By John "Boomjack" Hoskin
Passion isn't something that you can fake. Luckily Darrin McPherson doesn't have to. As Senior Game Designer on Vanguard: Saga of Heroes Darrin can tell you the "saga" of developing, delivering and reintroducing this game to the public.
I first met Darrin two years ago in Los Angeles. The event was E3 2005 and the venue was a room so small that 10 folding chairs barely fit side by side. Darrin sat almost in our laps demoing the game to a group of press who were literally famished for information. Vanguard was hot. Everyone wanted a nugget of gold to hand to their readers. "The Vision" dictated the design. The team was called Sigil Online Games.
Yesterday the room was still small, and the room was still warm, but the venue was Leipzig 2007. Darren sat comfortably beside us, animated and enthusiastic, explaining where the game was going. The game is no longer hot. Arguably it is cool at best, having released January 30, 2007 to discouraging, negative and sometimes hostile reviews. "The Vision" has been replaced by "the vision". The team is now Sony Online Entertainment (SOE). Darrin remains a constant. A part of what was and a part of what will be. Committed and earnest he smiled and explained to me what was new in Vanguard.
The premature release of the title meant that bug fixes and polish took precedence over expansions and new content. Sometimes the gameplay mechanics themselves were mistakes that needed to be tweaked, tinkered with or even thrown out. Design choices in the original release were retooled and more efficient mechanics were put in place. Bind on Equip and Bind on Pickup items were two mechanics that Darrin mentioned as post-release changes that have bettered the game. Rested experience is another mechanic that been added to the game since launch. Even the crafting experience curve has been reduced by 30%. These major changes have all gone a long way toward turning the Vanguard: SoH of launch into the title that you can play today. Tough decisions have been made, like the one to merge servers. As of this Tuesday, August 28, SOE will begin the process of merging down to four Vanguard servers. Nothing about Vanguard:SoH has been easy so far, and some of the experience hasn't been fun for either the players or developers. That may all be about to change.
Update #3 is in the pipe and it looks great. Unlike the tweaks and changes that came before it, UD3 will be raid focused. Many players were maxing out their characters and discovering that at level 50, there was simply nothing else to do. Those that didn't start alternative characters, take up diplomacy or take up crafting, simply left the game. That is going to change.
Ancient Port Warehouse is a raid focused zone that looks to be packed with compelling content. Not only will this non-instanced zone be the home to Vanguard's first dragon, it will also be the residence of no less than 21 other boss mobs. A winged dungeon, Ancient Port Warehouse will also host Portal Stones. Adventurers who have crawled through the dungeon to one of the many portal stones will be able to port back to that position. This will not only allow players to enjoy the portions of the dungeon that they relish most, but it will keep players who have completed different sections from tripping over one another on their way through the zone.
Raids are setup as 12-person raids. Even the dragon is a 12-person encounter. Darrin let slip that adventurers will need the right equipment, looted from the dungeon in order to be able to take down the first dragon to ever grace the game.
The boss NPCs are currently set to a three-day persistent timer. (Contestable mobs from Everquest anyone?) That will be changing to a personal three-day timer. In other words, a player can only take out a specific mob once every three days. Two very hard overland mobs are also being introduced, or in the case of one of them, "reintroduced". If you have ever been whacked by a giant killing machine near your plot you can guess who I'm referring to.
If the upcoming content is as exciting as Darren was enthusiastic there is an excellent chance that you might find yourself back in Telon hunting a dragon.
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