Archive for the ‘KickStarter’ Tag
Blizzard, EA, and apparently now Microsoft, too, have thrown their companies full-ahead into the age of Always-On DRM. In other words, you must always have a stable Internet connection and be communicating with their servers at all times in order to play their games in an effort to crack down on piracy. The issue of always-on DRM is one that has been long in coming with the industry having finally taken the leap and now making the worst fears of gamers a reality. So far we have seen massive server problems, delays, and stoppages preventing players who have purchased games like SimCity and Diablo 3 with their own hard-earned money from accessing these games. Games that could have easily been played without the need to be connected at all!
Murphy’s Law at it’s finest.
However, Shroud of the Avatar, just 35 hours away from finishing up it’s successful Kickstarter venture (for which I am a proud backer) is bucking the new trend. Bucking it, hitting it over the head with a chair, and throwing it completely out the window. The 5th update given during the Kickstarter campaign, only 3 days after it started, came right out and said they were listening to feedback and decided to make the Kickstarter version of the game DRM free and thus could be played completely off-line. 5 days later, the 10th update kicked it into high gear and is making, what I think, one of the greatest methods of handling gameplay I’ve ever heard.
You can play SotA in 4 completely different ways. Single-player Offline (SPOff), Single-Player Online (SPO), Friends-Play Online (FPO), and Open-Play Online (OPO).
Just like pretty much every single-player game ever made since the dawn of gaming, single-player offline is a DRM-free, completely offline version of the game. Your character is stored on your own computer, there are no micro-transactions, and the game is played entirely client-side, no internet connection needed. Any character you create will only be playable offline to prevent hacking or exploits to enter the online play, but you can still experience the full story.
Single-Player Online mode is a version of the game where once more you are the only player in the game. However, you connect to the server, receive content updates, and get to see any long term changes other gamers have made on the world. You play the game still entirely on your own, but it would be like a single-player MMO. This is like the instanced-solo dungeons that you see in games like Neverwinter, the original Guild Wars, or Star Trek Online. You see the effects of a changing game, can participate in the economy, but you don’t have to play along with anyone else.
Friends-Play Online is the multiplayer that we see cropping up in numerous games these days. In effect, it’s the same as SPO, but you see other players that you have already tagged as friends. It works as a limited online experience and is described as “For those who prefer the quieter game with friends or maybe for those who prefer a more focused role playing experience”.
And finally there is the method of playing that is most like the MMOs we have come to know today, Open-Play Online. In OPO, you will not be seeing everybody, but when you enter an area you will see other gamers that the server thinks you should see. Based on your own style of gameplay, you will see strangers, but strangers you might have a connection with. If you enjoy role-playing, you might find yourself surrounded by players who also enjoy role-playing. Or PvP. Or grouping. I take it you would have to fill out a small survey about your gaming style ahead of time, but even the complete strangers you’ll meet in Open-Play you’ll still have some sort of connection to.
Also, not only can you play Shroud of the Avatar in these 4 different ways, but you can switch between SPO, FPO, and OPO almost at-will while playing!
I don’t use this phrase often, but this is Revolutionary. Seriously.
What are Yew looking at?
Just imagine if a game like Diablo 3 had launched with this system in mind. For those without the greatest internet connections in the world, they could enjoy the game off-line, just like they did Diablo 2. Or, they could create an online character and play the game solo with benefits like the auction house, or only seeing other friends they have played with through Battle-Net, or a version of the game that randomly grouped like-minded and skilled gamers together. Then, if the Auction-House was only available to players who played the online versions, that would be reason enough to play online for most people and DRM would’ve just been an afterthought. Under that model, I really could’ve seen Diablo 3 being named game of the decade. As it stands now, I’ll never even touch Diablo 3. See the difference, Blizzard?!
Playing on Portalarium’s servers is now a choice that is in the gamers hands. A choice that discourages piracy, not through brute-force like EA does, but by giving tangible benefits to those that don’t pirate, playing with others and seeing the game change over time.
Instead of being treated like a criminal, SotA is going to treat gamers like guests into their world. When you empower the gamer and give us a voice, it’s not surprising at all to see the pledge number edging ever closer to $1,500,000. Through this simple action, Portalarium, and Garriott himself, has shown that he wants to work with us gamers, not against us, to make the best gaming experience possible for everyone.
The Ultima cup runneth over.
As of this writing, Shroud of the Avatar, is currently in a fully backed KickStarter phase with 16 days to go. Launched by Portalarium and fronted by the inimitable Richard Garriott, Shroud of the Avatar is shaping up to be an unofficial successor to the Ultima games of old. But… what the heck is it?
At this point, it sounds a lot like an infomercial. It’s an MMO! It’s an offline DRM-free single-player game! New York Times best-selling author, Tracy Hickman! A dynamic world! It makes julienne fries! Okay, maybe not that last one… but it almost seems like it could at this point.
Despite my mentioning Britannia and LB giving his Twitter seal of approval, SOTA will not be taking place in Britannia. Copyrights and trademarks and whatnot.
To say the least, I’m excited. The first RPG I played way back on my parents old IBM back in 1990 was Ultima VI and I was hooked. I loved it. Having played all my gaming on an Atari 7800 up until that point, Ultima VI was a totally mind-blowing experience. Instead of sending planes through barns, inadvertently squishing captives with a helicopter, and jumping over an alligator’s head for the umpteenth time, here was a full fantasy world to explore! A fleshed out world, too. Stores were only open during certain times of the day, the inhabitants of the world all had daily schedules to keep. Can’t find that one guy you needed to talk to? If it’s around dinner time, check the tavern or try to head to his house. Ultima VII came out and playing it was a no-brainer. However, it strained my parents old system to it’s limits. Aside from the stuttering vocalizations of the Guardian from those damn Soundblaster settings, I remember it taking about 10 minutes to save a game to the hard drive, which was already filled to the brim with the game! 20 Megabytes! Compared to today, that’s like a game taking up about 450 GB. But my parents, being the saints they are, let me enjoy it.
What followed was a love of the Ultima series. To this day I’ve played Ultima IV, VI, VII, VIII, and IX to full completion. In fact, in order to make Ultima IX play I bought my first real computer upgrade, a new video card that I had to install myself. So, in effect, the Ultima series is even to blame for starting my love of modifying and building PCs!
Anyway, the Shroud of the Avatar site has a multitude of videos to watch about the future game including Garriott interviewing Greg “Dupre” Dykes and David “Iolo” Watson, which for any Ultima fan are definitely a must watch.
Ultima: Savage Empire part of the Worlds of Ultima series using the Ultima VI engine.
But what of EA and Mythic’s forthcoming Ultima Forever? When I first heard of the title, I was definitely intrigued, but the gameplay trailer stopped me in it’s first couple of seconds…
You catch that? “Coming soon to iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch”… did I mention my love of modifying and building PCs and playing those previous Ultima titles on PCs? I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that if you’re an Ultima fan, you’re most likely pretty knowledgeable of your PCs… so what are they thinking? The iPhone is popular here in the US, but I wouldn’t quite call iOS the most widely used system. For that I’d use Android. I’m sure there are a few techies out there who love their iPhone and got in on the ground floor when it was brand new, but they are far from the majority of current iPhone users. At where I work the tech department are all rocking Android. Android has that versatility and customizability that techs crave, and a recent article even posits that Android has a 70% market share! So initially snubbing the Android and PC crowd? When being an Ultima fan essentially EQUALED you being a whiz with your PC? Okay. We’ll see how that goes. Shroud of the Avatar, by the way, is primarily being developed for PC first and foremost with possible stretch goals to mobile.
Now, to be fair, when I asked them and on their Facebook page, they do state that they plan on releasing the title for other platforms as well, like PC and Android, but they plan on releasing those in their own dear sweet time.
So, essentially, it doesn’t appear that EA is really targeting previous Ultima players as its demographic. Huh. Well, that’s fine. The industry today is far different than the industry of the 1990′s. It’s more action oriented, it’s more social, it’s more about skipping fluff quest text and getting to the meat of the game. But, for me, that’s not really what I want from an Ultima game.
Ultima Forever certainly looks nice (the huge hulking Warrior is an… odd choice), you do get to party in the old Britannia, and I’m sure playing from your tablet will be awesome. But when it comes down to what is the heart and soul of what the Ultima titles were, what was behind the graphics, it was about the story, about the choices you make and understanding your choices have consequence. From the racial issues in Ultima VI to the yin and yang of good and evil in Ultima IX, the Ultima series is ultimately about striving to be a better person.
Truth, Love, Courage. Garriott has already proven himself worthy in this department. EA, and some of their recent decisions… well, we’ll see.
P.S. – Good Old Games is giving away Ultima IV for free and has every single Ultima game, putting them on sale often. Graphically dated, but still classics. Especially Ultima VII.
P.P.S. – For the Ultima fans out there, just because you really shouldn’t miss this, David “Iolo” Watson playing Stones on his lute (queued up to the right time):
I won’t lie, this past week I’ve been a little obsessed. Sometimes when a new game comes along that really piques my curiosity, I get like that (kinda what defines us as gamers). My recent obsession: The Cave.
The Cave was released on January 23rd, 2013 as the recent offering from Tim Schafer, Ron Gilbert, and Double Fine Productions and is fantastic. Presented in a 2D/3D platformer, the graphics are beautiful, the iconic Schafer & Gilbert branded humor throughout the game mixes puns and bad jokes as only the duo can, and the game drops significant doses of nostalgia throughout. In a surprise twist on the adventure genre, though, the game can be fully completed in about 3 hours.
The format goes a little like this: You choose 3 different characters at the start of the game and then lead them through 7 different puzzles. Every playthrough has 4 puzzles that are the same: The Introduction, the Miner, the Zoo, and the Island. On top of that, each character from the Knight to the Twins to the Time Traveler has their own individual puzzle. The purpose of each puzzle is to tell the story of how each character acquires their greatest desire and how acquiring these desires changes you. So underneath all the funny one-liners and puns are the very morbid acts you have these far-from-lovable characters commit to acquire these desires.
Launching nuclear missiles. Burning down a carnival. Poisoning your parents. Committing Stone-Age murder. Good times.
At the nominal price of $15, and a completion time of 3 hours, this game is a straight up appetizer. A delicious appetizer, but an appetizer nonetheless for the yet-to-be-officially-announced Double Fine Adventure. Having successfully completed it’s KickStarter last March, and seeing how the unofficial initial timeline was estimated at October of 2012, The Cave has only whetted my appetite for the final product. The vaulted herald of the return of the adventure genre.
I do worry, though. On my multi-playthroughs of The Cave (3 times as of this writing), the difficulty level didn’t even register on my scale. I’m not meaning this as a brag, but a true concern. If the modern version of adventure games is a game that is so easy that it’s filled with only elementary-level puzzles, maybe the adventure genre is gone for a reason. A difficulty of “Hard” is only at the will of the player to not scour the internet for a walk-through, which appear barely minutes after a game’s release. And what true value does a point-and-click adventure game have aside from it’s difficulty of puzzles? The draw of cheating is very strong if the puzzles end up being too devious. However, deviousness is a part of why I buy these games in the first place. Without the difficulty, is it even a game?
I don’t envy Gilbert, Shafer, and the entire crew at Double Fine one bit. Walking the line between what is too easy and what is so difficult that it’ll immediately send people scouring the internet for a solution is very tricky. But if there is a team that can accomplish it, it is them.
And If I may impart some advice as the casual adult gamer I am: err on the side of devious. Like The Secret World does with it’s investigative missions, expect a percentage of people to look up the puzzle answers, but know that a decent percentage of players aren’t ponying up money and expecting a walk in the park. We’re paying for a challenge. Maybe not Gabriel Knight 3 “impersonate a man without a mustache by adhering cat fur with maple syrup to your face” type challenge, but please amp it up a little more than this.
Please take your time on the Double Fine Adventure, guys and gals. Polish is good. But realize that The Cave has us now salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs for the main course.