Holiday affairs have kept me mostly offline for the last few days, and my available playtime will probably be limited for the next couple of weeks. However, I have been keeping up with certain things, namely the recent events in Vanguard. Game Update 3 and dynamic weather have been live for a little while, and the “Back to Vanguard” initiative is now running as well and being promoted on the VGPlayers site. While I myself don’t qualify for it since my account was cancelled less than 60 days ago (Curse you SOE! Curse you and your 60 days!) I’ve been paying pretty close attention anyway – Vanguard is tempting me again. But it’d be silly to resubscribe right before 3 weeks of limited playtime, so I really should wait, even aside from my determination to wait for GU4.
Word on GU3 seems to be that it’s the biggest and most substantive update to the game so far, and the one that improves and expands Vanguard the most. From the update notes, character occlusion alone is a big, big step in the right direction toward getting Vanguard to perform acceptably on typical system configurations. The new process removes the necessity for the client to load characters which aren’t visible to the player because they’re behind a wall, under water or otherwise imperceptible. I have to think that this will cause an immediate small increase in performance across the board, and substantial improvement when entering new areas of zoning into the game from character selection. The performance issue in Vanguard is not really that you can’t get decent framerates – you can; it’s that the frame rates aren’t stable enough, jumping from imperceptibly fast to slideshow when rendering new characters or screen elements, or crossing chunklines. This should help with that.
On Wednesday, we also had a bunch of Vanguard developers in a live chat on WarCry. First of all, it seems that the dev team under Thom Terrazas is taking a much more out-front position than it did under Dave Gilbertson, whose team seemed much more aloof, which is not what Vanguard needs right now. The public needs to know that Vanguard is improving and that the developers are working hard to hammer it into shape, and the way to do this is first through good updates and substantive improvement (and GU3 seems to be both,) and actually letting the public know about what’s going on with the improvement process.
There are a number of interesting things discussed in the chat, including the beginnings of a timetable for various things. The biggie is the “Trial Island” (now called the Isle of Dawn,) which is being completely retooled from whatever the Gilbertson-led team was trying to do with it, and that it’ll be live some time around April. It will be a consolidated starting area for all new Vanguard characters, which I have mixed feelings about. I think that a diverse array of starting experiences helps an MMO, and that games that have this (like WoW) gain increased replayability. It can be handled skillfully, however, by allowing players bored with the game old starting area to leave immediately, or by making starting play move quickly enough that it’s not a burden to level characters to its conclusion. I’d like to keep the distinctiveness of the current starting areas, though, as tier 2 adventuring areas with lots of rich race-oriented content.
Also, helms, flying mount quests and a revamped riftway system are looking like we’ll see them in Game Update 4. Both of these are big; the flying mount quests in particular are probably as big a deal as the outdoor raid content in GU3. And there appears to be at least a tentative plan for both some kind of Alternate Advancement system and a level cap increase. Diplomacy will be getting some love again fairly shortly.
All in all, this is shaping up to be a positive couple of weeks for Vanguard. If the Terrazas-led team can keep cranking out updates as solid as GU3 on a regular basis, I can believe that Vanguard will really start to shape up nicely over the next six months, and could be in incredibly good by the end of 2008.