Battlefield 3 Open Beta

September 30, 2011

Battlefield 3 open beta is now live and I got the chance to play it a bit last night. It’s a gorgeous game. Flat out the best looking game I’ve played to date. And it runs well, with none of this “Ultra settings choke even a NASA computer” crap you get sometimes. Same goes for the audio; it sounds great and really pulls you into the game.

I’m not the biggest FPS fan, so tiny details are basically lost on me, at least from an ultra-competitive perspective. I don’t know/care which weapons are slightly more powerful than others, the number of milliseconds it takes to jump/sprint/whatever. Maybe Battlefield 3 is great in this respect, maybe worse. I’m not the person to say one way or the other. To me Battlefield 3 plays like a shooter. It plays similar-enough to Bad Company 2. That’s not bad per-se, but the first hour with the game felt like playing another hour of BC2, just with better visuals and a different map.

If I was hurting for titles to play, I’d pick up Battlefield 3 to kill some time with. ‘Unfortunately’, I have more than enough games to play right now, and a bunch of titles waiting in the wings. The price point is also tough to justify. While $60 itself is not a big deal, the fact that I can pick up games for $5-$10 off Steam makes dropping the money tougher to justify. Knowing that the game will go on sale for half the price or less at some point is also a factor.

My plan is to enjoy the beta until it ends, and then pick the game up on sale to at least play the single player game, and perhaps mess around with multi-player, although having to unlock all the guns and accessories (again) somewhat sours that aspect. Funny statement coming from an MMO player, but there you go.

 


Blood Bowl 80% off

September 29, 2011

Steam sale, of course.

Recommend people pick it up (it’s a very solid TBS title at heart, with a football theme. It’s more a strategy title than a sports title),  as I’ll be running another league ‘soon’. Grab it now, learn the basics, sign up, and compete against other HC people. Fun for the whole family!


Redsox: Cataclysm

September 29, 2011

I don’t normally do this, given that this is mostly an MMO blog, but what happened last night in Baseball was stunning, historic, and gut-wrenching. This piece by Tom Verducci sums it up well.

As a resident of the City of Champions, last night was bittersweet. On the one hand, our team blew it in amazing fashion, and for the second straight year there will be no postseason. On the other hand, this year’s team was just so unlikable. All first-round, overpaid babies who expected to just make it, and when it came time to man up and win, they folded like cheap lawn chairs.

It will be a bloodbath in the offseason.

(Self-pat for the blog title)


Bad content burns you out

September 28, 2011

While talking about the fun curve, Tobold addressed something he and I have been going back and forth on for a bit: do you burn-out on an MMO, or do you quit because the game changed?

Before we go on, I understand that the easy answer is “it depends”, but for the sake of making a blog post, lets continue.

If Cata was BC/WotLK, you would not have quit, right? -Me

I am not certain. It is hard to look into alternate universes where thing would have happened differently. I liked WotLK more than I liked Cata, but maybe that hypothetical “more fun if Cata had been WotLK” would only have made me play a month or two more – Tobold

Tobold wrote more after that, see his blog for the full reply.

Cata caused Tobold (and many others) to quit, while at the same time Tobold (and likely many others) were already growing tired of the formula that is WoW. The Cata changes simply accelerated the path to “not having fun anymore”. And like Tobold says, had Cata been WotLK, perhaps it would have bought Blizzard another month or two, but the same-old feel would still likely have kicked in.

But what if Cata had not only been better than it was, but better than WotLK? What if the expansion had been something like (insert your favorite MMO expansion)? What if, instead of every 2 years, Blizzard released an expansion every year, with enough ‘stuff’ to keep players entertained until the next one?

Isn’t that… the point of the MMO model? (Or was anyway) And more importantly, isn’t that the ideal MMO experience? To have a game that is constantly evolving in a positive way, while retaining the core that got you interested in the first place?

Isn’t that why we all thought MMOs would dominate gaming forever, because instead of consuming a set amount of content and moving on, we would now be in a world that constantly provided us with more content, enabling us to stick around ‘forever’? And, well, isn’t that what happened ‘back in the day’? How long did you play EQ1? How quickly did people ‘burn out’ on AC1? Did anyone EVER see all of the content in UO back when that game still had a dev team?

On the flip side, we have plenty of examples of devs trying to do just that, and instead of adding positive content, they add trash AND screw the core up. Rift in beta vs Rift today will always stick in my mind, but WoW has slowly (or not so slowly, depending on who you ask) fallen off as well for many. Point being, changing the game can just as easily make it worse than make it better, and if you have a good thing, the ‘safe’ play is just to feed people ‘more of the same’ until it stops working, and then you go F2P, shut down, or do something drastic.

The reason I don’t believe that burnout is ultimately inevitable is because we have solid examples to suggest otherwise. I mean, Tobold has played WoW for 6000 hours. Are you really going to tell me it takes 6000 hours to reach burnout? Or was WoW so good that burnout was not a factor until the game itself started slipping? I played UO until Trammel, I played DAoC until ToA, I played WoW until TBC, I played Rift until 1.2. In not one of those games did I move on because of burnout. It did not take years to burn out on UO/DAoC, months for WoW, or weeks for Rift. Time was not a factor; the games changing was what did it.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that EVE, an MMO that has kept its core solid (blowing up spaceships), while at the same time evolving more than most, has seen and continues to see growth, even after 7 years. If Online Excel can do it, why can’t others?


LoL Dominion, Total War, and Borderlands

September 26, 2011

League of Legend’s Dominion is out today. Hopefully the servers don’t totally explode.

I think Dominion is a nice break from the traditional map (SR), certainly much better than the 3v3 map, but at the same time I don’t think it really plays like a MOBA game (if we define MOBA as DoTA, which I do). The total lack of a laning phase, while nice for game speed, really takes away a lot of the strategic depth, and when the game ends I just don’t get the same ‘feel’ as I do from a SR match. That said, I think it might be fun to play a round or two along with my daily ranked game, and hopefully Riot does not screw SR balance based on Dominion changes. Yet if they don’t, I expect some heavy cheese strats to dominate Dominion, and more than a few champs to rise to OP status.

I downloaded the demo for Total War: Shogun 2, and after playing it for a bit, realized how much Mount and Blade has spoiled me in terms of RTS games. In TW, much like in most RTS games, when two units fight, animations play out while numbers drop off a stat sheet. Eventually one of the units hits zero, and you win. But if you want to focus on one soldier, or see just how one specific terrain feature is impacting the battle, you can’t, because while the units are there graphically, for the combat engine it’s all just numbers and dice rolls, and to me that just looks/feels so shallow now. Can anyone tell me if it’s possible to play the TBS part of TW without ever playing the RTS portion? Like can I auto-battle everything, or does doing that really screw with the game/balance?

Finally our group of four finished the main game in Borderlands, and while the game as a whole was pretty good, the ending is terrible. Just makes zero sense and is a total letdown. Hopefully the DLC that we also have is fun. I’ve heard good things about it.


30 minutes to cap

September 23, 2011

Tobold’s post today does a nice job of summarizing what’s gone wrong with MMOs in the last few years in terms of design. The best example is this part:

If you consider a theoretical MMORPG with an infinite number of levels and free-for-all PvP, it is pretty obvious that the players spending the most time in the game would crush those spending the least amount of time.

The above is true, and it’s also terrible design. It’s why UO/AC worked as PvP games and had/have runs longer than almost any themepark. It’s why EVE continues to work, and it’s why Darkfall has its 3rd anniversary coming up. Those games combine the hook of character progression with the balance of player skill, and mix in a whole lot of social interaction to keep it all in check. The best PvPer might be a force 1v1, but they become a non-factor on the ‘grand scale’ of GvG warfare (unless, of course, they are in one of those guild, at which point they become a very powerful ‘boss’ figure).

The real evolution of MMO design is to not just balance between the octo-mom players and the hardcore, but to enable the two groups to complement each other. EVE gets this right in many ways, with the hardcore playing in 0.0 space, and the casuals benefiting from those actions in Empire (econ ramifications, being in the same world those major events happen, being able to jump into 0.0 when time permits, etc). In turn, 0.0 players benefit from all those miners and mission runners doing the ‘boring’ stuff in Empire that eventually makes its way out (and gets blown up, keeping the cycle going).

Poor design, such as creating raids that are initially too hard for most, and then nerfing them until they are faceroll easy, not only misses the entire point, but creates easy “us vs them” divides. This also leads to short-term content, rather than long-term solutions/hooks, and in a genre designed to be played for months (if not years), short-term content itself adds nothing in the long run. All of the end-game content from vanilla, TBC, and WotLK is now worthless in WoW, while (most) of the features added in each EVE expansion still matter today. The options in EVE expand, while those in games like WoW simply change (and if they change to something you don’t like, your only option is to leave, as I did pre-WotLK, and now even Tobold has done thanks to Cata). It’s not hard to understand why EVE retains its players for so long, while WoW is a revolving door.

And of course, if your game is designed around a revolving door, rather than retention, you have no motivation to create deeper gameplay. You have no reason to go as deep as EVE does with some of its mechanics, or to design combat systems that can’t be learned on youtube or reduced to a few scripts; your players leave long before they ever get to the mastery phase. And really, it’s not even their fault; it’s how so many of the post-WoW games are designed, and the results of such design decisions are on display for the world to see.


Why Hogger is famous

September 22, 2011

Because he killed you, made you stop and think, and made you either move on in defeat or find others to take him down.

Read that WoWWiki entry and tell me that it’s a ‘problem’ that Hogger could be defeating in all those different ways, including the ‘creative use of game mechanics’ tactic of dragging him to the guards.

Hogger is the definition of why an MMO is awesome. Nerfing and making Hogger solo-able is the definition of destroying an MMO because some octo-mom got her feelings hurt and would rather make a forum post than talk to another player.

Hat-tip to Longasc here for the idea.


2000 hours with EQ, 5 minutes with the kids.

September 22, 2011

2000 hours to hit the original level cap in EQ1 is not the reason EQ1 was ‘hard’ (not a great way to really look at this, but more on that later). A harsh death penalty wasn’t it either. Nor was camping a mob for 16 hours, or the forced grouping, or red-con zone runs. It was all of that and more, all mixed together.

Another analogy (it’s analogy week here): is your best friend the person you hang out with regularly, or that random guy you occasionally talk to for five minutes? Better yet, can you spend 5 minutes with your kids and still be a great parent? No? So being a parent/friend is really just ‘a grind’, where time = result, right? No? But you just argued exactly that for an MMO. That it’s not about the amount of time you put in, but the level of effort. Why is it that you believe you can get ‘meaningful’ MMO content in 30 minutes, but you don’t believe you can be a great parent/friend in just 30?

Spending “quality time” has time in it for a reason. While time is not the ONLY factor, it still counts.

The MMO genre was built around living in a virtual world. It’s not a ‘casual’ genre by design, because by design the parts that really make a game an MMO require time to be put in. You don’t get great communities, solid guilds, or heated rivalries when you jump in for 30 minutes and log out, no matter how ‘quality’ those 30 were. A well designed game like EVE will allow those 30 minute players to co-exist with those who drive the content, but while the game would continue to function without the 30 minute players, it would not without those who push things forward.

As the genre has expanded (or fractured, really), solid options for the 30 minute player exist. A game like Global Agenda is a pretty horrible MMO in the traditional sense, but it provides great content in small, random, pick-up-and-move-on bites. It works despite failing horrible in areas like server community, but then again it’s also F2P and won’t scratch that traditional MMO itch. For the 5 minute player we have Facebook, etc.

History has very clearly shown that when games get traditional MMO design right, they profit. UO/EQ/AC/DAoC/EVE/WoW (pre-Cata) and others have all made boatloads of money for their designers, specifically because they keep you entertained for months on end. It’s also no surprise that more ‘casual’ WoW clones, ones that minimize the core MMO basics in the name of ‘accessibility’, burn out so fast. Not only do these games fail to capture the core MMO audience, but the more casual players they intended to attract move on quickly because, well, that’s what casuals do. By definition they don’t get super-invested, and so when the next shiny comes along, they chase it. That’s fine if you are selling a one-and-done $50 box, but it’s not going to work out when you hope to collect $15 a month, or even when you try to sell ponies or potions in your item shop.

Back to EQ1 being ‘hard’: getting to the level cap was not a true test of twitch skills or some massive mental hurdle. There was no ‘hard stop’ like in, say, a fighting game, where if you can’t beat the guy you are fighting, you simply can’t progress. The really nice thing about an MMO is that if your personal skill level is lower, you can still progress by putting in more time. What made UO/EQ/AC and such ‘work’ was that ‘putting in more time’ did not just mean grinding more mobs, and certainly not spending more cash in the item shop; it meant reaching out to other players for help, or finding a solid guild. It meant working with others, which in turn creates those solid player communities that keep you logging in day after day.

Mechanics such as a harsh death penalty or a long XP curve encourage (or in EQ1 and grouping, force) playing with others. The better the design, the more natural this encouragement feels, and the more time you spend with those people, the close the bond, and the deeper the ‘MMO hooks’ become.

This is exactly why being able, or in the case of something like WoW-Cata, being encouraged to level solo is so anti-MMO. It’s why solo-instances are a sad, short-sighted design joke. It’s why random, cross-server PUG groups erode communities. The mechanics now work AGAINST what it means to be a true MMO, and by doing so reduce the very thing that made the whole model originally work.

The point is not to exclude 30 minute players. It’s actually a solid design challenge to allow them to co-exist in the same world (it’s no surprise that it works in EVE, when you consider EVE has just one server), but if the goal is to design a ‘real’ MMO, it must be designed to natural encourage the things that make an MMO what it is. Because when you get that design right, and everything comes together, you get a level of gaming that is above anything else, and anyone who has experienced it knows it.


Raid or Breed

September 21, 2011

Going to attempt to tie the previous two posts together, to hopefully reach some sort of conclusion. It might work…

The Sims Social is just as good, or even better as The Sims in short play sessions. Empires & Allies is better than Hearts of Iron III under the same conditions, short play sessions. – Tobold

The best meal I can buy comes from a certain restaurant near me. It’s somewhat pricey, but it’s always great and the menu changes weekly based on what products are available locally. The meal usually takes about two hours, a bit longer if we do extra drinks and desert.

McDonalds is near the bottom on my ‘favorite meal’ list.

If you set a meal time limit of 5 minutes, and put the condition that I have to remain in the car, McDonalds might make the top 10 (albeit still at the bottom of the list), and certainly beats the restaurant above since, well, 5 minutes and in the car makes eating there impossible.

That does not mean the actual food quality of McDonalds has improved. It’s still garbage. But put enough limiters on the options and to a starving man horrible food is still better than death.

So if you are a ‘starving’ gamer, and you only have 5 minutes to play, maybe Facebook games are exactly what do it for you.

But how many people out there are actually, really starving? Certainly not the billions McDonalds has served, right? That 5 minute, cheap meal is the easy way out. Yes, long-term it’s killing you, yes it’s not actually ‘good’, but hey, 5 minutes and cheap! And for the twits, 5 minutes is bordering on TL/DR anyway. McDonalds makes its money not from starving people without options, but from twits who are too lazy or plan life too poorly to have time for a real meal.

And just like it would be insane for me to walk into McDonalds and expect a top-quality meal, it would be equally insane for me to walk into said restaurant and expect the meal in 5 minutes and ordered from my car.

McDonald players are flooding my MMO restaurant.

The point is not to turn Farmville into EVE, but to keep EVE as EVE (or whatever MMO you want to use as an example). It’s to keep the millions who were happily playing WoW playing WoW, rather than slowly leaving because WotLK/Cata came along and turned a semi-casual game into derpville. The notion that ‘dumbing-down’ always equates to more players is, finally, being proven wrong, be it with the Wii or with WoW.

This is even crazier when you consider the core business model of an MMO, which is to hook someone in and get them to come back over and over, months on end. And as that snowball grows, the community gets tighter, more ‘player content’ is produced, and, well, 2005 WoW happens. EVE continues to happen. AC-DT continues to be the highest-populated AC1 server. Etc.

The quick cash-grab of Farmville/McDonalds is NOT the MMO model. It’s something, and it works, and it has its audience, but it’s NOT the MMO model.

You either make Farmville for the parent with 10 kids and 5 minutes, or you make an MMO that retains people for years. YOU CAN’T HAVE BOTH.

Just like you can’t be a parent with 10 kids and 5 minutes and really get into raiding. Raid or breed. YOU CAN’T HAVE BOTH.


21 and under club?

September 20, 2011

So wait, only teens want a challenge and have the time needed to put more than a Farmville-level of effort into a game? Wha?

The average person does not get more time to game as they get older. As husbands and wives, careers, kids, bills, and mortgages enter the picture, gaming time tends to slide until it either disappears  or the classification on your gamer card changes entirely. MMOs are becoming more casual because, you guessed it, we’re becoming more casual.

Sure, I don’t have as much free time as I did back in HS, and certainly not college, but I’m not down to 30 minutes a week here. And the group I play with, all around my age, aren’t either. I’m also pretty sure people who have hobbies like golf, tennis, poker, etc, also don’t reduce those hobbies to next-to-nothing because life happened. Sure, some people just DON’T have the time, I get it. And I feel bad for you. Not having enough time to dedicate to a hobby you care about must suck. Especially if that’s just the hand you were dealt and you can’t do anything about it (which if people were honest with themselves, is not many). But I’d be willing to bet that group is the vast minority, and for every doctor/lawyer working 24/7, you have two or ten people with nice and easy 35 hour a week jobs that can easily drop 40 hours+ on a hobby if they really wanted to.

On top of that, one would think that as you get older, you get a little smarter, and so things that challenged you as a teen are pretty easy for you now (non-twitch of course), yet somehow in addition to a reduction in time, we also need a reduction in thinking? That we can’t handle social situations? That we can’t grasp the concept of not everyone being the hero? At what point did getting older turn into becoming an oversensitive baby who needs a trophy just for showing up? That sounds a lot more like becoming a child than growing up.

And ultimately that’s where the disconnect lies. It’s not that games like WoW are trying to adapt to a maturing fanbase; it’s that Blizzard is trying to morph their game to appeal to the twit generation, where anything above 140 characters is TL/DR, and if the content is not available RIGHT NOW and is not over in 3 minutes, it’s ‘a grind’. And sadly the twit-generation is not just young kids, but ADD (clinical or not) riddled ‘adults’ that have become so entitles, so expectant, that anything beyond instant gratification is not good enough.

Like I said before, if that’s who you are targeting, good luck, and may the Farmville be with you. But that’s not the only market out there, and the idiot-clicker genre is becoming awfully crowded.

Note: Not saying Chris reflects the above (but maybe you do?), his post just got me thinking. It’s not Friday anyway.


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