Galaxy Online? Phew!

After my Travian experience I wanted to develop similar type of web-browser based game. I chose sci-fi star wars setting but before I started to code it I wanted to know that there is still space for it. So I googled for some time and I found more games with similar idea. However none of them was developed enough or so catchy. I had a few ideas how to make the game be the ultimate galaxy war, how to make it less frustrating for the player (in opposite to farming in Travian) and so on. Some were inspired by my short encounter with Sins of a Solar Empire. I quit the project after some time – simply because I wasn’t able to carry away my friends by the idea and it was too much for one programmer (maybe if I had been still just a student… :-P). That was the fate of my sci-fi rip-off of every (not only) web-based game around.

Recently I was somewhere on some site and I noticed the ad about Galaxy Online. So – why not to try it? Not that I wanted to play a game, but there was still the professional me curious about the “market”. πŸ™‚ And Galaxy Online – despite being small client based game (20 MB or so) instead of pure web-based game – simply put me to sadness. There was everything I wanted to do. There was safe home system (in my game it would be accessible, but still safe enough) that prevented you to be a farm from the start. There were fleets, commanders, travels from system to system – even connected by paths (like in Sins), although I decided to quit the idea of paths in my game during its development. There was a good idea of beginner’s quests that guide you through the first steps in the game. Not to mention that you can design your own ships! However…

Artwork is adequate – in login screen it looks like 3D!

The game simply didn’t grow on me. The client is very – and I mean VERY – unfriendly to the user. Things are not contextual there, you have to click back and forth, in dialogs you can’t go from one input to the other with tab or arrows (maybe there is some combination, but who am I to try everything when the most obvious and expected choice doesn’t work). What I mean by “not contextual”? There are generally only two views – big map and one system. So far so good. You have some gateways (stargate, whatever) to other systems. You click on your fleet, send it to the gate and then you want to go there too. I tried some clicking, but it didn’t work. Again – MAYBE there is a way, I just don’t know. So – back to the galaxy view and click on the system. Shock! There are bazillions of other fleets there and it’s not obvious right away which one is yours. No friendly shortcut, nothing. I mean… c’mon! This is DOWNLOADED executable client! Why it can’t provide the most obvious features to control MY units?!

View of your home system. You can see gates to other systems, training field where you can train on pirates, …

Not to mention until you go out of your system you’re just playing on your own sandbox and the whole galaxy can be of no concern to you. There is really NOTHING that somehow drags you to the fight, you have to do your first steps – and these steps are very, very unintuitive. Add some other details like very stupid battle system… I have absolute dominance over some pirates and yet they manage to fly back and forth around the battlefield and after 20 rounds or so they… what? Yes, they WIN! I couldn’t believe my eyes. But OK, it’s a system, right, I’ve read it in the newbie guide, so I’ll live with that. But after a few combats I simply hate this rule. Of course I can make better ships and deal quickly with them. But still… they can run and 20 rounds of the battle is not so much (like 20 moves of all fleets + some fighting). You have to take a lot of supplies with the fleet (no problem with that) and when you want to modify your fleet and anchor some of those ships you have to UNLOAD them first (escape from current view, click on unload, specify how much you want to unload – probably everything because I don’t know when any particular ship is considered loaded…). The whole unloading is waste of time. Simply anchor those ships and unload their load! Easy-peasy.

Splash screen is really ugly and there is no way of knowing if there is some login screen behind or not. No… simply press Enter. Great and warm welcome for fresh players indeed.

I’m sure there are many fans. The game isn’t that bad and probably the mechanics are cool. I played it for some time without interacting with others first. When I wanted to move around all my objections stacked during those few days became even more pronounced. That leads me to the idea that my game could still stand a chance. Too bad I’m lazy to do it (not to mention my passion for music, many unseen TV series, games, … you name it :-)). I think people should try by themselves. I read some reviews first and then tried it anyway – but I was dissatisfied. Not by the idea behind the game, but by the execution. If you’re demanding player, skip this one. But if you wanna try it, just be informed that initial splash-screen with “News Center” can be dismissed by Enter key. Just in case…

Business model of the game is similar to other free to play games. You can buy additional advantages, some buildings cost you so called “mall points”. I haven’t tried this part of the game because I really didn’t feel to do so. πŸ™‚


Buy the box, pay subscriptions…

…but they still might close you the server! πŸ™‚ Ok, not really funny, I know.

NCsoft has announced some time ago that its Tabula Rasa sci-fi steam-punk MMORPG is closing servers as of 2009 February. Imagine you have bought the game (in a box) and you’ve paid regular subscription fees and now this. Ok, you’ve got your fun you’ve paid for, but it’s still difference to pay for a year of fun that is ended suddenly or to pay longer (hence more) but for a game that goes on and on just like you want. Not to mention that you would probably have not bought the box in the first place if you had known the fate of the game. πŸ˜‰ NCsoft offered various compensations (time in other MMORPG or so) which is nice of them – it should go like this when the game ends sooner than expected.

Just a few months ago I mentioned Hellgate: London in my article about Sacred. I learned few days later that the online part would be closed too. That leads me to the question: “How can I know that this and this game is going to be successful? Whether it has perspective or not?” The answer is – there’s no way. Tabula Rasa looked extremely promising at the start. Every game eventually ends. I can’t imagine WoW being played in 2020. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe they’ll enhance it continuously and it will be top game. Although I doubt it because while it still has reportedly some unbeaten features the graphics will be overcome by other games – and these games will catch the WoW in other terms as well. However – WoW will not end any soon and it’s pretty sure deal to go after if you want. That means buying three boxes (in our country the pack costs around $80 which is really a lot) plus subscriptions of course. But WoW is famous, WoW is the top, it’s the king of the hill of the MMORPG world, so why to lower the cost? I understand this, no sarcasm.

If I finish with PWI (or take a break) I’ll probably try EVE Online – that is if I have time for that. πŸ˜‰ You have to buy it initially and there are subscriptions too but the cost seems better to me and the game is something different than typical fantasy MMORPG. But you never have to buy expansions – that’s the proper customer treatment in my eyes. Expansions often raise the level-cap and introduce new skills – this all favors mostly players who paid a lot already, why to cash them twice? There is also the other way – I’d say “the Asian way” πŸ™‚ – free client with subscriptions. Lineage 2 for example. Of course, you can object: “Hey, Asian MMORPG are unplayable!” I played only L2 and PWI, so I can’t tell – but I believe the people who tried both classes and know the difference. In PWI – for instance – you can’t redefine your keyboard or invert mouse movement – that sucks hardly if you ask me.

Back to the topic – how to avoid the situation from the title? You may wait till the game is really a big thing – like WoW or EVE. But if everybody waited no game would be a big thing, would it? πŸ™‚ Don’t worry though, either you don’t care about the money that much – it is spent for fun after all and you’ll not carry any of your characters to your afterlife anyway so if it’s fun for a year and then another fun with another game… not a big deal. Still you sometimes need several years to get to higher levels with your character if you are occasional player and you need game that will last for so long. There are still people who try many things, many games and these might make the game big before you jump in. Or try some F2P game like PWI. Even when I’ve already criticized the game in my posts (I still play it).

The point is – I don’t like paying for boxes and subscriptions, but it’s sort of standard today. I prefer subscription only because it’s more fair – but on the other hand it gives you the feeling that you have to play it now when you’ve already paid for it. I’m also not sure how you can take a break from the game? Do I have to leave for the whole month? F2P games never bring these questions and many players pay for them anyway (I did too). And if there are subscriptions why the initial payment is so high? These games are useless offline anyway. I’m curious what future will bring and how long these marketing models stay unchanged for the most popular games. Maybe later companies will find the solution for unsuccesful games too. What if users/players/fans were able to run the server somehow? Private servers exist for many games? Couldn’t it be the way for Hellgate: London and Tabula Rasa?

Caught in the Perfect World

I wanted to write about typical game flaws, I wanted to write about Facebook… and god knows what else as well. But I’ve found free MMORPG called Perfect World International instead just a two days ago and that crossed my plans. I’ve tried one free MMORPG before but it was low quality actually. Perfect World exists for some time, but while it started in China in 2005, three years must have passed till the English version was released. It was actually in this September as an open beta. This version of the game is called “Perfect World International” and this is my first post about it. I don’t promise more but I think it’s going to happen. πŸ™‚

First time nearing the city – Etherblade

Perfect World is based on Chinese mythology, it’s sort of cartoonish, but I’d not say it’s a typical Manga style affecting many other games in this genre. I played Lineage 2 for just a few hours and I like this at least as much as L2 and much more than WoW from what I saw on screenshots. L2 seemed to me barer although the characters are roughly as nice. So the graphics is not top-notch maybe but it’s nice – if you like the style, of course. I don’t mind. I can’t say much about gameplay, because I’m not proficient in MMORPG – however I like it. There is some grinding, but there are enough quests and they mostly bring you enough experiencesΒ to move you on. And as I said – it’s free, so why not to try it? Of course you can pay and you’ll get better items and other stuff for your money – so it actually affects your experience and makes the difference.

AdriaZirma looking around in Etherblade

You can download the game fromΒΒ – there are also many torrent seeders – so this part is easy. I had little troubles with registration – you need different login name and visible name – that is used mostly on forums only becauseΒ you create your actual characters laterΒ in game on a particular server. I had also little problem that Enter in registration form just reloaded it (or reset, result is the same) so I recommend clicking on the button – maybe Chrome problem, I don’t care. πŸ˜‰ So I have my personal account and the game is downloaded and extracted. Installation is easy, and so I’m starting the client. Of course it needs some updates which should be quite fast. I had problems with server timeouts but my friends installing right after me did not. Funny thing is that Account button in the initial client window leads to the http version of the registration page – and it does not work. πŸ˜‰

Level 10 at last – now I can deal with these bi…beasts!

Ok, game is running! Select the server, create your character, customize it till you drop πŸ™‚ and enter the world. There are three races with their starting point, every race has two possible classes. All players can cooperate I guess – as there is common enemy controlled by AI – the wraiths. Start is slow unless you’re skilled with MMORPG – in that case you can probably level up quickly running from quest to quest. There is in-game help and it is quite good I can say. You’ll run a lot in this game – but what fantasy MMORPG is different? I don’t know, honestly. πŸ™‚ But as it’s free to start with (or even play it if you don’t care that you’re a bit weaker) you can check it by yourself! And that I can recommend unless you’re fully occupied by other games like this. In that case it might not be good enough for you. From what I’ve seen however, I dare to say that it’s better than many paid games. Maybe even better than some of those A-class titles. Go for it.

Travian intermezzo

Well… it’s been a long time, hasn’t it? It’s not healthy for a blog to be abandoned for such a long time – I realize this. And instead of publishing new Utopia instalment I dare to write about the reason (well, aside from laziness and other stuff) why I stopped doing many things – and blogging was among them.

Few days before Eastern Holidays my working mate showed me… “at last the game that suits me with its pace!” “What? Where?” I was curious because he’d never played game at work before. That was that ominous day in my life when I encountered Travian. To sum it up, yesterday we won the final “world wonder race” on – meaning I was the member of the winning alliance – and that (hopefully) definitely ended my Travian period. Let’s start with why I started to play this game in the first place. πŸ™‚

Travian is very catchy game and you definitely should try it – with caution though. πŸ˜‰ If you have a lot of free time and you can check Internet regularly you might be successful in the game. I don’t say that it’s mandatory to play it 24/7, but there are players who do so – with the help of so called “account sitter” – that’s mechanism that is introduced in the game itself. Now what’s that game about? It’s sort of real-time medieval MMO strategic game. You start with one small village and you can end up with tens of them (or even one hundred on speed server – which I cover later). First you have to choose your nation – either Romans, Gauls or Teutons. They all have their advantages and despite their descriptions (like “Gauls are defensive”) good players can play aggressively with any of them.

Rule your Empire!

Whole game is controlled via few main views. You can see your village overview – and upgrade resource fields (lumber, clay, iron and crop). You can see your village center – and build/upgrade buildings or walls. You can click on various buildings and perform related actions there – build some troops in barracks or stables, train your hero, making deals on market. You can view map to check bigger players around which would likely to make raids on your village. πŸ™‚ Or you can send troops on weaker players in order to steal their resources. Resource stealing – so called “farming” – is integral part of the game. It’s hard to survive without resources, it’s impossible to be on top without farming.

And that’s the first issue I have about this game. You simply can’t be good and nice. There are many naive players who enter the game (often lately after the server start which is even worse for most of them) and whine in messages “please don’t attack me”. Heck! I don’t ATTACK you, I just RAID you. Whatever… it is attack indeed, but how to explain that I want his resources. “Sim City” is maybe the most often mentioned game within messages exchanged between players. Like: “This is not simcity, this is the war game!” Or: “Stop whine and go play SimCity!” It’s written on the front page of Travian: “Build up villages, wage wars or trade with your neighbors.” This is true, but it doesn’t emphasize the most important – it’s all about being aggressive.

You can also grow just fine only with upgrading and spending your resources (so other players can’t steal too much from you). Talking about upgrading… there is very good balance here. Because as you have better levels of resource fields the production is higher – but the cost of another upgrade is higher as well – but the production gain from another level is higher too. Hence here is sort of positive spiral which makes the game interesting equally when you’re working with numbers like 10 (whatever it is) and numbers like 10,000. This is very nice about it.

Be hard!

Back to the struggle! Yes, you can be merciful from time to time. I let live one player … the result was that his villages were taken not by me but by the players around. So I didn’t save him actually – and I was the one who suffered loss because I was stupid and mild. Not that I was so good to everyone πŸ™‚ but in this case I wanted to appreciate his quite smart defense. I mentioned taking over villages. You build village and except your capital (that can’t be taken) it is possible to take it with special units – that might be expensive but you can afford it later quite easily. Taking over village is quite tricky but with enough power and some help from your alliance members you can do it with no problem really.

So if you’re unlucky you can end up with most of your villages lost in favor of bigger players. Especially if you’re lone-wolf refusing to join (preferably strong) alliance. If they want you in the first place. πŸ˜‰ Not that your capital is safe. You start the game with population of 2 in your first village, but any village can be taken to 0. The village then disappears. Even the capital is lost completely – only the last village you have can’t disappear – but do you really care after 5 months of game when you have 1 village with 0 pop? I’m not whining now about myself, it was never my case. I just don’t like this game because of this – because there is no way how you can “just trade with other players”, no way how to play it and be nice. You mostly have to forget about human aspect and adopt aggressive mindset. This game is played by nice people as well, yet it’s hard to find out – because they have to play without mercy for their own good.

What about units?

I should talk a little about units and their movement. Every unit has various numeric characteristics – attack, defense vs. infantry, defense vs. cavalry, speed, how much it can carry and upkeep – which is how much crop the unit consumes per hour. Every nation has 5 general units – three or two of them are infantry (they eat 1crop/h) and the rest cavalry (2, 3 or 4 crop/h). For your idea – you can host around 1100 “eaters” in a fully developed normal village. That means ~1100 infantry or ~400 horses – depending on their actual type. Units are quite nicely balanced. Then there are other types of units – scouts (name varies depending on the nation) that can “scan” other city (units, wall level, resources in warehouses) and if there are no scouts they are unnoticed. If there are some there will sort of fight between these scouts and you might end up with all your scouts being killed and you knowing nothing. Then there are two demolishing units – rams for walls and catapults for other buildings or resource fields. Walls are special because the higher level of the wall the higher % bonus to defense for the units in the city. Hence rams are important. Catapults are that bad thing that makes this game so cruel. πŸ˜‰ Finally there are special unit for taking over foreign cities (persuading inhabitants to join your empire ;-)), then settlers that are here to build new city of yours and finally – your hero.

Hero is actually any chosen unit (in most cases either strongest cavalry or the fastest one) and it brings sort of RPG to the game – although it’s far less personal than RPG. When hero levels you have some points to spread into attack, attack bonus (% to all units that attack with him), defense (his own), defense bonus (% to all units of this player in the city where the hero is) and finally you can boost his regeneration rate. You can imagine that +20% to attack (which is the maximum) can really make the difference in some cases hence the hero is important feature of the game. When he dies you can regenerate him but it costs you multiples of the original training cost (depends on level and it can be really crazy for high levels) and also some time (which might be even more serious than the resource cost ;-)).

…and their movement

Finally about “hyperspace jumps” in this game. Yeah, medieval game and hyperspace… you grin. It’s like that. The map is 800×800 squares big and with typical infantry speed like… 6 squares per hour… do you get it? You can really fight only with your closesurrounding (at least at the beginning). If you send your first 10 precious soldiers to the other end of the map it will take SO MUCH time that the opponent can grow… well maybe even ten-fold. πŸ™‚ You always see that there is attack coming to your town. Except scouts which are seen only after attack and only if you had your (or friendly) scouts in the town. But – when you send your army to other town this army literally disappears from your town and at the given (calculated) time it willappear in the target town (or at the gates, whatever ;-)) and there will be some fight and then they (maybe ;-)) go back. Again in hyperspace.

Why I emphasize the hyperspace when there is no hyperspace mentioned in the game principles – you ask? Well because if you send your troops and he send his troops (or her,really many good female players there… unless they are fakes, it’s Internet πŸ˜‰ (many are real for sure!))… ok, so armies are heading against each other and… they simply fight in the target towns and go back. No way how they can meet in the middle. No way how you can have safe city in the middle of your other cities. It’s all event-based (programmers know what I mean ;-)) and you can reach any town you want. Space plays only one important role – that distance affects time and with more time to prepare defense you have better chance to crush the attacker. That’s all. Or not?

Tricky strategies

Player can see that the attack is coming but he doesn’t know how big it is. And there are two types of attacks – the normal one and the raid. When attacker hits the town both armies are compared and after one battle “iteration” there are some units left on both sides (unless the imbalance is that big that one side lose everything right away!). Raid ends here. Remaining attacker troops then take as much resources as they can carry (and can find in the town) and they take their way home. Normal attack continues until one side loses everything. You can catapult and ram the town only with normal attack and also persuade inhabitants to join you in normal attack only as well. Which makes it slightly harder but not that much and it makes sense that you have the town cleaned of defenders in order to take it.

You can only attack with troops that were build in that particular town – but you can defend with troops from other towns. You can send units as attack, raid or … reinforcements. Here it is – you can join forces to defend but you can’t do the same in attack. This brings at least some balance. Although it looks like it favors the defender it’s not exactly like this. The game still runs – in real time. Many players are either on the other side of the planet and they attack while you sleep. Very often you don’t have the chance to join defense if attack is in a few hours scope. If it takes day(s)… well, someone crazy can risk it. Or someone (over)confident. Or…

I said – you don’t know how big the incoming attack is. Hence there is very popular tactics how to bring uncertainty into defender’s lines. You attack ALL his towns from your main offensive town. Yeah, unless you have tens of them you have only one or few towns where you build your main offensive army. But all attacks are so called “fakes” (1 troop) – except one. Now how can defender know where to gather defense and what he might leave abandoned. And if the attacks are without catapults (you can judge by the time of the travel because “cata-attacks” are roughly twice as slow as infantry one) it’s not so crucial. You risk nothing except resources, you can spend them, send them to defended city… whatever. Now if the attack is slow (catapults – or so called “catas” or “cats”) you’re in trouble. In this case those fakes are 1 catapult each – these are more expensive but you have to do it because otherwise it’s easy to say what attack is the real one because of its slowness. Now – that’s the lottery.

A lot of fun…

…but for not that many players. That’s the thing why I stopped playing this game. It’s good game, it’s not realistic but it’s consistent, it has balance, but it’s just way to shallow and aggressive. For me. Many players enjoy this and I don’t argue with them – of course. This game is spoiled by players who stop to play it when they are farmed and they forget to delete their account (dead farm). It’s spoiled by weak players who expect something completely different (because Travian seems to provide more choices than mere war). At the end when few best players are building world wonder (which is ultimate goal in this game) they are supported by hundreds of other players who just send resources – and defend. This isn’t exactly most exciting period of the game – at least not for most of the players. When the round is over it’s rather a relief than a fantastic feeling (even when you’re in the winning alliance).

There is also speed version of the Travian game which supposed to be thrice as fast. This relates to resource production. Unit movement is twice as fast (thrice might be really too fast for this kind of game ;-)). But with crop production three-folded you can also have armies three times bigger. And really big armies are held in so called “cropper” where most of the resource fields are producing only crop. These towns are very sought after because crop production is the ultimate limit affecting your army size. While in the beginning you’re happy that you have 10 soldiers – at the end you can see attacks of more than 100,000 infantry + 30,000 horses + many catas – very often the army size exceeds 250,000 eaters. Crazy!

Your life will change

If you take Travian seriously you’ll find out that sometimes you have to wake up in the night to … send defense or dodge serious attack. (Dodge is another “trick” where you send your troops away when you know you’d lose – but you can cancel their movement first 90 s. So they will return right after the attacker merely visits your empty town. ;-)) You find yourself checking the Travian more and more. While at the beginning few clicks a day are just fine (because soon you’re out of resources) later there is a lot of stuff going on. And if you lead your own alliance you’ll write tons of in-game messages. This game starts affect your personal life. It’s not the matter of will. Question is if you want to play it better than the rest or rather not play it at all.

Now I often sit at my computer thinking what would I do with all that free time. πŸ™‚ But maybe I’ll not sit at my computer that much. Maybe. And maybe I’ll write some new Utopia posts, hm? πŸ™‚