Wednesday, July 02, 2008

End of the Age of Conan

Any new, full blown, MMO these days has to pack a lot of punch at launch because of the benchmark set by World of Warcraft. I started playing Age of Conan with low expectations and I really didn’t want to let WoW affect what I thought of the game. At first it didn't appear to be that bad. But as I learned a long time ago, when you have to say something "isn't that bad" it usually is. This is the case with AoC. And remember when reading this that this is Funcom’s second MMO so they should have known better.

It’s a nice start but really could have used some more attention to detail and at least another 6 months in the oven. The interface is horrid, both artistically and functionally. Hey, lets hide the instance menu so new players can't figure out why they can't see their friends even though they are standing in the exact same spot on the map. Two minutes don't go by in chat without somebody asking questions about why they can't see their friend who is in the same place.

The quest system really sucks; I don't want to have to read all those chunks of text constantly clicking a choice of irrelevant responses to get to the next chunk of poorly written text. Really, when it comes to writing dialog for quests, less is more. Really, trust me on that one. At first when the quest text was spoken by the NPC it was tolerable. But even before the spoken text ran out I was just rapidly clicking on the first response option just to get to the end. “Bla bla bla, click, bla bla bla, click, bla bla bla, click, bla bla bla, click, bla bla bla, OH COME ON AREADY CLICK CLICK CLICK! bla bla bla kill ten rats.”

The whole ability system isn't explained well and I'm still not sure about how some of the ones on my assassin work damage-wise. The talents pools seem excessive to the point that I don't really care about them at all. Again take note future designers, less is more. Maybe as I neared the later levels (and ran out of content) I would get more out of them.

Now all this caps with the male versus female damage issue. It was recently addressed in their forums by one of the game designers. Their forums are still only viewable by subscribers, I’ll reprint the post for you.
My fellow Hyborian Adventurers ...

Last week I promised that I would do my best to have a more detailed update on the issue about Male vs. Female attack speed/damage ready by today. It’s quite possible that not everyone will be thrilled by what this update contains but you as a community deserve to know both what’s causing it, why it’s taking us this long to fix it, and how we plan on fixing it.

Let me begin with saying “yes, we here at Funcom agree with you; this is an unacceptable bug”. We never intended for any character to be stronger/weaker than another based on its gender, and we have been working on making the necessary adjustments to correct this issue for quite some time already.

Now, in our game, we have two primary sources of damage; ‘normal’ damage, commonly referred to as “white damage”, and ‘combo’ damage. Making the white damage equal for both Male and Female characters is, in this context, a fairly simple task and something we’ve already done and which should already have been patched out to Live.

For future reference, when I say that it was a fairly simple task to fix it, we’re still talking about modifying, either through actually having an animator work on the animation resource itself or by having a BCC designer adjust the speed-scaling of said animation resource, of more than 150 unique animations. In addition, these animations are fairly “simple”; by which I mean that they are your ordinary attacks and don’t contain any flourishes, sequential blows or other “complicated” stuff.

However, if we move onto ‘combo’ damage, which is what is causing the notable part of this issue, there are suddenly several factors that come into play when determining the final damage. I won’t be wasting too much time in this update to go into detail about every factor, but to quickly list a few they would be stat/modifier/multiplier (which in turn depends on class, level and weapon equipped), length of animation and, although irrelevant to this exact issue any longer, amount of steps in a combo sequence.

The main reason for the discrepancy in damage output that you’re seeing is that the length of an animation isn’t equal for both Male and Female characters in many cases. This is what we’re currently fixing, but there’s roughly 800 to 1000 animations in total that are involved here, and that they are significantly more “complex” than the ‘white damage’ animations mentioned above this naturally takes a lot more time.

Of course, once the length of the animations have been fully corrected/tweaked either by an animator or BCC designer then every rank (of every combo for every class) has to be re-balanced by the System Designers because, as I mentioned above, one of the factors that come into play when determining the combo damage is animation length.

I guess I should begin wrapping this up by now. I’m afraid I won’t be able to give you an exact date for when this issue will be fixed, but we’re working internally towards a goal of having everything finished during the next two to three work-weeks, depending on how much we need to re-adjust after the initial tweaking. This is including the majority of QA testing, which can be performed during the process as we’re working on a class-by-class basis. That being said, and even with on-going testing during this process, everything still needs to be verified by QA once more after we merge our changes into the system data to ensure that we’re not breaking anything else.

We will however not be patching this out to Live on a class-by-class basis, but rather in one big “collective” fix to all classes. I will make another promise right here and now though; I’ll be investigating whether or not we can introduce these changes to the public Test server (which Famine has promised everyone a bigger update on soon) at the earliest possible convenience.

I know that many of you will probably be disappointed to hear that it might take us as much as another three to four weeks to solve this issue, for which I can only apologize, but we want to make sure that we devote the amount of time that an issue of this magnitude and importance deserves rather than rush out a “quick fix” that might not work as well

And finally, I have to stress that even with our internal goal set and everything currently proceeding on schedule I cannot currently promise that this will be patched to Live at the projected date. There’s a lot of stuff that, while totally unrelated, might cause a certain patch to be delayed or even pushed out without containing this data. What I can promise though is to return with another update about a more specific patch date as soon as possible.

I hope that this information is what many of you have been asking for, and that I’ve been able to present you with answers to many of the questions you’ve had about this issue. On behalf of myself, everyone else directly involved on fixing this issue and Funcom as a company; thank you for reading!

Please feel free to further discuss this issue in the following thread:
Svein Erik "Sharum" Jenset
Striketeam Lead: BCC Design
Funcom Oslo AS
Now kudos for coming out and being open all that. But WTF!!! How does the length of the animation get tied to the damage formula at all?! No really, how does that happen? What was going on in the development process for this not to show up when they were fine tuning and balancing the combat system? Did they even make any attempts to balance the combat system? Did they even know that the animation length was tied into the system? Does this mean that if the Lead Artist didn't like something about an animation and told the animator to change something about it that the damage changes?

This whole thing was the final straw for my friend Cameron, who has played the game a lot more than me. Here is the text he sent when he canceled his subscription:
Your systems and balance are a complete joke. Your dungeon designs are antiquated at best and display a profound lack of testing or care given to the player experience. I cannot believe your systems even allow for a bug like "The Male vs Female attack-speed issue". The issue itself doesn't even affect me as I'm playing a male caster but the mere fact that what should be completely separate systems have such tightly coupled dependencies speaks volumes about your underlying core design and systems principals. I have no faith in your ability to deliver a fun and balanced gameplay experience.
I think that sums that up. Now let’s talk about me canceling. I can't because it says my 6 month subscription has expired. Wow, time flies when you are having fun. Seems like only a month ago. Oh wait, it appears to be fine when I log in from this computer... okay now its fine on the other computer too... Here is my cancel message:
I would say your game is poorly balanced, but that would imply there was some attempt to balance the game in the first place. Your interface and ability design is horrid; your quests are boring and way over written. The content is lacking, uninspired and buggy. The male/female damage issue is the final straw and shows that the flaws go all the way through to the core game design.
I also want to admit that the irony of complaining about the lack of quality control in a post that I myself am too lazy to proof read isn't lost on me.


Joseph B. Hewitt IV said...

I also went back into my account details and removed my credit card information. I read posts on the forums about people still getting charged after canceling.

This guy posted his details:
   Account status Cancelled
   Playable Playable
   Cancelled date 2008-06-26 20:39:06

   06/27/2008 CHECKCARD 0619 FUNCOM

Granted he waited until the day his subscription was to be renewed to cancel. He may have just done it too late and the charge didn't get posted by his bank till the 27th. Actually looking at the time he waited till 8 PM, so yeah I'm sure they had already charged him.

But better safe than sorry.

BugHunter said...

I'm certain AoC is total crap and all that...I haven't trusted funcom since AO beta.

I just wanted to point out one other little bit of irony. Mentioning that AoC has a talent/skill system that is difficult to understand (too deep, too many talents/skills to the point that you just don't care) struck me as funny. You know, with Fury and all (I'm not referring to what was an awesome concept of charges).

long live Lloxv. Slayer of vowels.

Joseph B. Hewitt IV said...

Yeah... I wasn't really a fan of Fury's 400+ abilities and I'm not just saying that because I drew all those damn icons used my detailed sybology that only I understand because we never bothered to publish it.

I think Cam was in the process of culling the abilities back though.

Joseph B. Hewitt IV said...

Oh and Anarchy Online... what a nightmare. I was in the beta but never logged on. But I was there at launch. Wasn't there a bug the first week where the install program could screw up your hard drive?

I played for about a week and a half and then full under a building. Put in a GM help ticket and nobody came for 2 days so I canceled my account.

Over a month later I got an email from their customer service asking me if the issue that I put in my ticket for was still pending. I wrote back that canceling my account fixed it.

Bjorn Bednarek said...

If a crappy computer skips frames drawing a combat animation in AoC, will some damage get skipped too? Seems ridiculous, but tying damage to animation length without everyone being very aware of it and balancing it properly is a HUGE oversight, it wouldn't surprise me.

What a horrible basic flaw and thanks Joseph, you've saved me $100.

Word verification = vqhiw - Goblin vomit.

Bjorn Bednarek said...

Just came across this by Tom Chick, one of my favourite authors.

Joseph B. Hewitt IV said...

Are you Player1 Bjorn?

Bjorn Bednarek said...

Yes, I am Player1.

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