Back when Lord of the Rings Online
was being developed as Middle-earth Online
in the late 1990s, the original concept was to plop players into the Fourth Age after the fall of Sauron and the destruction of the One Ring. The idea was that this would allow for a lot more flexibility and world manipulation once the game escaped the direct influence of Tolkien’s narrative.
LOTRO, on the other hand, went a different way. The devs obviously felt that more players would want to adventure during the events of the books, especially since the story offered more details, characters, and conflicts. But that left the team with a different problem, which was how to insert player characters into a narrative that was rigidly defined by the trilogy. The solution, as we all well know, was to have the player be “a” hero, just not “the” heroes of the books. And this hero would go off on a story of his or her own that would in many ways parallel the Fellowship’s struggles but not slavishly stick by Frodo’s side as the invisible 13th member.
So how has LOTRO handled this concept of the player as a “second fiddle” over the years? I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, particularly as we turn the bend into Mordor.
Welcome to The Survivalist! Ya’ll might have noticed that I have gravitated a bit from my happy home of deep, immersive virtual worlds (possible due to the lack of them!) and have been tinkering about and enjoying time in various survival games. This isn’t as odd as you might think! One thing I love about sandbox worlds is the ability for your actions to matter in terms of shaping the world and carving out your place in it. Survival games have been allowing me just that with opportunities to build the world, from the society on it to structures in it to the even the physical world itself. And decisions definitely matter, bringing satisfaction and reward or disappointment and destruction.
I’m not alone in this appreciation of the survival genre, either. Many MMO gamers have joined mainstreamers by flocking to it lately as seen by the explosion of the available games. Those of you not on board yet might be wonder just what is so alluring about a genre that has many elements of MMOs but on smaller — and oft times privately managed — scale. As the weeks and months wear on, The Survivalist is going to explore all the nooks and crannies of the survival sandbox genre (and likely die many, many times in the process!), but today, we’re going to look at what players can jump into to test their survival skills. So here’s a guide to many options in the newest genre to take over our gaming sphere.
I’ve read all the impressions from the PAX East show that I could find, and they were all overwhelmingly mild — including ours. As you hopefully know by now, Elder Scrolls Online showed off its instanced PvP battlegrounds, and the media consensus is that they are… coming. And that’s it. This really surprised me. It’s superficially hard to tell whether people have come to expect one thing from battlegrounds (because so many other games already have them) and ESO really isn’t changing the formula — or the battlegrounds really aren’t anything to write home about.
If you were to take Lead PvP Designer Brian Wheeler’s word for it, battlegrounds will change PvP in ESO forever because they’re a type of PvP that ESO has never had before, which is true. Personally, I do believe not only that battlegrounds will bring something special to Elder Scrolls Online but that other games should pay attention to ESO because it’s actually doing something innovative without drawing too much attention to it.
Battlegrounds aren’t perfect; there will be some drawbacks, but let’s take an honest look at what this new PvP type means for Elder Scrolls Online and maybe other MMOs in the future.
You might be hearing more about TUG in the near future, as the team said that it will be increasing its communication as development ramps back up on the social sandbox. Updates and videos from the team will be posted twice a month going forward.
Answering questions from the community, the devs outlined a general roadmap going forward: “We are currently working towards a dynamic list of features to support an exciting experience with our sandbox adventure style game. A general list of features would include: building, resource gathering, crafting, combat, weapons, multiplayer, natural AI, companions, large multi biome worlds, portals, and questing.”
However, the really exciting announcements should come some time in mid-June, when the team will have and be ready to show off some of its core gameplay experience. The post hedged on a date for the upcoming alpha, saying that it should be in a better place to make that call in a few months.
Massively OP donor and commenter Tibi sent this epic question to our podcast and kindly allowed me to share it here instead for maximum impact! Tibi wants us to consider the state of the genre and consider that maybe we’re taking a much-needed breather from the hectic chaos of a few years ago.
“Much has been said and written about the decline and even death of western AAA MMOs, but assuming that New World and future games end up coming out, I am actually happy with this quiet period. It can give already launched games the time to mature and grow into what was originally promised. I doubt that if we were still getting the onslaught of games from a few years back, Elder Scrolls Online could have thrived the way it does today or that The Secret World could have kept its smaller but constant playerbase. There are so many good games out there and it’s great to see them able to keep the lights on and welcome new players who would otherwise have gone chasing the new shiny and miss out. What do you think?”
I posed Tibi’s question to the Massively team for this week’s Overthinking, but they were all too busy playing quiet MMOs! Just kidding. Batter up!
TUG, better known as The Untitled Game, burst onto the scene in May of 2013 with a Kickstarter, which didn’t elicit the same groans and annoyance back then as it does now. It raised almost $300,000 to complement its existing investor funding by promising a creative sandbox built by academics. Alpha launched as promised in July of 2013; the planned 2015 launch didn’t seem an impossibility. In fact, when it hit Steam in 2014, it seemed like it might be a true success story for the genre.
But then the game ran into some weird issues. Yogventures!, the Yogscast-inspired Kickstarter game, was canceled, and its developers transferred code and assets to Nerd Kingdom, offering up copies of TUG (and later, Landmark) as consolation prizes. A key TUG investor then effectively backed out, leading to mass layoffs for the team and the search for new investors, which it ultimately found. Multiplayer finally arrived in early 2015, and a number of patches followed that year, but the game lingered in what was effectively a survival sandbox mode (now referred to as 1.0) far from what was originally promised.
When ARK: Survival Evolved came on the scene in June 2015, it was met with enthusiasm (dinosaurs!) as well as some skepticism (Early Access). But Studio WildCard quickly won over many fans with the game’s delivery, which included frequent updates (and dinos of course). And we do mean frequent! The studio was cranking out meaty content and bug fixes at a rate never seen before in any other EA title — sometimes updates were multiple times a day! Stuff came so quickly it was hard for server admins to keep up with at times. Many of us started holding ARK up as an example of early access done right. Why couldn’t other studios do early access more like WildCard?
But over time, that sentiment changed. A year and a half later, folks who have championed long for ARK — including me — have taken a few steps back. Enjoyment is giving way to frustration. Fans are giving up and leaving. Why is that? Bugs? Devs? Shifted priorities from finishing to milking money? Different eyes might see different causes, but the one thing stands out: The development process has changed. What was once so great is now not so great. And you have to wonder if this spells trouble for the studio.
A little while back, I took a look at the healthiest games in the MMO space at this time. That was a nice, uplifting list, wasn’t it? And all of those titles continue to do just fine, even if one or two might have had a few bits of shocking news along the way.
Unfortunately, this is not an industry in which health is assured. Games can be high-quality and beloved, but they can still be shut down by outside forces. And that’s not counting games that just come out in the wrong time period or launch in an unrecoverable state.
That may sound grim, but we’re already staring at the first two shutdowns of 2017 in the near future, and both of the titles being killed are surprises. One of them might have wound up on this list if it weren’t being shut down, but at this point, it is. So let’s look at the MMOs with the most unclear futures and start hoping for the best.
With Pathfinder Online, The Repopulation, and TUG all back in the news this week either hunting for money, being acquired, or undergoing a total do-over, Kickstarted MMOs are getting more side-eye than usual from the MMO playerbase.
It isn’t as though MMOs never crowdfund and launch successfully; Elite Dangerous, Ascent, and Guns of Icarus are just a few of the ones that have done just that. But I’m willing to bet that any of you who’ve ever Kickstarted a game have a regret or two. I sure do.
Which MMO do you most regret Kickstarting, and why?
Emerging from months of relative silence, Nerd Kingdom penned a short Kickstarter update about what’s happening with the social sandbox world of TUG. It sounds like progress is still going slowly and that fans shouldn’t expect to see anything big soon. However, there should be more communication going forward.
“Into the coming months, we will be focusing on what is defined as a ‘minimally viable product,’ that is to say, ‘what does this game experience feel like, with polish, for a short play session,'” Nerd Kingdom said. “Working through these things over the next few months gives us an opportunity to start being more open, again, with some of our thinking, and intentions, with design.”
The team reported that they are having a “big investor milestone meeting” on January 19th and will be rolling out a streamlined and stable build to select testers.
Things are looking up! I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly feeling more relief– and not just a little extra excitement — when I consider the future. Even though I have always had an optimistic outlook for The Secret World, there was no denying those clouds of troubles that would creep in and try to overshadow things. A bit of uncertainty would tug at me here and there as I pondered the fate of my favorite game. The one cloud that tried its darndest to encroach on my hopes was the whole financial troubles ordeal at Funcom. So I can’t even express how happy I was to hear that the studio secured some major funding! (I might or might not have flipped a few happy handstands in celebration! No, there’s no video.) I see the game flourishing in the months ahead. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be some misses, but I truly think the future’s so bright, I’ve gotta wear shades.
First of all, “wish” is one of those words that ends up looking dang strange the more you focus on it. Wish, wish, wish, wish. It’s just a bunch of meaningless lines and squiggles to me now.
Anyway, what’s up for today’s topic? We’re going to look at another MMO that didn’t make it to the starting gate even with some genuine enthusiasm and hype surrounding it, and that game is wrrrshhsish. Wish. That game is Wish.
While memories of this never-launched title have faded with time, Wish is still remembered for two things: a truly audacious feature set that promised the world and an abrupt, bizarre end that seemed to come out of nowhere. What made this MMO so special and why did it die so young? Our very own Game Archaeologist is on the scene with a special report.
As TUG engages in the process of transferring over to a new engine, Nerd Kingdom continues to discuss what it’s thinking in regard to the game’s future monetization model. The long and the short of it? The studio is “strongly considering giving TUG away for free” but doesn’t have specifics about what that will entail.
According to a new Kickstarter update, the studio says that making money off TUG will focus more on “aesthetic, not gated content.” Fortunately, this isn’t a decision that needs to be made right away; the studio has over a year to come up with the best business model for the game.
Speaking of making money, the studio considers it quite important that talented modders have a way to earn cash from doing their thing. By empowering modders, the studio hopes to encourage them to enrich and grow the game in amazing ways. “Quality control is first priority,” Nerd Kingdom wrote. “Not everyone can just monetize (Skyrim fiasco).”