Gaming news: Zombies in Black Ops, FFXIV released, MSoft wants Second Life, Recettear and Minecraft huge hits, Skaven in WAR

So, yesterday was Eurogamer which bore a surprising resemblance to a bunch of gaming zombies wandering around a huge exhibition hall, half of which was full of demos of Assassin’s Creed II.  Arb and I will talk more about our Eurogamer thoughts next week.

  • Things I saw which caught my eye were:
    PS3 Move. I saw a few demos with the Move and … they looked fun. I don’t think my living room is large enough or tidy enough to justify a purchase but it did look cool.
  • Dragon Age 2. Now with less blood spatters but still with some so you know which game you are playing. We cheered when there was a closeup on the blood spatter.
  • Indie Arcade. Didn’t have time to look at all the games, so focussed on a bizarre passive aggressive game which kept telling you to stand away from the computer and not press buttons. Also a fun explory/ platformy game where I amused the guy standing next to me by falling off a cliff and exclaiming, “Oh! I guess that’s not how you use the stairs.”
  • Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Absolutely adorable, and looked pretty fun too.
  • Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Reminded me of Uncharted 2, mostly down to the graphics, gameplay and camera angle.

In a press release about SWTOR, Bioware revealed more information about the smuggler. It’s sounding increasingly as though the smuggler IS Han Solo rather than just being inspired by him, and one of the latest reveals is that there is a wookie companion.

Also in gaming news this week was another spat between Bobby Kotick and whoever. I’m getting bored of following these arguments but they seem to get a lot of gaming press. I imagine it will be EA’s turn next week.

Gaming post of the week is Unsubject’s admiration of DCUO’s courageous and brave brave marketing decisions. The game is due to be released in November and we still know virtually nothing about the gameplay – it doesn’t bolster confidence.

Zombies in Black Ops

Activision revealed that Call of Duty: Black Ops will feature a multiplayer zombie mode. Apparently it will involve “brand new zombie experiences”. Your guess is as good as mine.

I don’t pretend to understand where it makes sense for a franchise that has always been fairly solidly based on well researched real world settings to go all zombie on us but zombies are cool, right? (Maybe the new zombie experience is that you actually get to play a zombie!) The game is due to launch on 9th Nov.

Another shooter which is drifting away from being too realistic is Medal of Honor, from which it was confirmed that references to the Taliban were dropped this week. Instead they have been renamed as “Opposing force.” Personally I think they should have just reskinned them as zombies.

Final Fantasy 14 launches on PC

September 30th marked the launch day for FF14.

Feedback I have heard so far has been positive, but keen to point out that the game harkens back to an older style of MMO than recent WoW fans (for example) may be comfortable with.

Microsoft interested in Second Life

The Escapist reported this week on a rumour that Microsoft has a bid in for Linden Labs, noting that LL laid off a lot of staff recently and is known to be in some trouble.

They think that Second Life would fit in great as a virtual world for xbox players. I’m not sure about that one myself, but it’ll be interesting to see what comes of it if the rumour is true.

Minecraft and Recettear show good sales

You may notice on the right hand margin of this page that I’ve included both Recettear and Minecraft under the current list of games we’re playing. (Arb is playing Minecraft, I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I will!).

We think they’re both ace, and so do lots of other people.

RPS reports that Recettear has sold over 26k copies, which is pretty darned good for a little indie PC game relying mostly on word of mouth, a near zero marketing budget, and digital downloads.

However, Minecraft makes that look paltry by apparently taking in $350k profit per day.

These trends all bode well for the indie market. With every awesome game that gets successful, players will be more and more willing to try another one if the word of mouth is good. Both of these games are excellent value for money –- obviously there’s no guarantee either will be up your street but both have demos and it won’t be hard to google a review online.

Skaven in Warhammer Online

Werit writes about (Bioware) Mythic’s announcements of their plans for WAR. Plans which include playable Skaven … sort of. Players will be able to control Skaven, but not in a way that replaces their main character.

I’m a little unclear on the details but it sounds as though players will be able to assume a Skaven role in PvP but there won’t be any supporting PvE for the rat people. Werit compares this to monster play in LOTRO which, to be fair, is enjoyed by a lot of people.

[SWTOR] I find your lack of excitement disturbing

Slowly, slowly more information is being released about Bioware’s upcoming WoW-killer, Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Last week, EA held a press event in London to show off a new playable species, their plans for class customisation and talent trees, and the Bounty Hunter. The link above also includes links to various press reviews of the demo. Most of which are notable for a tone of polite interest masking a lack of any genuine excitement.

Maybe people don’t want or need to get excited about their games any more. Maybe the journalists are so jaded from seeing demos and hype that they’re wary of piling on the plaudits for yet another game that will fail to meet its beta promise.

The writeups politely agree that combat looks fun, the demo story looks fun, and regret that much of the rest of what they saw is still in flux. Eurogamer has taken deserved flak (check the comments) for their MMO reviews recently, but Jon Blyth, reviewing for Eurogamer this time around does ask about plans for more alien races and gets the entertaining answer:

When I ask about others, I’m given an entertainingly evasive answer that they’d only be using humanoid races because love scenes get weird with blobs.

Love scenes get weird with blobs. Someone actually sat down and thought about it then? Hold me Garrus, Bioware are starting to scare me.

Today, the SWTOR Friday update announces their Advanced Class System, aka talent trees. This is Spinks’ lack of excitement. I don’t understand why my character has to choose between being dps or being a tank. Obviously I want to switch depending on what mood I’m in that night and what my friends are doing; or maybe that’s not obvious to anyone except me.

All I can say is that this fourth story pillar had better be absolutely knockout. And the truth is, I’m still so enamoured of the storytelling from Dragon Age and Mass Effect that if they are able to produce a massive version with several months worth of story based content, it won’t really matter if the gameplay fails to excite.

5 things I learned about Dragon Age

edited to add a link to the review: Read it here — it’s now up on the web.

PC Gamer this month features a glossy and rather glowing full review of Dragon Age — this one is notable partly because of the writing but also because the reviewer played the whole thing through to the end (he comments that it took him about 80 hours for his first epic playthrough). Even the editor notes:

The last two months have been excrutiating. We’ve had Dragon Age in the office for what feels like an epoch, and John’s been raving about how sensational it is almost daily.

There’s also a pre-review in Eurogamer. And as a sign of EA’s confidence in the game, they note:

It’s an important game, then; we got an indication how important (and how big) when publisher EA started distributing a complete PC review version to press months before its release. That never happens.

OK, enough of the behind the scenes stuff, what have we learned about the game itself.

  1. There will be two modes of play. Easy which is similar to MMO style play, and Normal where you can pause to set up actions for each party member repeatedly during the fight.
  2. In addition, you will be able to set up combat tactics for members of your party, similar to the way you could program behaviour into your party in FFXII. So you can set them to heal when they get low on health, switch from range to melee weapons, and so on. It sounds as though it can get quite complex if that’s what you want.
  3. Similarly, if you are interested in picking out a complex talent and skill spec for your character and party you can do it. If not, they can be set to skill up automatically along preset paths.
  4. Dwarvish culture — we’ve heard a bit about the elves, humans and mages. Dwarves have a complex caste system by which young dwarves take the same caste as their same-sex parent (ie. dwarf girls get their caste from their mother, dwarf boys from their father.) Then there are casteless dwarfs, unrecognised as members of society and with their ancestry removed from dwarven history (so presumably their children are fated to follow in their footsteps.)
  5. How your fellow party members feel about you will affect some romance options (apparently there are gay romance options too, my money is on the naughty tattooed witch for the female one because only ‘naughty’ girls are ever allowed to be bi in games, but I’d be happy to be proved wrong) but also give them gameplay buffs, unlock personal quests, and determine whether they leave or not.

If there was one comment in the PC Gamer review that really intrigued me, it was discussing  NPC vendors who follows you around:

Treat them as more than a shop, talk to them, and the details of their past emerge along with a surprising ethical quandary.

What I’d give for an NPC merchant in a MMO who rewarded you for treating them as more than a shop! In any case, the reviews sound as though the game is everything it has been described as and more. Reviewers praise the immersiveness of the setting and the sense of detail and having experienced a world, not just a game.  Phrases like ‘the RPG of the decade’ and ‘it feels like the consummate, traditional PC RPG’ are not bandied around lightly.

How will I survive the countdown to release date now, dammit?! I already decided that my first character will be the city elf fighter — the city elf beginning involves a wedding, an abduction, and possibly a rape, so I’ll try to model her on The Bride from Kill Bill. Anyone else got any ideas for characters?

[rhetorical question: I’ll survive by playing Torchlight, clearly. And maybe playing Dragon Age Journeys, the free flash game that goes live tonight.]

Mythic bets on the blogosphere. Would you?

I love reading (and writing) MMO blogs. If you’re reading this and you’re a blogger, THANK YOU. I love the level of conversation, the thought provoking writing, the platform for people to explain very different play styles and perspectives, the theorycraft, the rants, and the interaction.

Mythic Interactive

Ever since the development stages of Warhammer, Mythic employees have been actively chatting to bloggers.

So perhaps it isn’t surprising that they’ve chosen to publicise their two long awaited upcoming classes via (not very) obscure gift packages sent in the mail to bloggers. One to Keen and Graev (who have a cute post puzzling about it, of course it’s about Slayers, you berks!!) and one to The Greenskin.

Apart from the side-effect of inciting jealousy in all the other Warhammer bloggers, I can’t help wondering how effective this is for getting the word out.

How many people read gaming blogs?

But how many people really read blogs? We know that most MMO players don’t even read official forums, and blogs are surely a smaller proportion than that.

As a rough guide, when the Book of Grudges was at its peak, we used to get about 1000 visitors a day. We were one of the more popular Warhammer Online blogs but my guess is that blogs like Waaagh and The Greenskin would get two or three times that. (A lot of blog readers will just pick one favourite blog and not regularly read several). A popular but more generalist blog like Tobold’s may get at least that many, possibly more.

And presumably the big WoW blogs may be on 5000+ hits per day. WoW Insider may have much higher numbers, I suspect that as a site they have a lot of readers who don’t typically read blogs.

I am assuming that gamers  are more interested in specialist blogs about the game they are currently playing than are interested in general MMO issues/design. And since WoW is the big gorilla on the block, that translates into more traffic for the big WoW blogs than for those of other games. It might be incorrect, there may be some games which just foster a higher level of web activity than others.

This is not to say that I don’t love and appreciate both of my readers :)

How influential is the blogosphere?

Obviously it’s cheap PR to send a few pieces of tat in the post. And certainly the pro online gaming news sites do keep an eye on the bigger blogs (this is the story from Eurogamer.net about the Slayer) . It also enhances the company’s reputation for engaging with its players/fanbase on a very grass roots level. (Can you imagine Blizzard doing this? Thought not.)

Anyhow, it is because of being picked up by the larger media sites that this method seems sound to me. It’s just an alternative, cute way of putting out a press release. I thought it was all quite fun!

An addendum about the word blogosphere

I love the word blogosphere. It has a “trendy media talking about web2.0″ vibe to it, but according to dictionary.com, the word dates back to 1997 (ie. practically the dark ages.) Now that it’s out of my system I promise that I will never use it again.