Man does that game get annoying, though M M O R P G A M E R  
The Vana'diel March
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A boatload of news this week. So much in fact, my human weakness (and column-length-restriction instinct) that we've axed our "Readers Speak" Q&A portion this week. I thank you for the letters you sent, but they'll have to wait till next update to be printed. We'll keep the same topic though: MMO hate rants (see bottom for more detail).

Meanwhile, you can begin the scroll-down fest that is the weekly MMO news update. And if you've got extra time on your hands, the other MMO stories are linked, too. Oh, and one last thing. As is his duty, Orie helped me with this, so if you see him in the hallway, high-five him...or stab him, whichever.

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Belle Isle, Ahoy! 

Belle Isle

BB Serve, a company helping Hudson with the upcoming Master of Epic, recently unveiled a second MMORPG project. Entitled Belle Isle, the game will take place in a world haunted by constant human vs. demon warfare. This started after the humans suffered a brutal defeat in a particular battle, having only been saved by the mercy of the gods. The humans now live in safety atop a giant tree, in a world called "Belle Isle," but to their dismay, demons are now invading again. Players take on the role of a human soldier prepared to protect Bell Isle.

Among unique features in Belle Isle is the way the game uses the passage of time. Many MMORPGs have day/night effects with lighting, shops only being open certain hours, and so on, but BB Serve is mixing things up by adding visual aging to characters. To that same end, the Island will also have realistically rotating days and even different seasons. As time passes, you can earn the right to citizenship in a country. As a citizen, you'll receive a yearly stipend. If one should choose to donate money to his country, there will be visible improvements in townfronts, or possibly an increase in the number of shops and factories. A character's combat and trade skills will even improve when the player isn't logged in, as the time passage operates in similar fashion to Nintendo's Animal Crossing.

Taking things even further, time will have an effect on the in-game weddings. In this game, however, family progression is possible. This means that the female of the couple can become pregnant and bear children. No official word yet, but it might even be safe to assume that these kids age just like the players do. Also not officially announced is how much of the conception process the part in.

Beta testing of this fully 3d game will begin on the 13th of this month in Japan. More to come.

Horizons Not Disrupted By Bankruptcy 


Artifact Entertainment, creator of Horizons: Empire of Istaria, recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Despite this, the company reassures players that gameplay will not be interrupted, saying, "The team at Artifact is very committed to Horizons and will continue to service the game, support the game and improve the game. ...Game play will not be interrupted at all by this decision."

Artifact's David Bowman has also addressed other game-related issues in the form of a recent letter to Horizons community members.
Reviewing what the game already has, Bowman discussed features such as updating the world in real time (as opposed to shutting down servers like in other games), extreme diversity between characters, customizable interface, plethora of magic schools, and so on.
Bowman then goes on to talk about what the next updates will include. From the early looks of things, the upgrades will be massive. Some highlight excerpts include the following::

  • Blighted Equipment: In an effort to equip their forces with better equipment, the Withered Aegis (enemies in the game) have begun arming the Undead with blighted weapons, armor, scales, and other equipment. Players will be able to loot blighted equipment from the Withered Aegis forces and turn them against the enemy.
  • Blight Anchors: these most recent invaders, sent by the Withered Aegis will continue to evolve and attempt different tactics to drive the Gifted from Istaria.
  • Dragon Claw slots: Dragons will be able to equip claws that can be techniqued.
  • DragonLairs: Dragon plots will become available which allow the underground construction of player configured Dragon Lairs.
  • New Tutorials: The existing tutorial does not properly explain to the novice player how to play Horizons. We are building two new islands, one for Dragons, and one for Bipeds, which will do a better job of explaining the mechanics and the ideas of Horizons. These islands will be able to be visited at any time in order to review the lessons and to engage the content found there.

Not stopping there, Bowman keeps no screts, telling what's in store after that:
  • New Racial Structures: With Humans and Dragons having their architectural styles covered, we will continue to develop racial structures for the other races.
  • Raising Schools to level 120: Players will be able to take their favorite school beyond the current cap of 100. Ancient Dragons will also be able to advance to new powers. We have already begun this work, and had expected to be able to be able to complete it by this time. However, the complexity of the task was not fully appreciated and we are going to take more time in order to do this well.
  • Structure and Community Customization: We will be initiating systems that allow for the player built furniture, structural modifications and additional environmental modifications by players.
...And more.

Personally, I like the sound of reforming the tutorials. I play a whole heck of a lot of MMOs, and much like fingerprints, no two interfaces are alike. Yes, there are often similarities, but learning a new gameplay system with no functional tutorial is always a pain.

Now, shortly after I read this, I discovered that the first set of updates discussed are not new promises. In fact, some of them were mentioned to players over a year ago. That said, this letter really pissed off the community members. Check out some of these angry quotes:

"What a joke Bowman is."
"Must .... let..."
"I played it on release and then tried it again 6 months later. Both times it sucked and I think the second time was probably the worst. AE should treat this game like a sick horse. Shoot it."
"Same crap that he has been saying for the last 6+ months... Almost all of this was due out within weeks of the game releasing... that was a year ago."
"Sounds like next desparate sales pitch."

Well then. Even in the face of all those promises, things aren't looking good for Horizons, and, in effect, Artifact Entertainment. A complete FAQ about the financial situation can be found here.

How to Thrash Front Mission Online 

Front Mission Online

With a little digging, Adrienne Beck found some rather large chunks of Font Mission Online specifics. Some of this has been around a bit, while some more is pretty new. Anyway, let's break this sucker down:

Game Start. Right away, you're immediately presented with a choice; are you going to side with OCU or USN? During beta testing, new characters will be automatically assigned to one or the other so that neither greatly army outnumbers the other. The difference between the two forces then becomes simply the difference between the Wanzer units that make it up. One account equals one Wanzer unit, so give up on the idea of "disposable" characters.

Character Modification. At the moment, there isn't much to pick from, other than the bulk factor. In other words, you've got chunky or skinny to choose from. More customization will come soon though. After looks comes smarts. This ties much more into the development of your character, deciding which of the game's skills you've got a knack for and which ones you'll just never get the hang of.

Personality. Once you choose a personality type, there's no going back. The types available so far are:

  • Analytical: Logical people, they analyse the facts and then act accordingly. These types do well in recon or working with missiles.
  • Dauntless: Simple and straight forward, these are the guys that laugh in the face of death. Let 'em play as Assault or Jammer types.
  • Perceptive: Level-headed and rational, these guys are good at weighing risk vs. reward. They do best as Recon or Snipers.
  • Resourceful: These are the people best suited to be mechanics or comms, as they are intuitive and good at improvising.

After deciding on a personality comes the even bigger choice of a job. The ones revealed so far include Assault, Missiler, and Mechanic. Those are the broad categories. The frameworks inside each of those differ between the OCU and USN armies. After choosing a framework, you'll move on to your preferred abode, which basically means setting up a password for your own personal hangar. Tell the password to friends, and you can invite them over for tea, cookies, and a private chitchat.

Once all that is finished, you'll get deployed to one of several bases. NPCs will give you orders and instructions that'll form a tutorial. Mock battle during training will bring up different menus for the different types you've chosen, Assault and Missilers focusing on attacking your opponent (compare to "warriors" in other games), while Mechanics deal more with supporting their actively fighting allies (compare to "priests" and "white mages"). All through the tutorial, you will really get the feel for "military society", down to snapping salutes to your superior officers, doing pushups, and all the little rules of military life. Recruits will be seen taking part in things like this all over the place.

Finish the tutorial and you are sent off to real battle. On one battle map, there can be no more than 10 people vs. 10 people. At the very beginning, a single player can choose between only two areas, so a very large number maps have been prepared for the sheer number of player characters. However, if the areas are too full of people for your tastes, an option called "Create Battle Map" will appear for you to make your own.

As would be expected, experience points are awarded for surviving a battle. Job level and Rank both require different points to improve. Thus, there are three types of EXP received after battle; namely, direct, indirect, and action experience all contribute to different areas of growth, as they are obtained in different ways. Direct exp are points you get for destroying an enemy unit. Indirect are awarded for supporting a chara who just destroyed an enemy unit (like an "assist" in sports). Action exp are obtained by completing jobs. Raising rank takes one of two other types of: Sortie Points, which you get for participating in battle, and Destruction Points, which are earned by wiping out enemy strongholds. High job levels mean strong characters. High rank means a fat paycheck and greater ability to affect bigger portions of the war. You can talk to the personnel in the lobby to find out about pay raises and promotions.

As for the game's development progress, beta is now playable 12 hours a day, up from the previous amount of four hours per day. This increases thatnks to requests from players for more time. Additionally, the December 2nd update saw higher level-caps and new weapons, among other things.

Final Fantasy XI

Final Fantasy XI is seeing a sizable update this month. Most notably, the economic changes mentioned here seem to be making quite a few people happy. Conversly, those looking to make some bucks by selling gil for real cash may be slightly torqued.

In addition, selling fees at the Auction House are now based on the seller's asking price, rather than the usual one to three or four gil. This will likely lower the prices of many higher-end items. Certain other highlights of the update include:

  • Supply quests and regional teleportation to the Tavnazian Archipelago are now available.
  • Several new quests and events have been added to the Promathia areas.
  • The Old Sabertooth that plays a part in the quest "The Fanged One" will now only appear after a player has targeted the set of tiger bones in the Sauromugue Champaign. In addition, the Old Sabertooth will no longer drop any items.
  • Weather coverage has now expanded to Chains of Promathia areas.
  • Players can now only target the Brass Statue in Castle Oztroja for a limited amount of time.
  • The conditions for certain notorious monsters to appear, as well as the drop rates for the items they carry, have been adjusted.
  • Several new notorious monsters have been added to the Chains of Promathia areas.
  • A new thief job trait that increases the dexterity bonus of the ability "Trick Attack" has been added. This trait is called "Assassin."
  • An accuracy bonus is now rewarded when using "Blood Pact" attacks during magic bursts.
  • The Goblin Archaeologists that are found in the Konschtat Highlands, Tahrongi Canyon, and on the La Theine Plateau can now see through the thief ability "Hide."

You can find the complete and absolutely HUGE list of changes here. In addition to those, the game's official newsletter, called The Vana'diel Tribune, has undergone some surgery. Now under the name of The Vana'diel Tribune II, the newsletter is now much more focused on player interaction and contains new sub-sections like the "Vana'diel Profiles," a "Personals Board," and much more. You can check the first edition from your PlayOnline Viewer, Mog House, or FFXI Compendium. Starting with the second issue, updates will be posted on PlayOnline.

Short Stories 
City of Heroes

European MMORPGamers can now apply for beta testing their own localized version of City of Heroes. Look into it here.

And in a bit of humor I simply must bring up, some gamers were faked-out, being misinformed that the beta started last week, due to an error on the part of other reporters. The official site reads, "Thanks to our over-zealous PR agency some of you may be visiting expecting to see details on our European Beta Test - heck, you might even want to sign up. Sorry, but they jumped the gun. We’ll be deducting Brownie Points accordingly." These things happen in this business.

Matrix Online

It was announced today by Warner Brothers that an exclusive fanzine will be given to everyone who pre-orders The Matrix Online. The fanzine, created by Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment and DC Comics, will feature 24 pages of articles and stories that follow the creation of the game through its development process. It will also contain an article on "Writing the Matrix" and some maps of the game world. It is being called a first edition collector's item and many rabid Matrix fans will find it a must-own piece of merchandise for their collections.

Those wanting to pre-order The Matrix Online should visit the official site to get your copy and the bonus fanzine. The game itself will cost you $49.99 and $14.99 per month, with the obligatory first 30 days free. The current expected release date is January 18th of next year, so time is running out.

Nobunaga's Ambition Online

In celebration of Nobunaga's Ambition Online expanding, Koei will soon be releasing a PS2 HDD bundle pack consisting of Nobunaga's Ambition Online: Rising Dragon and the PS2 hard drive, (called the BB in Japan). One pack comes with the PS2, HDD, and the expanion for 31,000 yen, while the second simply comes with the game and the HDD for 18,000 yen. Both packs also include a special guidebook. These will be available in Japan on December 15th, and in North America, probably never.

Featured Games 
Gate to Heavens

On December 15th, e-Games will begin the open beta testing phase on its upcoming MMO, Gate To Heavens. A story snippet from the official site reads, "'When we looked up into the night sky there always were the stars, the silver white constellations, I still remember how it was. The gentle light bathing my face in its brilliance as though a beautiful goddess looked down upon me from the highest heavens.' That was the time before the Goddess of all the lesser gods drove a crystal slate across the horizon, forever separating men from the heavens. The slate covered the whole sky, the stars disappeared and darkness became the only characteristic of the night. Now only the crystal corridor or the 'Gate to Heavens' allowed those on earth to reach the heaven itself. It was during this time that those some would call Angels appeared. While not nearly as powerful as the gods they possessed the ability to greatly influence human kind. In order to ensure their power did not grow to match those of the gods the Goddess appointed a gatekeeper to forever stand vigilant at the crystal corridor, allowing none to pass, to reach for the powers of heaven. This gatekeeper, himself a god, became known as 'The Guardian.' In the mean time, these beings, these 'Angels' began to absorb the energies of nature itself. This inherently changed them and as there is day and night the angels were divided into those of the Light and those of Darkness. ...As it was, chaos began when the Goddess lay in dormancy..." The full intro can be read here.

From looking at the screens of the Alpha testing, the games is currently testing in Korean, but there are official sites posted in Chinese and English as well, so one can expect North American and Chinese releases.

Game Over 

So, I promised screens from my casual romping through Ultima Online: Samurai Empire last week. I didn't get any new ones, but here are some of my older ones, being taken shortly after starting a new character in the Tokuno Islands.

Those first two are of your starting point as a ninja. The third is a shot of the Japanese architecture on Tokuno. Yeah, I know. Nothing that will make you need to change your pants, but if you don't have the new expansion, they're good enough, yeah? And if you're an Ultima Online player who doesn't have Samurai Empire yet...then there's something wrong with you anyway.

So, as mentioned in the intro, keep sending me rants of MMORPG hate. What really makes you tick? People? Crappy server maintenance? Hacks and cheaters? Rant about it by emailing me. All the ammo I've got so far is on FFXI, oddly enough, so if you want to be cool and focus your hate there, that's especially welcome. Maybe you can talk about these new updates? Good or bad? You get the idea.

Wow. My hands hurt from typing that. Time for some legal and non-addictive medicine.

-My name is Heath Hindman, and I'm the last of a dying breed of Dragon-Pirate-Ninja-Lumberjacks.

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