Spellborn… reborn?

Some trufen managed to reverse engineer a beta version of the super-innovative MMO Spellborn enough so that folks can run around in the setting — no NPCs or mobs at the moment. More information on the video's YouTube page, and at https://www.facebook.com/selachii/posts/10202890513584115, where Spellborn lead dev El Drijver reminisces about the game.

Finally we can enter the Deadspell. I think every single spellbornfan looked forward to this moment.

Chronicles of Spellborn: Anatomy of a Failure

No other game looked like Spellborn

The Chronicles of Spellborn seemed to provide a wish list of what people want in an MMO. You could look cool from day 1; the gear you chose at character creation could be upgraded by slotting in runes to increase their power. You could still find or craft items with more or better slots, but there was never a time when your character would have to look anything but cool as sheets.

Combat was tactical on many levels. You could not access all your abilities whenever you liked; not only were most of them on cooldowns, but you could only choose from the abilities that were showing on a scrolling deck wheel that would shift whenever you used an ability. The abilities themselves were fairly weak alone; but if you built your deck well and arranged the combos in logical ways on the wheel, abilities could build upon each other to become truly devastating.

The art was state of the. Rendered in a uniquely European style, Spellborn looked like no other game. The lore told a story of a shattered world, populated by survivors rescued from the planet just before it went boom by benevolent godlike beings. The shards of the planet still swirl in winds of the Deadspell Storm, and the people live inside caverns carved within them. Voyages between them are only by taking passage on shard ships, which might themselves be attacked by denizens of the Storm as they make their way.

Players want combat mechanics that are more than “Press 1, 2, 3, repeat”? Spellborn had it. Unique world, graphics, and UI? Spellborn had it. Some of the coolest looking gear in any MMO? Nailed.

So, what happened?

Though the Spellborn devs had a long relationship with Frogster to publish the game in Asia and in parts of Europe, they had no American publisher. When they eventually made a handshake agreement with one, they were barred from revealing it for months, while they did some retooling on the game. After months of no news, the publisher was revealed to be Acclaim, a publisher most noted for its free to play games.

The game then went into further hiatus for five more months.

Eventually, in February of 2009, Spellborn went live in the US and the rest of the world. Instead of a standard subscription plan, players needed to by Acclaim’s cash shop currency, and then redeem that for play time. It was fairly complicated, and since people would be spending different amounts to play the game depending on the deals they got for the cash shop currency, it was hard for people to figure out just how much the game cost, and whether or not they were getting a decent deal.

Acclaim promised heavy support for the game, but when it became clear Spellborn was not a hit, such support dried up. In just a few months, rumors arose that the developers, Spellborn N.V., had all left to find other work, and that the game would be moving to a F2P model with an item shop (for a game without a focus on items!) and other such paraphernalia. The game was to be relaunched to begin again as a MMO like most of the others in Acclaim’s stable, but instead, was just set to be free and left alone, patchless, until the decision came to close the game down.

Spellborn Lead Developer El Drijver has posted a complete (and more correct!) timeline on the Acclaim Spellborn forums.

Even aside from Spellborn’s issues with its publisher and the game’s lack of heavy promotion, the game itself may have taken too many chances.

Though soloing was an option in the game, the game itself was fairly hard to play. Having to keep good aim on an enemy while avoiding enemy special attacks (most enemies had a unique ‘tell’ you could use to determine when they were about to unleash a heavy attack) meant it played far more like a third person shooter than an MMO. Slow travel times meant it could take a considerable amount of time to get somewhere new; shard ships ran on their own schedules and were sometimes dangerous to boot. There were no gates, hearthstones or teleports; it was a worldy-world.

Aimed directly for hardcore players, Spellborn had very little to recommend it for casual players, and this was probably its biggest mistake. By basing its combat on an intricate combat mechanic that demanded the player’s full attention, Spellborn shut out the 90% of casual players that are absolutely necessary to populate the world. Without the casual players, even the hardcore players noticed the world was fairly empty. The PvP clique soon moved on to other games; the hardcore players leveled to the end game and then, with nothing left to do, departed; and the few casual players had already gone.

Hundreds of MMOs, it seems, are released every year, but few of them take as many chances and are as filled with new ideas as The Chronicles of Spellborn. Out of all the hundreds of MMOs, it seems, that FAIL every year, I’ll miss Spellborn the most.

Daily Blogroll 9/25 – Apocalypse edition

Adventuring after a mysterious apocalypse forever changed the landscape, with strange creatures everywhere and a refugee populace just trying to survive in a mutant world overrun with danger…. I didn’t even know I’d gotten into the Earth Eternal closed beta. Tails Tales of my chubby little rat rogue, the kind that Cinderella did NOT want helping make her dress, once I’ve seen more of the game.

Back in EverQuest, unexpected adds usually meant a group wipe (unless you were specifically doing an AE group). Crowd control or a puller who knew how to split was really important. Modern MMOs ramp down the difficulty quite a lot, and Spinks wonders if specialized crowd control has any sort of place in World of Warcraft, given the tendency to just gather up a room and kill everything at once? And this is why WoW can’t have nice things, like enchanters and bards :)

At Hudson’s Hideout, Rock Hound looks at the two kinds of people who roll up heroes in Champions Online — Conceptionists, who have a backstory and a theme for their hero, and Minmaxists, who just go for the most efficient powers and stats. We used to call these role-players and ROLL-players back in the day…. and this argument has been going on for thirty years.

Jaye from Journeys With is pushing back against the grind. Having to essentially solo for weeks or months upon joining an established game to catch up with max level guildmates has killed many friends’ interest in playing EQ2. With ten more levels coming in February, who could possibly be dedicated enough to go through 89 levels of mostly soloing? It’s an issue for any established game, and I wonder what SOE is planning to help new players bridge the largest level gap of any subscription game. I’m guessing nothing, because there’s one thing that SOE loves more than anything in all its games, and that’s the GRIND. It’s a holy mandate with them.

It's .... Superdude!

EQ2’s Game Update 53 that introduced the Shard of Lurrrrv and lots of other coolness to the game has gotten Gestalt Mind’s Rao back in the game. Being able now to pass appearance and quest armor among alts is a nice thing, and the new adventure zone that adjusts to the group level — sweet.

Ogrebears is not so much of a fan, averring that the new WoW-like achievement system is turning everyone into mindless, achievement-hungry zombies who care for nothing more than wracking up pointless accomplishments.

Having trouble getting Age of Conan to look as good for you as it does on their web site? Worry not, Openedge1 is on the case, looking at drivers and settings for two different video cards to see how to best boost AoC’s performance.

And lastly (and only because I have to run to catch a bus!), Andrew of Of Teeth and Claws has journeyed back into the world of Spellborn and pronounced it — AWESOME. Yeah, the game is definitely a feast for the eyes :)

Daily Blogroll 8/31 – End of Summer edition

The Green Reaper checks out a billboard in Millennium City

Wow, can’t believe it’s almost autumn. Summer came so late to New England; cool and rainy through most of it, a couple of hot and humid days, and now the cooler days are back. It’s like living in Seattle.

Played a bit of Champions Online over the weekend. I take a character to level 10, start them in on the Hero Games cage matches, see how well they do and take what I learned to the next character. My most recent character was the Green Reaper, a character with all of Green Lantern’s abilities without the power ring. Custom framework of supernatural + telekinesis, allows for a ranged power builder, ability to make ego weaponry from thought alone, and the ability to toss heavy objects at people — with her mind! Travel power is green fire flight.

This build usually gets me in the top two scorers for a match. Having my main damage power — Ego Weaponry — be a melee attack is a problem. You want to be powerful at ranged in cage matches. You need to be able to cast a hold. You need a travel power that lets you run away — burrowing seems best for that, followed by teleport. DoTs are good for those people. My best cage match character remains Daddy’s Little Girl, my gadgeteer from beta. Heals really help! Swinging was her travel power.

Playing Champions Online and wondering how it compares to City of Heroes? Or vice versa? Scopique has a nice comparison of the two superhero games which gives a decent idea of the differences. I’ll add that City of Heroes has Day Jobs and Mission Architect, while Champions has the excellent Cage Match PvP instances. CO was looking mighty boring before I discovered those.

Saw a tweet from the Spellborn folks last week that implied the F2P version of Spellborn was crazy popular. O rly? Beau of Spouse Aggro says Ya, rly! Looks like new dad Heartless_ is having some fun with it as well.

Both WoW and EQ2 are revamping their innate racial bonuses, and the Verdant Dasypodid at Player vs Developer looks at the reasoning behind the changes, which seems to be at cross purposes. WoW is adding more fluff and less advantage to theirs, while EQ2 aims to give certain race/class combinations a decided advantage over others. I’m just kinda miffed they are taking away the halfling ability to summon pie :(

Spinks continues her mini-symposium on roleplaying in MMOs with a focus on using emotes and fluff items to set a mood. Given how pretty much all her suggestions were commonly implemented in the era of MUDs just shows how much we lost when we moved to games with more of an emphasis on graphics than gameplay.

Syp asks if it’s worth jumping into a MMO after the rush of release day has come and gone? Do late adopters have any fun? Or do they have to catch up to everyone first?

Stargrace at MMOQuests has an excellent guide to EQ2’s new Achievements system. New to EQ2, anyway, since it’s about as blatant a copy of similar systems in WoW and Warhammer as I’ve ever seen. I’m just happy there are still MMOs out there for *non*-Achievers. Ogrebears has the patch notes for the complete list of changes coming for Game Update 53, including the Shard of Lurrrrrv. I am SO HOPING that’s a no combat zone! I’ve been wanting to meet the Goddess of Love, Erollisi Marr, since I spent all those years on her server in EverQuest. I DON’T want to kill her!

Cownose loves Darkfall! He loves the world, loves the big fights, loves the exploration, loves everything about it! So why is he quitting, never to play again?

This is definitely the season for betas. Over the past few years, a game’s beta has taken on an importance way out of proportion to its former status as a way to get some player feedback during development (the pre-2004 model), or a way to stress test the game before launch (the pre-2008 model), to where it is now — a free trial in which the player is not expected to give any feedback on the direction or goals of the game and is more a marketing tool for which players should perhaps expect to pay a token amount. Maybe they should just call it a Gamma or something. Anyway. Syncaine looks at the timing of open betas, asking if companies should time their open betas for the time when no other mindshare-swallowing games are doing theirs? Should MMOs be scheduled like summer blockbuster movies?

Lastly, shout out to Cliffski of Positech Games, an indie developer whose Gratuitous Space Battles lets you create mad space battles between huge fleets. Picture of me horribly failing my first battle in the preview beta for pre-order customers is below.

Gratuitous Space Battles