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Busy Busy

No posts lately. Been busy at das Einfamilienhaus Boerger (probably just slaughtered that translation) which has meant little time for the blog. Good news is that I’m actually writing more often, just not on the blog.

But I do have stuff coming up, once I can shoehorn some time to get it published on the blog. It’s rather game centric. I looked at why Earthrise has some big problems. I have written down my thoughts on a great game from 2007 called Batman: Arkham Asylum. Just need to capture some screenshots and it’s good to go. I’d like to post up some thoughts on the indie hit Minecraft.

Also, just out this week was Portal 2. I may do a couple of posts on this as it’s so far a really good game. Expect a first impressions blog sometime soon.

Why Earthrise Got It Wrong

I’ll state right off the bat, this is my second swing at writing this. My first attempt ended up being a 2000+ word rant about the shortcomings of Earthrise, a relatively new Sci-Fi MMO game. I wrote it late on March 31st and thought about publishing it. However, I had no desire to release it on April Fool’s, so I withheld it with the intention of putting it out there April 2nd. In the meantime, I realized how little it meant to spend so much time kicking a game that’s already down. The result is this post, a quick overview of the parts it got wrong and what it takes to launch something in the ever-increasingly tight MMO space.

Not a bad looking game in places

To start off, let’s list off the good and the bad. First the good:

  • The visuals weren’t bad.
  • The music is not bad either. I had a couple of issues of music cutting off when I hit a different zone, but not a bad thing.
  • Crafting is pretty deep and if the economy gets a chance to develop, might be one of the strongest points in the game.
  • Customer service can craft a friendly email. More on this later.

Not present here: swaths of online gamers

    There were some elements that were just off, like the swaying of the trees which moved not in a way that normal trees sway, but much like how a drunk would sway his arms while being held erect by two friends as they were all moving through a crowd and jostled by weary onlookers. There’s an uneasiness as the trees move and it doesn’t look quite natural. And the sound effects were largely unimpressive, but serviceable.

    But the bad list. Well, here it is:

    • The user interface was clunky and eschewed standard configurations without good reason for doing so. It seemed like this PC only release initially was slated for a console and they forgot to redo the key assignments.
    • MOB behavior is still broken in many ways.
    • Training goes on for too long, covering too much distance to essentially do the same thing four times and then run between stations.
    • Game performance is still sub-par. The game still has near constant hitching, latency issues and other hiccups which make some PvE combat beyond difficult.
    • A story line that already feels stale and pointless.
    • Vast expanses of completely empty area.
    • Long initial loading times.
    • Areas with bad shadows.
    • No battle log to find out which enormously high character just ganked you.
    • Dead population areas.
    • Basically, the server has few players and seems empty. Even global chat is virtually static.

    Early in the game, literally a portal to nowhere

     

    As for the PvP part of this game, the main selling point…well, it can only go so far. I like PvP when it’s done right. I think games like Global Agenda did it right, where even as a low end character, you could still be a positive force on your team even though technically you are out-gunned. EVE Online can get you in a tackling frigate within a couple of hours of playing, a vital part of successful PvP fleet engagements. Earthrise didn’t seem to have anything like that available. Within hours of playing for the first time, I was gunned down by another player as I was shooting rats. No joke. Another time, I was trying to get to one of the two main faction cities when I got ganked and killed in two quick, successive shots. There was nothing I could do and I barely knew where the shots came from or indeed, who killed me at all. At low levels, it’s no fun. There’s barely any skill involved, it being a cheap kill. I won’t say that I haven’t been at the wrong end of some quick kills in other games, but I knew I had at least either a chance or the guy on the other end was pretty skilled. Neither was the case here.

    Although I’ve not seen anything confirming this, there are rumors floating about that Masthead studios released the game under pressure because they needed the money infusion a launch would provide. If true, the players currently there are essentially playing a beta and paying for it. Not cool.

    I have to admit, this area was pretty cool

    Part of me wanted to write this long post just ripping Earthrise a new one because it’s simply not ready. As much as I complained last year that Star Trek Online was a half finished game, Earthrise made STO’s launch look silky smooth. There’s a paucity of good science fiction games, even fewer that are MMO games. There was every reason for me to want Earthrise to succeed. I just don’t see it doing so in it’s current state.

    The problem with Earthrise is that it tried to infuse a MMORPG concept with some first person shooter elements. This was obvious in the first couple days of launch as the first time you used your weapon, you could actually see the hitbox displayed. A game like this might succeed but in a single server environment, you have some incredible technical hurdles, most of which they simply have not been able to solve.

    There are a few things that would make Earthrise succeed. A completely revamped player introduction, more PvE, better storylines (killing x-number of y-mob for z-reward got really, really old), a better handle on the hitching  and latency problems, and lastly, I think a smaller world would do them wonders. Hell, just start to take care of your players and good things start to happen.

    Not really a metaphor. The server was pretty devoid of players.

    Let me relate how they can better serve their players. I started on the first day of launch and got thoroughly discouraged, set the game down for five weeks. Upon relaunching the game, I had to update it. The update got bugged and got caught in a repair loop, essentially forcing me to reboot the computer. Uninstall, reload, repatch. After getting this far, I couldn’t remember the password I had set up five weeks earlier and began my attempt to recover the password. I was able to reset my Earthrise forum password, my Earthrise support account password, but not my actual Earthrise game account  password. No, for that I had to submit a petition and then was informed it might take up to twelve hours for them to respond to the petition. Twelve hours! I can have nearly any password I have reset within minutes, usually automatically. To have to wait so long to have a game password reset smacks of bad service to the players. I understand they may be severely short staffed, but this cannot bode well for the game.

    As a preemptive reply to those die hard supporters of the game who have berated other people with comments like “go back to WoW” and “I guess you’re not used to true sandbox games” and the like, let me say this. I’m not going to run down all the games I have played in my many years of gaming. But MMOs live and die by not just the strength of their user base, but the numbers as well. If Masthead doesn’t at least try to make it easier for new players in the game, this game will die. I get that you want a hardcore PvP game where the rules and ways of doing things are arcane to everyone else not in the know, but if the subs don’t start picking up, Earthrise could go the way of APB, Matrix Online and Tabula Rasa. And then you can hope for the next hard core science fiction world to get developed and pray it doesn’t make the same mistakes Earthrise has so far made.

    Something Special

    I promised my mom I’d have something special on the blog tonight. Here it is without further comment.

    httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMaMA_O0RFI

    For This Week

    Hi-ho, everyone. Time for another short blog to let everyone know what’s the skinny going on this week.

    Got some things on the cooker for everyone this week. I’m taking a good steamy gawk at three games this week, where a new game is bad, a two year old game is still good and why a game that has likely some of the cheesiest graphics in a published game is also one of the most complex and fun games on the market.

    It’s not all games this week. Another topic came up while I was driving to hockey just yesterday, so I’m going to be exploring what it means to take up an artistic challenge, or for that matter, any life challenge.

    April is a pretty hairy month as far as time goes for me, but because I care, I’ll be here blogging. For tomorrow, tune in as I relate why releasing an unpolished MMO is suicide in the gaming world today.

    On Digital Self Publishing

    This week I’ve seen not one, but two separate articles about authors who went the self publishing route through digital channels and have made it big. These are people who publish e-books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other sites which sell electronic books. These novels are often sold for under $2.99 and sometimes as low as $0.99. For every sale, the author gets roughly 30%.

    To the few authors who have managed to do this and sell hundreds of thousands of books, congratulations. You’ve written something the public is interested in reading and are reaping the rewards for your talent.

    For those authors thinking of doing the same, hang on a sec. Let’s talk.

    Before you start dreaming about the millions of dollars that you will rake in by providing your words to thousands of people for mere pennies, I’d like you to take a look at various websites like Amazon and the digital offerings on Barnes and Noble. Take a good steamy gawk at all of the books offered for $0.99 cents. There’s a handful there of some authors who have multiple books and they are selling well. Now please look at all of the other $0.99 offerings. There’s a lot of them, trust me. They likely don’t sell as well.

    Welcome to the 21st century’s version of pulp writing. Much like the golden age of pulp, a couple of writers have sold a lot of books and are doing quite well; however, those books are just a couple drops in a sea of other offerings that are lucky to sell even a fraction of the number. When you buy an  e-book for $0.99, there’s no guarantee of quality, no promise that an editor has even glanced at it, no assurances that the thing is even properly typeset in a font that doesn’t hurt your eyes.

    The people who sell well, they are the outliers, the one’s who have ultimately beaten the traditional way of selling a book. They surely accomplished it through working hard, clever marketing, and maybe knowing the right people. They also had a heaping helping of luck and/or being at the right place at the right time. In terms of luck, it’s a lot like traditional publishing.

    I’ve seen the people who champion these success stories as underdogs who beat the system and avoided the evil publishing giants, those dastardly people who likely take home all of the profits of the books they sell and stuff their beds with rolls of money, sleeping soundly on the hard work of the authors slaving away at their dead end word factory. No, those people are probably thinking of James Frey (this one, not that one). Are there disreputable publishing houses out there? Yes, but with the right market research, you can avoid them. But what can a publisher do for an author?

    How about editing for one. No matter how good an editor you think you are of your own work, there’s still a bit of blindness about your writing. For example, I had a small excerpt run through a workshop which I knew needed work but I thought had solid bones to build the story. The very first comment on the story pointed out a massive logical flaw. I was completely blind to it, even though I revised it a couple of times and even read it aloud to see if I could catch anything. Still, I missed this major problem which made no sense in the timeline of the story. Having a good eye catch it was absolute gold to me. But what if I tried to publish it without anyone looking at it? I’ve seen my drafts and I’m not comfortable with having utter shit published, especially when it’s mine. Having an editor is critical.

    Other advantages are the things I listed earlier: typesetting, promotion, cover work/art, other things that go into a book which are done by a professional trained for that sort of thing. On a published book, yes the publisher takes their profit, but other people get paid along the way too, not just the writer. It’s not a blind money grab by them and there’s enough competition on all levels of the business to insist on high quality. I’ve seen a few self published books and I can sum nearly all of them up this way; really good idea, shame there wasn’t more editing and it would have been nice if it were typeset properly.

    If this hasn’t convinced you to slow down and rethink the whole self publishing thing, I wish you luck. I hope you are as successful as the top people in the field.

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