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Sci-fi Gaming, EVE, Star Trek, Bioware and little, little children. June 2, 2009

Posted by neuralvomit in Games.
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Science Fiction. It’s such a broad genre. Superheroes, Cyberpunk, Apocalyptica, and even Space Westerns all fall into it. Not too many years past, if you were ‘into’ Sci-fi it basically branded you a geek, prone to being bullied, ousted, and generally not liked. Of course these days if you ask someone if they are into sci-fi, and they said no, it’s generally due to simple misconception – Sci-fi is not just Star Trek/Wars.

Fantasy and Science Fiction, genre’s once mostly neglected in the past as a ‘niche’ group, are now being brought to the fore, and gloriously…both on the big screen and interactively. A large amount of people have seen Iron Man, or X-men, or Transformers…even Pixar gets in on the act with WALL-E. Game wise, every second game that is brought out is a Science Fiction romp of some description. I’m not saying that everyone likes Science Fiction, because that’s like saying everyone likes sport. Or everyone likes to read. But it’s certainly a part of mainstream culture today, and people are beginning to notice.

I was just thinking about having children, too

I was just thinking about having children, too

What is realised from this exercise of course, is that today is the perfect time to bring up children, especially from the geek perspective. Where things like science fiction, and to a lesser extent, fantasy, are so commonplace – a child would have topics to talk about to his peers. Video games too used to be the domain of the ‘unpopular’ and ‘geeky’ but really, in this day and age, who doesn’t own a games system of some type. Computer studies, IT, Games Design, so many options for youth that weren’t available in times gone by. Perhaps, just perhaps, the meek truly will inherit the earth.

With the release of some ‘harder’ sci-fi into the media recently (Star Trek, anyone?) It’s certainly the best time to bring out games related to the genre. MMO-wise, EVE Online is mostly populated by old-school players now, with new blood being turned off the game by just how much of a skill gap there is between the newer and older players. Something needs to come out to get these players into a game where they can develop skills with people of similar level. Two games of note, Jumpgate:Evolution and Star Trek Online, both offer a place for the newer wave of gamers interested in the genre, to flock to. But do either have the level of complexity that keeps people coming back to EVE Online?

Probably not. The former, Jumpgate:Evolution, is set to be a fast paced action/shooter game, reminiscent of the Wing Commander series. It’s developer, NetDevil, is known for being remarkably shallow on the PvE content and story, two big things in EVE. Star Trek Online, on the other hand, looks to be focusing on getting people who are already into the Star Trek universe. Whilst the ship-to-ship combat sounds a little more involved than EVE’s (With the facing of your ship being important) It has the problem of pacing. EVE showed that people don’t mind a slower game, which is more reliant on player skill over things like class/abilities.

So what would be the game that attracts fresh blood away from EVE? Well, a game with depth. That’s basically what it boils down to. For a game to be as good as EVE, it needs to hold a depth that will keep players immersed in the rich content. There are some games which hold that level of depth, but unfortunately, both are presently not MMOG’s. And one of them, is a Japanese IP.

Star Ocean, A series of games which has blended Fantasy and Science Fiction together, generally does it’s Sci-Fi aspects extremely well. The previous game in the series “Till the end of time” had almost a novel full of information about the different species involved, Introduced you to several of them on the way, and really immersed the player into the storyline, but more importantly, the background. The chances of a Star Ocean MMOG being anything but a fantasy romp are slim though, but if it did have the science fiction aspects, those would have a depth that would keep people for a long time to come.

Of course Japanese IP’s rarely make it to an MMO status, due to the fact that what a Japanese gamer likes, and what a Western gamer likes in their MMO’s are very much unalike. Of course, with companies like Atlus Online beginning to do good localization work, not to mention their parent company, ATLUS, being Japanese…there is perhaps still hope. Either way, it’s a long way off, and the chance that any MMO like this is currently under development is extremely slim.

Mass Effect would be the other IP that has a similar depth to EVE Online. Actually, it’s depth goes far, far beyond it. Players are introduced to a number of races throughout it, each with their own perks and flaws. Characterizations which are amazingly detailed, and a full, detailed, and rich history. They recently announced Mass Effect 2 – which looks to be even more involved that the first one, and impressive feat – considering Mass Effect has been probably the game with the deepest story, ever produced.

Perhaps the go-to game instead of EVE?

The go-to game instead of EVE?

The good news about the Mass Effect IP, or more the company behind it, is that they are starting to look towards the sci-fi MMO series, with the intention of bringing out a Star Wars MMO. Depending on the success of that particular franchise, it’s quite plausible that BioWare could be looking at bringing an MMO installment of it’s Mass Effect IP to an MMO scale. BioWare would certainly have the capital to pull it off, and are known to listen to their fans. A good sign.

Whilst the days of EVE Online most certainly aren’t numbered, it is certainly the time for a game to step up and attempt to give gamers who like the style of EVE, but not the execution of it… a place to go. And with the success of media bringing in so much new blood to the genre, it will certainly be a rich marketplace for some time to come. As a wise man once said ‘Live long, and prosper’.

OnLive and MMO’s and Multiplayer and the end of the Console Era June 1, 2009

Posted by neuralvomit in Technology.
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Firstly, let me warn in advance. This will not be an OnLive specific blog. In fact, at this early stage of infancy, I’m still not quite sure what the blog will be about as a whole, other than precisely what it is labelled as ‘Neural Vomit’. Now, back to the show.

OnLive. People have been talking about it for months now, figuring that it is a great way to replace that wonderful console – or a cheap way to upgrade for those who haven’t yet. It certainly has a lot of potential to revolutionize the industry. But what about the great dinosaur the MMO? Will that have a place in OnLive’s future? The answer is a simple one, with a few conditions, and that is a ‘yes’.

MMOG’s (That’s Massively Multiplayer Online Games) have been in a bit of a non-existent space when it comes to their status on the console. Quite a few have attempted a console release, and been shot down by the giants (Sony and Microsoft). A bit of a problem when developing for a console is that it requires an entirely new binary, usually meaning that a console owner can only play in a console specific server.

Also, there is the issue of caching, MMOG’s have to often cache certain data on the clients machine, something which consoles are generally unhappy with, even in this generation. Lastly, comes the issue of remapping keys to a ‘controller’ which some MMOG’s are fine with (FreeRealms rings a bell) and some MMOG’s somewhat less so (WoW).

OnLive fixes these issues and then some. With it’s inherent connectivity between computer/mac/television – there is no real reason that players be restricted to a ‘console only’ server. They should be able to interact quite easily with a lot of the pre-existing servers. Depending on how well the OnLive servers and the games servers interact, there is no reason that OnLive subscribers couldn’t play in the same servers that non-OnLive subscribers do either.

On the topic of caching, well, this is a no-brainer. OnLive already saves the state you are in in multiple games. That requires quite a lot of data caching ability right there. OnLive certainly shouldn’t have any problems with the caching requirements for an MMOG. Lastly the ability for people to use a keyboard and mouse setup even on their television, well that is something many people have wished for on their 360’s and PS3’s.

One of the perks of an OnLive system is the ability for it to basically eliminate hacking. If a MMO gets slated for purely OnLive, then that MMO doesn’t have to worry about hacking. About the only sort of hacking available would be ‘macro’ based, and most macro programs rely on indicators sent from the parent program – an impossibility with OnLive as it is really just streaming video.

Another major perk for an MMO Developer is the ability to make one set of system specifications. If you are making an MMO specifically for the OnLive service, you don’t need to worry about having ‘advanced user settings’. You don’t need to worry about your game running on several different machine types. This drastically cuts the cost of a lot of MMO’s, and virtually eliminates client-side bugs.

So what about the downsides for an MMOG wanting to get itself onto OnLive in the first place? Well there are a few hurdles that are already present. Firstly it’s narrowed down by ‘Is your MMOG Subscription based, or a Free to Play micropayment game?’ Subscription based models should have a relatively easy time here, because an online distribution system lends itself quite well to monthly payments.

For a free to play model, Well there are some problems which will need to be addressed by both OnLive and the Free to Play company. Firstly, Free to Play games are usually very ‘messy’ install wise. It is fair to state that OnLive is going to be very particular about the setup of the game and how it runs. The second issue is payments. Will OnLive support the micropayment way of things? DLC is a big thing at the moment, and micropayment items run in a fairly similar manner to DLC.

A hurdle facing all MMOG’s is that it is not known what sort of installation base OnLive will support, or whether or not games will have to create custom installers for the OnLive service. But perhaps the most important ‘unknown’ of the OnLive service at the moment is latency. Whether or not the latency of communication from OnLive to the MMO server and back again will affect the End-User experience is still widely unknown. It’s quite possible that OnLive will suggest OnLive only servers, which will be placed in the same area’s as their server centre. Whilst this is not exactly a bad thing, It would be nice if it weren’t the case.

Ultimately it boils down to how agreeable OnLive’s marketing department is, and how easy it is to integrate installers onto the OnLive service. There is really nothing stopping people making MMO’s for OnLive – and there certainly is a large amount of perks for making one. Still almost all of the viability of a MMO comes down to what OnLive does and does not want to support.

Some people have said that OnLive will bring to a close the traditional console era. But there is still a lot of life in the console generation. Certainly, the local multiplayer aspects that the consoles bring do not appear to be able to be replaced by the OnLive service just yet. No local/single screen multiplayer shots have been released yet, nor have specifications dealing with whether or not it will even be possible.

Today’s generation of 20 and 30 somethings are very much about having a tangible item to hold. Perhaps it goes back to the days where you would be able to buy a single game with your pocket money, and so you held onto that game, and it was yours, put faithfully up on the shelf aside others. Years later, the ability to look over that same shelf and reminisce over having those items. There will, for a time at least, still be those who prefer tangible owned media, to digital content.

For the console era to finally be laid to rest, there has to be the ability for a games system like OnLive to bring out certain game types that we know and love. If you look at the RockBand/Guitar Hero franchise, with the apparent lack of local multiplayability… These games might remain the sole domain of the console. These are big franchises, and without some form of support for them on OnLive – The consoles will remain… staunch, vigilant, and ever playing.