My Life With The Jedi Kill Kult

It was on an unnamed battle station, set up by Republic spies, where I fell from grace.

You see, up until that point, I had seen myself as an honorable man. Of course there was chaos and atrocity all around, but this was war, and war can be harsh. But I had a code of honor, and the knowledge that although many judge our Empire harshly, I fought for stability and order.

But the dark side… it was so seductive. It beckoned with the siren lure of shortcuts and the red haze of murder and power. I was strong, though, and could resist, and was even developing a reputation as an honorable Sith, odd though such a combination could be.

It changed when I finally met the nemesis of my master. Although through a hololink, it carried enough weight of what I, my people were fighting against – the sneering superiority of a caste that assumed it knew all the answers, the mocking calm of someone who assumed that only he had the path of honor and justice.

He was on a path I could no longer follow. That I had to prove wrong. That I had to destroy utterly. That I *could*.

I cut down his defenseless minions without a second thought, and my saber turned red, and I leapt into the abyss willingly.

Why yes, I am talking about an MMO. And what’s more, describing the point in an MMO where I made a decision to change my character’s progression, counter-intutively from a character building perspective, solely because of events in the game’s story.

During Bioware’s development of SWTOR, they often talked up storytelling as the missing link of MMO gaming, the “fourth pillar” of what makes a compelling game. Now we have an emphatic example of this development philosophy. It may well not be for everyone – even in a game such as World of Warcraft, people rapidly “click through the quest text” to continue with the game. That’s not an option here – you are part of an interactive movie, where the setup for even the most bog-standard kill 10 womprats quest (which are present in full force) is fully voiced and animated. You could conceivably spacebar your way through every conversation cutting short every cut scene, but at this point you are missing, well, the game.

So, yes. SWTOR tells a good story. This is a Bioware game, so this is pretty much a given. How much of a GAME is it?

Well, if you go into SWTOR expecting Star Wars Galaxies II, you are going to be very disappointed. SWTOR comes down very heavily (in fact with a Sith downward saber stab) on the side of game vs. world. There are some nods towards a deeper MMO community (such as social unlocks based on how often you group with others, and a fairly brilliantly handled pre-game guild launch that automatically load balanced guilds amongst servers) but SWTOR is a game. And many similarities to World of Warcraft are wholly intentional – to the point where popular WoW addons-to-game-systems such as gearscore are already baked in. Remember Wowhead? Welcome to Torhead.

If you’re really, really tired of World of Warcraft (and after seven years, a few million people are) then that alone may cause you to recoil. But if you see the World of Warcraft-centric game systems as a grammar used to build SWTOR’s language, it becomes clearer why those choices were made. In fact, in my week or so of play, some of my more “doh” induced boners were in areas where SWTOR veered away from World of Warcraft’s interface. Did you know that when you buy skills from trainers in SWTOR, the skills for your advanced class (another, rare divergence from World of Warcraft) are in a separate tab from the skills for your base class? For seven levels I didn’t!

If I have one criticism of SWTOR at this early point, it’s that for the initial 25 levels it seems to be, for the most part, a single player game played in parallel with many other people. This was fairly obnoxious when, for example, others would ninja-grab world quest objectives. There are instances (called “Flashpoints”), daily quests intended for groups, the aforementioned social rewards for doing them, and of course PvP (including battlegrounds). But up to this point they haven’t really been part of my focus.

You see, I’ve turned to the dark side. And I have a lot of red murder to catch up on.

Blizzard Announces RealID 2.0: What We Should Have Done The First Time

Welcome to BattleTags, otherwise known as “how every other unified IM service works”.

A BattleTag is a unified, player-chosen nickname that will identify you across all of Battle.net – in Blizzard Entertainment games, on our websites, and in our community forums. Similar to Real ID, BattleTags will give players on Battle.net a new way to find and chat with friends they’ve met in-game, form friendships, form groups, and stay connected across multiple Blizzard Entertainment games.

Tools Are Cool

(This is a post in response to Jon Jones, smArtist for hire’s technolusty blog post from yesterday.)

Hi, I’m Scott, I’m a technoweenie.

I try to keep everything pretty simple… my primary “work” machine is my Macbook Pro. I’ve used it for years now, and now that I’m at a workplace that doesn’t freak out when I bring my own machine in for work, I can use it as my primary work machine yet again. I have years’ worth of handy OSX applications so it really is a force multiplier. And because it’s OSX and not Windows it actually, you know, rarely crashes or goes down. See?

Mmm, delicious uptime goodness.

And for toting it between work and home, I have a docking station set up at both places so I can just drop the laptop into the dock and fwoomf, I’m up.

So why am I such a fervent Machead? Because it has stuff that works, generally far more efficiently and elegantly than Windows equivalents, and having stuff that works makes me look smarter. Apps that see regular use while I work:

Mail.app (comes with OSX): I love Mail.app. It just works, and allows me to search years’ worth of email in seconds. Couldn’t live without it, and I haven’t found anything as just-work-ish on Windows. Sometimes I get seduced by some feature in Postbox, but I always come back to Mail.app.

Excel: The OSX marketplace for spreadsheet applications is pretty limited. Apple’s version, Numbers, isn’t good enough for serious work. Excel for the Mac is functionally equivalent to the Windows version. Some things you’ll never escape.

Keynote: Why I originally bought my Mac – I blame Trey Ratcliff for this one, he made Keynote presentations that were things of painful beauty. Once you use Keynote, you’ll never use Powerpoint again.

WriteRoom: One of the hardest things to do is to concentrate on just writing. At least for me. (It’s also why I work better on OSX. People tell me “Oh, there’s no games on that!” Well, yes. I have a gaming machine for that. No games is a *plus*.) WriteRoom is the best of the minimal text editors – you can easily just focus on writing and hide everything else.

Eclipse: Eclipse is the Swiss Army Knife of code editors. Open source, cross platform (it runs in Java but still runs fairly well on modern machines) and generally is the best at what it does. Except for web page editing. For that I have:

Coda: the best web page editor on any platform.

Pixelmator: I’ve just started switching to this from Photoshop, which I’m more than a few versions behind on. Pixelmator is affordable for normal people and eminently usable for image manipulation.

Balsamiq Mockups: Another cross-platform app (using Adobe Air), this does one thing and does it very well – it helps you quickly kick out user interface prototypes. Among other handy features, it creates everything in Comic Sans font just to make clear to everyone THIS IS A PROTOTYPE DO NOT USE THIS IN A SHIPPING PRODUCT FOR THE PUBLIC. Seriously if you use Comic Sans in anything public-facing I will hurt you.

That covers most things I use on a close-to-daily basis. I have a Windows desktop at work for tool-chain related things (yes occasionally I must work with other people) and an iPad which I use mostly to take notes and read newspapers (only half of which is work related). But my MBP is my baby. DON’T TAKE MY BABY.

Mark Pincus Grateful For Continued Existence Of Bobby Kotick

BOOM! HEADSHOT!

Bobby Kotick shows the class, grace and market acumen for which he is so justly renowned, when commenting on an imminent competitor for his corporation’s cash cow:

“We’ve been in business with Lucas for a long time and the economics will always accrue to the benefit of Lucas, so I don’t really understand how the economics work for Electronic Arts.”

He said that he does not think The Old Republic will steal users from WoW, adding, “If you look at the history of the people investing in an MMO and achieving success, it’s a small number.”

Yes, and clearly the largest game company on the planet, funding what is most likely the most expensive game project in history, would never qualify for that small number.

Oh Bobby, don’t ever change.

Prognosticamation 2011

Every year I make crazy predictions that fail miserably.  A little less then a year after that I review them so you can see my humility as someone who can’t predict industry trends at all.

Here’s how I did last year.

[The Old Republic] will ship in 2011. It has to.

I was right! Barrrrrrreeeeeellllly.

The biggest event, and the one that will shape 2011 in terms of MMO development, will be, of course, the Old Republic.

I was wrong, unless you think 2011’s MMO development experience is shaped in its final week. 2012 is the year of the Old Republic (and for what it’s worth, from everything I hear it’s going to be a pretty monster hit barring last minute infrastructure/bug stupidity), not 2011.

 

By the way, this made pretty much my entire slate of predictions inoperative, since they (correctly, I think) noted that the MMO industry is basically waiting on the Old Republic to ship and, well, it hasn’t yet.

2011 is the year of WoW: Not WoW.

Pretty much. WoW did take a back seat, and shed a million customers – that in any other company would have been cause for bodies falling out of high windows, and for Blizzard is still essentially a bookkeeping error. Blizzard did announce a new expansion, and as expected it will be released in 2012, not 2011. But mostly it was time for a lot of other games to ship. How did they do?

 

DC ONLINE: went free to play in short order RIFT: the most successful new release of 2011, and the most WoW Not WoW WORLD OF TANKS: started free to play, made tons of money PLANETSIDE NEXT: not yet released TERA: not yet released GUILD WARS 2: not yet released NEVERWINTER: not yet released, being restructured FAXION: released, then cancelled shortly thereafter JUMPGATE EVOLUTION: most likely did not survive the collapse of NetDevil THE AGENCY: cancelled THE SECRET WORLD: not yet released GODS AND HEROES: yes, it released, no, you probably didn’t notice

Unless you’re Scott Hartsman or some crazy Belarusian guy, that’s a whole lotta ouch. But how did other subscription MMOs do?

EVERQUEST 2: went free to play CITY OF HEROES: went free to play LINEAGE 2: went free to play AGE OF CONAN: went free to play STAR TREK ONLINE: went free to play FINAL FANTASY 14: still involuntarily free to play EVE: attempted suicide by CEO, layoffs, trying to come back STAR WARS GALAXIES: cancelled LEGO ONLINE: cancelled WARHAMMER ONLINE: still exists, releasing a free-to-play arena MOBA version AION: still here, kinda! FINAL FANTASY 11: Quick! Look over there! EVERQUEST: *whistling* ULTIMA ONLINE: yep! don’t mind us! DARK AGE OF CAMELOT: feelin’ spry! don’t look this direction plz

So, if your MMO of choice was a subscription game, it was either: (a) World of Warcraft, (b) Rift, (c) free-to-play, (d) cancelled, (e) assaulted by crazy lutefisk-wielding Icelandic people, or (f) so old no one remembered the server was on.

I’d say I get a bye on all predictions, because the market kinda went bloop. Yes, bloop. That’s the technical term.

Bobby Kotick Still Insanely Grateful At Continued Existence And Business Practices Of Mark Pincus

In case earlier stories about the Facebook game maker didn’t turn Mark Pincus into enough of a moustache-twirling villain from a silent movie, this Wall Street Journal story should finish the job adeptly.

Citing industry sources, The Wall Street Journal reported today that Zynga CEO Mark Pincus, along with his top executives, decided last year as they were preparing for an initial public offering (IPO) that they had given out too much stock to employees. But rather than accept that reality, the executives reportedly tried a different tactic: demand employees give back not-yet-vested stock or face termination.

 

In order to determine which employees would be asked to give stock back, Pincus and his executives tried to pinpoint workers whose contributions to Zynga–in the execs’ eyes–didn’t necessarily justify the potential cash windfall they could receive when the company went public, the Journal claims.

Or on the other hand, maybe Pincus was doing his guys a solid by, uh, taking away their options.

But this isn’t Major League Baseball, where the Boston Red Sox are stuck paying Carl Crawford $20 million per year even if he proves no better than a backup. It’s a non-unionized startup, where the CEO is well within his rights to simply fire an under-performing employee (and recover unvested options). In fact, that’s what happens at most companies. The difference at Zynga is that Pincus seems intent on retaining talent, even if that talent either didn’t live up to initial expectations or didn’t adequately match up to the changing needs of a fast-growing company.

Yeah, I don’t think so.

 

Everquest II Going Free To Play, Again, They Mean It This Time

News here – instead of subscriber servers and a free-to-play “Everquest II Extended” server, the entire game is going free-to-play.

Last year, we created a successful, but separate, “free to play” service for EQII called “EverQuest II: Extended” (EQ2X). However, now that all servers are becoming free-to-play, we are combining both services together and EverQuest II (including the EQ2X servers) will operate as a single game with a single membership structure.

 

The new membership structure for EverQuest II is simpler and easier to understand than the one we used previously, and we’ve adjusted the model so that Gold members in EverQuest II will get everything that current EQII subscribers do currently.