03 Apr 2013 6:48 am

I was sufficiently pleased to watch the Yamato 2199 remake; but I’m not too sure if Harlock can survive the jump from Leiji Matsumoto’s gorgeous animation to the new (and, admittedly equally gorgeous, but somehow not as personable) CGI. Doesn’t mean I’m not going to watch it, though.

02 Apr 2013 2:31 pm

I guess my trip out to Boston to visit Andrew (and see Dave and Andy) and the subsequent PAX East awesomeness has rekindled a fierce joy in playing retro (or retro-ish) games, what with the “last ever Retronauts” panel (and it’s subsequent Kickstarter), and the Wayforward-developed Ducktales HD remaster.

It probably helps too that 4chan has an extremely polite (by 4chan standards) new subforum — retro video games, and that’s where I found this gem:

It’s a 16-bit remake of the original Legend of Zelda, for BS Satellaview. You can read all about it here.

For comparison’s sake, check out the starting gameplay footage of the original game, in case you’ve forgotten how it looks:

06 Dec 2012 12:06 pm

05 Aug 2012 3:55 pm

The big news in the MMO world this past week has been EA/Bioware’s announcement that they are effectively retooling SWTOR as a F2P game, sometime in the fall. This comes hard on the heels of news that SWTOR’s executive producer Rich Vogel has left the company, as layoffs continue at Bioware Austin. Hard times, especially when you consider that the game went F2P in under a year; that’s the rough equivalent of “straight to DVD” in video game terms.

The transition to F2P can be seen a bit as a desperation play — look at D&D online and LOTRO; MMO’s with declining subscriber bases that saw a return to fiscal stability when they ditched the monthly fee. SWTOR apparently needed to maintain a stable population base of a million paying subs, and they’ve recently dipped below that, which seems to have been the final trigger for EA management’s decision.

Putting things in perspective, WoW announced in a recent earnings report that despite the fact that they had lost just a little over a million subscribers since their last report in May, they’re not worried, which gives you an idea of what a juggernaught it is in the MMO space. Blizzard/Activision may be the the only company that can safely demand a subscription from its playerbase these days, both due to long-running loyalty and from the fact that, basically, every expansion is a new game system overlaid on relatively familiar worlds, essentially performing the delicate balancing act of keeping the game fresh and exciting while at the same time providing reassuring and familiar environments to their players. It doesn’t hurt that their massive war chest allows them to constantly tweak the game, either in terms of mechanical balance, new mechanics, or quality-of-life issues.

It’s against all this refinement that new players in the MMO market space have to struggle against. WoW essentially launched in a vacuum (UO and Everquest notwithstanding; those games were essentially moribund by the time WoW launched in 2004). People tend to forget that it didn’t have the smoothest of launches either; massive login queues, laggy worlds, and all manner of janky game and UI behaviour that people put up with because they simply didn’t know any better, or have anything to really compare it to.

Had SWTOR launched in a similar environment, I imagine its player base would have been somewhat more forgiving of its flaws. Instead, it’s feature set and gameplay are constantly compared to the market leader, and, predictably, it comes up short. Worse, there appears to have been some kind of managerial blindness or arrogance in the direction of SWTOR’s development. Despite constantly touting the fourth pillar of story, they seemed to have forgotten that they were working in an MMO, and pillars one to three (exploration, combat and progression) were still massively important. While the class stories were certainly interesting and unique (though they varied in quality) there’s only so much of that to go around, and precious little to do with a character once it reaches maximum level, especially when the end-game grind is poorly implemented and really, not “sticky” enough to keep people subscribed.

Were they expecting people to play this game like a single player RPG? Slowly go through all the stories and progress on one character? In which case, charging a subscription fee for what is essentially a crippled version of KOTOR III seems mightily distateful. If not, then EA/Bioware management’s arrogance seems even more shocking with regards to the decisions they made in gameplay, especially with an eye towards replayability. Alts are the reason that people keep playing long after they’ve finished the story, and yet everything worked against playing an alt — repetitive stories, difficulty in getting a group together for flashpoints, excruciating and occasionally pointless exercises in travel. They eventually (after much hue and outcry on their forums) worked towards fixing them, but again, when you’re a game going against an eight-year established veteran in the same marketplace, you don’t have the luxury of not getting it right the first time, not if you’re charging your players $15 a month.

People tend to be more forgiving of your flaws if they don’t feel like their wallet is suffering because of it. Look at an F2P MMO like Star Trek Online, for instance (possibly the only other fanbase as “built-in” and insane as Star Wars fans). The game, strictly speaking, has no end-game. All of their interesting stories were essentially cut short and haven’t been continued since the game went F2P. What remains, essentially, is Space Pokemon (with their Duty Officer system), a new Fleet System (where guilds can contribute towards the construction of Fleet Starbases), and a really cool space-combat engine in pretty starships (the prettier ones you can pay either real-cash money for and exchange said money for spacebucks with which to buy these ships, or grind dilithium through in-game missions and events and convert it to aforementioned spacebucks through an unregulated player-run arbitrage system). And yet despite the paucity of reasons to keep people playing (and paying), pay they do, enough to keep the game profitable enough for Cryptic and Perfect World Entertainment.

So far, I’m a little iffy on SWTOR’s F2P implementation. It seems like the “free” game is essentially geared towards people who want to play KOTOR III and only that, while everything that makes the game an MMO is locked behind a paywall. On the surface, that doesn’t seem like a bad idea, but most MMO’s who actually make money on F2P do so on the sale of vanity items, rather than through the sale of what were previously core features.

If it seems like I’m down on SWTOR, I am, a little, but not enough for me to wish them ill. While the game has been disappointing so far, it’s mostly in the sense that they released a 2007 MMO in a 2012 marketspace; perhaps the stability offered by going F2P will allow the devs to polish off all the rough corners. One can only hope.

31 Jul 2012 12:16 am

I know I tweeted this before, but the video needs to be seen and enjoyed.

On reflection, I think my garage is just big enough to house this thing, though as far as practical use goes, at 10 km/h, the Kuratas Mecha is more of an “arrive in style, not speed” kinda conveyance. On the other hand, the kinect-sensor driven, smile-operated BB gun system is a huge plus for anyone living out here in the wilds of Richmond.