Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Interesting article for MMO players to chew on.

You already know all about the MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) phenomenon: the GDC panels, the rants, the spectacular failures and successes, the addictions, the “Make Love, Not Warcraft” South Park episode, the ubiquitous elves, and especially the profits. Just in case you haven’t been paying attention, though, here’s a brief explanation of why MMOs are important.

World of Warcraft is a rather successful MMO. Its subscription model gives it a trump card against software pirates, and its massive subscriber base guarantees continued revenue for the next few years at least, if current trends are to be trusted. Even World of Warcraft’s older, poorer cousins, such Everquest and Ultima Online, continue to turn profits many years after their initial release.

On the other side of the PC gaming coin, non-subscription retail games face increasingly grim prospects as customers turn to pirated software and parasitic games such as the aforementioned World of Warcraft, which more than one executive has blamed for slow PC game sales. And they appear to have a valid complaint: retail sales of PC games have fallen every year since 2001, while revenue from subscription fees has skyrocketed.

Clearly, the trends show that the future of enthusiast PC gaming lies with games that can hold a player’s interest over long periods of time; at the very least, these games commute PC gaming’s death sentence for a few years, until game consoles can provide the features, depth, flexibility, and convenience that PCs allow.

The thing is…we all expected these games to evolve. We looked at Everquest and its addictiveness and reasoned that surely someone would improve on this formula, creating a breed of entertainment that the entire spectrum of gamers could enjoy. Instead, we have seen a parade of copycats that fails to appeal to a large portion of the potential market, despite far bigger development budgets than any offline games.

What’s the problem? Is it that MMO developers choose to design their games for a niche audience? Or are the designers, who often have little to no experience with traditional video game design, simply incapable of designing anything but a nerd-fest? I can’t answer that, but here are a few questions on the subject I do want to try to answer from the standpoint of a traditional game designer: What exactly is an MMO? Will the current MMO formula hold up over time? What is holding this type of game back from more universal success, and how can it be improved?

The article continues here...

Puzzle Quest. One addictive little MoFo

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords is a brand new, genre-bending title that ups the ante on traditional puzzle games by incorporating strategy, role-playing elements and a persistent storyline. Set in the Warlords universe, the game challenges players to save the land of Etheria from evil Lord Bane as gamers engage in battles fought by means of competitive, head-to-head "match-three" style puzzle games in one of three gameplay modes: Single-player, Instant Action or Multiplayer. Victory will advance a player's customisable hero, magical arsenal, creature companions and more—ultimately rewarding gamers at nearly every turn and deepening their immersion into the richly diverse world. The game's remarkable mix of classic puzzle gameplay and an abundant suite of characters, customisations, spells, companions, tameable monsters and more provides a fresh take on the puzzle genre that offers endless hours of replayability. Designed specifically for handheld gaming systems, Puzzle Quest can be enjoyed in long or short doses, cultivating a casual but deeply satisfying and compelling gameplay experience.

Key Features

  • Innovative Gameplay Style - Strategy and role-playing elements that function harmoniously in the puzzle gameboard setting offer a refreshing twist on classic puzzle gameplay, fostering an exceptional depth of investment and enjoyment.
  • Head-to-Head Gameplay Mechanism - Competitive, turn-based gameplay encourages you to plan, think and strategize against opponents instead of just react like most traditional puzzle games; game difficulty and progression are related to outsmarting your enemies as opposed to difficulty increasing solely through level progression.
  • No Penalty for Losing - If you experience defeat, you are still awarded experience points as well as partial gold and then encouraged to try again; this allows constant progression and avoids any feelings that invested play time is wasted.
  • Continuous Reward System - At every turn, you will acquire helpful companions, collect or cast powerful magic spells, gather informational "rumors," and obtain items like weapons, armor and money to advance your hero.
  • Short or Long-term Play Sessions - Play in long or short doses since the depth of the game does not waver according to the length of a gameplay session; each battle ranges from 3-10 minutes.
  • Three Distinct Gameplay Modes Offer Unparalleled Replayability -
    • Single-player: Battle against the computer AI as you embark on more than 150 challenging quests
    • Instant Action: Jump in and immediately play continuous battles to level up your character without participating in quests
    • Multiplayer: Battle live opponents via wireless connectivity on both the PSP™ (PlayStation®Portable) system and the Nintendo DS handheld system
  • Create and Build a Hero - Choose from two male and two female avatars in each of the four character classes-Druid, Knight, Warrior and Wizard-to create, develop and customize your ultimate hero.
  • Build Your Own Empire - Build an empire as you capture cities, build castles and gain a party of companions that will aid you in battle.

Behold: The reason I haven't been posting as much lately is this little gem (pun intended) of a game that came out of no where. Currently it is only available in it's full form for the PSP and DS. Click the picture above and you can download a PC demo. This game looks like a perfect fit for Xbox Live Arcade too. I think the element of using puzzles ala Bejewled as the combat system was a stroke of sheer genius. There are no repetitive battles that are resolved by hitting the same combination of keys as in a lot of RPGs. Each battle is different even if you are fighting the same type of monster. I'll have a full review eventually.