In short, for one side, there was all the proof in the world. For the other, there was nothing.
From Aventurine’s perspective, they have logs showing that a reviewer who slaughtered their love-child had barely touched the game. They’re happy to show them to Eurogamer. Hell, they’re so confident they’re happy enough to fly a tech guy over to show them the logs. It’s clear the reviewer is lying about how much he’s played. The review is an outrage and a fiasco.
From Eurogamer’s perspective, they have a developer claiming that logs show something. Logs which are entirely within their control. I’d be surprised if Eurogamer has a tech guy in-house capable of ascertaining the meaning of the logs. More so, when changing logs is an absolutely trivial task, what the logs say when that tech examines it is ultimately meaningless. If Aventurine was dissembling, Eurogamer wouldn’t be able to tell.
As long as the reviewer claimed reasonably that he’d played the game for longer, Tom [Bramwell, editor] had to back him because – really – it was his word against theirs.
Aventurine should be pleased now, though, as their score is significantly improved from the original 2/10! However, there is a definite paucity of Ayumi Hamasaki videos in the piece, which we’ll rectify here:
There seems to be a somewhat disturbing trend in MMOs – that simple ‘patches’ are becoming obsolete. Well, calling them that, anyway.
Take Darkfall, which today announced a new ‘expansion’. This being in air quotes since the primary features of this expansion are what you’d normally see in a, well, patch, such as balance changes and new equipment. A few other features, such as housing, obviously fall under the heading of ‘stuff we were supposed to get in by release but then our schedule slipped’. Well, hell, put it in a patch and call it a ‘free expansion!’
Darkfall isn’t the first to do this, of course, although their announcing an ‘expansion’ 3 months after releasing the original game (which they may want to update their web site about at some point) must count as some sort of record. But they’re not the first. Mythic pioneered the “make a really big patch and call it an expansion pack” trend with Dark Age of Camelot (full disclosure: I worked there at the time, and was part of the team that made them). Beginning with Foundations, which introduced player housing, and continuing with New Frontiers, which revamped the realm vs realm endgame – both of these were fairly major additions to the game, with new zones and game systems, but probably not enough to sell in a box. So put it in a really big download file and call it an expansion! The lines start to blur starting around Darkness Rising, which was distributed like the ‘free’ expansions but was one you had to pay for. Today all expansions, both free and paid, appear together in one happy list. And ironically, to further confuse the distinction, every expansion that was sold in a box in stores can now be downloaded for free off the website.
Mythic continued the tradition with Warhammer Online, yet confused the issue still further. Shortly after Warhammer’s release, Mythic announced the Call to Arms expansion, which promised the classes that were pulled from the game’s release at the last minute as well as new content and rebalancing and… well, you know. Things you’d see in a patch. And… you did see them in a patch. Or series of patches. Call to Arms was released over a period of roughly four months – the first patch introducing 2 classes in March (the other two being patched in the previous November) and the second patch introducing a new high level zone in June, and a third patch introducing promised class balance features yet to appear. The difference between patches and expansions in this case appears to be.. well, they called this collection of patches an expansion!
Other games do this as well. Eve Online has released several mega-patch downloadable “expansions“. Lineage 2 calls every patch a “chronicle” or expansion. City of Heroes calls them “issues“. Does anyone reserve the term “expansion” for a ton of content in a box and “patch” somewhat less but still significant content in a download, and still make a profit?
At the risk of my immortal soul being cast into torment, it’s time to briefly note events in the Darkfall megaverse. Mainly, WarDarkfall is coming to America! I know, we’re all excited. So excited, let’s queue up the Darkfall soundtrack! Remember, every time I post about Darkfall, you get an Ayumi Hamasaki video. It’s like multiple gifts that keep giving, really.
My own experience with Darkfall matched, well, my experience watching the above video – immediate recoiling, wait a minute, what the hell IS that thing, are they REALLY doing that, oh, I’m embarassed I watched that, ok, that was sort of cool, oh, it’s done, man, I need a drink, oh cool, there’s some in the fridge, ah, much better, hm, I wonder if I recorded the Daily Show last night, oh, hey, I’m still writing this blog entry.
Yes, writing about Darkfall is EXACTLY like that. If only playing Darkfall were as interesting.
And that’s really why there never was any followup to the epic Lum Wanders Darkfall Aimlessly To A J-Pop Beat series of posts – not because I wasn’t hardcore killer enough, or because I disliked the thought of being randomly ganked (which never happened, ever, by the way), or whatever – but because I just wasn’t that into it. It was the fatal “I could be playing something fun right now” moment. I could have gotten into a guild anonymously and continued to run in several directions swinging a sword in a dramatic overhand motion – but I didn’t really want to. And I’m not making any judgement about the dozens of people who *do* want to – it’s quite apparent from any posting mentioning the “D” word on the Internet that it has its loyal defenders. Which is fine – any game can develop a coterie, especially one as targeted-niche as Darkfall.
The American server will launch on July 7th. Characters from the European server can be cloned and moved without their possessions 3 months after the American launch. Certain restrictions and charges will apply, to be announced at a later date. In the meanwhile if you want to play on the American server at launch you need to buy the American Darkfall client. More information on the American server will be available in a few days.
This is probably about the worst possible solution possible that Aventurine could have devised:
In a game based on guilds vs. guilds, guilds will be forced to decide, on a case by case basis between rerolling on a new server and participating in the land rush, waiting 3 months (because Aventurine has a track record of meeting announced dates, we can assume this will happen on schedule), or staying on the original server
Players have been demanding a new server to get a fresh start without the bug exploits that existed at launch, but will need to pay again for the privilege…
…and it won’t matter, because said exploit-levelled characters will just charcopy on over a few months later, anyway.
So, really, it’s perfect! Because in the grim world of Darkfall, if you’re not a bad enough dude to rescue the President, you need to just GTFO. What would be crippling missteps for other MMOs are just the daily news in Darkfall.
But then again, I’m probably just part of the Vast Carebear-Wing Conspiracy, which EVEN NOW is assaulting everything Darkfall stands for…
The current public forums will remain active for anyone to post in, but moderation will be stronger. This because we’re getting people from other communities with the sole intention of disrupting our forums. The Darkfall community has always been a source of good feedback, constructive criticism, and inspiration for the Darkfall developers and we’ll keep it that way by doing away with the non-constructive elements.
Yes, really, the ONLY problem with the Darkfall forum community are those annoying other communities. PURGE THE HERETICS.
So, with little fanfare, apparently Darkfall’s released now! The store is open all 24 hours that most days have, and if you want to buy it, by cracky, it seems you can. So I did. After a long download, and a long install, and a long patch, finally, I was ready to master the game of Darkfall. AND MASTER IT I SHALL. verily.
I would keep an open mind. Sure, Darkfall has already become almost legendary in its community’s ….uncompromising attitude, but forum hijinks and what occurs within an MMO are almost always two different things. (See: Shadowbane) By god, if there is enjoyment to be had, I would find it! Note: I enjoy killing people in video games, so this shouldn’t be that hard!
I will walk through the valley of the shadow of virtual death, but Ayu-chan will comfort me.
And most importantly, I would listen to appropriate music while playing. This was difficult. What is the most appropriate soundtrack for the dark, harsh, brutal lands of Darkfall? Evanescence? Mercyful Fate? Epica? Type O Negative? Nightwish? Mayhem? Finally I settled on something I felt would help me keep the proper attitude. I would not play Darkfall without listening to music by the Empress of Tokyo Pop, Ayumi Hamasaki.
With that, it was time to play Darkfall.
Or at least, try.
The patcher for Darkfall is… let’s just call it finicky. Perhaps it’s the first step in the long culling process to make sure you’re really ready for Darkfall. Sometimes it would display that it was patching. Sometimes it would display that I had a position in the queue (despite there not being a queue, that I could tell). And sometimes, it would just say, well, this:
Mind you, this is with no “browser and instant messaging applications” open. I was kind of at a loss here for a bit. I checked Darkfall’s technical support, but Darkfall doesn’t have any, nor a technical support forum (even though the in-game help refers to it), nor any apparent CS that I could find, or a manual, or even a README.TXT file. Clearly I was on my own for figuring this out. Fine, I’m hard core, I’m PLAYING DARKFALL. Well, not really, yet. I’m trying to. But, this is another test, and I CAN HANDLE IT. I did have Ayumi’s “Rainy Day” playing in Windows Media Player. Perhaps Darkfall didn’t like “Rainy Day”. I switched to “Step You” and Darkfall launched fine. Fine, everyone’s a critic.
Oh, HELL no.
The next step involved creating a character. Choices involved picking between the ugliest race ever to be seen in an MMO since Mythic decided undead gremlins would do well for an expansion – and of course, the description tells you that they are dark, emo elves that hate EVERYONE. Well, that’s nice. Then there’s the nice light elves, that I probably should have picked because they had a 0.5% archery bonus or something, but, yeah, elves. No. Then you had the Mahrin, which look like just the thing for aspiring PKers who want you to be killed, then raped, by a huge furry bear. This would be amusing normally, but I already have a Second Life account. So I just picked human, and went through my customization options, which mostly involved piercings.
I made a female character, because if I’m going to play Darkfall, I’m going to by god PLAY DARKFALL, and ensure that the rape references I was fully expecting when breaking my “keeping an open mind” rule would at least be heterosexual in nature. I named her after my favorite NPC in Everquest, and we were off!
I logged in, and was completely naked save for a leather bikini and a dagger that was helpfully called useless in the mouseover. Yeah, this is going to be fun. HARDCORE FUN.
In the grim world of Darkfall, there is only leather bikini.
So, after a few minutes of goblinsmashing and wrenching items off of their carcasses, here you can see some good things about Darkfall. The world itself is pretty well rendered, with nice use of shadowing. You can also see damage modeling where goblins violently objected to my stealing their things. So far, so good.
Then you have the not so good parts. (Note to Darkfall partisans eager to yell EUROGAMER in my face, some notes: yes, this is only after a few hours of play. Also I know that the forums have helpful newbie guides that are only somewhat wildly out of date. Also yes I know you are supposed to join a guild within seconds of opening a Darkfall account or you are a loser and should pray for death. Also yes I know only newbs use anything besides archery and magic missile. Also yes I play World of Warcraft and enjoy it. On an RP server. Eating roast piggeth.)
What, you needed to know MORE? Carebear.
First is the polish. Or rather, the lack thereof. I’ve already hit on the difficulty in just getting Darkfall to launch. A good portion of the user interface has “This button is temporarily disabled” placeholders. Others, like taking screenshots within the game or shifting camera angles, apparently don’t work. A disturbing amount of in-game text is misspelled or otherwise grammatically mangled. The animations… um… humans don’t move like that. It’s very distracting when in third person view and watching your character have such a strange gait that you want Dr. House to tell you it’s not lupus. The combat animations are… clumsy. Compared with the well-executed world art, it’s quite dissonant.
Of course, that has little to do with gameplay. I’d like to tell you about the gameplay, but I can’t do a good job of it, since I simply don’t know that much. The in-game documentation consists of a helpfile that is enough information to get you into combat mode and little else, although it does helpfully tell you about cannons and warhulks and mechanaughts or whatever the hell else it taunts you with, but it neglects to explain the magic system, beyond a very cursory “drag the icon to your hotbar” introduction. Even with the low bar set by ‘documentation’ in other MMOs, this sets a new low.
What you do learn quickly is that Darkfall’s interface is complex. Or, put another way, cumbersome. To attack something, you unsheathe your weapon with the R key, and then swing/shoot (Oblivion-style, in real time – which is a point in its favor and seems, at least with first experimenting, to work well). Once something dies, it spawns a grave. You then press R to sheathe your weapon, then highlight the grave, then press F to open it, then press B to open your own backpack, and then hurriedly try to drag each item, one by one, into your backpack before someone else opens up the grave and helps themselves. I’m sure there’s a perfectly valid justification for this involving slowing down player looting and realism and tactical decisions and whatnot, but when your first experience is fumbling around pointing vaguely at a gravestone while other goblins whale at your back and other players helpfully loot your kills for you, there tends to be fewer second experiences.
"someone else" knows what's up.
One problem with the client is the fact that most of the interface is actually a web application. This means that there’s a significant delay when opening a dialog and seeing the browser instantiate in the dialog box, and also that the dialog is usually focused on, say, the bottom fourth of what you’re actually looking at, and you’ll need to resize the dialog and scroll around to find, say, a guild listing. This is, like much else in Darkfall apparently, serviceable after a fashion, but only just. The irritants pile up quickly.
Of course, I’m sure most people reading this and having followed the Darkfall saga here, you would probably expect me to regale you with tales of random PKing, abusive “suck it up” tells, and the like. Well, that didn’t happen. The few users I saw while playing were… quiet. Also obviously not new, since they were in full armor as opposed to my leather bikini and using arrows with wild abandon whereas I had to painstakingly collect mine from goblin corpses (I suspect they were there to harvest them). They did loot my kills whenever possible, but didn’t try to flag or otherwise be griefy. I suspect they really didn’t care enough to. Not as dramatic, but more realistic. What, are they going to steal my goblin axe?
But of course, the fun in Darkfall is in joining a clan, right? And laying waste to your enemies! I bet that’s lots of fun, especially as a level zero character that specializes in running away. We’ll see. But for now, enjoy some Darkfall theme music.
While playing for a few hours of reasonably solid combat only netted me a few increases in sword handling, a kindly fellow informed me that it would only take me “about six or eight hours to get good”. On further questioning, this was revealed to mean “keep banging your head against the same goblins until you can reliably hit something bigger”.
And so hit those bloody things I did, not enjoying one second of it.
When we read the hostile review by Ed Zitron, one thing became apparent: he had not played the game at all. Eurogamer readers and Darkfall players are posting bullet lists of factual errors in the story. The reviewer hadn’t even figured out the very basics of the game before he wrote about it. We checked the logs for the 2 accounts we gave Eurogamer and we found that one of them had around 3 minutes playtime, and the other had less than 2 hours spread out in 13 sessions. Most of these 2 hours were spent in the character creator since during almost every one of the logins the reviewer spent the time creating a new character. The rest of the time was apparently spent taking the low-res screenshots that accompanied the article. At no point did this reviewer spend more than a few minutes online at a time.
Darkfall is the largest MMORPG game of its kind and this guy spent a few minutes playing(?) before he tore it apart. How can someone do that responsibly? Ed Zitron didn’t even give Darkfall a chance.
The reviewer in question, Ed Zitron, disputes the server logs that Aventurine presents as fact. According to the logs they supplied, Ed played the game for just over three hours. Ed says the logs miss out two crucial days and understate others, which suggests they are incomplete, and he insists he played the game for at least nine hours.
That said, the passion with which Aventurine has attacked Ed’s review is considerable, and the allegations obviously go a long way beyond arguing the toss. With this in mind, it seems only fair to take another look at Darkfall to supplement the review we’ve already published.
I’ve already contacted another one of our PC writers, Kieron Gillen, who has agreed to review Darkfall. Kieron is a vastly experienced, award-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of Rock, Paper, Shotgun. I’ll publish his review as soon as it’s ready, and we will see whether he agrees with Ed or not.
Lum reviews Darkfall, gives it a 0/10 since despite, according to Tasos, it being “the largest MMORPG game of its kind”, it’s not technically, you know, actually for sale.
Keen has the write-up of GMs supposedly being selective with service based on who’s city you’re pwning. Fact? Rumor? YOU MAKE THE CALL (because I’m a horrible carebear who doesn’t own the game and should pray for death, so I can’t).
We have been permanently banning all accounts that we detect are using 3d party software exploits. Still, there are a few people who don’t understand this and continue installing and using these exploits. You will definitely be banned if you do this. No appeals and no excuses are accepted.
Macroing: We are working to address it at its source, but until then we need to enforce our policies. Before we do that we will appeal to players not actually playing the game to log off rather than leaving their character in-game. This will allow more people to be able to enjoy Darkfall instead of unmanned characters taking up server space. If you’re skilling up by not playing the game as it was intended, you will be kicked and repeated offenses will result in a ban.
In response, players have created flash movies involving OSI GMs running a PK guild Youtube movies involving Hitler running a PK guild.
Punching babies is one of my favorite turns of phrase. It is probably most popular from Penny Arcade, but Old Man Murray had the ultimate explanation of sucker punching a baby in the gut to get it to be quiet… it’s easy and it works, but you don’t want to advertise the habit. Which defines a lot of my posting habits about, well, events like Darkfall’s launch. It’s easy, it works, it’s kind of fun, but it’s not something you particularly want to *brag* about.
In the midst of the multi-post baby punching threadnaught that has consumed this site out of, well, a lack of anything else going on, a comment I made that upon reflection I think deserves more attention and fleshing out:
Yeah, I think [Darkfall] will spike at around 100,000 and then settle down to around half that. I even made a blog post to that effect!I could be wrong… and if they can sustain growth at 50k and then get 100k and sustain it, well then they get some financial reward for staying up till 3AM on launch week.