Daybreak Closing Landmark

In the most shocking news heard since WildStar announced they were going free-to-play, Daybreak revealed they will be closing down Landmark in February.

I bought one of the $99 Founder’s packs. I don’t exactly remember why, but I remember seeing that video showing them digging holes in the ground and thought that was pretty dern cool. It turned out to be the most ill-advised game purchase decision of my entire life to date. To this day it informs my Early Access buying decisions. Thanks to Landmark, I made a rule that I won’t take a chance on an unknown Early Access game unless it sells for $10 or less.

Now that I think about it, I came up with the $10 mark because of H1Z1, another Daybreak product. H1Z1 consistently sells for $20, so I knew I had to make my dollar amount less than that, because I did not want to take a chance on another Daybreak product, even at only $20. All indications were that H1Z1 would be another unfinished prototype disguised as a game. It turns out I made the right decision there, because H1Z1 still looks awful, years later. (I don’t understand much German, but I get the impression they aren’t pleased with the game in that video–I picked it because it was recent.)

I saw some concern on Twitter about Daybreak’s new role with LotRO. I can understand that, but I’m also of the opinion that Turbine was getting ready to shut down LotRO completely, so even if Daybreak does shut down LotRO in a year, it will be one more year that LotRO survived. But I doubt that Daybreak would get involved with LotRO unless it was an easy money-maker for them.

I always thought the first versions of Landmark were their best versions. I actually had some fun wandering around mining resources to make stuff in those first versions. I liked the crafting progression for the most part. It was pretty relaxing, and digging through the terrain was some pretty cool tech.

Unfortunately, every time they released a major patch, the game seemed to get worse. They were using Landmark as a testbed for the systems that would go into EQNext, but those features weren’t that great, most notably the combat. I never did any PvP, but fighting mobs in the countryside was horrible. I actually started working on a post titled “EverQuest Next Will Be Terrible” but then they went and cancelled EQNext. Honestly I’m glad they did, because it’s better for the MMORPG industry to have no EverQuest Next than to have an EverQuest Next that’s a massive flop.

I always got the impression that the features planned for Landmark and EQNext were simply beyond the skill set of the developers working on it. I felt like the changes were very slow. I imagined there were two old EverQuest programmers in a basement furuiously working to patch Visual Basic 6 spaghetti code, maybe reading books on modern coding techniques on their lunch breaks. If anyone ever sees that code base I bet it would be a mess of Daily WTF material.

I know I’m making wildly unfair and unfounded accusations here but after spending some time in the software development industry, you sort of get a feel for the development process behind a product based on watching the changes in the finished product. The point is that watching Landmark’s progress did not inspire me with confidence in its development process. Compare Landmark with something like Trove, which pushed out huge, sweeping changes very quickly in their early days.

In retrospect, I think their building system was too complex for a consumer product. It was practically Blender-level of detail (a gross exaggeration, I know–using Blender is like trying to juggle while riding a unicycle on a tightrope and recite Shakespeare in Chinese at the same time). The point is that it was work to build something. Some people loved that (many of whom probably want to make games :), but I think most people found it inaccessible. Then again, it had to be complex because it was also the tool they were using to build assets for EQNext.

I will now show you the video I recorded shortly after Landmark’s big March 2016 Update last year (the one right before the “launch”) where I tried to give it another chance. I wasn’t going to upload it because I thought I was unfairly harsh and critical of it. But hey, I lost $99 on this game, so here it is.

Here are all my posts on Landmark.

Goodbye EverQuest Next

I don’t have much to add to the EverQuest Next wake that hasn’t already been said, except for this possibly controversial thought:

I’m kind of glad they cancelled it.

Wait, wait, let me explain. We’ve known all along that Landmark was the prototype for EverQuest Next. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was dreading the day that they released Landmark with Norrath assets and called it EQN, because Landmark is not a very good game. There’s no doubt in my mind that EQ1 and EQ2 fans would have hated it.

Imagine how bad it would have been for the MMORPG industry if they had pushed out the next, long-awaited, highly-anticipated EverQuest game and it had been the same dismal failure that Landmark is.

NBI Talkback – Early Access

Early Access and Kickstarter – Do you support unfinished games?

This question is worded a little ambiguously, perhaps intentionally… what does “support” mean? I certainly support the development of new games, by which I mean that I always want people to try to make games.

As for financially supporting unfinished games, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. I’ve been refining my criteria (see below), but it depends on the situation. I have not supported any game projects on Kickstarter, however I have purchased about a half dozen Steam Early Access games. I have also “bought into beta” a few times too (ArcheAge and Landmark are the biggest examples).

To me it all boils down to risk versus reward.

Kickstarter is a fairly high risk, low reward proposition in my mind, so it doesn’t make much sense to back a game project there unless you happen to know and like the developers. The risk is that the developer will take your money and run, or never finish the game, or change the game entirely from their initial proposal. The “reward” is a lot of buggy releases, and a few dollars off the eventual retail price. (Increasingly I’m also wondering if people consider it a reward to have the opportunity to psychologically terrorize a developer on their early access forums.)

Steam Early Access is more of a low-to-medium risk, with a higher reward (mostly instant gratification). There are a lot of reviews there you can read to help you decide whether or not to take that chance. And if you wait a few days after the game “launches,” you can almost always find someone who is streaming it so you can actually look at it first, or bloggers will write up some first impressions of it.

Buying betas (or “founder’s packs”) is more of a case-by-case basis. With ArcheAge and Landmark, I considered them extremely low risks, with decent-sized rewards. I knew I would like ArcheAge because I’d already played the Russian version, and I was pretty excited to play the Westernized version. True, I paid a premium to play it early, but considering the value of the virtual goods in the founder’s packages, it wasn’t that much of a premium.

As for Landmark, I didn’t know anything about the game, but I trusted (and still mostly trust) that a company like then-SOE-now-Daybreak will actually finish the game and get it to market. So I knew I wouldn’t lose my money. But in retrospect, I probably should have waited. I don’t exactly regret buying a founder’s pack, but if I had known the condition of the game before making my purchase, I would have waited. Because they were basically selling us a prototype.

And because of that Landmark experience, I’ve set myself some loose guidelines on how much I will spend on unfinished games.

If it’s a totally unknown game from a totally unknown developer, I won’t spend more than $10-$15. This also includes games I might be interested in but have seen or heard lukewarm reviews, or seen game footage that makes me wonder about the quality of the developer studio. I have a lot of Steam Early Access games in my wish list in this category. I won’t buy them unless they go on sale.

If it’s an unknown game but I trust the company, or I like what I’ve seen in game footage or streams, or it’s getting good reviews from peers, I might spend $20-$25 on early access.

(If it’s a known game but the publisher is Daybreak, who is known to release prototypes as products, I won’t buy it unless it goes on sale for much less than $20. That means H1Z1.)

These days I can’t see myself spending more than $25 for an unfinished game unless it’s backed by a major AAA studio, or at the very least has a free demo that I can try first. Unless a game concept just blows me away, I can wait until the open beta or the release date. I’ve got plenty of other games to play and not enough time to play them as it is.

But I’ll always reserve the right to change my mind and buy something on impulse.

On The Radar For 2015

Last time I did this.

Note that some games aren’t on the following list because I have either a) forgotten about them, or b) never heard of them.

MMORPGs I’m Looking Forward To

These are games that I’m still anxiously awaiting the opportunity to play, because I haven’t yet seen or heard anything to wreck my enthusiasm.

Black Desert. I keep seeing good things.

Skyforge. I keep hearing good things.

Otherland. I have enjoyed some Tad Williams books in the past, so surely a game based on some of his books I haven’t read would be good.

MMORPGs I’m Ambivalent About

I’m not excited about these games per se, but I’ll probably buy or try them because of hype and/or boredom and/or peer pressure.

GW2: Heart of Thorns. I’ll play it, but because it’s GW2 aka. The One RPG Without Meaningful Rewards I’m anticipating that I’ll get bored quickly.

Crowfall. To me, this isn’t even an MMORPG, and I think a lot of people are going to be disappointed by that after the hype wears off. My latest concern is that the ambitious class customization plans will result in PvP balance issues that will ruin the game. (Everyone will keep chasing that one overlooked combination that is bugged and overpowered, resulting in an endless cycle of nerfing disappointment and forum rage.)

EQNext. I’m not burdened by EQ nostalgia, plus I have no reason to think this game will be good. (Where is ACNext Turbine??)

Pathfinder Online*. I’ve never played the tabletop version, and the gameplay appears uninteresting (and the animations are terrible), and it’s open world PvP. When will they learn?

Camelot Unchained*. I hear a lot of buzz about this game but it doesn’t look that great to me. That YouTube video honestly makes it look like the most boring thing in the entire universe. Given the way the devs talk about it, I get the impression that this game is more about being a game engine technology demo than a game.

MMORPGs I’m Undecided About

These are games that are on my radar, but I don’t know enough yet to form an opinion about how much I’d be willing to spend on them.

Shroud of the Avatar*. Seems to be flying under the radar. I hear little or nothing about it, but the gameplay looks tolerable.

Gloria Victis*. I like the look of this game but, you know, it’s open world PvP so it will mostly be a game of staying in town or hiding from people.

Wander. Saw it on Steam. It looks cool. It’s not clear to me if this is a PC game or not though.

MMORPGs I’ve Lost Interest In

These would probably have to be free or sold at a deep discount for me to even try them, unless I start to see a lot more positive buzz.

Star Citizen*. Honestly I’m not sure what this game is right now, but anything targeted at EVE players probably isn’t for me, plus we all know this is vaporware, right? (Just kidding! Don’t freak out!) But seriously, I think the smart money is on this game self-destructing from too much ambition.

Life is Feudal*. I thought there might be something to this game, but so far it looks like a plain old survival building game, and the models and animation need serious work.

Das Tal* and Albion Online*. Overhead views plus open world PvP. Why, god, why?

Pantheon: Something of Something*. Seems unlikely this will ever see the light of day, but if it does, only those handful of people who backed it will delude themselves into thinking it’s fun to replicate late-1990s mechanics. Sorry but this game looks awful right now.

H1Z1*. I don’t even consider this an MMORPG.

Pre-Launch MMORPGs I’ve Already Bought

Trove*. (I think it’s still technically beta.) I like it. Good casual game.

Landmark*. Meh. Just meh. Do we really need a game that’s a thinly-disguised 3D modelling program with a 1980s-style UI font?

The Repopulation*. I haven’t played enough to know what to think of it. But I feel like it’s probably trying to do too much and it’ll never capture that SWG feeling.

Advice To Game Developers

Please perfect your basic artwork assets, models, and animations before releasing anything to the public. It’s a huge turn-off to see placeholder models and animations that make your game look like a high school project. It’s literally the first thing I evaluate to determine if your development effort is serious business or you’re just a bunch of kids messing around in somebody’s basement. Great results can and do come from people’s basements, but honestly not very often.

* These games can be bought and played now in some early access form or another. (I think. Don’t hold me to it.)

The Line Between Hand-Crafted And Random

Syp generated some conversation and controversy by posting a somewhat strongly-worded post against procedurally-generated worlds, but I think he’s absolutely correct: If a developer tries to cut corners by substituting a computer-generated world in place of what should have been a hand-crafted world, it probably won’t be fun. I’m not sure which game he was talking about, but it might have been Crowfall or H1Z1, both of which embrace procedurally-generated worlds and claim to be MMORPGs.

He might also have been thinking of Trove which creates random worlds when you go through those Adventure gates. Those worlds aren’t terrible, but they don’t have any depth or personality. It’s obvious that they are computer-generated. When you leave, there is no reason to remember any part of it. But I don’t think they’re intended to be remembered. They’re just 3D spaces for you to run through and gather materials and kill stuff. You then use those materials to build your club world any way you want. (Or something like that.)

It’s basically the same in Landmark, the only other procedurally-generated MMORPG-like game that I have any experience with. The worlds themselves are forgettable–what you’re supposed to remember is the player-built constructions. You can always move to another world if you don’t like it.

I suppose that’s the demarcation line: Whether the world is supposed to be temporary or not. It’s okay and probably even desirable to create temporary worlds procedurally, but if the world is supposed to be permanent and especially if it’s supposed to be part of a story (like most “traditional” MMORPGs are supposed to be), it’s going to come out better when it’s hand-crafted, and savvy consumers will be able to tell the difference.

I think that Crowfall will be able to get away with procedurally-generated worlds because of the nature of their campaign system (and the fact that it’s not really an MMORPG like we’re used to). I imagine that starting a campaign will be somewhat similar to starting a game of Civilization. As you discover the landscape around you, you’ll be able to use it strategically as you place your forts or ganking chokepoints or whatever. And to maintain freshness, each new campaign world should be different from the last.

I haven’t played it yet, but I imagine it should work for H1Z1 because those worlds are mostly intended as a stage upon which to hit other people over the head and take their stuff. People probably aren’t going to be looking to discover any ancient civilizations in cryptic ruins.

Progression Report – February

I think I’ll make this a “thing” and do a monthly progress report of all the MMOs I’m playing. I started running a time tracking program* called ManicTime so I can actually record precisely how much I’ve played every game now.

Games on my desktop

FFXIV (22** hrs). I unlocked most of the new 2.5 dungeons and World of Darkness, however I haven’t actually gone into any of them yet. (To this day I’ve only done one level 50 dungeon–Amdapor Keep for the Relic quest.) In other news I leveled my Rogue class from–you might want to sit down for this epic achievement–10 to 15.

Crazy Pirate Outfit
Got this crazy-looking pirate outfit from Syrcus Tower.

Now that Syrcus Tower no longer has the weekly restrictions, I’ve run it with my Bard to pick up more of the level 100 Amon’s patchwork pirate outfit. I only need the boots to complete the set, which of course never drops no matter how many times I go through there. I’ve also picked up over half of the Atmas I need from FATEs for the next part of the Relic weapon quest, and I’m inching closer to maxing out the Sylph Beast tribe reputation. (The only reason I’m doing that is to get that freaky goobbue mount, which is the only mount I’ve ever wanted in FFXIV.)

Just recently the Manderville Gold Saucer was added. I’ve only played a little bit of cards so far.

Guild Wars 2 (4 hrs). I finished up Dragon’s Reach Part 2, and started Echoes of the Past, so I only have to finish four more Living Story Season 2 episodes to get caught up. At every turn, there’s an annoying boss battle to get through so it’s slow going. I’m starting to see the origins of the Revenant profession now though. I try to log in every day for the login rewards but I only remember to do so every other day or so.

Landmark (2 hrs). I dropped into Landmark once or twice since I re-rolled and at least it seems like they’ve removed the impossible-to-beat monsters from around the starting area. (In fact all monsters now seem to be gone.) I like the big checklist of things-to-do that shows up on the right. I still have no clue how to reach the “underground” layers though. It’s now been, what, a little over a year since it was released to the public and it’s now looking to be about where I thought it would be back then. Onward and upward… hopefully.

The starting point of the new island in Rift 3.1

Rift (2 hrs). I started looking into the new island released in 3.1, but it hasn’t really grabbed me yet. Since my Mage is already 65 it seems a bit pointless to go through another quest chain. If you’re into lore, it seems like this new area is trying to tie the stories of the Storm Legion and Nightmare Tide expansions together somehow. I sort of feel like I can’t progress much further in Rift without joining a guild.

The Repopulation (2 hrs). A $20 edition became available on Steam so I went ahead and took a chance on it. I haven’t played much yet because the game is still pretty rough–I haven’t even left the tutorial area. (Yes, it’s so old school that it actually has a tutorial area!) The animation is a bit janky and the graphics are a bit slow. If you get it, be prepared to jump right on into the deep end with overwhelming amounts of information right at the start. If this is what Star Wars Galaxies was like, it’s no wonder people went for the much simpler WoW instead. :) (Though I don’t know what any of it means, I’m impressed by the amount of stuff in the 15.1.1 patch.)

My dude in The Shadowy Forest

The Secret World (19 hrs). My most exciting MMO development of the month was finally getting past a TSW mission that had me stuck in the Besieged Farmlands for, oh, I don’t know, the past year or so? It was the main story Mortal Sins, Tier 4–the one where you had to find a woman spying from a hilltop or something, but there was no mark for it on the map. After getting past that, I pushed on through to the end of the Mortal Sins quest line which presumably was the end of the main story at the original launch. It’s hard to quantify my progress since there aren’t any levels in TSW, but everything in Transylvania now ranges from “Normal” to “Hard.” I tried some Scenarios but I have yet to come anywhere close to succeeding at one, even on Novice level.

On a technical note, I had a major problem with frame rate hiccups in TSW, especially during combat. I thought it might have been Verizon screwing around with traffic shaping again but using Battleping didn’t help. However, when I switched from DirectX 11 to DirectX 9 the problem entirely vanished. (This was on a GeForce GTX 770.)

SWTOR (12 hrs). Last time, I reported that I had gotten back into SWTOR and re-subscribed. Well, that didn’t last long. My interest faded toward the end of January and I only logged in a couple of times a week. Not that there’s anything wrong with SWTOR. I enjoy it when I play it. But, you know, the quests are all pretty much the same, and the leveling progress is a bit slow. Kira Carsen’s witty banter can only entertain a person for so long.

Then, luckily for me, there was a double-XP weekend from Feb 13-17 so I played a lot more during that time. I usually miss promotional events so it was pretty exciting that one of my game-du-jours actually aligned with a “bonus stuff” weekend. Since my last update I leveled my Jedi Guardian from 22 to 32 and finished Tatooine, Alderaan and all of Chapter One, surpassing the progress I made with my original 28 Scoundrel who hit a brick wall in Alderaan.

Trove (1 hr). I popped into Trove now and then but I can never figure out where to find all the cool stuff they keep advertising. Still, I get a bunch of… I dunno, some kind of yellow coin thingy… every time I log in, so it’s fine.

ArcheAge was not on the above list because my patron status has run out and I don’t particularly want to log in anymore to see what abominable thing has happened to my house and farm.

And that’s pretty much all of the MMORPGs I’ve been playing. With my recent forays into survival games I’ve been thinking of re-installing Fallen Earth. And next month I predict I’ll be playing some ESO again.

P.S. My biggest time-sink was Google Chrome at 32 hours, 12 of which were spent writing and editing blog posts. :)

* I only started ManicTime on February 13. Next month I’ll get a much better sample.

** I don’t believe ManicTime on this. There’s no way I played more FFXIV than TSW since February 13.

Storybricks and The Nature Of The Internet

More alarming news about SOE/Daybreak/EQNext.

Speaking as a gamer, even if EQNext had launched with the Storybricks AI (and I use the term “AI” loosely) included, it almost certainly wouldn’t have been as impressive as it sounded (see this demo), and it probably would have ended up being a non-factor in the game like that UO “artificial life” thingy. I’ve been very skeptical of SOE’s claims of “emergent behavior” ever since they first started talking about it.

Speaker as a software developer, my guess is that they jettisoned Storybricks because it wasn’t working right, and it was creating a roadblock for getting the game released. There is nothing more annoying than problems in third-party software that you have no control over. By removing that dependency, Daybreak can probably move forward with a lot more speed and confidence.

Speaking as an alarmist, it could be that Daybreak is imploding and we’re all doomed and we might as well just reformat our hard drives and forget about playing PC games ever again.

In any case, there is basically no chance that EQNext won’t get hammered as a bad game now, regardless of what they actually do. They’ve been pre-judged and anything short of the best game of our lives will be viewed as a failure by the gaming literati. (I know, I’ve pre-judged it too, but it’s because of actual evidence… i.e. Landmark.)

The Forest, A Visual Feast

In January, I went through a phase where I wanted to play some survival-type games. I’ve been intrigued by The Forest ever since I first saw it show up on Steam, but I generally try to resist buying Early Access games, particularly from unknown sources. Until one day when I was bored out of my mind with my current games and wanted to look at something new. And hey, it was only $15.

In a nutshell, you play the lone survivor of a plane that crashes in the middle of a procedurally-generated forest. You have to find food and shelter and protect yourself from weirdo cannibals that also happen to inhabit the forest. Each game has a different landscape, so it looks like there’s a lot of replay potential.

TheForest 2015-02-02 15-55-12-88

The main thing I want to get across is that this game is drop dead gorgeous. The forest environment is extremely realistic and immersive. That’s what attracted me to the game in the first place, to be honest. Whatever engine this game is using should be used for all future MMORPGs, in my humble opinion.

Collecting logs and sticks.
Collecting logs and sticks in the warm glow of the morning.

Beyond standing around looking at the pretty forest, the gameplay is also pretty decent, too. I’m not exactly a connoisseur of survival-type games, but this one so far seems to have a good balance of crafting, exploration, and combat.

It’s supposed to be a survival-horror game, but I didn’t find it to be all that scary. The cannibals are a bit creepy but I didn’t jump out of my skin or anything. (However the first time the cannibals beat you up they take you back to their cannibal cave of horrors, which is pretty messed up.) The environment is realistic, but fortunately the hacking and slashing is not.

These jerks keep ruining the nice scenery.
These creepy jerks keep ruining the nice scenery.

There are some oddities in the game though. Once you cut down a tree, it’s gone forever, but sticks and rocks and plants seem to respawn indefinitely in the same places. (Not that I’m complaining, because you need a lot of them. You need leaves to feed your campfires.) The cannibal AI is pretty smart, and you do not want to get caught out in the open around these guys, but they have a tendency to blindly step into campfires and burn themselves up. I’m not sure if that’s intended or not, but it seems a little overpowered right now. It makes for a very effective means of protecting yourself from them. Far better than trying to fight them hand-to-hand.

Don't worry, I didn't axe the turtle. Because they turtle up in their shell.
Don’t worry, I didn’t axe the turtle. Because you can’t. They turtle up in their shell.

I’m not really sure what the goal of the game is beyond surviving as long as you can. After five or six tries I was able to build a home base in which I felt like I could survive indefinitely and I was fairly well protected from the cannibals, so I think I “won” the survival part of the game. But then there was still a lot of environment around me to explore. Maybe the final game will have more objectives in it. There was a hint in the opening movie that maybe I’m supposed to rescue someone. Anyway the whole landscape changes with each new game so I could see myself playing it again and again even after winning.

I like the way building works in The Forest. You put down a “blueprint” of the structure you want to build, then you keep depositing materials into it until the structure is completed. So for example if you want to build a shack, you put down the blueprint where you want to build it, then go cut down trees and add logs to the structure until it’s finished. That model works for me. It feels like you’re really building something without it being so tedious that you have to actually place every single log in precisely the right place (like, say, Landmark). I don’t even mind running back and forth between picking up materials and placing them in the structure, because when you add in the roaming cannibals, it adds a certain element of “gaming” to what might otherwise be a boring process. Sometimes you have to stop building and run for your life.

I really like the game but I think I’m going to put it away for now and wait for some more updates. I would hate to burn out on it before they even finish it.