The Free MMO Roundup : Evony

•May 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The Free MMO Roundup : Evony (or how to pay your way to the crown)

 

I spent a great amount of time and energy cursing google ads for the longest time because of Evony. Because of the profile that google had of me, they threw scantily clad vaguely fantasy women at me begging me to play Evony for months. At that time I was playing Eve Online and didn’t want to waste time on free games when I had a subscription to make use of so I just ignored it. Now that I’m spending more time looking at all of the games in the FTP (“free” to play) genre I took a dive into Evony.

For those who haven’t looked at it, Evony is a strategic war game that is completely browser based. In 2009 it boasted over 500,000 users most likely drawn in by either the racy ads, or the thousands of spam messages left on message boards. I couldn’t find any updated numbers, but I would be more interested in player retention, not how many people have accounts because as I found, there are a lot of abandoned cities out there.

When you start Evony you are given a simple little town and told that you must build it up, conquer and gain fame. The interface is easy enough to someone who has played RTS games or civ clones so the learning curve isn’t too difficult at the start. What struck me right away though were the constant reminders that protection would end soon and it was a really good idea to join a powerful alliance RIGHT AWAY! I’m particular in the types of groups I join so I avoided it at first, but I also learned very quickly why it is important to join an alliance and that reason is crystal clear

CASH RUNS THE GAME!

Im not saying this because it is any shock to me. Free to play games exist because of the revenue they get selling perks to players. These perks of course range in most games from cosmetics to real boosters but Evony stands alone in the fact that a player’s skill and dedication to the game is meaningless next to a player who has a lot of expendable income.  After your ‘new player’ protection is gone you become a very small fish in a sea of enemies that love nothing more than to pound your city back into the scantily clad stone age. Escaping this treatment is as well impossible without spending money on items to create situations where you can be free from attack for a few hours or move your city randomly to another neighborhood.

It is also nearly impossible to grow in the game without spending money somewhere as I am finding. I am not in a place to be spending money on even the games that I really want, so I’m not going to pay for something that is free right now. However the game requires items to be gathered that have such a low drop rate that Diablo rune hunters would be agast. You can just buy a box that might have the item you need randomly, but even that $10 CAD investment is a game of chance.

Now the game itself has some very good pluses. Because it is browser based it is very fast to get logged in and running and you can play from any respectable browser. The UI is well designed and easy to understand. Lastly, the addition of historical factoids about military units and buildings are a nice addition that unfortunately few players probably read, but I love.

I love free games that find unique ways to reward those who support the game financially and Evony’s griefer led combat and cash run economy must appeal to a great number of people, but I have a feeling that I won’t last longer then the next wave of barbarians knocking my gates down. (I hear they thought the scantily clad women were in MY city.. hint: there are no scantily clad women at all.. Sorry to burst the bubble)

Advertisements

Happy Easter!

•April 21, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I will be gone for the extended weekend for Easter celebrations in the tropical paradise of  Schenectady New York so I wanted to say Happy Easter to all of you now. No computer access means no updates, and those who are on the list for writing updates on Oculas and Tattered Skies I apologize there won’t be more for a bit because I won’t be able to get more out of notebooks and onto safer digital collections. I learned my data lesson though and everything is now safelyin dropbox, google, my shell account, and on my computer.

Enjoy chocolate and family, and I will see you all soon.

“The King of Kobolds so Commands!”

Splash graphic for Tattered Skies RPG

•April 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Thought I’d share the title graphic for Tattered Skies. This is the work of Max Hierro. I suggest you look at the rest of the work and order prints of the stuff you love because the quality of work is out of this world!

 

The Anatomy of a Video Game Villain

•April 18, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Most video games have a villain. From the Hungries in Munchies’ Lunch ( http://www.munchies-lunch.com/ ) to Kefka in Final Fantasy 3 and more, villains drive our motivation and the story line in games. It could be said that every game has a villain, even if it’s as simple as the physics in The Incredible Machine ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Incredible_Machine_(game) )

Now my own focus is narrower as I am developing RPG games in fantasy settings. While my game has many nasty little creatures, nasty traps and general nastiness it also has a villain. I won’t ruin the story right now by letting you know WHO the villain is, but heres a breakdown of what he/she needs:

Realistic Personality – Villains who are just cardboard boxes with a scowl painted on them don’t create great story lines. If Darth Vader had the same amount of personality as the average storm trooper we probably wouldn’t have loved the story line as much. This isn’t to say that they have to be more human then human and be tortured about the choices they have made. Look at the aforementioned Kefka. Even chaotic and maniacal can be a personality we fall in love with. (Especially when they have a laugh like his)

An Advantage – We seem to take this for granted but a lot of times when I’m helping out others in their pre writing work I ask the question. “What advantage does the villain have over our heroes?” This can be hidden, overt or anywhere in between. It needs to be reminded though because sometimes we have the tendency to make our heroes super powered uuber versions bent on saving the world from the villain. But if my hero can toast a legion of bad guys and an under powered villain we aren’t going to be engrossed in the fight.

A Flaw – On the other side of the coin is the villain’s flaw. Have you ever wondered why the villain sends wave after wave of ‘flying monkeys’ after our heroes? Why doesn’t Dr. Wily just have all his creations gang up on Mega Man right out of the gate? Why doesn’t Garland just ask Warmech over? Your villain needs a flaw that the heroes can survive because of. Ming the Merciless invented gloating, villains all across the spectrum have horrible hiring practices on goons. Same as the advantage, if we realize our heroes have no hope we lose immersion in the story telling.

Survivability – The best villains are those that grow with the characters and escape in the nick of time to grow another dastardly plot. We might not even have to fight them every time as they throw obstacldes in our way. One of my favorite villains is Dhoulmagus from Dragon Quest VIII (most likely because my second favorite is Kefka). I enjoyed chasing Dhoul around and thwarting him as he thwarted me up until the bitter end.

Now the most important thing! – Ignore this list… Forget it… When you are creating a villain, a hero, a story or just a first fountain that will be the basis for a town which is the basis for a country which is the basis for a whole world you need to make sure you are listening to the voices of the characters. The above things will come naturally. Once you’ve got the villain come back and read it again and perhaps something will tick that you were missing.

Now a better question! What is your favorite video game villain?

Capturing Your Audience in Video Games

•April 14, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The War

Since the dawn of video games as a medium there has been a war to find and capture an audience. Game designers fret and fight for the audience and while the target might be called “revenue” or ”market share” or “brand loyalty” really it just boils down to a captured audience. A single game or a studio can be what captures them, and there are certainly benefits:

  •  A captured audience is more likely to invest in a game and a game studio (by paying for games and not pirating them)
  • A captured audience is more likely to look past small flaws in titles in favor of the total package
  • A captured audience is more likely to contribute meaningful things in a community
  • A captured audience is more likely to be patient for releases (look at Blizzard’s ability to keep a game in development for years. Aside from the occasional outburst the majority will wait years for a release)

 

Now… What is the secret then to capturing an audience?  What I have found is that there is a choice that studios make between features, or immersion.

Features is pretty vague…

What I mean by features can include a lot of things but tends to boil down to graphics and gimmicks. Video games have continuously pushed the capabilities of graphics cards and each successive title has forced a constant upgrade cycle. The difficulty with pushing the graphics as the selling feature of a game is that by the time a game is released those cutting edge features are already behind.

Immersion seems even vaguer…

Immersion is the secret of placing a player in a game for extended periods of time where qualities of the game keep the player coming back again and again. Deep story lines, intuitive design and appropriate difficulty keep players coming back again and again. For online games, you can add competition to difficulty.

Story Lines – We become more invested in a character or a world where the stories are rich and woven around everything. Firaxis’ Alpha Centauri and Alien Crossfire are excellent examples of this. The progression in the game is filled with references not only to the fictional past of the game, but the ongoing progression of the personalities in the game. I still get goose bumps when I hear some of the audio files for the technology or secret projects because I distinctly remember the story line around them.

Intuitive Design – Nothing breaks immersion in a game faster than a poorly designed interface into the game. Sometimes graphics get in the way and sometimes the interface itself has so many options that it becomes unwieldy. One of the heroes here in my mind though is Starcraft (the original). Everything about the interface was designed for speed and it shows in the online play.

Difficulty (and competition) – Difficulty is one of the hardest nuts to crack. Games that are difficult keep players coming back. They respect a game that can beat them and conquering it brings pride. However, games that present near impossible situations become the object of scorn. If your game is difficult because of poor design (camera angles, poor ‘hitbox’ design or just impossible odds) players will quit and make sure every one of their friends know why. Competition is the other side of this and draws the online play. Most players don’t play PVP games for the simple joy of beating others. They play to get on leader boards.

Now, to design a game that has all of this…

Twitter

•April 12, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Thought I’d mention, for those who follow here, you can follow as well under my twitter handle @losthellhound

Some Screen Shots

•April 10, 2011 • 1 Comment

I will post more on my weekend progress, but before I run off for the afternoon I thought I would share some screen shots.

The Keeper Church

The Keeper Church

The combat screen

Our Hero fighting a shaman

A dungeon

A shot of a dungeon

a boring status screen

a screen equiping weapons