February 2009

Darkfall Psychoanalytics

Protip: if you are amused by the long dark nightmare that is the Darkfall community’s soul, it’s probably because you were a whiny baby in UO. (By the way, Syncaine, playing UO in the Good Old Days wasn’t exactly rocket science.)

Remember: Darkfall – STRICTLY FOR THE HARDCORE. To remind you of this, we leave you with some out of context quotes from Darkfall’s Community Manager, who, given the launch and the general nature of Darkfall’s community, is probably drinking heavily RIGHT NOW.

<@Brannoc> I’d be happy to tell you to go fuck yourselves! But a lot of people say that’s bad PR
<@Brannoc> so…I’m trying not to

Mudkipslolwu: Brannoc can i get you to comment on the nude photos that have recently surfaced including both you and tasos?
<@Brannoc> my penis is bigger, Mudkipslolwu

In other Darkfall news (Broken Toys: All Darkfall, All the time! Well, until someone else releases an MMO.), Keen of Keen & Graev has a non-schadenfreudy launch day recap.

Darkfall Schadenfreude Alert

As the Darkfall servers are now up and accepting customers, I’m announcing that the Darkfall Schadenfreude Level has been lowered from OMGZRed to Working As Expected Orange. Stay tuned for future updates; watch especially for the Darkfall developers to come out of their bunkers to announce how much they pwned the rest of the industry.

And yes, as Tobold and others have noted, I am taking an unhealthy level of glee in this. Come on, it’s been almost a DECADE of interacting with the wonderful and perfectly well-adjusted Darkfall community. This makes Horizons look like a marvel of efficient project management.

But now, it’s shipped. And as Tasos and the other Aventurine developers are about to discover, things change when you go live. The wolves have teeth, and they’re going to be looking for soft necks.

To commemerate Darkfall being up and available for your pwning roleplayer needs, the best Darkfall video ever made.


Launching Is Hard

Darkfall’s status as of 8:00PM CST/2:00AM GMT:

Servers: Down.
Forums: Down.
Website: Still advertising your chance at joining the Darkfall beta.
Stratics IRC: Wait a minute… Stratics still exists? And it’s our only source of Darkfall news? My god, they DID recreate UO!

<Brannoc> We are currently processing all pre-orders and when that phase is complete the game servers will be available for play. The forums are offline temporarily while we make adjustments. The IRC channel will remain locked during this time.

Well, that explains everything, then.

From the SomethingAwful threadnaught about Darkfall:

Darkfall is on the verge of another MMOG first. Some games have had horrific launch days, plagued with constant crashes and bugs, but I don’t think any other game has completely failed to start the servers up.

Apparently, the developers, Aventurine, were overwhelmed with the amount of pre-orders, despite having a limited preset number of pre-orders, and in a very fair display of even-handed fairness are not bringing the servers up until every pre-order has been added into the system, presumably by Eastern Orthodox monks illuminating vellum parchments and carefully integrating them into the Book of Woe using Perforce.

And now, while you wait, forlorn, in a Stratics chatroom waiting for SRC Wackyname to come answer your GM ticket, here are some quotes from the past from the humble Darkfall development team.

“So why don’t we announce a date already? It’s because there’s no way we’ll miss a release date and we’re not going to just set a date as a goal, and either postpone or be forced to release something unfinished.”

— Tasos Flambouras, Darkfall producer, from a dev diary.

We welcome the “too good to be true” or the “Darkfall promises everything” ranting about Darkfall because we’re in a position to know that we’ll offer more than we promise.”

— Tasos Flambouras, same diary

Darkfall could launch today. It’s more ready for launch than most, if not all of the MMORPG titles at the same stage that I’ve personally sampled and it has been for quite some time.”

— Tasos Flambouras, interview, December 2008

“A lot of communities would like to be like Darkfall’s. Slandering our game is a way to get a reaction.

We have a thick skin; this kind of thing doesn’t touch us. It actually makes us feel like we’re on the right track. It has also served to fire up our community and has created diehard fans. It got a lot of people to take a closer look at our game and realize that this is what they’ve been waiting for. All the “trolls” have achieved is to inadvertently help perpetuate the buzz for Darkfall.”

— Tasos Flambouras, same interview.

For good game performance, you should have a PIII-800 and a GeForce1-2 or ATI Radeon. The game engine will also take advantage of the latest graphics cards that are coming out, like the GeForce3 or the upcoming ATI 8500. So if you have one of those, then the game will look stunning.

— Kjetil Helland, Darkfall lead programmer, IGN interview, 2001

As for the board whisperers, they’re a reaction to a highly anticipated and ambitious game by an independent studio. ‘Whispers’ have proven in the past to have an agenda or two behind them, and whether it’s competition, attempts at forcing information, or manipulating an active community, we shouldn’t propagate them by rehashing them.

— Tasos Flambouras, MMORPG.COM inteview

The “PvP stigma” you speak of, is proof that PvP hasn’t been handled well by MMOGs so far, in contrast with the mass market where PvP games are the overwhelming majority of multiplayer games being played. It’s a shame, especially since MMORPGs are the most suitable games for epic battles, conflict, glory and shame. It’s our ambition, through Darkfall, to alter the negative perception some MMOG players have of player on player combat.

— Tasos Flambouras, same interview

Hype surrounding Darkfall is huge right now, despite our best efforts.

— Tasos Flambouras, Darkfall community announcement

Darkfall May Or May Not Have Launched, May Or May Not Be Available For Purchase, You May Or May Not Care

Darkfall pre-orders have sold out! Good thing too, since as this is launch day they can’t technically sell any more. Now they would be called “orders”.

The latest update has Darkfall slouching towards Bethlehem to be born sometime “this evening European time”. For you Amurrican types, that would be… right about now (at this writing it is 7:00 PM GMT). So… Darkfall may have already launched! You probably missed it because you suck and aren’t hardcore and/or European enough.  Can’t you feel the steady beat of the bodies hitting the floor? Oh wait, that’s the other game that launched today: “50 Cent: Blood on the Sandwich“, where Fitty goes on a mad rampage to kill everyone who dares to bleed on his food, thus causing more blood to spill in an existential commentary on the futility of violence.

Which has nothing to do with Darkfall. Or Shadowbane, for that matter.

Harmonic Convergence

In my endless quest to have this blog be the harbinger of bright and shiny things, I’ve enabled/merged/slammed Facebook Connect into the comment system.

This means that you can log into the blog using your Facebook account, and then leave comments using your Facebook ID, which will use your Facebook icon and link back to your Facebook page, Facebook Facebook Facebook Facebook.

If, for some reason, you think leaving your real name on a blog read by MMO players is a BAD THING, you are of course free to use the standard pseudo-anonymous login system.

If you would like to add this to your own WordPress blog, here are some steps to follow:

  • As it uses edited themes and a plugin, you cannot use this on wordpress.com-hosted blogs.
  • You will need to create a Facebook application. Just call it “Comments for My Special Blog” or something similar. Details here. You will need to create the application so that you can get an API key but you won’t need to do anything else, the next steps handle that.
  • You then can download and install the WordPress plugin that makes comments Facebook-login aware. Plugin page
  • Follow the instructions. You *will* need to tinker with some things. As a note, I had to do the following to get it to a semi-working state:
    • Edited comments page from theme (still need to do some, the comment submit button is now back to a generic “Submit Query” HTML button)
    • Edited header file to ensure Internet Explorer compatibility
    • Edited .htaccess file and added plugin to wp-super-cache so that cookies were not munged
  • If you are already logged in to your blog (which is likely since you’ve been doing all of the above) you will need to log out for the “Connect using Facebook…” functionality to kick in. You most likely as the blog author will not use this as you already have a log in account. I recommend using a browser you rarely use (hi2u Internet Explorer) to both test for compatibility and leave a sample Facebooky comment (like I did on this post)

So yes, a lot of sound and fury signifying not much. I blame this on Trey Ratcliff, whose office I share and who took a picture of me wearing a bright purple wig this weekend.

Mainstream Media Mistress Cruel, Harsh, But Not In A Way That Earns You L$

Valleywag doomcasts Second Life for the sin of no longer being trendy.

Those who can’t do, teach. Second Life, the most overhyped virtual world, has been abandoned even by its most fervent journalistic promoters, like Reuters and Wired. It’s now pitching itself as an online schoolhouse.

The article goes on to bemoan Linden Lab actually having a profitable business model for Second Life (server rentals, currency arbitrage) that doesn’t include parties for bloggers. Valleywag’s been doomcasting Second Life for at least two years now, so it’s understandable that they’re a bit nervous Second Life may survive Valleywag/Gawker.

The best summary comes from, oddly enough, my guild leader in World of Warcraft, who sent me this story with the note:

Seems like Second Life doesn’t encourage sanity in those discussing it.

Crom Was Not Happy

Funcom announces $23 million loss last quarter based on $22 million depreciation of Age of Conan expenses, CFO resigns.

Shortly after Age of Conan launched, Funcom saw subscriber levels of 400,000, which rocketed up to 700,000 within a few months.

While Funcom’s cash position remains robust at USD 39.4 million, the company reported a full-year net loss of USD 33.8 million. According to estimates by DnB NOR Markets, subscriber levels for Age of Conan are below 100,000, reports E24.

However, revenues in the fourth quarter of 2008 rose to USD 8.7 million, up from USD 1.2 million year-on-year, due to subscription revenues from the MMO.

I Didn’t Make Any Of This Up

Making Games, By EA’s John Riccitiello:


Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello says the current economic climate is “a blessing in disguise,” because it will force the industry to rethink stagnant attitudes and methods — and lead to “clearing away” some of the “junk” that currently fills gaming retail shelves.

“Junk is hard to compete with,” said Riccitiello frankly.

“I’m not pro-recession,” EA’s Riccitiello was quick to add, “but to quote Rahm Emanuel: never waste a crisis.”

“We did get fat in too many places. It seemed like anyone who could draw a guy with a gun with a crayon could get funded.”

But Riccitiello cautioned the audience of game industry execs against simply cutting head counts, closing facilities, and reducing risk. “That’s a recipe that you follow at your peril,” he said.

Electronic Arts: We Create Irony.

The Mordred Problem

So, a more serious look at Darkfall’s incipient release.

Most of the traffic on the boards and blogs recently seems to be doomcasting Darkfall pretty harshly. It’s not a AAA MMO, its ruleset is ridiculously hardcore, and it is doing its level best to minimize the number of people that actually *can* log in (no NA release, limited number of boxes sold, etc).

I actually disagree. I think it will have a groundswell of excitement, some people will be pumped about “a hardcore game not for carebears!!1!”, and we’ll see some ridiculous eBay auctions of Darkfall boxes.

For three months. Then… it will collapse upon itself.

Why this curve? Because every PvP-centric MMO released to date has seen this. Even PvP-specific servers, released to great fanfare with their users, see this curve. And the reason is pretty simple – because people enjoy hardcore PvP in the abstract. Or, to put another way, many more people believe they are ‘hardc0re’ than actually are. And they dislike being proved wrong pretty powerfully.

The best example of this in my experience were the free-for-all PvP servers in Dark Age of Camelot. They were eagerly anticipated. When the first one, “Mordred”, came out, it was the most popular server in the game. A second PvP server, “Andred”, was quickly pressed into service, which also was popular.

Then… they weren’t. Andred in particular became a ghost town and after a decent interval was merged back into Mordred. Mordred still exists, but only has a vestigal population at best.

Of course, if you talk to the players themselves, there were other issues. PvP in DAOC was an afterthought, levelling was too difficult, there were too many exploits, there were bugs, etc. etc. Much as in Shadowbane, one of the most highly anticipated MMOs ever judging from message board buzz – bugs, bad design, exploits, etc. etc.

All of which is true. But they are not unique to PvP servers, or PvP games. What *is* unique is the PvP ruleset – the sense of the hardcore. The Mordred problem is simply that a great majority of the people who believe they are hardcore are not, and after being violently disabused of the notion, will leave.

Thus, the curve. Servers that will be massively overpopulated one month, ghost towns the next.

Perhaps Darkfall’s developers are well aware of the Mordred problem, and are enforcing a rigid scarcity of availability to try to counter this. Personally I’m dubious of this, based on the PR coming from some of their spokespersons that would have made Todd Coleman in a GOD stripper booth blush. But in the end, it will definitely work in their favor. If they can ride that curve, they may find the true level of their niche.

And those people outside the niche will complain about bugs. And poor design. And poor polish. And a community of rabid weasels. And and and. All of which will probably be true. But very few will admit to a Mordred problem. And addressing that problem will be a key dilemma for any PvP-centric game.