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Battle Bards Episode 97: The sound of magic

“Magic can be ANYthing!”

The forces of magic run deep within MMORPGs, casting shadows of wonder wherever we look — and listen. In today’s show, Syl sparks a musical revolution as her fellow Bards struggle to rise to the challenge of defining what, exactly, constitutes a “magical” track and evokes that particular feeling. Did we nail it? You’ll have to join us for the journey to find out!

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 97: The sound of magic (or download it) now:

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Leaderboard: Where do you draw the line between griefing and roleplaying?

On the Morrowind subreddit a few days ago, a player was recounting a particular roleplay-slash-griefing episode on a hardcore-roleplay Ultima Online emulator. The player explains that he spent months roleplaying as a bartender serving drinks to the adventurers he befriended. But he was actually planning something far more nefarious:

“For over a year I roleplayed with these people as a simple barman, pretended to be their friend and confidant, and then during a harvest festival where every player on our server was in attendance and I was [paid] to provide the food and drink… I poisoned every last morsel of food, every drop of drink, and after the [regent] delivered his speech and all of these fools raised their goblets for the toast and took that deadly sip, I stepped onto the stage and revealed what had happened. They [were] all going to die, and die they did. Now this was a permanent death server (hardcore RPers, mind you), and some had been playing those characters for 8 years, and there they all were, collapsed and dying. Soon they were all unconscious, as you could only die if you went unconscious three times in one day or if a certain psychotic bartender came and cut off your head… which I did to every player in our group of 38. They were all there, and unfortunately so was I.”

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Dark Age of Camelot welcomes back old players, Ultima Online discusses summer updates

Broadsword’s keeping fans of its MMORPGs Dark Age of Camelot and Ultima Online busy this week!

Dark Age of Camelot is running a Come Back to Camelot campaign this spring — former players may already have gotten invites in their inboxes. The caveat is that your account must have been off for 60 days for you to pick up an invite, and you get your free 30 days only if you reactivate.

Meanwhile, Ultima Online has announced in its most recent newsletter that publish 97, which we wrote about just a few days ago and includes the huge overhaul for the popular animal taming skill set, is now set to go live on April 27th. In fact, work has already begun on publish 98:

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Shroud of the Avatar preps two more beginner zones, asks for localization help

This Thursday, Shroud of the Avatar will be pumping out its latest monthly update, Release 41. There’s a lot in store for the patch, including the Norgard ruler Titan Grannus, who will be making his debut.

In this past weekend’s newsletter, the team spent a lot of real estate covering many upcoming areas and characters, including the all-seeing Oracle, new weapon designs spurred on by the recent telethon, and the Fall open PvP dungeon. Of particular note were in-depth looks at two of the new introductory zones that are in development: Highvale Outskirts and Bloodriver Outskirts. One’s got a monastery in the mountains, the other has a river of blood. You pick which sounds more appealing.

Portalarium also announced that it is resuming work on bringing the game to other languages and is looking for fan help in the effort. “We are reestablishing development support translating our game to Russian, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Portuguese languages,” the studio said. “In order to meet the vast translation needs of our project, we return to you, our amazing community, in search of qualified volunteers with a passion for seeing our project reach many more players!”

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This player is rebuilding Ultima Online in Wurm Online

One of the best parts of Wurm Online’s Unlimited version is that players can run wild with their own custom servers, tailoring them to their every whim. That’s exactly what MMO gamer and Ubisoft artist Andrea “Malena” Fryer has done: She’s combined two of the best MMORPG sandboxes of all time into one by recreating the Ultima Online map in Wurm.

“The most nostalgic MMO players I know (myself included) are old Ultima Online players,” Malena began on the Wurm forums earlier in April. “So I’ve named the server accordingly and will do my very best to set it up, build and decorate just like good old UO. When the day comes that it’s ready to be made public, I hope you’ll share a little moistness in your eye, remembering back to the good old days in the lands of Sosaria!”

The project’s even won the admiration of former Ultima Online lead designer Raph “Designer Dragon” Koster.

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Funcom’s Joel Bylos on the difference between MMOs and survival sandboxes

Funcom’s Joel Bylos features in a Twitch interview on Gamasutra this week talking up Conan Exiles and explaining the core difference between server-based survival games versus Funcom’s “old MMOs,” as the interviewer put it. Bylos’ answer actually makes a lot of sense.

“[In] The Secret World, we focused very strongly on making really cool and interesting content and story, and the idea was to make it interesting to play. The thing is, with an MMO, a lot of focus goes into repeatable content. A lot of focus goes into things like ‘I’m gonna run this dungeon six times’ or 20 times or 200 times, right? So we need reward systems that give you tokens, that let you build or buy better items. There’s a lot of itemization discussion in MMOs. In a game like Conan Exiles, people are going to lose stuff, and we know that. We need to make it so that they can keep rebuilding stuff, keep creating stuff, keep progressing in the game, but not necessarily wanting them to go, ‘Oh, I want you to go grind this dungeon 50 times so that you can do the next dungeon – slightly harder.’ So [Conan Exiles] is not so much about this very small percentage of power increase to increase your character’s progression. That’s what I would say is a big difference in these type of games.”

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Ultima Online prepares massive animal taming overhaul patch

Broadsword has been putting the final touches on Ultima Online’s 97th publish all month, and as of yesterday, the release is on the guinea pig shards, which means the full launch isn’t far away, though Broadsword is still saying “later this month.”

The core of the update is a massive overhaul of the animal taming system, which has been one of the dominant skill sets in the game since its original launch. Expect 20 new tameable creatures (some of which are new to the game), new hues for existing critters, a new quest, and tons of new options for training pets in different skills and schools. The downside is that all the extra damage output will be met with a hefty nerf for pets in PvP.

Ultima Online turns 20 this autumn and will celebrate with a real-life party near Washington, DC. Since someone’s gonna ask: The studio has said repeatedly that it has no plans to go free-to-play. The planned Steam launch, however, was held up by EA’s “final approval” and at this point looks unlikely.

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The Daily Grind: Which MMORPG has seen the most improved graphics over the years?

In each of our articles about Black Desert’s upcoming graphics upgrade, there have been a slew of comments about how the game doesn’t really need it, puzzled remarks that the game is already pretty enough, and hopeful requests for Pearl Abyss to tone down the lens flares or at least allow us to turn off all the bells and whistles. It’s been interesting to witness — I know we’re still in the middle of a massive renaissance for retro graphics, but in general, hardcore MMORPG players are total graphics snobs, to the point that many older games, from Ultima Online and Anarchy Online to World of Warcraft and EVE Online, have all taken a stab at improving their graphics (and in some cases, adjusting their art styles too).

Not all of them have done so successfully, of course; many City of Heroes players, for example, couldn’t make use of the upgrades, and Ultima’s Kingdom Reborn was plagued with issues.

For today’s Daily Grind, I’m wondering: Which MMORPG has seen the most improved graphics over the years?

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Leaderboard: Are you sick of MMORPG quests?

When World of Warcraft was in beta and I first gave it a go, I remember being absolutely captivated by questing. It wasn’t as if no MMORPGs before hadn’t included quests. Most of them had, in some way or another, be they Ultima Online’s escort quests, EverQuest’s epics, or Star Wars Galaxies’ missions. The thing that made all the games prior to Blizzard’s 2004 spectacle so different was that questing wasn’t the primary thing to do to advance your character to the cap — it wasn’t the core gameplay element at all. So those of us who were tired of grinding out mobs to level up welcomed a different paradigm, not quite realizing that we were seeing a huge shift in the way MMORPGs were going to be designed from then on out in terms of what players were expected to do — and what we would no longer be able to do at all.

Fast-forward to today: Now when an MMORPG is announced and looks to be primarily quest-driven, at least to the cap, players moan and groan about boring and tedious quest grinds. Just another themepark, people say. I’d rather log out than do one more pointless quest.

Are you also sick of MMORPG questing?

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Shroud of the Avatar shifts its focus to creating a better starting experience

If you’ve picked up and played Shroud of the Avatar in early access over the past year or so, you’ll undoubtedly have noticed that its beginner experience has been under construction and in need of fleshing out and polishing. It’s to this end that the team has shifted its focus as of late, responding to player feedback concerning the first few hours of the game.

The team said that several issues, such as too many loading screens and a lack of vendors, have kept potential players from taking root in the fantasy MMO. “As we shift our focus to improving the New User Experience (NUE), and as we are able to measure new player progress through events like our recent free trial, we realize that we must address these issues sooner versus later,” Portalarium said.

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Massively Overthinking: MMOs, from hardcore to casual and back again

Massively OP reader Suikoden wrote this great question to the podcast — too good to let just Justin and me answer it. It’s a two-parter!

“Back when I used to be a hardcore MMO gamer circa 2000-2010, I felt that MMOs of that era were designed more toward the hardcore gamer and even catered to us more. Within the last 5 years, I’ve had to develop into more of a casual player. However, I now feel that games once again cater to me and my current playstyle. Did the MMO genre evolve alongside me, from a more hardcore-centric genre to a more casual playerbase? Or is it the same as it always was and I just feel that it caters to me because it’s designed to feel like it caters to all playstyles? And if there was a change, do you feel it is for the better or for the worse for the genre?”

I posted Suikoden’s questions to the team for this week’s Massively Overthinking!

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Perfect Ten: Conversations with anthropomorphic concepts of MMO studios

Every so often, a man needs to have a conversation with some anthropomorphized concepts. I do that every few years. In the past, I’ve usually focused on more philosophical concepts. I had a great conversation with Insight and really learned a lot about myself in the process, for example, and I can’t stop thinking about my talk with Contemplation. My dinner with Indulgence was fun, too, even if I would up spending far too much money on it; I feel like scheduling a chat with Regret the morning after was a bad idea.

Most recently, though, I decided to have some conversations with studios. Not their representatives, but with the actual studios themselves. Some of those conversations went better than others, though. You don’t need to take my word for it, though; I included the most interesting ones just past the break. I double-checked with Honesty first, so we’re good, it’s all fair.

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Jukebox Heroes: Your top six favorite MMO music themes

After over a month of voting and counting down, we’ve arrived at the final six picks for your favorite MMORPG theme songs of all time. It’s been absolutely illuminating seeing the formation of this list and the placement of certain tracks, and I’m glad that everyone who wanted to got to participate.

Before I reveal the top six themes, here are a few honorable mentions:

  • Glitch by Vexia: “”As proof this is the ‘main theme’ since the game is closed, my soundtrack CDs have some variations of the Groddle Forest music that are titled ‘Glitch Theme (Demo),’ ‘Glitch Theme (Rook’s Woods),’ etc.”
  • EVE Online: Empyrean Age by Alex: “EVE has, like, DOZENS of theme songs. They make a new one for each expansion. It should win on variety alone. Or be in a different category. If I had to choose one, it would probably be the Empyrean Age login theme.”
  • Phantasy Star Online by Totakeke: “Boom, nothing can beat PSO’s theme. Period.”
  • City of Villains by Colonel Zechs: “Who wouldn’t like this song?”
  • SkySaga by Socontrariwise: “Just so cheerful!”

Are you ready? I know I am! Here we go!

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