Posts Tagged ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’

This post continues the discussion I began in “Chillin’ at the OK Corral;” In that post I re-evaluated both Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic based on their pre-launch claims concerning the revolutionary transformation they were about to unleash upon a helpless planet earth.  Since their release, the Massively Multiplayer Game environment has seen some interesting changes over the last year or so.  What might these changes indicate about the fate of existing MMORPGs and ones still in development?

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Looking back over some of the posts on the blog I see that I wrote several anticipating the releases of The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2, including one called “Everything we know about MMORPGs is about to change. . .or is it?” which looked at the way both games were claiming to bring revolutionary innovations to the genre. Given that both games have now been out for a while and I’ve played both of them it seems only appropriate to ask: how well are we coping with the Revolution?

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Star Wars: The Old Republic

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been encouraged lately by the thought that even though the world of game design has, on the whole, proven stubbornly resistant to learning from its mistake (mainly due to a collective memory that makes an ADHD ant appear to be a fount of oracular wisdom) some improvement is nevertheless possible.  I’ve been quite impressed with the Bioware’s preparations to try and ensure that the launch of the massively hyped Star Wars: The Old Republic will not be an unmitigated disaster.

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There’s not really anything like it, every Saturday I get to go to one of our computer lab classrooms, jump around and yell excitedly about Blizzard Entertainment’s Starcraft II. This is CSL, the Colligate Starleague, founded by Mona “Hazelynut” Zhang over at Princeton University. It started in 2008 and has since has grown into over 240 schools competing around the country. About a year ago, my roommate, GenerallyAwesome, and I founded the George Washington Unviserity CSL team and ended up doing marginally well in the competition. Since, we’ve passed it off to enterprising young sophomores and then returned to our peaceful lives. GenerallyAwesome still competes regularly, and I go to be enthusiastic and get people excited because I’m actually pretty terrible.

The most important part about setting up any kind of offline organization like this is courage. As many of us are painfully aware, the impression is that online gaming isn’t one of the most popular things to be doing and so gathering offline to game and hang out isn’t something a lot of gamers will feel comfortable jumping right into. I felt a lot of this when we were setting up our team (GenerallyAwesome didn’t, he doesn’t care), but I remembered the immortal words of Starcraft II commentator and personality Sean “Day[9]” Plott: Love what you love and show that you love it, people will understand and love you for it. If you are unafraid of what you do and show courage in loving it, people will see that and those that love it too will show more courage themselves.

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Along with the predictable cavalcade of Viagra ads and missives from prominent Nigerian businessman asking me to help them take care of an unexpected financial windfall, my e-mail today included the following piece of news from Sony Online Entertainment:

Dear Star Wars Galaxies™ Community Member,
We write to you today to inform you that on December 15, 2011, Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) and LucasArts will end all services (MMO and Trading Card Game) for Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). The shutdown of SWG is a very difficult decision, but SOE and LucasArts have mutually agreed that the end of 2011 is the appropriate time to end the game.
We are extremely grateful to all of the SWG fans. We have had the rare opportunity to host one of the most dedicated and passionate online gaming communities and we truly appreciate the support we’ve received from each and every one of you over the course of the past eight years.
In recognition of your incredible loyalty, we are extending special Fan Appreciation offers to the current SWG community. We also plan to go out with a bang with a galaxy-ending in-game event in December and hope to see you all there. The details relating to these offers and events as well as the timeline and specifics regarding the discontinuation of the service, are provided below.
Again, we want to extend our heartfelt thanks to our player community for making SWG one of the best online communities in gaming history.
Sincerely,Sony Online Entertainment & LucasArts

Now in some ways I’m not surprised.  I haven’t played Star Wars Galaxies (which first launched in June of 2003) since 2006.  I’ve written in some detail about how much I loved the early version of the game, a love only surpassed by my dislike of the so-called “New Game Enhancements and my disappointment at watching the game turn into a shadow of its former glory.

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In a recent developer blog, Colin Johanson, Lead Content Designer for Guild Wars 2 asserts that their new dynamic content system will fundamentally change the MMORPG genre:

MMOs have become extremely popular, but the genre has done little to evolve over the past decade. Generally MMO players explore an unchanging, persistent game world, leveling up by performing quests which do not change the world in any way once completed. It’s time for the genre to take the next step, and explore the idea of a truly dynamic, living, breathing persistent world where the player’s actions really make a difference, and everything that occurs in the game world has cause and effect.

I’ve really been enjoying the Guild Wars 2 developer blogs.  I like the use of the cartoon strips to poke fun at some of the hoary practices of traditional MMOs (in the blog providing an overview of the combat system, for example, players are all set to pitch into a bar fight but then are reduced to standing around trying to calculate their relative damage and attack stats; I wept bitter tears of recognition).  The GW2 developers’ analysis of the problems with current MMOs is considered and, for the most part, accurate.  The design they are proposing in response sounds great; everything about it (with the unfortunate exception of it being set in a fantasy realm, but I could possibly suck it up and deal with that) sounds like exactly the kind of game that I would love to play.

However, I don’t have a lot of faith that this kind of game will prove sufficiently popular to last very long.

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The rise in popularity of Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) has been a boon for game studies scholars.  Not just because it has meant that we have more great games to play, ponder, and write about (of course, the better the game, the less likely we are to get round to the pondering and writing phase, but that is an issue for another day).  And not just because the obvious complexity of these worlds is enabling scholars to think about them in interesting ways; as, for example, testing grounds for economic (Castronova) or sociological (Bainbridge) theories.  It is because the development of an MMORPG has become a quintessential part of the product and is therefore highly visible in the way that is not the case for other genres of games (even though the visibility for those games is a lot greater, in many cases, than in previous years).  Increasingly, members from every major section of a development team are writing occasional and sometimes regular developer logs that describe not just the “features” they are working on but articulate the goals the team has for the game and the writer’s theoretical approach to their particular specialty.

There are some straightforward commercial reasons for this.  Making the development process more transparent is a way of building the brand.  Unlike your average console or computer title which will typically be forgotten in a couple of months or, with better games, a year or two at the absolute outside, developers and publishers of MMORPGs hope that their brand will endure for many years.  The development phase also, therefore, plays a vital role in setting the parameters for the kind of player community the developers hope to see after the game is launched, and the kind of relationship they hope to have with that community.

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