[GW2] Open Beta to start in March

Do you believe that Guild Wars 2 is going to be the saviour of the fantasy-themed diku-based-but-with-a-few-tweaks FTP AAA open-world-but-also-themepark-kind-of MMO? Will it be be too WoW-like to please the Guild Wars fans? How do a  plant based people have sex anyway (OK, maybe I was the only one who wanted to know that)?

Get ready to rock, GW2 fans, because Arenanet announced today that Open Beta will start in March. They also have a cute ‘year of the dragon’ post to match Chinese New Year. Why oh why do MMO devs never announce a year of the haggis to fit with Burns Night ….

Why Star Trek Online needs lots of combat


Note: The image above is my beta character right at the beginning of the tutorial. I’m hoping to have some more time with the game over the weekend, with a view to writing up my own impressions next week.

Star Trek Online is well into open beta when I write this. Syp has compiled a long list of various blogger’s first impressions if you are curious as to how the game is being received, but one comment that I have heard from fans is that … Trek shouldn’t be a combat centric game. After all, in the episodes, the crew are much more likely to be brokering diplomatic treaties, discovering cures for space lurgy, or just messing around with Q.

In response to this, an anecdote from my pen and paper years. As an undergraduate engineer, we were all sent off to a one week course in a factory in Birmingham to teach us to use machining equipment (it was considered essential that all qualified engineers know how to use a lathe, grinder, arc welder, and other machine tools — even software engineers). So there we were, staying in a pretty rough area where the nightlife wasn’t, and it wasn’t safe to wander around late anyway. One of the group had brought his Star Trek RPG books with him so we got a game together to pass the time.

It was great. But every time anyone did anything cool, they got court martialled. My character got court-martialled once for setting her phaser to kill even though she didn’t shoot anyone with it. That is the Star Trek universe if you play it according to canon. The hijinks that the crew of the Enterprise get up to in the TV series will get YOUR character court-martialled. And they were mild compared to the antics that a group of player characters (PCs) will typically manage.

So if Cryptic choose to stir things up by declaring all out war all over their background, it should be considered a great boon for immersion. Why? Because in times of war, even Star Fleet will actually let you kill people and generally take part in the sorts of mad derring-do that people play games for in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong, a more canonic version of the Star Trek ethos would be fun, and would probably work great in a single player game where you can really play up the inter-character drama and interesting choices that players might need to make. (I’m thinking that a Star Trek themed game like Dragon Age would be terrific fun, but we do have Mass Effect 2 coming up for those who want to get their Bioware Sci-Fi game on). But when you have lots of players milling around in your world, especially when said world has largely negated the need for crafting or currency, you probably do need to let them shoot things.

Or else instead of Star Trek Online, you will end up with Star Fleet Court Martial Online.

These are the Voyages of the Starship Tribblebuster


Star Trek Online is (still) currently due to launch on February 2nd in the US and the 5th here in Europe, less than a month from today. And as is customary, the NDA for press has been dropped before the general punters in the beta test are officially allowed to talk about their experiences.

The open beta is due to start next week, on Jan 12th, where everyone who has preordered will get a chance to see a) if they feel that they’ll get their money’s worth and b) to try to snag some variant of the name USS Enterprise which will be pointless because beta characters get wiped before the headstart, but people will forget this fact.

Cryptic have provided for a wide range of pre-order bonuses, depending on which purveyor of digital entertainment you choose to grace with your custom. These are nicely gauged to draw in the Trekkies (Constitution Class starship, mirror universe costumes, pet tribble, etc) without actually affecting the gameplay in any way. Whatever you think of this type of trick (bribe the punters with cute pets and cosmetic outfits!), it works. Or at least, it works on this punter. Bring on the tribble!

And now I just need someone to tell me how long the ship names are allowed to be so I can decide whether USS Justifiable Homicide is a go or not. Or I could wait until next week, when I will hopefully be able to file some reports from deep space in person.

Still, how are the initial preview reports shaping up?

Gamespy features a three part preview, where Gerald Villoria focusses on explaining what it’s all about (at least in the parts I have read, maybe he brings his conclusions in at the end.)

Wesley Yin-Poole at Videogamer.com likes the game and says that when it is good it is very good, but it feels grindy in the closed beta, and he finds it painfully slow paced. (My comment: Grindiness is something that is easily fixed in a tuning pass if it’s an issue, so that’s not necessarily a roadblock. But I do appreciate that he played the game and gave his genuine impressions – that’s what I like to see in a preview.)

Nick Kolan describes the opening mission in impressive depth (wonder if he played it much longer than that) at ign.com.

Anyone else planning on Star Trekkin’?

Free Trials, Open Betas, Welcome Back Weekends — Do they tempt you?

MMOs are difficult games to pin down; they’re constantly changing and growing, being streamlined, including temporary holiday events, and adding new content and rewards. A game that failed to grab you at launch may be exactly what you are looking for in six months time.

But it is a difficult task to tempt a player back to a game after they have tried and abandoned it once. And just as hard to lure new players into an older game where they may have to level solo with very little guidance, and then find themselves bottom of the pecking order among the established playerbase.

So what can games do to encourage players to take a second (or first) look? We’ve seen increasing numbers of games this year flock to the Welcome Back Weekend banner. LOTRO and Champions Online have held repeated free weeks for ex-customers, and even WoW offered a free week in game recently. It’s a handy way to check the game out, remind yourself about any old characters you left hanging, and see what has changed since you last played. Even to touch base with old friends and guildies who still play.

Free Trials and Open Betas (which pretty much are free trials these days) make it easier for a new player to decide to throw down some cash on a subscription. At least you will know the game runs on your machine, and whether or not you like the feel of it and the community.

I know that having a welcome back week in LOTRO helped me decide to resubscribe. It also helped a lot that Arbitrary was happy to show me around and help me catch up to what I needed to be doing during the free week. I also know that I have never subscribed to an MMO sight-unseen. There has always at least been a free trial or open beta involved.

How about you? Do welcome back weeks tempt you back? Would you buy a game without trying it first? Do you play open betas because it’s the closest you can get to a free trial? And if you do have friends who you know are on a free trial, do you try to sell the game to them or help them out especially?

Lifetime and 6 Month Subscriptions to Champions Online are Back!

Cryptic caused a stir earlier this week when they announced that the tempting subscription deals offered to early adopters for Champions Online were sold out. The playerbase was consternated and confused. On the one hand they’d been told that the subscriptions would be available until August 31st, and on the other that they were limited. And since the open beta only started a couple of days ago, that left very little time for people who hadn’t been in the closed beta to get a feel for the game and decide whether they wanted to spring for the special deals.

All over the internet, and especially on the CO boards, a thousand voices cried out. And Cryptic listened — the lifetime and 6 month subscription offers are back until August 31st, and they’re unlimited this time. Good luck to anyone who wasn’t able to pick one up before but still wants to buy, and Syp has some tips for new players to CO to get you started.

I wonder if they’ll sell more of the subscriptions by introducing an arbitrary scarcity, inciting a panic, and then opening the offer again … for 3 days only.