HEROES & GENERALS ADDS GUNS, RIBBONS, AND MORE

Reto-Moto has patched its Heroes & Generals World War II shooter with the “Walker” update. It features new weapons, scopes, ribbons, tweaks and balancing, and more. Weapon adds include the Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle for German players and an M1/M2 carbine that switches between semi- and full-auto fire for US players.

The devs have also overhauled the game’s Factory map with an eye toward providing better cover, improved flow, and “more fun gameplay,” according to a Reto-Moto press release. As per usual with H&G updates, there’s an accompanying video featuring all the details. We’ve embedded it after the break.

 

THE GAME ARCHAEOLOGIST: KINGDOM OF DRAKKAR

Kingdom of Drakkar, also known as Drakkar or even Kingdom of Drakkar II, is a really odd duck among the annals of MMO history. While being very small potatoes for the industry as a whole throughout its entire lifespan, it is notable for an extraordinary long run (it began in the 1980s, people!) that’s traversed through several format changes and handlers.

I’ve seen Drakkar described, somewhat unkindly, as a “shoddier Ultima Online,” but I think that is a surface judgment that doesn’t take the effort to get to know the game or its legacy. There must be something to this game if it’s been around for three decades, yes? Let’s find out!

From the realm of ASCII
Drakkar had its roots in a 1984 MUD called Realm, which was created by computer programmer Brad Lineberger. This lesser-known relic from that era was written in fortran, used a whopping 16KB of memory, and connected around 40 players at a time.

Lineberger and a new company called Tantalus decided to upgrade Realm by making a graphical front end (FE) that was retitled Kingdom of Drakkar. The project took Lineberger three years to make, after which he debuted the online RPG in 1989.

The inspiration for Drakkar came from several contemporaries. “The storyline is from a seven-year D&D campaign that I ran,” Lineberger said in an interview. “It was also heavily influenced by Moria, Hack, Empire, and Islands of Kesmai.” The story of Drakkar involved an Earth that was ruined by floods and beset upon by an unspeakable evil.

Drakkar was a visual step up from the text-based MUDs, offering crude (yet colorful!) 8-bit graphics and a mouse-driven interface through which players could explore this fantasy land. Even better, the improved code and hardware allowed up to 200 people to connect at a time over Compuserve, making this the first graphical small-scale MMO offered over the internet.

“We had over 200 simultaneous on a decsystem ULTRIX box,” Lineberger told me over email. “It was an incredible sight, and it blew the dial-up connections away. You had to have an Amiga to be around all the people due to performance reasons.”

As a game, however, Drakkar was fairly simple. Players created a character from one of six races and seven classes, and sallied forth from there to kill, loot, crawl through dungeons, and train up skills. Its top-down isometric viewpoint is probably what leads to its inevitable comparison with Ultima Online, although Drakkar was much more of a traditional RPG than a sandbox. One neat little touch that it had was a generous loot table, as any mob had a chance of doling out a high-quality piece of gear (versus needing to camp certain mobs for the best loot).

Drakkar did have one important rule that separated itself from many of its brethren, which was a strict rule against player killing (which apparently could be done, just wasn’t allowed). Players who accidentally attacked another could — and I am dead serious here — hug their accidental victim to avoid any further retribution by the game.

“Massively multiplayer” is born
Lineberger, Tantalus, and Kingdom of Drakkar was soon folded into a new online game platform called MPG-Net in 1991. MPG-Net was a competitor of the several online services of the time, including AOL and CompuServe, but if you’ve never heard of this particular platform, you’re not alone. MPG-Net struggled to gain an audience the size of the other companies, seeing just 3,000 subscribers in 1992 and only climbing to 25,000 by its peak later in the decade. Initially, players had to cough up between $3 to $5 an hour to connect over dial-up, although that cost dropped to $9.95 a month later on.

Kingdom of Drakkar became the flagship RPG of MPG-Net and was positioned against other online RPG rivals. It was about this time that the language that people used to describe these games evolved.

“A little-known (and little-believed) fact is that the term ‘massively multiplayer’ was termed at the MPG-Net office in Key West, Florida, during a meeting of our people and and the Legends of Kesmai people,” Lineberger told me. “We were trying to differentiate between what Drakkar and Kesmai were capable of doing from these eight-player games that called themselves ‘multiplayer.’”

Lineberger initially licensed Drakkar to MPG-Net before selling the rights to the game entirely. Taking Drakkar to the next level was something that he worked on during the ’90s, creating a new version called Kingdom of Drakkar II (which later was merged back into the original game) and making two aborted attempts at a 3-D adaptation. He also worked on a couple of other MMOs that never made it to the market: Judgment Phoenix (an MMOFPS) and DragonGard (a fantasy MMO).

MPG-Net was eventually merged with iMagic in 1998, which spelled the end of that era. Drakkar lived on, although by then Lineberger had left the company.

In the zone, the Drakkarzone
As we’ve seen in several other columns here on The Game Archaeologist, MMOs didn’t thrive on digital game platforms once the 2000s hit. Drakkar languished until Lineberger repurchased the rights to the title in 2001 and decided to give it a new home.

In 2002, Lineberger formed a new company called Drakkarzone to handle the game and relaunched Drakkar with new 24-bit graphics and a free-to-play hybrid model. Players were later given the option in 2006 to toggle back to the old “legacy” graphics if desired.

However, working on Drakkar had to take a backseat due to Lineberger’s position as CTO of Icarus Studios (you might remember that as the studio originally responsible for Fallen Earth). The conflict of interest from working at an MMO studio and running another one on the side kept him from actively developing for Drakkar, although this has since been resolved as Lineberger left Icarus in 2012.

When asked what he enjoyed seeing among players in Drakkar, Lineberger commented, “I like watching people think of creative ways to get through creatures and puzzles I create. People think that I hate solved puzzles, but the truth is that I hate unsolved puzzles.”

The game grew over the years, with new content being added by Lineberger when time allowed. Drakkar’s scope expanded to over 250,000 “tiles.” Unlike most MMOs, Drakkar uses a set board game-like structure for its maps, placing objects on tiles and moving characters from one to the next. This mimicked the original MUD structure, and while things “moved,” there was never any animation added to the game to show, say, walking between tiles. Mounts are another common MMO feature that Drakkar lacks.

I asked Lineberger why he thought Drakkar had lasted so long and what it has contributed to the industry. “I think the magic of Drakkar is the community,” he wrote back, “and the fast hack/slash/quit model of the game (kill a few critters, then exit and do something else). We also were one of the first true graphical MMO games to have resource competitions. This creates a community of people wanting to help each other.”

Staking out claims for prized possessions wasn’t the only thing that brought players together, he told me. “Death in Drakkar often means you get ‘stripped’ with items dropping to the ground needing recovery, and this is another community builder. Also, the chat room as always been closely tied to the game. You can exit, ask for help, and head back in. We also have ‘open party’ systems, where the party has a name, and you simply join the party by name to share experience, which allowed for ENORMOUS parties sharing experience.”

Drakkar’s influence even left a profound impact on one up-and-coming developer. Villagers & Heroes’ Damon Slye wrote in to say how much Drakkar meant to him: “I played this game back in 1993 with a bunch of my colleagues at Dynamix. It was an excellent game. It was well balanced and a lot of fun. I spent thousands of hours playing it.”

So there you have it: a very old-school MMO that’s a living timeline of the industry, from MUDs to free-to-play and beyond. And the best part is? You can still play it today. I want to thank Brad Lineberger for his assistance in fleshing out this retrospective, as Drakkar is obviously a labor of love to him.

Believe it or not, MMOs did exist prior to World of Warcraft! Every two weeks, The Game Archaeologist looks back at classic online games and their history to learn a thing or two about where the industry came from… and where it might be heading.

 

What is the One Thing You’d Change in Your Favorite MMO?

Here’s my take for 2 excellent games I played over the past year: World of Tanks (WoT) and Guild Wars 2 (GW2).

What I’d change in World of Tanks

I’d remove “premium ammo” from the game.

WoT has game mechanics which collectively create a high skill cap – player skill truly matters. One of the most important game mechanics is penetration, i.e. piercing the armor of a target to deal HP damage. Unfortunately, the use of premium ammo trivializes penetration.

Take for example an IS-4 firing at another IS-4, with the target tank properly angled to minimize the probability of penetration. Here are the heatmaps, one with premium ammo and the other with normal ammo:

As you can see, with premium ammo makes penetration easy-mode (the target’s armor is green), because the penetration value is 82 points higher (340 vs 258).

Let’s consider another example: a T-62A firing at an IS-4. The penetration differential between premium and normal ammo for a T-62A is 66 (330 vs 264).

Even with a lower penetration differential of 66 instead of 82, it’s still clear that firing premium ammo trivializes penetration.

I’ve been able to tell the difference in penetration even with differentials around 20, and premium ammo tends to provide an increase of 60+. One category of premium ammo (ACPR) is supposed to have more penetration decay over distance than AP ammo, but net-net is that premium ammo is still win. StranaMechty provided a detailed analysis on decay based on the game’s configuration data.

Some veteran players try to justify the presence of premium ammo by pointing out that it’s purchaseable with in-game currency, whereas it used to be purchaseable only with gold, i.e. real money. While that is true, for the following situations, a player may not be able to afford much or any premium ammo

The player is not paying for a premium subscription, which costs real money
The player has not purchased a premium tank, which costs real money
The player is newer to the game (< 5000 battles) and is saving money to buy new tanks and new equipment
Simply put, the presence of premium ammo favors paying customers and veteran players. Veterans already have the benefit of experience, and that’s enough of an advantage in a high skill cap game.

What I’d change in Guild Wars 2

I’d scrap the endgame gear system and acquisition.

The process of acquiring one full set of Ascended gear for one character is grindy as heck. The irony is that GW2 was positioned as having no gear treadmill pre-launch in the memorable ArenaNet blog article Is It Fun (bold emphasis mine):

When your game systems are designed to achieve the prime motivation of a subscription-based MMO…the best stat gear requiring crazy amounts of time to earn, etc.

Fun impacts loot collection. The rarest items in the game are not more powerful than other items, so you don’t need them to be the best. The rarest items have unique looks to help your character feel that sense of accomplishment, but it’s not required to play the game. We don’t need to make mandatory gear treadmills, we make all of it optional, so those who find it fun to chase this prestigious gear can do so, but those who don’t are just as powerful and get to have fun too.

There is no simple fix unfortunately. Ascended gear is deeply embedded in the game’s crafting, rewards for daily/weekly/monthly quests, and Fractals.

In my opinion, AN has been trying to solve for keeping players actively engaged and playing on a consistent basis. When player activity began to drop in the months after launch, my guess is that AN had a kneejerk reaction and Ascended gear was introduced into the game.

The underlying problem is that GW2 launched without meaningful horizontal progression at endgame, the kinds of things I’ve been talking about on this blog (Why Games Should Scale Horizontally Instead of Vertically and Why PVE Content Shouldn’t Be a Coral Reef), and as a result players complained about the lack of progression. And so we now have Ascended gear.

Players debate the value of Ascended gear over Exotic gear, but the general consensus is that Ascended gear provides a 5% increase in stats, with the weapons providing a larger benefit due to the increased weapon damage. Skilled players I’ve talked to in [oPP] (OverPowered People, a WvW guild on Blackgate) have told me that they believe it makes a noticeable difference, and that makes intuitive sense to me.

CM Storm QuickFire Rapid Tenkeyless Mechanical Gaming Keyboard

The keyboard came sturdily packaged:

CM Storm QuickFire Rapid – Tenkeyless Mechanical Gaming Keyboard – Boxed

As I had hoped, the compact keyboard allowed for comfortable alignment and distance between my left hand on the keyboard and my right hand on the mouse, which is my default setup when gaming. From an ergonomic standpoint, I want my hands to be about shoulder width apart.

CM Storm QuickFire Rapid – Tenkeyless Mechanical Gaming Keyboard with CHERRY MX Red Switches

There are several design characteristics that influenced my decision to pick up a CM Storm keyboard:

Each key is concave, so your finger naturally falls into the middle of the key when depressing
There is a meaningful gap and crevice between each key and surrounding keys, which helps with correct finger placement
Each key has good travel distance, which prevents misfires from brush contact
CM Storm QuickFire Rapid – Tenkeyless Mechanical Gaming Keyboard – Concave Keys

I’ve only been using the QuickFire keyboard for a few days, but I already love it! The only downside to the keyboard is that it’s somewhat noisy, and in the heat of PVP, my wife can hear me clicking madly away in the next room. LOL.

Aside from brand, the main thing one has to decide with a mechanical keyboard is which Cherry MX mechanical switches to go with. There are 4 switch options, denoted by color, and per the manufacturer each option is tuned differently:

Blue: for typists, tactile actuation bump, actuation click sound, 60cN actuation force
Brown: for typists, tactile actuation bump, no actuation click sound, 55cN actuation force
Red: for gamers, no tactile actuation bump, no actuation click sound, 45cN actuation force
Black: for gamers, no tactile actuation bump, no actuation click sound, 60cN actuation force
I found an article and poll which recommends Cherry MX Brown instead of the Red I’m using. I’m tempted to order the Rapidfire keyboard with Brown switches to see which works best for me.

I got several dozen responses on Twitter about this topic. Here’s a link to the conversation:

Cherry MX Red or Cherry MX Brown switches for gaming? Bought Red with new keyboard amazon.com/gp/product/B00… but wondering about Brown

 

Player Content Set To Expand The World Of RuneScape

 

Award-winning developers Jagex today announced that the first of a series of planned updates has arrived for RuneScape, introducing vast amounts of player created content as a result of the RuneLabs initiative. Initially launching in January of this year, RuneLabs is an exciting platform that allows players to create, share and suggest new ideas for the world of RuneScape and lobby support from the wider community before seeing a final vote cast.

Each month Jagex are going to provide the community with different criteria to use as guidance when suggesting different types of content. Since its release in January the RuneLabs incentive has seen a massive response from the community with over 35,000 ideas put forward to the development team, prompting a response with over 290,000 votes cast on the ideas put forward.

“We’ve been overwhelmed with the quality and range of concepts that our players have put forward. We’ve seen small quality of life hotfixes suggested, quests with elaborate storylines and brand new skills such as Necromancy and Sailing. The community has always been at the forefront of everything we do, but now RuneLabs gives them a much greater voice in the developmental process. It’s taken a while to process all the suggestions, but now we’re starting to see the first results of the votes which were cast at the beginning of the year. As RuneLabs continues to grow, we’re hoping to see bigger and better ideas which will allow the players to shape greater areas of the game that they love.”
David Osborne, Design Director Of RuneScape
The first of the ideas that will be implemented will be added in two different parts. The Slayer Belt item released last week, allowing players to be more efficient in the Slayer skill. Following that update will be two new types of Dragon, Rune and Adamant armor in-game providing a tougher monster to hunt alongside new crafting materials and cosmetic items.

 

15 GB Patch For The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited Infuriates Console Community

 

Fans looking to dive into the recently released online world of The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited on the PlayStation 4 were left disappointed today following a scheduled update that presented a somewhat unexpected and rather large problem. The size of that problem? A huge 15 GB patch that appears to address very little other than a few bugs and basic surface problems with elements such as the user interface and various loading screen issues.

The official patch notes provides a detailed list of the changes made but as many users explained on the forums, the size of the patch notes didn’t seem fitting for such a massive sized patch. It’s completely possible that the developers have introduced elements in the patch to path way for future updates but didn’t necessarily feel it suitable to include such details in the official notes. Either way, it’s clear that the console community is still far from understanding of the development cycle that PC users have been familiar with for years.

Yeah seriously how often are they gonna expect me to download 15 gigs? And could it at least have started the download itself and not waited until i tried to login?

Yeah. I just happened to finish installing Planetside 2 so i had to close this game to install the update file on that one while i waited. Then i login and it tells me to update and I see 15 gb. That means to me that they literally have us downloading the entire original patch with changes rather than addendum’s.

It would be nicer if it took advantage of the 160+Mbps Fibre Broadband I paid for rather than the measly 3-4 I’m downloading right now

Some other users pointed out that the real problem behind the patch is the lack of reliability of the servers hosting the files as some reported downloads as slow as 200 KB/s on much faster connection speeds.

Have you tried to enter The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited on PS4 today? Do you feel people are complaining over nothing or is this a real cause for concern for a company that some claim have placed all their eggs in the console basket?

 

Ragefire Progression

After getting my gnome enchanter to level 3 I decided that I just didn’t want to have to fight with the throngs of players for mobs in steamfont, and I also decided that I should create some sort of tank class, because hey everyone needs a good tank, right? I made a dark elf shadowknight named Blesse and set off to Nektulos Forest. Experience was much quicker here with the ability to pick through zones in order to find one that didn’t have a hundred plus players wandering around it. I tried to fight spiders in specific along with wolves because I knew I would want their silk and hides. Experience was much faster here and my tank wasn’t doing too poorly. Having harm touch helped once an hour, and Nektulos Forest was quite challenging, especially when a random red zombie would cross my path (which was often).

Kanad created a barbarian shaman, and after reaching level 5 braved the walk from Halas over to Nektulos, and together we settled in camping undead and other various denizens of the forest. After a few hours I managed to reach level 6, at level 5 I received my first ‘useful’ spell, which was a much needed dot. I also managed to do a little bit of crafting, raising my baking and tailoring a few notches. I was proud of the three plat I had earned, though I know some players are earning much more than me, and much faster. It was while I was leveling up the shadowknight that I heard of the bosses of classic having already been defeated by a guild using their mage pets to zerg. While I admit, taking down raid encounters is something I would love to do, I also realize that it’s probably not something I’ll get a chance to do because guilds tend to keep these things on lockdown on progression and non progression servers alike.

The wizard spire in Nektulos Forest had been good experience around this level, as long as I avoided the zombies that pathed by, but I knew that it would soon be time to head on to Commonlands, and maybe work on some of my other crafting skills in the meantime as well. Of course when I finally logged in for my next play session, I didn’t do any of those things, but that will come in another post.

On the weekend the servers were so busy that there was a queue to get in. There are people all over the place, even at off-peak hours which is something that I have missed seeing. I imagine that as time goes on more people will leave the game, especially depending on how long it takes for players to unlock expansions, how quickly we reach expansions that others may not enjoy. I’m hoping to keep playing for as long as there are groups to be found. We’ll just have to see.

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