Category Archives: Uncategorized

Borehammer – Age of Scenarios

The original layout was quite boring. I am quite partial to this design. It is the same as the one I created for the UORares website. Over time I will make more adjustments as I think of them.

I was going to write about this yesterday but then the whole closing of Tabula Rasa thing came up. Might as well write about what is most relevant that day! For the second time ever (the first being Eve Online), I went out to see what all this new generation MMO hoopla is about. I should mention I tried World of Warcraft for 14 days several years ago, but never intended to pick up the game.

The game: Warhammer Online
The lure: Massive PVP encounters
The result: I lasted 3 weeks

“Experience the glory of Realm vs. Realm! Declare your allegiance and join hundreds of thousands of mighty heroes on the battlefields of Warhammer Online” or so the website claims. War is not everywhere. When I played it was mostly in Battlegrounds………..errr……..I mean Scenarios. They are the exact same thing from the way everyone talks (I’ve never seen the inside of a World of Warcraft Battleground). Two teams fight over objectives and try to reach the highest score. The problem is it is the same thing again and again and again and again. Even if your team wins all the time, it can be really boring. Only 1 out of 10 matches I would estimate were really fun for me. Most of the time one side overwhelmingly crushed the other.

There were a lot of issues with the Scenario system. The biggest being that it relied on random chance for both sides to be equal. Unlike World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online restricts Scenarios to be from the same server only. That is a major flaw in my opinion. Players are always complaining how they want to do more than just the single one people farm experiance in. If they just made it cross-server, then this problem would be eliminated. The sides could be more balanced too because the pool of players queueing would be huge. Sometimes you can begin and know that loss is inevitible because your team has no healers or tanks.

When I stopped playing, I never saw a Scenario go off with more than 15 people. But there was room for up to 36 people. I would have loved to see one with 30 on each side. That could have been exciting. The kind of fun boasted about on all the advertisements. But most of the time you only have 8-10 people. Less when they start leaving because your side is not doing well.

The worst part about all this is Scenarios are required if you want to level fast for the end game. But it can either go really well or not be an option depending on the Order/Destruction balance on your server. There are quest and monsters to kill, but it just doesn’t go as fast unless you get with a group of people and run the risk of getting banned for killing mobs too fast.

All in all, I think Scenarios are one of the biggest issues in Warhammer Online at the moment but the developers don’t want to nerf them. Instead they are frantically trying to make open Realm vs Realm (which I will cover in another post later on) more appealing. But it has completely back-fired on them. Now “mortal enemies” are gaming the system and just handing the keeps you capture back and forth to farm the rewards. It is just a huge mess.

Too bad there couldn’t have been more matches like the one above ending with 1 point difference. One kill deciding the entire fight! Instead the spread averaged 200 points or more.

Tabula Setsa

For those who haven’t noticed, this blog is updating every day at 12AM Eastern. There is this nice feature where I can set the time the posts go live.

We all saw it coming. Tabula Rasa lost its creator, Richard Garriott, just a few short days ago. He said it was because of a new found enlightenment on his recent journey into space. Conspiracy theorists probably conclude it is from solar radiation and he is now being controlled by aliens. Myself? I think he is just tired of making games. He has been doing it all his life. While he enjoyed a lot of success up to Ultima franchise including Ultima Online, things have not kept pace. While City of Heroes could be considered a success, it wasn’t a hit. Now his latest creation, some kind of space universe, has met its demise.

I have never tried the game myself. Actually I picked up a copy for $1 at Gamestop a couple weeks ago when they were on clearance. That is certainly a bad sign in itself when your game is no longer going to be sold at the largest game retailer in the country. I suppose I will give it a go in a couple weeks, see what it is all about. Learn more about why it wasn’t well received.

But I can form a few theories by just reading the box. First of all it prominently displays Richard’s name at the top of both sides. “A science fiction epic from Richard Garriott”. I bet more than a few casual gamers have said “who is this guy?” The box doesn’t say anything about it, just that he made this game. If you are going to display someone’s name prominently on your product, it might be a good idea to have a sentence or two explaining who the heck he is. Perhaps something like, “Richard Garriott, the father of the modern MMO, of which millions of players now enjoy in a variety of worlds.” Then someone may say “hey, this guy was the one who invented World of Warcraft? I should check this game out!” Not exactly true, but a sub is a sub.

The top headline on the back of the box, below an even bigger headline exclaiming who made this game, states “Explore massive alien worlds, immerse yourself in deep storylines, and face the consequence of the choices that you make.” How many people are going to care about deep story lines? I am not joking here. Hardcore players rarely do. Casual players might have a passing interest. This is just not a selling point of games today. Deep story is not going to pull people in. It will help keep the people already playing. If you are going to advertise this on your box, at least tell me what the story involves. I don’t even see the name of any alien race on this box. People read books for a deep story. People play games to have fun. Several games have actually had such convoluted stories recently, that it might turn some people off.

Next headline down, “Take Role-Playing to the Battlefield!” Are you kidding? Whoever designed this box is not very good at marketing. I just grabbed the box for Bioshock (real journalistic research here), lets see what is says. “Bioshock is a shooter unlike any you’ve ever played, loaded with weapons and tactics never seen.” Unlike anything I’ve ever played? Hmm, that sounds interesting. It goes on to say how you can modify your DNA to fight and stuff. It actually tells you what the game is about. There is absolutely no mention on the Tabula Rasa box about this “deep story” that is supposed to draw me in. I was going to compare it to the Warhammer Online box, but that has nothing but a picture on the DVD package. I can’t locate the sleeve that it came in at the moment.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, but it certainly helps. The last thing I am going to nitpick, because there isn’t much else to do since I haven’t played the game yet, is this absolutely ridiculous blank space. There is a section that lists 3 features (consensual PVP, crafting & economy [whatever that means, what MMO doesn’t have those?], and voice chat). The list itself is fine. The space underneath where you could fit 2-3 more points is not. It is just devoid of information or aesthetics. Is this an omen as to what the game itself will be like? I’ll do another post once I actually try out the game.

Making a Reward Rewarding

I am wondering whether or not I will be able to come up with a topic each day. This is actually pretty fun to do. I hope I will be able to keep up with it.

A rather big set of change is coming to Ultima Online. Bigger than perhaps anything else in the past 3 years. For those who don’t follow UO, there has not been an expansion since August 2005. So this is no exaggeration. (I am purposefully ignoring Kingdom Reborn)

Publish 57 brings three new things to the game. There is the Scroll of Transcendence which will accelerate skill gain. There are decorative rewards being added to all champion spawns. Then there are the powerful new replica artifacts being added to champions as well. I am going to focus on the new item drop rates more than anything else.

When you add something permanent to a MMO, it needs to last. If you add a boss, there should be a reason that players need/want to defeat it over and over. At the moment there is no reason at all to do the champion spawns in Ilshenar facet because they drop no loot at all. This is not a joke. In fact none of the champion spawns added with Samurai Empire or Mondain’s Legacy had special loot either. I can’t imagine why this happened. Why would you go through the trouble of adding a boss and forgo a reason for players to defeat it?

Felucca facet champions are different because they drop highly desired Power and Stat Scrolls, unavailable anywhere else in the game. This draw is so great that all group PVP in UO has shifted to revolved around them. Massive guilds have been formed to fight rival guilds over this bountiful resource. The best scrolls, boosting you to 120 skill, used to only drop 10% of the time. After 5 years, that was changed to a 20% drop. Each champion could give out up to 12 power scrolls. The Harrower can give up to 16 stat scrolls.

Okay, that should be enough explaining. What I am getting at is these special rewards were added in summer of 2002 and are still sought after to this day. This is due to their very low drop rate, difficulty in obtaining them and being a one-use item. Our guild still spends virtually every night acquiring them unless there is something else interesting to do.

Instead of a 10% or 20% drop rate, the new rewards are designed to drop 90% of the time. Not only is the drop rate so insanely high, but some of the best rewards are shared among all the champions. There are 24 champion spawns located throughout Britannia. Unless the developers plan to swap out the decorations and replica artifacts every 6 months, this has no hope of lasting. We saw it with the Minor Artifacts, once insanely popular but now players throw them on the ground. Heck, we even see with the recent Halloween event. After the first 2 weeks, participation in the graveyards went way down. Once you own a piece of equipment in today’s UO, you own it for life.

Unless the reward is a desired consumable, then you can’t have a high drop rate. It only leads to disaster once every player has what they want for life and the market has so many that they are sold for less gold than it takes to gather in 15 minutes of hunting. The drop rate of 90% should probably be cut by 90%. A low drop rate also means when you finally get that item you want, it is that much more meaningful.

My take away strategy is you can always raise a drop rate which is found to be too low, but you can not easily reverse one too high as the items will be too numerous by the time you realize it.

MMO Video Files – An Untapped Feature

As some of you may already know, I have taken quite the interest in making Ultima Online related videos this year. Most recently I am proud of the production showing a fight of the fabled Meraktus the Tormented, a spawn which had little information published about it. There are now 50 videos in total.

Something that I’ve had in my mind for a very long time is the creation of a program which let you record and play videos directly from the UO client. This tool does in fact exist. Unfortunately it is part of a suite of cheating software, otherwise I think it would be pretty popular.

What am I talking about exactly? Well in a normal video you have tons of image data. If you have any sizable collection of pictures or movies on your computer, you know that is what takes up the bulk of your hard drive space. In a video, each frame (of which there can be up to 32 frames per second) records the data on thousands of pixels to make up the image. For a completely uncompressed 800×600 video running at 24 frames per second, that is 11,520,000 pixels which need to be accounted for, or roughly 32MBs of data. For one second of video!

Of course that is not the entire story. Algorithms known as codecs are used to compress that data into a more reasonable size. A good quality video is going to still need about 10-20MB per minute after all is said and done.

But what if you didn’t store the video as image data. What if it was stored like this….

[00:00:01] [sound] [greater heal]
[00:00:01] [mobile] [dragon turn west]
[00:00:01] [mobile] [dragon walk west]
[00:00:02] [mobile] [dragon fire breath player]

Text data takes up an insignificant amount of space in comparision. In fact this is how your game client knows what is going on. The game server sends data which is measured in the kilobytes per second instead of megabytes. If the client saved all this data to a file and then had the ability to play it back, you have a video player!

This technology has most recently been prominently featured in Halo 3. In that game the server actually saves all the data and lets players who wish to download the video file. But that is now how it would work for a MMO, the client would do the saving.

I think the first MMO which does this is going to have a major hit on their hands. This is a completely unused technology. I cringe at what would happen if Blizzard implemented it for World of Warcraft. Of course I would love to see it for UO.

Going even one step beyond, though this would be a massive undertaking. It would be so utterly amazing if a website could be designed around playing these tiny UO files. As is, you would need a copy of the Ultima Online client installed on your computer in order to play them because that is where all the image data is stored. But UO’s style of art would is actually very good for use in Flash movies. It should be possible to make a website in which you could upload the UO movie file. The site would then run a program which would compile a flash movie, pulling all the relevent UO graphics, animations and sounds. Then you could watch it like any Youtube video.

Of course the file size would not be insignificant. But it would not be anywhere near as large as a normal video file. Instead of having to record every frame, it records the graphic one time and moves it around. One mobile which might take up 2-3MB of video data would only take 100KB in a flash movie. The rest of the client functions could be mimic down to the smallest detail. I wrote a special algorithm several years ago to copy UO’s talk-over-heard text exactly. From the 2-tone coloring of spell text to how many characters fit on one line to the unique font style. It was actually very interesting to do.

Anyway, this was just something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Perhaps one day it will happen.

Make sure you complain to the right person

Two quick blog related notes:

1) I am going to try my best only to post once per day. If I didn’t set this limit then I would probably end up spending way too much time on this.

2) I have disabled commenting for the time being because I just don’t want to have to deal with moderating them. I’d rather just spend my 5 minutes writing the post and that be it. If you really want to send me a comment then there is always private message via Stratics or UOForums. Some day in the future I will enable it.

Ok, on to a topic. This past week Ultima Online players have been experiencing heavy latency and packet loss. This is the worst seen in several years at least. It affects a wide variety of players all over the country.

One thing people should know is that this isn’t just a UO issue. There have been major internet slow downs, an unusual amount, this week. This does not explain all the lag, but it is one source. For me I have been facing a triple threat. There is the general lag, then the EA lag (now identified as coming from the ISP near EA’s servers) and 10% packet loss within my own home network.

Anyway, there was a reveal of some interesting changes coming to the next UO publish. Immediatly people started replying quite rudely that this developer should be focusing on the lag and forget about what she is working on. Stratics moderators have since removed most of these replies.

This person’s job title is “UO Associate Game Designer”. I don’t see anything about network administrator in there. People often take out their anger and frustration at the wrong people. I’m sure she feels sorry about what is going on, but there is literally nothing that she could personally do about it. The world continues to turn whether or not the internet is down.

I guess this post didn’t really go anywhere. I thought it would. Next time I will be sure to post something more insightful then this.