Gaming News: Earth Eternal for sale, Layoffs at APB dev, Spellborn closes down, Rage runs on an iPhone, Valve trademarks DotA, Digital Sales chart for the UK

Not a week of good news for the MMO milieu with various layoffs and closures hitting the headlines. Usually when a game is being run down, it won’t be a surprise to anyone who was paying attention because they will have noticed the ever decreasing numbers (and interest).

Even so, some publishers will keep the servers going right up to the end. SOE in particular has a reputation for supporting (for some value of support) less popular games like Vanguard. Compare that to Zynga, who took flak a few weeks ago for closing one of their less popular (but still hundreds of thousands of players) games without any warning at all.

On the subject of new games, there is also a rumour that Atari is set to announce a new Neverwinter Nights based MMO, from Cryptic.

Plus we are knee deep in convention season with Gamescom next week in Germany looking to be the highlight of the summer, with representation from Blizzard, Arenanet, Bioware, et al. (Anyone planning to go to that?)

Earth Eternal for sale, APB not for sale

Earth Eternal, the cute anthropomorphic animal based game, is on shaky ground at the moment. The developers, Sparkplay Media, are closing down due to having run out of money. The CEO’s letter is particularly poignant:

I’m sorry. I’ve failed you despite my best efforts. I’ve never worked harder in my life, but it wasn’t enough. Things that we planned on happening didn’t, and things we didn’t plan on happening did. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail and I don’t want to try to shift responsibility to anyone but myself. There’s really nothing I can say other than I am very very sorry to have let you down.

So here’s hoping they are able to find a buyer.

Rumours this week were also flying about Realtime Worlds, developers of APB (the Grand Theft Auto MMO-alike). They announced layoffs of 60 staff, the entire team of the MyWorld project which was only announced last month.

The rumour that APB was actually for sale were denied, but it’s never a good sign to see so many people go. The developers commented in reponse to the rumours:

“As we’ve announced we had to restructure the company to make it so that we can focus totally on APB.”

“APB is still going strong and we fully intend to support 100 per cent. In fact we have a cool announcement coming this afternoon, so keep your eyes peeled.”

Chronicles of Spellbourn, a game I rather liked in beta, is definitely in the process of closing up shop. The game has been in limbo for the last few months, after changing payment methods to free to play didn’t solve any cashflow issues. But now it has been announced that the servers are to shut down for good in September.

Rage! On an iPhone! And on everything else in September

Fans of shooters will likely be looking forwards to Rage, id’s next title which is due for release on all platforms on 13th September.

John Carmack wowed the crowd at Quakecon last week by demonstrating the game running on an iPhone 4. I’m now intrigued by how a shooter could work on a touchscreen machine. Surely if you can aim by touching, that rather takes the effort out of the whole thing and turns it into a straight forwards whack-a-mole? cnet aren’t sure about this either but fact is, this was presented as a cool demo rather than a release candidate. (Carmack did comment that the lack of buttons on the iPhone presented a hurdle. Maybe he’ll be happier with the new PSP phone …)

The PSP phone, incidentally, sounds like a dreadful idea to me. We all know how well the Nokia NGage concept went. Not. Sure, Sony Ericsson know a few things about phoned but so did Nokia. We’ll just have to see if they can lever their game console expertise into the design mix and come up with something people want to use.

In other action/gaming rumours, Valve have filed a trademark for Defence of the Ancients which presumably signals some intent do do something with the popular IP which was originally developed as a mod for Warcraft III.

Come to think of it, WC 3 also spawned tower defence as a genre (OK, apparently there were tower defence games before that but I think the WC mods made them much more prominnt) so it has a lot to answer for. I wonder if SC2 mods will also generate entire new genres of games.

Digital Download Sales Charts for the UK

I thought this was an interesting post about moves towards generating more accurate digital games sales charts for the UK. The key is that the publishers involved (so far: Ubisoft, THQ, Sega, NCsoft, Mastertronic, Kalypso Media, Midas Interactive and Square Enix) are going to include sales data from third party resellers such as Steam.

It’s still early days, but good to see some movement on trying to track PC sales more accurately. Because anyone who has been into a game shop recently will know how little of the shelf space is given to PC games these days.

[Cataclysm] Rage changes, and the beginning of the end

Blizzard picked the Easter Weekend to begin dribbling out the hard information about class changes for Cataclysm.

We know that there will be many changes, and that talent trees are being completely reworked. We also know that some classes will change more than others, and that the design team want to take the opportunity to make some large, far reaching changes/ fixes.

But we also all know that this really means the beginning of the end. From here on in, it’s going to be all about Cataclysm (with a brief pause when the next patch drops for some ruby sanctum and echo isles saving fun)

So what does the future have in store for warriors and bear druids?

The major design announcements this weekend were all about the future plans for Rage and for Heroic Strike/ Maul.

As usual this expansion, Blizzard have been very forthcoming about listing exactly what issues they are trying to address:

  • Warriors/druids in the lowest levels of gear can be Rage-starved.
  • Warriors/druids in the highest levels of gear no longer have to manage their Rage when it becomes infinite.
  • Warrior/druid tanks lose Rage income as they improve their gear and take less damage.
  • The gameplay of warrior and druid tanks loses a lot of depth when massive boss hits means never having to manage Rage.
  • Heroic Strike and Maul are effective, but tedious abilities for using up extra Rage.
  • In general, warriors and druids don’t have enough control over their Rage.
  • To resolve these issues, Rage will be normalized in Cataclysm. This will make the Rage gained by characters more consistent and avoid drastic differences between low-end and high-end gear.

This is going to be a great change. All of those issues? They are all true right now. We’ve experienced them and they make the game less fun than it could be. They’re going to be addressed, and I can’t wait to try out the new design!

The other big issue is that DPS warriors currently get nerfed several times per expansion due to the way gearing up affects both their rage and damage output. (It’s the opposite of a vicious cycle; when you hit harder you get  more rage, so you can spam more attacks, which means you get more rage …)

Also, it sucks when you are unlucky with getting tanking weapons (yes I’m still using the one from Flame Leviathan when I don’t just sub in a DPS  1 hander), because your damage directly affects your rage and a weapon from a later instance will do more damage, regardless of the defensive stats on it. I’m hoping that Cataclysm will eliminate tanking swords which will both save us some hassle and stop people whining quite so much when 1 handed swords drop.

Anyway, the great thing about rage normalisation is that it will no longer dependent be on your damage output(or how much damage is done to you). So both a new DPS warrior and an overgeared Prot Warrior will no longer have to worry about being rage starved, although +hit (being able to hit the target) will still be important.

Warriors and Bear Druids will both also get more sources of instant rage – so if you really need to pick up some adds quickly or throw down some burst dps, you’ll be able to grab a dose of emergency rage.

There are some risks with the new rage normalisation scheme:

  1. Tanks left unbalanced while Blizzard tweak the new scheme. We know that DKs and Paladins are both strong tanks and that all of us Bears and Warriors want to try to stay competitive. We also know that when Blizzard tried to normalise rage at the beginning of TBC, warriors got shafted. If it happens again, there will be very few warriors/ bears tanking in Cataclysm because they’ll see the writing on the wall and switch to a different tank class.
  2. Tanking rotations get too complex. Whatever happens, tanks need to be able to keep up some threat output whilst dragging bosses around the room in a complex pattern, avoiding fire, and still being ready to use an interrupt/ cooldown as needed. If there are too many other variables to watch at the same time, it could all get a bit too stressful.
  3. One size fits all. Is there really a model for rage that will work for prot warriors, bear tanks AND two different dps warrior specs without leaving one over or under powered?
  4. Class in general gets too fiddly/ less fun. The temptation to just switch to paladin (or death knight) with its more forgiving model and similar functionality for the next expansion is going to be high. For example, I already find DK DPS rotations to be smoother and more fun than the warrior equivalent, plus DKs get much more utility while in DPS mode.
  5. The change is too great. This is more likely to apply to druids, who notoriously have a fairly dull tanking rotation. Some players probably love it the way it is right now and don’t want a ‘more engaging experience’.

Bornakk also comments, wisely:

We understand this change may be scary for many players, but keep in mind that the constants in the formulas for gaining Rage will give us the ability to make quick adjustments if we feel Rage generation is too low.

So they will be looking to make quick adjustments if this needs more tuning. Pre-expansion class changes in the past have always been patched in about a month or so before a new expansion drops. So that means we should have a chance to both play with the new normalised rage AND for Blizzard to tweak it appropriately before Cataclysm goes live.

Call me a glass half full person but I’m looking forwards to seeing how this plays out. And if we all hate it, then we all just reroll paladins or death knights (if we don’t have them already).

On next swing abilities – Maul and Heroic Strike

These on next swing abilities have been a quality of life issue for a long time. Many warriors and druids just use macros to basically smash this thing into the keyboard on every autoattack. (e.g. every ability is macroed to include Heroic Strike, such as: /cast Revenge /cast Heroic Strike and then you can just mash the buttons normally and the next swing ability should be constantly queued.)

There is currently some rage management involved, but not a lot. I see it mostly when playing Fury, which is the only warrior spec that uses a rotation. So it’s important to keep enough rage back to allow you to use the full rotation.

In future, this will change.

To clarify on Heroic Strike, it costs a third of your rage bar when you hit the button, but you can’t hit it unless you have 10 rage and it will only ever take a max of 30 (since that’s essentially a third of your full bar). The intent is that when you don’t have a lot of rage, it’s not an attractive button. When you are gaining too much rage, then you want to start pushing it.

No longer will you be required to spam it on every attack, and you won’t have the infinite rage that would allow you to do so in any case. Blizzard also comment that they have plans which will allow tanks to keep tank damage and threat high – we just don’t yet know what they are.

This is going to have a much greater effect on Bears than on Warriors, since they depend far more heavily on Maul for their threat. I also think Bears stand to gain much more from a more interesting play style and rotation. They have complained plenty about spamming Swipe and Maul, so hopefully this will be more fun.

The Future’s Bright, the Future’s Orange (well, red maybe)

I am really looking forwards to trying out these new changes, and hope we’ll get a chance to do so before Cataclysm drops. I always enjoyed Rage as a mechanic on my warrior and I do feel that these changes keep the general feel of it — you will still gain rage both from attacking AND from being attacked.

Unlike some others, I don’t think warriors have been broken this expansion. I don’t think Protection has ever been as fun to play as it is right now, and I’m seeing designers looking at our current issues and finding ways to make it even more fun and less annoying.

But we can’t look at tanks in a vacuum.  If we aren’t happy with our warrior/ bear changes, we will simply switch class for the next expansion. (Other tank classes are unlikely to receive such sweeping changes as this rage redesign, because they don’t need it as much.) That’s the risk.