The Free MMO Roundup : Battle Pirates

•July 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The Free MMO Roundup : Battle Pirates (or Waterworld, with less Costner)

 Battle Pirates is a new game by Kixeye that is a refreshing change for Facebook games, and when I first looked at it I almost danced off my chair to see a game that looked unique. In retrospect I’m glad I didn’t dance, because I needed the energy to distract myself later on.

 Battle Pirates puts you in command of an island fortress in a never ending expanse of water. You play as a pirate (arrr) who is fighting for resources from other pirates (arrr) and against a scourge called the Draconians (arrr?). I have to pause for a moment and share my surprise that the Draconians aren’t spawn of Takhisis with cannons (which would have been really cool) but instead just another pirate force that for some unknown reason the rest of the pirates hate. The game uses a standard formula for growth. Gather resources from resource buildings, use combat forces to get more resources, build up, research, rinse and repeat.  

So Its an Evony clone?

Well yes and no. The debate will rage for a lot longer then I will care to listen to on what’s a clone of what. There are obvious Evony clones and there are games that use the same formula that are distinctly original in their own ways. Battle Pirates is unique enough that I wouldn’t call it another clone. Hell, we don’t still call things Dune clones do we? It’s just the genre.

 So what about conflict?

 Conflict is where Battle Pirates shines. Each player controls a number of fleets with different types of ships that each can then be configured with different weapons and armor. If you just click fight and let the game control the forces you get some fun action or you can control the ships yourself and use some strategy. While the controls for selecting ships and controlling them is tedious at best it does add a lot more depth to the combat. Since the game is wide open for combat there is a lot of back and forth PVP and PVE fleet battles and base assaults that keep things interesting.

 So…

Yes, there are negatives. Some are simply due to the fact that this is a new game and still being developed, and others unfortunately are simply the nature of Facebook games. First is the lack of a good communication system. For each sector of the never ending ocean there is a chat channel with basic whisper/block/unblock commands but that gets spammy with fourteen year old egos and smack talk so it becomes unusable. There is no guild system as well so everyone looks like an enemy unless you have a very active Facebook group.

 My biggest problem with the game is the extreme snail’s pace that building up and progressing has. Your force only has one “builder” and building upgrade times jump exponentially until you are waiting several days for a shinier building so you can then wait days for the new upgraded weapon. Being a Facebook game you can of course pay the pain away but for the non paying customer like I am you spend a lot of time just watching the counter thinking ‘what else can I get done in the three days this is going to take?’ As well if you step away from the game and someone attacks your base damaging the building doing the work it pauses until you come back and repair.

 My last concern is the smallest for a lot of players, but for me its important. I don’t just play games to blow stuff up and be the best at whatever the game has for me to be. I like to be immersed in the game and Battle Pirates refuses to allow me to do so. We never learn anything about the world, the enemy or any of the circumstances. Why are we trapped in a Waterworld fighting on floating garbage heap fortresses? Who are these Draconians who constantly harass us and while I sit in my lonely pirate tower what is my end goal? If a Kixeye employee reads this I’d be more than happy to flush out the story for you and add that creative content that is lacking, just shout.

 I think that the game has a lot of potential and I do suggest you check it out. Just don’t expect the major payday of game greatness for about… a month.

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A Quicker Way to the Reviews

•July 19, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Thought I would provide a quicker way to get to the reviews, so there is a handy link on the right sidebar that lists out the reviews that are there now and as I write more I will update that with the right information. Here is another link just in case…

https://losthellhound.wordpress.com/the-free-mmo-roundup-game-reviews-of-online-wonderment/

Long link..

I like saying link

… link

The Free MMO Roundup : Empires and Allies

•July 3, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The Free MMO Roundup : Empires and Allies (or .. well.. I dont even have a funny title this time)

I know its been a long time since a post and I apologize. Between work, fighting offshore copyright theft and my newest challenge I needed awhile to come back to the keyboard.

And here I am with another gem, Empires and Allies by Zynga. Zynga has the fame, or imfamy, of being the developer of several facebook games including the “ville” series. (Farmville, Cafeville, Cityville) and while these are wildly successful I need to address something right away about Zynga.

These are not games. Games have a goal, a challenge, and are fun. And while some of Zynga’s titles achieve some of this, they are not successful in being games. Rather let’s call them “activities”. Zynga’s online activities foster the idea that you must log in at pre determined times to do tasks that mean nothing in the long run. Without an end goal they become activities in making your farm, city, or empire ‘pretty’ and to achieve the best in pretty you must encourage others to play to help you out. I can’t fault Zynga for changing the meaning of game to fit their own means, but I can defend as best I can the title ‘game’.

Focusing on Empires and Allies, the activity centers around building up an empire after an attack by a story line enemy. Combat is handled with a paper rock scissors system. To do so you must build up the standard types of buildings encountered in strategic games, grow and collect resources and as you beat down the enemy in story line, you play ‘war games’ with your neighbors.

Wait.. War games?

Here is the first oddity of the game. You have your sworn enemy in the computer which provides some combat, but your neighbors can also attack you. This is cool because people who are your ‘friends’ end up laying siege. The problem is that they can’t hurt you. Sure they land troops far too powerful for you and clutter up your screen but all those troops you had protecting your precious empire are still happily guarding the same places (probably playing cards with the attackers). The only way you lose is if you try to repel them and lose troops. Meh, just let them stay until an even more powerful neighbor removes them for you! Zynga no doubt did this to remove griefing but the extreme of the mechanic makes the idea of defending useless.

Why have neighbors then?

Neighbors are important. Every day you can go to a neighbor and if you’re not feeling mean you can forgo an invasion and complete their work for them! Every action costs an energy point, and since you have a limited amount per day that helps. It also gains you a tiny bit of energy every time you help out a friend. They also can send you energy or items to expand your empire with more room to build. Cool huh?

So limited energy.. I see Zynga’s ploy!

Yes! That was the idea. People paid money for energy and that enabled rapid development. The formula is 1 free energy every five minutes. Since everything takes energy you can either spend your entire time working on other people’s stuff or buy your way to fame! But there’s a catch.. you never have to pay a cent.

What?

Yes. I’ve played now for a few weeks and since I’m ending. I thought I would share the formula for never giving a cent. Its tedious, but come on, everything is tedious, its a Zynga game.
– Every action takes an energy
– That means every time infantry shoots it takes 1 energy
– Every critical shot nets you 1 energy
– Every critical shot that kills the enemy nets you 2 energy
– you can go back and fight earlier story line battles over and with the paper rock scissors system have most of your shots critical

Yes, you can net energy.. while you’re doing these fights over and over you’re also collecting an insane amount of resources. You just have to make sure you have the time to grind and you never have to care.

So why play?

Yeah… Isn’t that the question. People play for a lot of reasons. I joined an add-me group on facebook and people are addicted to the game. Perhaps they love the never ending feel, or are just looking for the end of the story, but in all reality I have no clue. I hate games that force tedious behavior. I hate games that force spam on me, and I hate games that fold so easily that I can beat it with just clicking a lot of times. I do wonder if Zynga will fix the energy issue but seeing the implosion that happened when they limited energy from neighbors to 20 per day I doubt it. I do pity anyone who gives them a single dime though.

A Treatise for MMO Communities

•May 20, 2011 • 4 Comments

I’ve talked before about gaming and the communities around games, genres, and gave developers. A community is probably the most important thing to an online game, and unfortunately I’ve seen a lot of games misuse and mistreat this organism and in the end it ruins them. I have some insights from my experiences to share.

What is the community?

First order of business is to define what a community is. It is a hard thing for some to grasp because community does not equal players. Not all of your players are part of the community, and the community is not only active players. The community is the collective voices talking ABOUT your game. It’s what they say and how they say it that loses you players, or gains you players. You can tie one to the other through single sign on, or encouragement to participate but they are two separate things.

But why do I care what forum trolls say? I have players!

In any game the most active players also have the most to gain or lose by being active in a community. They will for the most part be driving forces in growing or degrading the player base through their own actions. They run the alliances, they run the politics, and they create the materials that people read for tactics and how-to’s. Prospective players as well will find the community around the same time they find your game so if the message is caustic from the community they might give the game a pass before even seeing it.

 The need for the community is even greater for new games trying to break into the competitive landscape that is online gaming, or trying to survive a beta. Constant feedback helps development and the community will grow itself to gain new players. Knowing this every game should have a dedicated community manager.

But I have moderators!

NO! A moderator’s job is to keep forums clean of things that are against the terms of service of your forum itself. Their job is to remove racism, personal attacks, and generally ninety percent of you-tube caliber posts. The moderator should NEVER remove game criticism and the Community Manager should NEVER act as a moderator. The community must see the CM as a champion for their concerns, and someone who is armed with the responsibilities to grow the community AND get answers for the community at large. This has several side effects. Moderators can be elevated from normal players and are insulated against the charges of ‘not caring’ or ‘being just a tool of the company’ and the CM can effectively join ANY forum based on your game and be a single voice. Games where the moderators are also GMs, and maybe developers, and maybe paying players creates hostile environments.

But if I don’t remove criticism..

Yes, criticism stays on the board. The criticism might range from a real bug that you can fix easily and do fix, to long vitriol filled rants about how “you’ve ruined MY game forever with this change and I’m taking all my friends with me and going home!!” (you can add swear words in wherever you feel they would fit). By not removing them you prove that you aren’t censoring your community. Moderators can easily find those threads, allow the CM to respond, then move those threads to what I’ll call the ‘archive’. The archive is a section on the forum that is open for viewing and easy to find IF you are an active player. Limiting this view to active players doesn’t censor anyone but instead provides a cleaner view to people who are thinking of playing and checking out the community. A new player doesn’t need to know about a flame that x player left a month ago over a change to how currency works, but once they play for awhile they might have a concern about it and can look at what the CM said to x player regarding it.

What about other people’s sites?

It’s true you can’t control the internet and your community SHOULD spread to other sites. Evony did a great job of fostering this by providing perks to sites devoting material to the game. Encourage other forums, wikis, etc through empowering the CM to provide perks to those sites. If the CM is able to spread the good word in a responsible transparent way throughout all the sites it clarifies the message and encourages the community.

Love them or hate them, just don’t ignore your community. Good luck…

Support! (And the rat!)

•May 18, 2011 • Leave a Comment

A friend was asking me about the rat blogger that was stealing my posts and using them for their own, and in the conversation they suggested that I put up a support button. This way they could contribute the 5 bucks they could without going through the hassle of third parties like Kickstarter, or convince their significant other that they really needed that Monopoly set. So on the right you see a support page, and here is a link to that page that has a button that is a link (and on and on).

https://losthellhound.wordpress.com/support/

And I don’t want to supply the link to the rat blogger, I don’t want to get them more hits for their WoW gold farming business / stealing other people’s ideas and poorly editing them site. They arent hosted by WordPress so they can’t help me, and Chinese websites don’t generally care if the content is stolen I’ve found…

Shadow of a Reflection

•May 17, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Yay new writing! I figure that as I write, I will just post it up, and you can see it on the right hand menu under pages setup into neat little sections. Of course though I don’t have anyone who is editing or proof reading so my apologies for errors there. The content will get changed as I write, but I will separate within the writing with a marker if I add more to a chapter with the date I added it. Prizes for people who read it and comment here on WordPress with ideas, flames, suggestions or whatever you feel like posting regarding that writing.

The Free MMO Roundup : Vindictus

•May 12, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The Free MMO Roundup : Vindictus (or why my mouse hates me)

 I find it interesting that Vindictus doesn’t get more attention in North American gaming blogs. It seems to have a perfect formula for those who enjoy online games and the fantasy genre. Perhaps because it is a translation of a Korean game that is wildly popular (Mabinogi Heroes) it doesn’t get the street cred that it deserves. I played it for awhile, until my computer suffered a horrible case of sound and stability issues, and I’m sure I will go back to it.

The game is a twitchy hack and slash third person view game in the source engine from the perspective of a mercenary in a fantasy world engulfed in a never ending war against the beasts of the ‘formers’. The game is separated into several chapters and actually has a very rich story line and engaging characters that can either be enjoyed, or skimmed over depending on your mood. Missions can be completed alone or in groups and as the player progresses in one of several unique characters they get access to new skills and new equipment.

Why my mouse hates me…

Vindictus has the benefit and drawback of having a client to download. I love games that don’t have a client but I do recognize that some things just don’t mesh well with web applications like Unity3ds implementation. The client allows combat to be more fast paced, and well.. twitchy.. To attack you hit your left mouse button. Simple enough right? It is! But who wants to just swing a sword? Instead I want to do incredibly complex moves, I want to be able to emulate the best of Korean cinema with a flurry of jabs feigns and counter attacks ending in a penultimate strike of such awesomeness that I sit back and sigh with contentedness! So I have to click more.. left, left, left, right.. left, right.. left left left right! My mouse becomes something that takes so much abuse I can almost hear it slowly cracking under my hand. I can get a new mouse though.. Those 100 gnoll captains I just eviscerated was worth it.

But no game is always free!

Of course games must make money, and Vindictus I think has the best system for encouraging people to purchase in game. There are really two revenue streams. The players’ ego, and the players’ dedication. Ego pays for upgrades to how your character looks. You can’t have the really cool hair styles, tattoos, etc that do very little except make you stand out. (Yes, you can also buy pretty underwear for the characters to replace what they come with, a look that is unflattering, but PG. Hey, at least they know their audience). The second revenue stream is the dedication of the players. Twice each week players get a limited amount of tokens used to go on missions. The more missions you do, the more they cost and dedicated players find they can run out of the twice weekly amount in a day! You can either dip into your wallet to get more tokens, OR, by joining a newbie player’s mission and helping them you can earn more tokens. I love the system because it encourages people to buy into the game, but it also provides new players with experienced powerhouses willing to help them out.

All games have flaws…

I think the biggest flaw, and the one that got me a few times, is the repetitiveness that is needed in Vindictus. When I was playing the game was still being translated from the Korean version so not all content was accessible. Even when new content was there though, players are forced to do the same mission hundreds of times in a row to gather the right items to make equipment, or to get the right amount of experience to be able to progress through to the next chapter. All games have some repetition, but killing the same polar bear three hundred times just to get ONE item begins to wear on you.

I definitely would recommend Vindictus. Even if you have another game you play religiously it is great to be able to take a few minutes of pure hack and slash combat to ease the nerves, just make sure you have a spare mouse handy.