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MMO Weekly 3/3/09

Ah yes, my old friends, it’s that time again.  Time to break out your old polyhedral dice, to get the Mountain Dew and the energy drinks out of the fridge, to get our fingers all cheesy with Dorito dust, and to reminisce on the now-computerized legacy that our old crazy uncle, Gary Gygax, has left for us.  Yes, you guessed right, it’s time for the latest edition of MMO Weekly. 

Tabula Rasa closure

The big story this week has to be the slow, lingering death of Tabula Rasa.  The servers were officially turned off at midnight on February 28, just a couple of days ago, and it was a sad moment.  TR held such promise – it was to be the first great sci-fi MMO, designed by the father of the genre, Richard Garriott.  It incorporated a number of FPS qualities, was action oriented, and was different from anything else out there.

So what went wrong?  For one, the game simply didn’t capture players’ interests.  In beta, the developers knew that players just weren’t that thrilled with the game.  There just wasn’t that “I can’t wait to get home and log on” quality to the gameplay.  It wasn’t a bad game – actually, it was quite good at times – but it wasn’t riveting.  MMOs need to be riveting to keep players coming back.  Despite the lackluster beta, they launched TR anyway.  Players collectively sighed and mumbled “ho hum.”

TR fell into a familiar sci-fi MMO trap.  I call it the “Everyone with a machine gun” syndrome.  The game essentially boiled down to hundreds of nearly identical players, all of whom were running around the same area, firing futuristic guns at things.  A surprising number of sci-fi games, and even more sci-fi MMOs, repeat this error again and again.  There are no substantial character differences, no significant racial variants, no distinctive fascinating class to keep everyone interested.  No matter what class, hybrid race, or equipment you combined together, you ended up with the exact same thing.  You were a typical guy with a futuristic machine gun.  You, and your buddies, who were essentially the same as you, ran around and shot stuff.  And you did this over, and over, and over again, day after day.  

Eventually, subscription numbers got so low the game had to be shut down.  The developers of Tabula Rasa were great about the game’s demise.  They continued to support the players, continued to release content even up to two weeks before the game shut down, and promised a huge event on the last day.  This event was supposed to be an over-the-top invasion by the Bane, the evil wicked aliens of the TR universe.  With new technical innovations and newfound support, the Bane were making a big push to crush the Allied Free Sentients, and put an end to human resistance (and existence) forever.  It was a nice plot line.  The game wasn’t going to die quietly.  The Bane were planning an unprecedented, extremely large attack.  Bases had been specially fortified.  Everyone knew there was going to be a gigantic, all-out gunfight.  The AFS even warned their players that they would use the ultimate weapon if the Bane got the upper hand.  This doomsday device would destroy the AFS, but would wipe out the Bane, too.  Everyone looked forward to the promised apocalypse.

Unfortunately, the big ending never came.  The Bane invaded, but it wasn’t all that impressive.  As the clock turned to midnight, players emoted, danced, shot any nearby Bane, and waited.  They waited some more.  There was a general good-bye message, and then….everyone was disconnected.  No world-ending explosion, no doomsday weapon, just a whimper before the lights went out. 

There’s video of the event, if you’d like to see it.  While not exactly the most riveting piece of video you’ll ever see, it may still bring a tear to your eye.  That is, if you’re an overly emotional sot like me, who cries at Hallmark commercials and when MMOs just plain get turned off without the promised fanfare.  (Sniff.)

Strange Darkfall community

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s the extremely eventful launch of Darkfall Online.  Darkfall is an unusual MMO in a number of respects, the first being that it was in development for nearly 10 years.  This had led to the suspicion that Darkfall, a game much anticipated by some, was actually vaporware.  Not so, apparently. 

The launch of Darkfall was…well, horrifying.  The game didn’t exactly launch.  It kind of, well, limped to life.  There were login, authentication, registration, “synching”, and other problems galore.  According to reports, no one could play the game until very late on launch day.  That’s not an exaggeration, friends.  There were so many problems, the game almost completely missed it’s own launch date.  At one point, the game servers were down for a staggering 27 hours

Of course, there were other problems.  The frame rate was bad, lag was horrible, and the official website was still inviting people to sign up for the beta.  Things are supposedly better now, but complaints remain.  But that, fellow MMO fans, isn’t the biggest issue with Darkfall.

Darkfall has prided itself on having unrestricted PvP.  By “unrestricted”, the developers mean “having no rules, guidelines, or structure whatsoever.”  Anyone can attack anyone else at any time, without consequence.  It’s like a planet full of murderers.

Oddly, this is part of the appeal of Darkfall.  It hearkens back to the early days of Ultima Online.  The ruleset (well, lack of any rules whatsoever) gives the game a feel that has old UO players jumping for homicidal joy.  This group of MMO fans have long felt that this kind of hardcore PvP gives an MMO an edge, and they have a point.  When, at any moment, you can be killed and have all your armor and weapons stolen from your corpse (yes, you can loot the players you kill), you do feel a bit on edge.

This has led to immaturity not seen in an MMO since….oh, what the heck am I talking about?  Every MMO in the world is just oozing with immaturity.  But Darkfall’s infusion of immaturity has certainly got personality.  Fundamentally, it’s a bunch of pencil-necked geeks all acting like tough guys.  Visit the boards, watch the in-game chat, log in for a few minutes, and you’ll know exactly what I mean.  Nerds, trying to humiliate one another, and prove that they are the toughest, most hardcore nerd in this hardcore nerd game.  Even the developers/community managers have given interviews, in which they’ve gone all alpha-nerd on the fans.  It’s hard to watch, quite frankly.  However, if you’d like to get a feel for what I’m talking about, that can be done right here.  (Of particular note is the cringe-worthy tough-guy dialog in the video.  Eeeek.)  

And the rest

Of course, I cannot end on that note.  I have to end on something funny!  It’s tradition!  So here we go: 

How about a swordsman versus a supermodel?  That’s funny.

How about the song “What a Day for a Daydream”, sung in the dystopic City 17?  That’s funny, too.

How about a superhero that wants you to “touch his awesome button”?  That’s seriously funny stuff, right there. 
 
Ok, ok, enough with the forced attempts at game-related humor.  It’s time to wrap things up.  If you want your daily fix of all things having to do with your virtual life, come and visit us over at WanderingGoblin.com.  We serve up MMO news, hot, fresh, and stinky, each and every day.  For now, ciao!

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