Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I feel kind of dirty all of a sudden. I don't really want to admit this, but ...

I downloaded the Vanguard beta client the other day. And what's worse ...
I kinda like it.

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I didn't think I was going to like it at all, based on all the hate threads I read on the MMORPG.com forums. People sure do feel the game is "utter shit" and "total crap". I don't know if those are actual quotes, but I'm sure someone out there has said it once or twice.

I'm betting the /vast majority/ of the hate for Vanguard is because it's laggy, not that great performance wise (I'm being modest, it runs, or "chops" all to hell), and not all too different than EQ/EQ2/WoW in gameplay.

The performance has got to be the #1 gripe of all the people. It's because the idiots over at Sigil did the same boneheaded thing the SOE devs did with EQ2: they "futureproofed" their graphics engine.

In case you don't have a flying fuck of a clue what that means, I'll break it down for you:
1) They make the graphics engine so demanding, no computer currently built, no matter how "bleeding-edge" it is, can run it at max settings
2) They hope it runs better on future hardware, and also hope that the same hardware can crank up the GFX to max

Now the problem is, they don't have one of these "future computers" to test it on, to make sure it will run better. They just "assume" that it will. They don't really optimize the engine, nor do they make the GFX all that scaleable so that current computers can run it with little difficulty. They just hope.

And that's the fatal flaw. Cause if you look at EQ2, a similar game designed the same way, it still runs like shit, on the best computer you can get. Only with a lot of fiddling can you get the GFX settings to High and keep the game playable. And when I mean fiddling, I mean tweaking the .ini files, using 3rd party graphics drivers, etc. It's a stupid amount of work to get a game to run better.

And that's my bet on why WoW is the #1 MMO out there. Basically, it will actually run on most computers, and it doesn't require much tweaking, if any, at all. There are other major factors to WoW's success, like solo play, casual orientated gameplay, etc. But GFX wise, WoW is killer cause it runs on a wide range of machines. Hence it's mass market appeal.

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So, back to Vanguard.

I wanted to see what the hate was about. When something has this much hate, yet manages to keep the so-called "fanbois" around (pronounced "fan-boys"), you have to wonder. Plus, I saw the screenshots and read up on the news articles, it simply /could not/ be that horrifically bad.

So, after trying to download the 6.6GB installer from Fileplanet, which so-happens to be the only place you can get it, aside from Sony, if you bought the Pre-Order, I finally got it downloaded, after the /fourth try/. It was something like 30 hours wasted downloading, trying to get it. Most of this was while I was asleep, so it wasn't that big of a deal, but the stupid thing was, if I had simply used the Fileplanet Download Manager, I could have got it the first time.

And furthermore, you /require/ the Fileplanet DM just to open the Zip file, cause WinZip/WinRAR/Windows Zip/etc. won't work. They all give errors.

So ....

It took 15+hours to download, ~10 mins to decompress, 20 mins to install, then about 30 mins to defrag the harddrive as it was fragged to hell. A quick 5 min patch and the game was good to go.

But that's when I had the GFX issues.

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So, after playing the game and enduring the shit framerates, and what seemed like constant loading studders, I started looking for performance tweaks on the Net. The MMORPG.com forums had a sticky with some, so I tried them. Some worked, some didn't.

Flash forward to today, where after talking to Satan, my co-worker who is interested in Vanguard (So , no .. I didn't speak to the Prince of Darkness, and no ... I'm not insane ), I managed to try some different tweaks. And viola! The game runs great. At settings I didn't think I could run it at.

And what's more interesting, I'm actually enjoying it. I thought the player models were going to look like shit, as the screenshots never impressed me. I thought they were going to have the worst animations (they are bad, but not that bad), but they aren't too bad, and some are just placeholder ones for now. I thought the areas were going to be boring and bland (a la EQ2), but surprise, surprise, I like the one area I started in. It's an Oriental-style island, and the area is really nice. I'm thinking about swimming to the island I can see waaaay out there, just to see if I can do it.

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But I think the #1 thing that I'm liking so far: The size of the world, and the fact that it's SEEMLESS.

That's probably what kept me in WoW so long. A seemless world is just that much more interesting, immersive, and engaging than one with constant loading screens and invisible barriers. Hell, that's one of the things I love about GTA San Andreas. It's a big ass city (or 3, in fact) with tons of areas to explore. I love exploring, and as I'm sure I've stated before, it was like 86% on my "What kind of MMO gamer are you?" quiz score. Had the levelled enemies been fixed in Oblivion, and I'm sure I would still be playing it, as it had tons of places to explore. And what's better, they were all hidden until an NPC told you about them, or you found them while raming the countryside.

I /love/ shit like that. If only more games broke the "rides on rails" mode of gameplay and gave people a virtual world to explore instead.

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Okay, enough ranting for now. Let me sum this up, in case you forgot my points (if I had any) or just skipped to the bottom (cheater! ):

1. Vanguard isn't as bad as they say it is.
2. It's full of bugs. It's also Beta right now, /and/ what MMO hasn't had bugs on release? Really?
3. It's graphically very nice. Most of the screenies you see on gamesites are bad cause the bump mapping is jacked through the roof, and as a result, /everything/ is shiny. Makes it all look "plastic-y".
4. The world is HUGE. It's also seemless. Both great points.
5. It runs like shit on most machines, unless you do some major tweaking. Again, Beta. They have monitor tools running and stuff, but it's still a graphics whore. Only for beast machines. Like EQ2 at release.
6. Gameplay and the UI is like almost every other fantasy MMO. So far, it doesn't seem all that different than WoW (for example).
7. I like to rant. I also like booze.

That's it. Basically, draw your own conclusions about the game. Don't /ever/ listen to the people on a forum/site/whatnot. Only believe the opinions of those you deem trustworthy, and who share your views on games.

Lastly, don't get the Rev going when he's had a few Rye 'n Cokes. He types like a madman!


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