TI5 Preview: Favourites, Wildcards and Dark Horses

The International is just a few days away and the groups have been announced, so it’s time to take a quick look at some of the favourites, the wildcards and dark horses. In a tournament with so much on the line and so many incredible teams in the field, it is harder than normal to get any idea of how the teams will fair. You’ll probably have to get quite lucky with your main event compendium predictions but here is a feel for what to expect.

The fact that Team Secret is nearly unanimously considered to be the favourite to win TI5 should be a surprise to no one. They are coming into this tournament off the back of 4 consecutive LAN victories with a stable roster that has had plenty of time to practice. SInce their reshuffle, picking up Arteezy and zai, the already allstar team has looked more or less unstoppable.

However, with that said, every team in Seattle knows their record. They are the ones to beat. The close competition like Vici Gaming, Evil Geniuses and, to a lesser extent, Invictus Gaming will have been practising specifically for Secret. After the ESL One Frankfurt between EG and Secret, ppd is likely to be thinking that they are the one barrier to their International victory. It’s no secret that Puppey’s allstar line up are the favourites, but can they actually convert hype into victory?

With the runners up in all of the regional qualifers getting a chance to make it to the groupstages and the main event, the wildcard tournament is an interesting part of the tournament to watch. Two of the teams in the bracket will be able to make it to the main event, giving teams that people may underate a chance to shine. Back at TI3, Team Liquid almost made the qualifying dream come true, so always be ready to see what these teams have to offer.

In the European qualifiers Vega Squadron looked very solid and only just managed to lose to Na’Vi after the former TI winners made a huge comeback. In the EU scene they are just under Team Empire and Virtus.Pro in some of their aggressive tactics and execution. With former Team Empire offlaner Mag as a core part of the team, they have the experience and drive to try and compete with certainly the other EU teams and SEA/China threats in the wildcard. If they can run over the farming style of the likes of CDEC they have a good chance to make it to the main event and show what they’ve got.

There is a running joke that Cloud 9 are fated for 2nd place in every LAN event they take part in. Whilst it is true that they have taken the runner up spot in many tournaments, that actually speaks positively for their record and consistency. They have a very solid line up with the additions of N0tail and MiSery as an experienced support duo. They have ironed out some of the recklessness that was present in the days of SingSing’s mid plays and coordinated as a team effectively.

They have arguably taken this TI more seriously than former ones, as they have been bootcamping for what looks like much longer than the other teams in Seattle. They are surely planning strategies for the big teams like Secret, VG and EG. If they have a few favourable match ups that they can take competently there is no reason for them to not have a decent finish, if not compete for the top spot.

 


Crafting with Variable Stat Materials

 

After the widespread popularity of my Crowfall overview, I thought the natural thing to do would be to follow-up with something niche and wonkish that only like, three people will care about – so let’s get to it!

As you are all likely already aware, back in 2003, Star Wars Galaxies set the bar for what an MMO crafting system could do, and that bar hasn’t really been raised since then. Today’s topic is just one of the many crafting mechanics that made the game’s system great that I’d like to see reborn in Crowfall – variable stat material use.

To really explain why this system worked so well, I’ll need to provide a little background on a few of the relevant facets of Star Wars Galaxies‘ crafting system. Here’s a quick TL;DR on the the important details:

Basically every item in the game was crafted, would eventually need to be repaired, and, after several repairs, replaced (decay in SWG is a whole beast on its own – here’s a quick run down if you’re curious).
Much like Crowfall‘s one character per campaign rule, you were limited to one character per server – crafters were doing it as their full-time profession, not as a side-profession on an alt.
Crafters could mark crafted items with their name, and would sell items using searchable NPC vendors placed in the game’s extensive open-world player housing.
Crafting materials were found by exploring with a surveying tool looking for procedurally generated resource spawns. The locations and concentrations of those resources changed with time, so you would have to look for new spots once your old one ran dry.
Item crafting included very flexible recipes, as each required only a certain resource type for each required material. Several individual resources would meet this type requirement and each of these would provide different pros and cons for the stats on the final item (variations in damage, range, attack speed, decay rate, etc…).
In addition to the above, Star Wars Galaxies also included the topical system – variable stat materials:

Raw materials had stats – so, for a Crowfall example, iron ore that you mine might have statistical ratings for its toughness, malleability, maybe a magical property or two – I’m not sure (full disclosure – I am not a blacksmith IRL). This is the underlying reason for the varying effect of different materials on the final item’s stats.
Those stats could differ between materials of the same type. In other words, not every iron ore was the same.
All resources harvested from the same spawn would have the same stats (disclaimer – I could actually be wrong on this, but as differing stats prevented stacking, this would have been wildly inconvenient).
Resource stacks of differing stats could be blended at a crafting station to average out the resource’s stats, making it usable for crafting if you didn’t have enough of a matching stack to meet the recipe’s requirements.

As you can see, each specific resource type has quite the range of variation. On top of that, the recipes were often not very specific. Some recipes would call for siliclastic ore, but others would only require sedimentary ore, which included siliclastic and carbonate ores. Other, broader recipes might even only require low grade ore, which included sedimentary, carbonate, and igneous ores, all with their own sub-categories of ores. If you haven’t gotten it yet – Star Wars Galaxies had an extremely deep crafting system.

Perfectly rolled resources were incredibly rare and equally valuable, creating a system where it wasn’t just about finding the right type of material, but which specific material of that type was right for the item you wanted. There were a lot of options when you wanted something crafted, and it rarely boiled down to one clear choice.

There were a few great benefits to all of this. Primarily, because of the many combinations of materials going into creating a finished piece of gear, the odds of two crafters creating the exact same item was very low, creating a market environment where every item being sold was just a little bit different. In a system where every item is unique, not only is it possible for a crafter to really make a name for themselves, but it’s almost necessary to keep track of them so you can go back when you need another – and with the decay system, you would need another.

On top of this, gathering and supply chain procurement became a game all on its own, as all of the depth added to item creation affected them as well. If they couldn’t gain access to those nodes themselves, crafters looking to create items with specific stats would want to seek out other players with harvesters on the right resource nodes to negotiate an agreement for those materials.

Why we might not get it

I’m no programming expert (or even a programming novice, for that matter), but if I’ve ever heard of anything that I think would create a lot of work in database design and administration, a system wherein every resource and every item is basically unique takes the cake. While this likely wouldn’t be much of a strain on server load (due to it, by my wild guess, not having too much of an effect on the number of database calls that would need to be performed, as it wouldn’t have to be referenced regularly in combat), it does have the potential to be a lot of work to both implement and keep running.

That said, if Star Wars Galaxies could pull it off in 2003, I have a hard time believing that Crowfall can’t pull it off a decade and a half later. Plus, procedural generation of resource spawns is a good and natural fit for Crowfall‘s already procedurally generated campaign worlds. Here’s hoping!

Update:

Reddit user /u/Ceridith made an excellent post on /r/MMORPG detailing one of the potential downsides of a variable stat material based crafting system that I neglected to address. The post is worth reading in its entirety, but here’s a quick excerpt:

Variable stat crafting means that the crafting system is much more complex. Not only in the actual design, but in the amount of effort players need to put into crafting to make worthwhile items.

Then of course there’s the balancing aspect of it all. How much effort should be expected of players to invest into making decent items? Once they can make those items, how powerful are they against the rest of the game?

If you have a steep enough difficulty curve with a payoff in line with that, you can get into severe power scaling issues. Which, as cool as SWG’s crafting system was, it was incredibly broken in this respect. Composite armor sets with 90%+ damage reduction existed in SWG. Which while yes, the best armor sets were ridiculously expensive and rare, they were also incredibly unbalancing in both PvE and PvP. And then of course let’s not forget doctor buffs, which the top tier buffs could more than quadruple player’s stat pools and regeneration rates.

As gear power rises in an MMORPG, increased potential for extreme customization can greatly exacerbate the balance disparity between varying gear setups. This is something that the balance team would have to spend time working to address, and is another way in which the implementation of such a system would lead to increased development costs. Is it still worth it? In the right game, I believe so.

With regard to Crowfall specifically, the team has marketed the game as having a flatter gear curve than what players are used to in most games. Ideally, this would be a significant mitigating factor that would help to stave off any balance issues that a variable stat material crafting system could introduce. Thanks again to /u/Ceridith for contributing to the discussion.

Check out Crafting with Variable Stat Materials, Part II: Community Roundup Edition for more discussion on how a variable stat crafting material system could be implemented within Crowfall.

 


Rant: Crowfalling with Style

It will likely surprise none of you to learn that I am a well known hater of fun. Wherever cat videos, bouncy castles, or Korean boob physics are enjoyed, I am there – and I am not amused. Today, I add really big jumps to the list of fun things I hate.

Rant warning: the following post features rambling and a lot of hyperbole that is intended to be humorous. Please don’t take it too seriously, even though I’m not funny – like I said, I hate fun, and it’s right there in the word.

A Time and a Place

Okay, it’s not that I hate really big jumps – it’s more that there’s a time and place where they makes sense. Take Wildstar, for example. It’s a bright, flamboyant, and cartoony game with a heavy emphasis on platforming elements that makes massive jumps – and even double jumping – a fantastic addition to the game’s world. Now take Crowfall, which is said to be emulating Wildstar‘s movement system. Ugh.

Obligatory Alpha Disclaimer

I’ll admit, the footage above is extremely early pre-alpha material, but still – we’re seeing such accomplished jumping here that Neil Armstrong would be jealous if he saw it on the moon. Hell, it would probably make the space shuttle a little insecure about its launching capabilities, too. Will this be tuned before the game’s release? Almost certainly, but it’ll be way more fun to whine about it first.

Setting and Tone

Marketing itself as being inspired by Game of Thrones, Crowfall‘s dying worlds feature a dark and gritty palette perfectly suited to both the tone of Westeros and my strict anti-fun platform. Although art and animations are clearly in an early state – and are admittedly somewhat cartoony -, what I can see of the game’s visual direction looks great to me – or at least it did, right up until the heavily armored knight started jumping around like he was Batman gliding on a parachute cape. Granted, that would be awesome if it were supported by the setting at all – but it’s not!

Double Jump and Combat Concerns

Worse yet is the confirmed fact that Crowfall will also include double jumping, a feature so ludicrously over the top it’s basically the will.i.am of movement. Beyond the playability concerns that arise from having to see your monitor through eyes bleeding at the altar of artistic taste, double-jumping itself introduces serious concerns over the effectiveness of body-blocking in a game said to include collision detection for tactical purposes. Given that normal jumping already seems to enable characters to leap tall buildings in a single bound, it’s hard to imagine where double jumps could take us, but I’m optimistic that we’ll at least be able to create a great machinima remake of Space Jam.

Archetype or Discipline Based Movement Skills

Which leads us to an obvious solution. If double-jumping is going to be in the game, given that it will have a noticeable impact on combat gameplay, it should probably be limited to archetypes where it makes sense, perhaps in the form of a combat acrobatics discipline. If a Guinecean Duelist or otherwise acrobatically inclined archetype can double jump, that’s completely acceptable – especially if it requires specialization to unlock. If a Minotaur Myrmidon does it, which, granted, would be hilarious, it’s not something I’m going enjoy seeing after the second or third time. This type of combat movement exclusivity should probably be extended to other movement types as well, no matter how awesome the mental image of a Centaur Legionnaire dodge rolling in heavy armor is.

This is Probably Already the Plan

Given that the Fae Assassin is already confirmed to have the exclusive ability to glide, the fact is that certain movement types being unique to archetypes is probably already what they’re going to do. I mean, as much as I’d love to see either of them – once -, I don’t think anyone at ArtCraft is planning to give us an all Minotaur production of Cirque du Soleil or Centaurs doing barrel rolls.

Heroic Captain of the Obvious

So why write out this rant? If we complain about the current state of jumping, even if we strongly suspect they’re going to change it later, we can take credit for it when they do. That’s right guys – in a few months, you can all personally thank me as the guy who fixed jumping. As an added bonus, we also get to tell everyone how great ArtCraft is for being so in touch with the community. What a great company, listening to us telling them to do things that they already knew needed to be done.

 


ARK: Survival Evolved

ARK: Survival Evolved has officially sold one million units; today the game’s developers unveiled a total modding kit–the first modding kit for the Unreal 4 engine.

ARK: Survival Evolved continues to soar on the sales charts. Earlier this morning, the game officially passed the 1 million sales mark, a triumph for the indie titan.

To put its sales into context, ARK has officially sold 1/20 of Minecraft’s total sales about than a month. And the game is still in Early Access with plans to expand to Xbox One and PS4. In other words, ARK is the biggest indie success this year, and it will only continue to progress.

ARK, Epic Games, and Steam unveiled the next progression in ARK’s development this morning as well: modding tools. Epic has been looking to introduce its Unreal 4 modding kit to audiences since its launch earlier this year. With ARK: Survival Evolved’s massive success, Epic picked them to form the ultimate modding collaboration. Starting today, modders will now have full access to Epic’s Unreal 4 mod toolkit for ARK.

From the ARK dev blog:

The ARK Dev Kit is a simplified version of the Unreal Engine 4 Editor specifically compiled to streamline the process of creating Mods & Maps for the Unreal Engine 4 game ARK: Survival Evolved, and to upload them directly to Steam Workshop for other users to download and play.

Mods have been planned by the Player Unknown team, the team that developed Battle Royale for DayZ and Arma III.

Gamasutra recently interviewed Studio Wildcard co-creative director Jesse Rapczak and Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney this morning. They were both very excited for the toolkit’s release:

“A huge number of people at Epic have come from the mod community and worked their way into the industry through that channel,” Sweeney said. “so we see mods having a multiplicative effect on the community surrounding an individual game.”


Life, the Grind and Everything

 

I guess May wasn’t going to be the month during which I posted every day, and apparently June isn’t either. I have a half-assed determination to do that, mostly to prove to myself that I have more to write about than just posting screenshots of my latest game, but the problem is I’m not sure I do have more to write about. A couple or three years ago I looked up from blogging and realised I was boring myself, which is never a good sign, and that everything I could say or might say has already been said by others — much more cogently, cleverly and creatively, in fact. So, yeah. Maybe July will be my post-a-day month.

At any rate here’s your weekly-or-so post with screenshots of my latest game. I’m still playing SWG when time allows; I did log into WoW a week or so ago, sent my faithful mini-onions on missions, and logged out because I just wasn’t feeling it. I guess I’m one of those expansion/big patch WoW players now, though I do miss my friends from Icedown.

My characters in SWG have progressed a bit, at last. Ekkie is now Master Chef and Master Merchant, and will get to Master Tailor someday this year. A ONE MILLION CREDIT donation from a not-so-mysterious benefactor (named Googles in game, Gooroc outside) helped a great deal with that endeavour – not so much for the buying of resources, which I still don’t like to do, but for not having to worry about paying for my houses, factories and harvesters.

Not to mention training – paying NPC trainers for a single Elite profession costs 130,000cr; and while I’ve managed to get PC training for a lot of the combat stuff, getting crafters to train you is like pulling teeth from an Ithorian. I didn’t ask for the donation but it was so kindly offered — along with a handful of harvesters and grind mats — that it felt churlish to refuse.

Ysharra is a breath away from Master Architect, will passively get Master Merchant over the next few days, and will someday be a Droid Engineer too. Speaking of Ithorians, I’m not sure I should let my Ithorian Master Tailor buddy dress my Mon Calamari character ever again. I can’t decide whether she is incredibly fashion-forward (for a MonCal), or a cross between I Dream of Jeannie and a maternity ward Santa, or both. Either way, thanks ObzzarverIs for the snazzy new threads!

 


GOG boldly adds Star Trek games

 

The latest additions to GOG have the digital download platform boldly going where no-one has gone since the early 90s: Star Trek games.

Three Star Trek games have been added to GOG: point-and-click adventures Star Trek 25th Anniversary and Star Trek: Judgment Rites, and FMV-led space sim Star Trek: Starfleet Academy.

I have no memories at all of Starfleet Academy, which seems a shame because I’m a big fan of corny FMV and it looks like a game that might include loads of that, but I do have fond memories of the point-and-click games. If I remember rightly, both had multiple solutions to puzzles, with the game rewarding you for playing in a more moral, humane manner. You could find a way to murder a bunch of guards in a room, or you could take the slightly longer approach and work out how to disable them without killing them, with the latter worth more points.

Also, you always had a red shirt with you, and they died instead of the named characters if you did anything remarkably stupid. And then major characters died if you continued doing stupid things, but oh well.

You can pick up the three games over on GOG’s website, with each costing $5.99.


Diablo-like ARPG Umbra lands on Kickstarter

You can’t beat a good ARPG and there’s another promising looking titlein the works at Solarfall Games. This ARPG is promising freedom of character development and an open world to explore, and having already gone through the Steam Greemlight process, Solarfall Games are now looking to continue funding development through Kickstarter and are looking for $225,000 to get the job done.

The game is powered by CryEngine and it looks fantastic based on the footage released so far. The game also appears to be going the extra mile with everything from weapon customisation to what they are calling the Apocalyptic upgrade forms which give characters a new look and unique powers.

A multiplayer mode would be added to the game should the funding goal be reached and it’s a goal they would “love to achieve”. Solarfall also want to include the Dungeon Challenge where players can turn part of their house into a dungeon and challenge other players to survive their dungeons.

The game has been in development for over four years and consists of a small team of dedicated developers who are now working full time on the game.

A prototype of Umbra is expected to be released to backers to help get feedback on the game’s development in the months ahead. It’s an ambitious but promising looking game, and that fact that they want to add the “freedom of Skyrim, the action style of Diablo 3, the ambience of Diablo 1, the graphical power of Crysis”, gives you an idea of what they are wanting to achieve.

If you’re fan of the ARPG genre then this could be well worth your time.


ECHO OF SOUL LAUNCHES ON STEAM

Aeria Games’ latest free to play MMORPG, Echo of Soul, has officially launched on Steam. Almost two days into the Steam launch now, the reviews are coming in mixed with some of the items pointed out in our First Look video being called out as negative items (such as gender locking, a sometimes silly camera, and repetitive gameplay), while positive reviewers tend to see a more traditional MMORPG, low kill count quests, and nice single player and co-op dungeon options as positive features.

Issues with the Echo of Soul client being denied by certain anti-virus software suites seems to still be an issue and Aeria Games has posted on Steam a message about getting around that issue and why it happens.

Echo of Soul features five classes with which to explore the game’s world: the Warrior, a fearsome knight; the Archer, an enigmatic songbird; the Rogue, a solitary assassin; the Guardian, a warden of nature; and the Sorceress, a master of ice and fire spells. Content wise there are currently over 1,600 quests, PvP, and 60 party and Solo dungeons to explore.

Check it out and let us know what you think!


UPDATED: TRION WORLDS HINTS AT NEW GAME?

UPDATE: According to MMORPG.com, a user by the name of Darthem may have figured out what Trion is teasing. Now, the connection is made simply by the artwork Trion Worlds used on their teaser site, but the match is pretty much dead on. If correct, it looks like Trion Worlds could be bringing Devilian Online to the west. Devilian Online is more akin to a Diablo type game with MMO elements thrown in. Take a look at some YouTube videos of gameplay from overseas and let us know what you think!

Not much to report here but according to Trion Worlds’ Twitter, something is brewing in the darkness. We don’t have any confirmation but a new website seems to be setting the stage for a new game or new content update of some type.

Called “Devil Inside You,” the webpage features a dark demonic creature and the quote “In the shadows’ dying light let the devils guide our flight.”

New game? Free to play? New content for an existing IP? Let the speculation begin!


Halting the grind: Leveling in Aion just got easier

 

Aion is often the poster child for grind-heavy MMOs. At launch, this was very true, but NCsoft has made a lot of changes over the years in an attempt to alleviate some of that monotony, although some modifications have been more effective than others. Recent changes drew me back to see if I could climb out of the leveling ravine.

At the core of these changes is the Mentor system, where high-level players can lend a helping hand to low-level players looking to power through quests. Mentors help their mentees by increasing the power of the group, and group members gain XP based on the level of the players in the group (excluding the Mentor). It’s an effective system—I found that a group was able to slice and dice through hordes of enemies easily and increase the rewards (both XP and drops) exponentially, and finding players who wanted a Mentor was a breeze.

And that reward system is a two-way street. While I was selflessly mentoring young Daeva through their difficult journeys, I was able to complete Mentor quests, earning rewards such as unique weapons and armor. After spending a good chunk of time as a Mentor, however, I was ready for some action, so I headed toward the Empyrean Crucible. Longing for the camaraderie I had benefited from while mentoring, I chose to fight with a group, rather than taking the solo option. As my hearty crew and I battled our way through the stages (10 total, with five rounds per stage) the fights became increasingly difficult. Forced to coordinate, we fought back to back as wave after wave after wave of enemies intent on turning us into corpses rushed at us with wanton abandon.

In the end, I once again found myself overwhelmed with the continued tediousness that accompanies leveling in Aion. The mentor system is a definite improvement, and NCsoft’s continued efforts to smooth level ascension are admirable. The grind still rears its ugly head all too often, though. If you’ve taken a break, and haven’t seen the new content, then unbind your wings and take to the not-so-friendly skies. Otherwise, follow Archangel’s lead and remove those wings for good.