Saturday, August 27, 2005

To Never More Grind Virindi

According to Kira, Asheron's Call 2 is going the way of all digital flesh. Now comes the culling, post WoW.

AC2 and Turbine did a great job -- the monthly content updates, where the world genuinely changed from month to month, has never been matched in any of the big game designs. The game was constantly fresh, each month a fevered hunt for clues to the unfurling stoy arc of the year. Websites were set up to track incoming new bits of lore and assemble them. They just couldn't beat the weight of the established franchises.

AC2's first version, Asheron's Call (which is apparently still up and running) was the home to one of my favorite in-game episodes. For the culmination of a multi-month plotline, all the world servers had a massive "Destroy the Crystal for Booty" cave system created. As to be expected, the players assaulted the cavern, destroyed the crystal for their reward -- and released the Big Bad for the rest of the arc.

However, on one server, a group of players revolted. They spontaneously organized to defend the object against the depradations of the other players on the server. They scheduled, worked in shifts. For days, while the story progressed on the other worlds, they kept the crystal intact and the Big Bad entombed.

They hijacked the narrative.

This, to me, was fantastic. These players moved from story-consumers to story-actors. It wasn't somebody else's story anymore. In theory is the reason people play on-line games is to own the story, but in reality they're like old passion plays, never varying as you hunt from well-documented quest to well-documented quest in order top chase the same objects everyone else is. The fun is in maximizing your character, tweaking the stats -- computer on-line games are much more in the spirit of collectible card games, when you think about it. Probably the same root of their monetary riches are in that soil of addictive pursuit of perfection ...

Eventually, in order to keep the servers synched, these rebels were given a special in-game honorific and then the Big Bad was sprung. But I'll always be inspired by that little moment when a bunch of strangers all sitting in different dark little rooms all over the world decided "You know what? NO. We're going to tell our version of the story."

(NOTE: Edited to correct the timeline)


Kira said...

Just to clarify, the original Asheron's Call, where the legendary (in MMOG circles, anyway) Defense of the Shard took place, is still running. AC2 is a separate, newer product.

Never understood the reasons behind this second release. You might ask the same question of EQ and EQ2; maybe it's better to obsolete yourself than have someone else do it, but the AC/AC2 sitch would seem to belie that.

Rogers said...

So wait, are they keeping the old AC running but ditching AC2?

And yes, in consideration, if they'd simply brought a lot fo the innovations in AC2 to AC, I may well have continued playing.

Kira said...

Yeah, as far as I know, they're keeping the old AC, although I just read on Gamespot that Turbine is closing its Santa Monica office, which apparently was dedicated to AC. Maybe they're retrenching in advance of Middle Earth Online and D&D Online?

In any case, you're right, it's too bad to see innovation rewarded with a pink slip.

Steve Peterson said...

Besides the hanging-out-with-friends aspect the core area tabletop RPGs still have both MMO's and CRPG's beat is in the player driven campaign.

While I really enjoy WoW, it's still a bit disappointing to complete some quest, then, while you're hanging around reading the finish text, watch someone else come along and do the same thing you just did. All that effort and no change in the world, just your own stats.

Some CRPGs do a nice job letting players change the world -- but then the effects are so graphics and other content intensive that the CRPG has to railroad the player into that result.

I was hoping that we'd see some more extensive player effects on the environment in the MMOG arena, because that would be something truly fun to work toward -- but the limit seems to be houses.

Rogers said...

One of the reasons I crave tabletop, although my work schedule, pilot-to Transformers- to WB movie, has completely blown them out for the last year.

Again though AC did a pretty good job of duping this up. Their live events were fantastic. One of my favorite things they did was:

month one: completely unannounced, massive floating spires appear out in the middle of nowhere. Seriously, people just slammed into them and started freaking out on the boards.

month two: the spires are in a different spot.

month three: different spots -- but now the players started tracking them, and realized they were moving toward population centers.

month four: spires parked outside big player cities. Then, big live events leading to --

month five: I log in, having logged out in Arwic, which was a big hub town ... and dropped ten yards into a smoking crater. They blew up a damn city -- completey realigned the population patterns, travel patterns and, as Arwic was the equivalent of an auction house town in AC, the player economy.

Pity, this. Turbine did a great damn job.

Rogers said...

on the other hand, Turbine is a partner in two other MMO's, high profile ones, so their innovation did not go unnoticed or unrewarded.

Steve Peterson said...

The spires thing does sound cool -- nice way to interject a surprise into what are too often pretty static, know what's going to happen games.

It'd also be worthwhile in games like WoW to go in and occasionally modify quests or the big instances so that they're surprisingly different from the last ime you levelled up a Tauren.

Codrus said...

What they've said is that AC1 is continuing to do well and will stay up and running.. The shutdown is justfor AC2.

Agreed on all the positive comments on AC1. The longest I've stuck with an MMO is two years...and that was Asheron's Call. No other game has come close to developing a dynamic world. The original Baalzeron plotline was one of the best I've seen in an MMO.

AC1's storylines were big enough that it actually took server-wide effort to complete many of the quests -- and completing them changed the world. The only game I've seen that's tried that since was Horizons -- the rest of the games out there are all Disneyland rides where nothing really changes.

Alas, AC2 simply never met my quality bar. The original beta was so unstable that myself and many others stopped trying. The early game was mind-numbingly dull. And the world seemed empty. The skill trees didn't have as much of the tinkering that I enjoyed building AC1 characters.

I waited 6 months after launch for them to shake out bugs and problems, and tried it again. I couldn't make it through the first month before I was bored and ready to move on.

Not being a current player of AC2, I can say that this is probably a smart move on Turbine's part. I would speculate that their recent expansion did not sell well, so why throw more money at a product that's bleeding cash? Better to focus on the game that is doing well (AC1) and the two future games that may attract different markets (DDO, Middle Earth).

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