Thursday, 27 June 2013

Time for a Little Sweetpressed Haste?

Murd learned a lesson last month: don’t rush blog content just to meet a deadline, as folks are actually reading this now.   Thanks to the players who offered constructive help to improve last month's table (further feedback is still welcome).  In the meantime for this entry, the comments are more modest. With summer approaching and the Funcom team now seemingly in place in North Carolina, TMAB will cover a hodge-podge of issues.

1. 0 The 5th Anniversary Event.
This was an all round successful outing, given the short lead-in for the new team in NC.  While Murdy’s reliable but aging Alienware M17X  (it’ll be 4 in October) was not quite up to the task of regurgitating sufficient polygons for smooth play in all the boss battle areas, the general impression from my guild-mates, many of whom have newer, more robust machines, is that even with some stutter, players were happy with this event. 

Relaxing in the shade, while awaiting a Kraken.

Player HenryX, who is well-known for producing very polished AoC  fan videos, posted the following 5th anniversary commemorative piece to YouTube a few weeks back.  It certainly gives a sense of the variety of bosses and player enthusiasm during the anniversary weekend.

Players inspect some impressive road-kill on Conan's drive-way.

With respect to Joel Bylos and the new team, the scope, detail, scale and duration of this event indicated that they’re listening and that they’re working to meet player expectations. 

It's also worth noting that event included the introduction of new tech that will allow GM’s to periodically and more spontaneously add world events. Although I wouldn’t want to see these on a daily basis (familiarity breeds contempt); knowing they could come every so often is a solid morale builder.  I hope the team decides to implement these on a smaller scale, as way to get some variety happening on the odd weekend.  

The additional gift of a veritable arm-load of AA points was also a very much appreciated gesture to vets and premium players.  While some F2P folks may feel somewhat left out of this, I think it's fair to suggest that there's nothing wrong with having an anniversary gift that generally benefits veteran subscribers.


2.0  Coils of Ubah Khan hits Testlive.

Well they didn’t get this new content on testlive in May, as they'd hoped, but it’s there.  I haven’t tried it, but I gather that some players are sending feedback to the devs, and again I get the feeling that they’re listening.  It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect Joel’s next letter to provide an imminent date for the delivery of the this content patch.

Additionally, some of the testlive patch notes, show numerous little fixes coming to some quests.  GD Bylos, has indeed commented on the forums, that this was work done by a former employee, prior to the move to NC, and as such it doesn’t necessarily represent a concerted bug-fixing spree.  Catching this stuff is a dreary task and more suited to the crowd source approach on testlive.

Murd’s most pressing thought about this is to wonder "Why doesn’t FC try to lure more players to the testlive server, by offering more incentives? Is it so hard to send some gifts to the account claims of players who:  a) log a few testlive hours; b) test play the new content;  and c) fill-in an open-ended survey form?"   I’m not suggesting they send us all 50 gold and a some Ibis weapons (ahem ... just send those to Murddock); but thanking sincere and dedicated testers with 2-3 of those grab-bags from the item shop might be a productive gesture.

   2.1 Speaking of 'Slithering Chaos' … 

Joel Bylos is enjoying some much deserved empathy this month because he’s just become a dad, I gather, for the second time.  And a new baby and a tired spouse, are no doubt much more demanding than we, the loveable curmudgeons who play AoC

Big Gratz to the Bylos clan!!

3. 0 The Network Update.

Now Murd’s most fortunately connected to the net by a dandy fiber optic connection thanks to the fact that he lives and works in a prosperous county (in the GMT +3 timezone) that's the size of his thumb.  Small rich nations can afford to re-vamp and implement the latest telecom infrastructure much more rapidly than big ones (c.f. at home in Canada we’re doubly cursed as the world’s second largest country geographically, and which nonetheless has a fairly small population.)  All this preamble to say, there’s been little change in latency … Murd gets 220-260 mS (microseconds) and when the servers were in Europe Murd got 200-240 mS.   In short, sometimes, 'yes', the lag is now more perceptable … but mostly, 'no'.  For Murd, at least,  the game-latency is fine for PvE, activity. 

Sunday June 23rd, 2013 ... not a lot of change.

Now that being said, Murd is still seeing rather frequent redline spikes and getting dc’d more than he’d like.  Additionally, he’s experienced a few login authentication and database errors that have made alting a royal pain.  There’s nothing here that’s game breaking but these are the type of “quality of life” issues, that a few months back, FC indicated it would try to address.  It will be interesting to see whether more perceptable network optimizations are forthcoming. 

In a related vein, the dev team's network/server squad appears to be working on the expected merge.  As with most technical projects, logistics coupled with those unexpected wrinkles are probably the real hobgoblins.

4.0  The  "Your Voice" Forum Concept ... at last!
Yes, Director Bylos has been out helping raise his newest little rascal, but Murd, as with many players, was somewhat nonplussed that this community-oriented feature seemed destined to be a vapor-thread; until two days ago.  Murd suspected that  nobody in the office was really authorized to act on it.  More cynical folks might even have surmised that pehaps some FC employees are playful mice, enjoying the Carolina spring time, while the top cat is away.  To be fair, it just as likely that the devs were busting their butts writing code and adjusting hardware.  Many of these people are probably still trying to settle in to the new location professionally and domestically.

When the dev's nixed the weekly update from the community manager, it was an understandable and sensible aspect of the corporate re-organization.  Over the years, it sometimes felt as if Tarib was grasping at straws just to have something to post.  The subsequent "Your Voice" thread is a very solid less-is-more concept: one that priovides some feedback to the information-hungry players, while letting various developers share the writing and PR tasks.   Now just (at the very time of writing this entry's first draft) as it was looking as if posting a "Your Voice" thread for July would seem a bit disingenuous, "Your Voice" was finally heard and to his credit Joel Bylos gave more than a few answers.  One of Murd's questions made the cut, so he's contented now.
Like the anniversary event "Your Voice" brings players and devs together.
TMAB makes these comments because, 2 months ago, it really appeared that FC was listening.  And although later than expected,  FC is showing they really are still listening

Specifically, while player's opinions about the latest info may vary, TMAB is pleased to see some things are in the works beyond what we know of  the 6-mans, PvP area, crafting and the Cetriss raid: 
  • New AA feats
  • PVE and PVP achievements and a TSW lore system
  • some kind of PvP scoreboard
  • and the possibility of legendary items  ...  ;)

Implementing new AA perks and feats is a no brainer as is the introduction of stats scoreboards.  Murd thinks that legendary items might just be the replacement for Ibis-level content in the new crafting system.  Considering how much time/effort is required to acquire an Ibis weapon, for a casual-player, these are already perceived of as practically legendary.  

The listed ideas are all reasonable, less-is-more approaches, to creating further types of goals and  player progression: afterall conventional MMOs motivate players socially by means of goals and measure it by progression.  It makes sense.

It is also particularly interesting to get a glimpse some FC corporate lore.  Joel had this to say about earlier plans:

The original Khitai design actually had the expansion starting in Zamora (Arenjun) and players dealing with the aftermath of the events of Tower of the Elephant. Which lead across the Vilayet and eventually to Khitai. That was too ambitious and we were told to focus on one culture from an art production perspective. So we just did the Khitai bit (and snuck in some Hyrkanian stuff.)

This leads me to wonder whether some story concepts and rudimentary plans exist for a Zamoran zone.  Murd would prefer to see Hyperborean, Vendhyan, and/or a genuinely African themed Black Kingdoms (a la Queen of the Black Coast) zone but Zamora could be interesting too, particularly if they went full-on with a city of thieves experience.  Another dense urban zone comparable the Tarantia ones, would be welcome!

5.0 Summing Up.

The other small item of AoC news  is the recent appearance of the Slope Backed Horse, a low-level mount, in the game shop.  It's inevitably slow: no amount of sweetpressed haste (just what the hell IS that stuff anyhow?) will matter. It's not going to go faster.  In June, it was tempting to crack more caustic jokes about the speed of things since the anniversary event,  but thanks to the better-late-than-never "Your Voice" comments, Murd's satisfied that the FC team indisputably knows that players want content, network, and systems changes; and they're on the job and are attentive.  The anniversary event was proof positive of that.  It's also satisfying finally to get a glimpse of some of the other plans, that are afoot.

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