Just a quick update.

Hey folks, just letting you all know that I’m taking a few days in between Parts 2 and 3 – have to go back to work and pretend to have a real life(I don’t, that’s a lie). Will be brainstorming and composing Part 3 in the coming days – so just be patient! I will let you all know when it’s posted, of course.

If you’re a social media guy or gal, feel free to follow me on Twitter. My handle is @nairmak_gren – pretty boring I know but hey, it works for me. Anyway, that’s all for now – back to your regularly scheduled blogging or reading or…whatever it is you’re doing.

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Kam’s Korner: Wildstar Part Two

Hello folks, and welcome back to Kam’s Korner. This part, as I discussed briefly in the first update yesterday, will be touching more on the current iteration of Wildstar and the improvements and updates that Carbine and NCSoft have made since the game’s launch. Despite the game’s stumble out of the gate – the launch of the game was marred by a lot of bugs and server instabilities – the actions of the development team and the staff supporting them over the last year have proven that these men and women truly do care about improving the experience of us, the player.

You see, Carbine had a very ambitious – perhaps a little TOO ambitious – plan for post-launch game content that would, in their mind, keep the game fresh. The original plan that the team had in mind was to do monthly game updates, or ‘patches’, to help add content and keep players engaged in Planet Nexus. Yes, that’s right. Updates and new content every 30 days. Now, in my honest opinion – you would have to be operating on negative hours of sleep and live at your office to produce content of that rapidity. And with a promise for such rapid content drops came the problem with such a short window of production – bugs. Many, many bugs were included in the earliest content updates that Carbine released, and this attracted player criticism.

Was it warranted? I think that critiquing decisions made by game developers is an important part of giving feedback. If you do not stand up and say “I disagree with this because”, you are giving up your voice. Of course, that does NOT mean forming a virtual lynch mob and hunting people down because they did not deliver what you wanted is a good idea, either.

Briefly, I am going to go over the major patches, or ‘drops’ as Carbine likes to refer to them as:

Drop One: Known as the Strain Ultra-drop, this update was released on June 26th, 2014. This update added two new zones to the game, Blighthaven and the Northern Wastes(*). It also added lots of new housing items, gear and daily quests for players to complete. Both of the new zones were introduced for level 50 players and held a variety of other content besides daily quests; Blighthaven in particular boasted a 20-man public event called Guardians Of The Grove as well as a 5-man outdoor dungeon zone called The Nursery, while Northern Wastes, a re-introduction of a zone played by Exile characters from level 3-5, contained a majority, if not exclusively, solo-player daily quests.

Interestingly, it was also in one of the press interviews about the Strain Ultradrop when former Executive Producer Jeremy Gaffney spoke of the “ginormous monthly updates” that the Carbine team was going to deliver on.

Drop Two: Known as Sabotage, this update was released on July 30th, 2014. With Sabotage, Carbine focused more on a player-versus-player front, releasing a new battleground called Daggerstone Pass. Included with the new battleground were more improvements to classes and other fixes and tweaks that, in my view, were meant for the PVP player – as there had been criticism from the PVP community at the time that Carbine was “neglecting” them.

Drop Three: Known as Mystery of the Genesis Prime, this update was released on November 10th, 2014. This drop marked a departure from the original plan of monthly content drops, as Product Director Mike Donatelli explained on the Wildstar community forums in September:

“An aggressive drop schedule was something we had planned from the beginning,” says Donatelli.

“Our goal was to get new content out there and into your hands as fast as possible. However, we soon learned a pretty painful lesson: the quicker we tried to get content out the door, the buggier it ended up.

The community has been both very forgiving, but very clear about their opinion on the matter:

Stop releasing buggy content. Period.

After Drop 2, we sat down and had a hard talk about the process so far. The result of this discussion: no more drops before their time. While we would still like to get content to our players as quickly as possible, we’re going to focus on quality. In the end, this will provide true value.”

Donatelli revealed that the team was going to attempt content in three-month patches as they felt it would be more of a realistic time window for the updates to be thoroughly tested and up to player standards for a live release.

This update was the largest content update ever at the time for the Wildstar team, and included a new zone, The Defile, along with tons of new quests, new group and outdoor content, and a continuation to the “world story” of the game, with a single-player instance called OMNI-Core 1. With those new additions also came many pages of quality of life improvements and a laundry list of impressive bug fixes.

Drop 4: Known as The Protogames Initiative, this update was released on Febuary 2nd, 2015. This update added a level 10 ‘starter’ dungeon to the game called The Protogames Academy, which presents itself as a training ground for new players to learn and understand Wildstar’s combat mechanics. Also, in the same update, Shiphand missions received an update to include Veteran Shiphand missions – single player content for the level 50 solo player to attempt and gain loot and other rewards from.

It also added a plethora of other content, including, but not limited to: new housing decorations, new housing editing tools(being able to change your plot itself, not just the house), a character customization vendor that allows you to change your character’s appearance(not race), ‘goody bags’ for those who use the queue system to allow for random group activities, and the scaling of one of the major end-game raids in the game, The Datascape, from a 40-man raid to a 20-man raid.

Drop 5: The current content update to Wildstar, known as Invasion: Nexus, this update was released on May 4th, 2015. Continuing with Carbine’s rather impressive patch history in terms of size, Invasion: Nexus was no exception, adding a new level 50 zone, StarComm Basin, with new, rotating daily quests for players to experience each day, gaining reputation for new rewards such as new gear, new housing options and new mount flairs(customization pieces for your mount).

It also introduced the Contracts system. Contracts are solo player content that are acquired from a Contracts Board in your respective capital cities – giving out assignments from hunting a certain number of a certain creature to completing challenges to killing world bosses. Contracts reward things from money to rune tokens(in which you exchange tokens for a rune which can be added to your gear), to Renown(a currency for Shiphand gear and decor items), and Protostar Promissary Notes – which can be exchanged with certain reputations for points towards your total standing score with said faction.

Another large group of bug fixes and tweaks were added, as well as the Holo-wardrobe system; this allows a player to change how their gear appears and what colour it is, but it also allows players to save gear appearances for future use – allowing said player to vendor or destroy the gear after they are done saving the look of it.

Companion pets were also added, bringing around 60 pets for players to find and collect to join them on their quest across Planet Nexus. Not much I can say about this one other then adorable.

oh no, robot sheep

oh no, robot sheep

Whew, that was a long one to type up! Anyhow, I returned to the game around the time just before Drop Four, and I was already impressed by all of the changes made in the previous updates. The last update, Invasion Nexus, opened up a world of new customization options for players that many had been asking for since the launch of the game. More then that, the last few updates, in my opinion, have been showcasing the Carbine team shifting away from the ‘hardcore’ stereotype that had been unfairly attached to Wildstar and moving towards a more solo-friendly, story-driven approach. Of course, the creative content team has been tight lipped about future story content – we’ll blame Pappy, the creative director, for that one – but the team has really pushed story in the last few updates.

the aurin race will never be the same

the aurin race will never be the same

Another bright spot in the Wildstar universe is a thing that many games are rather infamous for – it’s community. While not perfect, I have found the Wildstar community to be a wonderful, passionate and friendly group of people who are devoted to the game and having as much fun as they can while remaining as positive as they can. One thing that does help with this is the Carbine Community Team, including Community Manager Dierdre “DD” Hollis and her predecessor as C.M and current Creative Content Manager for NCSoft, Tony Rey. The two of them have always left themselves open to the playerbase for ideas and feedback, both on Twitter and on the official forums.

the least crazy picture I could find

the least crazy picture I could find

Other developers not with the Community Team have also been very active in answering players and interacting with them as well on the forums, including Creative Director Chad “Pappy” Moore(the wonderfully bald man in the ears above), Lead Writer Cory Herndon – who by now is probably tired of my lore questions – Multiplayer systems designer Brett “Timetravel” Scheinert, Raid and Dungeon designer Tom Cassera, Lead Composer Jeff Kurtenacker, and many others that, if I listed them all, would make this blog last forever.

The team at Carbine are, without a doubt, some of the most passionate and caring people I have met in my years of MMO gaming. They genuinely do want to hear from us, and take our feedback carefully. They also go out of their way to make themselves available to the community, and do what they can to answer what questions we have, and listen to any complaints or problems that we wish to express. This is not just me “fanboying”. This is my humble opinion – that despite your personal views on Wildstar, the people behind the game are some wonderful folks.

I will put it to you this way – Jeff Kurtenacker gave me life advice on overcoming a fear that actually helped lead me to start this blog.

Of course, this isn’t the end of Kam’s Korner and my Wildstar discussion – stay tuned for Part 3 and the Transition to Free-to-Play, with my thoughts included!

(All images in this and any other Kam’s Korner are copyright of their respective holders. I make no claims to any of these images nor am I profiting from their use.)

Sources:

  1. http://www.zam.com/story.html?story=35151
  2. http://www.engadget.com/2014/06/18/e3-2014-wildstars-gaffney-introduces-the-strain/
  3. https://forums.wildstar-online.com/forums/index.php?/topic/103717-update-notes-sabotage-1012/
  4. https://forums.wildstar-online.com/forums/index.php?/topic/103717-update-notes-sabotage-1012/

Kam’s Korner: Wildstar Part One

To start things off here in Kam’s Korner, I am going to discuss a game that has, over the past six months, been a major focus of my play time and attention – the MMORPG known as Wildstar, developed by Carbine Studios and published by NCSoft.

wildstarlogo

Wildstar is a game that has a lot of history behind it. It began its development way back in 2005, after Carbine Studios was founded by seventeen former Blizzard Entertainment employees who “wanted to do anything but WoW”.

wildstar

screenshot I took

From there, development began. The team working on Wildstar looked for a game engine to suit this up-coming MMO, but they found that none of the engines met their specifications or needs – the major need for the team needing said engine to scale well five years into the future. So, as all developers do when they fail to find a tool that works for them – they built their own.

not a real server engine vroom vroom

not a real server engine vroom vroom

In 2007 Carbine Studios was purchased by Korean gaming giant NCSoft – who explained the studio was working on an “unannounced MMO project”. The game itself did not debut to the public until 2011 at Gamescom, where the team announced the game as a “sci-fi/fantasy hybrid of ‘high adventure’, in which players lay claim to a mysterious planet on the edge of known space”. It was around the same time that NCSoft released, in my opinion, a really freakin’ cool cinematic trailer to go with it:

Fast forward another three years to June 3rd, 2014 and Wildstar is released to a very enthusiastic showing – people are revving their guns to get to planet Nexus, baby! Yeah!

(Cambridge, MA,11/29/13)    shoppers flood thru the doors as the mall opens as Black Friday starts the holiday shopping season at the Galleria Mall in Cambridge.   Friday,  November  29, 2013.  (Staff photo by Stuart Cahill)

(Cambridge, MA,11/29/13) shoppers flood thru the doors as the mall opens as Black Friday starts the holiday shopping season at the Galleria Mall in Cambridge. Friday, November 29, 2013. (Staff photo by Stuart Cahill)

Unfortunately – things did not, admittedly, go as the fine folks at Carbine and NCSoft were hoping they would. As most MMORPG designers and gamers know, launch days for any MMO are often a test of not just endurance – but of how many cups of coffee one needs to stay awake, because with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of players trying to log onto a game server all at once, you’re going to have a bad time.

boom

boom

Over the last six months since I came back to Planet Nexus, I have found the game to be vastly improved since it’s launch back in 2014. However, I want to emphasize that at launch, the game was…disappointing, at least to me. You see, Wildstar had built up a reputation as a game for “hardcore” players – with almost all of their promotional videos, while being hilarious and awesome, revolving around the “this isn’t your mama’s MMO” concept. While the game did(and does) have a ton of solo-friendly content meant for the player of every type – I have to admit that Carbine didn’t do a good job of presenting said content in a way to appeal to casual players.

Another thing that I found to be majorly off-putting was the grindy aspect of the game. You see, the old days of grinding for levels and power are a thing that many games are phasing out – there is no need to kill mobs in a repetitive fashion to get that extra level or that last bit of experience anymore – quests and other activities generally do a good job of getting a player from point a to point b. However, in the beginning Wildstar had gaps in its leveling design, where a player would go from level 18 to fighting level 21-22 mobs in a different zone. Now, looking back, I do not think this was done on purpose, but it was more so a flaw in the lay out and location of quest hubs – even today I have gone back to starter zones to find quest “hubs” that were missed, out in the remote areas of…well, nowhere.

But all of that aside, many of the “hardcore” community, the ones that Carbine had, in their mind, appealed to, found the game to be a disappointment – while the content was challenging and difficult, they found the attunement for said content to be very long, complicated and needlessly gated behind layers of ‘steps’. While Carbine has fixed the raid attunements now, back then, many raiders were not happy with how large and complex they were.

Another complaint was the amount of bugs. While bugs and glitches in any game, especially an MMO, are, as I stated above, common enough in the world(no team can fix every bug before launch – it is just not feasible. Not unless you want an MMO development that never ends.), criticism pointed to the fact that there were bugs in all of the content in the game – from housing to PVP to raids to leveling to even armour dyes. Again, Carbine has gone back and fixed the vast majority of these bugs and problems, but it was a frustrating experience for players at the start.

squashed flat

squashed flat

For me, however, one of the more frustrating things about the game upon it’s release was the optimization – it just was not there. Now, when I talk about optimization, I refer to how a game runs on a computer – games that are very well optimized such as World of Warcraft can run on a wide variety of machines, from an up to date gaming laptop all the way down to an old Pentium 4 processor if need be.

Of course, WoW and Wildstar have two completely different graphic engines – and I understand that not all things are uniform, as WoW is the exception in optimization, not the rule – but upon Wildstar’s launch I found the game to be rather unimpressive in terms of it’s graphics and performance on my computer. While in other games, even Crysis 2, I could run it on high-medium high settings with no issues at all, Wildstar was struggling to break out of the ‘medium’ setting with severe temperature issues.

Again, all of these things are issues I had in 2014 when the game launched. I want to make it abundantly clear that Wildstar now is far different from Wildstar then. If the game was still the same as it was, I would not have come back. But I am back – and 2015’s Wildstar is much, much improved from the release version that I experienced.

Those issues aside, I eventually moved on from Wildstar just a month after it’s release. I was not enjoying myself – and I hated to say that, because I think many people were hyped about the game’s release and I was certainly one of them. So, I uninstalled the game from my computer and moved back to World of Warcraft.

Within the last six months, however, I returned to Nexus after reading some rather promising feedback and reviews from not just websites but from people that I knew. They told me that the game was in a far better state in terms of stability and content, and I should come back and give it a try. I was indecisive at first, but I decided that every game deserved a second chance, and Wildstar was no exception.

Join me later for Part 2 of Kams Korner: Wildstar as we talk about the current game, my thoughts and more!

(All images in this and any other Kam’s Korner are copyright of their respective holders. I make no claims to any of these images nor am I profiting from their use.)

Sources:

  1. http://www.mmorpg.com/gamelist.cfm/game/632/feature/8971/What-Went-Wrong.html/page/1
  2. https://www.reddit.com/r/WildStar/comments/2u6i6l/can_someone_explain_to_me_why_so_many_people_left/
  3. http://www.engadget.com/2011/08/17/ncsoft-announces-new-mmo-wildstar/
  4. http://www.engadget.com/2012/06/15/wildstar-aims-to-be-anything-but-wow/
  5. http://www.zam.com/story.html?story=32245
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WildStar_(video_game)

Before I start, I have a question for all of you prospective readers. When you hear the word “gamer”, what comes into your mind? 

For some, it’s the stereotypical image of a fat, sweaty overweight man sitting in an isolated location, such as his parent’s basement or a very dirty one-bedroom bachelor apartment doing nothing but eating junk food and subsisting off of his computer or console.

southparkwow

 

Of course, for those of us who are gamers, we all know that the above-mentioned stereotype is not the case; that gamers come from a wide variety of backgrounds, careers, and locales. Since the introduction of serious online activities, and only increasing with time and more development of said online activities, gamers are now a global phenomenon.

I should know, of course – I am a gamer. Shocker, right?

surprisedmonkey

Okay, but seriously. Let’s get down to the introduction business. I’m Kam and this is Kam’s Korner(please forgive the horrible word-play there). This is going to be a place where I discuss games. But not just “oh my god this game is awesome!” games such as Call of Duty(which I have admittedly never played), but also on the people behind those games – the studios, the people, and the players who help make their games successes.

I am a big fan of MMORPG’s, which is a big word salad that means ‘massively multiplayer online role-playing game’. I’ve been an MMO gamer for the past twelve years since I was in eighth grade, so they are a big focus of my gaming life. If I am honest, I’ve never really been into FPS games or the big sports titles – I am much more interested in telling a story, and that is what MMORPG’s allow you to do. Tell and live your own story in a world larger then the corridors and hallways of “Go here and kill these terrorists” that most FPS games involve – no offense to those who enjoy games like that, but they are just not for me.

I am 23 years old and I live in the sunny – hah, that’s a good one – province of Ontario, Canada.

 

I’ve always loved to write, and I have written a number of short fan-fiction stories for my favorite game universes. I’d love to one day be a writer, a serious writer – but I want to make one thing clear. I am not here out of pure ambition. I’m here because I love to write, and I want those of you out there who read this blog to enjoy my thoughts and analysis of these games and those who create them.

So, there you have it, denizens of the Internet – my introduction! I will be working diligently to post my first ‘real’ article on here within the next few hours, so stay tuned if you so desire.