Since its botched launch and subsequent attempt to rebuild and revise itself, Otherland has struggled to establish legitimacy and gain interest among players. It sorely needed a win, is what we’re saying. And it may just be getting that win thanks to the support of the game IP’s author.
Otherland novelist Tad Williams is due to visit Drago Entertainment’s studio this week to meet with the developers. Even more interesting, Drago said that Williams is writing a new story inspired by the game itself: “Originally planned as a short story we now know, that Tad is writing and writing… It’s gonna be much longer now and we can’t wait to read his plot in ‘our’ world. Stay tuned to get informed about his visit, his new Otherland novella and possibly even an outlook at the future of Otherland as we’ll be creating plans for the future together.”
The team recently promised that it would try to hold to more regular maintenance windows every second Wednesday so that players wouldn’t be experiencing random downtime.
In the comments of my last Daily Grind about Star Wars Galaxies, there erupted a lively debate about the game’s user interface in the particular. I was surprised to find that some folks are convinced the game’s interface was lacking, given that it’s basically the same minimap-plus-hotbars-plus-unit-frames-plus-chat interface that every other MMORPG since has cribbed, just a bit more Star Warsy, glowy and minimalistic.
Then again, if you hate the stock minimap-plus-hotbars-plus-unit-frames-plus-chat interface setup that most MMORPGs boast, then yeah, hating SWG’s too makes sense.
Which MMORPG has the best user interface? And how does it deviate from the (at this point) completely standard World of Warcraft template?
(Note: The screenshot above isn’t actually SWG’s; it’s Otherland’s. You should check out The Repopulation’s too.)
The worst part of MMO development is when you have to put a great deal of work into something important but fiddly that most of your players aren’t going to understand. Case in point, one of the big things being changed for Otherland’s next update is the network communication standard being used by the game. This is no doubt a large amount of work, and for most people it is completely impenetrable. You don’t know the difference between TCP and UDP; you know that you connect to the wifi on the Internet Box and then you can do what you want to do.
Of course, the post explaining this change does outline why the change is being made and why it’s relevant. In short, UDP (what the game currently uses) often gets put at a lower priority than TCP (what’s being put into the game) which can result in lag and disconnections, so changing it now is a way of heading off more widespread problems later. And you don’t need to know the technical details in full. Just know it’s being worked on, and the end result will be better for players. This is rather important, as it’s part of the rather comprehensive effort to improve and revitalize the game.
It’s no secret that Otherland, the MMO based on Tad Williams’ popular sci-fi series, has had an extremely rough go of it through development and launch. It really did look like a game that was destined to be shut down (or to fade into obscurity) within weeks. However, Drago Games is making a valiant effort to shore up the game with tons of new quests and a summer expansion.
Drago sat down with MMORPG.com for an interview on the game, saying that it is attempting to “starting the process from scratch” of building up the game’s playerbase.
“We are now going back to the way it was in the game’s early access where developers communicated directly with players,” Drago said. “We already see from various responses that we are on the right track and we plan to go further to strengthen that relationship, do events of different kinds, but first and foremost be there and answer.”
Otherland’s promised summer expansion is definitely happening, according to a press release from Drago this morning. It’s called Fire Isle, it’s themed around Chinese mythology, and it’s launching is summer.
“Fire Isle introduces a brand-new storyline about the legendary Fire Army including a broken nation that focuses on a large scale civil war. Players will meet up with their old friend SweetieCheng to follow her and the true leader of the isle in their quest to bring an end to the war and getting back on track with the ultimate goal – battling the Celestial Dragon. On their upcoming adventure players will cross the unique landscape of Fire Isle seamed by streams of lava and igneous rocks to face many new challenges. With a total of ten new areas and 60 new story-driven quests, Drago Entertainment is extending the storyline by six new chapters, promising hours of exciting entertainment and exploration coming this summer.”
Drago Entertainment continues to pepper players with plans for Otherland. Today, it’s told Facebook followers that more than 130 new quests are inbound in May, a direct result of player feedback. “While there have always been some side quests in the game, there just weren’t enough to counter the ‘linear quest progression’ argument,” the studio says. “We will be adding 15 areas (quest hubs) with about 6 quests per hub to 8Squared, 4 hubs with 6 quests each for Wood Isle, 3 hubs with 16 quests in total for Water Isle and one hub for Bug World with 5 quests.”
If that lede sounds familiar, it might be because devs were touting adding 120 new quests a few years ago.
Since our first impressions piece of the beta back in 2015, the game has popped up and down on Steam multiple times, emerged from early access, gone free-to-play, died and was resurrected by its original dev studio (with indirect shade thrown at Gamigo), and made it onto our list of the worst-squandered IPs in online gaming. Most recently, Drago has talked up its UI redesign, zone revamps, and “large content expansion” on the way.
We took a relook at the game last summer after its overhaul:
In the annals of MMOs, Otherland is a virtual baby, only a couple of (rocky) years old. Yet the overall franchise is much older than that, with the first book in Tad Williams’ acclaimed series turning 21 years old this month.
To honor this legacy, Otherland wants players to know that it’s not content with the game’s performance as it stands. Drago Entertainment announced that it has plans to completely revamp the user interface for this summer. It is also working on quality-of-life improvements and “a large content expansion.”
Otherland delivered Patch 5.6.65 this week that creates more streamlined infrastructure: “This patch does not bring any visible updates to the game and focuses on the framework behind Otherland. In the long run this will allow us to provide better and faster updates in the future.”
One of Otherland’s most iconic locations just got a massive overhaul in this week’s Patch 5.6.63, kicking off the first update for the game in 2018.
This large patch reworked three areas of the game: the Lambda Mall, Bad Sector, and Lantern District. This was done “to increase the overall enjoyability of these zones.” When players log in, they will enjoy a massive visual overhaul of the areas, numerous quest and script improvements, and “major improvements” to the framerate and performance.
Reworking underperforming game elements is a current focus for the team, as the members are also working on a complete rebuild and redesign of the title’s currently poor user interface.
Here’s the short rundown on Otherland’s UI: It’s terrible and the developers know it. Unfortunately, for a long stretch of the game’s current management, it’s been allowed to remain terrible simply because redesigning it is a big chunk of work that the team hasn’t actually had the time or manpower to swing. But now the team is sitting down to do the hard work necessary to actually make for a good and usable UI, starting over from the ground up.
The plan is to not simply reskin the old interface but completely redesign it, as the team shows off in the first few preview images. This also gives the design team the opportunity to add new elements to the UI to make the game easier to play on top of prettier to look at. It’s not new content, but it is the sort of thing that makes existing content more satisfying to play through, so it’s ultimately a net win.
It’s true that we lost a lot of MMOs in 2016 — bigger and more important ones than in 2014 and 2015. 2017, however, has been a different sort of beast. The list is long, and while it’s painful for those whose games are gone, the genre didn’t lose many major MMOs this past year. And that startles me.
Marvel Heroes was surely the most dramatic of all the sunsets, given that it shut down early without notice. Earlier in the year, we saw Daybreak put an end to Landmark after less than a year of live operation, while Turbine let the Asheron’s Call franchise go, Firefall formally closed, Club Penguin’s sunset broke the internet, and NCsoft called it quits with Master X Master. A number of other MMOs simply halted development – Perpetuum, Sword Coast Legends, and SkySaga being the most prominent of those. And on a more positive note, there were a few sunsetted MMOs that were revivified, including Otherland, Uncharted Waters Online, and RaiderZ.
Farewell, old friends.
Massively OP’s Justin Olivetti has a provocative article on his personal gaming blog, Bio Break, this week on MMORPG housing.
“I once again wonder why open world housing is this holy grail that some players and developers seem hellbent on chasing,” he writes. “It’s an ideal, a beautiful mirage couched in the notion of players inhabiting the very world they play, allowing them to stroll through neighborhoods of fellow adventurer’s homes and basking in the connectivity of it all. Yet it’s a failed experiment, one that is proven time and again to have far more drawbacks than benefits.” After listing off his complaints with the mechanic, he ultimately concludes that “we simply don’t need fixed open world housing, even in sandboxes.”
But being Justin, he also asked for feedback on why the joys are worth the drawbacks – and how to fix the system so it works instead of running off the rails. That’s just what we’ll do in this week’s Overthinking. Is he right about not needing this type of housing? And if not, how would you fix open world housing?
Lore! Huh! What is it good for? Understanding why you’re standing in the middle of a pack of angry people with fangs in MMOs, of course. It’s the thin line dividing your actions from being reckless, indiscriminate mayhem and discriminating, careful mayhem. Lore is how you know what the world is like beyond your front door, and it’s the difference between understanding that you face Ragnaros, lord of flame or just knowing that there’s a dude here made out of fire, so you should probably use water spells on him.
All lore, however, is not created equal. There’s lore that creates a detailed, vibrant world full of people with their own hopes and dreams, and there’s lore that creates a game where you know what you’re supposed to be doing but have no idea what people do for fun afterwards aside from waiting to die. So today, we explore the tiers of lore, arranged in a numbered list because that’s the entire premise of the column. It’s not Perfect Vague Assortment of Concepts. That’s not even a column.
It’s been a long while since Massively OP’s MJ took a stream peek at Otherland. In fact, it’s been only a month shy of two years! The game wasn’t faring the best and then it disappeared for a time. But now it’s back, and with a hefty patch to boot. MJ is interested to poke inside and see what might have changed. Join us live at 8:00 p.m. as OPTV‘s infamous Stream Team brings you a second first look at…
Who: MJ Guthrie
When: 8:00 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017