Jade Dynasty, a quick look at a new F2Play MMORPG

I've decided to give Jade Dynasty a shot while I wait on my new laptop to arrive, at which point I will be creating an Eve Online account. Until then I am joining my RL friends in playing this Free2Play MMORPG, made by the same studio that made Perfect World.

My exploration into character creation was rather short, as I was given very limited options. The character "class" isn't chosen until I reach level 15, which leaves me with the customization of my gender, facial appearance(I must choose from preset faces), hairstyle, and name. I went with a female character, named "MaleIRL". I thought it was humorous. After choosing that I logged into my character and began to play around with movements and maneuvering.

The movement in the game is smooth, but unpolished. Jumping, for instance, is rather unrealistic if you release the forward key which causes your momentum to vanish. Some of the movement animations also need work. I noticed the distinct lack of left-right turning with keys, which are usually bound to the "E" and "Q" keys by default. The preferred method of turning is by holding the right click.

Something interesting about this game is that much of the gameplay can be set to auto. The player can click on the ground somewhere in view to move there, which is common for Asian MMORPGs, but in Jade Dynasty, you can click on a spot on the map and your character will run there automatically, using an intelligent, probably pre-designed path. Under the quest pane, if you click on the name of the npc which you have to turn the quest into or the name of the item you are to acquire, the character will automatically run there also.

The combat was routine. There is a hotbar, and most abilities require a "casting" time. For the first 30 levels, which seemed to be the "introductory" levels, the player is given a "heavy blow" attack which one shots most monsters anywhere near your level every second, though it's effects are reduced as you level up and the monsters become harder to kill.

Botting is also a mechanic in this game in the form of "Espers". It's a identical to most "botting" programs which are banned in other MMORPGs. It plays the character for you, fighting, picking up loot, and self healing. It even has quest monster recognition and skill priority management. Honestly, I don't see this particular mechanic doing much good for the longevity of the game.

The environment of the agme is completely Chinese; the clothing, characters, monsters, landscape, are all distinctly inspired by ancient Chinese times. So far, I haven't noticed any horrendous translation in quest text and dialogue as is the case with so many other Asian Free2Play games. The world of Jade Dynasty consists of 10 zones, each of which are medium to large. Early on, all characters, no matter which class they later choose, are able to able to tame pets and use them in combat. The pets provide some minor damage, but do require upkeep in the form of food.

So far, I've managed to reach level 18, and my overall feeling about the game is good, considering that it's a Free2Play game. I don't think I would play this game for long, even if I hadn't already decided to play Eve Online. There doesn't seem to be enough challenge, and the combat, which is the real meat of the gameplay, is rather repetitive, and if I choose to put the character on autopilot to kill monsters, it doesn't make it anymore fun as I just end up staring at the game play itself. I will continue to play this game for at least a few more days and I'll see where it leads.

EA and Epic Fail - Need for Speed(Xbox 360 ver.) tries to access PSN

Okay, the phrase "epic fail" is thrown around far too often, when the situation warrants merely "fail". But this is a situation that truly warrants EPIC FAIL.

EA's new racing sim, Need for Speed: Shift, has been complained about as being bug ridden. There are plenty of games that have been released far too early, but this half-assed excuse for a game dwarfs any example that I can think of.

According to one upset blogger who feels he has been cheated out of his $70, the game crashes when trying to access the Playstation Store... while he's playing it on his Xbox 360. It seems that there was some definite lack QA testing, or else someone would have noticed the Xbox 360 version trying to access the Playstation Network(PSN). My guess is the programmers got lazy when creating it for different platforms and did a straight copy and paste job.

Team Fortress User-Made Concept Update

So there's a new "Team Update" for Team Fortress 2. While there's nothing special about the update, there is a user-made concept update that's been posted on many gaming sites. The concept calls for a new support class, the "guard dog" class. The author even received a response from Valve. Personally, I thought the letter was much funnier than the class, which was also interesting in itself. You can check out the concept here.

Statistics behind World of Warcraft

Ever since Everquest began to cover up hard numbers in order to reduce strategic information being fed to rivals in the MMORPG market, MMORPG companies have been tight lipped about specific numbers about players, financies, hardware, etc. Only revealing what was necessary to shareholders.

At GDC Austin, J. Allen Brack and Frank Pearce of Blizzard Entertainment. Below I have broken down the numbers they revealed. These numbers do answer some questions about how much Blizzard invests in the maintenance and further development of their biggest title, World of Warcraft.

There is or has been:
4,449,680,399 achievement rewards unlocked by players
1.5 million assets
70,000 spells
40,000 npcs
7650 quests
180,000 bugs since launched that have been fixed
360,000 text strings or words
120,000,000 Battle.net accounts
at least 5.5 million lines of code
75,000 cpu cores
13,250 servers
112.5 terabytes of server ram
20,000 computer systems
1.3 petabytes of storage
2,056 game masters
340 billing manager
66 community team
245 QA team(largest)
32 programming department
37 design team
51 art department
123 cinematic department
10 production department
4,600 in total(Not all teams were broken down into numbers by the presenters)
10,000 articles written about WoW
1640 WoW events presented by Blizzard
100,000 participants at Blizzcon this year
10,000,000 views of WoW commercials
400 retail products

Source: Gamasutra GDC Austin: An inside look at the universe of Warcraft

New Cataclysm trailer

There's a new trailer depicting some of the terrain changes in the expansion. Nothing else really. Good to watch if your curious how the world will look. The tauren doing a divine storm still makes me go WTF o.O

Star Trek Online Beta

Cryptic Studios, the guys developing the Star Trek MMO is taking applications for beta testers. I have already sent in my application. From what I've seen through screenshots and descriptions, I am definitely looking forward to it. It's a huge step away from the fantasy based MMO. From what I've seen, ship to ship combat looks to be something similar to EVE Online, you maneuver your ship directly and the combat is basically "click and fire". A description on the website implies that surface missions will be managed through team leaders that you delegate control to.

There are a few things I believe will solidify this game as a step into a new genre of MMOs:
First, I don't think it should be an "exp/level" based system that's been used to death by MMORPGs. There can be a gear based system, where you can upgrade your ship's equipment using some kind of currency.
Second, I think it would give a more engaging and authentic feel if there was micromanaging involve with the crew and passengers on your ship. I'm not saying it should be turned into "Theme Spaceship", but managing morale, food and medical supplies, and overall satisfaction of the passengers would do the game good. There could even be ferrying missions that involve defending yourself from Ferengi pirates.
Third, I think gear/level impact on combat should be kept to a minimum. There will always be skilled players who decimate the competition, but in place of the gear/level, the void is filled by actual player skill. Deciding which weapon to use, timing, maneuvering, and strategic thinking will fill in the void left by the lack of level and reliance on gear differences. I'm not saying there should be no changes in equipment, of course there should be, but there should be a cap on what kind of weapons can be outfitted on a ship. A cap that most people reach shortly after moving out of the newbie stage. What I mean is that the gear hierarchy should not be vertical, where the next weapon is a full upgrade over the previous one, but horizontal, meaning that each weapon is suited for different situations and learning which weapons to use in different types of combat is how you separate a noob from an elite player.

Anyways, those are my hopes. Judging from what Cryptic has done with Champions Online, it's very possible none of the 3 things I have listed will be implemented and they could ruin a great chance at a new type of MMO.

Here's the link for the Star Trek Beta: Star Trek Online Closed Beta Signups

My thoughts on downloadable content

It seems that ever since downloadable content(DLC) has become popular, developers have been announcing upcoming DLC before the full version of the game has even been released. My main issue with it is whether developers are hacking away parts of their full game and saving it for future DLC packages in order to charge the customers more for what should have been in the full retail game. The main complaint against DLC is in fact this issue. I don't think anyone is arguing that charging for extra content which the studios took time create is unfair, although if they are to charge the consumer, the content should be significant, and not just an extra jacket or one level, more like 5 new weapons, an extra character, and 10 new levels, or something along the those lines. What people are worried about is the practice of withdrawing content from an initial release and later, release that content which should have been in the full retail version, as downloadable content.

First, I would like to describe and explain the rise of DLC for those who may not be very familiar with it. It was successfully implemented for the first time on Xbox Live, although it's beginning trace back to the Dreamcast. The most popular titles for which DLC was available were initially Halo 2, Ninja Gaiden, and Splinter Cell. These addons packages were available for free though. Microsoft decided to charge a fee for the first time with the game, Mech Assault in 2002. And from there, they just kept the ball rolling with paid DLC. This method of content distribution has spilled onto other home consoles like the PS3 and Wii, and has even been used for handheld consoles.

Back to the present. I can't help but be a little suspicious when development studios are announcing, in detail mind you, what DLC will be offered before the launch date of the full game, and I'm looking your way, Infinity Ward. But to examine this problem, we really must define what exactly a "full" game is, as the whole argument behind this rationale is that they are withholding content from the full game and charging extra for it. So what constitutes a full video game. A full game is game which the developers initially had conceptualized and created prior to launch. It should also have a complete story, meaning, not the "to be continued..." received at the end of Halo 2. Content which affects gameplay, like weapons, vehicles, maps, is a bit harder to pin down and label as something which completes the game rather then add "extra flavor" to it.

Often, developers will withhold characters, weapons, or some other in game feature they eventually release later as DLC. Generally, these are restricted to smaller items which don't change the balance of the game or outright make your character godly. Especially for First Person Shooters(FPS), DLC will generally be extra maps to to play with your friends on, for example Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, and Killzone 2. While it's almost impossible to truly figure out if the developers withheld those few levels from the full game, just so they can squeeze another 5-10 dollars out of you, we can look a the full game itself and tell if it was under par in number of maps, weapons, or features. This is difficult in itself as making a comparison between the game in question and others is not fair; they are different games. But think about how you felt the last time you played your favorite FPS, or RPG. Did you feel like the game was half assed and rushed, and truly didn't feel like it lived up to it's potential until you downloaded the DLC? If you did, then you might say yes, the developers did withhold content that you already paid for when you bought the game. This case can be demonstrated with Resident Evil 5 and Disgaea 3. In the case of Resident Evil 4, the Xbox Live DLC for this game included a versus mode which was a total of only 2mb, which meant the versus mode itself was already on the disc, which the players had to pay extra to unlock. Capcom chose to screw over their customers who had already paid for the game which entitled them, at the very least, to everything on the disc. Nippon Ichi's Disgaea 3 also included several characters which were on the disc, but required an fee based activation to play. These cases, are instances of unacceptable practices by studios to hide the true cost of their games. "$60 for a great game? Sure, sounds like a deal. Another $15 to actually play everything on the game... well shit."

Most developers refrain from releasing DLC which includes information on the plot of their game, which is great. Occasionally there are alternate endings, or post-ending game play but these are few and far between. The practice of withholding content is a serious issue in modern gaming and gamers should really take a look at what they are paying for, as should developers look at what they are offering to the consumer. Epic Games, a studio who made big hits such as the Gears of War series and the Unreal series, understood the importance of continued free updates and content to it's customers in order to increase their brand image and customer satisfaction, but M$(Microsoft) had forced them to follow the Microsoft business model of charging a fee for DLC. Is this what it has come down to?

UPDATE: Microsoft is at it again. They are forcing Valve to charge 560 Microsoft pts for the Left 4 Dead DLC "Crash Course" for Xbox Live. Valve would give it out for free, like it does on the PC, if they could. Valve understands the importance of customer satisfaction and how it leads to higher sales, while M$ can only see it's monthly sales figures.
Valve: “We’re Not Charging You Extra for DLC, it’s Microsoft”