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As many may recall, there is a game development conference here in Minnesota at the end of March (29-30), the Independent MMO Game Developers Conference.  As per the site…

IMGDC is a venue for Independent designers and developers to come together to share ideas and learn in all areas related to MMOGs.

It was a great conference last year, and I’d really like to encourage the denizens of the MMO blogosphere to come and join in the experience… perhaps we can have a blogger sub-convention of sorts?

As an incentive to encourage attendance, I’d like to have a little contest.  I have a couple of extra conference passes to give away, and anyone who can make it to the conference is welcome to put their name in the hat to receive one of them.  (In addition, anyone who wants to save on hotel costs is welcome to crash at my place, as well… it’s not exactly the Ritz, and a ways out in the burbs, but it’s got a roof and 4 walls, and plenty of room.)

To submit your name for the drawing, simply leave a comment after this post.  If you have a blog, please leave a link.  If you don’t have a blog, list a couple of blogs you frequent and comment on.  I do want to try to keep it confined to people who are involved in the MMO blogs on some level, but beyond that, no restrictions apply.  Depending upon how much interest there is, I’ll do a random drawing from amongst the submitted entries to determine the winners, if necessary.

Other people likely to be at the conference include Brent ( and Cuppy (  I’m assuming Michael Zenke from MMOG Nation will be there as well (Madison isn’t _that_ far away 🙂 ).  Aaron from Anyway Games will be attending as well, last we talked, assuming it works with his schedule, of course.  I’m assuming other locals like Cameron, Kendricke, and Ethic will be there as well (or at least available for a dinner gathering, perhaps?)

And, of course, there are the actual speakers at the event… check out the list at the conference site.  It should be a great conference.

So, free conference passes up for grabs.  Anyone interested?

(I’m going to use Tobold and Potshot for cover as far as NDA breakage is concerned, just in case… they did it first!  And they write far better reviews, as well… check them out.)

I’ve been involved in the PotBS beta as well, though not as heavily as I feel I should have been.  It has been a frustrating title on a sheerly personal level so far: not bad, and a definite positive addition to the current roster, covering new ground… but not entirely what I had been hoping for, either.  Weeding out my own incorrect expectations and offering feedback on what the game is (as opposed to what I wanted it to be) is difficult for me (which is why I generally avoid doing reviews), but I’ll offer my first impressions to add to others… might be of value to someone, somewhere.

The Good

Ship battles are frankly exactly what I had hoped for.  I was a big fan of Age of Sail tactical wargames in my grognard days (Wooden Ships and Iron Men ftw), and PotBS captures the same feel marvelously.  Definite kudos to all involved.

The wind and sail mechanics in particular are straightforward and inspired.  Cannon control feels just the slightest bit “kludgy”, but considering the complexity being implemented, it’s possibly even more impressive from an interface design standpoint.  Assuming this is what they spent the first few years on… it definitely shows.  _Great_ job. 

I’ll buy and play this game for this part, all by itself.

The Less Good

All the land and port based play still needs work (and is getting it, I should add, it gets _markedly_ better with each patch).  This is where the game still feels like an indie release, which would of course be fine if it still _was_ an indie release.  (SOE just doesn’t qualify as “indie” any more, sadly.)

Towns have not yet gotten beyond the “abandoned movie set” feel… getting there, not there yet.  That should improve with higher player volume as well, of course.

Ship boarding and land combat suffer in comparison to the ship-based combat: it’s not that they are “bad”, it’s just that they compare poorly… the contrast can be jarring at times.

The Ugly

I don’t know if there’s anything that really fits into the “ugly” category, but the one thing that _I_ would personally put there, at present, is new player orientation.  Please tell me that is not what is going into the final release.  It’s just a placeholder, for beta testers, who expect to be abused and confused.  Right?  Please.  (Pretty please?)

How does Balance _really_ impact you in combat?  You can feel it out over multiple combats, yes… how about offering up a small clue ahead of time?  What’s the _real_ difference between combat styles?  What are all those different indicators in the ship combat HUD (and why is the Crew count in the center “hit point” position, as opposed to hull integrity?)  It all makes sense after a while… but why aren’t you explaining it, in detail, up front?

All of the above can be puzzled out over time, yes… but is that what your players want to be doing?  Is that what you want them doing?  Will you lose half of them in the tutorial because they feel confused, and haven’t bought into your game enough yet to work through that confusion?

It’s not that it’s _bad_.  It’s just… typical.  It could, and should, be so much better.  And maybe it will be.  (Yeah, I know, I’m on my soapbox again.  Ignore the above if you’re looking for a _real_ review.)


Short and sweet, I think this will be a solid new entry to the genre.  I’ll be doing the freetrader thing for quite some time, I imagine.  (And to all you pirates and privateers out there… um, be gentle?)

Cuppycake posts an interesting challenge in this post, asking how one might go about “justifying” MMO subscription fees to a console player.  My own tactics would be along these lines…

1) Ever gotten to the end of a game (a book, a movie), and wished you could see what was going to happen next?  That’s one reason I pay a subscription fee… so I can explore what’s “next”.

2) If the question is money, my subscription runs me the equivalent of buying 1 new title every 3-4 months.  Do each and every one of your purchases entertain you for that long?

There used to be a third argument, but consoles finally got with the program (online functionality).

3) How many people (real people) have you met _inside_ your games?  Yes, yes, I meet people _outside_ my games, too.  The subscription is so we can all play together, from all over the world.

None of those is unassailable, but taken together they largely explain the whys and wherefores of my own willingness to pay for MMOs.  To each their own, of course.

All of that said, I’m no big fan of the current subscription model.  I’d personally prefer a pay-to-play option, buying a block of hours to “spend”, that kind of thing.  Of course, coming from someone who flits back and forth between games like a mayfly on speed, that’s probably not too surprising…

So, a week ago, you were seeing posts around the blogosphere about the “summer slump”, not much news, etc.

What a difference a week can make, eh?

I’m sure there was a bunch of other stuff, too, over the past couple of days… I simply lost track of some of it amidst other events.  Poor Michael of MMOGNation (Slashdot Games, etc) is going to be composing his next Massive Update for days

Also, as Raph mentioned, Multiverse 1.0 was released this past week, for those of us interested in the development side of things…

Hmm… I know there was more.  Another post later, I guess…

With the apparent imminent demise of Auto Assault looming, an old question I’ve pondered before came back to mind recently.

Whatever happened to the code and data that represented Earth and Beyond?  Motor City?  Jumpgate (the original)?  Asheron’s Call 2?  What about games that never even made it to release, like Wish, UO2, Mythica?

Where does all that work, all that creativity, go?  Do the design docs get dumped into a shredder?  Do the tapes get erased, the disk drives reformatted?  Or does all that material sit gathering cobwebs, guarded by ever larger dust bunnies on some backshelf in a warehouse, slowly disintegrating with time?

Why do I ask?  In part, it’s just morbid curiosity.  In part, it’s wondering why some of these companies don’t monetize the assets they’ve generated in a different way after closing the doors.  (I assume it’s because they don’t get up in the morning unless the number has 7 digits to the left of the decimal point, minimum.)  And in part, it’s because in many cases, I wonder what might have been missed the first time around.

Just wondering…

Edit: LOL, I didn’t realize Netdevil was still running Jumpgate.  Skip that one up above…

I don’t quite know what to say about the Tseric/CS meltdown event, explored in some detail at Broken Toys and Nerfbat, amongst others.   Something like it happens every couple years, it seems.  I’m going to post my own thoughts, which will prove 1) you don’t want me as a forum moderator, no matter how desperate you might be; and 2) there is a definite skill to being a CS/CM, especially for an MMO.

Understand, I currently directly support a half-dozen different business applications, serving approximately 300 companies and 35000+ daily users.  I not only do CS, I do it daily and I own 20% of the company that I do it for.  I provide first and second level support for all of them: I take the call/email reporting the problem, often end up tracking down the problem, and fixing it if that is needed as well, plus work with the customer to get it all resolved.

I know what customer service is, and needs to be: you do not tell the customer they are stupid, or wrong, or blind, or whatever they are that day.  You can (and should) mention when they are insightful or innovative or spotted something you missed… that happens, too, and it’s actually a good thing to point it out when it occurs.  You need to vent, you do it in private.

(More below the fold…)

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Reminder: It’s April Fools Day.  Word to the Wise: Take everything with a grain of salt, until fully verified… or preferably, until April 2nd.

In other breaking news, the Grouchy Gnome has decided to wrap it up and shut down the Nerfbat blog.  No relation to the above, I’m sure.

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Raph has announced his new endeavor, Areae, being entertainingly mystifying about the details.  Even the various announcements and interviews give little direct information about what Areae will actually be making.

So, of course, how can I resist speculating?  Come on, Scooby, let’s go look for Clues…

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Not as cool as a Gamma World MMO would be (I want my dual-brain methane-propelled mutated cactus!), but it could be fun anyway.  Damion mentions it on his blog, with links.  Raph did as well.

This gives me a perfect opportunity to pick a trivial nit with Mr. Schubert’s AGC presentation “Men in Tights” (about the only one I had, actually).  One of his points was that “You don’t need fantasy, but you need a world that’s inviting”.  The first slide was a shot of the gang on the TV show Cheers.  The next slide was a prototypical “city in flames” shot.

Despite the excellent point (and a nice little sight gag), a city in flames is no more representative of the entirety of a post-apocalyptic setting than a snapshot of Hell (or nearly any “end-game” instance/setting) would be of the entirety of fantasy.  The basic point is well-taken… but I’ve been a little worried that it would be taken too far.  Whether Interplay actually makes it to release or not ($75 million?), at least the idea is still out there.

A comment on the thread at Zen of Design also brought up an interesting point.  I do hope they don’t get caught up in the “everything is a desert” concept from Mad Max/Road Warrior.  The original RPGs didn’t… hopefully they hire designers who do more than review promo shots from Road Warrior, or worse, Beyond Thunderdome.  (There’s always Waterworld, I guess… -shudder-).

Amazingly enough, I have just discovered that there is to be an MMO conference in my own backyard, as it were… well, only a dozen miles away or so, in Minneapolis, April 14-15.  The Indie MMO Game Developers Conference (IMGDC for short), and it looks relatively inexpensive, to boot.  

Obviously, I’ve already registered… this is way too convenient to miss.  I was tempted to register as a sponsor, as well, but figured that might be a bit pretentious for a hobbyist with a one-month old blog… 🙂

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Live in or near Mpls/St. Paul? Interested in talking MMOs with other like-minded people? Join us on either June 30th or July 14th at MMMOGIGs #1.9 or #2.1 (or both!), details coming soon. You can also join us in Google Groups or to discuss the when/where of the next meeting, provide feedback, etc.
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