February 05, 2005

Tried and true American icons

Tried and true American icons, Posted by Hello

For the past half-century America has been defined by the automobile. "Fast cars and fast women" has become such a cliche that feminists themselves don't even pay attention to it anymore. Hollywood has given us dozens of movies based on automotive culture. Everything from the melodramatic and immensely captivating American Graffiti, to the corny, comical, and rather boring Convoy. Need I mention the wacky and forgettable Death Race 2000? By the way, that one somehow managed to engender such a solid core of fans that it even made the leap into gaming with the unlovely title of "Carmageddon."

Don't misunderstand me! At heart, I am a hardcore car nut. My first car was a lowly Ford Pinto and like all virgin loves, I still believe it was one of the most beautiful cars Ford ever produced. Sheepishly, I must also admit that my first college degree was an AOS from DADC and I am ASE certified in nine different fields. Unfortunately, at the time I graduated from DADC journeyman mechanics were accepting apprentice wages and the entire industry was shifting from shops that repaired anything to convenience-store style national chains offering lube jobs and tune-ups. What I really wanted to do was get into either racing or customizing, but none of those shops in Denver were hiring either. Lacking realistic work options, I came back to Japan and have been here ever since.

Well, at least I get to wear a suit and tie. Of course, my fingernails are no longer black with grime and my knuckle scars have mostly faded away as well, so I suppose it's not a bad life, but sometimes when I arrive at the office and unlock the door I really miss the smell of old hydrocarbons and burnt coffee. A sterile modern office just doesn't have the same effect.

Then one day last week I stopped by the NC Soft website and noticed the passing mention of a new game: Auto Assault.

Eh? A car-based online game? No dragons? No elves? My, how interesting.

If this game succeeds, then NC Soft will be holding the rights to the two most innovative games in the online world today, Lineage II and Auto Assault. As a matter of fact, when you consider that City of Heroes with it's Marvelesque theme and Guild Wars with its instanced dungeons are both also part of the NC Soft portfolio, then suddenly it becomes apparent that they are holding every truly unique game in the adventure-oriented MMORPG market.

Now all they need is a wild west franchise and they'll truly have covered all the bases. But in the meantime, I am patiently waiting for the Auto Assault beta test to start and trying very hard to keep my expectations realistic. There are a million things I would like to see, but very few of them are realistic.

Reflections from the future: December 17, 2012

In my never humble opinion, Auto Assault was the beginning of the end for NC Soft. With this game they had a golden opportunity to redefine how the world plays games and they threw it away. Part of the problem was a huge uproar in South Korea over how NC Soft handled customer relations. That uproar resulted in riots outside their headquarters, vandalism to their facilities, and tens of millions of dollars (well, South Korean "won ₩" actually) in new physical security requirements. They also lost a huge amount of money when a Chinese programmer got fired, taking with him copies of both the client and the server software for Lineage II, which he immediately dumped into the Open Source world. Nonetheless, Auto Assault could have pulled them back from the brink and launched them into a new future where they would have commanded all the best adventure titles on the market.

Unfortunately, they never really gave it a chance. There were many problems with the interface and playability of the game, all of which came out during beta testing and were discussed endlessly. Some of them where fixed, but some of the most egregious were left to fester. Most importantly, character movement inside the towns was slow, torturous, and almost impossible. Clan and party interfaces were bulky and unmanageable, often obscuring vital areas of the player's combat view at critical moments. Naturally when these issues went live it had a detrimental effect on their ability to gather players. New players would jump eagerly into the free trial and leave within a few days without bothering to drop by the forums and complain. Patches in the first six months after release fixed many of the problems but right at the point where the game became both enjoyable and easy to play, they cancelled it.

NC Soft has been floundering ever since. Guild Wars does okay and despite the turmoil, in South Korea Lineage II is still huge. However, the rest of their global market has mostly passed to World of Warcraft and Eve Online. Apparently Blizzard's customer service is good enough to keep the vast majority of online players happily killing rats and wolves while the techno-wannabes don't mind sailing around as a disembodied space ship in search of resources and pirates.