Animated Day Cycle

I’ve made a nice crossfading experiment in jQuery just for fun.

A while ago, while I was exploring the new zone Enedwaith in LOTRO, I decided to stand still on a hilltop and gaze into the distance for quite a while, taking a screenshot as the day grew brighter. This gave me three screenshots ranging from night to day.

A little later I combined the three screenshots and saved it as this GIF animation:

Spoiler: GIF animation

Dawn in LOTRO (Thrór’s Coomb)

But then earlier this week I had this thought that perhaps the transition could be made really neat by crossfading the images using jQuery. Yesterday I threw the idea together and you can now see the result by clicking the DEMO link below.

DEMO    DOWNLOAD

Note: If you use the slider for a faster speed and the current crossfade animation is slow, you have to wait a bit for the current stage to finish before the new speed is actually applied.

If you wish, you can download the lot (468 KB) and replace the three “stage” images with your own. Perhaps there’s another computer game you’d like to see a dawn effect from? You’re also welcome to adapt and post it on your own web site.

SWTOR: 1+ Hours of Gameplay

Here is an interesting link to 1 hour and 30 minutes of gameplay in Star Wars: The Old Republic. The player procrastinates a bit here and there, but it’s still worth checking out if you have any interest in this upcoming MMORPG.

I actually didn’t want to post it at first (the name of the page is “Don’t Say a Word!”) but since then I’ve seen it pop up in forums and other blogs, so I guess the rabbit is out of the cage anyway. I wonder how long it will take before it is “foxed” by BioWare? UPDATE: Not long. The video is already gone.

Back when I first saw the link in a forum I actually watched most of it and wrote down a few notes:

  • Generally there are many conventional MMORPG clichés. A bit worrying.
  • Nice UI layout with health, pets, buffs and more all in the bottom, close together. Makes it fast to see the important stuff in battle.
  • The chat window in the top left corner is a little strange, however. But maybe I just need to get used to it.
  • Very odd “blue soap bubble” map. It even goes partly transparent when you run while it’s still open – I wonder if they were inspired by Rift there?
  • Combat seems a little boring to be honest. Same old. And of course no blood.
  • Tooltips are very WoW/LOTRO-style – even has bonus sets too. But there’s a nice delayed “slide-out” comparison with gear tooltips.
  • Some textures are too WoW-style for my taste (i.e. cartoonish), especially inside caves.
  • The KOTOR-style voice NPC talk and choices are pretty cool. Nice lip sync and voice acting. Also a nice touch with the good or bad choices in debates showing a cyan or red tint on the screen afterwards.
  • Some humans have long faces. I don’t have a problem with that, actually – the models still look good. It’s those textures on the cave walls I’m worried about.
  • Action icon GCD cyan refresh is too interfering – can’t see icons well enough.
  • Groups of 2-3 mobs seems to be quite common?
  • Many mobs stand still (LOTRO-style). Good. I’ve had enough of excessive patrolling like in Rift for a while.
  • Not a lot of background music – often silent. Perhaps this will change in the final version?
  • Almost devoid of loading bars. Interesting.
  • Taxa on small speeders.
  • Large inventory – 48 slots! I hope that makes it to the final version.
  • I saw the player enter a big building that had its entrance obscured by a wall you had to run around. It’s 2011 and we still need this trick in 3D engines?

Rift: Fat and Fifty

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Finally hit level 50 in Stillmoor a few days ago. I was surprised there wasn’t a lot of additional solo quests left after that. I barely completed less than half a dozen quests for Icecrown Citadel The Endless Citadel in the west end, and then the same quests just turned into dailies.

I decided to finalize my time with Rift after that. I rode through Freemarch and Stonefield just to see the zones and then parked my Cleric in Sanctum. I actually have a level 16 Rogue at the Defiants side as well and I was thinking about playing him through those zones, but I must say that I’ve had more than enough of Rift now. As mentioned in an earlier blog post it just feels like a shallow game world devoid of much soul, and the quests were for the most part uninspired.

Shimmersand
The only quests I really enjoyed occurred in this fortress in Shimmersand.

The dynamic rifts and invasions were an interesting new gimmick, but often an inadequate experience one way or another. Either there are no or too few players and the rift is too difficult, or there are zillions of players and the rift is too easy.

Last week there was a world event invasion in Fortune’s Shore in Shimmersand. It started with the usual intimidating villain speech and smoke rising from the town. Hundreds of players from both factions soon arrived and in the beginning it was exhilarating that we were so many beating on these elite mobs, but soon it dawned on me how undirected it was. I had no feeling of who or what was healing or tanking, if at all. Some gave orders in raid chat, but I think most players minded their own business. Lots of gravestones, layers upon layers of sound effects, and spells flying in all directions. Sometimes an invasion was defeated and the rabble floated onwards like a colony of ants. I got a lot of nice rift rewards out of it, but I wish it didn’t feel like something that will grow old quickly.

Disconnect Gift

Once upon a time, back in May 2005, I logged on my Paladin in World of Warcraft. I went to Silithus to grind Dust Stormers in the hopes of acquiring a few drops of Essence of Air for crafting. It was tedious business as I had to kill a lot of them for just a few measly drops of those, but that’s what I did back then and I actually enjoyed it.

But just as I started killing the umpteenth Dust Stormer, my World of Warcraft client froze. Oh no, I thought – it’s going to disconnect, and when I return, I bet the Dust Stormer finished the job. I was right. Disconnect, relog – and my Paladin was dead. Cursing and shouting commenced.

Being killed because of a disconnect was rare for me back then as it is today, as I usually make sure I have a stable computer and ditto internet connection. Not much I could do about it anyway, so I ran back, resurrected, and continued killing Dust Stormers. A few minutes later, something extraordinary happened; one of them dropped an epic item. This one, to be precise:

Jeweled Amulet of Cainwyn (WoW)

It doesn’t look like much today, but back in 2005 it was pretty good. It cheered me up and I instantly used it, but it also had me thinking. Was a GM looking over my shoulders, saw me disconnecting, felt sorry for me, then decided to make it up for me? Nah. Probably just a coincidence. Occam’s Razor and all that. I continued grinding and that was that.

6 Years Later

Fast forward to May 2011 – actually it was just yesterday. I logged on my Cleric in Rift. I went to Shimmersand to do some solo quests for XP, as I was only level 48 (still not quite there yet). Killed some basilisks around a pond and a few humans. I took another look in my quest log and saw that I needed to kill four Volcanic Flames, so I walked into the relevant canyon and spotted one.

Hm. It’s elite? Strange. Perhaps there’s a trick about finding a thing that will weaken them, so I didn’t think more of it and walked past a few of them. Then I took another close look at one of those fire elementals. It was indeed elite, but it didn’t look all that tough. Only about 11K health. I decided to give it a try and pulled it. It was a tough fight and I had to use a few potions, but I actually thought I was on top of it. I could have won it.

But then the game client froze. Oh no, I thought – it’s going to disconnect, and when I return, I bet the fire elemental finished the job. I was right. Disconnect, relog – and my Cleric was dead. Cursing and shouting commenced.

I thought this felt familiar, but never mind. I took a look in my quest log and only now I realized that the quest was for groups of three players. Bleh. I abandoned it and went back to the pond to kill some more basilisks and humans.

And then, just a few minutes later, this item dropped from an unimportant solo mob:

Gnawbone Staff (Rift)

Not only was it an item I could use for my class, it was also a pretty cool update. How convenient, wouldn’t you say? I’m not buying this anymore, developers. You have some kind of “Disconnect Gift” algorithm going on, don’t you? If someone is disconnected in the middle of a solo fight and dies, you activate a high chance of getting an epic item within the next few minutes. Just as some sort of apology and to make sure the player doesn’t do anything stupid like, say, rage quitting.

Actually, this could still all be a coincidence and I just got lucky both times and there really is no trick going on. But how about you? Have you ever had a suspiciously cool drop in an MMORPG shortly after a death due to e.g. a disconnect?

Fog of War

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I was reading the Bullroarer Release Notes for the upcoming Update 3 for LOTRO the other day, and one thing immediately caught my eye:

“Fog of War” on the world map no longer exists. You will now be able to see the world map in its entirety without having to visit every area.

I guess a lot of players would immediately find this to be a nice change. No more guessing, no more not knowing. It also fits with the latest trend of dumbing down our MMORPG bit by bit. But it actually saddened me, even if the “Fog of War” in LOTRO was only the crude version.

Fog of War (LOTRO)
A map in Lord of the Rings Online. Everything below Windfells is unknown.

Is “Fog of War” in MMORPG slowly becoming an endangered feature, soon to be extinct?

SWTOR: Worrying Preview

I was reading a new blog post by Tobold and found a link to a pretty disturbing preview of Star Wars: The Old Republic. This is a promising MMORPG developed by none other than BioWare; the creators of so many excellent single-player RPG. I loved the two Knights of the Old Republic games. Needless to say, I’ve had my keen eye on this MMORPG ever since it was announced.

And then this preview pops up with unsettling news about how the game actually plays. Here are some quotes from the preview that I took special notice of:

Our opinion of The Old Republic, formed over two solid days of playing, is that it’s one of the most boring titles we’ve ever had to endure. It’s plain and staid and deathly dull. It’s both exactly the same as every other MMO we’ve played, but at the same time so much worse because it promises so much more.

Okay. You’ve got my attention now. 😯

What would have normally take an hour or so in a standard RPG now takes an entire day of play. The local Jabba stand-in always has one more errand to offer you.

We found ourselves wading through an almost obscene amount of combat too, usually against the type of wild beasties and bandits that typify every RPG, ever – but in greater quantity and in an area which felt far smaller. In some cases we’d clear out an area, walk into the next room, turn back and face the exact same enemies we’d killed only moments before. Once or twice we even saw foes respawning over their own corpses as conversations distracted us – very, very anti-fun.

These two quotes had me worried a lot because this is one of many reasons I’m not having as much fun in Rift as I’d like to. Too many mobs all over the place, fast respawning, and frequent revisits back to the same area for just another solo boss to be killed. Looks like I’ll have more of that in SWTOR, whether I like it or not. Sigh.

There are many other interesting paragraphs about the game in this preview. If you’re just remotely interested in the game, I really recommend you read it.

Basing an opinion on just one preview is not wise, of course, and I’ll still have an eye on the game as it moves closer to release day. That the game is going to reuse a lot of common theme park rules – well, we already knew that. I was hoping that the story elements, the universe, and the developer’s experience would still add something unique and refreshing to the genre.

Come on, BioWare, old buddy, don’t let me down!

Rift: Forbidden Areas

A few days ago I was exploring the northern ridge of mountains in Droughtlands, partly looking for cairns and artifacts as usual, but also to see if I could peek into the forbidden gray area north of the zone. Needless to say, there were lots of invisible walls and of course an insurmountable final ridge. But much to my surprise, I did manage to get close enough to notice weird names pop up on the map of the forbidden Neverland. Actual roads? Real areas? Your guess is as good as mine.

Forbidden Areas
The names in top revealed themselves when I got real close.

What I’d really like to know is, why did the zone designers bother to add these names? Did they originally want to have more zones, but eventually had to cut back in order to reach a deadline? Or did they just start building a zone for an upcoming expansion (or patch) while having some sort of invisibility flag on, only to have someone like me discover a bug in the invisibility mode?

Maybe it’s caused by some sort of algorithm that dumps the names on the entire continent like salt and pepper. But does that really make sense in a world that has probably been handcrafted?

Perhaps they added them to see if blog posts like this would emerge, pondering their existence. 😉

Rift: A Game World

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I’m now level 41 and barely started in snowy Iron Pine Peak with lots of chilly winds coming out of my loudspeakers. Droughtlands and Moonshade Highlands are both behind me. Since most rifts are often conspicuously left alone on my shard, I decided to do quests in both of those equal level zones to avoid hitting orange quests. I also tried healing in a dungeon (King’s Breach) but soloing has occupied 99% of my time in the game.

The more I play, the more I have to say that Rift doesn’t rub me quite the right way. It’s indeed very slick, beautiful, it has an impressive range of features for such a young MMORPG, and the rifts are a lot of fun to do with many players. Soloing with quests drags the game down, however, and I’ve seen in reviews and on other blogs that the game generally gets a lot of criticism in this area. There’s something about the quests that feels like working in a factory. Here, have these five quests. Go to these yellow circles over there and complete them. Return and deliver. Get another five quests. Go to the yellow circles right next to where the other yellow circles were. Rinse and repeat.

Quest grinding is not a new thing and I’ve seen the like in other MMORPG too. It can be spiced up with more imaginative quests (Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm), intricate story lines like the book quests in LOTRO or just with enough variety to keep it interesting. In Rift, not only does it feel a little like a job, there’s also something about the game itself that feels shallow.

In both LOTRO and EQ2 I’ve been happy about the atmosphere because it actually feels like an interesting fantasy or alien world. Sometimes this can make all the difference. I played Morrowind for a long time after the quests were pretty much completed, merely exploring various caves just because the world felt so intriguing. In Rift, the world feels exactly like what it really is; a game world. Nothing more. When I’m climbing the mountains looking for artifacts, cairns and hidden puzzles, I’m not really walking on mountains. I’m walking on polygons and textures.