World of Darkness Online Trailers

Now with more trailer. First is is substanceless but atmospheric animated trailer.

Second is the in-game footage trailer.

World of Darkness is one of the MMOs I’m most looking forward to. It doesn’t get much press because it’s still a long way off, but I personally can’t wait to see what CCP comes up with for their sophomore effort.

The Road Ahead: 2012 in MMOs

An end is come to 2011, and it was, shall we say, not a banner year for MMOs. The year saw two successful launches of games mired in their lack of ambition, and the rest of the year was older games doing interesting things like going free to play or launching nostalgia servers. Still, as we say in Cleveland, “there’s always next year.” Which is now. So what’s on the horizon for the next twelve months (minus a couple of weeks,) and how will current market entries evolve? Here are my (only slightly late) predictions.

As far as I can see, the only “triple-A” title with a real chance to shake things up in a big way is Guild Wars 2. Even if it doesn’t come through with everything it’s promised, it’s going to make the year’s big splash, with top-notch production quality and a stated desire to abandon some of the hobby’s most pernicious leftovers from the EverQuest days. Holy Trinity, this means you. The move toward dynamic world events rather than static quests may provide a sense of non-linearity. On the other hand, I worry about the cohesion of its world and the side systems that are so important to fleshing out an MMO, like crafting. And the semi-static cutscenes, while artfully done from what I’ve seen, may subtract from immersion and sense of place. There’s also the technological element that I tend not to favor in a fantasy game, and the inevitable cutsey race, but I intend to do my best to live with those.

A game that will have less impact but which may be just as innovative is Funcom’s The Secret World. It ought to be graphically top-notch, if system-crushing. It’s going to fill the modern supernatural niche that’s been underserved by MMOs up to this point, and also promises to depart significantly from established tropes. It’s scheduled to launch in April, but my guess is that it’ll be pushed back to July. The big fear with this one is that, as they did with Age of Conan, Funcom will mis-target the game and end up courting the wrong bunch of players. But hopefully they’ll have learned a lesson from AoC’s troubled evolution and the marketing and community folks will be rowing the same boat as the developers this time.

Not likely to shake things up at all is Mists of Pandaria. More of the same, yawn. Blizzard has unquestionably left the era in which they can do no wrong, and their Big Dog will continue to shed subscribers, but by late in the year — November or December — Mists will cast off, and WoW will still be on the top of the heap. Expect a formal announcement of whatever Titan turns out to be at Blizzcon.

I’m now thinking that my earlier prediction for Star Wars: The Old Rebublic — 2-3 million subscribers at peak and 500K six months later — is going to bust. I now think it will peak substantially lower — say a million and a half — but that it will hold on to the players it has much better than recent history would suggest. Whether it’s actually a profitable enterprise for EA is likely to remain murky, no matter how many people are playing it. Don’t be shocked to see it holding on to a million subs by the end of the year… but we’d better see some substantive update/expansion news by then, too, or we’ll see it start to peter out after that. The slow rollout of new content is poised to hurt SWTOR more than other titles because it’s likely to be even slower than usual.

I predict that TERA will be the next Mortal Online – mildly hyped before launch and sinking like a stone after. But I could be wrong, and if the game pulls off the action-style combat at its heart it could do better than I expect. TERA is going to live or die by two things: how well the combat plays, and how well the combat plays one-handed, if you catch my drift.

WildStar looks promising, if conventional, but I don’t think we know enough about it to dismiss it just yet. It’s coming out of the NCSoft House of Winners, so my expectations are low, but it’s not being developed by NCSoft, so there’s a chance it will turn into something palatable. Its visual style, though, sings “WoW Clone,” and many might not be able to get past that even if it varies from bog-standard more than expected. I think it will release in Q4 of 2012.

Dust 514, the ground-based counterpart of EVE Online should finally launch in 2012. It had better — Microsoft and Sony are gearing up for the debut of the next generation of consoles, and this year is likely to be the last chance for titles to make a big splash before people start looking more at the new round of hardware than the current one. I predict modest — very modest — success on this one; it’ll be hobbled both by CCP’s lack of cred in the shooter marketplace and by its exclusivity on the lagging PS3. God only knows how clean it will launch, but nobody is better than CCP at shepherding a title through a modest debut and into long-term growth. Expect to start hearing about a PC port around the end of the year.

Speaking of CCP, we may or may not hear anything new on World of Darkness Online. It’s not shelved, exactly, but expect the focus for the year to be on EVE and Dust. Next year I think we’ll start to hear some serious noise about this title.

Warhammer 40K: Dark Millennium will not launch in 2012.

Neverwinter is a wildcard. Like TERA, it’s supposed to be action-oriented, but my hopes are not high for it in this department. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to seeing it. I’m predicting a Q3 launch.

Korean entry ArcheAge has all the hallmarks of a Vanguard — big promises, low quality control and a lead developer past his prime. No other game manages to look so promising yet elicit so many utterances of “really?” Open world, super-detailed crafting and construction, mass battles on land and sea… and player run jails and other harebrained-sounding stuff make me excited yet extremely leery. It may release in 2012 — I think it will — but my guess is that a North American release is months behind the Korean launch, maybe into 2013.

Less worrying is The Repopulation, despite its awful title. With early talk centering around the influence of Star Wars Galaxies and Ultima Online, it’s not likely to be a massive hit, but it’s got a chance to shake the hobby out of its torpor. I expect a launch in 2013 at the earliest. It’s one to keep an eye on.

Planetside 2 will launch in 2012 with major problems and withering scorn in the blogosphere, but will be a modest success for all that. “Modest success” is the best SOE is going to manage for the moment… but they have a big opportunity to do something special with EverQuest Next. Let’s hope they don’t blow it, but in any event I expect to hear only token news about it in 2012.

Vanguard will still be running as of the end of the year. I hope to see a freemium move, but SOE appears to not be considering that for the moment. I should finally see some long-awaiting development and new content, which may boost its (currently dire) numbers.

The most promising-sounding thing in development is Pathfinder Online. Goblinworks seems to be telling me all the right things… start small, don’t spend a gazillion dollars, don’t plan for more players than you have even the remotest chance to get or keep, and create a realistically-scaled sandbox world. But it’s really early, and I’m not even convinced that the project will materialize at all. These guys are really new and untested, so I think they’ll either bring a number of fresh ideas to the table and actually advance the state of the art, or evaporate before accomplishing much of anything. I’m rooting for them.

Among older games, EverQuest II, LotRO and City of Heroes will keep on trucking under their new freemium models. EverQuest will continue to endure, but I think we’ll see another historic sunset some time during the year. My guess would be Dark Age of Camelot, but Warhammer Online is very, very vulnerable, especially with a companion game (Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes) that takes the fun(ish) part from WAR and makes it a game of its own. Bioware/Mythic may also decide to tighten their business up if they’re taking to big a bath on SWTOR, the basket all their eggs are laid in, so Ultima Online could fall here as well.

We’re going to start to see the many entries in the freemium MMO marketplace shake out into tiers. This has already started, but it’ll become more apparent in 2012. The biggest player in the freemium market is going to continue to be LotRO unless something very dramatic happens, but APB is giving it a good run for its money right now, and Star Trek Online has a shot at landing in the top bunch if it can hold together.

We’ll see in a year how I did.

EVE Fanfest 2011 Site Live

For those able to make the trip to far-off Iceland, home of Vikings and fermented shark, the site for EVE Fanfest is now live. The dates are March 24-26 in frosty Reykjavík, and the price is $99 for the show.

Me, I shan’t be going. But I’ll be keeping a close ear to the ground, because there’s a whole lot of stuff we could potentially see news on. Not just Incarna, which will probably launch in that neighborhood, but of Dust 514 and World of Darkness Online as well. About the latter I expect to get at least a little more news and details, but probably not much; for Dust 514, though, I suspect we’ll get a release date. My guess would be late 2011.

For those interested in going, check back on the site; reservations will likely be available fairly soon. For those who are definitely going… well, I hear the parties are insane.

What’s Going On

September 2010 was a landmark month for Ardwulf’s Lair, due almost entirely to, at the very end, the flurry of interest in WoDO. It wasn’t the all-time peak month for hits, but it was #2. (Odd Note: The peak month for every year has been September. It may be because it’s a month when big news often breaks, or due to return-to-school phenomena.)

I’m also closing in on 700 blog posts; hopefully I will actually notice when I’m making it this time, as opposed to later. Expect it to happen in the next two weeks.

A far as gaming goes, though, this isn’t a good time for me. Between starting a new job along with a full course load of pretty challenging classes (Integral Calc, Physics and Latin,) I’m getting something like 2 hours a week to game. I’ve been entirely out of EQ2X for a couple of weeks, aside from a handful of very brief check-ins. I spent about an hour in LotRO last weekend; DDO I haven’t been able to log into for about a month. Even my tabletop stuff has been cut back, with one game (D&D3.5) canceled completely and the other being held intermittently.

The good news is that I will be entirely finished with Autumn Quarter by the week of December 6th. Work is full-time, but merely full-time is manageable. Hopefully my Winter Quarter schedule will allow for more flexible hours, and at this point it’s my intention to try to take some easy stuff, for Christ’s sake.

Ardwulf’s Lair Podcast Episode 00

After a long and unwanted break, I’m back in the podcasting arena, with episode zero of a new show, the Ardwulf’s Lair Podcast. This is a test show to feel out the new hosting and technology – offhand, I think the sound quality is fairly lousy – it’s something I’ll have to work on. But there’s some actual content there as well, not just me talking about how I’m podcasting again. Mature language is included, so be warned.

The podcast page is HERE. The direct link to the feed is HERE. The show should also be available via iTunes in short order.

Show Notes

  • Brief Introduction and my intentions for the show.
  • Obligatory link to Shut Up, We’re Talking, which I mention in the show.
  • Rant/Commentary about World of Darkness Online and the permadeath fracas
  • Music by InspiredBM, Recycler and Fractals. I’m probably sticking with this mix for the time being.
  • Running Time: 11:16

For those who’ve asked, by the way, Podbean is the new host. We’ll see how this works out.

World of Darkness Online: Sharded or Shardless?

I mentioned in the last post that I expect WoDO to be a single-shard game in a similar way to EVE Online. Scott from Pumping Irony, an outstanding blog that you should be reading if you aren’t already, called me out on it. This post is my answer. I’ll make three concessions before digging into my reasoning:

  • I could be wrong.
  • This expectation may be wishful thinking on my part. The MMO commenting community is rife with this kind of projection onto almost every in-development title. I think I recognize this more than some, but that doesn’t mean I’m entirely immune to the phenomenon.
  • I may be underestimating the engineering challenge involved in making it so.

With that out of the way, I still expect WoDO to be a single-shard game. Sic cogito:

  • A single shard has enormous advantages for players, and in itself can be used in marketing, at is has been in EVE’s case. It is thus a desirable outcome of the design.
  • Prior to EVE Online, the idea of keeping all your players on one server was thought to be impossible unless your total population was so low that one server was all you needed. EVE was the first to try it, and while it has certainly caused problems in places and at times, by and large it’s worked.
  • Over time, the problems have lessened and the single-shard technology (barring hiccups,) has worked better and better. In other words, CCP is not only the best in the business at this, but they have an entire team dedicated to making this work better and better.
  • I submit that the people who set the parameters for the design will set this as a design goal.
  • CCP has shown a willingness to work through the aforementioned hiccups.
  • With these things in mind, I further submit that CCP’s engineers will make it work, even if it turns out to work less than flawlessly at launch.

Now, one can make the argument (as Scott did,) that EVE gets away with a single-server setup because its universe is three-dimensional and has lots of empty space. My response: So? Why can’t the WoDO be designed in a similar way? If we regard each system in EVE as a discrete location that multiple players can occupy, then a 10x10x10 3d starcuster contains an order of magnitude fewer locations than a 100x100x1 ‘sheet’ of urban sprawl. The systems in EVE were procedurally generated in the first place; I see no compelling reason why a algorithm for procedurally generating city blocks couldn’t be written. Granted that the algorithm would have to be substantially more complex, and you’d have to put in more stuff by hand to avoid the samieness that you see in EVE (where that actually works,) but I see it as achievable. You’d only have to spread the space out (mostly) across a flat landscape instead of into a third dimension.

At that point, you have to manage how players congregate in the locations in which activities take place. EVE handles this largely via the economic engine that drives the whole game (as well as by the lack of instantaneous travel,) and it’s far from clear that WoDO will have a similarly open economy. But again, this is a mere engineering hurdle. If EVE can handle fleets of thousands fighting in one system and keep client performance acceptable (not good, but acceptable,) I can’t see a reason why a game with what seems to me to be a lower emphasis on huge battles couldn’t keep clients and servers running.

Note that I’m not saying that such a thing isn’t difficult. There’s a reason why EVE remains the only single-shard game with a significant population – Champions Online had to resort to a set of horrendous kludges to make something that’s only technically a single server, with (presumably) a much smaller number of players and a lower concurrency rate. While this may not be how the game turns out, I and a lot of other people would be disappointed by a traditional multiple-server approach – and also that if anybody has proven the conventional wisdom on the limits of MMO technology wrong in the past, it’s CCP. If anyone can do it, they can.