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Heroes, shards and middle earth

January 4, 2009 8 comments

Lately I have been playing four different games: Chronicles of Spellborn, Lord of the Rings Online, City of Heroes and Guild Wars. Alternating between the games have worked out rather well so far and some direct comparisions are inevitable.

Wolf, Trickster

Wolf, Trickster


In Chronicles of Spellborn I currently play Wolf, a trickster (level 15) which is a rogue type class. Tricksters speciality is to use gadgets to trigger certain effects, e.g. cause enemies to loose concentration, additional damage etc. There are a number of different skills to distract enemies, become more evasive and also get increased damage if the enemy is backstabbed. One skill to aid there also is a teleport spell, which instantly transports you behind the currently faced enemy. It is a bit tricky to get right to get the full effect of a follow-up backstab. But all in all there is a number of neat skills to play around with.

Spellborn is played in a post-apocalypic world where the remains of civilisation lives on/in big chunks of rock with its own atmosphere, called shards. The shards float around in the Deadspell Storm. Starting characters start on the Parliament shard and from there continue to other shards, as well as travel back. Each shard has a number of zones. It is a fantastic setting and there is a lot of lore and learning about the world as one progresses with different quests.  

The game itself is a bit different than many current MMOs; in particular the combat system takes a quite different approach. I think it is brilliant; it is fairly easy to understand, but will require practice to become good with it. While I thimk I probably suck a bit here in combat I find it fun to use and get quite happy the times when it actually flows quite well in combat. 

While there is a number of traditional type of “kill X boars” and delivery type quests, some quest chains actually have some neat story elements in them and a mix of activities in them which are not always obvious. I have found these quite enjoyable and a number of them also tells a bit more about the world of Spellborn and its inhabitants. In the beginning quests do not give that much fame (experience points in Spellborn), but increases significantly after the first 8-9 levels.

Equipment itself does not really matter for you characters, it is mainly for looks. Some equipment have slots for sigils (similar to enhancements in City of Heroes) which effectively act as permanent boosters similar to what is added to equipment in other MMOs. The added boosts are not that big though as far as I have seen so far, so it will not make a big impact – at least not in the lower levels. Sigils are of two types – item sigils and skill sigils. The latter can be added to specific skills to boost just that skill, while item sigils will boost everything that is related to that boost. 

There is a somewhat simplistic crafting system in place – if you loot a broken item you can visit a forge and ask for a recipe to repair the item. You will then get a list of necessary resources to collect/obtain to repair it. If you have all resources you can get the item repaired at the forge for a fee.

The game is a bit old school:ish and does lack some features that other recent games has, but in a way they also restore a bit of that you actually has to but a bit of effort in what you do and makes the game more involved and engaging than other click-push-button-kill-next-quest type MMOs. There is a fine line here between more involved/engaging and perhaps frustrating game play though.

The game currently has some shortcomings in its feature and there are some bugs in the quests and other places that causes some trouble. While most of the quests do not indicate that teams are needed, not everything is easily soloable. But much of the content that is challenging for a solo player is doable for a duo and likely easy for 3 persons. The max team size of 4 is only required for very few quests – at least as far as I have seen so far.  This is pretty much only quests where one has to make an assult on a big camp of enemies and/or take out a boss in a camp or something similar.

There is also not so many people around in the game; or at least not noticeable. I do think though that it has increased somewhat lately.

Despite any shortcomings it is a game I want to log back in to and play; at least when I can set aside at least 1 1/2 – 2 hours for it. 

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When IP blocks makes more sense…

December 26, 2008 1 comment

..is for a game company that runs “free-to-play” games.

If the company runs “free-to-play” games then it is likely that the majority of the players will not pay anything or very little and thus only cost the company money. The likely minority of players that pay more will more than make up for that though.

But given that players will be either profitable or non-profitable, more players may not necessarily be good for business. Only profitable players are good for business. Which probably means that certain countries and audiences are more interesting than others, depending on their likeliness to pay.
Proximity of servers may be a factor here also, if the service works better for players they might be more willing to pay for stuff.
Maybe the cost to process payments from different countries is also a factor (assuming that there may be differerences here).

Depending on the business model set up with the developers of a game (if the company is only a publisher), there may also be legal restrictions here since the developers want to sell the game to many different publishers for more profit.

Either way, running a “free-to-play” service will likely cause the companies to be selective about who will play the game, still with appearing to be free and open.

The issues with IP blocking for Chronicles of Spellborn has been my 2nd subscription-based game with such issues. The first one was Horizons back in 2003, which blocked me from playing with some game friends in the US.

I have also experienced this with some of the “free-to-play” games, locking me out even if there is no European version.

Given the background and the current games the publishers for Chronicles of Spellborn are operating (Frogster and Acclaim), it probably makes sense for them to do the same thing they might be doing with other games – they are not used to operate subscription-based games where all players are profitable.

I do not think the Spellborn IP block will go away anytime soon. Unless All publishers and Spellborn N.V. all agree on lifting the block (and likely changing the business agreements) nothing will happen in this area. And they will not do anything unless they all see some bad sales numbers and they come to the conclusion that lifting this would help.

Is this an issue we will be plagued with for all smaller games and games with separate developers and publishers which go the “free-to-play” route? What about companies like NCSoft, Blizzard, SOE, Turbine or EA? Will they put in more measures to try to maximize the ratio of profitable players if they publish “free-to-play” games and what measures would that be?

A visit to the Athenaeum

December 23, 2008 1 comment

In Chronicles of Spellborn my trickster has died in combat once. Most of the deaths has been through other means, including game crash, AFK and exploration.

Before the 1.0.1 update I had a crash while running down a street which resulted in both my death and double loss of PEP (from 2 to 0). After the update though I did have another crash in the middle of a combat. I pretty much expected to log back in to a report that I had died and lost some PEP, but it turned out that neither were I dead nor any PEP had been lost! Apparently there has been some improvement that did detect the crash properly and aborted the combat in time. Good work Spellborn!

In my visit to Quarterstone I received a quest to travel to The Athenaeum if I wanted to learn more about the past. This was a bit intriguing so since I were on the Parliament shard I headed towards the Hawksmouth docks to jump on a shard ship. Some domestic issues needed a couple of minutes attention though, so I decided to park my trickster near a guard tower and go AFK, hoping that the guards would provide some protection for the wildlife.
Returning back a couple of minutes later I was greeted with a “You have died” screen… Looking at the combat logs it seemed that something with fangs had taken a couple of bites, enough to provide a terminal condition. Apparently the guards were not much help or did not care. This certainly brought back memories from some older games, were going AFK seldom were safwe anywere except perhaps in cities,e ven in PvE games. This seems to be the case here also. Lesson learned the –PEP way!
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Touristing in Quarterstone

December 22, 2008 5 comments

After becoming a citizen through high house Rune in Chronicles of Spellborn my travels took me to the shard of Quarterstone. So far I have just done some initial quests and some time running around in the area.

The Oracle district and the temple

The Oracle district and the temple

Quarterstone is pretty much a city shard, with a couple of districts placed around the center area, the Oracle district and the big temple there in the middle.
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The Silence of the Shards

December 17, 2008 7 comments

 

Lately I have played some Chronicles of Spellborn on and off. It is a game that I have a bit of a love/hate situation with.

First of all – I do like the environment and setting. It looks quite nice and the atmosphere is very good. I also do like the combat, although I tend to move between “hey, that was not too bad” and “oh boy, do I suck at this…” in terms of what my combat results feels like.
It is certainly something that takes some practice and probably never going to be any mindless buttonmashing if one wants to be reasonably successful at it.
My guess is that it might work out a bit better with a mouse wheel to select the skill row on the skill deck though, since the fingers on the keyboard is used for moving/strafing/jumping also. But I use a trackball instead of a mouse and the one I got does not have any mouse wheel. I will likely never go back to use a mouse unless I am forced to and I am not yet prepared to try find a trackball with a mouse wheel just for this game.

When it comes to the game in general I think there is one phrase that sums it up: Old School.  With that I mean that in many ways the game feels a bit like a game from a slightly older era, the time when men were men and… 

There is for example no way to see what other players are logged on or playing in the area, no /who command, no /search function or similar. At least not what I have found out and I have seen other people ask for it. There are no fast travel options, you run to wherever you want to go, except when going between shards – then a shard ship is used. Running might get slightly faster if your PEP (Personal Experience Points) is high enough, but not by a huge amount. Minimap does pretty much only show quest NPCs. Quest texts do require reading to figure out what to do often and sometimes are also vague enough that you may need to search though the zone in detail to complete them. There is no auction or cinsignment house function, just a trade chat channel. The characters need to be online to be invited or added to a friend list and for a group invite I think also a visual proximity is required.

Note I do not say that this is bad; in fact I do like some parts of it. But I do worry a bit that the game might be one that will require a lot of time in order to feel that some progress is made. If that will be the case then it might not be the game for me.

I do not know whether these bits and pieces are intentional or if  they intend to change these things later.

So far I have created two characters; one Void Seer (spellcaster) and one Trickster (rogue). For my view of a spellcasting archetype I felt that I did a bit too much melee fighting with my void seer, which was my initial character. So I decided to try out another archetype also. And I do like the trickster better, it feels to me that the skills work out better or are more interesting in comparision to the void seer with the combat mechanics. It is fun to play.

At level 5 is when you select your discipline (trickster and void seer in the cases above) and at level 9 you can do some quests to select a high house to join and become a citizen of the Enclave. Shard ship travel requires citizenship, so unless one wants to stay only on the initial shard (Parliament), one was to select a high house. There are 5 of the high houses; Maul, Rune, Torque, Silver and Shroud. Each house has their own philosophy on how to deal with things and one will have to pick one that feels are in line with how the character should be played. Before selecting a high house one can visit all of them in  a quest (They have their houses in the two initial zones Hawksmouth and Aldenvault) to get some information. Once the choice has been made and the initial house quest has been completed that choice is sealed; no change is possible.

In my case I choose house Rune for my trickster. The quests to become a citizen was pretty straighforward and quick and the fame (xp) was good, gained almost half a level. When the citizenship part was done a quest was offered to head to a different shard, Quarterstone. Getting the chance to travel with a shard ship and also see yet another new area made that an easy choice and I headed off directly.

 

On the way to Quarterstone through the Deadspell storm

On the way to Quarterstone through the Deadspell storm

When onme travels with a shard ship there are two options; travel with the crew or in a cabin on the ship. Travelling in a cabin is safer but more expensive, If you travel with the crew there is a chance for an attack and you have to fight, but costs less. I choose to go with the crew. In this case nothing happened though, after 2 minutes of real time the ship arrived at the Quaterstone docks. At this point I have pretty much just started to explore Quarterstone a bit.

 

Palace District in Quarterstone

Palace District in Quarterstone

A concern that I have and other players as well is that Spellborn feels quite empty. I do not know if the game is empty or how many people are playing it. But the lack of /who command and other means to figure out where people are and find people online at least gives a perception of emptiness. And while it is certainly possible to solo most of the content I think this is a game which really benefits with more group play – mob behaviour, the different combat mecahnics, spawn rates of mobs all contribute to make group play more rewarding.

Also, the whole debacle with the IP blocking and separate publishers for various countries do not help either. Although apparently the IP check is only when you set up the account according to some players, not when you actually play. And for some of the countries which the game is released for you can still not buy the game in any stores.  In the EU forums which is only accessible to those with accounts, there are 6 different forums in total: One Free2Play forum and one subscriber forum for each of the three languages English, French and German.  I do not get this; if one wants to attract free2play players to become subscribers, wouldn’t it be better that they could access and use the forums that the subscribers use also? As it is now the Free2Play forums seems quite empty (at least the English one) which would just emphasize the notion of a game with no players for those trying it out. 

Also there are now 6 universes, 2 for each language (English/International, French and German) and for each language there is a PvE and a PvP universe. Critical mass is important and if the player numbers are low it would have made more sense to put all PvE and all PvP on one universe and have different chat channels for the different languages. They seem to rely almost completely on word of mouth to get more players; but if the players perceive that the universes are empty they will risk driving people away through word of mouth. Perception is eveything; they may have huge populations but if that is not noticeable they could still suffer because of that.

Is Spellborn released in my area?

December 7, 2008 7 comments

Go back in time about 3 weeks – around that time I thought The Chronicles of Spellborn would be released in 11 countries at November 27th-28th according to the tcos.com web site.

Go back in time about 1 1/2 week – around that time I thought The Chronicles of Spellborn would be released in 3 countries on November 27th and 8 countries on December 5th. The change was due to a slip-up from publisher Mindscape who could not get the game boxes out in time.

Present time: Spellborn was released in Germany on November 27th and in 4 countries (France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Netherlands) on December 5th, according to the tcos web site.

There is no mention of the remaining 4 countries for December 5th date; Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. At first I thought, maybe someone slipped up and forgot to mention them since there were no announcements of any delays. And they only mentioned Germany as the country the game was released in the week before, which would be another mistake.

I registered at the eu-players.tcos.com web site and selected to subscribe to the game. Everything works fine up to the point of payment, which on gave a response of “not authorized”. Trying multiple credit cards and different time intervals (1, 3, 6 months) and different browsers all gave the same result.

I could still start my game client (since open beta), get it patched up and play the free2play setting, so I have played a few levels. But actually being able to pay for the game has not been possible.

So maybe the omission of a few countries in the announcement was not a mistake. I try some Swedish web sites that sell games and come up empty-handed, save for one site. I.e. only one of the web sites actually produced some result when searching for Spellborn- and that site listed the game release date as 2nd quarter 2009…

I try to go to the web sites for the alleged publisher Mindscape and search there and also come up empty-handed – no hits at all for Spellborn.

Some games have issues with big launches where the software may be buggy and unstable, or the servers cannot handle the initial load of players.

In this case the game actually seems to work pretty well and at least for the universe I selected to play in, there was no big chunk of players in the starter area. Instead the problems seem to be to actually let people play and pay. And how many of the people in the starter area have paid or will pay for the game?

Hopefully there will be some announcement or correction about the state of our countries up here in Northern Europe and that they may accept my money at some point. But right now it seems I will have to pass on this game for a while.

Spellborn release details and more delays

November 26, 2008 4 comments

Some more details about the somewhat European release is up on the RCOS web site. It seems that November 27th will be the release date for 3 countries, with a fourth country in the day after and an additional 7 countries a week after tha, on December 5th. For anyone that wants to try the downloadable option that will not be available until December 5th.

The delayed release for the 7 countries (Benelux + Scandinavia + Finland) seems to be the fault of publisher Mindscape and which have failed to inform Spellborn people about this delay.I don’t mind waiting another week and I feel sorry for the Spellborn people if the publishers behave like this, covering up their problems until the last minute.

Not a way to build confidence and to some extent Spellborn will take some of the heat for that. This is the first time I recall see that Spellborn actually also points fingers towards the publishers. I think they at this point may be frustrated and perhaps a bit annoyed with a number of issues that may be due to issues at the publishers, but they are taking the heat for it in their forums. I feel sorry for them and hope it will work out better eventually.

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