May 27, 2008

Age of Conan porn

Well, I bet that kind of title will get your attention for sure! Wired blog had a pretty interesting post about AoC, so I thought I would share. Apparently, a website called WhoreLore - which is the creator of 'Whores of Warcraft', a porn movie series set in the WoW universe - have set their attention on AoC instead. I mean, making a porn video out of a game which already has adult content makes sense, no?

There is only one episode so far on AoC, and it's called - no really, you got to hear this - Rage of Bonan. As Wired writes, it involves the very first side quest that you get when you start the game - saving a sexy harlot named Casilda who is chained to a pole at the beach.

Naturally, the porn video involves way less monster bashing and much more of, hm... other activities. I don't think Mr. Bonan even reaches Tortage with a semi-naked woman distracting him. Saving the city from the tyrant Strom is postponed it seems. What can I say, I find this pretty damn hilarious.

May 21, 2008

Early Access comic from Ctrl+Alt+Del

Ctrl+Alt+Del, one of my favorite webcomics, has a 4-panel strip dedicated to Age of Conan's Early Access program (or more like, targeted at people complaining they didn't get into EA). Hehe.

I can understand the frustration of people who tried to get into the program and couldn't, but honestly, I don't think it's a big deal. You start the game 3 (or 6) days later, that's all.

Personally, I paid 5 Euro for it and downloaded everything successfully. I even played the game for a while on my older computer which barely met the minimum requirements. However, when my PC upgrade parts arrived and I installed them, I started experiencing crashes and freeze-ups in AoC, which made the game pretty much unplayable. Looks like I'll have to spend the next few days till the launch just trying to solve the problem, and that will effectively make my EA useless. So much for a headstart! I'll post my new PC specs and how well it can run AoC in the next few days (or when I fix it).

I'm not loosing out on much though. Granted, some hardcore guilds have already started building their guild cities, but these are people who probably explored everything in beta already. I plan to take things slowly and actually follow the storyline... Whenever I can play the game, that is.

What's more, server maintenance is an everyday thing during EA; just today, for example, there's a planned 5 hour downtime starting 20:00 GMT - which is really inconvenient for people who can only play on evenings. Can't they move them to 5 AM or something?

May 18, 2008

Age of Conan RvR servers (Culture PvP ruleset)

In a completely unexpected move (for me, at least) Funcom released a new server ruleset called "Culture PvP". Like the name implies, the ruleset will stimulate war between the three nations in Age of Conan (Cimmeria, Aquilonia and Stygia). The new Culture PvP servers are Bane (US) and Twilight (EU). Funcom says that the rules are still subject to change and this is merely an experiment; they will decide everything based on player feedback and make according changes in the future.

I must add that the current rules are nothing like full-fledged RvR (Realm versus Realm). If you are not in a party, you may not be attacked by other lone players of your nationality - and right now, that's the only difference between a FFA PvP server and this new Cultural PvP. You may still form parties with players of any race, and when you are in a party, you may attack (and be attacked) by your own race, too. Forming guilds across cultures is allowed as well.

These rules might seem a bit weird, but it looks like they are just a step in the evolution to real RvR ruleset servers in Age of Conan. The official news release says that "pure culture" guilds are endorsed on the new Culture PvP servers, and players must "
prepare that the future will hold continued changes to the ruleset".

I'll say this again, I was pretty surprised by the move. Ever since I first learned about Age of Conan two years ago, I knew that it was going to be a FFA PvP game. There wasn't ever an indication that it would be something else. Granted, some people thought that FFA model would never work well in an MMORPG, but even more players (like Shadowbane or Ultima Online veterans) were eagerly waiting for a new FFA-PvP MMO. Now Funcom wants to offer two vastly different PvP rulesets. Is that because they aren't confident in the success of their FFA-PvP model, or is this done merely to attract a wider audience of players?

May 15, 2008

Age of Conan Early Access server list announced

The long-awaited server list has finally been posted, so now you and your guild can select the server on which you will be spending the majority of your free time in the upcoming months. I know that if you follow the news you have probably already seen this list like five times, but I'm posting it anyway:

US Servers

PvE Servers

  • Set
  • Dagoth
  • Zug
  • Omm
  • Derketo
  • Thog
  • Wiccana
  • Gwahlur (recommended Oceanic)
  • Anu
PvP Servers
  • Tyranny
  • Bane
  • Deathwisper
  • Bloodspire (recommended Oceanic)
  • Doomsayer
RP-PvP Server
  • Cimmeria
European English Servers

PvE Servers
  • Crom
  • Dagon
  • Ymir
  • Bori
  • Astoreth
PvP Servers
  • Fury
  • Wildsoul
RP-PvP Server
  • Aquilonia
French Servers

PvE Server
  • Ishtar
PvP Server
  • Ferox
RP-PvP Server
  • Stygia
German Servers

PvE Servers
  • Mitra
  • Asura
PvP Server
  • Aries
RP-PvP Server
  • Asgard
Spanish Server
  • Zingara (PvE)
Some things to note. First all all, I'm a bit disapointed in the lack of choice between European PvP servers. We only get two - does this mean there are so few PvPers who will be playing here? Well, Funcom knows best I guess. At any rate, I shouldn't complain seeing how Spanish guys are getting a PvE server only. Of course, all of this list is merely Early Access-enabled servers; at the official launch, many more will be added. I think you can expect the ones listed here to be the ones where biggest fans of the game will play and where the most serious guild warfare will take place.

Personally, I will be playing on Wildsoul as my guild decided on this one. See you there!

New Age of Conan spellweaving video

Do you remember when spellweaving was revealed and explained by an official source? I sure was happy to hear that it would be in the game. There also was a short clip attached of a caster spellweaving, but I didn't really understood it at that time. Turns out all the cool effects actually came from spellweaving itself, as explained very well in the video below. It's from Age of Conan launch party which was yesterday as far as I know. Just watch it - it's amazing.



It really looks so much better when they demonstrate it from the beginning, and you can see the power of the caster growing with every 10-second transition. I believe that's a Priest of Mitra spellweaving here, and since the player in the first video (Necromancer, or maybe Tempest of Set?) had dark stones rising from ground, it's clear that every class will have a really unique spellweaving animation.

Like Gaute says in the video above, it does look like spellweaving will mostly be used in raids. I hope it will also work well in group PvP like Keep Siege. I don't think that you will be using it a lot in regular encounters since it makes you immobile, drains your stamina and gives you a 25% damage bonus - not that good considering the downsides - but perhaps it's for the better that you won't see statues falling out of the sky everywhere.

May 14, 2008

Age of Conan Early Access update

According to Tarib's post on the official AoC forums, all the Early Access keys were sold out. That means if you didn't get it yet, you're probably out of luck. Personally, I got mine from game.co.uk a few days ago, and was able to link it to my old AO account without problems. Paid the 5 Euro fee, got the Funcom Download Manager and still am downloading the Early Access client. Yeah, 13 GB takes a while on my 2 mbps connection even at maximum speed (over 14 hours in theory), but I should be done this evening.

I read that some people are having problems like extremely low download speeds, so here are a few tips that might help if you are one of them:

  • Set a fixed port in the high range (10k+) using the instructions provided. Instead of having to use command line, you can simply create a shortcut to the client and add /port 12345 in the Target field of it's Properties, so it looks something like:
    "D:\My Downloads\AoC-EU-EarlyAccess.exe" /port 12345
  • Set your upload speed to be less than your maximum - around 80%-90% ideally; the Downloader doesn't give you precise control like full-fledged BitTorrent clients do, so just make sure it's the first setting that is less than your maximum upload speed. Be nice and don't set it too low if you can. Normally BitTorrent trackers punish you for low upload, but that doesn't really seem to be the case with the Downloader.
  • Make sure the fixed port you set is open - you might need to edit your firewall settings or set up port forwarding in your router, if you're using one. This will allow other peers to connect to you, increasing their download speed. Again, if you're "firewalled" or behind a router, your download speed suffers severely with normal BitTorrent clients, but that also might not be the case with Funcom's Download Manager since you're not only downloading from your peers, but from company's servers as well (otherwise it would take a hellishly long time with no one seeding).
  • Pause and start the downloader again. It's pretty "stupid" and it seems it's connecting to different peers or giving you different download speed from the server each time you start it.
  • If everything's working fine as it is, just chill out - and see you on Hyboria!
Before I forget, announcing the end of Early Access wasn't the only thing in Tarib's post. He also said this:
Pre-orders on accounts that was later cancelled will have their keys/account disabled
Honestly, I find this pretty funny since I never thought it was ethical to reserve a copy, receive your key to claim a bonus, and then cancel the preorder. This way you could collect a bunch of preorder bonuses for free; however, I think this only worked with US vendors since the ones in Europe (like Game in UK) ship their Mammoth and Rhino bonuses together with the box instead of sending them early by e-mail.

May 10, 2008

Top 3 MMORPGs coming out in 2008

Looks like 2008 is going to be a great year for MMORPG players, with three new and amazing games coming out. First of all, there's obviously the brutal and mature Age of Conan, which is going to be released in a little more than a week. Then we have Warhammer Online, a promising PvP-RvR game based on the very popular Warhammer Fantasy world that should come out on September 30.

The third game doesn't seem to have such a large following as the first two, at least not outside Asia - you might not have even heard of it before if you aren't interested in Korean MMOs - but it offers some very interesting features, such as air combat. I'm talking about Aion: Tower of Eternity, the beautiful and stylish high fantasy MMORPG from the creators of Lineage 2. Don't write it off right away as "another Asian grindfest" because you might be in for a surprise. A tentative release date for Aion is October 30.

In all fairness, I should probably also mention Wrath of the Lich King which is slated for November 30 this year and will probably get tons of sales, but it's merely an expansion to World of Warcraft and by no means a new game.

Perhaps Darkfall deserves to be mentioned as well, as it offers more unique features than any other MMORPG to date ("on paper", at least), but I really doubt it will make a 2008 release.

Now let's see what's so good about these three games, and then compare their fanbases, features, and try to guess how successful they are going to be.

Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures

There is a number of things that set this game apart from other MMORPGs. To start with, it's the first ever mature MMORPG with violence, gore, implied sex and slavery. Conan's Hyboria is an unforgiving and harsh place, not fit for the weak; it's a realistic and brutal low fantasy world. Second, we have the incredible graphics - Age of Conan is the first MMORPG to use a DirectX 10 capable engine. Most of animations are motion-captured, so expect yet unseen level of realism.

Then we have the unique features of the game: the Real Combat melee system where you have to aim your blows yourself, the brutal Fatalities, Mounted Combat with horses, rhinos and even mammoths, and Spellweaving for empowering your spells at the cost of your own stamina and health. The first person view for Rangers is something that deserves to be mentioned as well. Overall Age of Conan is bringing a lot of new things to the MMORPG market, instead of just going with a tried and proved model.

I didn't mention Keep Siege among the unique game features, because there are many other MMORPGs which have this kind of thing (Lineage 2, for one). Still, it's very important to point out that Age of Conan uses a FFA-PvP model (Free For All), meaning there are no predefined factions, and all warfare is a result of guild conflicts. This is very different from the two other MMOs I'm writing about in this post since they both are RvR-PvP (Realm versus Realm) games. Plus, on PvP servers you are able to attack anyone not in your guild or party, which is a big thing for some hardcore PvPers, even if a bit diminished by practically nonexistent death penalties. In the Border Kingdoms, most powerful guilds will compete for domination and raid the Battlekeeps of the enemy clans, while trying to build up and defend their own - that's what Keep Siege in Age of Conan is about.

When compared to other two games, it offers most realism, in sharp contrast with beautiful, immaculate high fantasy world of Aion (AoC is like this scarred battle veteran in rusted gear, while Aion is a shiny, winged being with smooth skin and ornate armor) and to less extent with more gritty, but somewhat cartoony style of Warhammer Online.

Age of Conan screenshots:



Release date: 20th May
Developer: Funcom
Links:
Official site
Preorder Age of Conan

Warhammer Online

Warhammer Online is another big MMORPG coming out this year - possibly the most anticipated of the three as the Warhammer world has a big fanbase (but I'll talk about that later). Warhammer has highly stylized ("cartoony", so to speak) art style and a RvR PvP (Realm versus Realm) model, which is why some people say it's very similar to WoW (even going as far as calling it WoW 2.0). That's not entirely true, however; Warhammer Online is very much focused on the PvP content - the battle between Armies of Order and Destruction - and even accomplishing PvE quests will contribute a little to your Army's effort. The ultimate goal is to conquer the enemy cities, and then lay siege to their capital. This constant, ongoing war seems to be the main attraction of the game.

Some of the unique features of the game include "Tome of Knowledge" rewards, where a player is given some information on Warhammer lore (something fans will like, I'm sure) and advanced character combat ability customization with Tactics and Morale Skills that you can equip before each battle. The RvR system also seems well thought out and deep; here's a YouTube video explaining it in detail.

While Warhammer has what is probably the largest following, it also offers least innovations and new features. Even the graphics engine is an updated one from DAoC; no doubt it will work great, but I don't think we'll see any truly spectacular views. It really seems that WAR went with what is proven to work, unlike Age of Conan and Aion to some extent. They do give a lot of thoughts to the gameplay though, such as making sure even low level players can already engage in RvR battles.

Warhammer Online screenshots:



Release date: Fall 2008
Developer: EA Mythic
Links:
Official site
Preorder Warhammer Online

Aion: Tower of Eternity

Aion is a Korean high fantasy game from NCSoft - creators of Guild Wars, City of Heroes, Tabula Rasa and Lineage, which makes them the most experienced MMORPG developers. Forget being a weak, bound to earth human - in Aion, you will become Daeva - an immortal, winged being with the power to control Aether. The world of Aion is pure eyecandy: floating cities, lush forests full of fantastic creatures, sexy, beautiful and flawless characters, stunning spell effects and that sort of stuff. I guess it's either love or hate with Asian style MMORPGs; personally, I like the art style a lot. Like I said before, the contrast between the brutal Age of Conan and beautiful Aion is huge, so these games will probably attract separate crowds.

Aion is a complex game, with dynamic relationships between races, guilds and factions. The game model is RvR: there are two playable Daeva races (the Angelic race, Elyos, and the Demonic race, Asmodian) as well as the third NPC race - the Draconian race, or Balaur, which will also participate in RvR conflicts as enemies or allies. The main conflicts happen in the Abyss, which was formed after the Tower of Eternity was broken. There will also be castles available for capture; first, the guild will have to defeat the defending Balaur, and then protect the castle against enemy factions.

Among the unique features of Aion is the aerial combat: when your character reaches a high enough level, it can acquire "wings", which not only can be used for travel, but for fighting in the air as well. The game uses CRYtek engine (same as FarCry) so expect some stunning detail.

One of the main concerns that most players have when it comes to Korean MMORPGs is "grind" - repetitive actions needed to advance your character, basically. The developers have spoken about the issue in a Q&A session so they are aware of it, and the game will be released both for EU and US markets, so it seems more casual players will be catered to as well.

Aion screenshots:



Release date: Q4 2008
Developer: NCSoft
Links:
Official site
Preorder Aion

Innovation and features

So, which game brings most fresh concepts to the MMORPG market, and which one gives the player the most options on how to spend their play time? The comparison might not be fair due to the fact that there's not equal amount of information available on these games (Age of Conan's release being just around the corner), but let's do this anyway. I'll outline the most important points of each game - the ones that really sets them apart others, the ones that no other MMORPG has.

Age of Conan:

  • FFA PvP with siege system (similar systems done before in some MMORPGs)
  • "Real Combat" system
  • Mounted Combat
  • Spellweaving
  • Realistic DirectX10 graphics
Warhammer Online:
  • Complex RvR PvP with city siege (similar systems done before in some MMORPGs)
  • PvE quests which aid the PvP war effort
Aion:
  • RvR PvP with 2 playable and 1 NPC race (similar systems done before in some MMORPGs)
  • Both regular and aerial combat
  • Stylized DirectX9 graphics (cannot be considered revolutionary after Age of Conan's DX10 debut, but still better than majority of other MMORPGs)
Now there's obviously more information available about Age of Conan than the other two, but I believe it offers the most innovative, exciting new features. WAR is going with the "tried and working" stuff - which isn't a bad thing at all - but lacks anything really revolutionary. Here's how I would line up the games depending on how much innovation they bring.
Game features and innovation:

1. Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures
2. Aion: Tower of Eternity
3. Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

Popularity

Let's see how popular the games are right now. First of all, you need to have in mind that Warhammer world already has a lot of fans; there are tabletop games, a PC game and more stuff based on the Warhammer universe that guarantee the new Warhammer Online MMORPG a big fanbase right from the beginning. Age of Conan is based on Conan novels by Robert E. Howard which don't have a following (at least not one that I know of), and Aion is an original setting, so no help there.

First of all, let's take a look at Google Trends: these show how many users searched for that particular query over a period of time.

WAR vs AoC:


WAR vs AoC

Interesting results here. People obviously search for Warhammer Online more, which shows a bigger interest in the game; however, Age of Conan takes over in a spike of searches, as it gets closer to release. It is obviously more often talked about right now, but it will probably be the same with WAR, and later Aion as each game gets closer to their respective launch.

WAR vs Aion:

WAR vs Aion

AoC vs Aion:

AoC vs AoC

Warhammer Online clearly overcomes Aion in number of searches, while AoC manages to take a real lead only in 2008.

Of course, number of searches is a pretty inaccurate way to determine the number of fans; there's also the amount of fansites, coverage by game portals and things like that which I took into account when making the following list. For example, IGN has portals for WAR and AoC but not for Aion. I also looked at how often the games I mentioned online, both by using Google Trends "News Coverage" and simply by doing a Google search and looking at how many results does it return.

Popularity:

1.
Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning
2. Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures
3. Aion: Tower of Eternity
As for potential subscribers, I'd predict WAR getting the most at it's launch, winning the most of the WoW players over as compared to AoC and Aion (since it's most similar), but by no means being a "WoW killer". It should also appeal to PvPers, and be accessible to more users because of lower system requirements.

Aion should eventually become extremely popular as well, if the success of Lineage and Lineage 2 is any indication (here's April 2008 info for MMOGs by market share; both Lineages are still alive and kicking). There's definitely demand for MMOs like these, and Aion will deliver some sexy new stuff like beautiful graphics and winged demigods as characters. Mmm.

Age of Conan is the biggest question out of the three, I think. The system requirements are probably highest out of the three MMOs reviewed here, and it offers many new and yet untried features. No doubt it has it's followers, but just how well it will do in terms of subscription count?

Comparison


Do you like tables? Cause... I do.


Age of Conan: Hyborian AdventuresWarhammer Online: Age of ReckoningAion: Tower of Eternity
SettingBased on Conan novels by Robert E. Howard (and some other Conan sources)Based on Warhammer Fantasy worldOriginal
GraphicsDreamworld engine (DirectX9 and 10 supported)Updated DaoC engine (DirectX9)CRYtek engine (DirectX9)
ContentFFA PvP, PvE (including raids)RvR PvP, PvERvR PvP, PvE (including something like raids)
Art style:RealisticStylized (Warhammer look, with exaggerated features)Stylized (High fantasy, Asian style characters and art – think Guild Wars, Lineage 2)
WorldZoned (with loading screens)SeamlessZoned (with loading screens)

Conclusion

All of the three games I wrote about in this post have something different and exciting to offer for the players. The MMORPG market has evolved: we have casual MMOs, hardcore MMOs, PvE or PvP MMOs, and so on - the MMO games have become distinct enough to attract different kinds of players. If these three games will be polished and complete enough at launch, they will all get a share of the market, and the "best" game will be the one you like most, be it Age of Conan with it's realistic and gritty world, Warhammer with the constant war, or Aion where you can play as a mighty, winged demigod.

I hope you enjoyed the read; remember that it's merely my opinion, and feel free to critique.

May 5, 2008

6 days early access for Europeans

Funcom just announced that the Early Access date for those who preordered the EU version of the game has been moved forward to May 17th. What great news! This means we'll be getting not 3 days, but whole 6 days worth of a head start! For those confused, here's a reminder: Age of Conan will be released on 20th May in US and 23th May in Europe; early access used to be 3 days before these dates, but now both US and EU players will be able to start playing on 17th. The release date is not changed, of course.

To register for your Early Access account, you have to go to register.ageofconan.com and enter your preorder key (such as Rhino or Mammoth key). Then you will be able to pay 5€ or 5$ and download the game. Speaking of keys, I still haven't received mine from GAME.co.uk; according to people at official AoC forums, none of UK suppliers have sent them out yet. One person mentioned 10th May, but I wasn't able to confirm the info and no one from GAME have replied to my e-mail so far. I think I should receive that key really soon so I'll just keep waiting.
Edited to add: actually, after browsing around GAME.co.uk I found out that they will in fact be sending out the keys on 10th May, not earlier. Glad that was clarified.

As for the 6 days of early access, what do you think will be the highest level reached before the rest of the players join the server? I fully expect someone who is hardcore and was in the beta to get as high as level 60; then again, I might be wrong because I haven't experienced the leveling speed first-hand and am only assuming this based on the estimate that it takes 240 hours of play time to reach the level cap (80).