Thursday, March 29, 2007

DAOC: The Dragons Strike Back

Looks like there have been some serious brainstorming sessions going over at Mythic. DAOC was one of the best MMORPGs for its time (the time between Everquest 1 and World of Warcraft), especially for PvP and player housing, but now it's dated, clunky and bleeding subscribers like oil from a '72 Dodge Dart.

So Mythic is trying to keep its players entertained and possibly lure back old players with a new six-month story arc involving the dragons leaving their lairs and torching the various villages of each realm, instead of waiting patiently for 50 nerds to come along and kill them at home.

Looking through the latest patch notes, sifting past all the archery changes, I see sure evidence that DAOC's subscriber numbers are lower than ever - they have clustered the classic and shrouded isles PvE areas. When clustering started, they kept these areas separate for each server, so that there would always be plenty to hunt for all players (and all players in the cluster could go to any server's PvE areas). Apparently it's not an issue anymore... I could only imagine them doing this if most entire clusters didn't have the population that the PvE areas were meant to support on a single server.

The archery changes themselves I find mildly interesting, but slightly distasteful. And I see the screaming masses finally got what they wanted in an animist nerf (no more stacking bladeturns, and no more than 5 fire-and-forget turrets, ever). So much for that class, and so much for Hibernia's ability to take on dragons or other high level mobs. I don't think Mythic realizes how much PvE content they created that pretty much requires an animist in the group, to summon dozens and dozens of turrets for the sole purpose of bringing the "to-hit" chance of high level mobs down to where players will actually be able to hit it.

I'm really hoping they are learning from their mistakes so that they don't make them again in Warhammer, but that's not encouraging to me. Still, I can't really say one way or the other until I actually get a peek at the game... and still no word on beta yet.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

New Civ 4 expansion on the way

"Beyond the Sword" is the name of the new expansion (not Beyond the Stars, as the article says), and as the name implies it opens up a whole lot more diplomatic, financial and technological options as far as the path to cultural dominance goes. Looks to be very interesting, and 2K sure can't seem to do very much wrong these days.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

10 Wierdest Video Game Controllers

Amusing. Ranging from things I wish I had, to abominations that never should have seen the light of day. Have a look, won't you?

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Review: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Shadow of Chernobyl

One of the big surprises of this young year has been the actual release of a title whose rank in the vaporware hall of fame was second only to the awesome majesty that is Duke Nukem Forever... S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - Shadow of Chernobyl.

So how does it measure up? Read on.

The Good
If you were worried that, 6 years after its announced development, STALKER would look dated and flat, unable to compete with modern shooters, let me lay that to rest right now. The game is as beautiful as a game set in an apocalyptic nuclear wasteland can be. While not exactly bright and colorful (more like soulcrushingly depressing, but it's Chernobyl, people, not Times Square), the textures are rich and gritty, polygons are numerous, and models are intricately detailed. In fact, sometimes the vegetation is a little too thick, so as to obfuscate what you're trying to shoot, but hey, isn't that what vegetation does? Also, the story is an engaging sci-fi junket with elements of politics, mystery and of course, lots of mutants. It unfolds well, is immersive, and all in all an engaging experience.

The Bad - This section is going to seem a little large, but don't lose heart.
My biggest gripe about this game is they have taken everybody's least favorite RPG element and injected it into an FPS: Inventory management. The one thing most people gripe about in any other RPS, they chose to make their most visible transplant. Ugh. I suppose you get used to it after a while, but it is still a pain. One thing I wish they HAD put in was a way to "train" your accuracy to get better, because especially with the weapons you get in the early stages of the game, you're hard pressed to hit the broad side of a barn at 50 paces. By far the most irritating implementation of the "expanding crosshairs" dynamic I have encountered yet. The last bad design decision is the control mechanism for the player's movement and posture. In addition to the WASD keys for movement, you have Q and E for leaning left and right, shift for walking slowly (stealthily), ctrl for crouching, X for sprinting, and ctrl AND shift to kneel (which you'll be doing often, because it affords the best accuracy boost... and even at this boosted level, you're pretty much still just spraying and praying). Often times, you will need to kneel (two keys), lean (another key), and inch to the side (another key)... so, you'd need to be holding shift, control, Q, and tapping A all with one hand so you can keep your other hand on the mouse to aim and shoot around that corner you're trying to get around. Carpal tunnel syndrome, here I come.

Oh, and one more design flaw... enemy characters all seem to be able to take 5 times the amount of damage you can, unless all your hits are headshots (which is pretty difficult, given the above accuracy issues).

Now, on to unintended bugs... You can tell that, after years of delays, somebody said "Ship it now or we fire you all!" There are lots of little clues that after 4 years of delayed releases, the final months of development were a desperate rush. The AI for enemies, for instance, tries to be clever, but often enough it will end up trying to shoot you through doors, walls, ceilings/floors, and other solid objects which block not only bullets but sight altogether. Still, the enemy will often be constantly emptying clip after clip (and they never run out of ammo, unlike you) into a foot-thick cinderblock wall that separates you from him.

Other bugs in the system keep coming up as well, such as objectives you have completed in the past will suddenly come up uncompleted again when you load a new level map, your "objective" arrow will sometimes point at completely arbitrary map positions, and often the loops for ambient sounds (engines thrumming, power hums, nature sfx, etc) will not be looped quite right and it will cut off for a second between each iteration of the loop... as if that generator powering the building dies every 5 seconds for a half second. To top it all off, the game is riddled with typographical errors, ranging from an extra character in a word or misspelled word all the way up to entire paragraphs not matching the accompanying spoken dialog at all.

Continuity sometimes suffers as well, such as names for things will change and change back without any reason to do so (IE, one important device is randomly called either the "Brain Scorcher" or the "Brain Burner", as if a story decision was made to change the name in mid-production and the old voice cuts were never re-recorded).

The Final Word
Despite the bugs, punishing design flaws, and 900 shades of dirty brownish gray that comprise the game's entire art pallette, you will have fun playing STALKER. Just remember to never let yourself run low on ammo. The graphics are excellent and can squeeze performance-sweat out of even the beefiest of current video cards (except of course for the 600 dollar Nvidia monstrosities, I can only assume). The gameplay is smooth and action-packed, and the story will make you want to see what happens. Despite its flaws, I'd say it's worth trying. Rating: B.

And that's the word from Bandit Camp

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

From the Beating Departed Equines Department...

Did you know they're still fighting over 3Dfx's long-since-decayed corpse? It's true.

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More info on the Lego MMO

Over at Killer Betties, they've got Netdevil talking about that Lego MMO they're working on. I'm as excited as anybody, but my enthusiasm is dampened by remembering my beta days in Auto Assault, watch day by day as Netdevil took what could have been an awesome and revolutionary MMO and turned it into another mindnumbing treadmill.

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How WoW killed the LAN Party

An interesting read. I personally think broadband internet and shovelware FPSes are more to blame, but I don't deny there isn't something to what he's saying.

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DMCA's author calls it a failiure

And the march of inevitability continues forward.

He hasn't quite hit the nail on the head, but he's right in that the primary problem here is the music industry's unwillingness to adapt to a changing marketplace.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Confessions of an Urban Dead "Zerger"

This post has been coming for a long, long time, and I'm kind of relieved it's finally time to write it.

Urban Dead. The for-free, low tech MMO zombie apocalypse game. I've played it, on and off, for a couple years now. But as of today, I'm done.

See, I am what in UD is called a "Zerger," or a "Multi Abuser." I have multiple characters, and I use them in concert to achieve my goal. I'm not the first, and I certainly won't be the last.

Some people, unfamiliar with the game, may ask, "Multiple characters? So what? I have 10 alts in my MMO of choice." Well, it's because the guy who created and runs the game says so, and with good reason. The game is free, and nothing stops you from creating all the characters you want, but the design of the game is built around each character only having a certain number of turns per day. Everything you do in the game uses up turns, or "action points," which grow back at a rate of 1 per half hour. So, if one person say, created 50 zombie characters, he could use them to assist his one "main" zombie character to tear open a barricade without spending any of his "main" character's action points. Obviously unbalancing. So there is a real, genuine need to keep this sort of thing from happening. But the implementation falls on its face in certain situations, which I will detail later.

I didn't start out a multi-abuser. I came to UD honestly and normally, by somebody talking about it in a forum. I decided to check it out, and rolled myself up a character. Within 10 minutes, my little newbie was out of action points and hadn't accomplished much of anything at all. Still curious to see more of the game, I made another character, and when he ran out of AP in 10 minutes, I made another. I wanted to see all the different angles of the game, so I made one a policeman, one a fireman, one a soldier, one a scientist and one a zombie. These five characters were spread out across the city (the game's location is the fictional city of Malton), in totally different suburbs.

And so there I was, with my four little guys, each struggling and not getting much accomplished, but still growing. I quickly ran into Kevan's (the UD gamemaster) first barrier to multi-abuse, and perhaps bandwidth hogging, in the form of a 150-click limit from a given IP address. By this point, I was intrigued with the game, and decided to go ahead and pony up the 5 bucks per character Kevan required to lift this restriction. I've spent 25 bucks on far worse things.

I went on playing this way for a month or two, finding my soldier grew the fastest, my fireman survived the longest, and my scientist just had an all-around rough time of it in every way.

After a couple months, someone in the forum I mentioned earlier had the idea to get together and form a cooperative group, which was called Skulls Skulls. I joined up with them with my four human alts, and as we converged on Yagoton (our chosen area of operation), I first became aware of the policy on "multi abuse," and expressed concerns to the leader of the group about my situation. He wasn't too worried, but I decided it would still be best to take corrective action. I didn't, however, want to rob the group of manpower, so I "gave" three of them to friends and coworkers I knew in real life. We all worked together, passed information to each other, etc, but I was really the only one who kept any communication with the Skulls group, or anyone else in the game. The others mostly just wanted to play and win and were happy to let me coordinate everything.

So there we were, a minor group doing what we could to help each other grow stronger and fight zombies, until a fateful day when the guy who I gave my scientist to scanned a zombie asking for a revive and found him to be the leader of a local PK gang called the "Amish Liberation Front", and refused to revive him. He got to safety and told me about him, and I coordinated with the others to put him down. That was the beginning of the end for Skulls Skulls.

The PK we killed started digging around, went to our forum and started accusing us of multi abuse (Ironic, ain't it?). In reprisal, he ordered his entire group, which outnumbered and vastly outleveled ours, to start concentrate on killing Skulls Skulls. They were pretty successful, mostly on the other forumites who weren't as experienced as my little crew and I were. My pack fought back as best we could, but the Amish were higher level, more closely coordinated, and didn't have the handicap of having to try to stick together that Skulls did. The forumites in skulls suffered rather badly, and one by one they started either dropping the group tag or just not logging in any more.

We weathered the storm from the Amish, but it hurt the skulls bad. They didn't have quite the headcount they used to, and I think many of them, the leader included, felt resentment toward me for starting the whole mess by killing that PK instead of reviving him. On top of all that, the guys I gave characters to were starting to feel like they didn't want to play anymore. So they gave me my characters back, I removed them from Skulls Skulls, let them know we were retiring, and tucked the characters away in 4 different directions from Yagoton, to sleep until a zombie ate them for the last time.

Fast forward in time 6 months.

It was a slow period at work, and in the process of looking for something to kill a little time and yet still look like I was working, I checked back into my main character on Urban Dead. There had been some changes in the game that piqued my interest.

And after seeing how things were, I made the decision to become a zerger.

I make no apology, and I sure don't regret this decision. I had spent months playing it on the up and up, and frankly I was tired of being alone and impotent, especially after I'd seen what could be accomplished by 4 people working in close coordination. I'd watched good people, honest players screwed over by intellectual preadolescents and a system designed to cater to chaos and antisocialism, and decided I was going to do something, and do it my way, rules be damned. I wasn't afraid of any repercussions because I was already "done" with the game the way Kevan wanted it played. I had nothing to lose, and fully acknowledged that from this point on, I was playing on borrowed time until the inevitable ban hammer fell.

I converged my four human characters, my zombie character (who I revived and spent the thousands of exp he had accrued maxed out as a non-rot zombie), and even a character donated to me by another person who had lost interest in the game. Additionally, I rolled a new zombie, just to have an extra set of eyes roaming about that didn't cost my "main" characters any AP.

I decided that my efforts would be focused on fighting against the type of guys who made my last foray into UD less than enjoyable: the "PKs." The survivors who, like me, had gotten tired of the game but instead of quitting decided to make a game out of making life miserable for other survivors still trying to play the game as intended.

I picked out a group called the YRC, short for "Yagoton Revivification Clinic." These were an altruistic bunch of survivors trying to do their damnedest to get life back into those who didn't want to be dead. They were known across malton for their fast service and helpful demeanor. They also tried to maintain neutrality in matters political (read: drama), but all this didn't stop the asshole contingent from trying to make their life miserable as well. They were routinely plagued by PKs, generator saboteurs, organized zombie attacks numbering in the dozens, etc. I decided what was needed was a vigilante group dedicated to trying to make the YRC's life easier to do their work by doing what their neutrality wouldn't let them do: hunt down and kill those who would make hell for them.

So, I started the group, Guardians of the YRC. Our members were Me (Gasbandit), Me (Captain Jack Testes), Me (El Camino), Me (Blaze Steelbuns), Me (GeeBee1), Me (The Angry Scientist), and Me (a disposable zombie noob). For 6 months, we patrolled Yagoton from The Whatmore Building (headquarters of the YRC) to Bale Mall, looking for known PKs and helping against zombies. Except for the occasional (usually about once or twice a week) execution of a PK, the work was mostly barricading, healing, and helping to revive people.... and lots of walking. Walking around, looking at who was inside each of the many buildings. It got pretty complicated to remember where I had and hadn't been, and even with six alts on patrol, you coudn't cover everything if you were hitting the same buildings multiple times. There wasn't much experience, but the characters were already level 41 (max level) before I started this little project, so there really wasn't a point to worrying about experience... just results. And I like to think I made a difference.

I'm astounded it took at least six months for UD's vaunted "anti-abuse" algorithms to catch on and finally ban the above characters. Over the last six months, through trial and error testing limits and seeing what worked and what didn't, I learned how to work around the system. It was only this last week, where I completely stopped protecting myself and blatantly abused UD in the heaviest and
most obvious manner possible that the characters finally got banned.

I kept each character in a different building adjoining Whatmore. I alternated computers (I have two IPs at home, and an office computer, and the ability to remotely log in to all of the above) between alts, so that my IP was never consecutively used for two consecutive alt moves. I found that the magic 3 triggers for the anti-multiabuse system were attacking, healing and barricading, with the most sensitive trigger being barricading. If Alt1 even attempts to barricade in BuildingA even once, Alt1 is the only character at your IP address who can successfully barricade, attack or heal for the next few hours. Anyone else from that IP would miss constantly, or get the "you can do nothing for this person" message when trying to heal. Attacking and healing were a bit less sensitive, but multiple alts from one IP attacking a single target in a short space of time is a big alarm flag (which I am sure is how they finally caught me). Healing wasn't so much a flag as just something that seemed to be turned off when one of the other two activities triggered the alt flag. So after a few days and a few dozen wasted AP, I learned how to work around the system. Only barricade on the alt that had the most AP, so he could get the job done, and do your killing and healing first on other alts if you need to do that in that square. Sleep in separate buildings, though side-by-side buildings seemed to be enough. And never attack the same person on the same day with more than one alt from the same IP address.

See, that was what finally got me, I'm sure... in trying to retake the whatmore building this week from a very large and highly organized group of zombies (possibly even zergers themselves), I made the cardinal errors of keeping all my alts in the same building at the same time, and attacked the same zombie (because how can you differentiate zombies you haven't scanned and put in your contacts?) with more than one alt from the same IP address (laziness on my part). But I'm not all that sure about that, because the ban didn't actually kick in until the zombies had won, and I had saved up ~25 AP, so that I could move them across 3 suburbs to the nearest survivor-held revive point. So that might have been another trigger... having the same IP move multiple characters across suburb boundaries to the exact same coordinates (the revive point, in this case) in a short period of time. 8 hours later, when I checked I got the message that my characters were disabled.

I guess my hubris had caught up with me... I'd worked the system so long that I got sloppy and didn't even try to cover my tracks any more, or perhaps I just wanted to push the envelope to try to retake Whatmore, or maybe I was just subconsciously tired of it all and stopped caring. Even now, I feel liberated that I have been freed of my self-imposed responsibilities and management tasks. This must be, on a small scale, what a career soldier feels like dying on the battlefield. My work is done.

I don't care what anybody thinks of me, particularly those who would condemn me for "cheating" at this game. This game needs to be cheated. I'll detail why:

  • One character, be it zombie or survivor, cannot accomplish anything on his own. Be it clawing down a heavy barricade or gunning down a zombie (if you count the time to scrounge ammo and load weapons, or if you are using melee weapons), each action of consequence takes roughly a full day's worth of AP, and that's all that you can store (50 ap max).

  • The methods of communication in the game are woefully insufficient, and punish the player for communicating by making them spend AP to communicate. Talking and broadcasting should not cost AP, at least not a half hour's worth per sentence. UD's communications paradigm forces players to metagame (use outside-of-game communication and planning) if they want to work together, and as noted above, multiple characters MUST work together to accomplish anything.

  • PKing is far too rampant and has no repercussions other than what survivors themselves decide (and are able to) impose. This exacerbates the already-rough time survivors have, which brings me to:

  • The game is terribly unbalanced in favor of the zombies, even at max level. Zombies incur minimal penalty from dying (they just stand back up again, for as little as 1-6 AP, and be at full health and ready instantly), whereas survivors incur a tremendous penalty (stand up as a zombie, have to wander until you find somewhere/someone to revive you, wait for the revive, cure your infection, and get to safety, all to the tune of probably close to a full day's AP gone). Survivors must spend AP barricading to have safe places to sleep, Zombies don't even need safe places to sleep (see dying above). Survivors need to buy abilities just to be able to survive (shopping, free running, construction, etc). Zombies can buy an ability to keep from being revived, but no human ability can stop them from being zombified. Infection needs to be cured by revival. A level 1 survivor can't even defend himself or attack zombies, but infinite level 1 zombies can be rolled and herded into a building under attack so that once it is ransacked it cannot be reclaimed and repaired by survivors (and you can't barricade a ransacked building). Some survivor abilities are still useful as a zombie, but only the stinky corpse ability works as a survivor, and its utility is questionable. Zombies PKing each other does no harm, unlike survivor PKing. And the list goes on and on.
I shudder to think of the chaos and destruction I could have wrought had I been a PK or if I decided to go full zombie with my alts. But now it's all over, and I'm glad. I'll just list what needs fixing, in my not so humble opinion, and head off to greener pastures-

  1. Communication in-game needs to be revamped and not cost AP. If you are worried about channel spamming, make a rolling limit on the number of "says" a character gets in an hour, of about 5 or so, after which "your voice is too hoarse to speak."

  2. Cell phones need to work 100% of the time. The powered mast dynamic needs to go away.

  3. Survivors need to be able to shoot out of second story windows at zombies outside.

  4. Infection needs to be cured by revival.

  5. Survivor-on-survivor killing needs to be worth no experience, and if not be made impossible or punished by the system, then at least put some kind of marking on characters to indicate their murderous nature.

  6. Free running needs to be standard issue to everyone who starts a character as a survivor.

  7. The maximum number of AP needs to be raised to 100 or possibly even 200, though the regeneration rate should stay the same. Zombies should have a lower max AP than survivors.

  8. Zombie max HP needs to scale from 10 up to 50 (or 60 with body building) with level.

  9. Only zombies should have the option to destroy generators/radios, and then, only as an automatic function of ransacking.
Ok, that's enough of that. As my parting words, I'll just say, Yellow Dart, you were incorrect when you accused me of zerging, but I fixed it for you 6 months later.

Farewell, UD.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I'm from the Government, and I know what's best for you.

Decency in video games act. Bleh.

Friends, you need to make sure your congressman knows they need to keep their grubby paws out of "decency" legislation of any kind, particularly video games. I mean, really, there are few things that sound more orwellian than legislating "decency." What's next, the thought police? Oh I forgot, we already have laws that change based on what you are supposedly thinking at the time.

No government agency has our best interests in mind. This is not about "protecting children." This is about grabbing power under the auspices of the public interest. Do you really want the FCC, or another agency like it, clamping down on video games like they've clamped down on radio and TV? It's sickening. People need to stop delegating their parenting to the Government and mind their own business, not to mention mind their kids.

NINTENDO IS NOT YOUR GODDAMNED BABYSITTER. For that matter, no media should be. Put the welfare of your family ahead of your own personal creature comforts and desires for once in your selfish lives, you worthless, brainless sheep!

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Capcom to Sony: "FU, we like 360 and PC"

Seems Devil May Cry 4, which was supposed to be a PS3 exclusive, is now going to be on 360 as well, and a PC edition of either this one or another sequel will be forthcoming. Poor, pitiful Sony. Bwaha.

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New Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War Patch

I hear tell there's a new patch for every iteration of the popular WH40k RTS available over at this patch page, but from what I hear nobody's really happy with the rebalancing... it ranges from "tau got nerfed" to "everybody got nerfed." Whatever, I feel no need to patch my copy. Maybe you do.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Microsoft PC Live to launch in May

Microsoft has announced that their Live service (as in Xbox Live) will be available for use on PCs running Vista in May, and that Halo 2 will be one of the cross-platform games on it, as well as Shadowrun.


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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Arrrr Matey.

Wonder what's going on these days on the piracy front? Here's a quick glimpse:

Blu-Ray and HD-DVD formats have both had their inherent copyright technology cracked.

Despite Piracy being "higher than ever" especially in China, India and the U.S, box office takes have gone through the roof, especially in China, India and the U.S... further showing that the slump in movie sales in the last few years were because of crappy movies, not because of piracy.

And here's an interesting tidbit... if you're going to be downloading movies (legally) from places like Netflix, BitTorrent, Movielink or Instant Media, you'll be happy to know the movie you own** will have backup-choking Macrovision ACP copy protection embedded in it. Well, I guess it isn't DRM software, at least... but that's like getting shot in the hand and being told at least you weren't shot in the nuts.

**- haven't you heard? You don't own anything you buy anymore, you only license the right to use it, and that right can be revoked at any time for damn near any reason.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Rumors of a New Command & Conquer FPS

Whisperings indicate that it will use the Crysis engine.

Very few details are available right now. It is unknowns whether it will be a Renegade sequel or an unrelated C&C based IP, but I am both excited and yet hesitant... after all, it is EA doing this. It's a crapshoot... could be good, could be awful.

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Lego MMO?

Heh, that's pretty cool...

Wonder if there'll be PVP.. would kind of re-create the whole kindergarten experience if some other kid came along and trashed your Lego castle.

Dammit, I wanna go buy some Legos now.

Legos rule.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Warhammer 40k MMO

THQ has announced that they are making a MMO based on Warhammer 40k. This is very exciting news.

Although it won't be Relic (the dev house that made Dawn of War) doing the grunt work, THQ has nevertheless done well with the license. The genre was really aching for a good sci-fi MMO, as all the ones thus far have been rather lackluster at best and catastrophically unplayable at worst.

Granted, there are some issues that no doubt will need to be hammered out. For instance, I am not sure of a good paradigm to make the Imperial Guard work as a playable faction, as their balance comes from cheap and expendable units that mass in large numbers... and nobody wants to be a zergling. Perhaps "Commissar" or "Priest" could be the playable character, and inherent to the class will be the ability to have guardsmen "pets" to command, much like the Mastermind archetype in City of Villains.

And the necrons, I'm sure, will have to be NPCs.. they're just so non-growth oriented and, frankly, unbalanced.

But probably the biggest issue that will need to be addressed is that, aside from the Eldar, there are no boobies. None.

This is a problem.

Every successful MMO to date had to have teh hawt boobz. Currently, Warhammer 40k is largely devoid of estrogen, though until now this has not been a liability.

However, if there's one thing that Warcraft's translation from RTS to MMO has shown, it's that you can go ahead and inject the boobies, and pretend they were just always part of the canon, and it will all work out.

I wonder if a female space marine will look too much like Samus Aran...?

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

NVidia has Created a Monster.

This 8800, it is not for mortals.

I must have one.

Well, in all probability, I'll probably end up with the less expensive 320 meg 8800... but still, that thing is a behemoth of only slightly less epic proportions.

I bet there are quite a few ulcers bubbling over at ATI these days.

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