FFXI

Sunday 18, August

Final Fantasy XIV: Queerdom

Brief commentary from my 1st hour:

- The installer PRETENDS 20Gb free, but the client is barely 9Gb.

- No fucking way to scale the UI. This is utterly ridiculous that something like this wasn't properly addressed. You can scale between 3 sizes on individual panels but THERE'S NO FUCKING WAY to do it on the chat window, which also CAN'T BE MOVED AT ALL. And also scaling the individual panels doesn't let you scale pop-up windows and messages. So you end up with an half assed UI. It should have never come out of beta in this state.

- I actually like a lot the neon-style of this UI. But it is only used for some of the UI elements (health bars, pop-up numbers, onscreen names). Other panels like character info, inventory and journal are of a completely different style and very ugly.

- Character creation isn't that good. Not many choices making real difference, and visual style overall is something you either like or not.

- Ooh, first and last name. I like that. You finally don't have to try a million of names because they are all already taken. I picked K'rul Azathanai. Shortly after the game complimented me for how "it rolls off the tongue". I laughed for the involuntary humor.

- The intro thing couldn't be duller and slower. Even the camera panning around is so slow as if they're trying to make you fall asleep before you can actually take control of your character (and it will take a while, a long while).

- Animations are really bad. They don't have animations even for when you fall down from a jump and start moving (so no interpolation in general). Movement feels jerky, visually. Probably animations in general are the worse thing in the overall presentation of the game. It feels really "floaty" when moving around, as if the character is only gliding over things. GW2 wasn't very good, but this is much worse.

- The engine really makes my GPU hot. This is usually a "good" thing since it means it depends more on GPU than CPU. It's a good thing that the settings don't have a big effect on the overall look. Graphic is pretty, drawing distance is quite wide. But the engine feels still somewhat rough. Still a decent enough performance with other players around. So I guess with decent and recent hardware it looks good and performs well even in bigger battles.

- I guess there was lag. The movement of other players around goes in short burst instead of being smooth.

- I crashed.

- I was able to get stuck very soon. Completely stuck in geometry when I tried to look around some ruins.

So, in general this is a kind of quirky MMO that you either like for its queer style or not. It doesn't seem to do anything relevant, so it's just an old style kind of MMO that looks fresh and queer.

I'd give it a "6". It's "playable". It's queer. You are going to like and enjoy it mostly because its style. Otherwise it has nothing to offer that seems different. But at least it's that style that gives it something different from another generic MMO without any personality or flavor. More flavor that GW2, for example. But GW2 is superior in its engine, mechanics and content. Only blander.

P.S.
I use queer in its "strange or odd from a conventional viewpoint; unusually different; singular" meaning.

Thursday 15, August

MMORPG evolution: the 4th generation

The first of the next generation of MMORPGs is, obviously, the imminent Final Fantasy XIV. See for yourself:

We received a lot of requests to create a method to raise and lower the visor on the warrior artifact helmet.

With the simple flick of your wrist, or by typing in the /visor command on your keyboard, you too can raise and lower the visor on your helmet!

SLASH COMMANDS ARE THE FUTURE!

Monday 25, December

FFXI: an excellent game with some excellent ideas...

...completely ruined by stupid game design and stupid policies at a fundamental level.

I was giving a quick look at the notes from the December update. There's some interesting stuff as they are bringing on the plans connected to the release of the latest expansion (Square releases an expansion with very few of its content accessible right away, then they slowly open up and develop new parts throughout the whole cycle, till the next one).

I still believe that between all the online worlds we have at the moment, FFXI is the very best. Noone creates worlds like Square, noone can even go near to their charm and originality. They only produce masterpieces and today FFXI is still absolutely the most unique and fascinating "world".

What they are doing with the chocobo rising system is exactly what you would expect from the IDEAL of the virtual world. Systems with some depth, not just focused on combat and only combat. Or gear, or endless levels to ding. It's an example of something that adds "game". And adds that "world" flavor. It makes that place feel distinctive. It gives depth. Different activities to pursue and explore, interesting variations.

I can only read things and have very vague ideas about what they are developing, but it gives me the impression of a very good direction. I don't know about the execution, but the ideas are "sound". The same for the new "hunting" system that they call "salvaging".

I've already commented positively all this stuff as most of it has been already announced with the expansion's release and I still believe that Square is pouring some excellent and innovative ideas into this game. It's very sad that the game is ruined at a much more fundamental level and all that stuff is irrelevant if those problems aren't solved beforehand.

I'm just reporting that FFXI is still a good example of both the worst and the best that these games can offer.

I wonder what we could have if Square was a little bit more "connected" with the community and understood better its needs.

Tuesday 18, July

About the Final Fantasy XI sequel

Zonk on the hypothetic sequel to FFXI:

With several expansions to the original game already released, and the title available on three platforms, Square/Enix is finally talking about a sequel to Final Fantasy XI.

Finally?

Anyway, Square pushed out a press release to confirm that they are working on something, but not directly as a sequel to FFXI:

As the Company announced in May 2005, it is currently developing an online title for next-generation platforms including game consoles and PCs; however, this title is being developed as a completely new MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online RPG).

Quite expected. They aren't going to announce anything without an appropriated, dedicated event (that won't be anytime soon, knowing how slow they are). And it's obvious that they are going to start something from zero instead of consolidating and strengthen the world they already created.

I guess this news was supposed to tranquilize those players who started to worry about FFXI, but the truth is the exact opposite. That announce is no less than the announce of the end of FFXI, we don't know when, but we know it will happen. With a completely new game in development it just means that Square's resources are being moved and that they don't believe anymore in the value of FFXI.

Stupid as everyone else. Worlds with expiration dates.

A MMORPG "sequel" done right

There was a rumor yesterday about a Final Fantasy Online sequel:

July 17, 2006 - Japan's Nikkei Net news service reports today that Square Enix is currently at work on a sequel to Final Fantasy XI. The next generation massively multiplayer online RPG is being developed for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows Vista formats. Further details are not provided.

Square Enix has previously shown trailers for a next generation MMORPG engine, without actually announcing a final product based around the engine. It's unclear if the FFXI sequel is going to be the game to use the new engine, or if Square Enix has another title in development.

The "next generation engine" they talk about is the one that Square presented during the E3 2005, which was nothing more than a flyby around that place you can see in those screenshots. It was for them just a test for the XBOX360 hardware, so it's not sure if those art assets will be used or not, or if they'll even reuse that engine.

That a new mmorpg was in development based on their main franchise was already known as Square hinted about this possibility in many interviews. It probably became a stronger need as they see FFXI subscribers slowly decreasing and the 360 version deluding and not taking off as expected. I'd say that the game is crippled more by awful game design on certain aspects than the real need for "new", but if nothing has changed significantly along these years then it means that Square "doesn't get it".

So this news about the sequel is nowhere surprising, but still disappointing. Mmorpgs sequels are DUMB. But I'm writing about this because what is interesting is the possible transition.

Some players on the forums are already complaining since the development of a sequel means that their world of choice will be made obsolete soon, and all their invesment will lose value as the "new" will be hyped. I wonder if Square will be smart and handle the transition in a new way, or if they'll be dumb and just repeat the mistakes of every other mmorpg sequels.

I think I just felt a hint of existential anguish.

What am I doing?! I've had this game for two years and my highest level is 42. I have yet to experience CoP or Zilart missions, Sky or Sea, HNMs or Dynamis!

And soon, it will all be obsolete!

Why am I not playing now!? My mortality is apparent and the end is nigh! Repent, repent!

/panic

My idea is that if you really want to develop a "sequel" then you need an "exit strategy". What I mean is that the sequel should really replace the previous title and not try to co-exist as SOE tried to do with the EverQuest. You may think that is much more convenient from the commercial point of view to keep two worlds alive till they are both profitable (and the experience also taught us that sequels still have a very hard time to affirm themselves over their elders. This is valid for EQ as it is for Counter-Strike) but I have a different way to see at this scenario.

The idea is to create a real sense of progression between two titles, so that the players won't be encouraged to try to keep a foot in both, but instead move to the new game with a strong motivation and bond with the game world and their characters. The risk with a sequel is that when a player is forced to look for something else it's not granted that he'll chose what you are going to offer him. It's more probable that he'll chose a completely different world, or nothing at all, to never return again.

When you encourage your community to move, you risk to lose them as customers.

This is why instead of a lax policy that aims to keep both worlds active, I believe it would be a better strategy to plan a smooth, deliberate transition. With strong incentives so that the players get even more attached to their character and presence in the world. Want to make a mmorpg sequel? Okay, then have the balls to really develop a replacement and advance the world. Moving your whole playerbase over.

Keep the "elder" game alive for a year or two. Develop the new one as a "remake" set in the exact same game world and locations. You can create a completely new system, but the goal should be about porting over at least 70% of so of the content of the previous game into the new one, with the remaining 30% being brand new. The new world should be familiar and new at the same time and I believe that the proportion I'm suggesting could be a good compromise. Porting the old content would be about reevaluating all the content in the old game to only select the best, and then polish and adjust it to the new standards. It would be interesting for all players to experience the content for the first time or even what is already familiar to then to discover what changed.

The goal would be about porting the characters directly to the new world (maybe set slightly in the future to excuse some compelling twists in the plot and the aspect of the world), offering them even an incentive to accept the transition. No need to reissue billing infos or resubscribe. Maybe even a refund of $20 if you move from the previous game to the new over the cost of the box, so that you would pay for about the same the price of an expansion to have your characters move to a brand new game, without losing progress and with still the possibility to access the large majority of the content that you could expect in the previous game (due to the port of content).

This is how I think you can create a strong bond between the game world and your community. The sense of progression would be lead by the content ported over, the slight progression in the timeline, the new content and continuation to the events to discover, along with the possibility to not lose your own progress and continue seamlessly with the character that you played for so many hours.

Instead of feeling that sense of loss because the world that you love for so long is being made obsolete and replaced with something that you feel distant, your character would become your tie and bond with that world. A way to reaffirm your presence and participation. An incentive to continue on that incredible journey instead of that sense of loss that would encourage you to look for something entirely different.

So progression and persistence could become a strong motivation to be part of that world, to renew the bond.

In short:
- 70% of old content ported and revised. To let the players continue to experience the content that they still didn't see and preserve a sense of familiarity. Along with a strong sense of progression and discovery (new content, timeline advancement, new plot twists and slight changes around the world to discover)

- Possibility to port (copy) old characters. Again to create a bond with the game and not lose any of your progression on your character. Nor your "identity" and feeling of "belonging".

- Semi seamless transition. Install the new game, log in with your old account, insert the keycode and select "upgrade" to have your characters automatically ported. The monthly fee is the same you continued to pay, no changes needed.

- Single monthly fee to access both worlds. For the one/two years that the "elder" game is kept online a player with an "upgraded" account can still log in the old version to play with friends. Since the characters data is ported to the new game as the account is upgraded, all the progress made in the old world past that point will be likely lost. This will be compensated through a form of "currency" to which you can convert/recash your progress (loot, money and exp, for example) and that can be transfered to the new game. (recycle exp/money/loot gained in the old game by converting them into "currency" -> transfer currency between the two games -> convert currency into progression in the new game)

- Concrete incentives for the transition. $20 refunded on the price of the full new game if you use the key code as an "upgrade" instead of creating a brand new account.

This, I think, could be a recipe to make a successful "sequel" that isn't dumb and that would retain the former community without worriesome losses, while also attracting many new players.

Sadly I don't even remotely hope that these ideas will be ever used.

Tuesday 2, May

Let me backfire now

Now that I'm pissed off, let me backfire.

I had archived (when I still didn't have reasons to flame the game) a link to a Gamespot review of FFXI on the XBOX360 to comment later on. It fits prefectly the momentum:

Preposterously long installation period, plus layers of unnecessary inconvenience; virtually nothing done to enhance the experience for the xbox 360; slowly paced action and exploration caters almost exclusively to the hardcore; tough-to-swallow monthly fees required.

That's a quite good beginning, isn't it?

Let me quote more:

There's something to be said for a game that can stand the test of time. Final Fantasy XI Online dates back to 2002, when it was originally released in Japan. Clearly inspired by the influential massively multiplayer PC game EverQuest, FFXI infused the online role-playing formula with the distinctive look and feel of Square Enix's hugely popular franchise. The game naturally attracted thousands of players, many of whom stuck with FFXI over the long haul, since it featured a deep character class system and a huge, evolving world to explore. However, it's simply impossible to look at FFXI for the Xbox 360 in the same way as the previously released PC and PlayStation 2 versions. Paradoxically, that's because this latest translation of the game is essentially no different than the others. It makes no concessions whatsoever to take advantage of the Xbox 360, and it practically goes out of its way to inconvenience and alienate new players. If you're addicted to FFXI already, now you can play it in HD on the Xbox 360 if you feel like buying another copy. But if you've avoided the game up until now, you'd best keep that up.

The game's sprawling environments and initially slow-paced combat makes the underlying action feel like a chore even early on.

Just beginning play for the very first time literally takes close to three hours, from the hour it takes just to install the game to your Xbox 360 hard drive (the game gobbles up more than a third of the total amount of free space on that thing), to the hour it takes to update the game files once you connect, to the hour it takes to enter about half a dozen registration codes and, finally, spending a few minutes to create your character. Like other versions of FFXI, this game is unfortunately saddled within Square Enix's PlayOnline viewer, a shell that provides you with a free e-mail address and some other completely unnecessary services. It must be an inextricable part of the game, but all it does here is make it more difficult for you to jump into a session of FFXI.

Once you're in the game, you'd better get comfortable, because the slow pacing means you'll have little to show for your time spent unless you play for at least several hours at a time. You'll also find it's almost impossible to make progress after a while unless you join a well-coordinated group of players. And after you manage to find an adequate group and start slowly grinding your way toward your next level, killing monster after monster, you'll naturally pressure each other to keep playing. In the past few years, online role-playing games have evolved to cater to more types of players, by doing a better job of accommodating people with less time on their hands or those who prefer the option to play solo. Such games as World of Warcraft and City of Heroes have attempted to become less restrictive, easier to get into, better looking, and simply more fun than their predecessors. By comparison, a game like FFXI feels like work, not play. No wonder the game's character classes are called jobs.

Another issue worth mentioning is that, for better or worse, FFXI throws all kinds of different players into the mix. That means you'll run into Japanese players running the PS2 version of the game, American players running the PC version of the game, and so on. Most of them have probably been at it for months already, so don't expect much sympathy as you try to learn the ropes. Don't expect the game to do a good job of teaching you the ropes, either. The manual spends about as much time explaining the registration process as it does telling you how to play, and the game itself pretty much drops you into the world without any instruction. At least the PlayOnline service itself offers some advice, though in FFXI, you'll have to learn most everything the hard way...or hope that an experienced player is kind enough to walk you through some of the finer points of etiquette, grouping, combat, macros, travel, and so on. Prepare for a frustrating uphill battle just trying to get your bearings in Vana'diel.

You can still look forward to some decent character graphics and environments, but this game looks seriously below par, and rough edges like an inexplicably uneven frame rate and distant objects suddenly popping up on the horizon hurt it further.

While each of these expansion packs add substantial amounts of content, none of them are likely to even come into play until you've already invested dozens of hours in the game. So while FFXI has grown over time, it hasn't really evolved. One of these expansion packs might have done something about the interface or the graphics, for example.

Whatever mystique there was surrounding FFXI is gone now, and what's left is a great, big game that's almost intolerably cumbersome. If you're very brave, masochistic, or stubborn, you might find some rewarding experiences in FFXI. But chances are good that you won't. Considering this is the first time the Final Fantasy series has appeared on the Xbox, it's hard not to feel sorely disappointed by the slapdash job done in clumsily pushing this game onto the 360.

That's what I define a good review. Even if here I collected the gripes, these are good gripes, whether you like the game or not. The point is that you can like it. But IN SPITE of these problems, and not because they do not exist. These are problems that existed since the very beginning and that affected just everyone. Square did very little to address them and the game remained essentially the same without even trying to improve.

I believe FFXI is a wonderful game. One of the best mmorpgs, sitting close to WoW. Even better on certain aspects. But the fundamental point is that the game is CRIPPLED
by absurd problems that could be extemely trivial to address. This is why the lowest common denominator is Square's masochism in those choices that cut the legs of this game and, as the review says, alienate possible players.

Some of the common gripes have good reasons behind and I can even defend them. Compromises that have a foundation. For example the "worldpass" mechanic (you cannot create a character on a server of your choice) was a "lesser evil" that pissed of every single player. But that was still able to effectively achieve the miracle of balanced servers. See what is happening to Blizzard and you'll understand why this choice wasn't so terrible.

The same for the decision to unify the interface and technology between the different hardware platforms, or the decision to have global servers to cut the maintenance/administration costs while striving for a good ideal. There were good ideas behind, good principles. Even innovation and the desire to try something different. Something to strive for.

But beside those valid points, there were also other, fundamental flaws without good reasons to support them. From the decision to not allow the game to run in a window or deleting not only the characters, but even whole accounts after a period of inactivity, to the very little work on the game client to take advantage a bit more of the different platforms.

It wouldn't have been too hard to code a better mouse support to improve the controls on the PC.

That review lists and explains clearly most the perceived major problems at the high level. It is interesting to notice that the great majority of them aren't even directly related to the game.

The issues of course don't end there. Even the game has serious accessibility and design problems and it's again interesting to observe that it was fairly successful in spite of them. It's a game with a huge potential, high production value and execution, but that suffers from very simple problems that are evident to everyone but Square (and here there's obviously the cultural gap that hinders a good communication between the comunity and the japanese devs). It could have been much, much, much more successful than how it is now but it is again grounded by those basic flaws. As I wrote on Q23: "I hate the retard, masochist parts of the game, not all of it".

FFXI is a game I always wanted to love but that has remained really hard to approach for me. I'm sure I'm part of a large majority in this.

It's fundamental for every mmorpg to remain flexible, evolve and adapt. FFXI, while remaining one of the best game worlds to date, performs very poorly with these three.

FUCK YOU, SquareEnix

It seems I have no luck buying european expansions for mmorpgs. And SquareEnix continues to have a passion for masochism.

This morning I received the latest expansion box for FFXI. This time it comes as just a dvd box. I always like to find manuals and give them a read while offline, I've already commented as it would be a good idea to start giving the retail boxes more value as we move to the online distribution. Not through lame items in the game, but with some content in the form of good manuals, atlas and so on. Something you wouldn't find in the digital download and something that would appropriate for a physical box, like something you can read offline.

Well, this dvd box has two DVDs inside and a sticker with the registration code. Nothing else. Not a single piece of paper, not even install instruction. I wish I could have got a digital download version, but it seems it is too smart for them. So I can only buy a retail box that is essentially empty.

I've seen a discussion complaining about the lack of transparence on the monthly fee if you buy the game for the XBOX360. Well, the expansion box for the PC version I bought doesn't tell you anything. There's "online" written in the title, obviously, but no mention that it is an online game, nor that it is an expansion pack. It doesn't say anywhere that the basic FFXI is required to play. On the back of the box there are five screenshots and the system requirements. Nothing else. It doesn't say anywhere that it requires FFXI, nor that it is an expansion pack, nor that it requires a monthly fee. What you can see is the title logo and the "PlayOnline" logo.

I said there are two DVDs in the box. Well, one is for the manual and nothing else. I've looked at this manual, it's a pathetic five pages pdf. Let me repeat: a WHOLE DVD used to contain a five page pdf. If this isn't retareded I don't know what could.

So I insert the other "game" DVD to install the expansion... and I cannot. It tells me that Final Fantasy XI is not installed. The problem is that I am using the american version, and it seems that I cannot install the english european version I bought over the english american version of the game.

No, I'm not that stupid. The past expansions WERE compatible. I guess this isn't anymore the case. Right now the billing system is down for maintenance so I cannot say if the key-code works, at least. I'm quite sure it won't. Anyway, I won't be able to install the files, even though they are identic to the version I have.

As the billing system comes back up I won't go there to register the expansion, but to cancel my subscription for good. I wish I could send them a FUCK YOU in big, fluorescent letters. I won't touch another SquareEnix online game with a long pole. It could even be the Jesus of mmorpgs.

EDIT:
To begin with, I was owned (they rebill the first of the month, one day late to cancel).

While I was waiting for the billing system to come back up, I was able to install the expansion by creating dummy registry keys and let the game believe it is the european version. This worked smoothly and I was able to verify, patch and run the game without a hitch. The client works with all the expansion enabled.

Now the problem is that it doesn't fucking accept the european key code. Let me rephrase. I have a working client with all the expansion enabled, but now I cannot activate it because it doesn't accept a fucking key code. What is the purpose of this, I really don't know. Square self-publishes and distributes, so they don't even have a good reason to protect the local market. Why do they care where I buy the expansion? They have global servers no matter where you live and a multi platform game, but you still cannot use a fucking key code from a different country. The billing system physically resides in the smae machine, it is in Japan, and it still discriminates over a key code for no apparent reason. I bought the game legitimately, but this is still not enough to let me play the game.

My account was created when the game launched in the US. I don't want to spend 60$ just for the shipment plus taxes and there is no fucking way to buy a gooddamn keycode online because it seems we are still in the prehistory of the internet. Or maybe it would be a too good business practice while Square must always do something stupid to fuck up their games. What is fun is that with my username and password I can play on any client version. On PC, PSX2, XBOX360. From Italy, Japan, Australia or USA. But not the fucking key code. It won't work. The key code is the only goodamn thing to be picky.

Fucky you, SquareEnix. I'm done giving you money.

Btw, when shit happened with SOE (see the first link) the problem was promptly acknowledged. I don't think Square will come in my help this time. "Customer care", of course.

P.S.
To complete the fun: a gaming magazine in Italy received a review copy of the expansion from Square. Obviously european. Since this expansion has only high-level content it's necessary that you enable it on an account with an high level character. But their only account with which they originally played is american since the european version was published only one year after.

They weren't able to play the game and Square will do without its review. Win-win.

Tuesday 18, April

FFXI: "Treasures of Aht Urhgan" patched in

The version update arrived along with the patch notes but the stuff specific to the expansion pack won't be enabled for another couple of days (when the exp will hit the shops).

I've already loosely commented what is coming to the game and for the occasion I've reactivated my subscription (and my character was still there after these six months). As already noted not all the features are enabled right away (like the chocobo breeding and circuit) but will be added with the next updates as Enix always did with every expansion (the storyline progresses along the months with new missions, till the cycle is complete and the new exp pack arrives).

The patch notes have some interesting tidbits like NPCs taken as prisoners during the mobs raids and that you have to rescue if you want to have their services back ("Besieged" is the new gameplay mode that creates a conquest system between the characters and beastmen. If the beasmen become too strong they leave their zone and go to charge directly the city, and the players have the duty, all together, to defend it):

(from "Besieged" detailed description)
After Besieged is over, some NPCs in Al Zahbi are taken to the enemy base as prisoners. These NPCs are chosen randomly, and will disappear from town when they are captured. Depending on the NPCs captured, you may lose the ability to purchase goods at certain shops or use the auction house. You can free a captive by acquiring and using the key to their prison.

Plus some sort of communal "party room" that you can rent for obscure purposes:

A new feature called the "Kokba Hostel" has been added. You can reserve the facility for a certain amount of time to use for private functions. Players are provided with a variety of temporary party items and food upon entering the hostel. Attendants and a special hostel chat channel also come with the reservation.

Beside these there are also three fancy diagrams explaning changes to some sort of aggro code. Since I've digged the details I think I can somewhat explain what the fuss is about:

FFXI seems to have issues with claiming mobs. If you are fighting a mob noone around you can attack it if he is not in your party or if you don't break the encounter and call for help. At the same time FFXI is fond of EverQuest and I think you can train the mobs and drag them around to grief noobs. If I remember correctly there was a patch around december to address this problem and this last change was made to address an exploit.

Before this change you could aggro a mob without claiming it (so without locking the encounter), for example with AOE spells. Another party could then claim that mob, locking it, but without aggroing it directly. This would lead to a situation where the guy who initially aggroed the mob couldn't attack it anymore because the other party claimed/locked it but still without getting the aggro. So this guy would finish in a situation where he has a mob pounding on him without any possibility to defend himself since the encounter is locked to the other group.

With the new change this situation cannot happen anymore and the other party can lock/claim the encounter only if it does enough damage to also get aggroed. Basically: before you could lock an encounter without aggroing, now you the "aggro" and "claim/lock" happen together and cannot be separated.

Note for ALL game companies: you should always *explain* the design thoughts and reasons behind the changes, not just objectively *describe* the change.

By looking at the auto-translate new places names and the new region map already in the game for the expansion (which is separated from the standard one) I'm guessing the number of new zones added between 20 and 30 (and not "forty" as some previews claim), which is still rather good if you consider all the efforts in the storylines, cutscenes, (fantastic) soundtracks and brand new gameplay modes. When it comes to "content" and artistic dedication noone is on par with Squaresoft.

To reach the new region you have to take a boat. But to take this boat you need to finish some sort of quest:

A new ship route has been added from Mhaura to Al Zahbi. You must fulfill certain requirements before you can board the ship to Al Zahbi.

Along the same line the three new classes aren't available right away, but they need to be unblocked through quests. Still no clue at which level they are doable and whether they are complicated or not:

The advanced jobs "blue mage," "corsair," and "puppetmaster" are now available. You must clear certain quests in order to acquire the new jobs.

As I can find more details about it, I'll make a post. The total number of classes in the game is now 18.

On the footsteps of "we are all noobs" declarations I have to confess that I've been subscribed for a long time to FFXI. Now try to guess at which level is my character... Well... Level 10. I'm so utterly, hopelessly pathetic.

Now let me say this. I have a new goal in life. Before I'll unsubscribe again my character must reach at least level 15. UBER I SAY! I have to try hard!

And I want one these sooooo much! I really want to see how they are animated in the game:


P.S.
The windower is still broken.

Tuesday 21, March

Best box art

The Xbox 360 version of Final Fantasy XI has the best box art I've seen in a long while.

Here's the cover (the colorful version, used for the expansion pack, is also pretty)

Now I'll just wait for a game that truly reproduces the visions of Yoshitaka Amano. That's my gaming nirvana.

The screenshots from the expansion look very good and crisp. I cannot avoid to compare them to Oblivion's bland and generic look.

Sunday 12, March

The yearly glance at Final Fantasy XI

Ugh.. must.. resist.

I cannot understand how regularly every year Square convinces me to buy the latest exp pack, reactivate my account, patch for hours and then only look around for a couple of hours before unsubscribing again. I'm weak and hopeless like that.

But, come on, it's soooo pretty.

There's a new expansion (Treasures of Aht Urhgan) to be released around the end of April and looking truly interesting. But even before the features what really stands out is the graphic. Despite the engine is still exactly the same, it seems that Square artists and animators just keep surpassing their excellence. I love the screenshots I've seen, the new creatures and zones stand out compared to everything I've ever seen in a mmorpg. Square is the new "Origin", they are the only one left that truly "create worlds" with their own consistency and depth. Each of their games is an unique world on its own, fully crafted in every detail and where you can immerse yourself completely. There's an engrossing backstory that ties all the elements together and that is the true heart of the game, not just a generic theme used as an excuse. Noone does this better than them.

Stories, characters, worlds. Where are they in today's mmorpgs? We just chase loot and have bland excuses to move through superficial content.

The features coming with the expansion are quite surprising. There are going to be new zones, monsters and missions that will follow a similar scheme of the content of the two previous expansions (the missions are consecutive adventures used to narrate the story of the game) but in one of these zones there will be a city, Al Zahbi, that will introduce two new gameplay modes: Besiege and Assault.

"Besiege" sounds like a dynamic scenario that could trigger at any time while you are around the city. Basically the monsters will start to attack and swarm the city instead of roaming quietly in the wilderness and it will be your duty and the duty of those caught in the attack to defend the city. If you die you won't lose xp points so the assault shouldn't be a major burden for the players we are surprised into one. The NPCs will defend the city and fight along with you and from the previews I've read it sounds as something really chaotic but also a hell of fun.

In our town, we took on hoards of giant lizard monsters that were out for blood. Think of Besieged as the battle for Helm's Deep in Lord of the Rings. The enemies just keep coming and they don't stop.

"Assault" instead should be like a reversed besiege. You gather a group of players (from three to six) and grab an "assault mission" available in the town and then go to "assault" the lair of the mobs. It's unclear if this will be an instanced zone but from the sound of it I believe these tasks can be taken just by one group and will be unavailabe to others till the group accomplishes it or fails. There's a screenshot suggesting that there will be impassable barriers, and the official description says that the zone will be evacuated of players that don't belong to the group who "tapped" the assault task.

EDIT: The two modes seem also related. From a dev note:

The strength of the beastmen that attack all depend on the players attacking the strongholds. If the players have beaten the beastmen back, their raids on the town will be weaker. The stronger the beastmen in the region, the harder their attacks will be.

Completing assault missions will grant you "assault points" and move your character through mercenary ranks that will probably give you the possibility to get some fancy, unspecified props. I love alternate advancement in mmorpgs when it lets you explore different parts of the game world and different gameplay. Both the Besiege and Assault sound absolutely fun and interesting. I wish other games would also try to add some new gameplay with the expansions instead of just bigger mobs and fatter loot. Can't you see how it is awfully boring to be stuck in just the exact same, redundant gameplay as always? What are bringing to the table the new expansions of WoW, DAoC, EverQuest if not just more instances, mobs, levels and zones?

At least here we have a variation, an exploration of other possibilities to enrich the experience.

But the assault and besiege models aren't the only interesting features in the work. The expansion will also intruduce three new classes: the "Blue Mage" who will mimic the attacks of the monsters, the "Corsair" who will be able to shoot at range with a gun and "elaborate luck-based abilities to alter the stakes of battle" (it should use a deck of cards randomly drawn) and a the recently revealed "Puppetmaster" who has a puppet following him around and will probably use it to deliver the attacks (that's all I was able to find out).

And Chocobos! Yes, I know they are already in the game, but with the expansion you'll be able to raise your own chocobo!

Not only, you'll also be able to make it breed with other players chocobo to generate new ones, hinting (I hope!) the possibility to customize them and develop sepecific traits. Also because the most awesome features is what comes next: The chocobo circuit! You'll be able to ride your chocobo in a race against other players and, maybe, win prizes. How awesome is that?

The last new feature in the expansion is the Coliseum, it is still in the dark but taken directly from the tradition of the series. It is unclear if it will involve directly the players or if you'll only be able to bet on monsters vs monsters encounters but it's possible that Square will continue to add more content after even this part is released.

It's interesting to notice that all this new content won't be available right away but it will be staggered along the bi-monthly content patches. So all the features will progressively dribble in the game as it already happened with the story-missions in the previous expansions, distributed along the year till the possible next expansion.

While looking around I've also read the notes of the February patch. Along with the new quests and content I noticed something that I would gladly see in DAoC or WoW:

In a previous update, damage taken during Conflict (PvP) by melee, ranged, and magic attacks was adjusted to an amount relatively lower than damage taken in regular battles with monsters.

Anyway, what really picked my interest about the expansion is the graphic that is truly amazing and without the need to use any new technology, which again demonstrates that tech is not art and that an engine is never a true limit for anything. Along with a feature list that for the first time isn't limited to just "more of the same", but that truly tries to explore some new possibilities and add to the variety of the game instead of drying it.

Maybe Brad McQuaid was right. Maybe it's true that the fresh air into the genre will come from the evolution of the consolidated models we have now. What I know is that I like when these game introduces new possibilities and content that don't just overlap with something else.

Vana'diel is easily the most interesting, original and detailed world between those I've experienced in this genre, it's a pity that there are some structural design flaw that compromise its quality and undermine its accessibility.

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