carbine studios

An NCsoft studio known primarily for WildStar.

Gigantic devs liken their graphics to candy and plastic toys

If you love to hate on brightly colored cartoony-stylized graphics of games like World of Warcraft, League of Legends, and even Wildstar, know that the tide’s against you.

So goes the argument of Motiga’s Vinod Rams, who compares MOBA Gigantic’s graphics to candy during a recent Gamasutra livestream. The idea, he says, was to combine styles popularized by Disney and Hayao Miyazaki with bright plastic toy looks rather than photorealism — and consequently, that Gigantic is in the Nintendo ARMS/Splatoon family of games because it looks like candy.

“You wanna reach in and grab one of these guys and just pop ’em in your mouth. Like… candy is completely engineered to entice you to pick it up. It’s an unnatural color sometimes. Why would I want to eat something that’s bright green?”

But of course, we do because it catches our attention.

The design conversation begins around 15 minutes into the video and resumes again around 35 minutes if you’d like to hear the whole thing.

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The Game Archaeologist: EverQuest II East

Publishing a video game globally is a monumental task, more so if it is a live online game such as what you’d find with MMORPGs. With different countries and regions come various traditions, prohibitions, language barriers, government restrictions, playstyle expectations, and financial models that must all be sorted out and overcome for these games to come out.

One of the most famous examples of adapting an MMO for use in another country is how World of Warcraft had to make significant graphical changes to its death-themed imagery (including its Forsaken race) in order to get approval to operate in China. Censorship aside, many studios have adjusted their games to include elements appealing to a certain country in order to get more fans (such as WildStar’s panda explosion).

Today we’re going to look at a short-term oddity in EverQuest II’s history, when SOE attempted to expand the game into the east — and how that rebounded back to impact the west.

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RIFT brings on a new community manager

ArcheAge isn’t the only game at Trion Worlds that’s shuffling around its community team these days. RIFT announced last Friday that it brought on board Jennifer “Yaviey” Bridges to be the new community manager for the fantasy MMO.

Bridges said she has worked on several MMO community teams to date including EverQuest II, WildStar, and Lineage II and was a RIFT player back in the early days of the title.

“If you couldn’t already guess, MMORPGs are my jam,” Bridges wrote. “They’re my absolute favorite type of game for a variety of reasons. I love the communities in them, I love that you can constantly strive to be better at something, and questing in general always feels so epic.”

This move doesn’t mean that Linda “Brasse” Carlson is out as a RIFT community manager. Bridges confirmed that Carlson will continue to manage the team while doing “cool creative stuff” in the meantime.

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Perfect Ten: MMOs in limbo

The one thing that I thought we could all count on forever was that the MMO life cycle was pretty easy to understand. A game is launched, then it runs for a certain amount of time, then it shuts down. That last part kind of sucks, but the point is that you know when it’s time to move on. The life cycle is clearly one of creation, then life, then death, like a potted ficus or a cheap desk chair you get at Target.

But then sometimes you have a cheap desk chair that breaks in a crucial way, but you manage to screw the right sort of braces together so you can keep using it for another year after it should have been thrown out. And sometimes an MMO is born, and then it lives, and then it… doesn’t live, but it’s not actually shut down or in maintenance. Or it isn’t clear what’s going on with it, due to what seems to be total abandonment. Or it updates more than games which are supposedly live.

That’s what this column is all about. MMOs in a weird sort of limbo, where some facts are clear, but the results or the overall trajectory make no sense. Sometimes it’s not even clear if the game has actually launched or not. It’s weird.

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The Daily Grind: What kind of MMO achiever are you?

Yesterday’s post on Richard Bartle’s new unplayer matrix got me thinking once again about my quibbles with the original Bartle quotient, which won’t surprise anyone here, least of all Bartle himself, who’s expressed similar sentiments about his early work (and specifically the test it subsequently spawned).

One thing that always bugged me is how your score masked why you picked what you picked — why you do what you do in the game as presented to you. That wouldn’t matter if people treated Bartle’s theories as descriptive, but developers apply them prescriptively (for example, in WildStar) and tailor games to attract achievers, indeed turning most game content into achiever content. As I wrote a few years ago, a player who explores every last inch of a game map would be an explorer in a game without achievements, but in a game like Guild Wars 2, she’s far more likely to be an achiever on a quest for achievement points. An old-school World of Warcraft PvPer was just as likely to PvP for twink gear and titles as for an actual drive to slay other players as a “killer.” And so on.

All of this is to suggest that in a world where most games reward achievers with the best stuff, most of us are achievers. Are you? And if so, what kind of MMO achiever are you — were you born to competition and leaderboards and prestige-acquisition, or do you “achieve” to meet your goals in other parts of the game, like a roleplayer who raids for the best cosmetics?

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Perfect Ten: MMO zones I love to hate

Let’s be frank: Not every MMO zone can be a masterpiece of art, design, quest flow, and navigability. I mean, they totally should be, but that’s not how it shakes out in actual games. Sometimes regions get rushed, or the developers get a little too crazy with level design, or someone with a doomsday device in the office threatens to set it off unless an area made up of nothing but jumping puzzles is included.

The end result? “Those” zones we love to hate. We all have them. They’re the ones we seem to relish whining and complaining about to anyone who will listen, often instigating an echo chamber of like-minded grudges. We’ve been there, done that, and felt that our psyche took a hit as a result.

Today I want to look back at 10 MMOs I’ve played over the years to pick out a zone from each that, honestly, I really, really disliked. Perhaps the fact that I still remember them so vividly means that they were more important memories than the well-done zones that escape me at the moment, but I’m not going to think on that too much. Let the gripe session begin!

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Massively Overthinking: Forced socializing in MMORPGs

Massively OP Patron Jackybah has a question for this week’s Massively Overthinking that’s probably going to kick up some dust. He wonders whether MMO developers recognize and “serve” a particular subgroup of their players enough — specifically, the group of players that do not want to actively participate in social grouping (for dungeons) or social banter (in guild chat) but still want to contribute to and participate in an online world.

“In quite a number of games I feel that the game forces a player to group up to be able to see content and/or get higher-level gear,” he writes to us.

There’s a lot of layers to unpack here — non-social gamers in social spaces, the current state of MMO group content, and even the fundamentals of MMORPGs. Is our Patron right, and if so, is it a problem studios should be addressing? Let’s get to it.

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NCsoft MOBA Master X Master launches today

Master X Master is officially launching in the West today, bringing NCsoft’s take on a multi-IP MOBA-with-a-twist to our shores. The twist is the PvE element, which was relatively novel for the genre back when MxM was announced but is now present in a few others. Still, there’s no other MOBA out there where you can play characters from Guild Wars 2, WildStar, and City of Heroes all together!

The floodgates officially open at 1 p.m. EDT this afternoon, but until then, we’ve rounded up all our coverage and streams of the game to now, plus a few of the game’s latest prep vids. Happy launch day!

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The Daily Grind: Which MMO has the most pleasing aesthetics to you?

I’ve found that there are few areas that dwell almost completely with the realm of subjective judgment than the looks and art style of various MMOs. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that, and what might be highly attractive to one person is visual filth to another.

For example, I’ve always been highly taken with WildStar’s designs. The bright colors, the cartoonish characters, the expressive animations, and the Dr. Seussian landscapes make this a game that is a joy for me to behold. Yet I know that the look really bothers some others, who have said things like it is “cluttered” and “garish.”

It’s OK to splash around in the shallowness of eyecandy and art design today, so let us know what you think. Which MMO has the most pleasing aesthetics?

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Battle Bards Episode 100: Centennial spectacular!

After four years and over 700 MMORPG music tracks, the Battle Bards have arrived at their 100th show! For this centennial spectacular, Syl, Steff, and Syp reminisce about the most notable shows, their best soundtrack discoveries, and their favorite tracks. This super-sized show gets wrapped up with a bout of listener emails and a promise of another amazing hundred episodes!

Battle Bards is a bi-weekly podcast that alternates between examining a single MMO’s soundtrack and exploring music tracks revolving around a theme. MOP’s Justin co-hosts with bloggers Steff and Syl. The cast is available on iTunes, Google Play, TuneInPocket CastsStitcher, and Player.FM.

Listen to Episode 100: Centennial spectacular (or download it) now:

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Perfect Ten: MMORPGs that died too soon

Your favorite game is going to die. I wrote about that. Some games are never even going to get to launching in the first place, unfortunately. But then there are these titles: games that went the distance when it came to development, marketing, promotion, testing… but somehow didn’t quite manage to stick the landing past that. These are the games that, in Transformers terms, are the hi-then-die cast of the MMO space.

That doesn’t always mean the games are bad, mind you. Some of these games were great fun. But through a combination of business model issues, publisher issues, player population, and just general weirdness, these titles couldn’t make it to a year and a half in the wild. Heck, some of them couldn’t even make it to a year and a quarter. And if you want to peruse this list and wonder why all of these titles are gone but Alganon is somehow still operating… well, we’re just as confused as you are.

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WildStar pumps out prime raids with Patch 1.7.2 today

Is WildStar’s raiding scene too tepid and lukewarm for you? Need a shot of danger to spice up that instance run? Well you’re in for it now, as the MMO introduces prime raids with today’s Patch 1.7.2.

So whom are these raids for, according to the dev team? “If you enjoy raiding and want better incentives to return to previous raid tiers, this system is built for you. Likewise, if you’re looking for a method to keep a consistent raid schedule while ensuring that you continue to grow your character’s power at max-level, Prime Raids offer you this opportunity.”

The first prime raid will be the Prime Level 1 of Initialization Core Y-83, although this will be followed by Prime Level 2 (and so on) in the future. For a more detailed rundown of today’s patch, make sure to read up on the full patch notes.

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Perfect Ten: My favorite MMO dungeons

It’s hard to look at an MMORPG and imagine them without dungeons. For some people, these instances are the core of their game experience, offering challenging (well, hopefully) and rewarding group experiences that can be repeated for fun, profit, and optimal performance.

Dungeons and I have a strange history in MMOs. For me, it all depends on the game in question. There are MMOs that don’t really feature compelling or rewarding dungeons (Guild Wars 2), or make grouping up and getting into them difficult, or what have you. Yet in other games, I’ve run dungeons so many times that I could probably pathfind through each one blind. If done right, they can be really fun and offer me a chance to show off my stuff and feel like I’m part of a team.

For today’s list, I want to share with you my favorite MMO dungeons. I’m going to limit myself to one per MMO for diversity’s sake, which might make it a little challenging, but there you go!

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