Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Van Hemlock on Auto Assault

Via Michael Zenke's great Massive Update on 1up project I found three posts from Van Hemlock on Auto Assault: Introduction, an essay on why nobody plays it, and a final review. Van Hemlock has one of those blogs I'd like to read more, but rarely get around to it, although it is really well written. And since my own Auto Assault coverage was cut short by video game motion sickness, I can only recommend reading what Van Hemlock has to say about it.

He reports that there is only one server, and that on that server there are only about 100 concurrent users, including the free trials. I'm not quite sure, but he said he got there via a European free trial, so it is possible that there is another Auto Assault server for the US out there, with maybe some more players. But that would still suggest that Auto Assault is a flop, and I can't really understand why. Okay, so the game caused me nausea and I couldn't play it, but I doubt that is the reason why everybody else isn't playing. Auto Assault isn't that bad a game, it's actually quite fun if you like the fast and furious version of fun. Van Hemlock mentions an effect I usually call the negative network effect, people aren't playing Auto Assault because nobody is playing Auto Assault.

Nevertheless, the lack of success of Auto Assault makes you wonder. The same company, NCSoft, is about to bring out a new game, Tabula Rasa, which has some things in common with Auto Assault: fast and furious gun-shooting in a Sci Fi setting. And I really wish them success with that one. But if Tabula Rasa tanks as well, they'll have to ask themselves which part of that formula isn't working. With other non-fantasy games doing well enough (EVE, City of Heroes), I don't think that this means only the fantasy genre is viable for MMORPGs. But I could imagine that somehow the shooter gameplay isn't really appealing to the same sort of people who like the character development gameplay of a MMORPG. Or to say it even harsher, the average age of MMORPG players is well above the average age of the fans of the first-person shooter genre. I have no problems admitting that I'm simply too slow for a FPS, but is that a general problem? Are fast and furious shooters incompatible with MMORPGs? With quite a number of "faster" MMORPGs announced, not only shooters but also faster versions of sword-fighting fantasy, is the genre heading into a cul-de-sac?
AA biggest problem was the total lack of advertisement. Who should play your game if no one knows it exists. Even for someone watching the market closely it was tough to find any AA PR at all.

TR could find the same fate, but i guess just with the name Garriot attached to it, gaming media will focus on this one way more than they did on AA.

It's not the AA wasn't a fully polished flawless title, but that it got almost zero coverage. With 8 mill grinding their WoW avatars, you can not sell any other product by rooting on blog reviews and such.
You're right about the age difference. I desperately want a high quality sci-fi or post holocaust mmorpg, but I don't want it to be a fps hybrid.

Something Garriot said really struck me as being way off base. He described TR as a game designed with voice chat in mind. There's a huge difference between voice chat being an optional benefit and voice chat being absolutely needed.

When are developers going to realize that first gen role players are approaching middle age and don't have the hearing, eye site or reflexes that they once did.

Might be an interesting subject to write about.
Oh, the above poster is me, sorry.

And let me add that I got my first whiff of less than flattering feedback about war hammer online beta.

The main reason I want warhammer online and tabula rasa to be successful is that it will put more pressure on blizzard to be more responsive to the growing criticisms concerning world of warcraft.

Let's hope these two titles can turn it around, for this reason alone.
Important Notice — 07/02/07

NOTICE: Today NCsoft is announcing that it will be closing down service for Auto Assault at the end of the summer. The service will close at midnight on August 31, 2007. As of today, any player currently in the service with an active billed account will not be billed again. If players have previously purchased time via multi-month billing or time cards that extends their service past July 31, NCsoft will reconcile these accounts appropriately. There will be more announcements coming soon regarding the shut down of Auto Assault and its impact on current accounts. Please check back at for more information.
funny that a car-based mmorpg is bound to be cancelled. happend to moto-city online and now AA
It's a shame really. AA is really not a bad game although it has/had some problems. I always intended to resub at some point when they got the server stability improved, but I guess that will not happen now. :)
AA was a strange game, I had big hopes for it, especially talking to others about playing "car wars" in our youth and how it was hopefuly going to be a cross over from that type of game and a mad max type mix.

In the end though it just felt wrong to be playing a big truck "healer" type, and trying to conform to MMORG ideals is maybe where it went wrong.
They had the vision to create a unique game world and then seemed to lose the vision in the actual gameplay.

Couldn't have said it better, Konnor. Back in beta many tried to tell them that classes weren't the way to go with something lik Auto Assault.

But cramming the typical aspects of MMORPGs into a car-combat game seemed like a unique idea, and it was... just maybe not the direction AA needed.

My friend and I were just talking the other day about how all it needed to do was go free to play with ads supporting it to gain some more players.

One wonders if NCsoft every thought of doing so. Maybe NetDevil will buy it back and run it themselves as such, but it's doubtful with everything else they have going on.
I really wanted it to be a form of Car Wars or Battlecars online. It was a shame that was too cut down.

My extremely casual MMOG playing friend thought it was the worse MMOG he's ever played. Guess if you've lost the enthusiasts (ie nostalgic car wars fans) and the casuals, there not many others left to fill the gap ;)
I think the main problems with Auto Assault (aside from the aforementioned lack of exposure) was shallowness of gameplay and the character classes.

Auto Assault should have used a skill based system rather than a class system as being pigeonholed into 'healer, tank, dpser, buffer' was idiotic for a car combat game. The gameplay was also always more of the same. Mobs got harder as you gained levels, but the environments didn't change much, nor was there really much mob variety.

Lack of depth to character development was also a big flaw in my view. Your vehicle had very few slots for equipment, and your character had very few customization options as you leveled.

With some tweaking, AA would have actually made an enjoyable single player game if given a storyline and an 'end boss' to beat. The framework its built around really doesn't support online subscription pay.
Wonder what that says about AoC's chance for success.

I like much of what is offered by Age of Conan, but the FPS feel will keep me from playing it at all.
Interesting how we all had expectations for AA going in and it seemed to have not met any of them (although that just means they tried to do something new which isn't bad). I personally was hoping for an Interstate 76 type MMO. Loved what I saw of the destruction of terrain, hated what I saw in the beta test and stayed far away.

I think there is room for faster MMO games. Planetside had tons of potential which it cashed in on sometimes and failed miserably at other times. Planetside also had a decent amount of early success which is what makes me think this model is doable. There is an audience for it, the audience is just aware when the game is junk.
Some of you might find Darkwind: War on Wheels interesting. It's much closer to being a car wars mmorpg, and is even turn-based which is great for us wrinklies ;-)
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