Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Combat Arms Hacks

When I first played Combat Arms I was having a lot of fun in spite of how poorly I play. One of the things that drew me in was how balanced the game was and also how quick it seemed to play. This is (was) a game that forced you to actually learn to play. You really had to have some skill or learn it quickly. Since your weapons are on a clock (you "buy" them for a day, week, or month or month with in-game gold (or microtransactions)) you can't just sit idly by and watch the experience and gold accumulate, you actually have to improve. The higher your rank, the longer it takes to make the next rank. There is a gold bonus given with each rank earned and at the lower ranks it feels as though you are swimming in gold. But soon enough the gold comes less often...unless you have been improving your game.

I routinely get between 10-15 kills per match. That actually places me about halfway in line of skill order for each match. I only get between 100-150 gold each match. The weapons and gear I choose runs about 2000 gold or so and currently I am paying daily. That's a lot of matches each day with my mediocre skill.

But it's doable and I don't have to chain myself to the computer. After all, it's a well-balanced game and everyone else has to improve their game as well.

Or, that's how it was in the beginning at least.

It didn't take long for players to begin using cheats to get that extra edge. After a while, enough people were using the cheats that it began to seriously impact the balance of several matches in a day. But now, it seems that things have gotten out of hand. I suspect that fair players became weary of the imbalance and began using cheats themselves just to get back on an equal footing with the original cheaters. I am tempted to do so myself. I've even gone so far as to look up these hacks to see what is really going on.

The first thing to greet me on my research was a brand new hack made available withing 45 minutes of Combat Arms' latest patch. This new hack is called a Ghost Hack. It allows the player to play in an invisible state and move through walls, over and under the game maps, and fly through the air. Coupled with other hacks that aim headshots for you and highlight all the players on the map (kind of like a heat sensor) even behind obstacles and you are now an invincible killing machine.

Other, lesser hacks allow you to jump through walls and run without losing stamina or even allow you to fire without reloading or experiencing recoil.

All of the features that these hacks implement only serve to disrupt the balance of Combat Arms.

Then there are the glitches, whereby players "squeeze" between walls or into corners. They can see around themselves and fire weapons, but unless they make a mistake, they can't be fired upon. The only sure way to combat the glitchers is to take advantage of the glitch yourself, get "inside" the wall and kill the other glitcher. It is very unnerving to watch from a distance as the glitchers' bullet trails come out of the wall and suddenly the combat scroll lights up with a half dozen kills from one person.

Combat Arms is a great game and it is not too late to fix the hacking issues. Though it is daunting when one hack site claims to have over 48,000 active hackers using just one of their hacks.

But something has to be done. Right now there is a policy of banning accounts found to be using hacks, but this does not keep the hackers out of the game and only suggests to fair players that they can't use the hacks, thus keeping them on the imbalanced side of the equation.

If nothing is done soon, the the Combat Arms hacks will certainly make the game unplayable by fair and balanced players.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Current Trends

The most blatant current trend in the MMO market is that of failure. Failure to retain launch numbers, failure to fix bugs in a timely manner, failure to communicate honestly with players, failure to take proper responsibility for their failures.

From Tabula Rasa and Hellgate: London to Age of Conan and Warhammer, the current string of failures in the AAA range of MMOs is unexceptibal. The player community should NOT be holding its breath over Blizzard's mysterious Fourth Project. But this is exactly what we have been reduced to. Since everyone else is either failing utterly or incapable of impressing us with new concepts we have turned to Blizzard in the hopes that they will give what the community has been craving: an engaging MMO full of new concepts and playable content that takes advantage of new technologies and ideas. While everyone else has been producing one failure after another, Blizzard has been perfecting the MMO craft.

Thankfully, the Old Republic MMO has some potential, but one has to ask if the developers will be giving players something more than lightsaber duels and drab-colored robes. When everyone is melee with a side of Force range and all their clothes are shades of gray and brown, how long can players stay interested? If they intend for the stories to keep people interested then the developers certainly have their work cut out for them.

NCSoft's Aion looks beautiful and will certainly have a cult following, but it utilizes the abysmal click-to-move mechanic and that alone is enough for me to keep my money in my wallet. In today's world of WASD usage, what were they thinking?

We have two super hero MMOs on the horizon to compete with City of Heroes. Champions Online and DC Universe Online. Can DC Universe avoid the current trend of high-profile IP failures? I am not optimistic.

I don't know what to say about it, but there seems to be a whole lot of failure going on.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Why Play Solo?

MMO games are designed so that people can get together and socialize in an online environment. There has never been a hard and fast rule that people actually had to PLAY together, just that the environment is designed for people to BE together. The first MMO games made it mandatory for people to group together in order to enjoy most aspects of the game. Because this was the standard design for several years, many players developed a mindset that this forced group dynamic was the only way MMO games could, or should, function.

It turns out that most people simply don't WANT to be forced to group with a bunch of strangers in order to enjoy the game they bought. They DO, however, want to be a part of an immersive world where living players add a random and chaotic dynamic to the environment. They like to follow conversations that appear in the chat boxes. Some players even enjoy the presence of a guild, but still rather play solo.

I once considered the Elder Scrolls games to be the best in RPG gaming due to the massive and open worlds in each game. But there was something very lonely about playing those games. There was no one to show off too. No one to chat with. The NPCs were devoid of life beyond some scripted code. If a player came across a difficult mob and beat it, who do you tell? What if you find a rare item that has some awesome features, who does the player show it off to?

When I began playing my first MMO, I was first caught up with how lively it was. There was a sense that the world was populated, alive. The group content was a nice option but I didn't have to do it. My first guild was full of socializers, it was great.

This is why some of us choose to play solo in an MMO. Because we like a populated and living environment, but we don't want to be forced to attend the social gatherings.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Smaller MMOs?

I posted a comment on Tobold's blog for his Open Sunday extravaganza about smaller MMOs and decided to epand on that idea.

The current crop of MMO failures don't seem to be failing from their core ideas, but rather the implementation of too many features. They seem to suffer from a "grand scheme" syndrome. They came onto the market claiming to be able to please as World of Warcraft pleases, but would not be clones of the behemouth. Yet, inevitably they were just that.

The problem isn't so much that they looked like World of Warcraft, or even played like it. The problem is that they tried to put as much stuff on the table as World of Warcraft did. World of Warcraft is HUGE. After 2.5 years of playing World of Warcraft, I still have yet to explore every zone and am still encountering new aspects of the game for the first time. When Blizzard set out to make World of Warcraft, they obviously set out to also fill their online world with everything they could conceive of. Yet, even World of Warcraft was technically never finished even after all of this time. There are areas on the world map that are closed off, instance portals with no instance, battlegrounds with no battles, instances with no entry... World of Warcraft succeeded in spite of this because they had so much content that was complete and polished.

The recent crop of failures failed to take into account some important key details. The worlds they are creating need to be filled with appealing content that is polished and functional. If the world map is as large as vanilla WoW, but the content is rushed in to fill that world then you will end up with sparse, buggy features.

If the preliminary design meetings consist of grand ideas of gargantuan worlds packed with revolutionary features, it's already time to shut the game down. It doesn't matter if this game is as far from Blizzard's fantasy game as you can get, you are still trying to follow the World of Warcraft model of HUGE and PACKED WITH FEATURES.

Maybe Hellgate: London would have lasted if the game had be designed a little smaller with fewer features intended for launch. Then they would not have had to spend six months of more trying to patch fixes rather than concentrate on some of the other features they had planned.

The same goes for Tabula Rasa. And also Age of Conan.

These games are simply too big for their planned launches. They need to trimmed down very early on in the process. Smaller worlds with fewer features should be the design theory. Developers can add anything they want to their games after launch, but if they are forced to spend their first six months fixing the entire game then they can't get to the "new" features in a timely manner.

Sure, game launches will likely always have hiccups, but the biggest problems should be server oriented (which can be fixed within days) rather than due to buggy game code that takes months to work out.