Age of Conan 1 year

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Sunset or sunrise for Age of Conan?

The Norwegian-made MMORPG Age of Conan is celebrating its first anniversary in Europe today.  For some reason it was released 3 days earlier in the USA.  Perhaps the Americans were used as guinea pigs…  Anyway, the game had one of the smoothest launches in the history of the genre (possibly less than City of Heroes, but better than the current top dog, World of Warcraft.) And then a  few days later, it all went down the drain.

Unfortunately only the first part of the game had been fully implemented and thoroughly tested.  The island where you play the first 20 levels is indeed an amazing masterpiece of storytelling and technology. After that, things started to fall apart, and the high-level areas were buggy and unfinished.  Lots of customers – most of them, I believe – did not renew their subscription after the first month that comes with the game.  The share value of Funcom fell, and the game was more or less written off by many gamers.

Be very careful about leaving a Cimmerian for dead…

Today, the game is earning a nice little surplus for Funcom, and there are new players trickling in by the day. It would seem that many of those who left, simply did not have the computers that could pull such a high-end game. Every month, a number of them get new computers for unrelated reasons. And thanks to Moore’s Law, the capacity of new computers double every 18 months.  If you had a three and a half year old computers last May – and that is not uncommon for casual gamers, especially if they are married – then by now a computer in the same price range is 8 times as powerful.  That makes a big difference with cutting-edge games.

In addition, Funcom has tweaked the game to run more smoothly.  And they have added content at the higher levels and fixed bugs left and right.  This is not exactly unique:  We say that the first year of any massive online game is “paid beta”.  Experienced gamers don’t expect it to be perfect right out of the box.

The game is still evil, though.  Vile sorcery, necromancy, demon summoning, even breasts. And it still splatters blood on the inside of your computer screen occasionally. Rumors have it that the game is less bloody in the German version, I am not sure if that is true.  But you can at least avoid fighting against other players if you want to (and not only in Germany).

In celebration of their anniversary, I opened my account again (it had expired along with my previous credit card when that was renewed for a few more years).  There were, as expected, hours of patches to download, since it is quite a number of months since last I set foot in Hyboria.

Once the patches were installed, I started the game.  I recognized the problem from last time, that my character was almost entirely transparent, only this time so was the terrain, except water.  I don’t remember it being quite that bad the first time.  I did remember however that back then, I had to pretend to change the video settings, even if I changed them back to the original. When I then returned to the game, the picture was fine.  Well, not this time.

I upgraded the DirectX to the March version, probably the last ever for Windows XP.  Still no luck.  I downloaded the latest drivers for my video card.  Still no difference.  I used Google and browsed a few forums, until I saw someone mention that you had to completely erase any trace of earlier video drivers before you installed a new one.  So I did, first uninstalling the last driver and then deleting all the nvidia folders on my hard disk.  I restarted the machine. Amazingly, it has a pretty good screen resolution even without the drivers, and without knowing what video card it has.  I installed the latest driver again, and restarted the machine.  This time the screen remained black. I waited for some minutes, but it did not change.  Then I checked the back of my computer, and yes: For some reason, the video output now went to the port that no monitor was attached to.  Before, it had gone to the other.  (The card has two, although I don’t use more than one.  It can display different pictures to different screens actually, but I prefer to have two computers for my two monitors, thank you.)

Anyway, the problem was now solved.  And the game does run more smoothly on higher resolution than before. Probably because of tweaks to the software, although I suppose the new video driver could be better too.

Right now I have finished playing, and am listening to a Cimmerian dirge that the game plays when not logged in to any of my characters.  It is awesome.  I believe I heard the same song in a valley in the game.  Anyway, I love dirges and lamentations. They rarely fail to cheer me up.  Perhaps there is still a drop of barbarian blood in me?   (Looking back at my younger days, I think that is not a maybe either, but maybe it is still influencing my taste in music, I mean.)  I know the melodies can be bought on iTunes.  (Or perhaps I should pirate it, given that I already bought the game.)  I wonder how my coworkers would react. I have a feeling that perhaps they don’t like wailing as much as I do… It really is beautiful.

I don’t miss the rest of the game much though.  City of Heroes is more my style, not to mention The Sims 2.  And in less than two weeks Sims 3 is upon us.  Believe it or not, I also have other things than games I want to have done while still alive, so… You probably won’t be seeing a lot of this.  I did secure some nifty screenshots though.

Those wacky Asian games…

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Would I marry this cute elf girl and raise a happy family with pets? Read on to find out.

I came across another cute computer game today. “Luna Online” is one of the new Asian MMORPGs that are free to play but typically sell extra features to do dedicated players. The graphics are less realistic than in western MMORPGs, more similar to anime and usually excessively cute. The games can usually run on older and cheaper hardware than recent western games.

Luna Online looked interesting enough that I almost wanted to try it. Except for the Match Making. Evidently romance is an integral part of the game, with the game matching compatible characters and setting off a “Heart Alarm” when a match shows up, signifying “love at first sight”. This opens the possibility of a “date instance”, a separate area which the dating couple can explore together, with unique loot. (The voices in my head believe the instances are also decorated differently. I hope I shall never find out from experience.) Dates can be rated, and great dates can lead to establishing a family. Other family relations are also possible, like parents and children. Families can get a farm and grow various magical crops, including pets.

I can only assume that in the game’s homeland, this is considered attractive. I doubt it will have the same appeal here. I try to imagine City of Heroes trying to match random heroes, and my mental picture comes up with just static. It is just not done. (Romance certainly happens, particularly on the unofficial roleplaying server, but it is not aided and abetted by the game.) Even Dark Age of Camelot, which had a semi-automatic cleric performing marriages in the Camelot cathedral, left the actual courtship entirely to the roleplayers. I guess (from my anime viewing not least) that people in the Far East are more accepting of arranged relationships still than we are here. It is not like some places in the Middle East where you can basically sell your daughter, of course: You still have to decide in the end. But for those who don’t feel like hunting down a mate for themselves, it is perfectly normal and honorable to leave it either to the families or to highly trained professionals.

It creeps me out, though. Of course, romance creeps me out in Real Life as well, but even so. I rather not have my games try to marry me off, thank you. At least there ought to be romance-free zones or a no-romance flag…