Rooting For Brad

The Kickstarter for Brad McQuaid’s new game Pantheon: Rise of the Fallen is now live. There’s a great deal we don’t know about Pantheon. If the Kickstarter is managed intelligently many of those questions will get answered over the next few weeks, as more information is forced out into the traditional MMO news channels to keep the project’s visibility up. We’ll see what happens.

I backed it, modestly for now with an eye toward possibly increasing my support later on in the campaign. As far as I’m concerned the McQuaid name doesn’t have any special allure for being attached to EverQuest, a game I didn’t play until well after its heyday. But it does for Vanguard, which likely puts me in a small minority. I backed it not becuase I am convinced it will be awesome, but because McQuaid’s involvement suggests a certain amount of ambition. I think ambition is to be encouraged, especially many years of spineless copycat titles. A status quo that’s only now beginning to be challenged.

On a personal level, I’m rooting for Brad. He is now, after all, an underdog. Pantheon might succeed, if it has goals it can manage and a budget proportonal to its potential audience. I hope it does. It might fail, as many would say Vanguard did. But I’ll take an ambitious failure over a soulless hit any day. I hope, over the course of the kickstarter, to learn just how ambitious Pantheon is going to be, and to get an impression of how reasonable its design goals seem. And to learn more about the technical underpinnings of the game; Vanguard was built on the Unreal engine but modified it very heavily. Will Pantheon also be built on some kind of middleware foundation? Other indie projects with ambitious goals and modest budgets like Project: Gorgon, Pathfinder Online and Shroud of the Avatar seem, at least tenatively, to be getting good results buidling on Unity.

On the other hand, the title is terrible.

EverQuest Next Q&A Session, Part 1

Embedded below is Part 1 of the EverQuest Next Q&A panel from SOELive. But I watched so you won’t have to; the breakdown of answers of everything significant that was said is also below. Part 2 soon.

  • Smokejumper will not commit to whether there will be one or many starting areas at this time.
  • Users in the EU will be able to participate in the betas.
  • The decision to use the title EverQuest Next Landmark was a business decision to clearly link EQNL to EQN.
  • Lots of lore will be trickling about on the website. The Q&A panel didn’t want to get into this.
  • There will be transparency regarding numbers and mechanics. Folks can of course ignore this if they wish, but there won’t be any effort to obfuscate the way things work to try to cull min-maxing.
  • Expect to see inventory items show up as actual 3D items in the world. Maybe this will just be inside housing. SWG specifically is a target they’re shooting for.
  • By “tiers”, the devs are predominantly talking about the levels above or under ground. How this ties into advancement is unclear; I’m getting the impression of some backing away from Smokejumper’s earlier statement that progression would be predominantly horizontal rather than vertical. There is talk of advancing classes once you unlock them.
  • There will not be true darkness in the classic EQ sense, but lighting will be a major factor and there will be deep darkness possibly extending to total darkness in some areas. Characters will sometimes need or want light sources. Butler specifically says that going underground without a light source should be scary. NPCs will also react intelligently to the day/night cycle.
  • EU players may or may not be able to play on US servers. Notable is that Smokejumper did not commit to saying that EU players would be forced onto ProSiebenSat-run servers.
  • Mob AI is good enough that they can learn from what’s happening within a combat and react accordingly. This probably isn’t something that we’ll see in every encounter, but encounters intended to me more difficult will be characterized by smarter AI.
  • No launch date has been announced for EQN in part so that player reaction to some game elements can be measured in EQNL. No doubt a certain amount of testing of the procedural generation will happen there as well.
  • No comment on death penalties just yet. This seems like a softball question, so I wonder if the quick “no comment” conceals a wrinkle that folks might not expect. Maybe a permadeath server?
  • World-affecting changes re: Rallying Cries will happen in real time when the server is up, not just on patch days. When new events are rolled in the plan is that they’ll trigger in the future.
  • The devs want environmental damage to be in the game, for example from a destroyed bridge falling on someone.
  • No comment on loot mechanics yet, re: how classes can be mixed and matched. Also no comment on group and/or raid sizes and configurations, but Smokejumper says we’ll like the answers when they’re revealed.
  • The six announced races (dark elf, ogre, human, dwarf, kerra, and whatever kind of elf Firiona Vie is) are not the full list of planned character races.
  • Players will be able to disrupt a Rallying Cry via various means, but the intention is not to allow it to the point of serious griefing.
  • Feldon is approximately 13 feet tall.
  • No comment on whether EQN will be included in the All Acces Pass… but that’s really a business question rather than a design question, and Smokejumper says he’ll be surprised if EQN isn’t part of All Access somehow.
  • The game’s ‘faction’ standings, for lack of a better term, will be locak rather than global. The example given is that if you steal a muffin, but no one seens you do it, your standings with NPCs are not affected, but the baker may react to his muffins being stolen in some way.

Word From the Vanguard Devs and Play From the Isle of Dawn

The new episode of Ardwulf Presents is up and available: Part 2 of my Let’s Play from the Isle of Dawn. The hour-long first episode proved pretty unweildy when it came to rendering and uploading, so I’m shooting for 30 minutes or a little less for the rest; I hope to have Part 3 available by Tuesday morning and to get to either Crafting or Diplomacy in it.

In further Vanguard news, there’s an interesting thread over of the game’s forums where lead developer “Silius” Grant talks a bit about what’s planned moving forward. Right now, plans are still in flux but what’s on the table includes:

  • A small content update hitting in the next couple of weeks, featuring a new overland raid and “A new system that will benefit everyone and reinforce the idea of exploration in Telon.” No clue what this latter might be.
  • Work on the next big update, City of Brass, has started. As I recall some work had already been done in the past, so this is presumably a resumption.
  • More items should be showing up in the marketplace.
  • Initial planning on the next big dungeon after CoB is underway. This place is not Stirrhad, the Nexus or the Cave of Wonders. The first two, when they do get worked on, will be a mix of group and raid content; the last may be 100% raid.
  • The general priority is to utilize parts of the world that are currently empty before adding any wholly new areas. Which is cool by me — it’s not like there isn’t plenty of space.

SWTOR F2P in Autumn, Details Available

Beginning the day as believable rumor and ending it as unsurprising fact is the news that SWTOR is going free to play. This fall, in fact, and lots of details are already available.

Having gone through the ins and outs of many of these models, I’ll not do so here, although this one is along the same lines, with a sub option and limits for free players. Interestingly, though, most of the limits seem to be daily caps on the amount of warzones, flashpoints, space missions and the like you can play. I’ll be curious to see how that works out.

Also, EA is saying that SWTOR subs are still”well above half a million.” I’m not sure I believe that, given the shrinkage in the number of servers, but perhaps there’s lots of people who bought 12-month plans and just aren’t actually playing anymore.

I have, as I may have mentioned a couple of weeks ago, been playing SWTOR on the free trial, very occasionally. I’m curious to see whether I play it more when it goes fully freemium. Maybe, but it’ll be nice to not have to stop at level 15.

(Yes, I’m still here this week, but I’m busy. We’re leaving on Friday, after which I will be off the grid for eight or nine days.)

Brad McQuaid Returns to Vanguard. No, Really.

The fiddly bits of Vanguard’s free-to-play model may not have been unexpected, but this is. If it were April 1st, I would have chortled. But it’s for real: Brad McQuaid is returning to the Vanguard team.

I see no sense in belaboring the details, but getting back to game development is probably the best thing for Brad, and while I’m not a McQuaid fanboy in any sense it’s both good and interesting to see him back with Vanguard.

Brad has apparently been back with SOE since February, most likely (it seems to me) working on Vanguard behind the scenes this whole time. The accopanying Developer Spotlight is pretty light on details of what’s being worked on.

I may have more detailed thoughts on this subject later.

Vanguard’s Freemium Model Announced

Today SOE announced the details of the plan under which Vanguard will operate under its new f2p model. So we have a new producer’s letter, the obligatory free to play benefits matrix and an accompanying FAQ. No launch date for the new model has yet been announced, but the aforementioned producer’s letter says we’re “approaching the final stretch.” I expect that means 2-3 more months, giving us a release in August or September, likely coming in before the end of the announced “Summer” date.

The membership matrix is shown above, but let’s dig in and take a closer look at the plan and the details we know — and don’t — so far.

  • Membership Levels: One interesting aspect is the lack of an intermediate tier of membership between free and subscription (“Gold”) accounts. Looking over the details and comparing the Vanguard f2p matrix with those of EQ and EQ2. This is a little bit of a surprise, but it shouldn’t be; EQ2’s plan in particular is a bit confusing for the newcomer, although that’s probably less true today than it was when EQ2 went free. Some of the benefits one might have otherwise expected under a “Silver” plan have been rolled into the free package, while others have been kept for Gold players.
  • Available Races: Those available for free are Halflings, Half Elves and the Thestran, Qaliathari and Mordebi Humans, with the rest purchasable in the store. This is not surprising; if anything, it could have been one race per contiennt, so I’m not entirely displeased with the options that will be available to free players. But then, I tend to favor human characters anyway.
  • Available Classes: Those available for free are the Warrior, Rogue, Cleric, Sorcerer, Disciple, Necromancer and Monk. One fear I had going into this was that the free plan would sequester all of Vanguard’s great and novel classes behind the paywall, leaving us with the straight and relatively conventional Warrior, Rogue, Cleric and Sorcerer. While those classes do have some interesting twists in Vanguard, Classes like the Bard and Necromancer are more interesting and unique. So it looks like they met me halfway on this: the Necro and Disciple are unique and desirable classes with great underlying mechanics, and the Monk is interesting as well.
  • Currency Cap: Even at the Silver level, the currency cap in EQ2 is low enough to cause problems in the upper level ranges. Vanguard’s cap of 1 plat seems pretty high, in contrast; Ardwulf is level 30 and has seldom exceeded 10 gold, let alone approached a plat.
  • Gearing Limits: Free players are restricted to “Common” items. This one is the big variable; if by “common” we mean only the very lowest level of gear above vendor trash, then it’s nearly a game-busting limitation anywhere north of level 10. I would guess that there will be some kind of purchasable token (probably cheap if EQ2’s method is anything to go by) that will let you equip higher tiers of items.
  • Quest Journal: Subscribers will get the current limit of 50 quests, while free players will be capped at 15. Given that this covers all three spheres and the quests therefrom, free players will need to manage their quest log very carefully.
  • Miscellaneous Restrictions: Free players cannot form (but van join) guilds, can receive (but not send) in-game mail, have a limited set of social commands (/say, /tell, /group and /guild) and are barred from Caravans, Brotherhoods, Fishing and Housing. Only the last is significant, and since Vanguard’s housing is open-world, it’s really kind of neccessary for it to be limited to subscribers. One open question is what happens when a subscriber lapses to a free account. Does their house just vanish? Or is it locked until they can re-subscribe?
  • Existing Players: Former subscribers get full access to their existing characters made prior to the f2p conversion, without having to unlock anything. Good call; anything else would have been met with great umbrage.
  • There are, as of now, no known restrictions on crafting, diplomacy, harvesting or boats. Although gear is a question, and some crafting is dependent on dropped mats that will be hard to impossible to get without doing raids that may be off-limits depending on how the gearing limit shakes out. Otherwise, free players will enjoy open access to the huge open world and all the game’s content and can level straight up to the cap of 55 in all three spheres.

There are no huge surprises either way, based on these details. The model is closely akin to those of EQ and EQ2, with more of the range of classes and races available to free players and with the currency cap less of a thumb-in-the-eye issue. We still need a date, of course, and more details need to be made clear. And we also need to see the cash shop in action to find out what kind of stuff is available there. But I am tentatively happy with what I see so far, and relieved that f2p is finally, finally on the horizon for Vanguard.

Guild Wars 2 Out August 28

The new ArenaNet video, below, pegs the Guild Wars 2 release at August 28, 2012. Not radically far from what I figured, and not even all that far from the June date that GameStop started a torrent of rumors with a while back.

The rest of the MMO industry can now begin jockeying for positioning around that date.

EQNext, Not Next Year

Massively reports, and Wilhelm remarks, that we shan’t be seeing any information on EverQuest Next any time soon. The relevant SmokeJumper quote courtesy of EQ2Wire:

EQ Next is still being built within a black box. The *earliest* we are currently considering that we *might* reveal info is late this year. We’re being very particular about what needs to be in the game before revealing it to folks, so until that stuff is ready, we won’t be showing anything. (Screens you saw from a couple years ago are completely obsolete now and are not pertinent to the current game at all.)

SOE is actually pretty good at trickling information out to the public, if you are paying very close attention. Naturally some individuals took the mention of the project as a sign that release was imminent, leading to the idea in some quarters by 2012 that it was vaporware. Of course, I don’t have to tell my readers these things take a long time to develop and that SOE isn’t the biggest or the richest development house out there. It’s gonna take a while. If we assume that serious discussions started happening in 2009 (as seems reasonable) then given a typical five-year development cycle we should expect to see a launch in 2014.

When SOE said that a new chapter in the EverQuest franchise was being planned back in 2009, it was clearly only in the thinking stages at the time, and when they started to talk about it at FanFaire in 2010, it was still obviously very early in development. So not hearing any details soon is not a surprise. 2013 is clearly going to be the year of Planetside 2 for SOE. They are mounting a big push for it and it’s drawing a lot of very positive buzz. My guess would be that we will not, in fact, see anything substantial on EQNext this year, as Creative Director Dave Georgeson implies is possible in the quote above. By the end of the year, of course, the narrative in certain quarters will be that more info was in fact promised, and that SOE is again the House of Lies. But you can’t unlearn stupid.

We may hear something at FanFaire… er, SOELive this year, or possibly afterward. Maybe even a screenshot or two. But I think we won’t start to see serious information until 2013, and possibly not before SOELive 2013. As for release, I think 2014 is possible, but I’m not holding my breath. I’d say 2015, possibly even 2016 are more likely.

Vanguard F2P Gets a Trailer

After years of neglect, it was a surprise to many, including myself that Vanguard: Saga of Heroes was presented at this year’s E3 as part of SOE’s stable of games. You’d have thought it would be, of course, but this was a big year for SOE at E3 with the overwhelming focus on showing off Planetside 2, and even at SOE’s own FanFaire event (now called SOE Live) there has been a grand total of zilch for the last couple of years.

Vanguard’s upcoming transition to f2p is a big, big deal for a game seen as struggling by the public at large, and with good reason. Comments by SOE chief John Smedley about wanting Vanguard to get a proper relaunch were encouraging. Vanguard getting a place at the table at an E3 where SOE was a major draw was more so — it shows that SOE is actually serious. Now Massively has broken the news that SOE showed off a trailer for the free to play Vanguard at E3… and it’s pretty strong.

I’d embed it, but the embed code for whatever video hosting Digital Trends is using makes WordPress unhappy, so head over to Massively for a look.

EDIT: Now embedded, courtesy of kaozz, who’s been chronicling her adventures in Vanguard as well. Head on over there and have a great read.

38 Studios Is Dead, Alas

In the creepiest MMO news of the year, Project Copernicus died on the same day — May 24th — as Nicolaus Copernicus did in 1543. I just don’t have it in me to gravedance upon the officially kaput 38 Studios. Lots of quality folks are now unemployed, and that’s not happy for anyone. Curt’s getting his share of flak for what went on, and he’ll get more as time goes on. There’s no need for me to dish out more.

Ironically, though, the big winner in all this may turn out to be Turbine, which hosted a job fair mere blocks from 38 Studios’ HQ a few days ago — and surely everyone at 38 saw the writing on the wall when paychecks started to bounce. That is what I find most upsetting about the whole situation, the breach of the most sacred bond of trust between employer and employee.