IP-based MMOs: Part 1 (of 5)

Basing your MMORPG on an existing property can be an easy way to get attention for your new game and tap into a base of potential players who are already familiar with the world and its lore. It’s a wonder that more games haven’t tried it. Where’s our Wheel of Time MMO? Our Honor Harrington MMO? Our Sailor Moon MMO? (Oops, didn’t mean to mention that one….)

Well, maybe someone’s working on one of those right now (call me!)

With the help of the super-comprehensive list of MMOs at MMORPG.com, I’ve gathered together a list of all the MMOs I could find that were based (or at least “inspired by”) some other intellectual property. Since there are quite a few, I’ll be covering these in five posts. Today: Absolute Terror through Toontown Online.

Game: Absolute Terror IP: Neon Genesis Evangelion
Gainax’s “Neon Genesis Evangelion” re-invented the “giant robot” genre by adding tortured teens and morally ambiguous guardians to a post-apocalyptic world where the heroes were either protecting the world from complete annihilation, or helping to bring it about — only at the end were there any real answers. Maybe.

“Absolute Terror” is a web-based strategic combat game, and is largely the work of a single designer, Liam Young. The player chooses to fight for NERV or SEELE, the two organizations charged with defending New Tokyo from attacks by the otherworldy “Angels”, giant creatures from an unknown source. By winning battles, you gain the ability to perform more actions. Although I haven’t played it, Absolute Terror seems more akin to pseudo-MMOs like Kingdom of Loathing than any of the others on this list.

Game: Age of Conan IP: Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Robert E. Howard’s iconic Conan the Barbarian sparked a wave of heroic sword & sorcery that predated and arguably surpassed the sort of epic fantasy Tolkein would soon make famous. With a legendary comic series in the 70s and two movies in the 80s that inspired a mini-wave of copycats, Conan has been reintroducing himself to new generations of genre lovers for seventy years.

Funcom strategically released its Age of Conan in the lull before Blizzard’s new expansion for World of Warcraft and quickly gained a huge following, a popularity that soon waned over reports of bugs, unfinished PvP, and a newbie experience that dramatically oversold the experience a player would have once they graduated to the real game. Since then, Age of Conan has essentially relaunched, filling in gaps, fixing bugs, making gear more relevant to the game and adding more PvE content. By all accounts, AoC has become a game well worth seeing for Conan fans looking to play in the legendary Hyborian Age.

Game: Champions Online IP: Hero Games’ Champions
Where pen-and-paper games like Dungeons & Dragons were all about specifying in great and intricate detail the powers and abilities of each carefully defines and delineated class, alternate rule sets like Hero Games’ Hero System allowed the player to make and play a character to fit any template, from spies to warlocks to robots to super heroes. Balancing powers with perks and disadvantages and a combat system that relied upon sometimes intricate formulas, character creation was a lengthy affair in contrast to D&D’s (at the time) roll-and-forget system. Champions, their source book specifically for adventuring in a super hero universe, was a smash hit, and almost every tabletop gaming group took the occasional break from D&D to pull on the spandex and fight a supervillain or two.

Champions Online was the first MMO Cryptic Studios developed after splitting off from NCsoft, for whom they had developed the genre-leading City of Heroes superhero MMO. A last moment rebalancing and a lack of high level content made this game a non-starter in many people’s eyes. It has not drawn the kind of numbers expected; estimates have fewer people playing it than City of Heroes, and with expected competition from SOE’s DC Universe Online and Marvel’s unnamed MMO, the future is not clear for Champions Online. This is unfortunate indeed, as the “Nemesis” system, where you create your own arch-villain to bedevil you, and their famously open-ended character creation system, are unique in the industry.

Game: DC Universe Online IP: DC Comics
DC Comics (the initials stand for the company’s original name, Detective Comics, which kind of makes the extra ‘Comics’ in the name redundant) published Action Comics #1 in 1938 which introduced the world to its most famous illegal alien, Superman. A year later, Detective Comics followed that up with the “world’s greatest detective”, Batman, and thereby firmly planted the seeds of a pulp comic empire that still follows both of these characters and hundreds more. Going from the four-color page to radio, television, movies and even Broadway, DC’s characters have been part of the world’s new mythology for the better part of a century.

SOE’s DC Universe Online, still in development, promises players the chance to fight alongside (or against) DC’s iconic heroes as they defend (or attack) landmark locations such as Metropolis and Gotham City. A fluid power system will let your character switch roles (such as tanking, damage, healing/buffing) at will so that any group of characters will be able to fill the necessary roles. Action-oriented, scripted missions and destructible environments will make this game at home either on the PC or the console. Appropriately, DCUO will be the first MMO produced for Sony’s Playstation 3 game system, followed at some point by SOE’s follow-up, the spy MMO “The Agency”.

Game: Disney’s Toontown Online IP: Disney cartoon characters
Since 1923, Disney’s groundbreaking work in animation has set the standard followed (or at least acknowledged) by every animator since. Boasting some of the most recognizable characters in the entire world — Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, etc. — Disney has turned a mouse into a media empire. They now have the largest movie production house in the world, and their theme parks are a vacation destination for travelers everywhere.

Disney’s “Toontown Online”, loosely based on the world in their cartoons and a name courtesy of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, is a child-friendly game that features kid-safe innovations later copied by other kid-friendly MMOs such as Wizards101. Carefully monitored chat, limited social interactions and non-threatening (but frequently hilarious) actions give kids the freedom to make and play their own cartoon character in Disney’s cartoon world. Though there’s not a lot in Toontown Online to appeal to adults, the game has enough depth to make it a satisfying game to play alongside your younger children.

Tune in tomorrow for tales of dragons and kittens as we explore the next chapter of the IP-based gaming empire.

Weekend Gaming: WoW, AoC, EVE, W101 et al

I just love this picture, I don’t know why! I think it might be the best picture I’ve ever taken in the World of Warcraft. It’s the dead boss at the end of the Orange Crystal part of Maraudon. I’ve been to the Orange Crystal side about a half dozen times now; Purple Crystal once. I think I’ve outgrown Uldaman now, I never get offered it any more. We just started with Zul’Farrak tonight.

Azeroth Advisor had pointed me toward the quests for Zul’Farrak and to a lesser extent, Maraudon. It’s freaky. I level, Azeroth Advisor sends me a newsletter, and then WoW starts sending me to those places with the Looking For Dungeon tool.

I started out a week and a half ago at level 31 going through Razorfen. Then Scarlet Monastery (Library, Armory, Cathedral), Uldaman, now ZF and Maraudon. Sunken Temple has just got to be on the horizon. Level 44 now; at this rate, I’ll be making the buy/no buy decision on Burning Crusade in a couple of weeks. Just in time to decide if I’m going to take WoW past a month.

I’m still not decided, but it is good, casual fun. It seems to take forever to get anything going in EQ2. In WoW, I press a button, start working on some quests, and then at some point it rings and I’m poisoning my blades for a dungeon run.

The limited edition Zephyr probe ships are indeed friends to the Sleepers. There was a wormhole in Aunia. I scanned it down, looked around for the first Sleeper nest I could get to, and then shadowed those implacable aliens on their patrols. It occurred to me that a Sleeper nest is really the best possible hiding place for wormhole exploration — anyone would hesitate before following a probe shuttle into that sort of headache.

I closed up my shop in Mandoo and headed back to Sinq Laison space. I did enjoy my stay in the Kador region, but it was never intended to be forever. I have my CreoDron agents busily researching Gallente Starship Engineering and Electronic Engineering datacores, but the best agents for Mechanical Engineering datacores are not with CreoDron at all; Duvolle are the mechanics on this side of the galaxy. They have an agent willing to work in Mies, not far from Aunia, but I have to build up standings just a little before they will work for me.

Most of the time, though, I’ve been working on the market, scanning down and clearing plexes, and waiting for invention training to complete. I’m a little burned out on straight missioning; I’m really trying to make my money in the market, but as usually the case in EVE, always more skills needed to do it well.

Age of Conan is having a promotion where if you download a trial version of the game that gives you the first twenty levels, you never have to pay. Not unless you want to step outside the tutorial zone of Tortage, anyway. Funcom is very much hoping you will, as is Mythic with Warhammer’s similar promotion (and so is KingsIsle, which has been doing this same thing since launch with Wizard101).

The graphics in Age of Conan are simply incredible. The animation is smooth and fluid, the combos are a joy to watch… The equipment doesn’t look that great, but this is supposed to be a shipwrecked slave with amnesia, so fashion isn’t a priority at this point.

And just a by the way, how many games have you start off with amnesia as a thin plot device to have an excuse to have thw rodl you presumably grew up in explained to you? All the way back to Planescape: Torment at least. EQ2 started off doing that, AoC does it, Aion does it… The heroes of story and legend are powerful, mighty, brave, bold — and really susceptible to a good rap on the noggin.

In AoC, the moment you wash up on shore, having been rescued by divine intervention (which looks pretty creepy neat, btw — very well done), a NPC runs up and before he checks to see if you are well, explains exactly where you are. As if upon meeting someone new, the very first thing you do is tell them which country they live in, which countries are around it, which legendary nations may exist beneath the sea, and the gross national product of all these nations to the closest million for the previous calendar year.

You are also given a handy guidebook which explains how to do other things you may have forgotten, like walk (although evidently, you have the sort of amnesia where you forget how to move around, but not how to read a book).

Moving on ….

Even with the reactive combat — where you must always strike to the weak spots — combat isn’t significantly different from other games in the broad genre, like WoW or EQ2. You spam your abilities and wait for cooldowns. That many or all your attacks are effectively AE does make taking down the inevitable groups of mobs more of a joy.

Age of Conan does an excellent job of putting you in its world, the mark of great storytellers at work. The unfortunate reality is that to experience the story, you must do a long list of cookie-cutter quests (go to the quarry and bring three blocks! Kill ten of these! Etc!).

I took my first “night” mission — night missions are solo quests — and talked to an old lady who prophesied a great destiny for me, la la la la la.

AoC looks great, its combat at least attempts to be a little different, but I could not get past the entirely standard quest lines. I played an assassin, which may have been a mistake — it’s the kind of class that plays identically in any fantasy game. I may try some of the other classes, the unique ones especially. It’s free, after all!

I took a few days off of Wizard101 after finishing Grizzleheim up last week. This weekend, I continued on with the Moo Shu quest lines. I started work on road to the Death Oni, the longest and most difficult of the Moo Shu quests. I’m probably about halfway done with it, with the Village of Sorrow quests to finish, and then the Tree of Life and its mysteries.

I’d have finished it, but the fifth straight quest of “Kill 10 of this monster” just sent me to distraction. Dragonspyre is just as bad, and I have to wonder if all this work just to have to level 50 characters for Celestia is worth slogging through MS and DS again.

Well, yes it is — a little at a time. The core gameplay is still fun, but the game is suffering these days from being overly familiar. Sure, it’s a fun card game, but it’s a year and a half old now; what else do you have? Rather than extend W101 forever, I’d like to see what else KingsIsle has up their sleeves. I can’t get excited about a new expansion where now you have a dozen quests where you have to kill FIFTEEN of every monster, and every battle takes an hour.

Still love the game, though. I have just been playing it a very long time.

I also played the beta of a hotly anticipated MMO. It is looking VERY good. I can’t wait until I can talk about it plainly.

Daily Blogroll 9/23 – All Queued Up Edition

"I could tell he meant business...."

“It would like them much; but an ye wot how dragons are esteemed, ye would not hold them blamable. They fear to come.” — “Well, then, suppose I go to them instead, and—” — “Ah, wit ye well they would not abide your coming. I will go.” And she did. She was a handy person to have along on a raid. — Mark Twain, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”

I work not half a mile from the house where Samuel Clemens wrote that book, and the book is my “bus book” I read on the way to and from work, and when I saw the lines about dragons and raids, well….

Anyway, lots of people are still waiting in queues in Aion. I think enough has been said about that, and I don’t ding NCsoft for going easy on the servers to start off. (Rer has some ideas on what to tell friends who might be reluctant to try Aion because of queues and other things). Nothing worse than making a million servers and then closing half of them in a couple of months after people go back to WoW. Because you KNOW they will. In the MMO space, WoW is like this huge dark star in the middle of the system. You can travel to another planet for a visit, but unless you nail your feet to the ground, that dark WoW star’s gonna pull you back.

Seems only natural to want to work there. After all, if they already have your soul, might as well make them pay for the privilege. That’s what Ixobelle thought, fresh back from Japan, as he drove to Blizzard headquarters in Irvine, California, with $500 worth of full color, 27 page booklets outlining his painstakingly designed raid dungeon, the Castle of Baron von Lupus. If that doesn’t sound like a natural fit for the new Worgen PC race, what does? Not knowing any Blizzard employees well enough to get through the front gate, he set up a table and sign across the street, hoping for a response. Did it pay off? You’ll have to read the post to find out.

Brad McQuaid writes about Vanguard’s Size Problem. As in, the world is so big, vast, tremendous, huge, etc that unless you stick close to the cities, you will only rarely see another person. Though with all the methods of travel available, 90% of Telon is just there to keep the quest hubs separated. Brad says this vast expanse was a pushback against EverQuest’s omnipresent crowding that had people bumping into one another at every turn. But overcrowding is better than the alternative….

Brad says people will group if there’s enough people in the area with which to do the thing. Thallian insists the reason people don’t group (in WoW) is because it’s not FUN enough. He goes on to give a lot of suggestions about how to make dungeons and other encounters more fun, most of which were done eons ago in EverQuest.

SOE’s working on a new EverQuest, EverQuest Next. They could do far worse than to go back to basics and try to capture what made EQ special for its time. EQ has changed so much now that it’s a different game, but back then…. and as someone who last year started over from scratch, I can avow that EQ still has that same magic, if you’re doing it with a group of friends. EQ nostalgia must be going around, because Rao has got it as bad as I do. I don’t see either of us jumping back into the game, though.

Werit reports that you’ll be able to level up entirely via PvP in Cryptic’s upcoming Star Trek Online, which, I hope, will have a longer shelf life than Champions Online apparently had (I kid, I’m sure it’s doing amazingly). Well, according to XFire, Champions looks like it has already peaked. But I don’t trust those numbers. For one thing, we KNOW the Aion numbers are inflated because so many people are never logging off.

Melmoth and Zoso of Killed in a Smiling Accident have just gotten word that many other MMO companies are planning their own versions of WoW’s Cataclysm. My favorite: Darkfall’s UBACLASYM! It’s IMPACTED!

Openedge1 takes the pulse of a as-yet un-Cataclysmed Age of Conan to see if it will merely last the winter or if it has a long future ahead of it.

And lastly, F2P impresario Warhammermer writes about Ran Online, a “beat em up MMORPG set in a high school/secondary school“.

I don’t know why that reminds me of Pirate Baby’s Cabana, but it does.

Daily Blogroll 8/27 — Curioser and curioser edition

Alice in Wizardland

Started on the second tier of Grizzleheim last night. The Virgil Roughlands (level 25+) are a pretty significant step up from Svarstaad Pass. Even two boxing, I had to choose my cards with a lot more care than almost any challenge in recently-completed Krokotopia. At levels 27 and 32, my two-box team is as closely matched as they have ever been. Thankfully, Marissa now has the (yucky) Humongofrog to match up with Allison’s Sandstorm for mass monstery death.

Yesterday’s “Sturm und Drang” edition was prophetically named. First, noted blogger Openedge1 shuttered his Age of Conan blog, citing low readership since he changed from a general MMO to a game-specific blog.

I was hoping to drive some conversations about AoC in general and discuss the game as a whole. But, it does look like traffic has dropped way off here, and I can only assume no one wants to read about the game.

Hey, Edge… nobody wants to read about a game unless it is either new, or World of Warcraft. That’s the simple fact of MMO blogging. Now, if you’d changed to focus on NEW games, or World of Warcraft, you’d have a zillion readers.

Like, Gevlon of Greedy Goblin, who has a huge fanbase of rabid World of Warcraft followers even though he is a psychotic sociopath. Or, say, Tobold, who claims that he is Gevlon of Greedy Goblin.

I simply created a second artifical blogger identity. Opened up a second blog on blogspot, and started posting in a deliberate anti-style to Tobold. The result was a success beyond my wildest dreams. You guessed it: My other identity is Gevlon, the Greedy Goblin.

Gevlon, by the way, denies this…. The comments to Tobold’s post are a treasure. Most are skeptical, but one bright light insists he didn’t like Tobold’s blog, but liked Gevlon’s blog, and now he doesn’t have to read them both.

Pete of Dragonchasers has hung up his blogging pen, citing the implied contempt for the customer by MMO developers (likely sparked by Cryptic’s off-again, on-again lifetime sub policy, but more on that later). He also has no love for certain other bloggers in our little community:

And many bloggers are pompous, pig-headed and arrogant. I’m sure they don’t see themselves that way. And I’m sure they DO see ME that way. … I’ve found that many bloggers seize on any concession as a point of weakness and just press harder. Whomever backs down in the slightest from their point of view loses.

Openedge1 and Peter, I’ve enjoyed reading your blogs, and look forward to reading your work again if you decide to return. Gevlon the Greedy Goblin, your greed and arrogance is the heart of the cancer that kills WoW’s community. If you really are Tobold, and your blog nothing but a satire, then good going. If this is just Tobold being snarky with people who would rather he write more like Gevlon, well, nicely played, but the world needs fewer joysuckers, not more. Hudson has some well-said words of wisdom here.

Is it still paranoia if someone really IS trying to kill you? Turbine kinda feels that way about Atari, the former publisher for their Dungeons and Dragone Online. Syp muses that Atari’s new favorite son, Cryptic, is hard at work on a “Neverwinter Nights” MMO using the same D&D milieu and rules, and is only interested now in killing off competition ahead of time by a perceived lack of interest in promoting the game.

Hey, do you remember way back to when Cryptic said they would have special lifetime and six month subscription options open for their Champions Online MMO until September 1st? And then cut it off days early due to a limited supply? Remember how mad everyone was?

Well, slam that angst imp back into Pandora’s Box, because it’s back. The offer, I mean. Cryptic now has an unlimited supply of lifetime and six month subs available until midnight August 31. So much so that their servers are absolutely CRUSHED beneath the load of people vowing to play CO *forever*. Most brilliant marketing move ever?

Syp, by the way, has an already historically significant post on the ten things you need to know before you set foot in Champions Online’s Millennium City. Just ten?

Stick figure, turn-based MMO Kingdom of Loathing has recently reached its two millionth user! This inspiration for other browser-based MMOs like Legends of Zork has such thoughtful innovations as using meat for money and requiring a literacy and writing test before being allowed to use the chat system.

How much does Rer love Aion? He loves it THIS MUCH! Marveling at the inevitable path from disinterest in Aion to camping outside Fry’s for the collector’s edition, he wonders how people could ever have had such a bad opinion of Aion to begin with, and how Aion managed to win them all over. Tune in for the inevitable Aion backlash a couple months after launch. That’s the FULL arc. Disinterest followed by enthusiasm followed by wanting those months of my life back. Naamah has the dates of the Aion open beta from Keen and Graev’s forums, by the by.

Syncaine’s been there before. Follow his rules, and you, too, can have a hugely popular MMO blog. Think of how many hits you’ll get when you finally, publicly, turn against the game you once built your life around!

Oh, and thanks to Werit for his articles on the PlayOn media streaming software that sends Hulu, Netflix Instant Watch and a bunch of other internet channels to my PS3. It works WONDERFULLY.

This has only been about HALF the news from yesterday, but I have to be running along now. Keep gaming, keep blogging if you’re into that, and see you tomorrow!