Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Alganon: Not Hyped for a Reason

[PLEASE NOTE: This article was written during the first open beta phase, several months before the release in early December 2009. I have not played the game since and I probably will not touch this game in the future to update these impressions. I'm sure some issues I mention here have been resolved. Please keep in mind that the views noted here refer to an early open beta of the game. They do not necessarily represent the game as it stands now.

Regardless of that disclaimer, I would not touch this game again for any price. I wouldn't play it even if it was free. There are better MMOs at every price point--even if Alganon pulled off most of the features they promise it would barely be a competitive product.]

Alganon’s NDA is gone as of yesterday. Here are my impressions for several hours put into the open beta. I saw enough of the game after about six hours to permanently turn me off to it. Under no circumstance do I recommend you buy this game in its current state. I don’t think even if they work out the bugs it will even be worth playing because of some very lazy design work that permeates each mechanic in the game.


Here are some of Alganon’s claims (from its website). These parts of the game that led me to download the beta client:

  • “dynamic quests specifically for the character”
  • “Taming animals and controlling creatures with magic” will be important.
  • “Much of this history is available to the players through the library, but much of it must be discovered. “
  • “The game will ship with a total of two races and four classes; however, there are so many variations in skills, abilities, and specializations that the results guarantee no two characters will be alike. “
  • Crusades are player-given quests to do certain big tasks like “wipe every orc from the face of the world”
  • “our default auction system will support a number of internal tools to help determine the current market price for merchandise, as well as demand.”
  • “Actions are what characters carry out during game play, such as a special attack or a tradeskill, etc. Abilities represent a point-based distribution system allowing the character to focus on specific class-based specialties. Skills are the underlying methods of growth in utilizing certain areas of class-based focus, such as a character's skill in swords, or a specific profession. Studies are the core support base for all other systems, allowing characters to grow over time at the same rate as all other players.”
  • Players collect information and contribute it somehow to the library. Seems like some kind of in-game wiki/thottbot. Also a way for spreading achievements.
  • A complex faction system. “Each character will have the ability to enhance or lower their standings with these different groups, races, and organizations. A character's standing with a faction can affect many things including what items, they can purchase, what areas they can enter, and what creatures are hostile. “


This game is awful.

  • Interface blatantly copies WoW’s. Where it is different, it is worse.
  • Lots of graphical and interface lag.
  • Graphics are ugly. Worse than WoW—even if you play WoW on medium quality settings and this game on ultra.
  • Everything is half-assed. I don’t see any signs of polish.
  • Character creator was slow and ugly. Characters look ugly. Changing how a character looks often doesn’t seem to have any effect on how he actually looks. Character creation is worse than WoW.
  • “Abilities” are actually a dumbed down copy of the talents from WoW. They’re available from level one. It’s really exciting to get a talent that grants me 1% cost decrease on a skill when I’m level one.
  • Abilities reference actions that I don’t actually have. I can buy abilities to improve actions I’ve never seen.
  • “Studies” are a time-based skill advancement system like EVE’s. It just gives you bonuses to stuff for having played longer. Because we’re in a level-based game system, it’s nothing but a reward for subscribing to the game for longer than everyone else. Who knows if it’ll help casual players catch up because character level probably completely trivializes any effect the studies have.
  • REALLY long initial loading times. I have a solid-state harddrive, a core i7 processor, and six gigs of RAM. Are they kidding me?
  • Quests are all of the “kill 10 bugs” variety. I was given one quest that was a “find this thing and pick it up” but the thing was nowhere—it just did not exist in the world. And even if I did find it, I wouldn’t have known to interact with it because the interface is so weak.

I couldn’t suffer through this game long enough to see all of the promises in action (if they even exist in the game). From what I’ve seen, I feel confident saying that almost every promise is a WoW feature relabeled or a copy-pasted feature from another game that doesn’t particularly fit.

This game tries to directly compete with WoW, and it will never win. I’ll be surprised if it lives for very long in the market, considering it has just about nothing in the way of innovation worth noting. It would take way too much work to make this game fun, but even if it does get cleaned up, it doesn’t stand a chance against WoW in the theme-park market.

If you’re going to release a theme-park MMO these days, it must be solid from day one. Even if a game is very much hyped, it will suffer from a rapid drop off after about a month. For an obscure and un-hyped game like Alganon, I don’t see a way for it to succeed in this market. It has no hype and it doesn’t deliver.

Alganon is a great example of how to make an MMO that has no chance of success: it copies without perfecting, it adds without improving.


Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Nobody makes a game thinking, "I'm going to make a poorly-implemented derivative game!" If the game ends up in that state, it's not because the developer gleefully steered the game to that path. It's more likely that the game developer pointed the game down the "We can do it all on a budget!" path at the beginning and eventually it became too late to take a more realistic path.

Alganon is a notable case because David Allen created the game. He was previously in charge of Horizons and promised a lot of things the dev team eventually couldn't deliver on. A lot of the blame is placed on David Bowman, who took over once the Horizon's publishers replaced David Allen and tried to salvage the game. I think Alganon shows that it is, in fact, easy to bite off more than you can chew on a realistic budget and deadline.

So, here's a question for you, evizaer: let's say some brilliant person has an idea for a superb multi-million game, but can only find funding for a small fraction of that. Let's assume that the game isn't modular, so you implementing a small part now isn't really optimal (like trying to implement quests without combat, etc.) So, what should said brilliant person do?

1. Follow their vision to the end of the funding and hope the result doesn't suck?

2. Cut back on the vision and implement a small part, hoping people will stick with it to the larger version?

3. Ignore the vision, make a soulless money-maker to fund the grand vision?

4. Not make games at all?

5. Or....?

Not to say that Alganon had to be pure gold, but as I said above, I'm pretty sure the developers didn't set out to make a game as it is today. So, if they could travel in a time machine and warn their past selves to do something different, what would that advice be?

Carson 63000 said...

Given a time machine, my advice would be twofold:

1) Don't try to build the infrastructure from scratch yourself. Invest in some middleware like Bigworld or Hero Engine or something. You won't have the budget and probably won't have the talent to do better yourself.

2) At least try to make it appear that you're not blatantly copying a competitor. I'm not really one to recommend making things different purely for the sake of making them different, but at least spread around the source of your copied ideas. "WoW with Eve's skill training system" isn't nearly spread enough.

evizaer said...

Alganon looks sophomoric. I'd say it's a result of designers not having enough time and resources at their disposal to come up with something unique. They probably had some really great ideas but their resources wouldn't allow their implementation so they started subbing in WoW-clone features because they could design those really quickly and easily by copying WoW almost directly.

The design isn't consistent and sensical even in what it shows the user. There's no excuse for that. It's understandable that a game's interface could leave stuff out of be sparse, but to have a bunch of references all over the character customization interface that effect actions I've never heard of? How does that even get through QA? Especially in late beta, it's inexcusable. Even if a few actions are broken, I at least expect the talent trees to be coherent and appear as if they'd be usable.

I'm not going to write a post about what Alganon could have been and pat their devs on the back. I have, in front of me, a crap game with crap design and crap implementation. I don't care really why it came to be crappy--software projects fail all the time and I'm sure this game isn't much different from the hundreds of horror stories I've read.

@Brian: What should a game dev do when they don't have the resources to accomplish their great idea?

Start a blog and write about why their ideas are great. Put their ideas out in the open. The feedback possible from this approach can turn a good idea into a great one, or it can convince you that your ideas aren't actually as great as you thought, saving you time in the future. If you don't have the resources to make the game, you aren't going to gain them by sitting on your idea. That's basically what I'm doing.

Dblade said...

I think a brilliant person would have tempered their idea to the realities of getting funding in the first place. I know I'm just a player, but I would think unless I am an industry vet heading up a large development studio with a big-name publisher behind me, I'm not going to be able to write a meal ticket to make my idea happen.

If we are talking about making the idea from scratch Brian, I'd be a lot more restrained in what I intend to accomplish, taking what is feasible from my vision and fitting it to my projected budget. I am thinking of movies-if I know I am not going to be footed by a studio, I'm not going to try and make LOTR. But desperado and cube both show ideas can come through under serious financial restraints. Apples and oranges, of course.

JEM said...

The first thing any new / small company should do is figure out what they can accomplish with how much funding they have. The guys at QOL look like they have jumped back and forth between so many things that none of it had a chance to be complete or polished.

If you have 10 million dollars then start off by licensing an engine. Then build it bit by bit instead picking things out of a hat each day to work on. Nothing gets finished that way.

Tom Hudson said...

@Psychochild: Maybe I've been reading too many "lean startup" blogs recently, but I'd go with #2. Doing that in an MMO you can aim for a niche that gives you sustainability, and with that proven cashflow either bootstrap or get funding to build out to a broader appeal.

According to the web site, QoL's been at this three, three-and-a-half years. Common wisdom seems to say that's too short for a AAA MMO dev cycle.

Or, umm, if you only have one vision, maybe you should be doing more brainstorming & prototyping.

@Carson: I'm not sure there was good MMO middleware available in early '06 (Hero didn't announce their first licensee until late that year, and what I've heard about them isn't positive).

Carson 63000 said...

Tom, I'm not sure either. I first became aware of Bigworld in early 2006 (some former workmates of mine ended up working there), but I'm not sure how advanced their product was at that time.

Anyway, even if the middleware advice wouldn't help in the time machine scenario, it can certainly help other developers going forward. :-)

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Here's the dirty little secret: Middleware doesn't let you make a better game. Middleware lets you spend more money to hopefully spend less time. Middleware is the "cash shop" for game development. If you're on a tight budget, middleware will not help you. In fact, it can be very limiting; one of the middleware providers we talked to said they weren't even sure it was possible to make an RTS type MMO game since they mostly assumed the game would have a focus avatar. (They later added that explicitly capability, though.)

evizaer wrote:
Start a blog and write about why their ideas are great.

Ideas are the easy part. While your idea won't get attention if you don't post it, posting it doesn't mean you'll get anything either. I've posted a lot of in-depth concepts on my own blog, and that has gotten me no closer to making my next project a reality.

I don't know what the answer is here. Given how easy it is to make a mediocre game, the current system isn't working out too well, though.

evizaer said...

Ideas are the easy part. Good ideas with enough thought behind them to last through implementation are much more difficult. The point of this blog is to try ideas and hopefully catch some good ones in the process.

Mot and I started this blog with only ideas. We had no friends in the business and nary even know a person who would care about this blog. We started from scratch and wrote, and now I have made more contacts in game development than I ever had before. I have more ideas than I started with, and I have a strong suspicion that these more evolved ideas are better. Now if I were to put a game out in any capacity, I'd have an instant community, though small, that would be interested in my work.

If I started making an MMO game instead of starting this blog, I'd doubtless be buried by now underneath technical problems I cannot solve, cursed with unreliable co-conspirators and no funding. And if I did produce something, it wouldn't be good because my ideas would be unrefined, it would be poorly coded because I've never written such a large project before, and I wouldn't have a community to release it to.

I much prefer what I'm doing now. It's essentially an extended brainstorming phase, but it does a lot more than that for me and maybe it is good reading for others as well. I freely admit I don't have the resources to make the MMO I push for--I'm doing my best with what I have at the moment, which is mainly time and ideas.

Brian 'Psychochild' Green said...

Good ideas with enough thought behind them to last through implementation are much more difficult.

These are rarer, but not more difficult. There's a difference. The real problem is that it's often hard to know if your pet idea can last through implementation without actually doing implementation.

We had no friends in the business and nary even know a person who would care about this blog.

But, you did good PR and got some people (like me) to pay attention by emailing them. Personally, it's not your ideas that keep me here, but the good discussion. As we've gotten into enough lengthy discussions, you know that I have my issues with your ideas. ;)

Please don't think I'm slamming you here. I think the best part of my own blog is the discussion and back and forth. If I thought the ideas were the highlight, I'd be pretty cranky at this point that nobody has bothered to rip me off.

If I started making an MMO game instead of starting this blog, I'd doubtless be buried by now underneath technical problems I cannot solve, cursed with unreliable co-conspirators and no funding.

None of these issues has the first thing to do about the game design/idea as we're discussing here. I've built teams with initially enthusiastic people who turn out to be unreliable. I'm pushing forward on some of those ideas even if I have to do the whole thing myself, so we'll see if the ideas were good to start with or not.

I freely admit I don't have the resources to make the MMO I push for--I'm doing my best with what I have at the moment, which is mainly time and ideas.

If I have to place a bet on whether your discussed ideas will be implemented, please don't take it personally if I were to bet against you. The odds are against even people who have terrific ideas, an impressive history to back them up, and the charisma to form a top-notch team.

And, while I do enjoy the interesting posts and great discussions we have here, don't mistake talking for doing. I think I've done plenty of talking over the last several years, and I don't have any more launched games to show for it, sadly.

Don't think I'm rooting against you, though. If you want to turn talking into doing, you know how to get in touch with me. It's something I'm doing myself, slowly and painfully.

evizaer said...

[Good ideas] are rarer, but not more difficult.

They definitely are more difficult by several orders of magnitude. An idea can be as simple as "let's copy WoW, but add a new class" or "let's put FPS mechanics into WoW." That's easy. Ideas usually are very derivative and indistinct from what we've experienced in our lives. Good ideas are distinct. Just coming up with a distinct idea is difficult, let alone coming up with one that has any degree of quality and suitability in game design.

you did good PR and got some people (like me) to pay attention by emailing them.

This blog is a networking boon for me. Without it, I wouldn't have contacted you. I'd still know no-one.

Please don't think I'm slamming you here.

I don't think you're slamming me. I think you're honestly critiquing what I've posted. That's valuable and I appreciate it. I don't argue with you because I don't want to be proven wrong, I argue with you because I don't get the feeling you understood what I was saying--usually because it seems that you assume that you have a much broader and more comprehensive view of what I'm talking about than I do, which comes off as being a bit condescending. You could definitely succeed in communicating your critiques without giving the impression that you're coming down off Mount Sinai to deliver a decree from the Lord (I'm not saying you always do this and I'm being a little hyperbolic, but you get the point.)

None of these issues has the first thing to do about the game design/idea as we're discussing here.

They do. What is feasible has a lot to do with what ideas are entertained and honed. If you don't pass ideas through a reality check at some point, you're never going to get anything accomplish because you'll be chasing some ridiculous impossible whim your whole life.

If I have to place a bet on whether your discussed ideas will be implemented, please don't take it personally if I were to bet against you.
I saw that the odds were against the implementation of my ideas if I went it alone, so I sarted a blog. Now hundreds of people know my ideas and a few of them work in the industry. The chances of one of my ideas being implemented have leaped significantly since I started this blog. They're still small, but they're there.

while I do enjoy the interesting posts and great discussions we have here, don't mistake talking for doing.

I don't. I make it clear here that mot and I are amateurs.

But, then again, talking is doing when it comes to having critical discussions about design. When I write a post, I take much more time to think about the problems I'm facing than I would if I were just jotting entertaining an idea in my mind. Through writing posts and interacting with people like you my design ideas become more clear and significantly better. That is certainly doing.

Dblade said...

I think talking is good, but more in the way a writer keeping a writer's notebook is good. You are training and forming your ideas and observations as a designer, which gives you a basis to draw inspiration from.

But while its important to critique other games (which you do very well in my player's opinion) the real test for all of our ideas and dreams is to risk them being real.

I see Brian's comments as starting to spur you to that, and to think beyond the theory and idea of design to the implementation of it. The odds are always against you in any creative work, and you'll always have to deal with power grabs, compromises, things going wrong, and a host of other problems.

That's when you say to hell with the odds and push forwards. Alganon may suck, but they did just that. A lot of crap in other fields gets made not because people are more talented, or even have better connections. They just are willing to see it through.

You have advantages in you have a partner-in-crime in Mot to back you, good advice and experience from a published designer, Brian, and it seems a good head in both theory and PR. I fully expect one day to come to this blog and be sad that you have to shut it down or put it on hiatus because your current MMO is about to ship, and I'll bet against you Brian on it.

motstandet said...

There's a reason I've been so quiet... ;)

Anonymous said...

Did you read David Allen's interview yet at Massively? I picked out a tidbit, and the link is in the post:

(It won't let me post comments with Wordpress or OpenID... any idea why that is?)

- Bronte

evizaer said...

What a softball interview. There are no questions that show that the interviewer had even played the game. He probably just read the PR-speak on the website.

"Your game is being compared to WoW, like every other game. How do you feel about this?" is about the weakest way to phrase the question that should've been asked: "Many are concerned that portions of your game are nearly identical to World of Warcraft. Was this a conscious decision, and, if so, why was this decision made?"