Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Acclaim's TOP SECRET Project

As many of you already know, Acclaim has opened up the floor for ANYONE to register for their TOP SECRET Project and actually design an MMO. With the entire community participating (25000+) the mmo will eventually be fully designed, and their programmers will create it and publish it. There is various job opportunities if your designs are selected, and lots of industry eyes on this one. I don't have time for a full post, but here's an example email from them I received:
Hi team,

Thanks for being patient, we are ready!!!

The TOP SECRET forums are now open. The project is a go!

I just checked the sign-ups and today we have over 23,500 people on this team, making it the biggest team in gaming history! Yeah!!!

If you have any talented friends that you want to work with, go ahead and have them sign up. We do allow partners to win, however you will have to split the prize.

We're also signing up moderators right now. These are the people who will help keep everything running smoothly. (These are the people you want to hire as producers down the road.) Our moderators are allowed to join into the competition, as they're not judging any winners.

So know that the moderators are just cool people trying to help out, so please give them respect, and if you think they're doing a good job, give them some reputation points.

The highest ranked moderator at the end of the project will get a special prize.

If you have spare time and would like to be one, here's a direct link to the details: http://phpbb.acclaim.com/topsecret/viewtopic.php?t=81

The first challenge (MILESTONE 1) is to work out the world the game takes place in, meaning the universe, the look, the style. So if you have any ideas, once we decide that, we can start working on characters, vehicles etc.

Oh, one other thing, as this is all about exposing talent and making games, I'm going to personally hire someone full-time right out of the forums, in the first week!
I've posted details of how to be spotted.

See you in the forums!
Here's a link: http://phpbb.acclaim.com/topsecret/index.php

David Perry
Project Top Secret

So there you have it, see the website for more details, and get your creative juices flowing!


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Granado Espada: Great? I think nada.

As promised, here is my review for Granada Espada (the SG version). The Closed Beta ended yesterday (March 19th) and the Open Beta is expected to start in the middle of May. Without further a due, lets get to it.

Granado Espada; developed by a world famous MMO designer, winner of the 2006 Korean MMO best game award (those things come from the government of Korea!), and quite frankly seemed to be the only decently designed game in to come out this year. So naturally, I expected the most from it. I'll break down the review into sections, as per the norm.

Graphically, the game is very well designed. You get the look and feel of the post-colonial days. Not only is the atmosphere good, the graphics themselves are quite stunning considering the requirements. They are very crisp yet not too detailed as too distract the eye. And the character's clothing fits the era. I did not run into any graphic glitches during the beta, and overall though the graphical side was executed well.

The selling point of GE lies in the Multi-Character Control (MCC) system. It allows the player to play more than one character a time. Therefore each player creates a "family" of at most 3 characters. (You don't NEED 3, but its highly recommended). In order to prevent insane micro-managing, the game also comes with an "Auto Attack" feature, where the characters will attack anything that comes near them(scouts will auto-heal in this mode). And also an "Auto Loot" and "Auto Defend", much like the average Real Time Strategy game. Each character also has one row of the keyboard for skill slots, allowing effective micro managing. In order to cast a supportive skill, each player can be targeted with F1,F2,F3 respectively. The control system is very well designed and allows for quick and easy management of three characters.

Each of the characters in your family contain the same features you would expect a single character to in a normal MMO. Each has a class (fighter, scout(healer), musketeer, elementalist, wizard) and skills, with a mini-skill tree. They also have stat points, but they are unmodifiable (more on this later). And of course, each has separate equipment, but they all share one inventory (which appears to be limitless in weight).

The second claim to fame of Granado Espada(GE) is the Stance System. You set your character on a particular stance, which offers bonuses to attack speed, etc.. Each stance has a set of skills for it, and each stance level (exp gained from killing monsters), grants you some skill points. (It increases as you go higher). So now that you understand a little more about the system, let me tear it to pieces!

The MCC system, due to its "Auto Attack" mode is basically a bot. You can leave it on auto-attack, come back 6 hours later and have gained a level or two. I'm sure this wasn't the intention, but its the reality, and something that needs to be drastically changed. The only two "efficient" methods of leveling are "botting" and mobbing/AoE. Both of which get incredibly boring incredibly quickly. Instead of choosing to have the maps filled with a few hard monsters, they loaded them to the brim with monsters that die quickly. And to add it to, the monsters re-spawn at incredible rates, thus making it easier to bot/mob. The Stance System is not without its flaws either. I'm not sure why they went through the difficulty of making skill trees, and various stances, when in essence you can level all of them up to the max. And you're almost guaranteed to have enough skill points to max each skill in each stance. Thereby COMPLETELY removing the skill-build aspect of the game. Combine that with no stat points, and you've got a bunch of cookie-cutter characters running around.

To add onto that note, there is also RNPC's (Recruitable NPC's) in the game, which you do quests for and they become part of your family. (Ie, you can create a new character like them). Many of these RNPC's are ridiculously overpowered in comparison to the base classes and thus you are almost "forced" to have them in your family if you wish to stand a chance at PVP. Thereby reducing the possible family-build. This results in everyone playing very similar characters near the end, which completely removes the point of having such dynamic family possibilities.

However, I do feel that one part of the game needs positive mentioning. And since we've covered graphics, core-game system, and skills; it must be items! The item system is GE is easily THE BEST I've ever seen. First off, items drop from monsters onto the ground, so you don't have to right click to pick up things. Secondly, if its a "rare" item (ie, weapon/armor), it makes a soft "ding" sound when it hits the ground, and glows red making it almost impossible to miss. And in the spirit of Diablo 2, you can press a key combination to see the names of all items on the ground, a feature every MMO needs. Following with that theme of Diablo 2 it seems that ANY monster can drop ANY item, and each item has RANDOM stats. For example:
I found a level 36 elementalist firestorm bracelet with +22% aspd, +20% attk. And in the same 5 minutes, from the same type of monster, I found another level 36 bracelet with +98% dmg to demi human and 5% chance to cause terror.

Too add onto this, there in an enchanting and enhancing system. Where you can upgrade your weapon by enhancing (give money to some NPC and it upgrades safely to +4, past that its a risk, much like RO), and you can enchant your item with enchanting chips. These stones are gained by placing 3 "rare" items into the enchantment chip maker, where it spits out a random level enchanting chips. You then apply this chip to a weapon and it will add random bonuses (such as the ones mentioned above). This system offers AMAZING dynamics in the weapon/armor areas, and a wonderful siphon of money from the economy through enhancing(very expensive). So not only can you find random goodies, but you can also make them from random not-so-goodies. It does not require any extra skill or benefit, just need to talk to an NPC.

The quest system in GE is pretty generic, except that it involves a lot of instancing, and the rewards aren't too bad. They are generally EXP Cards (cards that give EXP to a character and can be used at any time), or RNPC Character Cards (required to be able to make the RNPC character described by the card). There is also your generic hunt/kill X amount of this monster, if that's your thing. Overall I'd say the questing system was done well, nothing to cry about, but nothing to brag about either.

One quite generic feature is the party system, otherwise referred to as "Squadding". The squads work like any other game, where party buffs can be applied, and you can see squad members on the mini-map. One of the nicer features in the AI is that your squad member's scout heals your characters automatically, therefore allowing only 1 scout to suffice for a party of two characters. However, I feel that the party system failed in the core idea of a party; you only get an EXP bonus if two people hit the same monster. And because the monsters are relatively weak, this rarely happens. Combine this fact with the "botting" technique, and you are basically just a collection of "botting" players that are sharing exp, with no bonuses to do so.

One feature, which I do think should be adapted by all future games, is the Warp Point feature. Each family has 5 warp points, which they can set at anyone point in the game by simply clicking "Save" in the family menu. It will save that location to the list, which they can return to easily by using a warp scroll, which opens a gate to go back there (just like Diablo!). This is an incredibly useful feature and saves a lot of the pains of walking, and the scrolls aren't "cheap" so its an excellent money drain.

Another interesting feature for an MMO is the auto-resurrect part of GE. Whenever a character dies, it will simply resurrect in X seconds. If your whole family dies, they will still resurrect after the given time has passed. This works in PVP also(next topic), but if your entire family dies in PVP its over. So long as you keep one character alive, you're good to go! It really encourages more "exciting" game play and allows for interesting things to happen, such as every dungeon having a nasty "mini-boss" that pops out at random times in random places and kills you!. It doesn't get you very mad if you know you'll simply resurrect in a minute or two. So you're probably wondering, how do you get back to town!? Well, if you go back to character select, you can set where you want to start from, either your current location, or your save point (town).

Lastly, I'll discuss PVP. I will not be discussing the Faction vs Faction content, because I did not get to experience it and I've been told it will be getting upgrades/changes in the next update, so I don't want to make comments on something that's not finished. As for the PVP system, I don't think its even worth mentioning. When I discussed "botting" earlier, it involved setting "auto-attack" and going afk. However, when someone asks for a dual, the game will auto accept after 30 seconds of no response. Thus a lot of the "botters" get killed in PVP, which sends you back to town. However, this is a double-edged feature. If you sat down and ran to the bathroom, by the time you got back someone may have dual'd and killed you, sending you back to town. It gets very annoying quite quickly, and is a poor solution to the "botting". Other than dualing, there is arena's for PVP in the towns, but that's about it. Its not a large focus of the game (similar to RO). The FvF content did look good, but we'll have to wait and see.

Overall, I feel that the game failed in some of the core components of an MMO, although it does have a lot of new concepts and new ideas which I think could be modified to create something truly amazing. I could not envision a better item system, which is a huge factor in the game. If you are currently a WoW fan, or some other stat less/skill less MMO, then this game is for you. It is by far the BEST game of the "build less" variety that I've played. If you arent, keep looking, because unless there is dramatic changes in the future I feel it'll just be another game where you get to be a clone of someone elses characters.

-bonus marks for originality and masterfully implemented item system
-deductions for core game design

I feel the game has alot of potential, and in the coming updates things may change for the better. I'll definitely be trying it out again in open beta.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Scions of Fate Review: Painful.


(I'll be adding screenshots later)

Scions of Fate is the western version of the hit game "Yulgang" in asia. Yulgang boasts about its 70 million registered users (free-to-play). So naturally, I had to try Scions of Fate (SOF) when it came out. So, after waiting through countless delays and tolerating bad community management, I finally got SOF downloaded, installed, and ready to go. And its all downhill from there..

Lets start with the graphics:
As Yulgang is a little old, the graphics are not at their highest potential for a "new" MMO, but nevertheless they are easy on the eyes. There was a few graphical glitches, but the visible distance was quite large, and it was still open beta; thus nothing was too bad. The graphics get a "meh" from me; as they are functional but not breath taking.

Moving onto to the core game play. This is where my enjoyment of the game went to zero. The game play is UTTERLY boring, with no innovation, and a horrible rendition of even a crappy standard MMO. There is no stat points. Infact, the levels in the game DO NOTHING but give you a wee bit more HP/SP. Woohoo! And every few levels you get to go back to town and buy store-bought gear. Woohoo! There is literally no purpose in leveling other than to get the next skill in your tree (I'll talk about that later), or to buy the next ungodly expensive weapon from the store. A total flop.

The character classe.: The game contains 5 base character classes: Swordsman, Bladesman, Spearman, Bowman, Healer. As you can see, the first three are essentially copies of each other, just change the weapon they can use. Whereas the Bowman has incredibly range, and with the proper running tactics, can never be hit. An important imbalance in PVP. The good part is each of the base classes can choose between one of two paths at the first class change. (There is 4 class changes total). For example, the healer can choose Holy Physician or Dark Physician. Which is a system I do enjoy.

To add insult to injury, the item system was poor at best. The items dropped from monsters almost a full second after you killed them, so it was common to walk around and see items all over the ground. As people killed mobs, they would run onward thinking nothing dropped, when something does indeed drop 1-2 seconds later. To cap it off, the idea of customization in the game was the dropping of "rare" gems. Sapphire, Ruby, etc.. Thus, you would commonly have to turn around and check if your monsters dropped anything after you left! You then used these gems at the local blacksmith to "upgrade" a weapon/armor. They did offer a wide variety of customization in the equipment, but they were limited due to the expensive nature and unpredictable results. Since many of the gems sold for incredible amounts of money to NPC's, it simply is not affordable to enchant every time you get a new weapon. (The weapons are purchased based on GOLD ONLY, so if you're level 1, you could have an insane weapon provided you had the gold). But, in SOF's defence, the enchanting/enhancing process offers customization and a semi-build for your character (since they have no stat points.) Although it makes the game far too item-based (IGE anyone?).

The skill system is almost the poorest I've ever seen. You get a new skill every 5-10 levels, and its generally incredibly stronger than your previous one, so there is basically 1 skill you ever use; depending on your level. That aspect of it gets very boring, very quickly. For example, by the time you were a level 60 Beast Slayer (After 2 class changes from swordsman), you would have a TOTAL of 9 skills (8 being useless). That is if you could afford to/wanted to purchase them. There is really nothing more to say. It is simply the worst skill system of any MMO I've ever played.

Moving onto the general game atmosphere, such as quests, leveling etc.. The quests are poor. No other way to say it. You go out and kill X monsters, return to Y NPC, receive Z award. Most of the monsters they ask you to kill are in obscure locations, and thus you need to keep the website open to search for them at each quest. There is nothing innovative, nothing exciting, and definitely nothing fun. I already did my rant on the leveling system, but I'd also like to say that the grind is too hard for the first few levels. It should take minimal amount of time to get to level 10 and get into the game. Past that, I'm fine with increasing leveling time, but at the start, things should not take long. In SOF, it takes a while. And to finish off this segment of the review; the pet system. I WOULD use the pet system as an interesting feature of the game, but its horribly explained in game; and as it turns out, the Cash Shop (real money for in game items) is the prime way you get pets. And not to mention, the Cash Shop causes other broken features.
Such as:
"Gold Supremacy Charm: lasts 30 days"
1. 20% increase in the experience gained by hunting.
2. 150% of the Ki points from hunting.
3. 120% of gold gathered from hunting.
4. You may participate in premium quests.
5. 1% decrease in the experience you lose from your character dieing.
6. You may save up to 4 locations on your Charm of Passage.
7. 120% of the gold from selling items to NPC shops.
8. 5% increase in item enchantment success rate.
9. 5% increase in item strengthening success rate.

As you can see, that's grossly overpowered. Most importantly the "premium quests" which offer godly rewards and can be repeated as many times as you'd like. Essentially FORCING you to "pay" for the game if you want to play competitively.

Overall, I have to say the game is a total flop. With the only interesting part of the entire system being the item enchanting/enhancing. I'm losing faith in F2P MMO's quite quickly. Into the MMO Trash bin you go SOF.