I should tell you that when Mythic was sold to EA, I was one of those people who thought "Well there goes the game." I'd not played Dark Age of Camelot as my primary, full time, MMO for about 2 years previous to the sale, but I'd still keep tabs on the game, and would often return for short bits of time to check out the expansions. But when the company became EAMythic, the final nail entered the coffin as far as I was concerned. I felt like many other long term players, thinking that the game wasn't going to continue to grow and develop; that if new content went in it would be a minor miracle, with no hope of long standing balance issues and problems ever seeing the light of repair.
It is with great humility that I admit that not only was I wrong, but that the current development team actually impressed me with what they've been doing. Last night I attended the Dark Age of Camelot Roadtrip Roundtable in Philadelphia and had an opportunity to see where the game has gone recently, and where it will be going in the future.
DJ Larkin, Class Balance Lead, and James Casey, Content Lead had a prepared presentation to share with those who attended. It covered the most recent changes to the game and what the remainder of 2007 would hold. In patch 1.88, some of the live game updates included a new bounty point system. The old system was limited to being able to pay your rent, and perhaps buy a few potions. Under the new system they've begun to add new ways for people to spend BPs that are useful to them. Some of the recent additions include allowing BPs to be spent to by realm respects, Champion Level respects, Master Level respects, a horse, hastener gems, and an experience granting scroll. And this is only the beginning of what's been planned and already implemented.
They've also recently added a Pendragon Tester NPC, something that I know many of the testers and team leads have been asking literally for years. This NPC will allow you to set your character to whatever level you choose, to set your realm rank, and have gear appropriate to your character for testing purposes. This amazing little change has far reaching implications for the future of testing on Pendragon, and seems to be well timed giving many of the future changes that will be coming to the game.
Crafting is undergoing a revamp. Starting with patch 1.88, crafting times were normalized, and many of the NPC's needed for crafting were centralized to areas of the game world where the crafting would be happening. The phrase repeated time and again, and not just in regards to crafting, is that the developers are trying to remove the frustration and "annoyance factor" of the game systems.
When they opened the floor for questions and answers at the end of the presentation, one of the players asked about what plans the developers had for making crafted items important again in comparison to dropped items. This is an issue that they've been working on behind the scenes, but weren't ready to reveal specific plans on yet. It was refreshing to have developers admit that they saw something as an issue and were taking feedback from players on the issue, but didn't have the answer yet.
Other new additions include: all players get a basic horse at level 10; guild gifts will include glowing weapons at the same levels as armor was being given ou;, and the game is being made Vista compatible. They are also in the process of testing compatibility with Xfire, the stand alone system that allows you to track, message and talk to your friends in game without being logged in to the game.
Probably the biggest recent change to the game is the archery revamp that has been occurring throughout version 1.88. Long time players will remember when archery was revamped the first time and the "multiple click" method of firing arrows was added. Feedback from new, and even many experienced players indicated that this system was difficult to learn and cumbersome. The developers went back and "reinvented the reinvented wheel". They've normalized the abilities to have an Archery line, each of which contains 12 types of shots and several self-only buffs. New archery abilities are now under the spell tab, with archery skills requiring just one click to fire, and the skills are universally modified by dexterity. The system is still being balanced so that damage over time is actually being raised slightly, though each shot might do less damage than previously. The other goal of this revamped system is for damage and accuracy to be balanced to be predictable and reliable, but it was pointed out that from current tests on Pendragon this goal hasn't quite been reached yet. Again, though, it was nice to hear developers really listen to what the players were saying, and ask for feedback. And other players at the talk mentioned that the new graphics for archery are just downright cool. For more information on details of the patch, you can go to the Camelot Herald and search for patch 1.88.
What is coming in the rest of the year that had the players most excited, and made me think that it might just be time to return. They're currently working on a New Frontiers update that is going to revamp RvR in the game. In an effort to remove some of the frustrations and annoyances of RvR keep taking, they're removing ladders from all keeps and putting in ramps iinstead. Bridges, towers and keeps are all being redesigned with ramps rather than ladders, and will have climb points on them made more obvious, as well as more numerous, once the redesign. The prototypes are being looked at by the team leads, and soon the first redesigns will show up in the battlegrounds on Pendragon for testing.
They're also looking to help improve framerate and game performance overall in RvR by changing much of the technical "stuff" of how keeps are rendered. They're fixing line of site issues, improving pet pathing, normalizing the height and depth of keep walls, and generally spending time listening to team leads and players about what was most frustrating about keep taking in RvR.
Also in planning are entirely new mechanics. The plans include adding siege towers, shield walls that are portable objects you can build to provide cover, and the introduction of special goals beyond just keep taking that will encourage players to want to go into the frontiers and RvR. No specifics were able to be given at this roundtable as to what those new goals might be, but both DJ and James seemed excited about what is coming to the future of RvR.
The final new "big change" for 2007 is a total revamp of the UI. The game's UI was groundbreaking in many ways back when it was first created, but as other games have come out over the years, and players have sent in feedback on what would help them play the game easier, it has become rather outdated. There are also some long standing bugs with the UI that simply couldn't be fixed without completely ripping out the old code and putting in new, which is actually what the developers have been working on. One of these bugs centers around the chat window and interface. Anyone who's played DAoC is familiar with the problem of what happens when you type a very long message and realize that something you said at the start of the line was wrong, or perhaps that you had sent the chat to the wrong "line". The previous dev team had put in code that would allow you to go back and repeat that line, but if you'd typed too long of a message, you couldn't get to the actual start of the line to modify it because somehow what you'd written was just lost. The reason for this is how the code was written and how each character you typed was rendered. A side effect of this is that up to 40% of your framerate lag would come from the chat window alone!! So the old chat system is being thrown out the window and a new one designed. There won't be the split window any longer, and instead you'll have a tab system much like new MMO's. Chat will be able to be filtered by tab, resized and put in the font of your choice, as well as re-colored depending on what the player wants. In addition all the icons for spells, styles, items, tradeskills, you name it, are being redesigned to make more sense and be easier to understand.
They've reskinned the Atlantis UI to have windows and UI elements that will have textures and colors to bring the overall UI up to par with the other graphical changes that have been happening in the game for a while. And probably the biggest change overall for players is that the whole UI will be able to be customized because it is in XML like most other games on the market now have. This will allow for player created mods to the UI in a way that DAoC simply hasn't had in the past and is a huge addition to the game. The developers really seem to have done their research, looking at what UI elements work in current player created mods, and in other games as well. And they were very open to suggestions on what players would put on the "it would be great if" list.
Account services was the second area that they talked about, and again many of these things are ones that the players have been requesting for years. They're working on a system to allow players to split characters off of existing accounts, and when some players mentioned that they would like to merge accounts, it was an item that DJ wrote on the notepad beside the podium he'd been speaking from. They're working on allowing for a gender respec, though race respec is not possible given all the underlying restrictions and changes that would have to happen to a character if their race changed. They're looking at a way to allow for character transfers across servers, though whether that would have the restriction of being within the same ruleset or not was an issue raised and no decision has been finalized. They'll be adding more inventory slots, and more vault slots in the near future as well. And some of the players raised the idea of having new subscription plans made available, including both week long plans and a lifetime subscription.
The last area brought up was the new Camelot Campaigns. The first of these campaigns has already begun: A Dragon's Revenge. The campaigns are story arcs that run across the whole realm, with events and content specific to each realm that will allow players to experience new PvE content and world changing events. A new campaign is planned for every 6 months, and given the depth of changes that has happened for this first one, I can see why they won't happen more frequently than that. We were able to see screenshots of what the dragons have done to each of the three realms cities and towns, and just from a graphics standpoint alone, it is obvious that a lot of work has gone in to the campaign.
Players will have to work together to "fix" what has gone wrong with their realm when the dragon's arrive. In Midgard, the ice dragon freezes everyone in town. Albion's dragon goes more for fire, setting I believe it was Cotswold to flame. And Mag Mell has been turned into a glowing wasteland by the Hibernian dragon, with players who go there also put under the same effect as the town. The campaign includes quests as well as backstory on what has happened, and will be great for players who still enjoy the PvE experience of DAoC.
I know I said it before, but I just have to repeat how excited I am at the changes that are happening at EAMythic. As the night went on, I told some friends who'd brought me to the event that I couldn't help but hear the Disney theme song from Aladdin "A Whole New World" playing in my head, because that's what it seemed that Dark Age of Camelot is. If you've played the game in the past and left for a while, now more than ever seems to be a good time to come back. If you've been playing all along and are watching these changes as they happen, I'm happy for you because I know they are things that most players have been wanting for years. And if you've somehow never tried Dark Age of Camelot over the years, now is a great time to give it a try. I think you'll find that despite the fact that the game recently celebrated its fifth "anniversary" last October, you'll find that it still really is right on target to be competitive with games that are just coming out this year. Dark Age of Camelot has always been one of those games that feel like home to me. And while there have been times that I've tried to go back to that "home town" only to find that the local bakery I used to love has been torn down and replaced with a Starbucks, I'm starting to see that the "Starbucks" of the game are more because of the goals of where a new team of developers are taking the game than just the need to keep adding content in order to keep the town alive. The fundamentals of the game won't ever change, and that's also obvious from listening to this new team of developers speak. But progress is definitely being made, and I couldn't be more excited to see where that progress is going to take the game through the rest of 2007 and into 2008.
The “glory days” of computer gaming for me were when games like Spectre Supreme, Pirate’s Gold, the Might and Magic series, the original Prince of Persia… those sorts of games were coming out on a regular basis. Back then I owned a Macintosh and was a die hard Mac fan. I was one of the first in my area to buy an iMac and on it learned the joy of playing games on the internet like daily crossword puzzle and “mind bender” type puzzles. My first online RPG was given to me for Christmas the year EQ was released, and I was hooked from day one. I played EQ for about a year. I started playing DaoC during late alpha testing, and was hooked on it.. well, to be honest I still am. I’ve tried pretty much every MMORPG I can get my hands on, from big names like EQ, to more obscure ones such as Underlight. I’ve been writing for IMGS since the first DaoC guide, and find I love the challenge of learning a game and presenting what I’ve learned (and sometimes my opinions), to other players.
I’m not a very strong player as far as learning PvE or quick reaction times, so I tend to stay away from games where I’m pitted against someone else in a way that requires physical (rather than mental) response. I still enjoy story and puzzle games, and in a way that’s how I still approach online games. I would much rather spend hours working through a quest than 5 minutes in combat against another player. I still get lost in simulation type games, obsessing over them until I’ve gotten them beaten. And I like being able to sit down at the computer when I’ve got less than half an hour and playing through a few levels of a puzzle game. I tend not to like first-person shooter type games, or anything with person to person violence, so I steer away from them unless they are fantasy based settings. All in all, I enjoy computer gaming so much that my life feels incomplete somehow when my computer is down.