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Reporting In From 'MMOG' Land

by Mark Crump on Aug. 1, 2004 @ 5:17 p.m. PDT

If you’re a follower of Mythic’s popular MMOG Dark Age of Camelot, this was certainly anything but a slow news week. Mark Jacobs, Mythic’s President, made a rare appearance on the official site July 29th with a State of the Game address that gave an honest appraisal of some issues in the game and an overview of what Mythic was going to do to solve them, Matt Firor, Producer, then posted more details about these changes the next day. Here’s our reaction to the postings.

I’ll start with Mark’s speech. Once you get past the marketing fluff, you can take the following away from it: while they tested the heck out of New Frontiers, their free RvR expansion, it still had issues; they’ve fixed most of them, but a larger problem of population imbalance remains.

New Frontiers was generally well received by their player base, with one noticeable problem: it lagged like frozen molasses. That started a series of patches that seemed to have made things better. I’m willing to give Mythic a mulligan on this one; no matter how much you test things out, load issues only come up when everyone hits the server. Mythic gets kudos for a fairly quick response to these issues. There are secondary issues involving the roles certain classes, like tanks, have been relegated to in RvR, but Mythic is already addressing them, so I’m not going to dwell too much on them, focusing instead on this week’s news.

Mark then went on to describe their next problem: population imbalances. While every MMOG suffers some form of population issues on underutilized servers, because a good portion of DAoC is player-v-player, if there’s more of them than there are of you, odds are pretty good you are going to get steamrolled. That’s no fun, and since taking enemy territory is one of the goals, once you lost your Keeps it was an uphill battle just to get them back again. Superior numbers aren’t a guarantee of victory, though, since some under-represented realms have still managed to dominate RvR through superior tactics.

To help solve that, they are implementing some new initiatives, the first of which is giving people free levels. How this works is when you attain a new level, the game checks and determines if you have leveled normally in the last seven days, and if you haven’t grants you a bonus level. Sanya Thomas, Mythic’s Internet Relations Manager, posted a great explanation in her Friday Grab Bag: Days 1234567DING + bonus ding = 2 levels (if I was level 8 in the previous example, I’d be level 10 when I dinged instead of 9) However, if it looks more like 123DING4567DING, I don’t get a bonus and just the normal level. If you play on a server that’s under populated, instead of looking back 7 days, it will look back 2. This solution alone isn’t going to do much to convince people to change realms/servers; however, it did just make the casual player’s life a whole lot better. As in any MMOG, it’s very easy to fall behind your friends if you don’t play often – and hence, don’t level. It will really help out the post 40-game where going several weeks without a level is the norm. However, I do hope they make it so you can’t ding level 50 on a bonus level – getting level 50 should still keep that feeling of being a special reward.

The free levels – you’ll get some extra coin along with that free ding, too – are all well and good, but they don’t do a thing to help out the other reason people don’t want to start over: the artifacts and Master Levels introduced in the Trials of Atlantis expansion. Both are time consuming to get and level up, especially in the case of the ML’s which require over 90 steps to complete, most of which require multiple groups to complete. Matt’s post acknowledges this issue, and they are working on ways to alleviate some of these issues, but there are no details yet. Personally, I hope they do something about these encounters since they are the biggest frustration point I have in the game; I’ve been log jammed on some steps to wrap up an ML for months. There are a few things they can do to alleviate this pain. One is to allow you to do ML’s in any order. That way if you are stuck in ML1 and there’s raid to do ML4, you can do ML4 and get credit for it; right now you’ll need to do ML’s 1, 2, and 3 to get credit for 4. It’s a subtle change, but it will help people progress though the ML’s quicker. Getting rid of the requirement to have a certain amount of ML XP to do the next ML would help as well. Also, I’d like to see most of the encounters tuned so a single group can do them, but that’s a “pie in the sky” wish.

“Gimme” levels weren’t the only thing that Matt discussed in his post. It’s become obvious that it is way too easy for a dominant Realm to take all Relics and hoard them. They are making some to changes that will still make it hard to take enemy Relics, but is a lot easier to get yours back. One of the ways they are doing this is removing the ability to use the fast-travel system they introduced in NF to go directly to a central keep in an enemy Realm. Also, if your realm controls more Keeps than the other Realms, you’ll get slower notifications that one of your Keeps is under attack. Basically, what they are doing is placing a handicap on Realms that are winning, and this is a fine idea. In all honest, It’s a fine idea, but of all the new ideas, I expect this one is going to see the most fine-tuning.

All-in-all, I’m happy with the general ideas they’ve outlined. Even if these ideas go through some radical changes before they get implemented, it’s a good sign that Mythic a) understands where some of the big problems are, and b) is proposing some radical changes to try and fix it. Population issues are a real hassle to solve, so Mythic gets credit for at least trying. Sanya mentioned in this week’s Grab Bag that they don’t necessarily expect this to make people move off under populated servers, but it’s enough of an incentive to give people who are on the edge of swapping servers a reason to do so, as well as helping make most everyone’s lives easier. Between just getting to 50, doing all the MLs and leveling up your Artifacts, DAoC definitely suffers from the “treadmill syndrome”, where you spend time doing un-fun things just get the reward of a ding, so I’m glad they are working on fixing this. I do hope that they do it in such a way that people who have gotten their rewards the harder way don’t feel gypped. As the old saying goes, “you can’t please all the people, all the time”, so it’ll be interesting to watch how this one plays out.

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