Archive for the ‘KickStarter’ Tag

Leaping Lizardmen! Heading Deeper into the Underworld   1 comment

Ultima Underworld

Bica, yeshor’click! Remember in my previous post how I mentioned that Ultima Underworld really holds up, despite the fact the game is over 20+ years old? I really wasn’t kidding, it holds up really well. I’ve been playing for about a week now, and I’m pretty hooked. The more I play, the more I think this game was truly ahead of it’s time.

Since I’ve been playing for a while, I have a greater grasp on the whole experience. Previously I mentioned features such as: lighting, food and hunger mechanics, platform jumping, swimming, melee and ranged combat, magic, hiding, faction-based NPCs, thieving, trading and reputation, armor and weapon degradation, sandbox style gameplay, and an in-game map with the ability to add player-created notes. All of this definitely exists. But then throw into it even more features like Minecraft style crafting (use an ear of corn over a fire, and you get popcorn; use a rock hammer on rocks to create sling stones; etc.), simple but interesting quests, and multiple large and diverse levels to explore, and I can easily see why this game took the industry by storm. 1992!

 

I’m not being that greatly challenged, though. I remember when I was younger Ultima Underworld being downright daunting, but once I followed the User’s Guide and found stuff like a resurrection mechanic, and learned the magic and advancement system a little better (the Light and Create Food spell are downright necessities), the real challenge of the game comes down to simple inventory management, as the amount you can carry around with you is very small. But then I found that items don’t disappear. If I find a random corner of a level and drop a few pieces of armor I’ve been lugging around, I can come back days later and it will still be there. So even then, inventory management isn’t the end of the world.

Ultima Underworld

Die ghost! Wait… how does that work? Die… again?

 

 

Let me give you an example of one of the interesting quests, though. Now remember, this is Ultima, so there is no such thing as a quest log. All quests are dialogue driven, and nothing will point you where you need to go. On the 3rd level, I came across a race of lizardmen. Communicating with them, though, was a little… tricky. The lizardmen have their own separate language, you see. So, when talking to them, I mostly just apologized to them that I had no idea what they were saying. If this were any newer game, I would either believe I wasn’t supposed to know what they were saying, or that I would learn some ability and magically be able to understand them. ‘Click, not here.

I came across a human prisoner behind a set of bars in the lizardmen holdings and thought “Awesome. Here is where I learn the ability to talk to these guys.” The prisoner was mute. So on one side we have a prisoner who can’t speak, and the other a language we don’t understand. However, through descriptive charades, the prisoner let us know that, indeed, he knew the lizardmen language and would teach it to me if I agreed to help release him. I had to bring the words to him, though. The process was to talk to a lizardman, and write down a whole bunch of words, then take them back to the prisoner to play charades with him and continue like that until I had a firm grasp of the language. Once I did so, I was then able to communicate with all the other lizardmen! It came out that the prisoner had stolen food and attacked one of the lizardmen, and was sentenced to be executed. He would be pardoned, though, if I gave the lizardmen a whole bunch of food. It’s left up to the character, really. I decided to free him, but I still don’t feel great about that decision. I did keep my end of the bargain, though.

Ultima Underworld, Sseetharee

I can fully understand this now. Think I can add Thepa to my CV?

 

Overall, the main quest revolves around finding the kidnapped daughter of the local Baron. However, once entering the Abyss, it’s found to be more complex than that (thankfully). Through dream communication, you learn that she was kidnapped for a more malicious purpose, and the whole of Britannia is in peril. Of course it is. From what exactly, I’m not sure yet. Sseth, you need to find the Baron’s daughter, but you also need to collect eight different artifacts strewn throughout the Abyss. Again, the why isn’t quite clear yet, but as per the Ultima ethos, these artifacts are representations of the eight Britannian virtues and they can be anywhere and be anything. It’s even quite possible I’ve stumbled on a few already and I’m hoping I didn’t discard any of them in a random corner somewhere.

I have so far collected three artifacts, though, and have completed my exploration of the 4th level. I also feel pretty powerful at this point, and not a lot can stand under the onslaught of my mace. Come at me, Abyss!

//Ocho

P.S. – It looks like Ultima Ascendant has made their Kickstarter goal! Sweet. Can’t wait to give that a shot, too. But I have to say, to top the original 20+ year old game might take a little more effort than one would think.

I’m More Confused About What Crowfall Is Now That Their Kickstarter Launched   2 comments

The Kickstarter for Crowfall, an MMO in development, just started yesterday. Taking a look at the Kickstarter advertising for the game, though, has left me more confused about what this game is trying to be. From news articles like those found on the new MassivelyOP.net, voxels, destructive environments, and strategy will be the general focus of the game, but the fundraising pitch makes it sound like it’s including a lot more than that. “It’s like Game of Thrones meets Eve Online” reads a tagline on the fundraising page. I’m reminded, though, of a lot of other games when you start going through the feature list.

One of the game’s shining mechanics seems to be that game locations will periodically reset. It appears that there will be two main areas for players to run around in, the “Eternal Kingdoms” and the “Campaign Worlds”. The “Eternal Kingdoms” seems to be where players will set up their main bases of permanent operation. Guilds will presumably be able to build castles and fortresses, and these estates will be around indefinitely. I’m thinking similar to Landmark here. Landmark with possible PvP focus, too, not just a building simulator.

The “Campaign Worlds”, on the other hand, will be the real battlegrounds of the game and will only be around for limited periods of time, until the resources are gathered and your side comes out victorious or not, at which point you return back to the Eternal Kingdoms. So these are like matches then, matches that take a while to complete but that do have a set “win” condition. Win conditions like A Tale in the Desert but more violence? You would be able to collect your spoils and bring them back to the Eternal Kingdoms to improve your character and holdings, though, so maybe not like ATiTD. Kind of feeling like it’s approaching Guild Wars 2 style World vs World a bit, but with actual win conditions instead of just time. In fact, the action combat appears to be very GW2-esque as well.

So maybe the tagline should be “Guild Wars 2’s WvW meets A Tale in the Desert meets Landmark”? I mean, that’s not as badass sounding as “Game of Thrones meets Eve Online” (both very “hardcore” IPs), but it does help me visualize it better. But then they throw this in there

“The beginning of each Campaign is like the first round of Civilization: players are dropped into a harsh environment, surrounded by Fog-of-War. The Worlds are filled with deadly monsters, haunted ruins, abandoned quarries… and the most dangerous predator of all, other players.

Craft weapons, scavenge armor, secure a stronghold, forge alliances and conquer the World.”

So… like H1Z1? Are the Campaign Worlds more survival-focused, maybe? This makes it sound like they’ll have a scavenger, band of survivors feel to them, where you battle not just the environment, but also other players to achieve the win conditions. No zombies, though. Well, maybe. These Campaign Worlds are slowly falling, entropy having it’s way with them, and the “Hunger” seems to be a driving factor in that. The Hunger seems to be the game’s main antagonist, a relentless, singularly focused enemy without remorse or empathy. Like the Borg, or… zombies. A rose by any other name.

But then they say they’re throwing in a heavy focus of strategy as well when they say “A seamless blend of an MMO with a large-scale Strategy game!” When mixed with PvP, “strategy” gaming is very reminiscent of MOBAs. Seeing as how MOBAs are wildly successful at the moment, I could see where they would also attempt this avenue for development as well.

So, then “Guild Wars 2 WvW meets A Tale in the Desert meets Landmark meets MOBAs meets H1Z1!” It certainly doesn’t roll off the tongue, does it? This is why I don’t work in advertising.

At it’s base, though, it sounds like the most important aspects will be Guilds, Territory, Crafting, and PvP. Doesn’t sound like it’d be up my alley, only because my jump-in-jump-out playstyle doesn’t mesh well with territory holdings and PvP focus, which is the realm of more dedicated players.

So although maybe it’s right now not sounding like it’d be for me, it does sound like it’s something fresh and really pushing the boundaries. So I give it a lot of respect, it’s trying new avenues of gameplay with systems that are relatively familiar, and combining them to create this new species of MMO. That is awesome.

Tons of time left to go, and it looks like hitting their $800,000 goal really won’t be a problem. So if Crowfall sounds like it would be a nice addition to the stable of games you’re already playing, go check it out.

//Ocho

– So what do you think? Does it remind you of any other games as well? Is this the pattern we should expect for the evolution of the MMO genre, combining traits of games already played to make something new? Do you think I’m wrong and “Shut up, Ocho, it’s Eve Online meets Game of Thrones like they said! Jeez! It’s not that confusing, ya noob!”

– All images used in this post are linked from the Crowfall Kickstarter page and are not my own screenshots.

Onwards, Into the Stygian Abyss!   5 comments

Ultima Underworld

My last few posts have been a little… heavy handed. I go through waves, I’ve found. A few posts of pointing out gaming’s psychological tactics and obscure cultural norms here and there, trying to get those who may be imbibing the kool-aid a little too deep to at least notice what flavor it is. But this here corner of the internet is about gaming and the celebration of the artform! To that end, I can’t make *every* post thought provoking, there has to be a wave of fluff, too. So, let me tell you about my latest gaming habits!

I’ve found myself lately pulled back into the comforting arms of nostalgia, a gaming haven I head to periodically which I love. Using a new system I’ve devised to make headway into my backlog, which has been working nicely, the RNG gods have decided the game I am to play is Ultima Underworld. I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Ultima Underworld

Goldthirst, huh? I wonder what motivates this dude…

 

This comes at an great time. We are currently going through a wave of resurgence of all things Ultima. Broadsword picked up the license of Ultima Online and has been running with the 17 year old game, Shroud of the Avatar is coming along nicely picking up a dedicated community as it keeps moving in development, and still in the funding stage of it’s Kickstarter, Underworld Ascendant, a rework of Underworld, is ~ 80% funded with 2 weeks yet to go.

Ultima Underworld itself, though, is one of the cornerstones of gaming as we know it. Almost 23 years old, Releasing in 1992, it is noted to be the first role-playing game to feature first-person action in a 3D environment. One of the real OGs of gaming here. Paul Neurath, Underworld’s designer, when asked in an interview said I brought an early Underworld demo to the West Coast to show some folks, including developer friends. I recall how their jaws dropped wide as they watched the demo. You could see in their eyes that the gaming world had shifted. It even released before Wolfenstein 3D, and many shooters and RPGs to follow credited Underworld as an influence: Bioshock, Gears of War, The Elder Scrolls, Deus Ex, Half-Life, Tomb Raider, System Shock, and pretty much any game that lets your character move around in a 3D environment.

Ultima Underworld, Level 1 Map

For 1992 the addition of a player-annotated in-game map is mind blowing.

 

So how does it hold up? After a few hours, pretty dang well. Lighting, food and hunger mechanics, platform jumping, swimming, melee and ranged combat, magic, hiding, faction-based NPCs, thieving, trading and reputation, armor and weapon degradation, sandbox style gameplay, and an in-game map with the ability to add player-created notes. The only parts that don’t really hold up are the music, with a midi track that Dosbox has a hard time translating, and the main plot, so far relying on the outdated trope of “rescue the princess”. These can be forgiven, though. The game is old enough to buy itself a drink and times have certainly changed. Remember Troll dolls? They were at their height of popularity in 1992! That voice acting, though.

Ultima Underworld, Hagbard

Apparently everyone saw this girl but nobody decided to do anything. Well, it’s not like they throw the *nice* people into the Abyss.

 

We’ll see how far I get. These jawns weren’t known to be the quick jaunts of today. Taking weeks to complete was a serious badge of honor back then. However, I’ve already made it past any previous attempt, and I’ve already learned a whole bunch of new things (there’s a resurrection mechanic! I never knew that!).

Onwards, my friends, into the Stygian Abyss!

//Ocho

So what are *you* playing? Anything interesting?

Unintentionally, I Just Bought My First Collector’s Edition #SotA   1 comment

Shroud of the Avatar

I don’t know if this is a good thing or not. In a way, I feel tricked but I don’t. I’m still working out my feelings on this one.

First and foremost let me just say that I’m not of the same mind as (it seems) some of my fellow bloggers, that we should treat our favorite game companies as charities. I fully believe in the process of natural selection, even for businesses,  and simply put, if a company’s product isn’t worth the value, I’m not going to shell out more money to them just to help keep them afloat. No, my money needs to be earned by these companies. If I drop money on a subscription price and box fee, then that product better be heads and shoulders above the same entertainment I could get for a similar price elsewhere.

But one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. We don’t all have the same perception of value. To one person, having four concurrent subscriptions is a great value as they can drop into a game at any time, and the world will be waiting for them. For me, having any more than one time-based subscription is a waste of money that could be much better spent elsewhere. My time is valuable to me, a lot more than any subscription price, and if that one game doesn’t give me enough value to justify a time-based price, I’ll leave to another game that justifies my time & money more. Economics, in a nutshell.

But yet, I have now pledged up to the “Explorer” tier in backing Shroud of the Avatar, and it’s because of a very slippery slope.

I won’t lie, I’m a big fan of the Ultima series and Richard Garriott. So, an Ultima successor in feel (not in actuality due to copyright), without intervention from Electronic Arts, where the creators have a very open development? This makes me very happy, and I was more than happy to open my wallet to see this come to pass. But I didn’t want to open it too far… after all, I have a high perceived value of the finished product but the finished product doesn’t exist. So at first I kept myself in check.

Shroud of the Avatar

The Slippery Slope

My first purchase was for the $33 “Pioneer” tier, as I had missed the 1st and 2nd Responder tiers. This would get me a digital copy of the game. I could access the alphas and betas, too, but I wasn’t so interested in them. I’m only interested in betas to get a taste of what the game is, and not to help them test. I’m a bit selfish like that, but realistically I’m not their employee, I’m a consumer. Betas have turned me off quite a few games, too, so I tend to avoid them if I can help it. Total Spent: $33.

But wait. This is just for Episode 1! There are more episodes! I did not realize this at first. Well, what tier has THOSE, too? It ended up being the “Royal Artisan” tier, with Episode 2 & 3. Now, if I’m reading this correctly, each episode of the overall game will use the same engine, but be entirely separate. Similar to Guild Wars. Cool. I like that. And having all of them put together is like having a Transformers of Ultima. Even cooler. I could see myself playing all of them and adding another $47 for the next 2 episodes ($23.50/episode), when the first was $33, seems like a good deal. Total Spent: $80.

That’s where I stopped for a long time until I found this page, which noted a promotion from Alienware to upgrade your pledge by $20. Sweet! Using the coupon (as easy as clicking the link and signing into Shroud’s page), suddenly I was bumped up to $100, which was now the “Virtual Collector” tier. Total Spent: still $80.

Shroud of the Avatar is going to come in *FIVE* episodes, though. So far, I’ve only pledged for the first three. So, looking once more at the tiers, to get all five would be the “Explorer- All Digital” tier, for only $20 more. So, two more at $10/episode is a much better deal than before, so I jump on it. Total Spent: $100

Just for giggles, and I’m already so well vested like a poker player deep into a hand, I check out the next tier. The “Explorer” tier, and see that it’s only $5 more, and I get quite a few nice tangible physical items, like a *cloth map*, a collector’s box, the soundtrack, a game manual, and physical media. I don’t really care about most of them, but those cloth maps play my nostalgia strings like a lute, and for only $5? I have to. I have no choice. Total Spent: $105.

Now the next tier is at $150, and that’s where I draw the line. A collector’s coin and a “mysterious trinket” are included, which starts playing at my curiosity, but I’m not an extra $45 curious.

Shroud of the Avatar

Is It Worth It?

I don’t know how to feel about this. On one hand, I’m getting quite a bit. Every episode, a cloth map, and so many digital goodies I won’t know what to do with myself (no, really, the list is ridiculous… I added it in the postscript). On the other, Episode 1 hasn’t even come out yet! Let alone episodes two through five! Have some control, man! You just spent $105 on a game that you’ve only seen a very rough part of (and boy, was it rough)!

What a slide, too, from $33 to $105. As a previous salesman, I use to do this to customers all the time. “Oh, hey, you’re already spending $50 on books, how about a $5 bookmark?” It wasn’t even that difficult. As long as you kept the additions logical and less than 20% of the total, you could double a sale pretty easily. It plays off a lot of psychological tactics: overestimated future use, fear of a wasted purchase, the increase of the perception of value based on the more you spend, sunk time and costs, etc. and I feel I just had all of that psychology, that I am well aware of, used against me.

I guess time will tell if I am really happy about my purchase or if it was a waste.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

// Ocho

P.S. – If you want to get in on the Shroud of the Avatar Pre-order, that $20 Alienware coupon is good for new purchases, too, as well as current pledges. $25 for the first game isn’t bad at all if you’re an Ultima fan, story fan, or sandbox fan and are on the fence.

P.P.S. – By the way, here is the list of what the “Explorer” tier gets you (if you pledged during the Kickstarter itself)…

  • Episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5 (Alpha and Beta Access, Developer Blog Access)
  • Blade of the Avatar Novel by Tracy Hickman, “The Story of Mondain in the World of Sosaria” by Richard Garriott, Akallabeth Dungeons and Dragons Campaign
  • Physical: Cloth Map, Collector’s Box, Media, Soundtrack, Manual
  • Digital: Runic Translation Print, PDF Artbook, Soundtrack
  • In-Game: Creature Taming Call Ability, Early Skill Access
  • Teachable Emotes: Darkstarr Salute, Adventurer, Pilgrim, Immortal Adventurer, Founder, Royal Artisan, Virtual Collector, Explorer
  • Titles: Benefactor, Pioneer, Adventurer, Immortal Adventurer, Founder, Artisan, Royal Artisan, Archivist, Royal Archivist, Cartographer, Royal Cartographer
  • Items: Replenishing Snowball Box, Founder Shield, Immortality Fruit, Ankh of Virtue Necklace, Founder Cloak, Royal Elderberry Plant, Last Name, Star Citizen Cross-Promotion Item, Non-Combat Pets, Benefactor Tunic, Darkstarr Cloak, 1-use Crystal Sword, Founder Tunic, Starter Melee Weapons, Indestructable Artisan Tool, Starter Ranged Weapons, Iolo’s Lute, Darkstarr Metronome, Indestructable Crafting Tool, Starter Founder Armor, Family Crest (of your own design), Framed Cover Art, Framed Map.

… Wow.

Woojer, Kicking Gaming Up A Notch   Leave a comment

When I was younger, I attended more than a few rock concerts. I loved them. Especially the long, all day, 20+ band affairs. You name it, pretty much every rock band of the 90’s I’ve seen. So now here I am, in my early 30’s, an adult, an avid gamer, and, well… let’s just say I didn’t escape some permanent damage from all those concerts. My wife just asked me if I could bring up her smartphone, but I clearly heard her say “Can you bedazzle my trombone”. Yeah…

Also, in any given social situation, if the level of ambient noise reaches a certain volume, I completely lose the ability to hear someone even a foot away from me. Combine this with my inability to read lips, and I might as well have stayed at home. I haven’t lost all of my hearing, but it’s definitely not as sharp as it could be. That’s why, being a gamer, a fan of live music, and having some hearing damage, this new Kickstarter I came across really looked like something I’d be into.

It’s called Woojer, and it looks like it’s going to be a necessary addition to my gaming habit. Woojer is essentially a “woofer” you attach to your clothing and headphones that allows you to physically “feel” sound. It has, at it’s core, a proprietary polyphonic transducer that “plays” these low frequencies. When you hear the audible sounds from your games, and then feel the corresponding vibrations from Woojer, your brain picks up the slack. Using Perceptual Inference, the ability for your brain to essentially make up what is not there but what it thinks should be there, it translates the two stimuli as one. So when you listen to music, it feels as though you are at the concert. When playing a game, that helicopter will feel like it really just passed over you.

Secret World, A Time to Kill, Woojer

As Neal Naimer, one of the people behind Woojer, states in this PA Report interview:

The principle of operation is perceptual inference, or auto completion. The product simulates the sensation of live music or a very strong sound system. Using a Woojer on a single point on your body is enough to convince the brain that the entire body is receiving sound…

Placing Woojers on your body makes the sensation even more immersive. Imagine adding an augmented reality device such as Woojer which transforms any audio signal into silent, harmonic tactile sensations that resonate throughout the body to other existing immersive devices like the Oculus Rift VR headset.

I’m not a huge fan of putting on any extra headwear to experience more immersive gameplay. I already wear glasses, so adding an extra layer in front of them feels a little awkward. However, wearing a simple device that I can attach to my shirt? Done. I’ve already signed on as a backer, and since the Kickstarter has successfully funded, I hopefully WILL be receiving one of these fantastic devices next Spring.

The Kickstarter funding period will conclude very soon, in about four days, at 10:10 AM EST on Friday, December 6th. So if you want one, you better hop on it while discounts are still available.

Half-Life, Woojer

This won’t obviously cure my already damaged hearing, but if what the site says is true, I may not have to keep my headphones turned up that loud, either. So more immersive gameplay, more intense music and movies, and not having to keep it at levels that could further damage my hearing? This sounds like a huge win all around.

// Ocho

Posted December 1, 2013 by Ocho in Other

Tagged with , , , , ,

Shroud of the Avatar, DRM, and Why the Gaming Industry Should Take Notice [SOTA]   5 comments

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).

Single-Player Offline

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

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

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”.

Open-Play Online

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.

// Ocho

Shroud of the Avatar vs Ultima Forever [LBSOTA and UF]   2 comments

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.

// Ocho

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):

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