[SWTOR] How classes get designed these days

Anyone remember playing old MMOs where balance was an afterthought, and classes were designed based on what someone thought looked cool? And then of course the rapid nerfs after players figured out smart ways to game the system?

Times have changed, as SWTOR’s developer blog on class design shows. Georg Zoeller discusses how characters will gain skills in the game (which is a mixture of buying base skills from trainers and assigning talent points) and then goes through every class to discuss how player feedback from beta changed the design.

There’s also a super little map showing locations where members of one testing group moved and died in one sub area. This reminds me powerfully of techniques used by a friend of mine who helps plan out passenger terminals and train stations – they also model movement and behaviour before they throw a few million pounds into bricks and mortar.

My explorers heart also beats a little faster on reading:

We also use these heatmaps to <…> identify potential locations for special content such as datacrons or unique enemies, which are specifically designed to reward explorers that go off the beaten path.

But really, the big question is going to be whether a game that’s been so carefully, scientifically tuned is going to lose any of the fun factor. Or in other words, will it feel too slick? In a world where polish is so revered, is it the unpolished rough edges that prove the most memorable?

Only one way to find out and that’s to play the thing. I don’t think anyone really enjoys playing underpowered classes, especially if other classes can fill all the same roles, and it’s an interesting insight to how designers can try to make sure that doesn’t happen.

If you want to play around with the advanced classes, Bioware are also showing off parts of the skill trees and individual talents that will be available. A lot of the abilities shown seem to be passive, make of that what you will. Also, anyone want to see their E3 trailer for SWTOR? Of course you do.

Personally, I worry that after Cataclysm (which still has big issues with melee vs ranged balance) I’ve just been put off playing melee characters. Why pick a melee healer or dps if you could pick a ranged one instead? The smuggler/ scrapper reminds me a lot of the burglar in LOTRO which is good because melee utility classes are fun, and bad because omg the burglar is so incredibly disappointing in raids. (Still, a healer with stealth has always been one of my dream combos.)

I don’t think it’s really a good thing to be so influenced in class choice by how other games in the past have been balanced. Does anyone else find that they do that?

And ultimately, the biggest sell for SWTOR is going to be the storytelling for each class. No amount of advanced skill talent trees is going to give much information on that.

Links for the weekend (E3 prospects, and the state of raiding)

  • E3 is next week, and is the first of the big summer gaming conventions. Destructoid summarises the publishers and games expected to be there, so there will be plenty of news/ press releases about those. I don’t feel massive excitement about any of these, although “El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron” is a good title.
  • There are also expected to be some hardware announcements: Nintendo has a successor to the Wii to announce and no one will be surprised if Sony and Microsoft also come up with something. Venturebeat run down some of the more stable rumours about next week’s announcements. Allegedly Bioware are already working on Dragon Age 3 so that might also get an announcement.
  • Yngwe writes a guest post for Kiss my Alas, pondering the ways in which real life has made him a better raider. (But leaves the question open as to whether raiding has helped him iRL.)
  • Staying with the raiding theme, Wugan writes a thoughtful post on Flow asking whether it’s too easy for individual players to act as free agents, shifting guilds as soon as they get frustrated with progression. I always think that a raid leaders’ ideas on what is wrong with raiding can seem so different from a raider/ non leader’s ideas that you sometimes wonder if they are playing the same game.
  • Stabs describes issues that he’s had with filling raids in Rift and explains it using psychology. I felt bad reading this because I’d be one of those people who thinks “I’ve done proper raiding before, I know how much time and commitment it takes, so better that I sit out in this new game than risk being all those horrible things people call you if you get one enchant slightly wrong in WoW.” Not that my Rift character is level 50 yet, but soon.
  • Rhii asks how people feel when someone they are raiding with keeps talking about their other guild/s and other raid/s. In WoW, it’s not uncommon for people to have different alts in different guilds/ raids – I suspect this is more common now due to the way the lockouts work.
  • Scott Andrews, in his excellent WoW Insider column, predicts that Firelands will not save your (raid) guild. Is he right?
  • Psychochild lists 10 games that he thinks designers should play and asks for your suggestions for what games or types of games you think designers should experience.
  • Syncaine eases my troubled mind by explaining why gaming bloggers are not leechers. What he’s actually getting at is that if you are really into a game or hobby, you probably prefer to play with other people who are similarly engaged. And this actually applies just as much to casual roleplayers as it does to hardcore raiders (he doesn’t make that connection, but it’s true.)
  • Danc writes a fairly controversial post in which he critiques game criticism and particularly that written by gamers. In my opinion this is pretty much a straw man because what a reader can get from a well written and well presented experiential blog post is simply a different style of game writing than a critic would be expected to produce. And I’d argue we should value the players who are able to do this well without lumping them in with the critics. I think this is particularly true in MMOs or any game with a virtual community because we don’t really have the theories yet to fully explain how players interact with each other online – it’s a new field. And as in any new field, the observations have to come before the theories and analysis. Be scientific, game devs! Pay attention to the (good) observations.
  • The Last Psychiatrist ponders Second Life and real life, and points out that in some ways they are not so very different. Is getting your hair done to look like a celebrity iRL so different from sculpting your avatar to look like them online?
  • scrusi wonders if exploration and story are mutually exclusive.
  • Tipa notes that the Rift devs have been borrowing a lot of ideas from WoW and wonders if they could take a few pointers from EQ as well.

Call of Duty to get a subscription option

What is this I don’t even …?

News today is that Activision-Blizzard are planning on introducing a subscription option for CoD. This itself is not surprising as there have been rumours about it for months. But what is perhaps unexpected is that apparently this is going to take the form of an ‘elite’ social network  to which players can subscribe.

So the idea is that you pay your $60 or so for the main game, and then they’re going to try to sell you a subscription on top. It sounds as though some content (such as map packs) will be included, as well as being able to compare stats with other players and find people with similar interests (if ‘likes to play shooters’ isn’t similar interest enough).

But no, the surprise here is that they broke the story in the Wall Street Journal and not a gaming publication. That sends a message about who Activision really want to hear about this development. No doubt we’ll hear more at E3 next week. (And I guess, the other surprise is that they’ve decided subscriptions will make more money for them than expanding F2P options, so opposite to the way the MMO world has been trending. Wonder if they’ll offer a cash shop on top of this.)

So if you are a CoD player, how do you feel about this option? Better value than buying occasional map packs as DLC? What could they put in to make it tempting? And how much would you be prepared to pay per month/year?

And if you aren’t, don’t worry, chances are that if it’s popular, your favourite online multiplayer game will go this way too:

Rob Dyer, senior vice president of publisher relations at Sony’s U.S. games division, said only a few games have the audience loyalty and size to support a subscription service like Call of Duty Elite. Mr. Dyer said he is “very confident” other publishers will follow Activision’s lead. “There’s money to be made there,” he said.

And a video trailer for the new service has also been leaked in advance of E3. I wonder if CoD counts as an MMO yet …

Gaming News: What’s hot at E3, APB and the embargo of doom, WAR drops producer, Microsoft still has no sense of humour shock

Mourn with me now for the ongoing death-by-boredom of English football, coming to a TV near you on Wednesday night.

And in other news, another E3 industry convention has come and gone. So what did 2010 have to show? I’ve covered much of the MMO news here with a special SWTOR post here.

The two biggest stories of the convention, to my mind, are hardware related.

  • Sony and Nintendo are betting that we’d all like to see our gaming in 3D – the PS3 will get a compatibility patch for 3DTVs and Nintendo’s new 3DS handheld (no glasses required) will offer a 3D experience. In fact, if I had to pick one single news story from E3, it would be that everyone who tried the new 3DS said – in shock – it just works. And it will also apparently be able to show films in 3D.
  • Sony and Microsoft also showed off their respective motion controller technology. The Sony Move looks like a stick with a ball on the end, and Microsoft’s Kinect (the renamed Natal technology) doesn’t require the player to hold a physical controller at all, it picks up your actions as you move around. But somehow, despite giving a new XBOX to everyone at their presentation, Microsoft doesn’t seem to have captured the journalists’ attention.

Jon Shute blogs at VanHemlock about the various new hardware on offer, and concludes that neither of the two motion controllers seem to be aimed at the hardcore gamer.

The big three E3 presentations

Each of the big console manufacturers traditionally gives a big presentation at E3. The aim is to build up some excitement about their hardware, future plans, and what’s in store for their customers over the next year.

This year, I think Nintendo did the best job of capturing people’s imaginations. The 3DS wowed everyone who tried it. Their software lineup includes new outings for a lot of old favourite franchises (well, if you are a nintendo head anyway) including Zelda, Goldeneye, Kirby, Metroid, and Donkey Kong (yes really). There’s a strong lineup of software on offer for both of their consoles and as an avowed DS fan, I can’t wait to get my hand on a 3DS. I also look forwards to more DS RPGs and puzzlers. All very crowd pleasing stuff.

What Nintendo do extremely well is put the message across that their portfolio offers something for everyone. I’d be surprised if anyone saw that presentation and didn’t find at least one game or genre that caught their interest.

By comparison, Microsoft just can’t seem to get it right. Even when they have technology as potentially exciting as the Kinect, they somehow … miss the mark. Instead of a coherent ‘we offer something for everyone’ message, they just give the impression that they’re incoherent and confused. On the one hand, they’re chasing the 18-30 male gamer with a slew of shooters and a deal with ESPN to show premium sports on Xbox live. To hammer the point home, EA introduced a new Xbox loyalty program called ‘the Gun Club’ – I guess they won’t be including any family type games with that then.  … And then there’s Kinect with some dancing games which M/soft is trying to portray as the Xbox’s great white hope. It does not compute.

Then there’s Sony who are trying to sell people on the future of 3DTV – a rather expensive future given the current recession for sure. Their presentation leaned heavily on third party games, but what a great lineup. Sorcery – a magical combat game based on using the Move controller – sounds amazing, exactly what you’d want of a Harry Potter knockoff.

They also put one over on Microsoft by actually announcing prices for the Move. And also, whilst confirming that the PSN (online aspect of the PS3) will remain free, they plan to offer a premium service which will include extra downloadable content. I think we’ll need to see what’s on offer before people decide whether to go for this or not. The other big news from the Sony presentation is that Portal 2 will be available for the PS3, along with steamworks.

Some of the other games that caught my attention at E3 were Tron, Bulletstorm, Portal 2, the obligatory SWTOR and a whole slew of games for the DS.

No reviews for APB until a week after release?

All Points Bulletin, the GTA-alike PvP based MMO is rumbling towards release at the moment. And the developers decided that now would be a good time to demand that reviewers not release any reviews until a week after the release date. RPS state in this link that response to the beta has not been positive – I’m not so sure. Plenty of rpg.net players seemed to like it well enough.

In reponse to press complaints, Realtime Worlds produced another press release and moved the embargo forwards.

Whilst I understand that MMOs take time to review, the answer is glaringly obvious and is just to read impressions from several different sources – blogs, bboards, professional sites. A MASSIVE multiplayer game needs to be seen from a massive number of views, and most casual blogs also treat foolish press embargoes with the disdain that they deserve. Trying to get a blogger to not tell their mates what they think of their latest purchase is a fool’s game.

Drescher leaves WAR

I had hoped that WAR might be settling on an even keel but in news this week, Josh Drescher (the producer) got the boot. I wish him luck in future – I still do have a soft spot for that game, but it cannot be a good sign.

No more red ring of death

I cringe for Microsoft, I really do. There will not be a red ring of death (the nickname for the indication that hardware has failed) on future XBOXs because …. they’ve removed the red LED.

That’s a classic marketing solution to an engineering problem, by the way.

[E3 Best of the Rest]: WH40K, Black Prophecy, Jumpgate Evolution, Final Fantasy 14

Of the other upcoming MMOs showing at E3, these are the ones which caught my eye.

Final Fantasy 14

Why you want to play it:

  • It’s Final Fantasy. It will also be very pretty.
  • Squeenix have promised to build on their previous MMO experience with FF11. (This may or may not be a good thing depending on how you liked the previous game.)
  • They promise a very flexible job system, where it’s possible to change class within the game … or even create your own.
  • Intriguing Guild Leve system, which sounds as though it involves instanced quest areas, tailored to your group.
  • Will be possible to level as a crafter.

Why don’t you want to play it:

  • Is your PC a beast? If not, don’t apply. Squeenix have thoughtfully released an official benchmark program which will tell you just how much your setup fails. (I wish more MMO devs would do this actually, it’s nice to know if you can actually run a program before you buy.) There are plans to release the game on consoles also – still awaiting more information on this.
  • Story sounds incoherent.
  • It’s more of the same old fantasy MMO. Favourite FF races have been reskinned, there’s the obligatory tiny people, elves, catgirl race, etc. The costumes actually aren’t anywhere near as bad as most asian MMOs, so that’s something.

What’s the magic number?

  • 2010. Yup, they plan to release this year!

Where can I see more?

Now I like Final Fantasy and I’m intrigued to play this game, but since it looks as though my PC would struggle, it’s on the back burner for me. Having said that, I do appreciate the availability of the benchmark. Apparently they’re about to go into beta, and as I said above, they’re still talking about a 2010 release.

This is probably the largest of the MMOs to be released this year.

Jumpgate Evolution

Why you want to play it:

  • Space battles, dogfighting, all that cool stuff you can’t do in EVE because the autopilot does it instead.
  • 3-way PvP. Massive space combat focus – that’s what they’re aiming for.
  • Jumpgate. It’s also a sequel to an older MMO. Fans of the latter may be interested.

Why you don’t want to play it:

  • All PvP all of the time? We don’t yet know.
  • Too twitch-based for the typical MMO crowd?
  • Previous version has apparently been completely retooled. Whether this means good or bad things we’ve yet to see.

What’s the magic number?

  • 3. Fans of DaoC will remember that players raved about the PvP setup in the game, and in particular that there were three factions. This game also uses the three faction setup. Could it work again?

Where can I see more?

I’m interested in Jumpgate Evolution but it does sound as though the emphasis is increasingly on PvP. I still think a good space combat simulator with PvP territory control and fast, responsive gameplay should be able to find an audience (for example, all the fanboys who are currently agitating because SWTOR may not release with space combat). If they can pull this off I think they’ll do well. Good luck to them.

Black Prophecy

Black Prophecy is another space combat PvP style MMO. We don’t know a whole lot about this one although they did release some information about how players will be able to design and customise their own ships.

There is an E3 trailer but I’m not sure what state the demos are in. Black Prophecy is intended to be free to play (or at least, no subscription required) but obviously no final information about the pricing yet.

You can find the official website here.

Covers similar ground to Jumpgate, may the best game win.

Warhammer 40k

*sigh* One flashy trailer does not a game make.

However, THQ has a good track record and has made some popular RTS games based on the same IP. I’m not entirely sure how great a traditional MMO WH40k can really make –- it really is an exceedingly grim setting, plus of course all the trademark teenboy-friendly Games Workshop stylings (read: stupid armour, spikes, sexism, etc). But there’s plenty of scope for THQ to produce something genre-bending that could make a lot of fans very happy.

Here’s the Warhammer 40k Online fansite.

This is the official site, but not much on it yet.

Fallout Online

They don’t even have a trailer yet, just a website. You can however sign up for something, I don’t know what because the flash was loading very slowly and I couldn’t be bothered to wait and see.

I’m intrigued at the current popularity of post-apocalyptic games. But again, a Fallout MMO would make a lot of fans very happy.

[SWTOR] Player housing, PvP, new video, and more from E3

Star Wars: The Old Republic, as befits the best funded game in history, has put up a strong showing at E3 this week. So here’s a summary of some of the posts and details.

Bioware are very keen to quell any rumours that the game will be a Massively Multiplayer Solo Game. There is going to be plenty of group content, battlegrounds and PvP, raids, instances, the whole shebang.

Now my perspective is that I decided that I wanted to play this thing after playing Dragon Age. Bioware have the ‘it’ factor for RPGs like very few other developers. So the rest of the information is gravy. But for those who have not yet made up their minds ….

But first for something completely different – an unrelated video

New out for E3, the Hope video, showing a battle between Republic and Empire forces on Alderaan (which looks a bit like where my friend lives in Southern Germany).

It looks phenomenal, it also contains no gameplay footage. So what to make of a trailer like this? Enh, enjoy it for what it is. They’re showing off the setting and some of the classes and combat abilities you might see in game. Although the Jedi/Sith get all the best moves, the Trooper (notionally the hero of this piece) looks pretty darned cool as well.

And a far more related video

If you have 30 minutes to spare, also check out the 30 min broadcast on G4 which does include some live gameplay footage. This link above didn’t work for me, but if you can either get to it or saw the show, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Let’s talk about some of the new features announced this week

The two big reveals during the EA session were that players will each get a ship, to use as housing, and that the game will sport some PvP gameplay via battlegrounds.

A ship of my own – whilst some commentators have been going nuts expecting space combat and spaceflight in game, it seems clear to me that this isn’t Bioware’s plan. Maybe in future, but for now, the ship is going to be a private base of operations for your character which can move from planet to planet (eg. as in KOTOR).

You’ll be able to customise the ship, invite friends round to see it, and intriguingly Bioware hint that each class will have a different type of ship. This makes a lot of sense, the game is heavily based on giving people lots of class specific content and who would expect a smuggler to fly the same type of ship as a trooper?

There has always been a disconnect in MMOs with housing between the idea that your house is your home base, and the notion that adventurers wander the world smiting evil. You don’t normally think of Sir Killsalot the questing knight coming home every evening to a cosy cottage with his favourite stuffed dragon head in the garden. And as the game worlds expand (via expansions and new zones), it seems even stranger to be going back to your original home every night.

Obviously magic portals can cover a lot of ground by explaining how these things are possible. But the basic problem that a wandering adventurer probably doesn’t have a permanent home is a storytelling and immersion issue. Having a space ship base in a space game resolves a lot of these issues. Your home moves with you, problem solved.

Battle zones! Bioware announced that players will be able to fight the opposite faction in SWTOR in battle zones (such as Alderaan, shown in the video). I’m not clear as to whether this is limited world PvP (ie. an entire PvP zone and people can drop in or out as they wish) or instanced PvP (such as battlegrounds or scenarios) but expect to hear more about this as the months go on towards release.

More interviews, more information

The fansites and official blogs are also getting more face time with Bioware and a chance to see a live in-game combat demo. Here are a couple of summaries of their experience/ chat, from Massively and Darth Hater.

One thing that comes out of this about classes. In the segment that the press saw, the Trooper acted as main tank, but it sounds as though all of the classes could fill more than one role. So the Jedi consular was healing but also on dps and crowd control. So was the smuggler (a stealth healing class, just what the world needs!). The Jedi knight was dps but also off tanking. And the Trooper was putting out a lot of damage as he tanked.

That probably gives us more idea about how the game will play out, and I like what I’m hearing. Massively also discuss crafting in SWTOR in their interview (it’ll be like WoW)

So, anyone feeling the Force yet?

Gaming News: E3 Hype, Blizzard ditches Cataclysm features, Fallen Earth joins the cash shop crowd, Sony pimps 3D

I love the World Cup in the same way that I love Christmas. Neither of them is my religion, but I enjoy the general festivities. Given that the World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world, I’m mildly surprised that so few MMOs have come up with any football related features or trophies to celebrate. WoW had a special PvP pet for the Chinese Olympics, after all.

Only Free Realms chose to celebrate, with special team jerseys and banners. So well done them.

Lots of Gaming Companies announce what they plan to show at E3

E3 is next week. I’m trying to avoid the sort of news cycle where people announce what they’re going to say, then they say it, and then they announce what they just said. So there will be lots of entries in next week’s news about what actually did catch my eye at E3.

Kotaku lists out their picks for big RPGs of the show. It’s hard to really get worked up about a bunch of sequels, but MMOs also promise a strong showing with the likes of APB, Final Fantasy 14, and the ubiquitous SWTOR all exhibiting. Fable III promises to be Natal infused – people without a huge living room may see this as a disadvantage. Intriguingly, The Escapist had a line on some information that Pokemon Black/White may also feature some kind of massive multiplayer worldwide online play mode.

It is likely that the Playstation Move and XBOX Natal controllers will feature strongly in demos. Analyst Michael Pachter wrote a widely linked piece for Edge Online in which he compares the two technologies, and explains why neither will beat the Wii. In an interview with PS3center, he also explains why he thinks Natal will sell more than the Move. Soon, we’ll all be able to make up our own minds.

Valve admitted that Portal 2 will not in fact be out until 2011, and added (probably with a sigh) that next week’s surprise is actually Portal 2 related. Which I think I guessed last week because it was obvious! This did not stop loads of gaming blogs from wasting column inches on guesses about Halflife 3.

Cataclysm News

Blizzard will of course not be at E3 because they have Blizzcon instead later this year. But still, lots more news this week about Cataclysm. Blizzard revealed that the new expansion will bring region-wide battlegrounds. So instead of only ever matching up with servers in your battlegroup, you could end up in a match with anyone in your region. We don’t yet know whether Blizzard also plan to extend this to PvE/ LFD.

And they also held a press event, releasing the news that some of the previously discussed Cataclysm features will not make it into the live expansion. In particular, guild talents have hit the chopping block (and good riddance, that system would never have worked. No one wants to be arguing with the rest of their guild about which talents to take) and so has the path of the titans alternate advancement scheme (which is more of a shame because that sounded fun.)

Inscription also gets an overhaul so that players only need to buy glyphs once to learn them, after which they can switch glyphs without needing to buy more scrolls. Plus a new type of glyph for cosmetic changes.

I’ll discuss this more in a post next week but basically it’s all good news and means that the Blizzard behemoth is lumbering towards the release of the new WoW expansion at a decent pace. Apparently Cataclysm is also going to have three times as many new quests as Wrath – but this does also include the low level ones that will have been reworked.

Ghostcrawler also had an exclusive interview with wowhead this week and they talk about professions, balancing PvP with PvE, and so on. Definitely worth a read.

APB gets open beta, but not down under

All Points Bulletin, the action-y MMO is into open public beta (lots of keys being given away via RPS). But the game will not be released in Australia. Apparently this is because the developers has no plans to host any servers in Oz.

Fallen Earth sells pets for cash

This week yet another MMO which had been subscription only sells pets for cash. Dickie discusses the cash for pets dilemma – and again, as with EQ2, this pet does confer some game advantages for the buyer.

Given that Icarus Studios had to lay off staff earlier this year, Fallen Earth players may feel that this is a chance to actively support a studio with a product they like which has had a financial rough patch. I’m just not sure how I feel about cash shop purchases as charity.

Everything goes 3D

Sony held a big presentation this week to share their vision for 3D TV and gaming. As well as showing off some new 3D TVs, the PS3 is about to receive a firmware patch which will allow players to use them.

Anyone planning on shelling out for a 3D TV to try some of this out? If they can produce experiences that are as immersive as Avatar (for example) then maybe Sony are right about 3D being the future of gaming.

More MMO News

Also in the MMO news this week, Darren@Common  Sense Gamer finds out why the Jumpgate Evolution team have been so quiet lately. We should see more announcements and demos from them next week (this makes me happy.)

Mortal Online, a Darkfall type sandbox PvP game was released this week.

Final Fantasy 14 (now in alpha testing) shows off some character customisation, and we learn more about Guild Leves.

Guild Wars 2 releases information about the warrior class, with wallpapers, videos, and the works. And also about their trait system, which I totally fail to understand.

Gaming News: Shake up in Microsoft’s gaming division, EVE expansion launch, Revving up for E3, Prince of Persia on iPhone, Direct2Drive sells F2P

It’s been a fairly quiet news week. This is the calm before the storm of the various industry conventions held over the Summer months, of which the first up will be E3 on June 15-17 (i.e. I’ll have to make up some more news next week too).

Shake Up in Microsoft’s Gaming Division

A couple of big names announced that they were leaving Microsoft this week. Robbie Bach was the head of MSFT’s Entertainment and Devices Division and J Allard was the Xbox supremo. There are rumours that the departures are connected to Microsoft’s decision to cancel the Courier tablet device, but nothing that has yet been substantiated.

EVE Tyrannis Expansion Launched

This is the new free (to subscribers) EVE Online expansion which involves building up resources on planets, and sets the stage for the introduction of the Dust 451 shooter/ hybrid which is expected to be released at the end of the year. Or thereabouts.

At the same time CCP introduced a social networking platform for EVE players. I’m curious to read about how this works out for them. Imagine Facebook. Then imagine that Facebook has a significant number of users whose main goal is to deliberately manipulate and screw with other uses. Or actually … just imagine Facebook.

Having said that, I do like the idea of being able to send/ receive in game mail via a web interface. And one of the other interesting features provided with EVE Gate (the social networking application) is a corps chat box. Now, I’m assuming most corps – like most guilds – probably have a bulletin board for communication out of game which may also have a chatbox. So I don’t know how useful this will really be, but it is a step towards being able to page someone in game from a website.

Ramping up for E3

We know that E3 is on the horizon because companies have to started to drop press releases about what they are planning to show there.

We know that Richard Branson has an announcement to make about Virgin Media. The company once had a good pedigree as a games publisher before pulling out of the business, but this new announcement is to be about a gaming service.  Something to compete with BT’s forthcoming OnLive service, perhaps? (Note: Yes I know this is only of interest to readers in the UK :) )

Ubisoft have released a rough list of what they plan to show off at E3 too, including lots of sequels. Lets hope the convention organisers have put aside a reliable internet link for them or else those demos might be in trouble.

We’ll also expect to see some more of the next Call of Duty sequel. And Nintendo have a surprise announcement about Zelda for the Wii. Evidently this is the sort of surprise that is heralded by carefully orchestrated press release for months in advance so presumably the surprise is not that they’ve canned it.

Bioware will also be showing off their latest version of Star Wars: The Old Republic. Arenanet however will probably not be there with Guild Wars 2 – they didn’t attend E3 in 2008 or 2009 either.

Prince of Persia released on the iPhone/ iPad

gyllenhaal-prince-persia-1

Yup, not so much a news story as a random excuse for a picture of Jake Gyllenhaal without his shirt on. But for the record, the original (and arguably the best) Prince of Persia game has been released on the iPhone. Reviewers have said that it is good. Well yes, this would be why it became an instant classic when it was released on the PC all those years ago.

I was very tempted to put in a spoiler here but I’ll just say that my favourite level was the one where the princess sends her pet mouse to save you. That part sadly didn’t make the film.

And speaking of the film, I saw it yesterday and thought that it was good fun. There are many many worse ways to spend an afternoon, and the people I was with also liked it (proving that the attraction isn’t just my fascination with Jake Gyllenhaal.) I did enjoy the use of parkour type stunts to simulate the acrobatics which is such a big feature of the gaming franchise. Also, blessedly, we didn’t have to sit through an advert for the game of the film.

The iPad also was released in the UK this week. But I don’t think initial reports of queues and shortages are all they’re cracked up to be. My inside report from a 3G telco says that they sold barely a few hundred iPad SIMS over the weekend and Charlie Brooker – reviewing the iPad for The Guardian – notes that they were able to walk into a shop on Friday and buy one over the counter, no queues in sight.

And as a bonus iPad feature, one of my friends describes how his mum has been getting on with her iPad. It’s an interesting view at how a non-techie views the device.

Direct2Drive sells Free 2 Play

I thought this was an interesting little news story. D2D has started selling packages of free to play MMOs. What you get for your money is a download of the free game plus some extras – tokens for the cash shop, items, mounts etc, the package depends on the game.

A first look implies that the deals are reasonably good value, although I don’t know how well it compares to any sales which the games themselves hold regularly. Is this an innovative way to package an unfamiliar pricing model to users or just a pointless waste of time? D2D are unlikely to release sales figures so we may never know.

Zynga is still in the news, and Offerpal goes large

I am now officially bored of news stories about Zynga. The Farmville developer has now entered a new partnership with Yahoo so presumably is planning to experiment some more with positioning their games on a non-Facebook social network.

And Offerpal, which organises deals by which social gaming players can agree to marketing tasks (such as signing up to a mailing list, ordering items, completing surveys etc) in return for virtual currency is apparently doing well with its new website. This an interesting spin because if you go to Offerpal’s site, you can do as many marketing related tasks as you can handle and earn Game Points. You can then exchange your Game Points for virtual currency for a number of different games. The idea is that the Offerpal site itself will be sticky. After all, you may get sick of Farmville eventually, but you’ll be able to turn your Game Points into something ‘useful’ in the next game that takes your fancy.

Offerpal is also known for having been involved with accusations of scammy and manipulative deals. But apparently they have a new CEO now and those days are behind them. Verily, we live in interesting times.

Final Fantasy XIV influenced by WoW

Square-Enix announced at E3 that they were working on Final Fantasy XIV and that it was to be an MMO, currently planned to run on the PS3 and PC. (Obligatory gorgeous cinematic which may or may not have much to do with the eventual game.)

Player vs Developer commented (wisely) that even though the trailer was very shiny, we didn’t know a lot about what they intended for the game. Sure, they have produced one MMO (FFXI) but does that mean that this new game is set in the same universe, uses the same basic ideas?

Now, a few of those questions have been answered. rerollz.com has the details of the Q&A session and it sounds like a very ambitious project indeed.

Q: What influence have games like World of WarCraft have on the development of FFXIV?

A: As with WoW, we want to aim a bit for the casual user. However, we don’t want to make a copy of WoW. We believe we will have things that are unique and will stand out from that game.

Q: FFXI has evolved a lot over the years, especially in the areas of player accessibility and the ability to solo. Will you carry over features like level sync and other features to FFXIV?

A: Yes. All of the knowledge and experience we gained from FFXI will be used in the development of FFXIV. At the launch, we intend to have content for solo players as well as large-scale battles. We want a wide-variety from the start.

Q: What would you like to emphasize with this game? What is different from FFXI?

A: For FFXIV, the keyword that we’ve been using is “The Growth and Development of the Character.” We will have the same type of storytelling and high-quality graphics. We also want to expand and create new in-game systems. The player can grow & develop in a more natural way without putting too much weight on the player. We will expand the job system to make it fairly different from the one in FFXI.

A: Another very important concept that takes a different direction from FFXI, for FFXIV we want to make it so the player can choose to play solo, in a party, 40 minutes, all-day… there will be content for ALL of those play styles and systems for all of those play styles.

Check out the full Q&A at rerollz.com. I love the Final Fantasy games, although sometimes they drive me nuts. I suppose that’s a pretty good definition of an MMO right there ;) Quite how they plan to be all things to all people I don’t know but I’ll be curious to find out.