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Free for All: The best weather systems in free-to-play

Game Mechanics, MMO Industry, Ryzom, Wurm Online, Opinion, Roleplaying, Mabinogi, Free for All, Miscellaneous

Mabinogi screenshot
Perhaps someone can explain my obsession with in-game weather systems. I remember interviewing the lead designer for Vanguard: Saga of Heroes a few years ago. I had to stop him and ask for more details about the weather system the game used. He told me it was on a separate server, a pretty fancy program that ran independently of the rest of the game. It sounded as if he was telling me that there were real storms brewing in the game and the system knew when and where they were happening.

I was fascinated. How cool it is to imagine in-game clouds forming at one point of the world and slowly moving across the land until the sky begins to rain on your character's head? Sadly, in-game weather seems to be either a low priority or a hard system to tackle. I'm guessing it's a combination of both.

So I searched out those few MMOs that feature an impactful weather system. Not coincidentally, they also happen to be some of my favorite MMOs.

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Free for All: Why the unlimited trials of RIFT, WoW, and Ryzom are perfect for me

World of Warcraft, Business Models, Culture, Ryzom, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Casual, RIFT, Free for All, Miscellaneous

RIFT screenshot
I think there are some pretty basic but complicated concepts going on behind MMO gaming. There always have been. There's some sort of driving force that makes many of us want to reach that max level or grab every last achievement or (in my case) get to a comfortable level and stay there. I did it in Vanguard: Saga of Heroes: I reached level 32, cast a spell to stop my character from gaining anymore experience, and continued playing and exploring the game. Not only was I tired of leveling, but I knew that if I continued to level, I would probably continue to try to level. Like I said, it's a basic driving force. We all have them inspiring us to play in different ways.

I don't want to reach max level. Not really, anyway. I want to have a unique character, one who is fragile in some ways and strong in others. When I do reach higher levels, I start to feel generic and a bit too powerful. I want to have some force stop my character, to give him his own maximum level while others reach the true maximum level.

Unlimited free trials have shown me just how fun it is to have a sort-of-max-level character within a game filled with other max levels. It's like playing a different race or class, something unique.

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MMO Blender: Beau's portable, accessible, and casually immersive mashup

Business Models, Culture, Ryzom, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Browser, Casual, Roleplaying, Humor, Miscellaneous, Sandbox, MMO Blender

Die2Nite screenshot
I've been pretty excited to take my turn at the MMO Blender wheel. Sure, we all have ideas about how we would build our dream MMOs by mixing up different parts from favorite games, but honestly, I wanted to use my time here to make a point: MMO gaming needs to climb outside of the box, soon. Since there is more and more emphasis on mobile and casual gaming, my game will take that in into consideration.

But games have to be fun too, right? I think they can be fun, immersive, and casual all at the same time. I'm hoping that my examples will show how other developers have combined the three such that players can access the game from anywhere. It's also important to me that my game be simple to play and accessible for players with disabilities, so let's just say that I have included all of the proper features like adjustable colors for the color-blind, resizable text, and maybe even audio cues to help those with sight issues.

I've been given a budget of one million-billion internet bucks, so let's get to it... this game is not going to build itself!

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Free for All: Ryzom might still be the most original MMO there is

Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Video, Culture, Game Mechanics, Ryzom, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Casual, Humor, Free for All, Post-Apocalyptic, Livestream, Miscellaneous, Sandbox

Ryzom screenshot
It seems, even to me, that I tend to dislike more games than I like these days. Not only do I think there's a lack of really good "AAA" titles, but I also find a lot of yucky gameplay in titles from all sizes of developers from all over the world. Yes, I dislike as many indie MMOs, if not more, than AAAs. But the latest title I give the snooty stinkeye to has to be The Secret World. I'm half-kidding and will be reserving much of my opinion for later on after I have played it for longer, but right now, I'm just not blown away by it. I'm not immersed or sucked in as much as I would like to be. That could change, of course.

Then I log back in to a game like Ryzom and see just how far things have come. That is to say, not very far. After all, if you really look at what Ryzom does (and you have no excuse; it's free to play to half max-level now), it will sort of depress you that no other games are being made like it nowadays. At least, not exactly.

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Free for All: The coziest places in free-to-play

Fantasy, Screenshots, Video, Culture, Ryzom, The Chronicles of Spellborn, Wurm Online, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Casual, Roleplaying, Free Realms, Free for All, Family, Miscellaneous

Mabinogi screenshot
Cozy. It's a word that seems more at home in a Martha Stewart magazine than in the column for a website about MMORPGs. Cozy can mean quite a few things, but I love the way that the word can instantly make sense to almost anyone. Think about it -- think about what cozy might mean to you. It means a place that makes you feel warm or safe, a place that begs you to stay for a while. The reason I am so attracted to cozier spots in MMOs is because they can be few and far between these days, or they exist but the content pushes you through so fast that you forget to stop and relax for a while.

That speedy content, in my opinion, has helped bring roleplay to its knees. I remember when it was more common to be roleplaying instead of the opposite. These special, inviting spots slow us down and help us remember that we're playing multiplayer games, games with other real people who are experiencing the same places we are at the same time.

So, here is a small list of five of the most coziest places in free-to-play. In my opinion, of course. Feel free to add your own.

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One Shots: Before and after

Fantasy, Galleries, Screenshots, Lord of the Rings Online, Ryzom, Free-to-Play, Massively Meta, One Shots, TERA

One Shots
Massively reader Drannos earns the One Shots spotlight today, having sent in not one but two Lord of the Rings Online screenshots: a before and after shot of Orthanc, the spire at the center of Isengard that's home to Saruman the White in the game's time period. Drannos writes in,
Though I've yet to see the inside of Orthanc, I've been, shall we say, a guest. An involuntary guest. From a distance, it's very impressive, but up close, it's suitably intimidating as well! Having seen it both before and after Saruman's fall, I have to say that it also has an appropriate air of tragedy and despair.
Both shots and two more from other MMOs await behind the break!

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Choose My Adventure: Ballad of a teenage Zorai

Fantasy, Polls, Game Mechanics, Ryzom, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Choose My Adventure

I did get some great screenshots out of Ryzom, I have to say.
Last week, the unthinkable happened. Or at least the unprecedented. Yes, after a dozen or so columns under my belt for Choose My Adventure, one of the "joke" choices finally won a poll. Either everyone thought that the paradise city was actually a thing in Ryzom or the impassioned pleas in the comments the week before had done the trick.

For those of you under the misapprehension that this was, in fact, an actual thing, I apologize for the not particularly elaborate act of deception.

My question to myself, at this point, was what I actually had to do at this point. Did this mean that I had to search through every city in the game to find a paradise, only to discover at the end that paradise had metaphorically been at home the whole time? Was I already in the paradise city, judging by the fact that some people would call the jungle a virtual paradise? The girls were pretty, the grass was green, and by almost any metric you cared to use, Corlede was as close to home as she was getting.

But no, I knew what I had to do. Something I had known since I started playing. I went home.

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Choose My Adventure: Mainland in black

Fantasy, Polls, Ryzom, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Choose My Adventure, Sandbox

These changing headers worked out well.  I'm doing this again next time.
One of the comments from last week's Choose My Adventure suggested that I must not be enjoying Ryzom all that much. That isn't entirely accurate, but it would be accurate to say that the charm of the starter island has worn out its welcome and then some, which wouldn't surprise anyone, given that last week's poll wound up in a decisive victory for leaving the island and heading out to the mainland. And while there may have been some business left unfinished there, I'm not one to ignore the rule of the polls.

And so it was that Corlede obeyed the will of the people and headed off for the Zorai city. Once there, I set about the important business of getting Corlede outfitted, taking some advice, and assembling a team to plant an idea inside the head of a talking lion meant to represent a well-known religious figure. Or something like that.

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Choose My Adventure: Quest rhythm

Fantasy, Polls, Game Mechanics, Ryzom, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Choose My Adventure

Not pictured: Corlede being tied up by Zorai cavalry and insisting that they call her Dances with Bodoc.
Questing is an essential part of MMOs. You can say that players should be the ones crafting stories in games, not the developers, but quests provide you with structure and guidance. Even if you can create all sorts of stories on your own, it helps to know what the world is supposed to be like and how to set your own objectives. Not to mention the fact that having some sort of pointer is massively useful when you start playing.

So it makes sense to take a good look at the questing in Ryzom, even though the game definitely veers toward the "sandbox" side of the fence. Plus, questing won the poll last week, so even if I thought quests were categorical garbage, that would still be my destination. I can't run you through all of the quests that I've done in the game, but one in particular lent itself to a narrative, albeit in a somewhat disjointed form.

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Free for All: Comparing the payment models of Glitch and Ryzom

Sci-Fi, Business Models, Culture, Ryzom, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Browser, Casual, Free for All, Sandbox

Ryzom screenshot
I thought it might be a cool idea to do a comparison of free-to-play models for my next few articles. As free-to-play has become more and more popular, cash shops and tiers of service have become much more important to how a player might enjoy or interact with a game. While the standard free-to-play model, the most popular one by far, is one that allows players to download a free client, has no subscription at all, and tacks on a cash-shop, the freemium variant is quickly becoming widespread. Freemium seems to be the model of choice for many Western games that were previously subscription-only.

The problem is that I do not really like the freemium model. I'm old-school, I guess. I enjoy the model that was imported to the States maybe eight years ago. A free client with a cash shop on top is all I need to steer my fun by. I'd rather skip any sort of tiered service as well.

There are exceptions to the rule, of course.

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Choose My Adventure: Craft it one piece at a time

Fantasy, Polls, Game Mechanics, Ryzom, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Choose My Adventure, Crafting

Said Corlede in... well, not snow.
Sometimes, a well-planned weekend turns into a complete mess. Case in point: This past weekend, which I fully meant to use to get more of a footing in Ryzom, wound up being almost entirely dominated by a mixture of other responsibilities and necessities. As a result, I didn't get nearly as much time playing the game as I would have liked. The plan is to spend more time crafting away over the course of the week, but this article needs to be written up earlier than that.

As you can imagine, this results in a little bit of a hole in the narrative. Fortunately, crafting is pretty deep as a system but fairly thin in terms of a core narrative, unless you find "and then I made another set of light sleeves" to be engrossing. So while I didn't get several hours of story, if you're not familiar with what the system offers, there's still plenty of ground to cover.

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Choose My Adventure: Atys refugee blues

Fantasy, Polls, Culture, Game Mechanics, Ryzom, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Choose My Adventure

Being able to animate your character during creation is a nice touch.
Last week's polls were enough for me to get started in the world of Ryzom over the weekend, so I took my first steps back into the game that I haven't played for quite some time. I still remembered how some of it worked, thankfully, but there were a lot of elements that I'd almost completely forgotten. And while I'm still knee-deep in the starter area, I've played enough to at least get some starter impressions.

But let's make this a full narrative, yes? When we left off, the group verdict was that I would be starting out as a Zorai with the Magic starter package based off of a female Shakespearean tragic character. And thus, with only a little extra effort, Corlede was born into the world of Ryzom. The character creator offers a variety of features, allowing you to select your character's build in fine detail but offering a strange lack of certain other options. There are also some odd constraints on character types -- you find yourself always locked within a certain general band of height, for instance, so there are no really tall Trykers.

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Choose My Adventure: I fell into a burning ring of Ryzom

Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Polls, Ryzom, Opinion, Free-to-Play, Choose My Adventure, Sandbox

Yes, I'm trying to spruce up the header a bit.  Mixed results.
After an intensely close vote, the winner for my destination in this round of Choose My Adventure is Ryzom! And I do mean intensely close; up until the polls closed, it looked very possible that the vote would end in the favor of Lord of the Rings Online or even a straight-up tie. But the readers have spoken, and my destination is set to the world of Atys and its inhabitants. Meanwhile, Johnny Cash handily won the bonus poll, so it's time to spin up song songs by the Man in Black while I write this.

For those of you who don't know what in the world Ryzom is, you can sort of be forgiven. It's one of those games that seems to be uniquely brilliant while managing to fall off the radar altogether, which is a real shame. So this week I'm going to discuss the game in an overarching sense, outline what I'm looking forward to, and of course give everyone a chance to vote on the character that I'll be making for the next six weeks of exploration.

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Some Assembly Required: A virtual world roundup

Fantasy, Super-hero, Aion, Anarchy Online, City of Heroes, Darkfall, Dofus, EVE Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Fallen Earth, Final Fantasy XI, Flyff, Lord of the Rings Online, PlanetSide, Ryzom, Wurm Online, Opinion, Second Life, Star Trek Online, Ultima Online, Vanguard, RuneScape, Free-to-Play, Virtual Worlds, Mabinogi, Mortal Online, Wizard101, Runes of Magic, DC Universe Online, RIFT, Xsyon, Family, Post-Apocalyptic, Some Assembly Required, Sandbox, Origins of Malu

Some Assembly Required header
If you are perusing this column, chances are you are a fan of virtual worlds and the sandbox genre. Join the club! (Dues will be due on the third Tuesday.) The aspect that compels many aficionados to delve into a game is the ability to make an impact on the world in some small respect instead of making them into Hive Member 1593072 running a static, predetermined gauntlet. How that impact is accomplished, however, varies; there are multiple features that can facilitate it, and which ones are considered most important depends on the player.

With the loss of one of the best sandbox games just last month, some players may be feeling a void. Others still are looking/hoping for the "ultimate" sandbox that contains nearly every virtual world feature. Certainly, there are some upcoming games that make some drool-worthy promises, but what about playing something now? There are actually games out on the market that have at least one aspect of the genre, if not more.

To start off the new year, Some Assembly Required looks at some of the top features of virtual worlds and lists games that incorporate these features. While this list isn't exhaustive (considering the sheer number of games when you include all of the smaller free-to-play titles, I'd run out of column space!), it is a comprehensive enough overview to point you toward some games worth playing that perhaps you hadn't considered before.

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Recruit for Ryzom, win fabulous prizes!

Fantasy, Contests, Ryzom, Free-to-Play

Ryzom is undergoing a recruitment drive at the moment, and the team is looking to the players for help. A spiffy contest has been posted on the official site to see which players can rope in the most new warm bodies for the cause.

Each player is tasked with recruiting friends and family members via a unique link that will count toward their tally during the month of November. After November 30th, the Ryzom team will see which players have netted the biggest catch and will dole out rewards accordingly.

The first place winner gets a choice of tempting prizes: either an original concept art drawing or an Nvidia GeForce GTX 480 graphics card. Second place can choose from the drawing or a lifetime subscription to the game, and third through sixth place winners will receive a three-month subscription.

Ryzom is currently free-to-play with an optional subscription package.

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