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The Matrix Online

Avoiding a sinking game

Business Models, Culture, The Matrix Online, Opinion, Tabula Rasa, Vanguard

With the holiday season usually comes a healthy dose of gift money, and what comes with extra money for many people reading the site is new games. It's not as if the past year has been exactly spare on game releases, although the success of several is a bit up in the air. But be forewarned -- if you needed the reminder, 2009 could very well be the year we learned that no title is immune to being shut down, with Tabula Rasa and The Matrix Online being among the highest-profile games to finally be shut down for good due to sales figures.

Bio Break has an excellent post on what is termed "avoiding the Titanic" -- in short, making sure that you're not signing up for a game that's going to just leave you high and dry. The recent announcement from Vanguard is among the examples cited, although some fans would be quick to point out it's not a death knell for the game. But it doesn't sound like the game is going to advance far beyond its current state, and for many games, that means a slow bleeding-out. Of course, avoiding titles that are perceived as hopeless can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it's worth keeping in mind that perhaps that money might be better spent if you question a game's near future.

Asheron's Call lead designer talks 10-Year anniversary, the MMO market, more

Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Asheron's Call, Interviews, MMO Industry, The Matrix Online, Casual

Not many MMOs last a decade, and this week marks 10 years since the launch of Asheron's Call, the fantasy MMORPG by Turbine Entertainment. Releasing several months after EverQuest, the game held its own and found its way to becoming one of the top MMOs of its time, providing fond memories for many players.

"I'm very proud of Asheron's Call, even today," said former AC lead designer Toby Ragaini in an e-mail to Massively. "It really broke a lot of new ground and I still have people come up to me saying what a great time they had playing. That's a pretty wonderful compliment after 10 years."

Ragaini, who has since worked on Sony Online Entertainment's The Matrix Online and is now working on a casual web-based MMO called Faunasphere, reminisced about working on Asheron's Call and spoke about what it's like working in the MMO market after 14 years of being in the biz.

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The Daily Grind: Do you buy lifetime memberships?

World of Warcraft, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Lord of the Rings Online, Business Models, New Titles, The Matrix Online, Tabula Rasa, Star Trek Online, The Daily Grind, Casual, Champions Online

On Monday we told you Cryptic had announced a lifetime membership for Champions Online. For $199 you get access to the Star Trek Online closed beta, special costumes not available to anyone else and other juicy perks. Cool huh? Now while lifetime memberships are not new (LotRO springs to mind), it's a lot of money to try a must-play game but, in a way, it also binds you to said MMO. You're buying before you try, in effect, and promising to invest a large amount of time in a particular game based on screen shots, lore or the IP.

The problem is, it's hard to tell whether a game will be hit and miss and if it ultimately goes the way of Tabula Rasa and The Matrix Online. At the same time, the really popular MMOs like WoW never seem to offer lifetime subs, as if they know they will be so popular that subscriptions will keep the game going well into the next decade. I'm wondering, constant readers, do you buy lifetime memberships and did you do it because it would work out cheaper or because you genuinely love that MMO?

The Daily Grind: When MMOs die

Sci-Fi, MMO Industry, Endgame, The Matrix Online, Tabula Rasa, The Daily Grind, Virtual Worlds

It's a sad thing when an MMO gets switched off and all our hard played toons go to the great virtual world in the sky. This week it was the turn of The Matrix Online. It's rare for the better known MMOs, like Tabula Rasa, to go out with a bang. For most games, their death throes are just a whimper as they fade into obscurity. Big or small, when a game closes it's doors, it's an event which will being a tear to some players, even if most might have already gone to pastures new.

How do you cope when an MMO, specifically your MMO, dies? Imagine for a second, you've invested thousands of hours in characters, amassed a fortune in gold -- or whatever currency is hip right now -- and conquered the world literally. Personally, I firmly believe MMOs are not just about the world you exist in but also the people you play with. So, if you played The Matrix Online or Tabula Rasa, did you and your guild pick another game to try? Has game death prompted you to meet up in real life? Did you quit the moment the announcement of plug pulling came down from on high or were you there when the skies lightened and the end came? Tell us in the usual way by dropping your thoughts in the box below.

What you missed in The Matrix Online

Sci-Fi, Culture, Events (In-Game), The Matrix Online, Opinion, Events (Massively's Coverage)

Yes, The Matrix Online sucked. Its gameplay was an abhorrent pile of repetitive garbage that offered no real direction other than doing storyline-less missions until you hit 50, in which there was no endgame. The combat was interesting, as it offered scripted camera shots for insane kung-fu flips and hits, but it wasn't enough to "save" the game. I hear you.

But if you think the above paragraph is all The Matrix Online had to offer, then you are sadly mistaken. You missed out on storyline events, PvPvE, amazing roleplayers, writers, and graphic artists. You missed out on philosophy, politics, memorable characters, and puzzles. You actually missed out on the bulk of what The Matrix Online had to offer, all of which makes the game's passing more painful.

MxO wasn't World of Warcraft, and it certainly had enough dark spots in the game design. But the game and its developers brought a very different style of play to the MMO scene -- one that should be commemorated with a few looks back on some of the best events the game had to offer.

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What you missed in The Matrix Online pt. 2

Sci-Fi, Culture, Events (In-Game), The Matrix Online, Opinion, Events (Massively's Coverage)

Hiding in plain sight

After the vampires and lupines were quelled, a new issue of the Sentinel and a concurrent game update brought new images into the Matrix. Colorful billboards advertising bug spray began appearing all over the city, confusing some and intriguing others. The first visual puzzle of The Matrix had been covertly unleashed on players.

The solution wasn't hard, but far from obvious. The second page of the new in-game newspaper, The Sentinel, showed a colorful "terrorist alert level chart." While it was an obvious mockery of everyone's favorite homeland security poster, astute players saw that the same colors were being used on the in-game billboards. Each billboard contained a number somewhere in it's slogan, such as "Blue brand pesticide kills bugs four times faster than the competition!" These numbers, along with their corresponding colors and the terrorist alert level chart were the keys.

Players took the numbers and re-arranged the terrorist alert level in that order. If the blue billboard had the number four on it, then it went fourth in the order. If red had one, then it went first in the order and so forth. As the chart was re-arranged, the first letters of the "alert" status began to spell out a word. Definite, Elevated, Likely, Possible, Huge, Imminent -- DELPHI. The final part of the puzzle was a small poster that had appeared in certain clubs, advertising an extermination service that could be contacted by e-mailing an address at Monolith Entertainment, the game's current developer.

Players e-mailed the address, asking to consult The Oracle of Delphi. Wishes were soon granted as Seraph appeared in-game to not only fight players who solved the puzzle, but also wisk them away to meet with the Oracle herself. Other players got to consult the Oracle via their real life e-mail, creating an alternate reality game of sorts with The Matrix. Either way, the event made one thing clear: The Assassin was made entirely of blowflies and could be destroyed with specially designed killcodes -- bug spray.

And that was just the beginning...

This entire article has simply focused on two of the first events in The Matrix Online's storyline. Every bit of it was unrepeatable and lead to some amazingly memorable moments in the game. The type of moments that stay with you forever.

Very few, if any, games are able to accomplish this phenomenon. Who cares if you kill Yogg-Saron? Who cares if you defeat the Witch King of Angmar? Other players are going to eventually do that in droves because the content is repeatable.

But the Matrix was able to wrap everybody up into an evolving storyline, philosophy, and sense of community. Players worked together and fought one another on more levels than just PvP and PvE. They formed bonds with characters who didn't even exist while forming bonds with others around them that were willing to believe in the same things they did. They roleplayed willingly in order to keep the story going beyond what the developers had planned.

All of this was amazing, and I can only hope to see another game take the same ideas and drive them to a level beyond what that Matrix could offer. These were amazing ideas, but just too far ahead of their time.

Wake Up: The final day of The Matrix Online

At a glance, Sci-Fi, Screenshots, Culture, Events (In-Game), The Matrix Online, Events (Massively's Coverage)

Like we said in our article before, "...until everyone's RSI is smashed into a tiny, tiny ball." Now you see that we really weren't joking about that.

But we were in The Matrix Online for the final hours as well, and we managed to get some great screenshots from the end of the game. There were explosions, lightning bolts, oddly colored skies until finally.... in the last few hours... it became beautiful again. The green skies were rolled back in favor of a blue sky tinged with hints of red. Then, of course, we all got our plugs pulled and ended up smashed into... well... you know.

If you're interested in how it all looked before everything crashed, check out what we got to see during our final moments!

Reminder: Check out The Matrix Online before it decompiles

Sci-Fi, Culture, Events (In-Game), MMO Industry, The Matrix Online

Ashes to ashes, decompiling sky to deletion. The Matrix Online is reminding us all that it's slowing coming undone as the system becomes more and more unstable with each passing day. Ashes raining from the sky, eyes being seen in the clouds, zombies, agents, angels, and demons all appearing out of the system's corruption to wreak havoc across the Mega City.

This week is the last week for The Matrix Online and all former subscribers are welcomed to come back to play one final time before the machines pull the plug for good. The Matrix crashes on July 31st, so be sure to be logged in on that day to be assaulted by pretty much everyone and everything until everyone's RSI is smashed into a tiny, tiny ball.

Station launcher moves out of beta, adds voice chat support

Fantasy, Sci-Fi, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Pirates of the Burning Sea, PlanetSide, Launches, MMO Industry, Patches, The Matrix Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Vanguard

So the beta launcher is finally un-betaed! Sony has officially pushed the Station Launcher into the "final version," dropping in voice chat, simplified menus, faster servers for downloads, and the ability to run the launcher without administrative rights as well.

The fun stuff, however, is really contained within the voice update. This new voice, dubbed "station voice," lets you communicate with friends from within the game or outside of the game. Creating a room from outside of the game is done with your in-game character, letting people who are on the station launcher join you, or people inside of the game join your room from the inside, no launcher required.

Plus, the other new features like the upgraded servers that will give more downstream bandwidth for game updates, are certainly nothing to sneeze at.

This doesn't mean that Sony is done with upgrading and changing the launcher, as they've already pledged to continue taking user feedback and pushing that into their product to constantly make a better launcher.

For the full patch notes, check them out on the EverQuest forums, located in this thread.

Get a sneak peek at SOE Fan Faire '09's in-game items

Fantasy, Sci-Fi, EverQuest, EverQuest II, Events (Real-World), The Matrix Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Vanguard, Free Realms, Legends of Norrath

E3 may be the show on everyone's minds right now, but SOE is doing what they can to make sure that people don't forget that they have their very own event later in the month. They've put up a preview of some of the digital schwag that attendees will receive for coming to SOE Fan Faire 2009, and the new rule this year is that you'lll be able to get one in-game item for each game you have an active account for -- no need to choose just one anymore.

The preview
has pictures and some details about the items, and there's one in particular that will probably get the most attention: the Dianoga Dumpster for Star Wars Galaxies players will spit up collection items if fed once a week for a month, and besides that, it just looks kinda cool. Other neat items include a statue of Firiona Vie for EverQuest II, and a flying dragon mount for Vanguard, although, that one might divide people due to its bright pinkish-purple color. Registration for the fan faire is still open, so if you simply must have a pink dragon, now's the time to book.

Anti-Aliased: So long, and thanks for all the woah pt. 2

Sci-Fi, Culture, Events (In-Game), MMO Industry, The Matrix Online, News Items, Opinion, Roleplaying, Virtual Worlds, Anti-Aliased

My personal favorite moment? Past attending a few of the Merovingian's parties (being a faction leader in the organization certainly qualifies you for the guest list), it had to have been investigating into the street magician, Cryptos. Cryptos appeared in the Mega City with a bang, placing "Cryptos coffins" all over the city as he popped out of them at certain intervals to speak riddles to players. As I attended one of the coffins for its speech, the clacking of heels turned my attention over my shoulder, my camera falling onto Niobe walking down the street towards me.

She commented that she was surprised that I actually found my way down a street without falling over in a drunken stupor, while I smirked and laughed. Soon afterwards, a whole vanguard of Zionist players showed up, backing up Niobe with guns -- lots of guns.

"Give me one good reason I shouldn't kill you right here, *Lady* Return." She mocked. That would be when I pulled out the three best words in the Merovingian organization arsenal.

"You owe me. I helped you in the church at the funeral. You cannot neglect your debt, Niobe," I replied with a strong smile. She acted taken aback and motioned to the others behind her. The players all lowered their guns and shot me angry looks, to which I shrugged happily and laughed.

In no other game could social combat be as effective as physical combat. You didn't always have to shoot your way out of a situation if you knew the right people... or just paid enough of them.

An MMO not all about combat? Lies!

Certainly the combat of MxO was awesome. You had great martial arts combat, you had insane wire-fu moves, and you even had bullet time. (It would basically slow down on your screen just long enough to show you some great action, then it would speed up again to match up with the action that had gone on while you were slowed down.)

But some of the real charm of the game came in the fact that puzzles were hidden inside of it. Billboards, the newspaper, and even specially constructed events started by a simple forum post or a simple tell from a character lead into stories told in live action.

The game had elements of collaborative puzzle solving, social tension started by organizational warfare, and a driving sense of community that no other game that I've played since has come close to having. People were there to really interact with the world, not just hit level 50 and grind their faces on endgame.

Hopes for the future

It's sad to see this game go, but I have the strong personal opinion that this game did not die because it embraced different styles of gameplay. It died because it stopped embracing them.

What MxO was offering players no other game offered. If there had been more polish to the static content and the developers would have stayed on their path of dynamic storytelling, I think this game would certainly would have continued on with a loyal fanbase because it would have offered gameplay that no other mainstream MMO to date has embraced.

And, with any luck, perhaps we'll see another attempt at this universe in the future. Look at what we have with two Star Wars MMOs coming out. The potential is still there for a great Matrix Online game.

With all of this though, thank you developers for all of your work, and thank you Sony Online Entertainment for keeping it up as long as you did. While I may not agree with all of the decisions surrounding the game, the effort was still there to keep the game alive for as long as it was.

Everything that has a beginning has an end.

Colin Brennan is the weekly writer of Anti-Aliased who hates aimless hate. When he's not writing here for Massively, he's rambling on his personal blog, The Experience Curve. If you want to message him, send him an e-mail at colin.brennan AT weblogsinc DOT com. You can also follow him on Twitter through Massively, or through his personal feed.

Anti-Aliased: So long, and thanks for all the woah

Sci-Fi, Culture, Events (In-Game), MMO Industry, The Matrix Online, News Items, Opinion, Roleplaying, Virtual Worlds, Anti-Aliased

It's a depressing news day for me today. As we've reported earlier, Sony Online Entertainment has finally made the decision to pull the plug on The Matrix Online, a decision that makes absolutely perfect sense given the dire straights the game has been in for the past few years.

MxO was always "the little game that could" in regards to the community outlook. Even with horribly broken systems, a grind worthy of an Asian MMO, and periods where I literally sat around doing nothing, there was some odd charm about the game. Perhaps it was the setting, or maybe it was the really cool combat system (yes, it too was broken, but those animations were sweet), but I think it was the storyline.

Let's have a look back the history of Matrix Online and some of the stories no one ever heard about.

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SOE is jacking out of The Matrix Online

Sci-Fi, MMO Industry, The Matrix Online, News Items

Hang on. Wait a minute. Has anyone else seen a sign of the apocalypse today, or is the news that Sony Online Entertainment is actually shutting down an MMO the only one out there currently? We had to ask because when we saw the news this morning, we really couldn't believe our eyes. SOE, long heralded for keeping MMOs open even with very small communities, has finally decided to close down The Matrix Online, leaving the remaining Redpills to jack out for the last time on July 31st, 2009.

From what we've seen, remaining members of The Matrix Online community will have some community team interaction, as Daniel "Walrus" Myers is threatening to "[crush] everyone's RSI just one more time." Additionally, any MxO players making the jaunt to Las Vegas this year for SOE's Fan Faire will also be able to meet up with Walrus there, as he will be there for The Agency. Still, it's a sad day - and a memorable one - in seeing SOE shut down an MMO. We only wonder what this will mean for their other smaller-subscriber-number MMOs. Will we see any of them shuttered as well? Only time will tell.

[Via Tipa from West Karana]

SOE launches 2009 Player of the Year contest

EverQuest, EverQuest II, PlanetSide, Contests, The Matrix Online, Star Wars Galaxies, Vanguard, Everquest Online Adventures

SOE is searching for their two biggest fans, and plans to reward their loyalty with a trip to the SOE Fan Faire in Las Vegas later this year. It would be pretty difficult to work out who the biggest fanboys or girls are without any input from the community, so it's up to the players to nominate suitable candidates -- and yes, you can nominate yourself. What qualities should you be looking for in potential Players of the Year? From SOE:

"Do you know someone who is the poster child for your favorite SOE title? So dedicated to the game, he or she walks around with bloodshot eyes, sleep deprived, wearing his or her favorite wrinkled SOE T-shirt? Does this player stand out as the first person to go beyond the call of duty to help fellow community gamers in and out of the game? If so, you may have the perfect candidate, and we want to know more!"

To submit a nomination, send an email to SOEContests AT soe.sony.com with a 300 word letter or role-playing story explaining the worthiness of the player in question; a link to a screenshot, video or artwork can be included. The contest is already underway and closes at midnight PST on the 10th of May, and the nominee must be a US resident and 21 years of age or older. Full competition details can be found here.

SOE wants to know what you want at Fan Faire

EverQuest, EverQuest II, PlanetSide, Events (Real-World), The Agency, The Matrix Online, Vanguard, Everquest Online Adventures, Free Realms, Legends of Norrath, DC Universe Online

Looks like things over at Sony Online Entertainment are really gearing up for this year's Fan Faire in Las Vegas. Sure, you know something big has to be coming because it's the 10th anniversary of EverQuest this year, but to sweeten the deal SOE is looking for player input. Did you hate that you didn't have enough time for Q&A on your favorite SOE title last year? Would you have preferred to hear John Smedley sing something other than Guns & Roses at karaoke? Did you really enjoy the silly competitions that Brenlo held during dinner? Perhaps you'd like to suggest a whole new panel that they haven't considered doing yet? Whatever your reasons, be sure to pop by the Fan Faire forums and let them know!

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