Friday, August 30, 2013

Into the Sunset: MMOs and Mounts


PAX Prime is in full swing! Stay tuned to see what juicy tidbits we receive and be sure to support the Devs and our awesome community members helping them out!

The first Tales of the Fringe came out today as well, be sure to check it out here!

If you missed out on all the Gamescom excitement, check out this recap of the event for WildStar here.

Mounts have been a part of our culture since mankind first tamed the beasts of the wild and again when he bent metal to his whims. They lent us their strength in the fields and made it easier to move our homes and tools. They brought us to town, delivered our written word, bolstered our communication lines and carried us to war.

It is no wonder that we romanticize the concept of our faithful steeds to this day. From being the core of our livelihood to our hobbies and art, these helpers of flesh and machine have become a symbol of our ingenuity and our freedom. Who has not heard the phrase "and they rode off into the sunset"? Pictures of rugged cowboys riding off into the dusty unknown or knights in shining armor on their trusty warhorse, carrying their loved one to a new tomorrow. Nothing feels quite so free as the wind through your hair on the back of a galloping horse or a speeding car. So, why would our characters feel any different?

This image invokes a sense of wonder and freedom for most. A sense of a new tomorrow with limitless potential. (image found here)

As such, it only makes sense then, that mounts are a very popular aspect of not only MMORPG gaming, but just gaming in general. From the more traditional horses, to giant cats or even starships, the variety in mounts in the gaming world is limited only by the imagination.

I think my very first experience with mounts in video games was Golden Axe for the Sega Genesis. There was a short, tubby chicken beaked monster that your enemies would ride into combat on, swinging its odd scorpion tail to try to knock you down for the kill. Beat them up enough and the enemy would be dismounted and their mount would flop on the ground for a bit. Running across one, imagine my surprise when I noticed "OMG DID I JUST GET ON THAT AWESOME CHICKEN MOUNT!?" Forget the fact it was a ridiculous pink and yellow and its tail swing was only mildly effective, this was the COOLEST thing I could do! The amusing part was that your own partners could attack you in this game, so competitions for mounts could get pretty fierce between my sister and I. And if you got knocked off one to many times, the mount would simply get irritated and run off. Then you could simply stare in sadness and yell at your partner through the next few stages until you came across another. And there certainly were more! In fact the next two were dragons! One pink that shot fireballs and a blue one that spat out a stream of fire. This entire design of combative mounts was not just amazing, it was also very unique, helping pave the way for other games in the future.

These mounts really gave Golden Axe a whole new and exciting aspect of the gameplay. You have no idea how many hours my sister and I fought over these <,<

With the Sega Saturn, came Panzer Dragoon, a rail shooter in which you spent then entire game on the back of your dragon, hunting an evil dragon monster from destroying the world. Keeping with the dragon theme, Lair, for the Playstation 3 featured a whole story about a rider and his dragon, featuring some interesting aerial and ground combat. Breaking away from beasts and dragons, tons of impressive vehicles have been featured in games as well! Consider the Burnout series or other racing games, allowing you to choose a variety of vehicles to race, crash and explode your way to victory! Or how about the Battlefield series or Halo, which had a variety of ground and air vehicles that could not only help carry you around the maps, but could also be taken into combat, or help carry your allies to the fight as well.

I may not have been able to shoot worth crap in Battlefield 2142, but I did get REALLY good at moving our team around with the UD-12 Shepherd VTOL!

So not only were mounts fun, they could also be very useful, especially for one of the primary reasons we still use them in real life today:  transportation. Thus it is no surprise that mounts became a fairly common part of MMORPGS which featured large, expansive worlds and a LOT of footwork.

I remember when I first joined World of Warcraft and watched as great Tauren warriors rode by on their war Kodos and Orc Shaman galloped by on the back of huge armored wolves. I thought they were pretty much the coolest thing ever. I remember the first time my Draenei paladin recieved her noble Warhorse, complete with gilded trappings and some impressive armor. Mounts not only looked cool, they were so much fun! There were so many different kinds in all shapes and sizes from the chocobo-like Hawkstriders to skeletal horses. Oh! And there were rare ones too! Some bosses would have a rare chance to drop special mounts, my very favorite being Anzu the Raven Lord, a glorious giant black and cobalt armored land bird mount with a unique model that was very coveted at the time.

Anzu still remains my favorite ground mount of all time. He is absolutely gorgeous! I also spent a ridiculous amount of time farming my very first one XD  (image found here)

Mounts were a really big deal when I started. They were a milestone in the progress of your leveling. At the time I began, you got your first mount at level 40, arriving at the seller with just barely enough gold to afford one of the first tiers. At a 60% bonus speed on top of your normal run speed, you felt like the fastest hero in all of Azeroth...until a level 60 rode by on their impressive epic level land mount going a whole whopping 100% faster! Since then, levels have been adjusted, as did the cost of the mounts, but even so, they have remained a landmark for leveling. Your first mount is now at 20, the epic, at 40. 60 means you can take flight on your first flying mount and 70 for your epic flight. And there is still one tier further of flight, letting you cross whole zones in a matter of minutes. Which was one of the downfalls of mounts in MMOs. With the run speed of your character, developers can envision and create zones that can feel huge and spacious by taking time to navigate and traverse. Cliffs, mountains, ravines and valleys will all feel very substantial as you have to take the time to slowly make your way across their surfaces. With the inclusion of ground mounts, you can cross these distances much faster, although you are still limited by your ties to the earth. The introduction of flight however, while totally awesome, had a heavy impact on the zones. Now even cliffs and pits could be bypassed with ridiculous ease, allowing you to easily navigate the zones. The downfall? Zones felt much smaller when you could simply fly over them or see them all at once. However the convenience of the flight always far outweighed this for me. In fact, I never felt they were shrunk that much in my eyes. I personally really loved flying over the zones. To me it was very therapeutic. Something about sailing on the back of a griffin, or even becoming a dragon and winging through the skies was so peaceful and serene. And it offered a fantastic view of the land below. I could trace the path of the rivers to the ocean, or dance through the spires of alien mountaintops in the Outlands. Sometimes, just flying alone, brought with it that sense of wonder and excitement. Just a tiny taste of the real thing. I was also one of those people who enjoyed circling zones and farming crafting materials when I just needed a night to relax. With the ability to chat with my friends and helping both myself and my guild with the collected materials, I rather enjoyed tracing through the zones and gliding in to mine ore or gather herbs that I needed for hours on end.

The only thing cooler then the Raven Lord, to me, was the ability to BECOME my own mount by transforming into the amazing Sandstone Drake. I spend many hours coasting around as a dragon. (image found here)

Mounts were not just used for transportation either. They could be trophies from difficult raid bosses, or based on completing achievements in dungeons or other events. In the Wrath of the Lich King expansion for World of Warcraft, mounted combat became a new idea put to the test. With the traditional or "hotkey" style of combat, these specialized mounts became basically a new UI that you used with a new set of abilities. A few quests involved story based mounts here and there and an entire jousting tournament was set up with a neat combat system and plenty of cool mounts for rewards. I know that some people really enjoyed the new vehicle system (like me) and some just really hated it. They could range from ridiculously easy (as soon as you learned the mechanics) like the Flame Leviathain boss in Ulduar to a stupidly difficult sudden mount change in the third phase of the Malygos raid fight. And this wasn't just for raids. There were many cannons and turrets you could hop on in the open world that made the game feel just that little bit more immersive and interesting. And as with much of World of Warcraft, it had the money, reputation and time to try out new and interesting ideas that would not only help them, but teach the entire MMO community.

Take for instance, Lord of the Rings Online which recently introduced a brand new mounted combat system that allows you to ride a warsteed into battle. Though I have not had the opportunity to try it out for myself, from what I have read, it functions similar to WoW, in that it replaces your UI with a new one for your mounted combat, though it goes much deeper then that. Your warsteeds will have their own talent trees of sorts, allowing you to spend points on traits that improve your steed or even give them access to new abilities. Momentum and speed are even given thought, translating into a resource called "fury" which can increase the effectiveness of their skills. In EVE online, almost every single thing you do involves your starship or what is essentially your "mount." You work to afford bigger and better ships, specializing and customizing them into tough cargo runners or fierce battleships, putting all the freedoms and hazards of space at your fingertips.

There are many kinds of ships in Eve, in all shapes, sizes and specializations. (image found here)

Now some games retain mounts as a simple convenience, such as Star Wars: The Old Republic. Though they have gotten significantly better designs and options with the introduction of the Cartel Coin Shop (even including beast mounts such as the Tauntaun and the Veractyl) the original sets were...kind of lackluster and most of them were pretty ugly, in my opinion. Then again, games such as Guild Wars 2, completely tossed out the concept of a mount in favor of fast travel teleportation around their zones and the idea of making you run and explore. Though this very much favored their leveling and zone design, I was slightly disappointed. Riding a Charr siege engine would have been amazing!

This all brings us back to WildStar. In a recent interview with Jeremy Gaffney on ZAM, there was an amazing announcement made: combat mounts will be in WildStar! They have already announced that there will be both beast and machine mounts with a preview so far of the really sexy looking gravity bike like the one Buck rides in the Blur trailer.

That is one sexy bike!

Gaffney went on to explain that Carbine wants mounts to be something worth more then just gathering up and stuffing in some virtual stables like World of Warcraft. Different mounts will have different abilities that you can use when riding into combat. He goes on to say:

“When you hop on a mount inside of WildStar, you don’t get knocked off it by random damage. For us, your mount has a shield bar. When you work the shield bar down to zero you get knocked off the mount, and you can’t hop back on it for a period of time. The mounts have abilities that you can use in combat so, depending on the mount, depending on how you customized it, you can get ones that are buffer, that are harder for you to get knocked off, or ones that have more useful powers for you to use in combat. It usually has temporary powers such as super-jump, or super-speed or something that you can use infrequently.

“The goal is to make a kind of mount economy, where you don’t want just one mount that’s the best at your level, but there’s actually some utility to having multiple mounts. It’s still kind of a baby system for the ones we’ve already added into the game, and we also intent to add more variety and ability to the mounts over time too.”

This just sounds super cool. I love it. As if WildStar hadn't sold me to it already I would heavily consider it based on this idea alone. To me, mounts are fun and exciting. They always have been. Now imagine riding on one of those sweet grav bikes or maybe even a Stemdragon (*puppy eyes at Carbine*) or perhaps those cool bird monsters we saw in the Aiming Devspeak video into combat. I am /especially/ curious to see how this will work in an action styled combat system! I imagine it will be face paced and wild and all sorts of exciting!

Pweeeeeeaaase? <3

Beyond just transportation or combat, mounts can also be a very important roleplaying tool as well. Perhaps your character is a mechanic, working on bikes or starships. Or perhaps they are a rancher, taking care of a variety of steeds and seeing them to good owners. Or maybe your character's steed is simply their trusty companion, the pal who has been there at their side through thick and thin. It's one part storytelling and one part dreaming, to me. I would love to ride through the rolling plains of some alien world on the back of a giant bird beast, so why shouldn't my character also enjoy that? Or perhaps he might enjoy the feeling of speeding down a dusty road in his souped up machine, leaving the world far behind as he pushes his bike to the limits!

I would never do something so wild and reckless as---

Oh can it Hawkens. That is a lie and both of us know this.


This brings me to one last topic on mounts that I would like to talk about: customization. Especially if you will be able to ride your steeds into combat, they are only going to be that much more important to you. But you aren't going to want to be riding the exact same model or fur color on your mount as every other person out there, that would get really boring. In WoW you could get the same model in many different colors, with rares usually having a unique colorset or even model of their own. What if, however, you could pick your own? Rather then choose from gray bike, blue bike, green bike or red bike, what if you could choose your primary, secondary and tertiary color upon purchasing the bike? Or maybe the bikes are bought with just a few basic palettes, but you can then turn around and customize them later?

I would love to see something similar to the Hair Saloon in WoW, only even better, for both styles of mounts. Something like a machine shop/ ranch that could give your rides sweet new paint jobs or some dyed fur. I know it might be stretching the concept a little for beast mounts, but seriously, WildStar is full of silliness and humor anyway. It would be really neat if you could bring your mounts in and change their looks to fit your tastes. Perhaps dyes could cost gold depending on single colors or sets, as another money sink to move the economy, or maybe you could even add decals or trappings on vehicles while customizing trappings and saddles on beasts.

So instead of having a green and tan bike, I could simply buy that base color (in case I liked it well enough or simply didn't care to customize further) and then if I felt like it, I could bring it to a shop to color how I wished. Maybe I dye it deep cobalt blue with orange trim and gunmetal details. Now my bike is unique for me and suits my own personal tastes. I went through all the hard work to earn the gold to buy it and proudly added it to my roleplaying experience when my character picked it up from the shop. To top that off, his very own customized and well loved vehicle can also be ridden into combat and will feature skills and talents unique just to its model.

So what was once a simple concept is now just so much more. Mounts have so much potential from transportation to just that simple feeling of freedom. WildStar promises to add even more, making your mounts feel special and unique both in the field and in the thick of battle.

I cannot wait to revisit this topic in the future as we learn more!


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