SHADOWBANE! [Author: myschyf]

Lum sez: Lap dances confuse me.

Lum sez: Booth babes confuse me.

Lum sez: Shadowbane confuses me.

Lum sez: Therefore, Shadowbane is a lap dance designed by booth babes.

It really is the holy grail of online gaming! Woot!

BREAK IT DOWN [Author: Lum the Mad]

Today on AVault, Brian Clair tells exactly why every site you blow off the workday reading is going down the toilet.

Today your average advertiser will not pay you more than about 30 cents per CPM for a premium banner (those pop-ups and interstitials everyone hates so much — standard 468×60 banners are now demanded gratis). At 30 cents in our previous example, you could sell out your entire inventory of five million impressions and only earn $1500. Is it any wonder that gaming sites have been closing so rapidly? Of course, the ridiculous CPM is only the tip of the iceberg, as advertisers now make insane demands as well. Here’s a few we’ve seen in recent weeks: no payment if the click-thru (i.e., the number of people who actually click on a banner) percentage isn’t at least 1% or higher — just for reference, last year banners typically got around half a percent click-thru industry-wide; banners that must be targeted only to certain nations, to males only and only during certain times of the day — without using Doubleclick’s DART (which was just about the only service that could target so narrowly, if you were willing to pay for it); and my personal favorite, banners for giveaways whereby companies demand free advertising runs on your site in exchange for your site paying for the games for a giveaway promoting that company’s product.

I just want to know who the hell was getting $22 CPM. Even in the glory days of CNet Gamecenter we never got over $5 (and that was equally split between us and XRGaming). Of course now we get nothing but the occasional booth babe snapshot.

THE SIEGE OF THE CORNERED RATS [Author: Lum the Mad]

I couldn’t help but try to stifle my bout of giggling when I read that “WWII Online: Blitzkrieg” had actually gone gold, with a release date of 5th June. Y’see, I’ve been a beta tester now since early on in Phase V and consider myself privileged to see how any company can produce a game, no matter how disorganised or incompetent they may be. One of the original shocks was to discover that there was absolutely no documentation or guides available for the testers, apart from a few basic text files that accompanied the 65Mb download that informed you of the keys. New testers relied upon other testers to find out how to play the game, and to understand the systems involved.

Incidentally, this led to a breach in security at one point. The only way that testers could really provide any documentation for their colleagues was by hosting it on their own external website, away from the passworded security of the Playnet beta website. A short time later, this URL was posted in a WW2 Chat, and immediately after on the official Playnet forums. Fortunately, the host of this documentation was able to take it down very quickly, but another tester had copied the entire page and hosted it on GeoCities. There it stayed for a good few hours, allowing the public full viewing of the secret systems within WW2 Online and the bugs that it contained. The chaos that ensued after this was like a circus act of badly trained monkeys running amok.

The GeoCities site was taken down, upon order by Playnet. In some bizarre twist of logic, the Game Manager – Gryf – decided that it MUST be one of the new testers (they had just introduced 200 new testers into the game) who had leaked the URL and then demanded that the guilty person come forth and tell him who leaked it, or else all 200 would be ejected from beta forever. There was a massive split in the community by those who agreed with Gryf that this was the only logical way, and those who knew that the URL should never have been hosted publically anyway (previous requests for secure server space fell on deaf ears) and that the URL could have been discovered in any number of ways.

The deadline came, and was put back as they had discovered “new information”. The “Damned 200”, as they became known amongst the community, were resigned to their fate. However, the name used to post on the chat was eventually identified although people could create any name they liked when logging on. The enquiries continued, but it was soon forgotten. No word was ever mentioned as to whether or not the culprit had been found, and the “Damned 200” stayed on in beta. There were rumors amongst the community that Gryf had been forced to back down on his decision by upper management, and that his earlier demands had been considered rash. A secure beta site for the testers was soon made available.

Then stories started to spread that there was a morale problem at “Cornered Rat Studios”. A core number of staff who had originally designed the game had started the work on lower than normal wages, as the chance to work on the game of their dreams was enough for them to carry on with their work. However, Senior Management intervened again and decided to expand plans for the game – getting greedy after realising the potential of the game that they were making. New staff were brought in, at standard programming rates. This meant that new folk were earning a great deal more money that the original core staff, while working on a game that they merely saw as a job – rather than a dream. The office was split into 2 groups, making life difficult amongst the team.

And with release looming, and the game going gold, WW2 Online looks like another game rushed into release before money runs out completely. New builds are frantically being rushed out for the testers every couple of days. The patch utility has only just been rolled out this week, as previously a new build meant a new 70Mb download for testers every time. It hasn’t even been fully tested. The actual patch process itself (releasing small updates each time, rather than huge downloads) has only just started within the last few days. The game server itself has never had more than 70 or so testers online at the same time, and the login server itself hasn’t had any massive testing (remember EQ’s first day?). This may yet happen when CRS launch the “Open Beta”, with all of 2 weeks remaining until release. “CTDs”, or Crashes to Desktop, are still alarmingly common, as various things in game cause your client to close which normally results in you being locked out of the game until the authentication server is rebooted.

Another major gripe is framerate. It’s hard to tell if there is much network lag in the game, because the framerate is going to cripple you way before lag gets involved. Most players with high end machines (256Mb RAM, 700Mhz +) are still getting around 10-15 FPS at MOST. A framerate of around 7 or 8 FPS is more common, and makes dogfighting and ground warfare a tricky experience. The beta testers are compiling their own list of graphics and game bugs, which are currently around the 70 mark. The mission system is barely in place yet, nor are the ways in which players can advance up the ranks. Load times are becoming worse every time, and it now takes most players 5 minutes of waiting and looking at a blank screen before they can begin to choose their side and vehicle, and then a further wait as they are entered into the world.

A lot can happen in 2 weeks, but this is asking for miracles. It’s a shame, because the Rats are a great group of people and really love their game. They’ve invested such much of their time recently, with sleeping in the office becoming a regular thing. They just aren’t used to the ruthless crowd of MMORPG followers that they will soon be attracting. Perhaps they anticipated this when they named their in-house development team “Cornered Rats”, because they are soon going to feel just like them.

THE NAME GAME [Author: Lum the Mad]

Fresh from showing off “The Version Of Our Game That Doesn’t Suck” at E3, Tommy Strand posts on a rumor that Anarchy Online actually won’t let you choose your own name. (Gee, Ultima Online 2 just joked about not letting you choose your own gender, and EA cancelled them to death!)

When you select another character or your own the call-sign/nick will show up over the characters head together with a health bar. The nick is automatically formatted for easy viewing with a capitalized first letter and the rest lowercase. No numbers or special symbols are accepted in the nick.

The debate here seems to be around the First and Last name of the character. The only way you will see the first and the last name is by left clicking (examining) the character. The name will then show up in the following form: Tommy \’e2\’80\’9cChac\’e2\’80\’9d Strand.

The \’e2\’80\’9cChac\’e2\’80\’9d part is globally unique, while anyone can call them selves Tommy Strand. In character creation a random name based on the 6000 most common first names and the 13000 most common last names in the US. Why you ask would we add such a feature? For convenience! We want the players to quickly get through character creation and enter the game-world to enjoy the world. Once settled down and feel like focusing more on customizing the character, the player can take his or her character to the name registration office in a city. Here you can choose to manually enter a first and a last name or to select between the 78000000 different names that can be generated for you. The cost of changing the name is now set to be symbolic but might increase in the future as we see how the game progress and how people use the service. That means there is no level restrictions to name change, only a mild cash drain.

Some people might feel that we are forcing three names upon them, but since the First and Last name is non-intrusive and for role-playing purposes it will be required.

So… yes, you can’t actually choose your full name (as opposed to your nick – say… Dr. Nathaniel “Lum” Twister) but you can pay money to actually choose your own name. I wonder if we’ll see an eBay traffic in names. Or maybe the AO players will just post more elf splatter pr0n.

J ON SHADOWBANE AT E3 [Author: Lum the Mad]

“Ah, people asking questions, lost in confusion
Well I tell them there’s no problem, only solutions
Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind
I tell them there’s no hurry
I’m just sitting here doing time
I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go”
-John Lennon, “Watching the Wheels”

“They’re going that way — we think!”

A small crowd had gathered outside lot number 2128 in the West Hall of LA’s Convention Center, in the middle of a T-junction in a room mostly filled with presentations of console games. E3 2001 is the occasion, and most are probably wondering what

Hiding in plain sight is the “booth” used by Wolfpack Studios, complete with several dead trees draped with viny wooden curls surrounded by fake grass, a large tent decorated with a crest of a golden lion on a red field, several spotlights on the floor and a “campfire” at the center. It looks more like part of the background than someone’s game presentation.

And, to one side, a few guys in white t-shirts with logos on the back look like they are having a bit too much fun rolling up t-shirts into a leather sling and winding the arm of a trebuchet to fire towards the crowd. Nearby booths shudder as fans “go long” to catch the prizes and nearly knock them over.

“Shadowbane is coming!” shouts the one with “Everett Lee” on his nametag. And some of the crowd responds.

“SHADOWBANE IS COMING!”
“SHADOWBANE IS COMING!”
“SHADOWBANE IS COMING!”

For most people who came by, this is what they’ll remembe. For those who stuck around, they might have noticed that these people were actually promoting a game, one that many thousands of people have been waiting to hear about, and likely one that thousands more will flock to check out, win lose or draw. Competing developers stopped by to ask questions, or in some cases, give a cursory glance and breeze right on past. Media from inside and outside the mainstream stopped by to pick brains or just check up on what they were sure would one day be worth a full story.

They would soon run out of t-shirts.

Besides the outward appearance, Wolfpack was one of the few public presentations that included actual game developers, actually talking about the game. In that sense, this year’s presentation was pretty much like last year’s, only there were a lot more developers to go around.

People like Sam “Meridian” Johnson, Wolfpack’s staff writer, whose staff members worried was skittish around crowds. For most of Friday, however,!
he held court in front of the campfire, talking about more than just his own writing. He has to know most of the plans, if nothing else, because he has to feature them in story.

Among the bigger stories was that Shadowbane would be doing away with all player-based trade skills (even though they only ever had three trade-based Disciplines, and the Alchemist, Blacksmith and Forgemaster remain on their lists.) Instead, it’s all going to be left up to NPC tradesmen.

“So let’s say you get a blacksmith,” Meridian says. “You go to his shop, and you say, ‘Gimme five of these, and two of these.’ And he says, ‘OK boss,’ and a timer starts. You come back later and he says, ‘I’m almost done, are you sure you want these?'”

Depending on the skill of the blacksmith, the original order could have changed — instead of a simple longsword, the blacksmith could have got creative and made one that was better than ordinary; “magical,” “golden” or any other Diablo-esque adjectives that make it more special. At the point where the tradesman asks “are you sure?” the player may say no, in which case the order is discarded, or say yes, and pay whatever it cost to make the item.

The player becomes the tradesman’s boss, Meridian explains, and can micromanage in a number of different ways, including setting the profit margins for guild members as opposed to total strangers or enemies, who might have to pay a higher rate or not get any service at all.

What’s still needing work is how the resources will be gathered, and how the tradesmen “learn” how to ply their trades. Thomas “Dreadflame” Sitch says it’s most likely going to involve a “recipe” of sorts, but it’s not set in stone how resources may be gathered or how players could add or subtract from the system by visiting other towns and learning new recipes or checking up on competitor’s prices in other towns.

Resources are not going to be a matter of concern for the guild towns, however. The Tree of Life, long known by Shadowbane fans as the respawn point for all guild members, will also play a role when its town is under siege. Instead of with bricks and mortar, damaged town buildings within the tree’s circle of magical influence will be “healed” at a certain rate relative to the Tree’s magical power levels.

The guild leader (or leaders, depending on what sort of government system is the one at the controls of the ToL, Meridian says, choosing whether the city wall gets more healing power than a badly-damaged essential building. If the leader dies during the siege, the control is temporarily disrupted, unless the government isn’t a Monarchy, and other people may control the ToL.

“The benefit of a Monarchy is that nobody tells you what to do,” Meridian says.

However, Shadowbane’s main attraction up until now hasn’t been its plan to revolutionize how players can make stuff, it’s been how they can break stuff — something Wolfpack’s well aware of.

James “Scorn” Nance explains that in-game trebuchets will fling more than t-shirts, but will be only as mobile as the real one. Sieging a town will involve setting up a “war tent” within range of the target and getting an Engineer to build the siege engines from there.

Scorn says he’s taken over as lead designer from Patrick “Varios” Blanton, one of Wolfpack’s four partners. Varios is doing more operational work for the sake of the business, Scorn says, but he’s still an essential part of the design team, for the same reason he’s always been.

“Patrick’s a reformed griefer,” Scorn says. “He’s still the guy I’ll go to and say, ‘Here, try this out,’ to see if he can break it.”

Scorn adds that the first phase of beta was quite the learning experience for him and the rest of the team; just documenting everything was no small task, and even with as few testers as the first phase had, the phase took two months, and the second phase another month before it started. “We were barely able to handle 50,” he says.

Keith “Zyzebo” Brewer, online rollout director (whose job for the past few months, besides getting the second phase of beta ready, has included writing customer-service and quality-assurance policies, both of which Wolfpack still declines to discuss on the record) says he knows some fans have been thinking Shadowbane’s focus has changed, but he points out that the town building is ultimately about giving people something worth fighting for. “It’s all about player conflict,” he says.

Zyzebo explained more about himself than most people (not including me) would care to know, over dinner — his professional background includes several years in infrastructure management with EDS and Sprint, after which he became a business consultant with a startup company called Reliant Data, where he met Warden, Arcane and Wolfpack’s CTO Robert “Naarsin” Marsa.

Unlike last year, however, there weren’t any demonstrations of the working game, something Wolfpack’s top brass wanted to avoid. Instead, there was a bank of 16 monitors featuring in-game engine movies in much sharper quality than anything that’s been seen in videos released over the Internet.

Josef “Arcane” Hall, Wolfpack’s president, said those videos were still below the sharpness of the “Chaos” client milestone, the one that represents the last phase of pre-release development and reportedly has four times better terrain rendering, among other things. These movies were still on the “Apoc” version, the one that testers from beta phase 1 had tested and phase 2 will probably still test.

Another movie of interest shown on Friday (which also might be released over the net soon, if Wolfpack figures out how to release DVD-quality flicks without killing their servers or their fans’ Internet connections) was a documentary-style promo featuring comments from various team members, narrated by Meridian.

Setting all that up was mostly Warden’s task; his mission was to find a way to get it done without taking up too much of the dev team’s time. That meant, unfortunately, that a demo wasn’t in the cards, and Shadowbane’s fans joined that of Max Payne and Duke Nukem Forever, all long-anticipated games that had to make do at E3 with videos.

Arcane said that during the 2000 E3, he and Todd “Warden” Coleman had been stuck in a trailer parked in GODGames‘s “Promised Lot,” giving nonstop presentations of their client.

“I made up my mind that I was going to have fun this year,” Arcane says. And he was having fun, along with the rest of the staff, who alternately took off to visit other booths and check out other games.

But the tent had its share of visitors, including representatives from publishing entities, those interested in a piece of Wolfpack’s Shadowbane pie. Arcane politely declines to comment on the record about who actually has a chance, if anyone does. At the end of E3, a new publisher still has not been announced.

“I’d love to sit down with you sometime and talk it all out,” he tells Lum the Mad, who’s curious about who will replace GODGames, still unofficially out of the running as Shadowbane’s publisher, especially after he’d met members of Wolfpack at GOD’s semi-exclusive party in the Promised Lot on Thursday night.

“Harry is still good friends with us,” Arcane says, referring to GODGames president Harry Miller. “He invites us to all their parties.”

The Big Finish

If nothing else, Wolfpack’s presentation succeeded in presenting one thing: progress. Not immediately visible progress, but progress nonetheless.
It’s hard to know many things except what’s been repeated again and again, that Shadowbane is coming, even though when, how and in what package it’ll come still torments fans the world over. Wolfpack is holding fast to the schedule it should have announced from the beginning, that of “It’ll be done, when it’s done.”

And it will be done.

J.

Video transcript

Title Screen:
“Shadowbane” is a registered Trademark of Wolfpack Studios, Inc. The images and information shown on this video are to be used for public viewing only and sould not be distributed without prior written concent (sic). All video footage was taken in-game, however changes may occur prior to release such that images may differ significantly from those present in the final release. All content (c) Wolfpack Studios, Inc. 2001.

“Become a Hero”

Sam “Meridian” Johnson, staff writer (narrating) : “With the advent of the Internet, a new breed of game has emerged. Where traditional multiplayer games top out at dozens of simultaneous players, these so-called ‘massively multiplayer’ games are different. Thousands of players can log in and connect to the same game server, to adventure and explore strange and fantastic worlds.

At the forefront of this development trend is Shadowbane, a fantasy-genre, massively-multiuser RPG currently under development by Wolfpack Studios.”

(Several fight scenes in the background; a centaur fighting a lizard man in the swamp, then another fighting a scorpion in the desert, an elf lord doing the tai-chi-like Sword Dance.)

James “Scorn” Nance, lead designer: “We started Shadowbane over two years ago, and it’s been a fairly massive undertaking. We’ve got 10 different races, over 20 classes and with dozens of disciplines, the combinations for creating characters is into the hundreds and thousands. What sets Shadowbane apart from other games that on the market is that the other games are fairly static. You don’t have to play them very long before you figure out that your character can’t actually affect the world in any way. With Shadowbane, we’ve striven to change that as a paradigm.”

(Rotating camera view around a roofless building, through which an Elf lord with two swords walks, then comes outside and goes into the famous “sword dance”)

Jason “Tangent” Durall, associate designer: “Shadowbane is full of conflict, but it’s conflict with some meaning to it. Um, it’s conflict in which there is — like there’s a purpose. Why are we fighting? We’re fighting to gain something, to build kingdoms, to make, raise empires, to defend what we’ve earned.”

“Raise an Army”

Ragnar “Psyklone” Scheuermann, programmer with a cool wrought-iron candle holder in the shape of a cross behind his head : “Ah, the guild system is very very cool. It’s completely run by the players, ah, in the entire game, and all of the, the city structures and everything resolve — revolves around players banding together in guilds.”

Patrick “Varios” Blanton, VP of product development, designer: “Yeah, anybody in the game can create a guild. All it takes is a little bit of money, some friends, and that’s all you need. Well, we give the players a lot of ability to, I guess I think (?) by themselves. You have a motto, which is unique to your guild, your guild crest, background colors — basically, I think there’s millions of different opportunities for players to create their own sigils that are unique to them.

There’s lots of guild choices for each player tag: Military Legions, Barbarian Clans, Wizard Towers — basically any kind of type of player you are, you can have a guild type that you can choose from.”

(Guild Charter creation window in background, with commander designations and crest designs.)

Psyklone: “Guild leaders have control over the overall policies, and the way that the guild works. They, they hire underlings or they have a select inner council, um, that controls the, you know, everyday runnings of the guild. Um, it’s completely player-driven, and it’s much more in-depth than just a collection of players who just wanna hang out together. There’s, ah, there’s a lot of infrastructure built around, around the actual guild.”

“Rule an Empire”

Thomas “Dreadflame” Sitch, programmer with several posters on his wall, including one for “Dark City”: “Towns are built according to the decisions made by the players in the guild that decides to found the town, and those players even who do not belong to the guild that are permitted to build within it. Really, it’s ahh, entirely driven by, ahm, the player and guild motivations, built around the Tree at center of the town, and um, whatever kind of tactical defensive structure the guild decides is a wise way to lay out ah, the plan.

There’s a significant variety of buildings that are available. Ah — Ideally speaking, we wanted to have all the buildings that were available to the world builders also available to guilds, and, and, that’s pretty much the case. You have access to, ah, weapon shops, magic shops, item shops, inns, taverns, and barracks to house guards to defend your city from marauding bands of players.”

Jeff “Ashton Kai” Toney, 3D artist reclining next to a cutout of a centaur wearing red boxing gloves and a large Pikachu doll: “Each type of building has seven ranks to it — there are three visual ones. And what we have is, at each type of building you get certain products or services, ahh-attached to it. For instance, the magic shop has — you can supply potions, you can buy, ah, magical scrolls, things like that.”

(A character holding a lance stands outside a building with a popup window identifying it as a “Barracks (Rank 1)”. The pointer selects some kind of upgrade.)

Dreadflame: “We weren’t super-fond of the whole tradeskill-based economy. Um, it had some issues, and see what we really went about doing was moving it to a different level, to a production-level economy. And basically what that means is that the players, the characters of the players, hire NPCs — ah, hirelings and thralls — that really do the dirty work for them. A player can in fact be financially successful in the game without hunting monsters all day, or double-clicking a tree or pile of ore all day.

Essentially, ah, a player goes about, ah, building a place that produces items, let’s say for the sake of argument, we’ll say a weapon shop. The player takes a contract for employment on a smith, drops on the shop and is able to get a smith that ah, produces items. He or she then sets the agenda for that hireling, as to what kind of items they want made, whether they’re magical or so forth, and then can go offline. The NPC goes about building the items and then selling them according to the specifications given by the player.”

Ashton Kai: “When you get a building, what you do is ask your hireling to make products and services for you. For instance, at a forge, you get a weaponsmith. He’ll make either a bastard sword if you tell him to, or if you want him to make a dagger. You can even tell him to make a magical dagger, aor magical broadsword, a magical lance, things like that. Uh, basically it’s based off a random chance, and how good the rank of the weaponsmith is. Um, the higher rank of the weaponsmith, the better the magical quality of the lance, or the dagger, whatever weapon you, you decide to make.”

(A character stands in the middle while a pointer brings up a window for a “Forge (Rank 1)” and selects several options including a contract and lists of various classes of weapons available to be made.)

Dreadflame: “We set it up so that players can honestly have access to all the major shops and ah, buildings within the game and build their own player-run cities. They’re not, ah, they’re not permanent, they can be destroyed in a guild siege. But they really build the center of ah, commerce and the, and for the economy in the game.”

“Change the World”

Dreadflame: “The Tree of Life is really the center of any given city. It is what keeps the city safe and stable ah, under the watchful eye of the guild leader. It’s the point players use to respawn from, and it really is, exists as the heart of a city and the central tactical target in a guild siege.”

(The camera zooms in on a high-level Tree of Life)

Scorn: “The goal of any siege is to of course, destroy the opposing city, or better yet to have them surrender. The best way to do this is to bring as much heat to bear as possible on the Tree of Life. Um, you can do this by, of course, bring your guildmates in, setting up war tents, constructing siege engines, and attacking the city directly. There are also a variety of spells and powers in the game that effectively poison the Tree of Life. Once a Tree’s ability to heal has been negated, the city can be much more easily taken. Thus, the Tree stops healing buildings that become vulnerable, the walls will fall, the siege engines can deal a lot more damage out. Once a city’s in this position, it’s not too hard to get them to surrender.”

(Shows several trebuchets lined up next to war tents, followed by Tree of Life power levels and allocations to building heals)

“But in a defender, the best way to defend your city is to knock out the opposing siege engines, destroy their war camps and try and drive the attackers from your walls. Hope they don’t come back. Um, at any rate, it takes several days to affect the siege of a city. Um, another nasty tactic that attackers can use is to employ assassins. You can get somebody into the walls and strike out a guild leader or a council member, they lose their ability to manipulate the Tree of Life. That means they can’t shift healing to different buildings. That leaves parts of the city vulnerable to attack.”

Tangent: “As guilds conquer more and more territories, the um, the guild crest is going to show and each guild crest will represent like, an outpost or a city. And you’ll see that um, the world map will be updated in real time. So instantly, as your guild expands in um, influence and power, everyone on the network is going to see that your guild is really growing. Everyone will be watching to see as their kingdoms are rising, or, you know, they’ll start getting scared when they see their kingdoms falling and crumbling into dust.”

The original version displayed at E3 included a credits page with all the featured developers listed, and had much less scratchy audio.

“WE’RE PANDERING TO THE BASEST INSTINCTS OF MAN? AWESOME!” [Author: Lum the Mad]

The New Yorker has a story up about the evolving of the seamier side of Ultima Online (which would be, um, most of it).

Certainly hyperinflation and mass extinction are not, while they are happening, a lot of fun, and U.O.’s designers acknowledge the commercial costs of the game’s many crises. At the same time, they seem as a group proud, in a Jurassic Park sort of way, of what has gone wrong. Starr Long, the co-creator of U.O., remembered his own reaction when he learned prostitution had been introduced: “Awesome!”

STAR WARS GALAXIES: PROBABLY WON’T SUCK [Author: Lum the Mad]

On a Computer Screen Far, Far Away

Last Thursday I had an opportunity to watch a closed-door preview for Star Wars Galaxies, a MMOG expected to be released sometime in 2002 barring production delays that often accompany games of this scale. Also introduced was gameplay from the future expansion which will allow for space exploration and combat. Though the expansion has been under development for 9 months, it is unknown exactly how long it will be released after the initial release of SWG. The goal of the development team is to allow players planetary exploration for some time before the addition of features such as purchasing space vehicles and interplanetary flight.

First Impressions:

From the moment the game was loaded I was blown away as were others who audibly gasped from the sights flickering across the screen. The game is stunning because of both the beauty and amount of intricate detail. No other PC game currently available or under development comes close to the graphic eye candy created by the SWG team. No tile of land has missed the artistic splashes of detail \’e2\’80\ldblquote the swaying grass is nearly photo quality, rust spots appear on Land Cruisers, droids shine as if polished with sunbeams, animations are fluid. The team wants a cinematic flavor and they have successfully achieved this goal. The environment also affects the landscape. Plants and grass sway in the wind and sway in proportion to the amount of wind blowing. Shadows and colors are affected by the time of day and it would be feasible to judge what time it is based on shadow length. In short, the graphics are amazing and far beyond what gamers have seen thus far.

The experienced SWG team is attempting to remove the tedium from gaming such as corpse retrieval and leveling. In fact, there will be no experience at all and skills will be gained in a manner similar to Magic: The Gathering. The goal is to cater to the casual and hardcore gamer and allow for both groups to interact with each other.

The Galaxy:

Each shard is called a galaxy and within that galaxy are an undisclosed number of planets to visit. One planet is approximately (if my notes are accurate) 4X the size of UO\’e2\’80\’99s world and 35% larger than all of EQ. There will even be underwater cities to explore! The world is seamless so players will not have to deal with annoying zoning issues. We were allowed to observe several different areas Naboo and Tatooine during the viewing.

Characters:

There are 8 species you can choose from in Star Wars Galaxies. During character creation players will have the power to customize their character including facial deformation capabilities, body mass changes, and skin tones. The Zabrak species are adorned with customizable tattoos. Even hairstyles can altered by visiting a player with a hairstyling skill. The creators of SWG understand players\’e2\’80\’99 needs to stand out from the crowd.

At this time there are 80 emotes and full facial animation that will enhance roleplay and immersion. For example, when a player types :), their character will smile. Although there are many languages throughout the world, players will be able to learn languages using the language skill or with the assistance of language translators. Each character will have their actions tracked continually \’e2\’80\ldblquote only the most diligent will reach Jedi status and every in-game action will reflect that.

Creatures:

Currently there are 100 creature models and variations to these with varied AI (including fear), shading and texture. Everything is done to scale and spawns will be random instead of static. Players will be able to speak to some animals and get a response from them. Others can be tamed, trained and ridden. We were also told that certain animals can breed.

Players will be able to build and program their own droids. Droids will be similar to pets but will have additional abilities such as guarding items and possibly language translation.

Housing:

Players will be able to flatten terrain to build small towns or large empires and can elect mayors, create laws, customize houses and build furniture. Mayors of towns will get special structures for space port travel. The developers believe in the need to keep communities distanced from each other but don\’e2\’80\’99t want to be overly restrictive on travel. You\’e2\’80\’99ll also be able to purchase vehicles to cover ground more quickly.

Think before you build in an area because it is possible to mine out all the minerals. Other mining areas will develop over time. There will be safe and dangerous areas but the SWG group was not willing to discuss non-safe zones at this time.

Missions:

Quests, or missions as they are called, are one of the ways to gain skills and missions may require a specific skill set before a player can attempt them. Players can also create missions for other players by placing their missions on the mission boards.

Information is just beginning to come forth on the development of SWG but with the dedicated and skilled team and the lore of Star Wars, this game is sure to be a winner.

SALON DISCOVERS GAMING GEEKS LIKE LARGE-BREASTED WOMEN; ALSO RUMORED TO BE ABOUT TO CONFIRM THAT SOME WOMEN ARE ODDLY CRANKY EVERY THREE WEEKS [Author: Lum the Mad]

Wagner James Au, Salon’s idiot savant of gaming, was also at E3, thus proving that even the barely coherent are getting disgusted with Mike Wilson.

The confluence of porn and games was surely at its most evident on the GOD lot. Gathering of Developers was founded by exiles from iD, Ion Storm and other high-profile gaming companies on the premise that it would be the preeminent publisher for independent game studios. An admirable sentiment, but somewhere along the way, CEO Mike Wilson decided that preeminence should also involve a lot of cleavage and dwarfs. (Imagine Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein promoting “Chocolat” at ShoWest with lap dancers and pinheads.) Whatever the motive, the GOD lot was packed with flesh-addled gamers gathered for the booby show — while the GOD games themselves went almost entirely ignored.

Obviously, though, Mr. Gold doesn’t drink, since if he did he would know that the GOD lot was a total bust this year. Apparently they only brought 3 six-packs of lite beer they found in Levelord’s van, and when they ran out, so did, well, everyone else.

Of course, last year we actually showed you the Lesbian Jumbotron from last year when GOD could still afford beer, but we’re not postmodern enough to count.

J CASTS RES SPELL ON XRGAMING, REAPPEARS AT NEW BIND POINT [Author: Lum the Mad]

And speaking of raising from the dead, J. and company have surfaced here, complete with soothingly familiar layout and a report from E3.

In probably related news, I was just told by my bank that XRGaming’s final check to us bounced. Guess I shouldn’t have waited a month to deposit it.

Edit: Well, it was there a minute ago. Guess it’s still being worked on. To be honest, we knew about it already (since J. like, talks to us and stuff) but when SBVault announced it I guessed it had gone public. Whoops.