Cataclysm: Peacebloom v Ghouls

singingsunflower

Anyone who was paying attention to the latest list of Cataclysm achievements will have noticed a couple for surviving waves of “Peacebloom v Ghouls.” And if, like me, you love Popcap games you were probably dancing around at that point, because it could only mean one thing: Plants v Zombies comes to Warcraft.

And as an example of why Blizzard is always so feted for their polish, not only have they implemented a version as a minigame, but one of the rewards is a singing sunflower pet. And it will be voiced by Laura Shighara, who is the composer for the original PvZ score and song.

Here is a video of the WoW minigame in action, with some voiceover explaining what is going on.

Does anyone else wonder how this fits into the new ‘no advertising on MMOs’ scheme at Activision? Sure, it’ll be great fun but I’d be astounded if it doesn’t also sell a lot of PvZ (which is an awesome game, incidentally).

Minigames in MMOs

Lots of MMOs feature mini games of some sort. You could even argue that combat is a type of minigame, as is playing with the economy. But it’s the instanced style of minigame that has the possibility to be so anti-immersive. Not only does it take you out of the main virtual world, but into another one with completely different rules.

And the sad thing is that the parts of MMOs which probably should be minigames (crafting!) usually aren’t.

Anyhow, if you love the sound of Peacebloom v Ghouls and are curious about other games which offer a lot of slickly executed minigames to try while wandering around the world, hie thee to Free Realms. It’s a very neat game and has lots and lots of cool minigames (including tower defence, bejewelled-style match-3 games, and cart racing) to try out as you explore.

SOEs latest Clone Wars Adventures is also chock full of minigames, although without the virtual world to wander as well. (This game is more like a minigame arcade.)

You might also want to check out Wizard 101, in which combat works far more like a card based minigame than a typical MMO and which also has an arcade of rather addictive minigames to help you regen mana.

Feel free to recommend any games in comments and I’ll add them to the list.

Gaming News: Landmarks for Wizard 101 and Free Realms, Rumour Control (SWTOR beta, DCUO pricing, APB adverts), CoH expansion dated, Blizzard writing contest

If you have somehow escaped knowing this, Steam have a really good sale on at the moment. Also, we’re about to lose at football again. Is that really news?

Numbers are up for Free Realms and Wizard 101

Good news everyone! Kid friendly non-subscription MMOs have posted some great numbers this week. Wizard 101 registered its 10 millionth player this week, with Free Realms claiming it’s jaw-droppingly 12th million signup.

Obviously the majority of these players are not actually paying to play, and many of them probably registered, checked out the game, and never came back. But props to both studios for getting the word out. Millions of players found out about those games  somehow – probably not through the gaming press — and came to check them out. That is not a small accomplishment.

If you want to join the party, you can get to Wizard 101 here, and Free Realms here. They’re both solid, kid oriented games.

Assorted Rumors, we’ve got them here!

The beta test for Star Wars: The Old Republic is widely rumoured to have started this weekend. Apparently 100-200 people received invitations to a game testing program, and SWTOR community managers have clarified what is and isn’t covered by their NDA (a fairly good sign that there’s something going on.)

Anyone care to bet that Blizzard will end up releasing Diablo 3 in the same month that SWTOR goes live? Anyone?

Sony confirmed this week that they’re going with an old fashioned subscription pricing setup for DC Universe Online. Or should I say, “old fashioned subscription model but probably with a cash shop anyway”? It’s interesting that they decided not to distinguish their game from CoH and Champions Online by going with a different pricing model. Clearly they’ve looked at their various portfolio of games and run the numbers, and think that they’re playing to a more hardcore audience here.

APB continues to flirt with controversy by deciding to play audio ads to players – even paying players. I don’t personally feel that one advert every three hours or so is something to get worked up about, is this even the sort of game that people play for three hours straight? Still, it takes double dipping to a new level if you look at income sources. Players pay for hours, plus there’s a cash shop, plus income from advertising.

I don’t imagine there’s all that much cash YET in in-game advertising, but I’ll be interested to see if it catches on.

Turbine is rumoured to be working on a new console MMO, with the assistance of Twisted Pixel. Scott@Pumping Irony guesses that this might be a Harry Potter game, given that Turbine is now owned by Warner Brothers who own that licence. I think I’d go with that as my guess also.

On a more local level, politicians had been talking excitedly here about the possibility of some kind of tax break for gaming companies. This went out of the window in the recent ‘austerity’ budget. But was there undue influence from outside companies lobbying against this? Did ‘one of the biggest gaming companies in the world’ really sabotage the tax break? The local gaming industry body says no, government made that decision all on their own. I’m inclined to believe them, this wasn’t a budget in which there was ever going to be much support for tax breaks.

And finally, is Linden Labs (the developer of Second Life) in trouble? They’ve just sacked their CEO and earlier this year they made 30% of the staff redundant. There is no good spin for that sort of story. They’re going down.

Going Rogue goes live in August

NCSoft announced that 17th August is the date for City of Heroes players to pencil into their diaries.  Going Rogue always sounded to be an interesting expansion, promising moral choices for players and the possibility for heroes to become villains or vice versa. I’ll be curious to hear more about it (probably from my husband since he’s a huge fan :) ).

I think they’ve done well to pick a date which is in the traditional MMO doldrums, before the rush of new games in the Autumn and Winter months. Maybe players who are bored with their other games will be lured into picking up an old fan favourite to see what they have to offer.

Anyone thinking of trying this?

Blizzard seeks fanfic writers

Last year’s contest was evidently popular because Blizzard is again running a fanfic competition. If you have any stories to tell that are set in the gameworlds of Diablo, Starcraft, or Warcraft, this could be your chance to shine.

These are last year’s winners if anyone wants to gauge the possible standard of entries. I rather enjoyed the winner (bit too elfy is my only criticism.)

Why can’t magic in games feel more magical?

Although I like my warlock alt, playing him is not an immersive experience.

You sit at the back, you hit buttons to cast your spells, but you might as well be firing a gun or throwing stones — the ‘magic’ is just a veneer.

There is no sense of being a student of an ancient mysticism, or studying and researching spells in libraries, or having to work out hand gestures and counterspells on the fly. Casting spells in fantasy games is usually just down to what animations you get. My warlock summons demons, but I don’t feel drawn to the dark side or that I have to make tricky deals with evasive and malicious beings.

Now I realise that players (or their parents) are incredibly sensitive to anything that smacks of real world mysticism in their games. But that isn’t what I am asking for, I just want designers to put some effort into making me feel like an proper fantasy wizard.

By contrast, one of the reasons that I love my warrior in WoW is how hands on the combat feels. Obviously it’s nothing like swinging a real weapon but position and maneuvering does matter, it’s important that she keeps her weapons in good condition (by repairing them), and the speed at which she swings depends on the weapon type. It’s cosmetic too, but warriors are a very visceral class to play, and this is one reason for their popularity. You go Rar and hit things over the head, and that’s the experience the game delivers.

Wizards are part of the D&D setup, but they have to lose so much of their identity to go join an adventuring party with the standard rogue, cleric, and fighter. It isn’t enough just to don the robes and wave the staff.

How could magic feel more magical?

In classic fantasy, wizards are often scholars. Even in Harry Potter, the centre of the magical universe is a school and some of the most powerful wizards are teachers. So I’d like to feel that sense of scholarship, of spending downtime studying or discussing issues with other wizards in libraries. I’d like to collect books, be a repository of lore, and understand more about how the world works than other classes. I’d like to read ancient languages and decipher arcane codes.

I want to build my high tower, and bargain with strange eldritch beings. I want  magical adventures, but also be called on by regular NPCs who want a wizard’s help with something they can’t do alone.  I’d like to feel that I could use magic to help the corn to grow better as well as cast fireballs on people. I want my wizard to feel like a part of her local community, the spooky but well disposed caster in her tower on the edge of the forest.

I also want to see how a community of mages would really work. How might they work together? How might they pick and train apprentices? How might they bicker or fight?

I also want proper magical duels, like Merlin fought in Sword in the Stone.

So what I’d want to see is a more flexible system, where magic could be used in a number of ways. I like the idea of casting spells on the fly, so a puzzle-based system of combat might work quite well. Maybe you’d have to include knowledge based elements based on what you were fighting, then a skill based element for how powerful the spell should be, and possibly collaborative elements if more than one wizard was working together on a spell.

The only game I know which is so focussed on casters is Wizard 101. As a kid-friendly game, it’s not quite what I had in mind. But not a bad start. It’s free to try if anyone is curious. I didn’t really feel that the card system did it for me (it’s  a bad sign when I preferred to  spend more time playing the mana regen minigames than actually doing quests).

It’s surprising to me that I don’t know of more single player games that are designed around a caster as the main character too. Because normally you’d think of those as a better immersive platform. Do designers just assume everyone wants to either hit things or carry a big gun?