Firefall: When is a launch not a launch?

At long last Firefall is launching. I’m not sure exactly how long this game has been in development, but I remember it was playable at the first PAX East which was 4 (?) years ago. The game launches for everyone on July 29th.

In this case, “launch” apparently means “we’ll remove the beta tag and make it available on Steam” and that’s about all.

After all this time in beta and all the huge changes the game has gone through (including one that just happened) I was pretty astonished to learn that they weren’t wiping the slate clean for launch. But they aren’t. That means if you log in on launch day for the first time you’re going to be WAY behind.

To add to that chasm, many (maybe all?) beta testers got in to ‘early access’ yesterday, on the 15th. That’s a two week head-start on any new players that come into the game when it is officially open to all comers.

Now just to be clear, old characters have been changed in some ways. I’d tell you exactly how but it’s been so long since I played the game that it seemed new to me when I logged in, except I was level 8 (or more precisely, my battleframe was level 8) and had an inventory full of stuff and a wallet full of credits.

Now folks who’ve been playing the beta are fine with this. I mean they’ve been playing the beta for YEARS so I can understand why they wouldn’t want their progress wiped. Some have also spent money and of course Red5 can’t just delete things players have spent real money on.

This isn’t the first game that has sold stuff in its cash shop ahead of launch though. Usually what happens is that at launch you get all your store currency credits refunded. After launch you can spend them again on the same stuff, or on different stuff.

So why does this all matter? In a lot of ways it doesn’t. I suppose it means new players should stay away from PvP until they’ve caught up, but there’s plenty of PvE stuff for them to do with their fellow, level-appropriate new players. My biggest concern is the auction houses. Firefall is supposed to have a “robust” player economy but when your brand new players are dumped into a game chock full of filthy-rich long-term beta testers they aren’t going to be able to buy anything on the auction house.

Imagine logging in for the first time on July 29th with the goal of becoming a crafter who supplies other players with gear. Fat chance of that since there’ll be hundreds of players who have already done the (in-game mechanic) research and who can farm materials much faster than you can.

Firefall isn’t the first game to roll open beta into launch with no wipe and in fact the practice is becoming more and more common. I’m singling it out mostly because it has been in beta for such an incredibly long time that the gap between the old-time beta player characters and the new “Hey I saw this new game on Steam” characters is going to be HUGE.

And compounding that, somewhat, is the fact that you only get 1 character slot. That means that if you’re a beta player and want a fresh start (maybe to re-learn how to play) you have to really commit to it by deleting your old character, thus placing yourself in the ghetto that Red5 has created for its new players that will start the game far, far behind on July 29th.

Dchaser~Jul-15-2014~New Eden~1~p1

Incoming nerd rage

So there’s a certain MMO launching soon. It recently left closed beta and was intended to start open beta tomorrow (though that’s been delayed).

I was able to squirm my way into closed beta for the last weekend it was open. I only spent 3-4 hours playing (had I realized the beta was about to close I would’ve concentrated on playing more) and that was enough to cause me to pre-order the full game.

In fact I’m not sure I want to play open beta very much. I want the game to be ‘fresh’ when it launches. I really liked what I saw; it felt very story-driven and of my 3-4 hours I spent about 20 minutes fighting things and all the rest of the time exploring and talking to NPCs about the world and what’s going on.

Now that feeling might evaporate in hour 5…who knows? But I was enchanted by the little bit I played and I’m looking forward to playing more.

That said… the nerd rage against this game is going to be through the roof. Heck, it’s already pretty loud due to a certain system that’s been talked about. And that’s before people find out how thin the questing is, how manual the process of finding Point B from Point A, realizing that the few quest givers that are around don’t have ! marks over their heads. And how brutal the game is on your PC. My fans go into overdrive and stay on overdrive the whole time I’m playing.

Many of the ‘convenience’ factors of mainstream MMOs won’t be found here (unless things change…they might).

It feels really old school to me. It feels really story driven. I don’t plan to play with anyone else; I just want to explore the world and read everything the NPCs have to tell me. I don’t expect it’ll be a game I play for more than a month or two, but while I am playing I’m going to want to shut out the world.

But I’m always drawn to controversy, particularly when I’m on the underdog side of things. Assuming I continue to like the game I suspect I’m going to be in a minority. It’s going to be a real challenge keeping clear of threads that are warning people away from the game.

I know there are other narrative-driven gamers out there with the patience to play a game that spools out story the way this one does. But the ‘typical’ MMO player is going to be clicking through text looking for the big action component, not finding it, and ranting online about how awful the game is.

I’m not sure where/how to find like-minded gamers in a case like this.

The Chronicles of Spellborn Initial Impressions

Some friends noticed I’m in the closed beta for The Chronicles of Spellborn and have been asking me what I think about it. I’ve confirmed that there’s no NDA so I can talk about it, but I’m a bit hesitant to do so since I’ve only taken one character to level 5 so far. But the work week rears its ugly head very soon and if I don’t write about it now I probably won’t get another chance to do so until next weekend.

So here are my initial, ‘gut level’ thoughts. I’ve probably gotten a lot of this wrong, so everything should be taken with a giant salt crystal. Further, I’m not going to defend this post; I feel kind of unsavory talking about a game I’ve only played for a few hours.


TCOS is different. If you’re sick of ‘classic’ MMO playstyles as found in EQ 1 & 2, DAOC, Warhammer, WOW & LOTRO, then you’ll be pleased to find some new ideas here. First of all, you have two levels. Your “Fame” level pretty much translates to level in most other MMOs. It mostly advances via Questing, with monster slaying only adding a little to it. Your PeP Level (Personal Experience P-P-P…??) level advances via combat. This level caps at 5 (!) but you lose a level every time you die. So the idea I guess is that your PeP well constantly be wavering up and down as you play. Each level of PeP gives you a new bonus/buff.

I like how this system gives us a death penalty with a real ‘sting’ but without the soul-crushing despair of losing a “classic” level or experience points.

Let’s look at graphics. The world is pretty astounding (imo). Here’re some thumbnails to full sized (1680×1050) wallpapers at photobucket:

TCOS Wallpaper 4 TCOS Wallpaper 3

TCOS Wallpaper 2 tcos,wallpapers

You might notice there’s no real sky. The lore of the game explains how the world was destroyed by humans and the Daevi (the two playable races in the game) as they threw off the yoke of slavery to the demons. Now what’s left of the world is broken up into shards floating in an infinite spell-sea of some kind, and shardships are used to sale between them. Here’s a shardship:


Now we get to the character models, and those are going to be really hit or miss for most players, I think. They’ve got a very unique style, I’ll give them that, but in many ways that style could be called “weird”. Here’s a selection of NPCs:

human_male1 human_male2 human_female1 daevi_female1

Let’s talk gear. When you create a character, you pick his/her clothing, armor and weapons. All of which is purely cosmetic. This was a huge shock to me, frankly. I love the ‘loot treadmill’ and getting a lucky drop of some cool new gear and at first, at least, it seemed like there was no such thing. But (and honestly I’m still hazy about the system) most of your gear has Sigil Slots, and you do get Sigils that drop as loot (I think…I’ve never got one) which you can place in your gear to make you more powerful. You can “upgrade” your gear, maybe just for looks, but maybe for more Sigil Slots? I’l still really fuzzy about this stuff.

Right behind gear comes combat, and here I am very, very conflicted. The character skills in combat are really interesting, while the player skills in combat are very annoying (to me). Let me elaborate.

As a character gains Fame Levels he can learn news skills, in typical MMO fashion. But instead of a series of hotbars, here we have a skill deck. Imagine the skill deck as a polygonal drum that rotates as you fight. Each “face” of the drum has 3-6 slots for skills (at character creation, each face has 3 but that number increases as you gain levels). When you use a skill, the drum rotates to the next face with a fresh selection of skills. At character creation the drum has only 2 faces, at level 5 that increases to 3, and I think by max level it’ll have 6 or 8 faces.

So the idea is to arrange the skill deck so that each row (which translates to a drum face in my analogy) has a skill that logically follows up a skill in the row prior to it. At least, I think that’s the smart way to play. Let me give an example. My character has a Shoot skill (fires an arrow) that I use to pull. I put that on Row 1 of my skill deck. My character also has a Shout that provides a short term buff. I put that on Row 2. So I open a fight by using Shoot. The aggro’d foe charges me, but by using Shoot my skill drum rotates to Row 2, where my Shout is. I use that as the creature charges, so my buff is ready for the fight ahead.

That’s just 1 column of my deck. My other columns are devoted to fast single target attacks, or slower multi-target attacks. This is all a pretty unique combat system that is (obviously) hard for me to describe, but it really gets you thinking about tactics. You can rearrange your skill deck anytime you want (well, except during a combat) at no cost so you can tweak them for a tough fight, or change it based on who you’re grouped with, etc.

To actually use a skill, though, feels a little combersome to me. You select a column using either the mouse wheel or the number keys, but that doesn’t fire the skill. In order to actually activate the spell, you have to hit the left mouse button, or hit the number key a second time, at which point the skill fires, the cooldown for it begins, and the “drum” rotates to the next row.

At the same time this is going on, you need to position yourself for the attacks. Spellborn uses a reticle system. You have to point your reticle at what you want to hit. And conversely, by moving you’ll make it harder for the enemy to hit you. Dodging isn’t a character skill, it’s a player skill. If you stand in one place and fight, combat is going to be very difficult for you.  Instead, the idea is to hit the enemy then slide left or right to stay out of its cone of fire, so to speak. You’ve probably done this in PvP in MMOs before this one, but now you have to do this against mobs as well. Fighting a bear? Keep hitting it in its butt, circle-strafing it so it can’t face you to hit back.

Depending on your tastes, you’ll either find this incredibly fun, or incredibly annoying. Me, I find it fun for about half an hour then I get sick of circle-straffing around like a maniac during every fight. In my ideal MMO, my “skills” come in the form of tactics…mental skills. The actual combat should be about my character’s skills matching up against his opponent’s. I don’t play genres like FPSers much because I’m not very good at them and they bother my wrist.

The shame of it is that I find I don’t even use that slick Skill Deck system because I’m so focused on circling the enemy while keeping it targeted. I just hold down the mouse button and level the deck on my ‘fast skills’ column and basically let it auto-attack for me. Watching the skilldeck to see what “column” I have selected, and what skill is in that row and column, and whether that skill is ready or cooling down, is just too much for me while I’m also watching my enemy in 3D space and constantly moving so it can’t hit back. I seem to do better spamming 1 skill and moving than using tactics and paying attention to the skill deck to put it to good use.

And this is why I probably won’t be playing Spellborn after the beta. I love the Skill Deck, but I’m just not dextrous enough to put it to good use while doing this strafe-dance. It’s fun for a while but it’s not something I’d play a lot, so probably wouldn’t be worth a subscription fee. But that’s just me and this is a very personal choice, and even if it isn’t for me, I have to really commend the developers for coming up with something unique; there’s nothing out there like The Chronicles of Spellborn (at least, that I’ve seen) and I really hope it finds a huge audience.

To recap this wall ‘o text: The lore is very compelling. The environments are unique and interesting; I spent a lot of time just running around the first town looking at things. The quests and NPC dialog are well written and interesting.  The gear/sigil system means everyone can look the way they want to look rather than wearing ugly gear because it has good stats. The skill deck system makes my inner strategist drool with hunger. Inventory slots are plentiful and buying and selling uses a very clean interface. The game runs really nicely. But for me, the frantic, twitchy combat just makes it a no-sale. 🙁

Runes of Magic client download woes

So I won’t be trying that Runes of Magic beta right away. The only 1-part d/l service is the aptly named Gamershell. D/Ling the client was going to take me over 24 hours! Alternative was a 5 part download from a European server, then stitch together.

Too many other shiny things to distract me. Runes of Magic can wait until they can provide a reasonable way to d/l the client.

A peek into the Warhammer client directories

As mentioned in my last post, I installed a new “fresh” copy of the Warhammer client off the retail disks. Before nuking the old one I took a quick glance at the two side by side, and here’s some of what I found. This isn’t a complete list; I did drill into every directory to compare things.

New directories in the retail client are GDF and Support. GDF looks to have something to do with patching, and Support contains a bunch of Help HTML files. Worth looking at if you’re having trouble.

The old Beta server has one directory and a few files that retail doesn’t. *Presumably* these are no longer needed, but of course I take no responsibility if you delete them and it totally fubars your install. The directory is audio and holds, unsurprisingly, a bunch of mp3 files with names like Music-Test_Fanfare_Chaos08.mp3. I’ll be holding on to these!

Now we get to the file level and again I’m not going to list everything. 3 directxfiles, d3dx9_30.dll, d3dx9_34.dll and d3dx9d_34.dll are in the beta client but not retail. These aren’t very big though. dev_zones.myp is huge, though, a bit over 3 gigs. .myp seems to be the basic data file ‘bundle’ extension for Warhammer Online. There are also some Player_Guide files that you d/led for beta.

On the retail side, there’s a world.myp which presumably takes the place of dev_zones.myp, though its a bit smaller, about 2.8 gigs. And there’s the opening video (I assume) video.myp, which is a 1.5 gigs or so. I wonder if we could nuke that to save space once we’ve watched it?

In my next post I’m going to talk about what some of the other directories are far.

More BetaWARs

So the open beta for Warhammer Online starts on Sunday (the 7th), but for some percentage of pre-orders, it apparently started today as a second preview weekend? Honestly I haven’t been paying attention. My gaze is firmly fixed on September 14th, when Headstart Access opens for Collector’s Edition pre-orders.

My only fear is that my guild is playing in the betas, getting to know each other, forming friendships, and I’m not a part of that. Hopefully I’ll be able to ‘socially catch-up’ when the time comes. I just am really afraid of ‘burning out’ on the early levels if I run through them yet again before launch.

I’m awfully excited about the launch of Warhammer though.

In other news, I canceled my Spore pre-order….or tried to at least. I called Gamestop too late to prevent it from being shipped, but I’ll return the game to a local store when it arrives. I’m still playing LOTRO pretty heavily, I have Warhammer incoming in 9 days, and I’m not a fan of Spore’s SecurROM copy protection.

WAR is still coming (Headstart Dates)

I haven’t seen this officially on the NA Warhammer sites, but the European site says that the Warhammer Online Headstart Program starts on Sept. 14th for Collector’s Edition pre-orders, and Sept. 15th for standard orders. Note that the 14th is a Sunday, so (most) CE pre-orders have a full day of headstart over standard buyers.

But this means that Open Beta is at most 7 days. I guess that’s enough time for some stress testing, but I’m not sure its enough time for many fixes to be developed, tested and deployed.

Warhammer: The Hating Begins

So much fuss is being made in the Warhammer Online fan community about a post at a site called Virgin Worlds. I’d never heard of the site but I’m sure the author had never heard of me, either. But the Warhammer bloggers seem riled up by this fellow. Anyway you can read his rant here.

I’m tired of responding to the post in the comments at 101 different Warhammer blogs so I’ll just respond to it here.

I guess it depends a lot on what you enjoy about these games. This Brent dude is clearly sick of MMORPGs as we have come to know them. He wants *something else*. But how is that Warhammer’s fault?

Personally, I don’t want *something else*. Games like The Agency look interesting but I don’t really want an action-MMORPG. I want a stat-based game. I like stat-based games.

Current MMORPGs to me are like the old Avalon Hill or SPI wargames. I didn’t need totally new game mechanics to buy a new wargame. In fact, I didn’t *want* new mechanics that I’d have to learn all over again. What I wanted was a new game covering different subject matter, with a few “Special Rules” to make it slightly different.

Brent even acknowledges that it is “OK” for strategy games to work that way. Also its OK for puzzle games and FPS to maintain the same basic mechanics. But he has deemed that this is not Good Enough for MMORPGs, then he “jumps the shark” and says MMORPGs won’t be good enough “until we have environments nearing or exceeding those described in Snowcrash”. When I read that my eyes rolled so hard I was dizzy.

I’m thinking Brent just likes the attention, and hey, it’s working for him. It got me to his site for the first time. But slagging Warhammer Online for being exactly what it has promised to be is pointless. It’s like saying “I hate football and I hate sports games, and Madden ’09 is NO FUN.” Well of course if you’re playing a game-type that you don’t like, it isn’t going to be any fun. Duh.

If Mythic had been claiming that Warhammer Online was going to be some revolutionary virtual-reality game to rival Snowcrash, then Brent would be justified. I must have missed that press release.

Warhammer NDA Lifted, a cry of WAAAGHH!! fills the internet

So the NDA is lifted, huzzah!

A million war bloggers are posting a billion beta posts, great walls of text that will numb your mind.

Not me.

I’m going to tell you that my time in the Warhammer Beta has been a hell of a lot of fun. But character wipes have been frequent which is why I’ve backed away from it for now. Each ‘faction’ (3 per side) has its own starting area and starting quests, but still I’ve played them all a couple of times now and I just don’t want launch day to start with a sigh and a mutter of “OK, let’s get through this again.”

WAR: NDA lift-off and Preview Weekend

So the further Warhammer Online buzz today is that the NDA is expected to be lifted tomorrow, and comes with a big reveal as to why its been in place for so long. We’ll see.

Unlike a lot of bloggers, I don’t have a bunch of beta impression posts written and ready to roll out. Honestly there’s been so much Warhammer Online coverage around I should think we’re about at capacity. I will write up a quick post of my general impressions I suppose, just so I can go all fanboy for a while.

Other news is that the “Preview Weekend” is this coming weekend plus some, August 22nd – August 25th. This is an “invite-only” event, and it looks to me like you have to have pre-ordered to get invited. I suppose if you’re invited you’ve already got the email and if you weren’t, then you probably don’t care about the event! 🙂