Saturday, February 17, 2018

Can I Click It? : Ashes of Creation

When Intrepid Studios released their latest video this week I didn't take much notice. Yes, I backed the successful Ashes of Creation Kickstarter but my attitude to crowdfunded projects tends towards fire and forget, with the emphasis on forget.

I probably should be paying more attention. After all, I didn't just back AoC once, I backed it twice - firstly in my name and then again on behalf of Mrs Bhagpuss. She didn't ask me to do that, it just looked to be one of the only two possible post-GW2 MMOs we might end up playing together (the other being Pantheon).

I thought I might as well get both our names down early in case the beta turned out to be fun. The last time we tested something together was probably Landmark and that worked out pretty well - for a while.

There is a connection between Landmark and Ashes of Creation, of course. The "Companies our team has worked with previously" section on the Intrepid website has Daybreak's glaring eye front and center. Even more tellingly, of the nine listed titles members of the team worked on before joining Intrepid no fewer than seven are SOE/DBG MMOs. Landmark doesn't get a mention but EQNext does. Is that a healthy MMO lineage or does it suggest a worrying degree of inbreeding?

Mrs Bhagpuss was never sold on the voxel aspect of Landmark and I became quickly and increasingly skeptical about almost everything planned for EQNext. Whether either of us  would want to see any of those ideas carried on by a new studio is uncertain.

Nice dungeon.

While Landmark ended up being a fun toy that I would have gone on fiddling around with for years, I can't say I suffered even the slightest pang of sadness or loss when DBG shut it down. It was a directionless mess that never came close even to working out what it wanted to be, far less being that thing.

As for EQNext, what began as an exciting new direction fast turned into a vanity project that looked set to rival Star Citizen for hubris. I was positively relieved when someone at Columbus Nova finally had the gumption to pull the plug.

Looking at the design brief and some of the concept art for Ashes of Creation, I can't help but think that there's some carry-over from the doomed Landmark/EQN project. That might be concerning but the proposal for Ashes of Creation does look less insane overwrought. It still strikes me as over-ambitious in some respects but then so do the feature lists of almost all in-development MMOs. At least this time the suspicion is only that some features may have to be cut rather than that the entire underpinnings of the project are so far beyond the technical grasp of the people involved that the game will never even manifest a working prototype.

Obviously I think Ashes of Creation has potential as an MMO I'd one day enjoy. If not I wouldn't have backed it. Even so, I don't spend much time speculating about how it may turn out. I don't expect to be using my guaranteed beta invite until 2020 or so. These things always take much longer than the promises and pledges would have you believe.

Nice woodland.

Consequently I have barely been skimming the odd flecks of PR that drift into view. I took a very quick glance at the recent video when Massively OP featured it but I saw nothing to comment on and I'd already blanked it from my thoughts - until I read UltrViolet's brief observation:

My first draft of this post had a whole lot more negative words here, but I’m editing it way down to just this: I didn’t think the game looked very good, and I’m shocked that they released that video.

 Was it really that bad? What did I miss?

So I took another look at it. I still skimmed, but this time I dipped in and out of the whole thing, watching thirty seconds here, thirty seconds there.

And it looks pretty good to me. In fact, it looks remarkably similar to the footage from that other would-be MMO on my watch-list, Pantheon. Two upcoming MMOs, each heavily influenced by the design ethos of SOE/DBG, looking not unlike each other. Who'd have thought it?

Mouse pointer clearly in shot there - appeared to be used to target.

The characters look like fantasy rpg types. The world looks like a fantasy rpg world (western variant). The spell effects look like spell effects and the combat looks like combat. There's a lot of running around, the animation looks decent, movement seems smooth, even the cloaks ripple in the breeze. No-one gets stuck on scenery or falls through the world - at least in the bits I watched.

What more do you want from a "pre-alpha"? Performance-wise, in my testing days that would have exceeded the brief for what we called mid-beta. I think Pantheon looks the better of the two on all counts so far but I'd happily play either of them right now on the evidence I've seen.

Most importantly to me I spotted something in the recent AoC video that I've looked for in earlier footage and failed to see - evidence that the game uses standard MMORPG controls. I hadn't until now been able to ascertain for certain whether the game was going to go with old school, tab-targeting and hotbars or the supposedly more widely accepted ARPG route.

While I can and do play MMOs that hide the cursor and lock the mouse for combat only, it's very much not my preference. I find it awkward and cumbersome even when, as in DCUO or Black Desert, it's done well. Mrs Bhagpuss, who can also use that system if she has to, dislikes it more than I do. She would have to be incredibly interested in a particular game to make the necessary effort.

Watching the developers playing their own game this time there were plenty of moments where I could clearly see the mouse cursor moving purposefully across the screen while the characters were traveling. Several times I thought I saw someone select an enemy with the mouse pointer and that enemy's nameplate window appear on screen as a result.

I don't think you can see the pointer in this shot but he did just use it to target that flower.

That was reassuring indeed but the best part was a moment late in the video when I clearly saw the mouse pointer move to one of the icons on the hotbar and click it to fire off an attack. It had long been my hope that the visual presence of the hotbar indicated it had a use in combat but naturally no developer is going to be a clicker like me. Except this one time, so thanks for that, GM Steven!

Of course, it may be that there's an invisible GM/Dev overlay in use - it looks that way quite often in the video. Also this is pre-alpha - anything can change and most things probably will. Nothing is proven until I can actually play it myself.

In an attempt to nail this one down I went and did a bit of research. Unsurprisingly at this stage everything is still somewhat vague. There's also a good deal of the familiar hand-waving you always get in conversations with developers of MMOs that almost no player can actually play yet, wherein everything is going to be amazing and all the systems will be innovative and nothing like anything you may ever have played before.

With those caveats, the basic plan appears to be a form of tab-targeting with control of the mouse left open. There will be telegraphs and dodging and it all sounds a lot like GW2, which would be wonderful.

We'll see. Eventually. I remain hopeful that Ashes of Creation might end up an MMORPG in the grand tradition, not just yet another ARPG with pretensions. I hope so, anyway.

And with that I think I'll forget about it for another year or two.


  1. Looking alright to me too. This is probably the only new MMO am more interested in but as you said, 2020 is far away and until then I will have forgotten this exists few times over. Still, if it ever launches, I'll be up to give it a go.

    1. 2020 is my estimate, to be fair. I imagine they would say sooner than that but when was the last time a major MMO hit its targets? I guess there's a good chance I might see some beta action in 2019 though.

  2. "my attitude to crowdfunded projects tends towards fire and forget, with the emphasis on forget"

    I agree with this, however it is about time for me to wake up and give Crowfall a look, I was encouraged to see it was Massively OP's "The Massively OP staff pick for Most Anticipated MMORPG of 2018 and Beyond",

    I'm curious to see how the whole limited time campaign system plays out, with the player housing area having continuity, along with the skill training system of EVE Online. PvP is not a primary interest of mine, but I do appreciate a new approach being tried. At least, that's why I backed it years ago. :)

    1. I will definitely try Crowfall. I just read their combat FAQ and it's pretty informative, but as usual they are making all sorts of claims that won't be verifiable without a hands-on. Structurally, it looks like exactly the sort of game we would enjoy but at my age I am not really interested in unlearning everything I've learned and practiced over the last three or four decades, so I don't anticipate becoming heavily involved. The permanent housing is what interests me most.

  3. While game already looks pretty (especially for pre-alpha), I didn't like over the top spell effects and the fact that I couldn't figure out what the combat was about. It's strange that more than a half of the video was about a feature that was either atrociously designed or largely incomplete.

    1. I'm a big fan of over-the-top spell effects but in this case I didn't notice they were all that spectacular. I would think they'd be placeholders at this stage anyway although it would indicate their intention to go down the fireworks road.

      Because I was skipping through the video looking for specific things I wasn't really listening to the commentary but I imagine they were banging on about that empire building thing again? Not really all that interested in that - I imagine it will all happen well above my character's pay grade.

    2. Maybe it's lighting's fault, but I imagine them to be pretty hard for eyes and confusing if they'll keep them that way.
      About the feature: maybe I should've made myself clearer, but I was talking about combat system. I suppose they were trying to show combat since half of the video was about killing mobs, but when presenter is either auto-attacking or staying behind doing nothing, while mobs hardly do anything to actually defend themselves, it's pretty hard to figure out what they were supposed to be doing.

  4. I wonder how long it'll take me to get used to AoC standing for Ashes of Creation instead of Age of Conan in the MMO space now...

    1. UltrViolet from Endgame Viable really objects to the re-use of that acronym and I'm sure he's not the only one. Acronyms are never unique, though, so I don't see why it's an issue. But then, I never played Age of Conan...


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