Boxed in

January 10, 2013

I bet you are wondering why I’m blogging less huh? Yea, I figured you were.

Darkfall NDA is mostly to blame.

MMO genre being a pile of crap is another factor.

I mean, not only is there not a title out right now that I bother to waste time on (other than playing EVE Offline), but nothing is happening in the genre worth blogging about, and those that are blogging are not posting anything I need a response post to. It’s that bad.

So I fill my gaming time with random titles. 10 hours of FTL, a few hours of Witcher 2, beating Xcom, playing Civ V multiplayer, playing some Endor while waiting for its graphically updated version, trolling Steam in desperation, and right now, playing Skyrim again with some DLC and mods.

Skyrim is blog-worthy, but I’ve already done that, and other than stating once again that the amount of content in that game makes something as ‘content rich’ as GW2 look like pong, I don’t have much.

As for the rest? A post at most really, and I personally don’t even find those all that interesting to write or read. Just not much debate to “hey, FTL is fun for 10 hours, spend the $3”.

So while racking my brain for something to blog about, I’ve realized that if a game is not blog-worthy, it’s also not that memorable or ‘important’ to me. Take Xcom. Great, great game. I would recommend it to everyone. But I’d trade in Xcom for Heroes 6 and all its horrible flaws 10 times out of 10. Why? Because Heroes 6 stuck with me longer, left more of an impression, and I walked away with more thoughts about it than Xcom. Xcom was what it was, and I moved on.

I don’t know if that means Heroes 6 is better. I know it’s not better if judged hour-per-hour (in a pound-for-pound kind of way), but I was done with Xcom far sooner than Heroes, and in ‘total enjoyment’, Heroes wins.

And if I apply that thinking to the MMO genre, it explains why flawed yet deep games like Darkfall last for me, while ‘perfected’ shortness like GW2 is ultimately disappointing and a waste. Because unlike FTL, I’m not looking just to waste 10 hours in an MMO. That’s not my expectation. And that shouldn’t be anyone’s expectation if you are playing an MMO ‘correctly’, with a guild and digging into the social aspects and caring about the world rather than just your own person experience. For all of that to happen, you need way more than 10 hours.

Of course that last part is basically impossible in so many ‘MMOs’ today. SW:TOR is the poster child, but GW2 has a personal story as well, and so many of its praised design decisions help turn everyone into a helpful yet silence NPC/bot. Awesome for 10 hours, entirely forgettable long-term. It’s the reason the ‘new hotness’ in the MMO genre is just selling you a box. That’s all you get. The content in the box. Play it, finish it, move on. Other silent drones will replace you. Or not. It doesn’t matter to anyone but you (and the soon-to-be-laid of devs).

So until the drought ends, or the NDA drops, I don’t know how much I’ll be posting here. Dark times indeed.

Cogs are greater than heroes: Games and choice

September 7, 2011

Choice in videogames has about as successful a history as games that will “make you cry”. 99.9% of the time the claim is BS, and that other .1% you had something in your eye. Point being when some marketing guy says their game features deep meaningful choices that really impact your game, he is talking about your lightsaber turning red/blue. Or at best some NPC dying that you would never see or hear from again anyway.

Off the top of my head, the only game where I ever felt choice actually mattered, and where I actually stopped to thing about a situation was in The Witcher. And surprise surprise, The Witcher also ranks right up there in terms of story and setting, while really staying away from the traditional crap like shiny hunting or a character skill tree that’s so large even the devs can’t remember half the skills. The game was about story first and foremost, and it actually delivered (waiting on a Steam sale for Witcher 2).

A game like Dragon Age is full of ‘fake choice’, where every quest seems to have multiple solutions, but the end result is just different loot or some placeholder NPC switching up one line with another. Not that it really mattered in DA, the game was still fun and its story was good-enough to see it to the end. I’d just never put it anywhere near The Witcher in terms of moral choices and tough decisions.

On the MMO front, this situation is even more ridiculous. Name one NPC you actually remember and care about from an MMO. Exactly. They are stationary loot dispensers and task-masters. Trying to make NPCs matter in an MMO is perhaps even worse than trying to get me to cry in a single-player game.

Now, depending on what MMOs you have played, you might remember certain players or situations between guilds. Currently EVE has just such a situation going (btw, is this Tobold trolling EVE, or EVE trolling Tobold?), but the reason the situation is complex and people are invested in the outcome is because its player-driver, and the end-result is uncertain. Maybe the Goons really are evil, or maybe they are just trying to improve EVE. You can’t Google the questline to find out, and the answer has more impact than a red/blue tint to your lightsaber.

Whether you love or hate EVE, you can’t deny that something like this is 100% more interesting than what guild beat raid X three hours after a patch. And no, you (yes you) will never be in the shoes of someone like The Mittani, while you most certainly can be a ‘hero’ and slay Arthas. But while slaying Arthas might get you the same achievement millions of others already have, being just a cog in The Mittani’s machine has infinitely more impact on that world. The ‘choice’ to kill Arthas is not a choice, while joining/opposing The Mittani very much is.

The other major advantage an MMO has in regards to choice is how long the impact lasts. In a single-player game, you can always reload and pick a different option, or start a fresh game and pick a different path. In an MMO, the results are more permanent (unless they are instanced…). You can’t ‘reload’ a bank heist, switching guilds, or the result of a major conflict. Both sides remember the results, and will make decisions going forward based on those past results. This, in part, makes those choices ‘matter’.

At least as much as internet sandcastles/spaceships matter (a lot).

Witchers, Heroes, Thrones, Rift

May 9, 2011

Just some quick hits for today.

I finally, for the first time, beat The Witcher. My previous two attempts both fell short due to mass bugs (at release) and a comp change (a few months ago). Now, on the new PC, with the enhanced edition, I was actually able to sit down, focus, and finish it. I still believe it’s one of the better RPGs to come out in recent years, and the story itself is pretty fantastic. If the sequel is nothing but more of the same (with more inventory space please), I’d be one happy gamer.

I have Heroes of Might and Magic 6 on pre-order, but that was delayed until September. I did a little research into the game over the weekend, and it’s looking very solid. Hopefully the multiplayer is Heroes 3-ish. If it is, I expect many early mornings lost to ‘just one more turn’. Heroes has long been one of my all-time favorite TBS series, right up there with Civilization.

Finally, the HBO series Game of Thrones has so far been some great viewing. I’ve not read the books (I know), so everything that is happening is new to me, and the plot twists so far have been interesting. I’d normally start watching something like this on DVR right as the series ends, but I’m hooked right now and have been watching the episodes on Sunday when they come out. Good stuff.

As for Rift, 1.2 could be a make or break patch for me. If the nerf to dungeon difficulty is as extreme as it sounds, I’m not sure how long the game will hold my attention. The overworld stuff (questing, rifts, invasions, etc) is already themepark easy, leaving only the dungeons as challenging content to push players (themepark PvP is a joke IMO, and hence does not count). If those become AoE-fest speed-runs of exploding loot-piñatas tuned to the lowest PUG group, no thanks.

Civ V, The Witcher, M&B:W, and Rift beta

December 28, 2010

Some random notes for today:

Played two games of the scenario included in the first DLC for Civilization V, very entertaining. It’s rather short (limited to 100 turns), somewhat easy (the other sides don’t play with the sense of urgency needed for a 100 turn game), but it’s a nice ‘time period’ scenario. It’s all about the new world, and you can play either the European powers or the natives. If I had paid for it (plus the two new civs), I’d feel a bit cheated, but for free (D2D pre-order bonus) it’s good stuff. Still need to play a full game with the latest patch, but the massive Steam sale, Darkfall, and League of Legends is making that difficult right now.

Speaking of the Steam sale, I picked up Mount and Blade: Warband for under $8 today. When that’s going to get played, I’m not sure, but I’ve heard enough good things about it to have it on my account in waiting.

I am playing the hell out of The Witcher though, and man, so good. My memory of it from last time is a bit hazy, but I have noticed a few things different this time around thanks to some of my in-game decisions. The game does a fantastic job of keeping a general path, yet making choices ‘matter’ beyond it feeling like total fluff. Is it a 100% perfect game all around? No. The combat is not for everyone (I’m cool with it), some of the animations are wonky, as are some voice lines, and loading every little house over and over can get on you, but none of that (for me) ruins what really is one of the best interactive stories in an RPG. The setting, the pace, the grit, the occasional humor, it’s all just so good. Come Witcher 2 time, I’m going to be drooling for its release.

Finally, the Rift beta 3 event kicks off today, and Aria and I are patched up and good to go, so expect some posts about that in the near future.

Focus = Fun?

June 3, 2008

Lately my MMO gaming time has been down a bit, mostly due to DoTA, but also from the fact that currently I’m only actively playing LoTRO, and that’s with Aria, so we don’t log in a ton of hours each week. LoTRO is a great game to take at a casual pace, as there is always something to do, and even in short bursts of an hour or so you can make significant progress.

The down time has got me thinking how much game time has an effect on game enjoyment. All my best memories of games, be they MMO or not, are from games I was heavily invested in. The peak of WoW for me was raiding MC and BWL, making progress each week on new encounters. Both UO and AC peaked around the time my guilds were most active and involved in heavy PvP. My overall gaming highlight was being ranked #1 in Myth 2. In all situations, I was playing those games a rather stupid amount of time, generally around 6 hours or more each day, 7 days a week. You have a lot of free time as a student. Having graduated, that’s just not possible right now, and even if it was, I don’t think I would want to spend my life devoting so much time to gaming, not to mention Aria would kill me.

Maybe it’s just an odd coincidence, maybe it’s me just getting old, but I just don’t have that ‘pull’ with games these days as I did before. Yes LoTRO is fun, but it’s not ‘must play now’ fun. Same with the Wii, all fun games, but not anything like getting Final Fantasy 7 and playing it till your eyes bleed, taking a break, and going right back. And I think it might have something to do with consistence; the more you play a game, even if it’s just in smallish amounts but daily, the more you get ‘into’ that game and want to finish. Part of that is overall I just have less gaming time, but another factor is choice. I have more choices now than ever in what to play, and I can bounce around from one game to another at will. It’s fun from a diversity standpoint, but not so good for actually getting into a game and finishing it, hence The Witcher remaining unfinished despite being a great game.

So I think in order to get more out of the gaming time I do have, I’ll need to focus a bit more. Non-MMO games make this a bit easier because they actually have an end, so once you finish, you move on. MMO’s and open ended games like DoTA or Civilization are a bit trickier, since they never end, but at the same time don’t require quite as much time to really get into. DoTA you get into it for the length of a match, and as long as your skills stay sharp, it works. Same with Civ, but even less, since its turn based and you just need to remember strategy, not quick combos and twitchy gameplay.

Damn you flu!

February 20, 2008

The lack of updates is due to a nasty flu that hit me hard and is just now finally going away.

In actually gaming news… well other than still working my way through The Witcher (still good, not sure about that ‘after chapter 3 falloff’ talk) and hitting level 52 in WoW (I know, special) things have been fairly quiet. Once I’ve completed The Witcher I think I might finally get around to getting The Orange Box (although that has been said before here…) and seeing what this whole cake thing is about. One can only hope that after all that, a more open beta will be up for Warhammer Online, if not actual release.

Oh, and since I hit 51+ in WoW, I was finally able to see the ‘new and improved’ Alterac Valley, and I have to say it’s a bigger joke now than it was before. While the old version required minimal strategy, mostly in the timing of the special NPCs you can use to help out and to break a stalemate, the new version is a straight up grind for 20 minutes and you get your cookie. No strategy, no need to work as a team, just follow the masses and AoE everything in front of you until it ends. There is a reason Blizzard does not allow groups to queue up for AV, and it has very little to do with any kind of ‘queuing issue’. On the other hand, looking for strategy in WoW PvP is a mistake to begin with, so maybe just mindless grinding makes the trouble of getting AV marks a little easier for everyone, allowing everyone to move on to real ‘fun stuff’ like raiding, right?

Stories in our MMOs.

February 11, 2008

Scott over at Pumping Irony (great name btw) has a post about storytelling in MMOs and why they generally fail. He breaks down the current problems, mostly that character development is really just attribute development, which I fully agree with. Even many of today’s single player RPGs fall into this mold, The Witcher being the last memorable exception to this, and even then not all agree.

MMOs currently come in two distinct varieties, the sandbox and the theme park. Sandbox games are open, theme park’s are on rails which follow a set path. WoW is the best example of a theme park, while EVE is very much a sandbox. In my opinion, a theme park is very limited in its ability to tell a story with any real meaning or lasting value. No matter the lore behind it, the major problem with a theme park is that all participants follow the same relative path, meaning everyone is the hero. This path has to be safe, accessible, and overall positive, as it has to cater to the majority, leaving little room for artistic freedom. Even if we get past this hurdle, you still end up with a bunch of maxed out ‘heroes’ all having gone through the same story, which makes recalling adventures a bit pointless. When you talking about raiding Onyxia, everyone knows how the raid went if it was a success. You ran in, beat on her, she flew into the air, you beat on her some more, she used fear and whelps a bunch of times, and eventually she died, leaving behind a forged Qual’Serrar and some other ‘epic’ loot. It’s a fun experience, no doubt, but it does not make for a good story or anything truly memorable. If anything, an epic wipe makes for a much better story most of the time.

In my opinion and experience, the greatest MMO stories come from games which allow their players to have a meaningful impact; sandbox games. When players talk of UO, most stories revolve around other player characters, not NPC’s. That time you got ganked, or got revenge on said ganker. Or when you finally sold that crafted GM armor set off your vendor and bought a house from another player, only to get scammed. The countless EVE stories about bank heists, Corp scams, epic alliance conflicts, not one mentions NPC’s in a mission or some pre-set challenge designed by CCP (other than the lag monster that is).

Think back on what you remember most from earlier games, what really stands out to you as a memorable moment. My guess is most of those memories involve other players, and are likely unrelated to any lore whatever game we are talking about presented, at least directly. The more games limit the actions of their players, holding us on to the rails tighter and tighter, the less likely we are to have such memorable moments, moments that provide far more storyline than anything a developer could create.

I believe lore should go so far as to set the table for the players, giving us a reason why we are in whatever world we are in. The real story should begin on day one of the servers going live, driven by player action. The role of the developer should be not to provide storylines and events, but rather to give the players tools to use as they see fit, and allow the story to evolve as the players embrace those tools. When things go stale, throw in more tools to create a spark or mix things up. Above all, heroes must be forged from the player community, rather than being defined during character creation. This would allow old players to retire and be remember, while letting those new to the game the opportunity to rise up and eventually take up that spot. The ‘greatness’ of the hero will not be determined by stats or level, but rather the impact on others and the memories they leave behind.

Edit: Cameron also has two solid pieces about stories in MMOs, and his posts further reinforce my point, that NPCs are not memorable and are unable to convey a great story. He points out that with most NPCs, we simply listen to them and then agree, go kill whatever needs killing, and come back to again listen to them before they hand us a reward. While a great vehicle for player rewards, it does little for storylines or interaction.

Compare that to say joining a player guild, one which asks you first to prove you are serious about joining by making you a recruit before they give you full membership. The ‘quest’ is that process, and the end result is completely decided by your actions and those of other players. If you decide to ignore the ‘quests’ given by senior members, say by coming to a raid unprepared, you are very likely to fail that ‘quest’. Being able to repeat it and try again is not guaranteed either, like it is with NPCs.

Which really comes back to why we originally found MMOs so appealing, and that is player interaction. Simple tasks like killing rats seem new and fresh when you bring in others to share in your adventure, and the more we are allowed to shape and share those adventures, the greater the story will become.


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