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Logfile

Attack of the Clones
May 26th, 2002

As you’ve probably seen from the front page, it’s been an amazingly successful show. I’m still tired from running around the halls for three days straight, but between the swag, the looks at the games coming out in the next year, and having a blast with the staff, I enjoyed it a lot more than last year’s show.

So, what about the MMORPGs? They were everywhere this year. All we needed was Jango Fett demoing a few of the units to round things out. If you’re looking for a graphically pretty MMOG, just wait a few months and you’ll have more options than you know what to do with.

The downside was that I didn’t get a look at all the MMORPGs I wanted to look at. On the other hand, I basically avoided the flood of Korean “me-too” MMOGs, which made me happy. No 8 AM Redmoon breakfast for me this year.

Here’s my impressions of the MMOGs I saw on the show floor. I didn’t see City of Heroes, Everquest 2, Earth and Beyond, Horizons, the Anarchy Online expansion, or virtually any Korean MMOG. I’m not that disappointed.

And on a side note, Microsoft will be performing a hotfix to correct some of the issues with this month's AC patch. I'll take credit for it, even though the odds of Ken Karl and company seeing this column are slim to none. Allow me my sense of importance.

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There's something amusing about an evil druid with a group of pet spiders, isn't there?
 
 
Neverwinter Nights
It’s been years in the making. It’s a ton of fun. The campaign that we played at the Bioware demo was a dungeon that was below our character level, but the DM added some more powerful creatures for us to fight. It took a while to get used to, and played slower than I expected (as I’m used to Dungeon Siege), but we were working somewhat well together, despite largely being a group of strangers.

The claim was a 100-hour single player campaign before even getting into the multiplayer content. Given the dedicated fan base for the game, this could very well be the last game you ever need to buy. Since it’s only a month away, if you’re a heavy MMORPG gamer, NWN could easily tide you over until the major MMOG releases late this year.

Even if you don’t care about multiplayer gaming (why are you reading this), a 100-hour single player campaign’s nothing to sneeze at.

One slight disappointment is that you won’t be able to import your Baldur’s Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal demigod characters into NWN, but with the toolset, it’d be a simple matter to recreate them in a few minutes anyway.

NWN wasn’t the game of the show, but it looks like the long wait is worth it.

 
Shadowbane
It’s been in development and “closed beta” for almost as long as Neverwinter Nights, but Shadowbane has one of the most devoted fan bases I’ve ever seen for a game. This can be a good and a bad thing, but healthy interest in a promising title is always good.

And Shadowbane does look promising. The new graphics upgrades they demonstrated for E3 make the game look…well, a little less like ass as compared to some of the recent screenshots I’d seen. We’re not talking Morrowind quality, but it’s not that bad looking anymore - I’d say a step or two above Asheron’s Call, and maybe a step below Camelot.

I talked with Sam “Meridian” Johnson at the show, and the thing that struck me the most was the sheer scope of the plans for the game (and how bored Nicole was the whole demo). Drastically shifting landscape and allegiances? Check. Quick and easy leveling to encourage variety? Check (current hope is for 30 hours to level 20). Balances to prevent a guild playing in off-peak times from conquering everything while no defenders are present? Yup. Wolfpack even wants to allow different servers to take the game’s storyline in different directions (the only game that had something similar was Asheron’s Call, where one server prevented the destruction of a crucial crystal shard in the game’s lore. A GM destroyed the shard regardless of player efforts to keep the storyline identical across all servers). My concerns about a lack of non-combat things to do (i.e. tradeskills) were also somewhat abated when I was told about the micromanagement that players can do with their property and holdings - such as building a perfect armory, or stuff like that.

Does this mean Shadowbane is the MMORPG to beat? No. I’m very skeptical that they’ll pull it off. Wolfpack’s a first time development studio, and they’ve got some very grand ideas that do seem somewhat unfeasible.

If Shadowbane comes out with half the features that Meridian talked about on the floor, it’ll gain a very solid foothold in the MMOG market. If it comes out with all of the features and works well, we could very well see market penetration rivaling Camelot’s quick jump out of the gates. I just don’t know if that’ll be the case.

 
Star Wars Galaxies
Bitch all you want about Verant’s repeated use of the nerf bat, or how EQ was a pointless level treadmill, or their draconian CS policies. Go ahead.

Game of the show.

I’m not a huge Star Wars fanboy. Just ask anyone who was there when we saw Episode 2 together - I was laughing my ass off with Nicole at some of the “dramatic” scenes, or other things (air conditioned transport ships, hoy!). I do like the idea of the universe, I enjoy playing games that let me mess around with the Force, and Ralph Wiggum’s immortal quotation, “I bent my wookiee!” amuses me on a variety of levels.

But Galaxies? Oh my god.

Where to start? How about the fact that the game will have at least 8 times the landmass of Everquest at launch? Talk about the dream game for the explorer player-type. Want to just bum around in a different setting than The Sims Online promises? The social options and character types will give you the option - go become a dancer in the Mos Eisley Cantina if you’re so inclined. Care to build a city? Sure.

The combat looks nice, too - they want to go above the typical MMOG “press A and get a drink” paradigm, with skills, the ability to move around your environment, and different combat stances. When they showed a party of people taking out stormtroopers and then being flanked by a AT-ST walker, it looked amazing. The fact that Jedi will be limited in number is another bonus - if I don’t become a Jedi, I won’t be disappointed if they’re truly rare.

Look, it’s a Raph Koster game. Yes, his ass gets kissed around the community fairly often, but there’s a reason for it - he’s concerned with making a true world instead of a combat/leveling treadmill. Complain all you want about the emphasis on attracting a mainstream audience, and shudder to think of all the “Darth Maal” and "Chewbakka" characters you’ll see around. Galaxies has the most up-side to any game I saw at the show, and is the most capable of reaching its full potential and not sucking (NWN notwithstanding).

I wasn’t a fanboy before; I am now. Dark Wookiee Jedi, here I come. Chewbacca, eat your heart out.

 
World of Warcraft

There’s not much to say. It looks pretty, it’s set in a nice universe, it’s got a good developer behind it.

It’s also at least a year and a half from coming out, and there was no truly concrete information at the demonstration. I’m still surprised they had it on display in somewhat playable form - I expected a movie at most.

 
Asheron’s Call 2
AC2 looked very nice, and it has a lot of potential. Much of the original Asheron’s Call development team is behind AC2, and it’s safe to assume they’ve learned a few lessons.

The skill tree system reminds me a lot of Diablo 2 in some respects, though you can channel as much or as little experience into the skills as you want. While we’ll probably see “uber templates” in AC2 just like in AC1, at least you’ll be able to distribute your expertise among certain abilities instead of general categories (why should I have to waste a ton of experience in a general category if I only want to do one thing well?)

The graphics are also a huge upgrade over the current game’s, and probably only beaten at the show, MMOG-wise, by Galaxies. The water effects are probably the best I’ve ever seen - while Morrowind and Galaxies have incredible surface water effects, AC2 actually has true translucent water - you can see all the contours of the ground underneath the water, and effects like raindrops truly look amazing.

I’m a bit hesitant to see how well the “no NPC merchant” system goes. While it’ll truly ensure a place for crafters in the community, having to find someone to make the exact item you need can be a tricky proposition at best, especially if you have no other options. On the other hand, it’s a way to prevent the sort of crafting black hole that’s currently in Camelot. It’s a system that will either work really, really well, or will cause enough player discontent that NPC merchants will eventually be patched in.

One thing that I saw that concerns me, however, is potential for lag. The “rubberbanding” effect present in AC1 is alive and well - I was warped backwards on several occasions while just running around the landscape. I’m hoping it was the exception, not the rule.

I’m still looking forward to AC2, as AC1 was probably my favorite of the major MMORPGs I’ve played. It’s just hard to really get excited about it after seeing Galaxies.

 
Dragon Empires
For the most part, this was a tech demo. The skill system was described - think Ultima Online. The plans for clans being able to build cities and conquer the territory of others were discussed.

All we saw, however, were the graphics. They’re certainly nice - walking through a field of tall grass was a very nice effect, with the grass being brushed aside and returning to position. The passing of clouds looks amazing, and we were shown how the clouds aren’t simply a sprite, but have actual depth and layering - a very nice effect. The water’s a bit of a disappointment after Galaxies, AC2, and Sea Dogs 2, but we can’t have it all.

So, as it stands, Dragon Empires is a nice tech demo; we’ll see if the gameplay system actually works out. Codemasters is determined not to release the game until it’s working properly - if they stick to that plan, they’ll be ahead of 90% of MMOGs on the market in that respect.

 
Dark Age of Camelot: Shrouded Isles
Our appointment with Scott “Lum” Jennings was more of an interview than a demo, which did throw us for a loop. Fortunately, Lum’s a good guy and we were able to just BS with him a bit.

Basically, we got no concrete details about the specifics of the Shrouded Isles expansion; Mythic has an exclusivity contract with Computer Gaming World, and until that issue is published, they’re keeping quiet. It sounds like a typical expansion pack in the Everquest model - more areas, more cities, more species, more classes.

The demo on the show floor wasn’t actually using the upgraded NetImmerse engine, so what was at Vivendi’s booth was very underwhelming as well; it was Camelot, looking much like…Camelot. Still, the NetImmerse 4 engine looks terrific, and with the aid of some of the programmers from other companies who are more familiar with the engine, the transition should go fairly smoothly. As long as Mythic’s statements about NI4 being a more efficient engine than NI2 are accurate, the upgrade should be a good thing.

If you like Camelot, you’ll like Shrouded Isles. I just have to wonder, though; with Shrouded Isles coming out approximately the same time as Asheron’s Call 2, Shadowbane, and Star Wars Galaxies, how many people are going to jump ship?

 
Final Fantasy XI
Well, unlike the Japanese launch, the E3 server stayed up and running.

FFXI looks like what you'd expect out of a console EQ clone, which is practically what it is. The developers have admitted they're EQ fans, so there's similiaries. There's experience loss on death, for example, and it's possible to lose levels. Fortunately, corpse retrieval runs are absent.

FFXI looks like it has potential for console gamers looking for something a bit more massively-multiplayer than Phantasy Star Online. It was just hard to play FFXI, since the menus weren't even translated. I did figure out how to log out, though it wasn't intentional.

Will I play it? Doubtful, but if a Final Fantasy and Everquest console hybrid floats your boat, have fun.

 
Closing Thoughts

Next time, on Logfile: E3, part 2: The Kentia Strikes Back.

- Cameron Hamm (tortolia@rpgfan.com)



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