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.