Cool quests need implementing with care

In gaming, “cool” ideas are constrained by your ability and commitment to following through. If you’re going to dream up the coolest ever quest idea and then do a half-assed job of it, you might as well sh*t between two slices of bread and call it a sandwich.

To this end, I present you the “Jin” quest line in Vanguard.

I can’t recommend Vanguard to anyone, but its not quite as bloody-awful as I remember from beta. It’s not Taxi to Victory terrible, just not far off. I’d work on it – and consider it a step up.

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Oops, let me turn off HDR and Bloom

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I’m having issues with Vanguard. The experience is somewhat like the early days of playing SWG, promise just beyond arms reach. One of the things that’s kept me baited is the potential of storyline, but every time I start to suspend disbelief, the game gives me a kick in the nuts to wake me up – maybe this is part of the hardcore vision.

I’m playing Kojan on Halgar server and just before I decided to uninstall it – about 24 hours after installing it – Granik stepped up to give the release a try and group up with me. This is definitely not a soloers game, and there is some really good stuff in there for making a group work. We formed a “Brotherhood” and despite doing our own thing now and again, we levelled up our two characters to level 12 in lock-step; I think at least 10 of our 12 (each) dings were simultaneous.

My issues extend to a complete inability to find a stable set of settings that will continuously provide any kind of frame rate. If I max everything out, it will eventually perform excellently in the same places that previously I was getting 1-3fps with the same settings. On the flip side, set it to best performance, turn everything off, and my frame rate will suck. Switch from fullscreen (1920×1200) to windowed mode: superb FBS. Max the window out to 1920×1200 – superb FPS.

And then there are the bugs and the lag spikes. Oh man. If WWIIOL had been this bad at release, it wouldn’t have survived.

The Kojan are the oriental race, and their starter area is, well, very oriental. Its quite exquisite. The backstory is a light/dark force type, except its called Jin. The light side is Lao’Jin and the dark side is Ra’Jin. For my first pass, I decided to take the Ra’Jin side, since the NPCs seemed to be good guys. Lets see what they do.

vgclient-2008-02-23-08-45-44-10.jpgSilly you for getting your hopes up. They take your choosing the dark side in their stride and set you out on a series of quests – what one would assume is the dark side quest line is … just the Jin quest line, because this is whom they send you to kill. Note the faction in the chat buffer.

It’s a great idea but it doesn’t have the wherewithall to follow up and its dissapointing. But that’s minor, maybe the quest line gets serious about the distinction later.

One of the most annoying bugs I’ve encountered, which is bringing me back to my point, is at the bottom of this huge pyramidesque stone staircase in the middle of the Ra’Jin enclosure (no screenshot because its a pain to get to and I’m tired of corpse runs, each one harder than the last as your gear is ‘parked’ on your tombstones for you)

The servers have been laggy the last few days, and I’ve had them crash on me twice (in the short amount of time I’ve played). Whenever a player stands at the bottom of these steps, the server freezes for anywhere from 3-45 seconds. The more players at the foot of the steps, the worse the freezes. So when we went there with 5 people, unaware of the issue, we all got booted. After 3 repeats of this our group split up and we were down to enough people not to get us booted, and worked out where the issue was.

As soon as you all get onto the stairs or move back around the corner from the stairs, everything goes back to normal. But when 3 or 4 or 5 of you run towards the stairs, there is a long, long, long pause, one or two of you gets dropped and people across the server ask “did the server just crash?”

(Its obviously doing something that gets stuck into some kind of heavy loop on the server – maybe something that’s doing a lot of logging or something that’s got a non-async database access or something that has a bad end-of-loop catch)

The whole staircase area is very detailed and intricate and … laggy. Little japenese-esque bamboo buildings.

This is where our cool quest finally comes around. One of the quests Granik and I had was to kill ninja, erm, I mean Ra’jin on the roof tops of the strong hold. This has an excellent twist that suddenly puts you in the middle of a wushu movie like Hidden Dragon. This isn’t no freaking delivery quest.

It calls for neurons: skill and care and delicate, precise maneuvering.

And jumping.

Now, you can’t control your jumps in mid-air, and the jump animation is bloody horrible. Male Humans don’t jump, they skip. And they skip to advertise their manlove. I kid you not: complete with little flap of the wrists and all.

The trouble is this quest would be cool as hell if it didn’t pit you against the game’s own defectiveness. But it does, and those odds are terminal.

The bugs, the lag, etc, I can cope with. When you’re doing mundane quests they don’t affect you much – so if I can’t do a delivery quest because I can’t get past a piece of broken terrain, BFD.

But when you discover a cool, cool quest, only to find yourself being tripped up, trapped, defeated and cheated by bugs, lag, etc … it’s something else.

Instead of being an attractor or an evangelist for the game, it suddenly becomes a landmine. Granik and I spent 3 hours trying to do the first steps of this quest and the fact we couldn’t was no fault of our own, we weren’t not up to the challenge, we weren’t too weak or too unskilled to do it – when we weren’t laggy we weren’t dominating it or pwning [sic] it, but we were making progress.

But we just couldn’t consistently jump from building to building because of lag. Falling off because you mistimed it, is one thing, but falling off because you didn’t get a single frame between pressing the forward key and finding yourself on the ground on the far side of the roof you were on… Screw that.

As a gamer, you can’t help but feel cheated because you appear to have put more time into it than the developer.

Vanguard is reminding me of early WWIIOL in a lot of ways. It resounds with “cool” but its like a museum of chintz. You shuffle around coughing and pointing politely and thinking to yourself “someone green would be cool, and it probably would if it weren’t for the purple and yellow they set it on”.

Vanguard is full of neat stuff that makes you go “ooh” – I mean there’s some really kick ass game designs in there: the Brootherhood system, which allows regular groupers to link their exp together, the Caravan system which lets you keep your party together when people play over different play windows…

It includes the loot distribution system I’ve been outlining since EQ1: If the leader sets “hand out cash loot” – it does just that, you don’t even have to stop to pick the stuff up – it just gives it out. And then when you enable “Random for magical” and someone starts a roll for applicable pieces of loot, everyone gets a little window with one of two buttons “need” and “greed”. If you can’t use the item, you don’t get a need button.

We had some pick up groups last night, and it was not the old familiar – because the loot system immediately made it overs of magnitude more amicable. You don’t have to watch your wallet, so to speak. It makes pick up groups flow so much more smoothly.

The diplomacy sub-game as a dressing for lore reading with a mini-card game; the combat combo systems; the classes. Lots and lots of same-old stuff dressed with cool.

My fear for Vanguard is that, like early WWIIOL, love and attention was entirely focused on cool without regard for the operational context, like building a suit of armor and then taking your client’s fitting.

If I were a manager at SOE, I could see myself looking at something like the combination of the incredibly laggy Jin area and the could-be-cool Jin quest line and saying “lets just trim out the cool and dodge the performance bullet” rather than “yeah, that would be really cool, lets spend the extra $250k it’ll take to let that cool out”.

On the other hand, the issues that turn the cool into radioactive lava affect stuff across the board, so I hope they won’t try to fix the symptoms but will find the funding and the motivation in their time to find and destroy the source of the issues.

I’m not going to recommend Vanguard, but if you decide to give it a whirl… Qinto is playing in Kojan on Halgar server.

 

10 Comments

Can I be Pinto?

From WWIIOL’s early Beta forums:

Februaby 2001, kfsone wrote:
It’s like preparing 10 courses for a meal as oppose to preparing a meal with 10 courses.

Each dish might be delicious, but on the other hand maybe after 3 incredibly salty dishes in a row the diner can’t quite bring himself to drink the soy sauce soup you made for the fourth course.

Kinda looks like when I get the popcorn bug in wwiiol…

Mmm… salty popcorn.

Damn you, kfs1 and bar10dr.

*goes off to make popcorn*

I got bored of VSoH because it felt so linear. If you look at a map, you can pretty much predict where you’re going and effectively when you’re going to get there.

One of the biggest problems as always with these games are pick-up groups, the fear of death is so low in this game, you find pick-up groups tend to get themselves killed far to many times and doing some of the most stupidest things. Or you encounter a fast cycle bug where as soon as you kill a mob it’s buddy in the chain re-pops and attacks.

One day I will go back to this, I have a L29 Cleric on Halgar, I think my subs ran out when the content got so far away and frankly I got sick of seeing the same mob in the same dungeon for the umpteenth time in the same week.

Clerics are fun btw, can solo slowly but far more fun in a group.

~2 hours to update…….I’m going to give it a whirl, but my machine barely meets recommended spec.

Good lord…..their update system is just an outright lie…i’ve been downloading updates full speed since about 12:30 pm….

Lol, easting :) You might want to restart it. Its a pain but it can speed it up significantly. Do a full scan.

I’m playing a Paladin, Granik is playing a disciple. His damage output is awesome. I’m getting occasional hits for 200-300, while Granik is doing upto 1100 crits.

OK I’m a Dread Knight by the name of Losfer Words. Just made level 2 woot! (does saying woot make me gay?)

Losfer Words may mean something to Iron Maiden fans….

lev 5, going to get some Texican food….be on later.

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