Another Look at Star Trek Online

Space may be the final frontier, but Cryptic Studios is boldly going where no other game company has gone before.  Star Trek Online, the first MMO based on the legendary franchise, was one of the most exciting new games we previewed at PAX '09.  We got to experience first-hand Cryptic's unique blend of space combat, role-playing and epic exploration, and we're more stoked than ever to pilot our very own capitol ship when the game finally hits store shelves.  Taking a break from his primary duties during the convention, as Ambassador to Planet Nerd, Craig Zinkevich, Executive Producer from Cryptic, talked to us a bit about the game and gave us a taste of what it's like to pwn a Klingon battlecruiser with a full-spread phaser salvo.

As our stalwart crew engaged the enemy in orbit around a hostile alien world I quickly realized just how much a tactical officer really has to keep track of: positioning of the ship, relative energy levels between shields and weapons, firing arcs and reload times and some suicidal captain shouting highly illogical orders over his shoulder even as the bridge is rocked violently by torpedo volleys.  The over-zealous captain in this case would be our very own Andrew Beegle and, despite his lack of proper academy training, we ultimately triumphed against the bloodthirsty Klingons.  How did we do it?  Human intuition, you silly Vulcan.  Intuition that is on full display in the game's interface and makes it easy for nublets like us to quickly grasp the mechanics of interstellar travel and combat inside a gravity well.

Guild Wars Evolution: An Interview With ArenaNet

Earlier this month at PAX, ZAM had the chance to speak with a few of the developers from ArenaNet about its upcoming MMO, Guild Wars 2. A sequel to the successful Guild Wars (published by NCSoft), Guild Wars 2 is currently in full production, with a predicted release date sometime in 2010 to 2011. We learned quite a bit about the project, including its new and revamped engine, what to expect from PvP, and the story and lore behind it all.

ZAM sat down for a Q&A about the upcoming sequel with Jeff Grubb (Game Designer), Daniel Dociu (Art Director) and Mike O'Brien (Founder and President, ArenaNet) to find out what players can expect to see in Guild Wars 2, which will be featured on ZAM in a few days, after the weekend. Before the Q&A, though, we had a brief chat with the team about the history of the franchise, and why they decided to make a sequel, rather than continue supporting the original Guild Wars. PAX Awards Results

This year we decided to cover PAX more aggressively than we have in the past and one of the by-products of that choice is our first annual PAX Awards. Even though the convention focuses on tabletop, PC and console games -- MMOs were featured extensively, demonstrating that they continue to become more and more popular in the gaming world. As such, due to our MMO focus we had to be extremely selective about what kind of awards we gave out and who we gave them to. Ultimately, this was not an easy task as all of our nominations are great games. This was especially difficult when it came to selecting the winner for "Best in Show". In the end, tough decisions were made and it's time to reveal those decisions to the world. Without further ado, the Winners!

ZAM Gets First-Hand Look at Siege of Mirkwood

Shadow looms over Mirkwood. On the western edge of the forest an ancient tower, Dol Goldur, harbors incomprehensible evil. To the brave souls who would dare stem the tide of darkness and challenge Sauron's dominion, remember: "There is always hope." As in level 65, baby. Nazgul? Bring it!

Lord of the Rings Online's newest expansion, Siege of Mirkwood, promises quite a few exciting features, and we were lucky enough to see many of them first-hand at PAX '09, showcased by Executive Producer Jeffrey Steefel from Turbine. Some of you might know the end-game raid properly as The Necromancer's Tower from "The Hobbit," only briefly mentioned by JRR Tolkien in that book but later expounded upon in "The Lord of the Rings" appendices and "The Silmarillion." Apparently, one o' them no good Nazgul has taken up residence by order of The Dark Lord himself, and it's your job to send him packin'. Before we get to that, though, I'd like to cover some of the other elements of the expansion.

Exec Producer Gives Global Agenda Details at PAX

We tried out the Global Agenda demo at the Penny Arcade Expo and got the chance to sit down with Executive Producer Todd Harris to discuss various aspects of the game, including PvE and PvP combat. Harris even gave us some details on the 'Agency vs. Agency' system that's going to be part of the next beta phase this fall. It looks like high-level teams will get to fight over territories owned by a particular agency, which adds an extra layer of strategy to the game. Global Agenda is a nominee for "Best in Show" in our first PAX Awards.

ZAM: Hey Todd! We just finished our demo and that was pretty cool; it was like a battle instance within a larger game world…

Todd Harris: Yeah, there are really three types of combat instances, in addition to social spaces. One, we do just have social city spaces; they’re pretty small hub areas, but they’ve got vendors, an auction house and a virtual reality where you can go in and shoot your friends for practice—that sort of thing. For combat, there are really the three types, all of them are instance spaces but they’re linked together in different ways. One is PvE, so we have a lot of folks that come to us from Planetside…but we do have a rich PvE, experience unlike Planetside. It’s built around four-person teams, so you go co-op. It’s a little different experience than the objective-based PvP map, [where] you go through a progressive dungeon-crawl sort of experience. But for us, it’s a mission; fighting a mini-boss in each stage and a big boss at the end.

League of Legends: Release and Beyond

Before our big Riot Games vs. Team ZAM match at PAX this year (which we regrettably lost), we ambushed Marc Merrill, President of Riot to get some insight about what the team has planned up until launch and beyond. If you haven't been able to try League of Legends yet, stay tuned -- we're going to be giving away over 20,000 beta keys sometime this week.

ZAM: League of Legends is doing great here; you have a lot of people playing the game and all of them are having fun. What kind of feedback have you guys had so far?

Marc Merrill: We've had some great feedback. Not only from guys who have been in the beta, that have been playing for a long time, coming by, wanting to meet the developers. Other players that have played DotA, but not necessarily have heard of League of Legends have had a great reaction as well. And then a lot of people that have never experienced the MOBA genre have shown up and had a great time as well. There are a couple guys playing right now, in fact, who are having a really great time. It's really exciting for us; it's been in positivity all around.

ZAM: I've been in the beta for a while, so a lot of the stuff that you guys have in right now, we already know about. We want to know about the new stuff, I want to know about the stuff that's going to go in that hasn't necessarily happened. Most notably, new maps, new champions or other juicy nuggets of information you can tell us about.

We Talk Power and Prestige with Flying Labs

During our meeting at PAX with Flying Labs, we spoke with Associate Producer, Janice Vonitter and Game Designer, Greg Hanefeld about their rum drinking ... and Pirates of the Burning Sea. The first expansion is tentatively called "Power and Prestige" and although it currently has no set release date, we've been told that it will definitely be released in 2010. Check out all the details in to Power and Prestige which was been nominated for one of our PAX awards.

ZAM: We understand that there's a new expansion that you guys are talking about at PAX. Can you tell us the name and some basic information?

Janice Vonitter: Yep, it's called "Power and Prestige." It's centered on influence and control over the Caribbean, and parts in it. The main feature in it is the player governed ports. So you can run to be a governor of the port, and if you get a bunch of people to support you, and they put you up for Governor, you can be elected. Once you are governor, you can do a lot of things that actually affect how the port performs, economically and defensively against other players when they try to take it over.

ZAM: What are some of the lesser features of this expansion?

Coruscant Details Added to HoloNet

Coruscant, the capital of the Republic, is an important planet for both Star Wars fans and the franchise's history. Penny Arcade Expo attendees got the chance to see a special sneak peek of the world as it appears in Star Wars: The Old Republic, and that video is now available in high quality on the game's official Web site.

The HoloNet has also been updated with Coruscant's history, as well as screenshots of the planet. The page provides details on the sacking of Coruscant by the Sith and the treaty that brought an end to the Great Galactic War, which has forced the Senate "to make difficult decisions on prioritizing the Republic’s resources."

In case you missed it, the sacking of Coruscant was shown in the "Deceived" cinematic trailer that BioWare released in June. Even if you've already seen it, the impressive video is worth watching again.

Massive Turnout For PAX, Possible Expansion Plans

The annual Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) in Seattle drew a record turnout last weekend, with a total of 60,750 people in attendance. According to Big Download's recent chat with Penny Arcade's Robert Khoo, this year's turnout was only a couple thousand more than last year's 58,500 attendees...But as the story points out, tickets were purposely limited in advance this year because PAX organizers weren't comfortable that they would be able to safely accommodate a larger number of attendees at the venue (Washington State Convention and Trade Center). Considering that tickets sold out by the time the expo began (and that an additional 1000 single-day tickets sold out shortly after they went on sale), it's safe to speculate that attendance could have been even higher, if Penny Arcade has the venue to support it.

And next year, they might have that venue. The website reports Khoo's remark; "[...] he told us that next year they hope to allow more people to attend the show due to some expansion plans that are taking shape around the convention center." The Penny Arcade community has come a long way since its early days as a gamer-themed webcomic and site; the first PAX took place back in 2004, with just a tad more than 3000 attendees. In the coming years, that number could potentially approach 100,000 if the current pattern continues. Next year also marks the first time Penny Arcade will host a second expo, outside of Seattle: PAX East is planned for Boston, Mass. from March 26-28, 2010.

To read all of our coverage from PAX last weekend (which includes some great interviews), click here and tell us what you think in the comments section. You'll also want to take a look at our first annual PAX Awards 2009, a new feature rounding up the best the expo had to offer, according to our on-site reporting team.

The PAX Awards

This year we decided to cover PAX more aggressively than we have in the past and one of the by-products of that choice is our first annual PAX Awards. Even though the convention focuses on tabletop, PC and console games, MMOs were featured extensively, demonstrating they continue to become more and more popular in the gaming world. As such, due to our MMO focus we had to be extremely selective about what kind of awards we gave out and who we gave them to; however, we’re happy with the end result and we hope that you, our readers and the recipients of these awards will be as well. So without further ado, the Nominees!