be started when your guild gets to the 20 lvl renown. After pretty nice story you have to force an NPC to talk and he won't spill the beans unless you pay up .... 200 gold pieces. After you have stuffed NPC's face with golds he reveals that the horse is only "conditioned" via horrible means to be much stronger than other horses. That "conditioning" also makes it look undead which is... a plus in my book. This mount seems as fast as Hyrkanian horse, but then again I didn't test it and I don't know shit about shit (unlike Cynara who posted pretty definitive guide on mount speeds). The added benefit of this mount is +590 protection buff that you will get when mounted (might come handy during sieges or so).





Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Blast from the past ep.1 - Dat AI!

I really like going through old 2005-2008 posts and articles and uncovering what the game was supposed to be and comparing it to how it turned out. Nostalgia is my drug of choice.
To my surprise a lot of most innovative AOC elements never made it to the live game and those strong points were made it into AOC's weak points.

AI and scripting  was supposed to be most impressive, ground breaking part of AOC.

Just look at it:

We have made this neat AI not to create something we think will revolutionize gaming, making the world "real". I think all such claims are Utopian. We have done this to be able to let the NPCs be a little bit more intelligent than just "quest vendors" or "battle-monkeys" or whatever you will call the behavior of monsters / NPCs in todays MMOs. The NPC’s will approach a player and try to sell stuff, talk to him or interact if appropriate. The NPC’s will have loyalty to their leaders, and various degrees of social abilities.
It is important to note, though, that combat AI is quite a bit more linear. This is because for battles it is most likely more fun to interact with a predictable enemy than someone that seems "random".
ShackNews, 16th June 2006 (Gaute Godager)

It's 2014 and I can't really think of MMO that really pulled that kind of stunt off (or even attempted it). Quest NPC and MOBS pretty much behave the way they used to since ....well since ever I suppose? NPCs just hang out with exclamation marks above their quests and pretty much all you can do in terms of interaction is pick up the quests while reading some dialog (your choices are meaningless). Funcom briefly experimented with "dialog options have consequences" with the launch of ROGS where you could actually offend the NPC and lose that little bit of reputation. That concept was never taken further and is pretty much gone.

One example would be in a village where you will see different behavior based upon the time of the day and also the needs of the person you are encountering. And you'll also see the A.I. working with group behavior. If you are out in the countryside and one wolf is coming along you will probably be spared. But if there's a whole pack of wolf you might be attacked because they will have different behaviors depending on how many there are and also how many players you are with. Hopefully it won't be 100% for real because this is a game. It has to be a parameter of fun. So what is fun and what works will be kept. The player of online rpgs often like to have some hunting grounds, some regions which will be good for that as well. I guess the essence is that it should be to some degree unpredictable, it should be varied, and that is what we are trying to achieve. More than anything it should be fun though!
conan.mmorpgs.info, 2nd April 2006 (Jørgen Tharaldsen)

You can still notice that little bit of AI in animals in Potain (cows will run away when approached). This concept was again brought back in ROGS where some animals are displaying a bit different scripting (like wolf when attacked will call out the rest of his pack to join the fight, water buffalo will protect the calfs and so on). I guess it was supposed to be so much more than that.

With the need based system we are working on now, we can give all NPC's their own mind.. meaning they will be hungry, thirsty, sleepy etc and act accordingly to their emotions and needs. Some NPC's will avoid conflict, others will warn you not to come closer while others again will attack on sight. We are trying to make this as good looking as possible rather than having static NPC's who are just looking at you until you get close enough to fight.
Forums, 14th October 2005 (Mjoellnir)

Unfortunately AOC launched with just three possible "statuses" that NPC can be in: green and not attackable (quest NPCs), yellow-neutral and attackable and red/gray that are hostile and attackable. It is pretty much a standard behavior in all MMOs and it was super ambitious for Funcom to even attempt doing things diffrently. This kind of player-to-NPC interaction is usually reserved for huge, offline RPGs like Skyrim and even those major titles have abundance of game breaking bugs. The potential for AI abuse was huge and I can't imagine how this system would work with dozens of players present near the same NPC.

We can give every single NPC, dynel, item, puzzle, trap, quest and even playfield its own AI script, and this script can be very simple or very complex. That means that the entire world can be controlled with AI, something that give us the possibility to make a good, dynamic environment where nothing really is predictable unless we want it to be!
If I can help it, we will not have static NPC's, other than those who are supposed to stand in a certain area. I don't want to go into more details than I have in some of the other posts, but when we design and script the behavior of animals we try to see how they act in real. A migrating system is interesting and not impossible to implement, so I'll keep it in mind.
Forums, 25th August 2005 (Mjoellnir)
 
AOC is extremely static game. In fact I am considering that AOC's the biggest flaw. Despite the fact that players have obviously participated in world changing events (like killing Toth-Amon) it never has a bigger impact on the world than 1-2 lines of NPC text that pads the players on the back for killing XYZ. If I had to point to the single biggest blunder I would say that it's Tarantia Noble District where, imagine this, Nemedians have laid siege lasting since 2008. Nemedians are displaying some of the "trench warfare" tactics to say the least. I would love for Nemedian invasion to be a random event that just happens, you know, like invasions usually do?
The idea of dynamic evens was re-visited during path 1.5 with the launch of Tarantia commons. The zone is supposed to have dynamic evens with riots and players being able to control the outcome of the struggle between peacekeepers and rioters. I have always considered that content to be no more than a gimmick and few players ever have bothered with it (it was mostly made to spawn bosses that drop rare recipes). Again in ROGS there is a little more of dynamic elements like ritual in The Temple of Yun in Paikang (the ritual starts at 12:00 server time and player must participate in the dance to earn quest reward). However recent additions to AOC in a form of World Bosses and PvP Festivals are definitely step into right direction since those are dynamic, with limited spawn time and repeatable.  

If Funcom could pull of the AI system it would be revolutionary even now and I cannot imagine how that promise must have pumped people up back in 2005. I wish more of that old systems/concepts were present in the game today, but I can also see how that system could be easily abused and needlessly complicated. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

60.000 kills episode spectacular - no to solo arena!

Another milestone conquered: 60.000 kills. While my ultimate goal is 65k a new challenge presented itself: PVP Arena.

What is it?

Last time I got excited about new AOC content was when Mozes was a cowboy so...back in 2012? I remember that Dragon Spine got me pumped quite a bit (oh how crappy it turned out to be..).
I was pleasantly surprised to read Game Director Letter – October 2014  achievements, pve and pvp arenas? Damn right! After re-reading the letter couple more times (reading comprehension fail) I noticed that....PVP arena will be a solo content. I immediately did what any sane person would: I tore off my clothes, ran through my neighborhood butt naked and screaming and then, while rocking back and forth at my desk, I got on forums and complained about it.  



Game Director was very blunt about the PVP Arena:

Forum GodNusquam's Avatar

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Quote Originally Posted by ne-X-us View Post
2Nusquam Can we expect 2x2 3x3 arena with premade?
The design I have read is for solo. Premades etc require more codework for matchmaking and greater scope. Can be considered for the future.


Solo. Wow. There are two things that Funcom made me allergic to: "solo" and "bragging rights".

Sitting down to write this post I promised myself that I wouldn't cry and I wouldn't write over and over and over again how PVP needs to be enjoyed with friends and not with random strangers.
Well since I am already sobbing I can only keep my word on not explaing the importance of social aspect of pvp. Let me direct you to my other posts about friends and PVP (and how Funcom took that away from us):


By the way do developers even know what it is like to play with strangers in highly competitive environment? Have you guys been ON THE INTERNET?

Let me simulate the experience by copy/pasting my group chat from two games that, mind you, we have won!

[Group] [Acke]: where the fuck are u all
[Group] [Acke]: ffs
[Group] [Kryptoshaman]: get off this ledge idiot
[Group] [Kryptoshaman]: noones here
[Group] [Kryptoshaman]: lol
[Group] [Pasathor]: go flag
[Group] [Boyaka]: fucking noobs
[Group] [Crypthon]: i go flag... please a couple of guys def
[Group] [Crypthon]: nec - play
[Group] [Crypthon]: kill flag
[Group] [Onlymydemo]: cc this barb
[Group] [Onlymydemo]: wher is this all fucking team
[Group] [Napaljenica]: my ? to
[Group] [Napaljenica]: cretins
[Group] [Napaljenica]: cretins
[Group] [Napaljenica]: cretins
[Group] [Napaljenica]: cretins
[Group] [Napaljenica]: cretins
[Group] [Napaljenica]: cretins
[Group] [Bomby]: NO SUPPORT NO FLAG
[Group] [Napaljenica]: u didnt even tRy to get it
[Group] [Napaljenica]: by
[Group] [Onlymydemo]: lol all hit fucking tank
[Group] [Onlymydemo]: what a retard team
[Group] [Napaljenica]: y
[Group] [Napaljenica]: y
[Group] [Napaljenica]: bye
[Group] [Bomby]: NECRO
[Group] [Onlymydemo]: do you know what is fucking stun or fear?
[Group] [Bomby]: who do you mean?
[Group] [Napaljenica]: bye
[Group] [Napaljenica]: bye
[Group] [Napaljenica]: bye
[Group] [Onlymydemo]: specaly you tard
[Group] [Napaljenica]: FUCK YOU TARDS

Can you imagine this kind of communication while playing with friends? Yes? Well then perhaps they are not your friends :X

I don't need THAT in my live and this is what AOC pug system forces me to endure. 

With that put aside I can get right to the point why Solo Arena is a bad idea.

Back in the day along with Renown system we got arenas that are located in Khemi and (I think) in Keshatta too. Everyone got excited about those arenas until we learned that there is almost zero difference between dueling in arena and dueling in the open world. If anything the system was more cumbersome that just pvping out in the open. 

Lets see what the new arena is all about:

In the PvP version, you approach a different NPC, where you can queue for a PvP match. When a challenger does the same, a message is broadcast to the arena, informing everybody of an upcoming match.
During the period before the match, other players will be able to wager on the outcome with a Bookkeeping NPC. Once the Arena is cleared, bets can no longer be placed and both combatants are teleported to the arena floor, and after a short countdown, the duel begins and continues until one player has been defeated.
The prize pool is always based upon the actual money that was bet, preventing system abuse but also providing incentive for duelists to encourage people to come and watch them fight!
Finally, in order to give the entire proceedings a sense of progression, you can earn faction with the Pit Masters (who have both a PvE and PvP faction) for competing in the arena. Over time, you will earn access to new pets, armors and vanity items as well as unlocking special quests from the Pit Masters.

So it seems that PVP Arena is indeed 1v1 and also random.

Here is what is wrong with the core idea of instigated 1v1 PvP experience:

AOC is far from being balanced for 1v1.
Every MMO struggles with pvp balance and AOC is no exception. While I consider the game somewhat balanced I am maxed out on gear and AA, veteran pvper. It is true that every class can kill every other class, but some archetypes are more "forgiving" than others. Necro making mistake and getting KBed by Guardian? He probably will be dead before he gets a chance to get up. Guardian feared by Necro and DOTed up? A dent in Guardians HP pool. It takes different amount of skill to by successful with different classes and gear/AA difference makes that gap even wider. Furthermore the classes are obviously doing better at different things: Demo will excel at AOEing enemies in minigames and score kills, but same tactic doesn't apply to 1v1. 
Last thing that makes 1v1 tricky to balance is the abundance of ready-to-use stuff that you can launch at enemy the second the fight starts. In duels you will always have your best stuff ready and we all know how things like Last Stand can affect 1vs1.
If you add gear and AA difference it can turn out that the fight will last couple of seconds and will end up in a bloody mess.



Just an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r82Ll7O9h80

This very much simulates what 1v1 arenas will turn out to be. Thats hardly fun for anyone.

Also there is no "depth" to 1v1. It usually results in "all in" type of combat where combatants simply try to overpower one another with everything they have at their disposal. There is no reason to hold off on any cooldown since the fight might last just couple of seconds.

So what could be better? 2v2 or 3v3 arenas. I would begin with 2v2. There is so much more complexity when it comes to four person pvp dynamics. Healing, CC coordination (very important with global CC immunites), target switching, baiting, kiting, bubbles and so on. Assassin might use dull pain and go after the Demo, but that Demo has POM partner and dull pain doesn't mitigate holy damage, but what if Assassin has  HOX back up who will interrupt POM spells? It is infinitely more interesting both to play 2v2 as well as to watch 2v2.
What about bets? Well it's super easy to predict outcome of class vs class match up, especially if you know one of the combatants is skilled. Necro vs veteran Guardian? My money is on guardian. In 2v2? Well it can get tricky and of course more interesting to place the bets. 

What about balance? Fuck balance! Let us go at each other throats. Make arena vicious, brutal, unforgiving content in which everything goes and winners take it all! If someone is not ready for top tier PVP competition then he has PvP events, Bori and PUG minigames to enjoy. Don't ruin your most loyal pvpers fun just to make things "even". Arenas will never be "even" or "balanced" so don't try to make it so, capitalize on competitive aspect of arenas. It will be fun because it WILL BE HARD. There is no glory to be had if there is no struggle. 

And last and not least: put back "group" in to "group pvp".Seriously I think we all had enough with solo pvp experience and taking verbal abuse from frustrated, anonymous strangers.