Surly’s Column: “Alphabeta”


Where once word from on high would bring the great unwashed into clamored fanaticism I now look upon the fans and followers mixed with relief and perhaps a touch of bleak bewilderment. Who are these ennui, the patient and debonair, who cling to a somber calmness and abandon the once common voracious frenzy of all mention of testing and release? There, but for the curse of disillusion, go I

Perhaps the truth is not that Darkfall’s fans have come upon enlightenment, rather they’ve forcefully adopted maturity out of necessity. Through years of mismanaged beta signups, alpha client circulation, leaked footage, and missed deadlines it remains true that Darkfall is one of the most anticipated MMORPGs yet in development. Relations with the community are non-existent, and the flippant disdain which appears to pour from Aventurine’s mouth with every address directed at the community is hardly something that can be confused for endearing. The unshakable loyalty of such fans is quite the inspiration.

After previous fumbling, last week Ass. Producer Tasos Flambouras once again brought up the word “beta”. Tentatively, Aventurine has arrived at an internal date, a goal, of summer 2007. I am quite relieved to see that the fans have not been stirred into a fit of convulsions over the matter, jealously slashing one another’s throats to win statistical favor through attrition. However, I can’t help but feel that this lack of emotional outburst may be for the wrong reasons. Aventurine has a less than stellar record with anticipated dates, and it’s no secret to any follower of the game’s development that a tremendous portion of the buzz that came with clan beta signups of two years ago has subsided and left a great deal of people disenchanted.

Mistakes have been made, there’s no real way to deny it. Coupled with the complete information lockdown which took place immediately after it, it’s really no wonder that vaporware speculation began to proliferate with ease across various gaming sites and communities. These mistakes, however, are a tremendously beneficial thing in my eyes. Given a defense contractor used to being accountable only to its employer, what would you expect? The lesson of accountability to an audience is one very hard learned, and it is better to make these realizations now, before it matters. One could make a career out of learning to please a crowd, after all.

Temperance is a trait perhaps most valuable, and indeed admirable, in any company who would defy market standards in the creation of something as encompassing as an MMORPG. Temperance that I believe Aventurine has now learned, for which I lend them by my respect for its achievement, and my sympathy for the process of attaining it. That said, if I might venture an estimation, it is well within reason to believe the projections Tasos is willing to make from here on out. If Aventurine speculates a summer beta, there will be a summer beta. Not a moment too soon in my eyes, with the flames of the competition licking their heels.

I see the MMO market through a haze of cynicism brought by years of broken dreams at the hands of profiteers. The last great love of my more childish youth is in utter ruin, commercialized, clinging desperately with tear-soaked cheeks to the genre it birthed. Without success, and soon, the very concept of a free multiplayer environment will decay from our memories, a forgotten and failed notion left by the wayside of progress, efficiency, to the march of the pigs. Who then will provide me, provide us, with this very particular form of entertainment which reigns alone as the pinnacle of meaningful time mismanagement? The pitiful truth of reality, though it may be harsh, is no one.

So it falls on Aventurine S.A. to bear the responsibility, whether desired or not, to champion a genre on its death bed, to stop the decay. Appeal to the lowest common denominator simply does not interest the highest common denominator. Expecting the best, all fans of Darkfall are faithful to the idea of a free, fully featured persistent world. Too long have the whiners been given their snot-rags in place of the deserved slap in the face at the hands of an industry which panders where it should protect, yields where it should hold, and cowers in fear where it should innovate. Stalwart determination and obstinance would be the necessary bulwark against tradition if one is to challenge those historical assumptions by the industry. Fitting, then, that Aventurine would make its motto for development “No Compromise”; fitting also that the dedicated fans’ ambitions be available to shoulder that burden.

No greater example exists of the fans’ abilities to aid Aventurine than in the very recent examples of our friend Muffins. Piecemealed together from various screenshots and video clips from Darkfall’s official library, the “Darkfall is Coming” video has received well over 80,000 views and growing on YouTube in addition to thousands of downloads for it from hosted sites. It is quoted by new Darkfall arrivals almost universally as the video that got them hooked. Its popularity dwarfs the view rates of the official Darkfall video, which claims credit to less than one tenth of the popularity of this fan video across all mediums including the Darkfall Online Website, and betrays the official Aventurine repertoire of propaganda for what it is: insufficient. Congratulations to our friend, avid blogger, and resident creative genius, Muffins. Your contributions are not going unnoticed.

This early in development, publicity isn’t everything. Development obviously takes precedence over all other objectives, but when the time comes to really promote Darkfall and Aventurine finally takes up the reins of the “PR Machine” in full force I believe that we, as fans, have a tremendous amount to add. Muffins’ video is proof of that. Aventurine obviously has never run an ad campaign across the internet, never promoted a video game, and doesn’t have much experience with pleasing its fans. So here is really where we, as a collective of gamers, can truly contribute.

I believe making at least an estimation of the necessary resources will help Aventurine considerably when it is time for them to begin full scale promotion. As an old fan who trumpeted Darkfall quite heavily during the clan beta signups of 2005, I come from the position of some one who wants to approach his old gaming friends once again and bring news of Darkfall without having old beer cans thrown at my head. I can only speak for myself on these matters though, so I’d encourage any and all fan input as I’m sure will be appreciated by Tasos. So here’s a short list of what I’d like to see once a release date is finalized:

Videos. The bulk of gamers have attention spans shorter than a Special Olympics Spelling Bee, so it stands to reason that videos should be the primary promotion.

1.Walkthrough of character creation and a newbie PvE quest.

2.Developer commentary as they film him at a workstation explaining one of
Darkfall’s innovative technical features, such as AI programming, sound effects, or resource generation.

3.PvP battle scenario played out with siege equipment from a birds-eye view which details a possible strategy like an American Football game replay booth.

4.Promotional video of clips which glorify and detail the merchant’s path in the game of Darkfall, showing caravans, mining, shipment raiding, and blockade running.

5.Promotional video of PvE team effort and/or Raid Content in progress.

Since the current Darkfall Gameplay video already details a bit of action sequence in fighting and naval combat, further of promotion may be redundant in that area. However, if the inclination struck them, I would also like to see a long 10-15 minute “epic” promotional video that would tell a short story, detailing basically every aspect of the game in the process from espionage and clan warfare to resource wars and naval blockades. I should accredit such wonderful ideas from times past to another community member, Porthios. As these things have been discussed before with little attention, I hope now that backed by a published article that these ideas, which once caused me to pump my fist in heated excitement, may inspire Aventurine when they have need to let flow their creative juices. I can’t hold a candle to the creativity of our collective Darkfall Community, and neither can Aventurine. So let loose, and remember, it wasn’t that long ago Aventurine was asking us for quest ideas, so they do value productive input.

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