Saturday, September 12, 2009

Impressions: Wakfu

Rare is the day I am impressed by the visuals of a 2D game. Rarer still is when it is a 2D MMO. I had played an early beta build of Wakfu about 9 months ago, its intricate hand drawn graphics were fairly impressive albeit incomplete. So I came into the newest French open beta version expecting more of the same just with slightly more polish. Instead what I found was almost a completely different looking game entirely. Character sprites have been totally redone in a taller more detailed. and less “chibi” style then before. The completely hand drawn backgrounds have been bumped up to a higher resolution. Many spells now have 3D effects. The game now uses dynamic environmental shadows, and light bloom effects so it no longer looks like you are simply walking across a static picture, rather an animated living world. As an added bonus, you can now zoom the camera in, with just a roll of the mouse wheel and catch all the wonderful little details up close. Wakfu is not just a pretty piece of technical art however, beyond all the pretty, is a substantial tactical MMO with some very lofty goals.


Combat in Wakfu plays out using a modified version of the tactical turn based system that was used in Ankama’s previous game, Dofus, which is similar to the gameplay found in offline games such as Final Fantasy Tactics, Fallout, and Disgaea. This is however, one of the only returning bits of familiarity. The world of Dofus was flooded, and destroyed a militia ago, and most of the familiar locations are now below sea level. Starting in the tutorial you take the roll of one of the unfortunate multitudes that was killed in the floods, and have been standing in a line in the afterlife for nearly one thousand years waiting your turn to go wherever it is the dead ultimately go, however with the help of the spirit king you cut out of line. After being handed a few challenges, which teach the basics of the game, you regain your body, and are sent back to the world of the living to help rebuild this new wrecked watery world.


Rather then going with the tried and true method of questing for NPCs most modern MMO’s follow, Wakfu goes in the opposite direction, by having almost no NPC’s in the game world at all. Ankama the developers of the game hope to make Wakfu a completely player run experience. The player objective in Wakfu is not just to simply grind to the highest level. Instead it is to join a player run nation, and help it build its territory, expand, and make it prosper, while dealing with other nations; diplomatically, or otherwise. The game world is constantly changing, ecosystems shift based on player interaction with them. Over farming, hunting, and use of machines can have lasting negative impact on the surrounding environment, while inversely, left alone too long without suitable predictors, creatures, or plants may over populate an area and throw an ecosystem out of balance that way. It is up to the players to decide how they want to shape (or destroy) the world.


Being a game highly dependent on social interaction, my lack of skills in the French language limited me to what I was able to do alone. It is also yet to be seen what will happen to a world the players themselves have total control over, during an extended period of time. What would happen to new players if all the low level creatures were killed off? Regardless, this is a rare, and striking beauty of a 2D MMO worth investigating once the English version is released, or you can play it right now if you happen to speak French.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Alaplaya: How To Ruin an Arena Shooter

It is no secret that I hate the European MMO publisher Alaplaya. They buy up IP's no one is interested in like DanceBattle: Audition, Fantasy Tennis 2, and the worthless pile of tripe known as Racing Star, then continually punishes the players of S4 League, the one game they have that people actually want to play. The player is presented with a very low quality version of an otherwise high quality shooter. Slow, late, and weak updates, inexplicable omissions of easily included content the Koreans have had for months, and “rebalanced” weapons that do not even need rebalancing are just a few examples of their past crimes. Most of this was tolerable, considering its just a F2P game, however since the new Patch 10 released a few weeks ago the game has gone completely out of control. All semblance of the balanced competitive game it once was, has been tossed aside for the sake of potentially increasing revenue.

For months now S4 League has offered slightly more powerful versions of weapons, and armor for players to rent for up to 30 days for real money, this is old news, and was perfectly fine. Though it did give a bit of an edge to those that purchased this gear, it did not give enough of an advantage that a player of higher skill without this gear could not have a chance against them.
This new patch changed this. In a poorly worked out line of logic, it must have been decided that not enough people were “renting” their pretend clothing, and weapons with real money, because they could just keep using permanent, slightly weaker, duller looking weapons, and armor that they bought with S4's ingame currency PEN. To combat this, they first removed the option to buy permanent anything. All weapons, and armor in EUS4 now can only exist in your inventory for a maximum of 30 days; this includes all PEN items. All preexisting perma-items stayed permanent, but now cost excessive amounts of PEN to keep repaired. This is very annoying but still tolerable, but they didn't stop there, no. The players need more incentive to give us money MORE!
Alaplaya then drastically increased the armor bonus on P2P clothing and damage bonuses on P2P weapons. So drastic that when one purchases these items, they become for all intentions and purposes god like. Able to instantly kill anyone not wearing the new P2P armor in a single hit, and the ability to take entire machine gun clips to the face, and survive, while ignore stun effects completely. When I first started encountering these players I actually thought they were hacking. I have watched a single player in full pay gear totally destroy an entire team in Touchdown mode, single handily, and there is little an individual can do to stop them without fighting fire with fire.

Alaplaya's general response to the extremely negative criticism brought by these changes is “if you don't like getting owned in the face, pay us money too.” I am fairly certain now that nobody in charge at this publisher actually plays the games they host, so they have no idea what a huge difference changing a few number can do to an entire game based on competition. They don't understand they could make just as much, if not more money, simply by adding in new clothing, and weapon designs, with the same stats as PEN gear, and just made them permanent. I personally have never spent any money on EUS4; not because I am just another cheap bastard that wants to mooch off a free game, and complain because it is not as good as a P2P game. There is actually a few pay items I would like to have, and would gladly pay real money to obtain. The reason I have not is because Alaplaya has made it all temporary, transient, limited. I do not want to shell out 5 bucks on a cool pair of pants just for them to vanish a month later. nor do I want to rent a cool pair of pants just so I can actually compete with other people with cool pants.

Alaplaya is trying to coerce their players to fork over more money by adding an arms race into an arena shooter, and this is just completely unacceptable. They have ignored both logic, and their players for too long, they have mismanaged EU S4 League to the point of no return, and have ruined one of my favorite games. Regrettably I am not sticking around to see how this sad tale concludes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sighting: Dragon Ball Online

It's Dragon Ball, and its online. If that's your thing, feel free to scream in glee.
A new teaser site for the game has popped up with some information about the game, as well as an interactive minigame to waste some time with. The game will launch with three playable races, Humans, Nemecians, (the green guys with turbans like Piccolo) and the Majin, spawn of that weird fat pink bubblegum thing late in the series, as well as multiple classes, such as mystics, martial artists, and engineers. The characters start at level 1 as children, and much like the flow of the cartoon get more powerful as they grow up.
Time travel is suppose to play a roll in the game giving the player the chance to relive their favorite battles from the TV series.
No solid news on when the game will be available to the public, but the opening of the official website is a good indication it is on the way.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Closed Beta Preview: Aion

Official Website
A friend and I managed to get into the final three day closed beta event for the US/EU version of Aion and this preview is based on the impressions I took from those three days.

Those that know me know that I have spent the better part of the last five years searching for a MMORPG that could compete with the undefeatable Internet Juggernaut known as World of Warcraft. During that time I have seen a great many MMO rise, and attempt to conquer the beast only to be struck down, swept away, and vanish as quickly as they appeared. It is no surprise then that I have become extremely skeptical whenever I hear people talk about a upcoming game being a WoW killer, so when I first heard of Aion, it was not even on my radar, I knew of it. But paid little attention to the hype. From what I had seen it was just Lineage II with wings. Another pretty, but puddle shallow MMO in the endless parade of pretenders to the throne.
But then articles of Aion's astonishing record breaking success in Asia starting appearing on the net, and as time went on the accolades continued to pour in. I became intrigued, and began doing some research, and was dumbfounded by the shear number of positive previews, and reviews for the Asian versions of the game. So many westerners became so hellbent on getting to play it that there is currently a rather large community of paying English speaking players in the Chinese version of the game with modified English clients. There are already Hundreds of English info, and fan sites. A fully functional armory site, and even two whole separate communities trying to create a private server client. I had only seen one game ever generate this sort of reaction before.
I then knew I had to try this game.

Aion takes place in what I would have to say is one of the most unique fantasy settings I had ever seen. An inside out spherical world where the surface, and the sun and moon were encased in the world itself, making the concepts of up, and down subjective depending on where you are standing. After a disaster that destroyed most of this egg like world all that remained was the top, and bottom haves, and a floating rubble field hovering in between, with the sun suck in a position that lit the lower half, and cast the upper in perpetual twilight. The basic gist of Aion's story is one thousand years after this disaster a three way war plays out between the Elyos, humans that live on the tropical sun lit bottom half, The Asmodian, the mutated bestial people on the cold sunless upper half, and the Baldar, dragon like creatures that dwell in the hovering rubble in between known as the Abyss.
The player can choose to either play as an Elyos, or Asmodian. And choose between four base classes, Warrior, Scout, Priest, or Mage, which after hitting level 10 then branch into two separate class paths. Once you picked your race, and class you come to the character creator which gives a stupefying degree of customization choices, and sliders. I literally spent hours playing around with this thing, just to see how many look alike characters I could make. It is no exaggeration to say it is fully possible if you put enough time, and effort into the task to accurately recreate your real life self as a playable avatar.
It'sa Meeee, Basilisk!

The gameplay, while not reinventing the wheel, is extremely polished, and very well paced, giving plenty of quests, for the player to do, even having actual story events to go along with them to keep you immersed . The games combo chain system adds a lot of choice, and interactivity to what normally amounts to just hitting icons on a quick bar while targeting a mob, and makes a tired old combat system feel fresh again.
Once you complete a questline at lv10 and gain your second class, you also gain a pare of wings, and the ability to glide, and fly. This greatly changes how you play, fight, and explore Aion's environments.
And what environments they are! The world map deceptively makes the world of Aion seem tiny, with only 6 zones per faction, however once in these zones you quickly realize just how massive, and varied they truly are. You can find, a darkened marsh, a sprawling primeval forest, a craggy mountain pass, a massive relic filled desert, and a bright lush jungle all in the same zone on the light side of the world, Elysia. All gorgeously vibrant, and masterfully rendered. However the twilight lands of Asmodae gets my award for most interesting, and just damn trippy environments ever seen in an MMO; hauntingly beautiful, and totally alien. I spent a great deal of time just trying to explore as much as I could with my laughably low level character. The higher the level of the area the more “out there” the environments become. From strangely shaped frozen canyons, to bio-luminescent snow jungles, to lava fields elaborately draped in magma absorbing webs of fungus, to areas I just can not effectively describe with any semblance of brevity.

The music accompanying theses visuals is equally beautiful, and varied. Drawing from orchestral, folk, ethnic, house, and rock; many pieces blending two or more musical styles together to create something unique, yet always fitting the mood, and vibe of the surroundings.
My only real regret with Aion was the woefully short time I had to play it, never getting a chance to do any real PvP or having a chance to mess with the skill swapping stigma system.
I hold little delusion that this will be the game that finally dethrones WoW, however I do know Aion is definitely something special, and I will absolutely be coming back to play more in-depth when it launches in September.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Review: Project Powder

Project Powder
F2P Online Snowboarding Game
Official Website
It has been a long time since I played a snowboarding game, mostly because all the resent ones tried too hard to be realistic, and were just not any fun to play. My all time favorite was Twisted Edge for the Nintendo64, for just throwing realism to the wind, and letting you do completely impossible stunts, and tricks while free falling 500 feet off a jump. In a lot of ways Project Powder brings me back to those good old days. Then again in a lot of ways it reminds me why I am getting increasingly frustrated with F2P design practices.

Visually Project Powder is one of the nicer looking free online games out there right now, especially considering how well it runs with all the graphics wide open on a fairly low end rig. The art style, while leaning towards animeish is not so overtly cartoony that it would turn off people not into that sort of thing, though some of the more recently added course designs do border on the bazaar, like the one where half the track you are snowboarding on grass in an Japanese style sakura garden. My only complaint about the graphics is the default screen resolution is very low, and there is no resolution option for the game at all, so your only choices are playing in full screen pixelyness or play in a claustrophobic 800x600 box.

Music = fail. I do not claim to know what makes for a good authentic snowboarding soundtrack, but I know for damn sure it is not Sonic Adventure style butt rock, mixed in with techno remixes of old Christmas music. Whoever did the music for this game should be fired, and whoever gave the okay to put this crap in the game should be fired too.

Digging into the meat of the game itself, Project Powder has several game modes you can play in, a Coin Grab mode where the object is to grab the most coins before reaching the finish line, Battle, which plays is like a snowboarding Mario Kart, and then you have your standard Race, and Team Race modes. All of which are entertaining enough, and tricks are a breeze to learn as your character levels up, and unlocks more advanced stunts, which you can then add spins, and flips to by simply pressing the left or right arrow keys or the back arrow key while preforming. This can result in some truly hilarious looking mid air flailing once you get the hang of the game, as you take to the sky, and start breaking out a frenzied series of tricks, and holds all the while spinning madly on both horizontal, and vertical axis at the same time, however by level 14 you can have all possible tricks available to learn, after which your level mostly just serves as symbol for how long you have played, since it servers very little else.
There is a pretty decent number of courses in the game, but most of them are very short, and liner, with few alternate paths or big jumps to do all the crazy stunts in the game. Half the time it takes longer to get into a lobby, and get into a race then it does to actually run it.

A big beef I have with Project Powder is the lag, especially when it comes down to the wire at the finish line, I lost count of how many races it looked like I won only for the game to switch me to 2nd 3rd, hell even 4th, or 5th after crossing the finish line because according to the server the person. or persons, behind me were actually in front of me. But my most major kvetch I have at least with the English version of Project Powder is the games host OutSpark took the vast majority of the games items, and clothing, and dumped them all into the cash shop, leaving the players in game money virtually worthless for anything but unlocking the laughably small roster of characters to play. There are literally entire stores in the game that sell nothing at all because OutSpark put the entire inventory in the cash shop, leaving only the most dull, and boring boards, and outfits untouched. A total dick move to be sure, however one that is actually doing the reverse of what they intended.

With no real use for the in game money, and no character progression beyond lv14, there is little reason for most people to stick around long enough to even think about paying real money for anything. So the games population is completely, and unsurprisingly low. And I do not expect Project Powder to last very long if they insist on sticking to this strategy.

Project Powder is actually a pretty fun little game, and definitely worth trying, but it has absolutely no longevity what so ever. It is a good entertaining distraction for about a week, but I doubt many will find themselves hanging around it for much longer then that.