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Posts by Chris Smith
I’m not into doing reviews because everyone’s got a different take on a game, so I’ll call this an impression of the recently released Defiance (PC version).
But wait! It was only released yesterday! I had played in beta, and also in alpha, and while neither are indicative of the final product, this is an impression post, not a ”focus on the details” post. It’s more like running your hand over the game, not licking it. So with that stimulating image in mind, let’s begin.
It’s RIFT with guns!
I like RIFT. It was the first MMO in a long time that I played for a long time, and although I don’t play it any longer, it has a plaque hanging in my mental “MMO Hall Of Fame” gallery. As in RIFT, your character in Defiance is following some broadly-painted narrative which seems to exist solely so you don’t feel aimless in your progression. There’s one main story running through Defiance, at least as far as I have gotten, but unlike other MMOs where you have NPCs assigning you their personal laundry lists as “stories”, Defiance knows that you’re playing for one reason, and one reason only: to shoot the hell out of shit.
Aside from the main story, side quests pop up from time to time. And these are literally “side quests”. Most of them can be had, ad hoc, from the side of the road, where you approach, accept, and head out. I like this trend towards dumping the quest hub mentality because it fosters movement, and getting people out in the world. Don’t go looking for any grand scheme to these side quests, though: most of them have generic text, and generic voice-overs. It’s the first design I’ve seen that acknowledges that people don’t read the damn text. The rewards are displayed front and center for a quick in, quick out, as the quest dispenser is usually right outside where the quest wants you to be. Aside from shooting stuff quests, there are also epeen quests, where you can put yourself on a leader board with other players, and time trials, like ATV racing or “sniper rifle whack-a-mutant”.
Comparing Defiance to RIFT wouldn’t be complete with mentioning the actual “rift” mechanic, called arkfalls. Like the rifts, these happen on occasion, in different locations. Like rifts, you roll up (literally, as you get vehicles to drive) and start shooting localized stuff that appears in waves, until the objective has been completed, or the timer runs out. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there with other people…a lot of other people. Everyone’s shooting stuff, driving vehicles all over the place, blowing stuff up…it’s pretty grand and chaotic, and there’s more motion than there is in RIFT, mainly because everyone is attacking at range and the targets don’t stand still.
Is it a shooter, or is it a shooter?
Some folks may be concerned about a “shooter MMO”. This hybrid hasn’t proven too successful in the past (Tabula Rasa, APB), but the odds are improving (Firefall, Planetside 2). Trion claims that Defiance is a “pixel perfect shooter”, meaning if you want to headshot a target, you can. This is usually a sound strategy for NPCs, as a good tap to the noggin with a sniper rifle can usually end an argument before it begins, but it’s more meaningful when dealing with arkfalls and hellbugs. Hellbugs especially, as their firefly-like underbellies and tails are their weak points. Aiming for these small and only-occasionally-accessible locations will go a long way towards ending a fight as quickly as possible.
But like any MMO, there will be issues related to network transmissions, and when you have a game filled with a whole lot of fast moving players and targets, there’s going to be issues. In a hellbug event last night, the matriarchs — extra large, extra badass hellbugs — kept vanishing, and not underground like their smaller warrior counterparts do. Eventually, they popped back into frame, and the battle continues.
I’m also sure that some folks expected a “shooter”, a la Call of Duty, and will find things to nitpick. I’m also sure that some people expected more of a real “Rift with guns”, meaning more classic MMO, less live-skill based. If you can bring yourself to find the middle ground there, I think you’ll be pleasantly content. Not blown away, but content.
One really interesting thing is that this game released on the same day for PC, Xbox, and PS3. So did Bioshock Infinite, but this is an MMO. That it released on consoles at all is quite a feat, especially for the normally third-party-allergic Xbox.
But I expect this to be…an interesting experiment. PC gamers are used to the MMO lifestyle: frequent patches, downtime where the game is inaccessible new content sneaking in when the servers come back up, and the inevitable DLC and expansions. Console gamers aren’t generally used to getting frequent patches, or having their game unplayable on a schedule. How well Defiance does on these platforms will say a lot about the future of massive multiplayer games for the next generation of consoles.
The sad thing is that each platform has it’s own server (I believe). PC players can’t play with consoleers. The good thing is that each platform has it’s own server (I believe). So console players can’t play with PCers. But be warned: do NOT go near the forums. Jussayinsall.
The big deal about Defiance is the game/TV show crossover. The show isn’t available yet, but in a short clip interview with Grant Bowler (Nolan), he mentioned that in the time between the release of the game, and the pilot of the show, his character and the character of Irisa, who you meet in the game when you start, end up traveling from the San Francisco area (the game) to St Louis (the show). I actually “met” these two in a side mission in the game, and was told to look them up later on. I wonder if the characters will be available in the game after the show starts, and if not, what that means for players who arrive to the game late.
We’ll have to see exactly how the crossover stuff works once the show starts.
Check with your doctor to see if Defiance is right for you
What’s in it for you? Well, that’s up to each person to decide, but there’s a few things to consider:
- If you want a team-focused, objective-based shooter, this is not for you
- If you hated RIFT, this is not for you
- If you’re looking for a deep, engrossing story in a game, this is not for you
- If you want a really fun shooter you can jump into quickly, and not have to worry about scheduling time with people to meet up to do stuff, this is for you
- If you’re interested in a fun shooter that focuses on shooting, and are interested in getting your lore and back-story from a big budget TV show, this is for you
- If you like having a fun time shooting bugs and mutants (and really, who doesn’t from time to time?), this is for you
The general consensus among my peers is that Defiance is a good secondary game. There’s not a lot of cerebral stuff that will keep you up at night plotting on how to tackle it. Instead, if you want to blow off steam, meet up with your friends, and drive around like a pack of Mad Max wannabees, this is the right place to do it.
Personally, I suspect that once the show starts, the flow will be “watch the show, jump into the game to see what (if anything) has happened as far as crossovers, play and monitor the game stories during the week, and watch the show to see what leaked in from the game.” Rinse, and repeat. The fact that it’s subscription-free is also a good reason to keep it installed, in case the urge to jump in and shoot stuff is too strong.
Is Defiance a good shooter? Purists will probably have complaints. Is Defiance a good MMO? Purists will probably have complaints. Is Defiance a good MMO shooter? On that, I’ll say yes, partly because it does better than it’s predecessors, but mostly because it does do a good job at what it does.
Kickstarter is like “Baby’s First Investment Strategy”. The concept is that someone pitches an idea, and people filter by like a future liberal arts major scanning tables at his high-school college fair. When something grabs your attention, you stop, peruse the brochure, and decide whether or not to fill out an application. Unlike college, however, funding a KS campaign does a bit of a mental teabag on you (although maybe by the time you reach your junior year in college and are staring down the double-barrels of having to find a job and paying off student loans, you’d prefer the teabagging).
KS is turning out to be a good idea on paper, but because of the way people are using it — the way everyone is using it — it’s running amok. People looking for money are turning to the system for various reasons: it brings the pitch directly to the fans; it circumvents traditional avenues and cuts out middlemen; it ensures creative freedom; I couldn’t get funded any other way. All of those are valid from an empirical point of view , but never having started a KS, I can’t say whether any or all of them are good reasons. The system has worked for some, but not for others, and there are a variety of factors there, but most importantly, it’s due to the people who are browsing the site and looking for somewhere to put their money.
The concept of KS is that it’s a kind of incubator, or an investment scaffold that brings ideas to people with money, where the producers get to dictate the return instead of the investors. Most KS projects that I have seen (or more accurately, contributed to) have promised some level at which they’ll provide you with an instance of their outcome. If you fund a game development project, you can get a copy of the game, for example. I usually fund at this minimum level because I’d like to get something out of it, and that’s kind of the rub: many people who throw money at projects aren’t professional investors. They are, however, professional consumers, and look at KS the same way they look at buying something off a shelf.
That means that sometimes, people throw money at a project, and find themselves less than satisfied with the results, or the progress of the project itself. I know some people don’t like stretch goals (myself included). They fund projects based on the initial promise, and the term “Stretch goal” is synonymous with “feature creep”. Other times, weird things happen during the development process that make you question the validity of the project, or whether it’ll ever see the light of day. Sadly, once you’ve committed the funds, and the KS campaign is successful, you’re on the hook. You can’t get a refund, so you’re locked into the fate of the project, for good or for not-so-good.
But “buyer’s remorse” in terms of a KS project is a misplaced emotion, based solely on the spirit of the service. I’ve seen people lament their investment in a project, and others tsk tsking folks who have sponsored a project. When we buy physical goods, often times we can return the product if we’re not satisfied, but with an investment, there’s no way to know if the investment will pay off. We can’t read tea leaves or say with any kind of certainty that a project will make it to completion, or will even be any good if it does. We’re asked to provide money based on what appeals to us. Maybe their video pitch was funny or moving; maybe their reward photos are inspiring; maybe they are projects headed by people who have pleased us in the past. But none of that is a guarantee. Some guy can come out of the woodwork with nothing but a washboard and a can a of beans, and manage to create a cold fusion reactor, or he could end up blowing up half the county in the attempt. We don’t know how it’ll turn out, and that’s the point of KS investing: making someone’s dream a reality based on our perception of what we hope to get out of it. Sadly, there’s the possibility that they’re not up to the task, and/or that we’ve misjudged, but so long as we understand that willfully putting on money into a project is the same as deciding to throw it into the wind in a bet on which way it’ll fly, we can’t give into buyer’s remorse if we’re going to continue to be investors.
Here’s a question that’s really more for indie/hobby developers than for larger company developers: how (and/or why?) do you choose the subject matter for your projects?
I saw an RT on Twitter for a company that just released their latest game to the App Store and Play Store. I thought’d I’d look into it, and it turns out it’s a Spring (as in the season) themed match three game. OK…match three games are a safe bet; everyone understands them, they’re easy to play, quick, and people seem to like them. But why the Spring theme? It could have been sci-fi, horror, cartoon, underwater, Victorian era, or some other dress.
Every project has a “theme”. With AAA games we’re used to broader strokes like “high fantasy” or “survival horror”, but games like this one that I checked on are more about the gameplay, with the “theme” being the decoration around it.
How does the theme of the project get chosen? Is it chosen for it’s selling power? In the case of this match three game, I can see how it’s timed to coincide with Easter, as it features rabbits and chicks (the egg kind), but what about in 6 months? Will the theme still be paying off when we’re no longer in Spring?
It’s already Thursday, and I’m slacking. I meant to do this earlier, but because I’m late to the game, I’m going to cram it all into one post. This should not be construed as apathy for bandwagon’s sake; Just economical.
Super special thanks to Scarybooster for keeping this ball rolling. Despite his on-again, off-again affair with blogging, this yearly effort is a huge boon to both the developers and the community.
You’re All Winners!
No, that’s not the whole post. However, I do believe that all developers need to be appreciated. Most of us are adults, and we all have to go to work (or work from home). We all report to someone in exchange for a paycheck, and chances are a lot of folks only work because they need the paycheck.
Game developers have great jobs: it’s not something you accidentally fall into because you were assigned there through a temp agency. You need to be a great programmer, or artist, or musician, or server admin. You need to make contacts. You need to love what you do because developers also have amazingly shitty jobs. They get so much grief from so many people for the least rational of reasons, and yet they will almost always tell you –enthusiastically – that they love what they do, and wouldn’t dream of doing anything else. And for that, I love all developers.
I used to play Rift back in the day, and I loved it. Me being me, though, I stopped playing, but I always remember how excellent Trion was during beta, and afterwards. I’m looking forward to Defiance because I am. I enjoy the game, and really that’s why we’re here, isn’t it? To enjoy the games we play? Right? Maybe it’s just me. I’m also eager for the TV show. I don’t watch a lot of TV, so that’s a Big Deal for me. That Trion is making a go of this “trans-media” thing is pretty ballsy, no matter how it turns out.
The Secret World doesn’t treat you like an idiot by dangling artificial “rewards” in front of you. EVE Online usually gets the high-fives for it’s meta-gaming, but TSW meta-games just as well, and even better. You don’t have to be a douchebag to feel good about yourself in TSW; that feeling comes from stretching your intelligence and expanding your knowledge. It’s a big gamble, treating players like intelligent folks instead of greedy gear-whores, because if most comment threads are any indication, they could have been over-estimating the range of their audience. But I’m glad they made a game that actually requires thinking.
I know it seems like a pandering choice, but when a game holds my interest so that I can actually reach the cap, that’s saying something. I’m not a fan of their rapid-fire content updates or their habit of scheduling them in relatively small windows. They’ve achieved an almost Blizzard-like Zen with Guild Wars 2: instead of layering on mechanic after mechanic, they’ve stripped the systems to the bare minimum, and built up the content. If there’s a game up for consideration that pushes the genre in a different direction, this should be it.
I sometimes feel like a fair-weather friend when it comes to gaming, because I don’t actually pay attention to a game until about a week before it’s release. I don’t hang out on forums, or start fan sites or anything like that the way I used to, and that holds true for DC’s Emerald Kingdom, but the good thing is that the DC crew aren’t sequestered in their office; they’re out beating the pavement, milling around with the populace, and aren’t afraid to talk about their vision instead of spouting meaningless PR. I don’t think there’s been a more honest group out there, really.
Cryptic does cash shops right. In Star Trek Online, their shop is filled with things that people want, not what they think they need to be able to just play the game. STO is one of the few games that no matter where I go, there’s a ton of people present and on screen. I’m hoping to see this trend continue in Neverwinter. And super-massive props for their Foundry. Building in a way for users to create content not only serves the community, allowing the community to serve itself, but is a strong draw to return for both the creativity and consumption.
I was fortunate enough to have the misfortune of finding Space Unity for Unity. First, this is one of the most bad-ass systems I’ve seen. Second, I’m sad that I don’t (YET!) have the money to buy it. Third, I say “misfortune” because it got me dreaming about my original concept for Project Universe, in which the player is a cargo ship, and the mission is nothing more exciting than building a financial empire by personally buying low and selling high (actually, there’s a lot more to it than that). Naturally, after seeing Space Unity in action, I couldn’t stop thinking about using it for this original purpose, which lead down a rabbit hole of system concepts, including resource availability and acquisition.
The sad thing is, I couldn’t stop thinking about EVE Online as a reference base. Sad, because I realized that I was thinking about this theoretical game as a re-built EVE. Specifically, I was hung up on resources, because a huge part of EVE is that players acquire and sell and use resources in a player driven economy. There’s little reason (or opportunity) to buy usable items from NPC vendors in EVE, as it’s mostly commodity crap that’s only good for new players to cut their teeth on trading. Everything else in the game starts off in a ship’s cargo hold.
And that’s where I got thinking: what if EVE ran out of raw materials? I mean, these materials come mostly from asteroids. Asteroids aren’t infinite; they are the remains of interstellar bodies, and planets and moons aren’t spontaneously detonating all over New Eden, right? So when a corporation mines the hell out of a belt, that belt should vanish! Or at least, be devoid of further materials. Logically. I understand that space is vast and contains infinite wonders and blah blah blah the chance of strip-mining the universe is really remote and etc I get it. This is a thought exercise, not a recommendation so don’t go looking for an argument.
So then what? People know that the resources are finite, and start hoarding materials, driving up the price on the market, allowing groups to control the flow of resources, bringing production to a halt, allowing a few corporations to corner markets and set prices. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? That would certainly drive many players away, as it would end up being prohibitive for new or less established players to replace ships and ammo, which leads to fewer people for players to engage. Boom! Implosion. So it’s a stupid idea, sure. Unless…
What if the system allowed you to turn scrap (I know it already exists in the game) back into usable resources? When you destroy a ship, you can collect the debris and refine it to a lesser amount/lesser quality raw material that can be used to make a new ship, or new ammo, or other components. Maybe you can sell scrap and earn a fortune. People are always going to be blowing things up in EVE, so there’ll be a never-ending cycle of raw materials to products to scrap to materials. I thought about how BattleTech used to work in regards to the lore, where humanity got so stupid that they couldn’t invent new ‘mechs, only salvage and repair and cobble together parts into existing designs.
Then I thought, what if each generation of salvage decreased the quality? So on the 20th salvage, the quality of the materials are so low that the structural integrity oft he ship/ammo/component is so paper-thin that a single jump tears it apart. This is EVE; players are used to the brutality anyway, so this should be right up their alley! But it would extend the life-cycle of the resource pool, possibly forever, but could give the illusion that some day, the universe won’t be able to make any more anything.
This whole thing came about when I was thinking about markets, moving resources around, and providing resource spigots for players, and how they seem to be never-ending. With unlimited resources, the value drops; with resource scarcity, the value skyrockets. Somewhere in between is a balance, and in EVE‘s case, I think it’s time. It takes a long time and a lot of effort for a single person to mine enough materials to be worthwhile (add in PI and you’ve got a whole lot more to worry about as well). You won’t see a flooded market because when you have dozens of people working together, chances are good they’re looking to USE those materials. When you have a single harvester, chances are he or she is going to flip the results.
You never really have an appreciation for a system until you try and consider changing it, I guess.
I don’t get it. How has cyberpunk not been mined for a AAA MMO? I mean, I do get it: cyberpunk has been kind of dormant as a genre for years, which I blame on reality getting a little to close to the genre for it to be considered “fantasy”, and with the resurgence of actual fantasy (Lord of the Rings) and the dilution of “pure” cyberpunk (via The Matrix and even Inception to a degree), people have moved away from the concepts that, when first proposed, were way too out-there to actually be considered plausible. I mean, corporations running the country? Artificial limbs that are as good if not better than the originals? Cyberpsace? HA! Pure hogwash!
But MMOs haven’t really deviated from the “safe” model that we’ve seen for years. Level based, mission driven, dungeon runs, raiding, PvP, crafting, gear…cripes, that all just screams “cyberpunk” without having to stretch. A lot of MMOs add these things in “because other games have them” or because they believe that because others do them that people must want them, and what company wants to disappoint their potential audience? That’s rhetorical, by the way.
So let’s see…
- Leveling: Meh…we can really do without this. Actually, cyberpunk would probably shine in a sandbox environment. In fact, sandboxing is practically required for certain other aspects.
- Missions: Oh yeah…missions are the core of a cyberpunk existence for many reasons. Solos have to earn cash, and don’t really have bandwidth for an agenda beyond surviving the day. Corporations need to maintain plausible deniability, so they’ll hire the solos to do their dirty work. Street gangs need to enlist solders to take over their rival’s turf. Everyone is using everyone else, which is a key tenet of cyberpunk, so missions are a way for players to use other players to get what they need (which works with the sandbox design).
- Dungeons and instances, and raids: Cyberpunk isn’t about turning the streets into a battlefield. In a lot of cases, it barely is; that’s kind of lazy cyberpunk, and would be more fitting for gang warfare (PvP) territorial control systems within the greater framework. Solos are the angry, willing pawns of corporate warfare, and a lot of that warfare involves sabotage, kidnapping, assassination, and theft: more covert than overt. Sometimes that involves gun-play in warehouses, office buildings, and shipyards. Sometimes, it involves stealth and forethought And cyberspace offers it’s own unique take on dungeon instances and raids, since they know no limitations imposed by the physical world. These would be more limited, as not everyone is a decker, but consider the ramifications of instances available only to a special class…
- PvP: Territory is power, and while corporations have the resources to basically steamroll a city to get what they want, they’re not so crass: they’d hire people to do it for them so they don’t get their hands dirty. Add to that the street-gangs in the worst parts of the city, and…do I really need to explain this? It’s a no-brainer, really.
- Crafting: It’s one thing to get a stock cyber-arm from your local back-alley “physician”, but if that’s as far as you go, you’re already behind in the game. You’ll need to mod the hell out of that sucker, so be sure to shop around for the best cyber mods you can find. And although I know it would probably put any game that does it square in the cross-hairs of special interest bullies, cyberpunk is also about drugs. Go ahead, start your Breaking Bad fantasy squad.
And, of course, code crafting. Let that sink in. Or, if you’ve played The Matrix Online, you know what this kind of thing could look like.
- Gear: What is cybernetics but cyberpunk gear? But one aspect that I mentioned in my opus-tastic cyberpunk game wish list was a “style system”, because cyberpunk isn’t just about spittle-flecked rage; it’s also about looking cool. Factoring in both combat gear (armor, weapons, cybernetics) and style gear (jackets, shirts, pants, skirts, dresses, and even tuxedos and stuff!), and letting crafters go to town ties this aspect up nicely. Nicely indeed.
Cyberpunk as a genre practically predicted the MMO design model at least a decade before MMOs were even a thing, so it seems to me that a cyberpunk MMO practically designs itself. The problem is that cyberpunk as a genre had fallen out of favor to the point where I’m sure no MMO developer/publisher felt that it was big enough to earn money to recoup development costs. Since everything is going to a free(ish) model with cash shop support, I can totally see that cyberpunk can also fit this model.
- Although I mentioned that the style items could be used as a mechanic, offering style items in the cash shop works well for The Secret World, where the clothing is meaningful to the world (unlike the clothing options in Guild Wars 2, which are just plain silly). People love to customize their characters, and this could be a cash cow for clothes horses.
- Since style is everything, going beyond just clothing and offering skins for cybernetics could work as well. Look at Ghost In The Shell, and how varied the “shells” are that people have adopted. Most are humanoid, but there’s nothing to say that a human can’t occupy a mech body, or even a rolling crate. Even weapon skins could be sold.
- Housing is something I didn’t mention, mainly because I believe I laid it out in the original cyberpunk article linked above, but selling fixtures and furniture in the cash shop is another option (a la EverQuest 2). Note that this does NOT preclude players from crafting stuff; it just supplements it. But maybe also like EQ2, everyone can have a basic apartment, but if you want something exotic (like a better apartment, or a house boat), you would have to buy it in the store.
Interestingly enough, now would be the time for a cyberpunk MMO. Cyberpunk 2077 is a thing, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution was also a popular thing. People are starting to re-discover the cyberpunk genre, but it has to be more “classic” cyberpunk and less Syndicate cyberpunk for me to care. The above outline was offered as being built on the back of the “pure” cyberpunk model, so any liberties taken with the genre just wouldn’t be the same.
Post event Post. No fancy lead-in. Let’s just get to it.
This year, I accidentally booked the wrong hotel. I signed up for the Renaissance Waterfront, not the Westin Waterfront, but after walking from the hotel to the center, it wasn’t so bad. We were spared the foot-traffic, but missed out on the convenience. But there was a benefit, as we made a friend on Friday morning while standing in the 30F weather outside the convention hall. Yvonne was attending the convention from New Jersey, and was there with her boss. Turns out her company prints the cards for Cards Against Humanity, a game near and dear to our hearts. She and I attended the Blizzard panel, while Matt went to the keynote, and Chris and Keven held down the line to the expo hall.
Blizzard: You’re Only Disappointed In Yourselves.
Blizzard’s presence at PAX was a Big Deal. They hinted at some kind of reveal. People were peeing their pants in anticipation. Our queue room was full, and people were being turned away. That Blizzard was making a reveal outside of Blizzcon was massive, at least to us, so we had to be there.
So it was a collectable card game (CCG) set in the Warcraft universe. The internet (and the room) deflates, and excitement is replaced by polite applause.
But really, what did people expect? Titan? Announced at an East coast gaming convention that was well outside the usual bombastic spectacle of Blizzcon? From what I saw, the game is pretty slick, and looks like fun, but then I remembered that gamers instantly hate things that don’t meet their expectations or cater to their whims, and it all made sense.
In no particular order, I got to lay hands on the following in one way or another:
- Neverwinter: Nothing new here. I got to drive the control wizard, completed a short area at one of the higher levels, and got a real-world bag and an “invisibility potion” (an empty bottle with the Neverwinter branding). We did get to talk with Brandon Felczer about Star Trek Online, though, which was cool.
- Marvel Heroes: We started this off at the panel, and then went down to the floor to check it out. I didn’t play it myself, but watched Keven and Matt play. It’s a Diablo-esque brawler which centers around collecting heroes. Oddly enough, you can’t buy new characters in the store!. You earn them all through game-play although you can buy tokens to increase your odds of rare character drops. Their founders program is rather convoluted and I don’t really understand it, so I’ll not try to explain it here.
- Wildstar: In all of the years of MMO games that have been compared to World of Warcraft, Wildstar looks very much like WoW. It has the same color pallet, the same blocky-like art, and while WoW is at time unintentionally funny as a result, Wildstar seems to focus on the humor. At the panel, the Carbine folks seemed more intent on selling us on the humor than they were on the reasons we’d want to play/continue playing the game. I enjoyed the demo, though; it was smooth and interesting, and talking to the devs in-line answered several questions I had. And their housing system seems very cool.
- The Elder Scrolls Online: Winner of the “Better Than Expected” award. This was the last “Must See” thing on my list — and on everyone’s list. As soon as the queue line broke on Sunday morning, several hundred geeks were speed-walking, cutting through exhibits, and bouncing off one another in an approximation of the world’s largest and geekiest bumper-pool game. As it was, our position was estimated at an hour wait; the line quickly spread around the convention hall, and was capped at somewhere around 5 hours. But the game is beautiful, and while it’s not Skyrim, it retains a lot of familiar Skyrim aesthetics. It won’t cause heart palpitations in anyone but the most rabid TES fans, but if they price it right, it’ll be a nice addition to the pantheon of MMOs.
- The NVidia Shield: I was excited to see this, and was stupendously pleased to see that it actually worked as advertised. The main purpose is not to stream from the PC; it’s to play Android games on a larger screen and a more powerful device than you have on your phone. Still, the streaming aspect worked great, and we were dumbfounded to find out that a PC with at least a GTX 660 and a laptop with a GTX660m can do the exact same thing. The streaming is an aspect of the driver package, and I suspect that the Shield’s drivers are simply taking advantage of this as a happy side effect.
- Zombie Dice: Chris bought this simple dice-rolling game from the tabletop zone, and we played it several times while in line during the weekend. Highly recommended, even for kids. It really has little to do with zombies, so it’s totally safe for the entire family.
We hit up a few panels this year.
- Blizzard: Again, STFU. Play or don’t play.
- Gazillion (Marvel Heroes): It seems like a good group play game, or a good casual play game. Keven is a Marvel/DC fan, so he was all over the founders packages, as was Matt.
- Music in Games Composers panel: THIS was the highlight of my weekend. Inon Zur, Kevin Riepl, Greg Edmonson, Jason Graves, and Jack Wall were there, which pretty much represents one of my top playlists in Spotify. If Marty O’Donnell and Jeremy Soule had been there, it would have been perfect. But all of the panelists were insanely appreciative of our attendance: there were no spare seats, and they ended up thanking us more often than we were able to applaud them.
- Gearbox: This was a more appreciated reveal than the Blizzard panel. We got to hear about the new Vault Hunter for Borderlands 2, and got a code to get it for free (a $10 USD value!). We also heard about the upcoming level cap increase, third run-though-mode, pearlescent weapons, and a tease on the fourth DLC. When they brought up Aliens: Colonial Marines, though, the room became as slient as a crypt, with only polite applause to let the panel know we were still there. I felt for the poor Geebox guy who had to talk about it: he sounded horribly nervous, and it was obvious he’d rather have been anywhere else, doing anything else, than being on the firing-line.
This year, I think there were fewer exhibitors, or else the expo space was smaller. The queue room was larger, and more space was given over to non-expo space (tables, fringe walking-space, etc). As a consequence, walking was kind of tight, although I suppose no different from previous years.
The anchor for the expo was League of Legends, for the sole reason that they had a very large booth showing live matches, always had a crowd, and as a consequence, was the loudest booth in the place. You could orient yourself based on which direction the cheering was coming from. Riot really should have had it’s own section in the complex. People would have sat there watching the matches all day.
There were booths for The Last Of Us and Watch Dogs, neither of which I stood in line for. The indie section was a big as ever, although I didn’t spend much time there this year, as nothing really caught my eye. Hardware vendors were seemingly in short supply; Intel’s booth was over in the PC tournament area which was outside the main expo hall. Conspicuously absent was local developers Turbine, although they had some kind of party on Friday I was told.
This was a bizarre, bizarre year for events. First, I heard that the representatives from Wargaming.Net didn’t even show up to their panel, and that some audience members actually took over for them. Then there was the Bethesda party debacle, in which anyone who showed up was allowed in, causing some kind of overwhelming cluster-fuck. We had some tickets for the Curse Wildstar party, but opted to spend an hour playing Borderlands 2 on the free-play PCs. From what I heard, we made the right choice.
Our Tweetup went well…sort of. Apparently, using the lobby bar as a place to hang out got leaked to the general population, as the lobby was packed by the time we got there. To make matters worse, it was “Earth Hour” that night. At 8:30, they shut down most of the lighting in the lobby, leaving us in the dim glow of peripheral lamps, and we were serenaded by some kind of hippie quartet doing cover versions of I can’t remember what. The bar service was terrible, when we could get someone’s attention, and although everyone had fun, we had disbanded by 10:30. I’m considering alternative options for next year, as it seems that our secret is out. We were in the lobby bar before it was cool.
I left this part for last because I’ve been dreading it.
Even before I got into the expo hall on Sunday morning, I just wanted to leave. The people this year were more crass, more obnoxious, more everything that’s stereotypically wrong with gamer culture than ever before. It wasn’t the crowds, and we actually met good people there this year, but ultimately, the one-off douchebaggery was piling up, in the queue lines, in the expo halls, in the panels, and even in my social network streams. People just seem to really prefer being angry, annoyed, and grumpy, and find it easier to give into the need to let anyone and everyone know about it. I cannot fathom how people claim to love gaming, yet feel that it’s more important to be negative, to be abusive to one another, and to treat one another and the hobby like absolute shit.
By the time I got home last night, I was contemplating how far I could go to sever my ties to the overall community while still retaining connections to the painfully few people that I actually love and respect. I hated gamers that much after this weekend. All of them. I wished that if all they had were negative things to say about games and about each other, that they just find another hobby. Please.
Still, this weekend was a positive experience, as it usually is. There are so many people there that the only way to deal with it is to blank them out when you’re in the middle of them so that they become background noise, allowing you to focus on the games themselves. In this mode, the people were tolerable; we were all there for the same reason, and by and large people were respectful of one another, apologizing for bumping into one another, and letting folks pass. The cosplayers were just OK this year, but they were all accommodating for those who wanted pictures. There seemed to be a lot more kids this year, and I swear there were a hell of a lot more women overall. But on the down-side, I’m going to suggest a panel for next year on proper intestinal health, because for some reason, folks had a lot more trouble with that than they had in years past.
Leaving the convention left me with a feeling that I cannot find suitable words for. When we go on vacation, we have fun because it’s a distraction. We go to amusement parks and ride the rides for that “in the moment” enjoyment, and when we finally head home, we’re more sorry that we have to go back to work the next day than we are about leaving the vacation behind. We rely on our pictures to remind us of the fun we had, because let’s face it: vacations rarely change our everyday lives.
When you’re immersed in an event that is focused on a core part of your life, though, leaving is like walking through a door that dumps you out into an alien world. The convention was the “normal”; driving home and looking at the houses near the highway and thinking about doing laundry and sweeping floors and making dinner and watching TV, and seeing the businesses where people go in the morning, sit at their desks, make small talk with the co-workers…that all just felt surreal and boring. The world around me is populated by people to whom I can’t talk about the things I like and know about. They don’t “get” it when I make a reference, and although they may tolerate some conversation on the subject of gaming, they’d rather talk about something else. There is a very deep sorrow to detaching oneself from what is more of a pilgrimage than it is a vacation, or even an event. You can’t just leave something like that behind and not be affected by the leaving.
For some sticking with one game from start to finish is easy. For others — like me — it’s usually a chore of Herculean proportions. What I can say that I have never met a game I didn’t like, you could set your watch by the number of games I’ve abandoned half-way between starting out, and the level cap.
Guild Wars 2 is not one of them.
This afternoon, I finally achieved only my second level capped character in an MMO ever. Keliel, my human ranger, and her trusty bear sidekick Dudeson, representing Combat Wombat on Sanctum of Rall, reached the tipping point in a not so dramatic fashion: by discovering a PoI in the Wayfarer Foothills while waiting for a stage in The Maw group event.
I had started out the afternoon by attempting to complete the Temple of Balthazar, which I had stupidly failed a few weeks ago because I lost track of the zerg. This time, we got to the steps of the temple, but failed the requirements, damning the whole event. Requiem Soulbloom and Smashgut had jumped in, so we opted to see about tackling the timers events around the world, which lead us to The Maw, and which granted me the extra XP needed to get to the cap.
The thing is, this was a pretty “easy” journey. GW2 offers a lot to do, and the only thing that doesn’t give you XP is simply logging in. Near the end, though, the weekly dungeon runs that we’ve been doing made me rabid to advance in order to be able to keep up with the progression, so started using XP boosts almost every time I logged in. Add to that the XP from the dungeons, harvesting everything in sight, and running from event to event, and the momentum was maintained. At no time did I really feel that I was lagging: if I were sick of a zone, I’d simply go to another zone in another racial area and pick up from there.
I still have story to do (next stage is level 71), and the world completion, of course. We have a few dungeons to complete (and some I had to skip due to absence), and then there’s alts. I still have a lot of zones I haven’t seen yet, and stories that I haven’t experienced yet, and WvWvW. Hopefully I can eventually get another alt to the cap, which will probably cause the universe to implode.
You have been warned.
Minecraft was a cool experiment when it launched: It was a building game, without a “game”. Your goal was basically to survive by gathering through equivalent exchange: cut down a tree, get wood, make walls, and secure yourself for when night time comes.
The glory of Minecraft, though, is that people ran with it. And by “ran with it”, I mean “went absolutely ballistic” in what the game could do. People added mods, and different versions of the “vanilla” server soon surfaced which were also extensible. Modding isn’t difficult, but if you’re lazy, you were left alone with your plain, generic Minecraft.
But over time, Mojang as been adding features to the base game that are turning this “gameless game” into more of a LEGO Mindstorm kit. Patch notes for the latest update (1.5) contain elements that are less about helping you survive the creeper apocalypse, and more about helping you learn to program. Tellingly, the update is named “Redstone Update”, and as Minecraft users know, redstone is used as “circuits” in the game to connect switches to action objects. This update contains new objects like hoppers (adds items and moves them to containers), redstone comparator (used in redstone logic circuits), and even daylight sensor. A lot of this stuff has been hacked into mods for clients and servers (like Tekkit), but it seems Minecraft proper is making these things canon.
I like Minecraft for what it does, but have always wished it could do more. It’s already got the construction angle down pretty well, but I would like to see native ways to allow users to build games beyond just the survival mode. Enforcer is working on his Minecraft server, adding in mods that allow for programming NPCs with quests and such, which is certainly a start.
I am, however, glad to see Minecraft‘s subversive bent in cloaking programming fundamentals behind it’s pixelated facade. My daughter knows far more about how to use these systems than I do, but I know she isn’t even consciously aware that as I’m programming in text on my computer on the other side of the room, she’s also programming, thanks to Minecraft.
If you’re familiar with this blog, you’ll no doubt have come across my boilerplate disclaimer that although I love psychology, I am not certified as “an expert” in it’s study. But this is the Internet, so I don’t let a small matter like “credentials” or “legal ramifications” stop me*!
So Dusty Monk posted an article on G+ this afternoon which concerned the curious case of a gamer who had the gall — THE GALL! — to admit, in public, in full view of the world, that there were certain games that she had either never played, or never liked. OK, I can get behind that. I mean, everyone has a list like that…
…that they wouldn’t admit to, which is agreed to in the opening paragraph of the original article, even. I didn’t want to cram my screed into Dusty’s post, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and dust off the blog to write it here.
Accepting The Socially Unacceptable
Poor geeks. We had a rough time…back about 30 years ago, when it wasn’t cool to be a geek. Talking about video games in public might as well have been admitting to having a crush on Hitler for all the good it did for one’s social standing in the mainstream. Nowadays, it’s better, but I’m sure not perfect. It’s apparently good enough for a female gamer to dash scared cows of gaming against the side of house without fear of repercussions, and I consider that sentence to indicate progress!
Humans find it hard to go against the grain, which is basically what the Tattoo Fairy etches inside the eyelids of teenagers the world over. We like to think that as adults, we’re smarter than that; we’re old enough to make our own decisions.
No one likes to stick out from the crowd if it means that the crowd will turn on them, either with ostracism, or with the painful yet quaintly archaic ostracism of sticks, stones, or flaming pitchforks (patent pending). Because of this, of course a shitload of gamers will cop to loving games they hate, or just kind of like, or haven’t even played.
Gamers, for all of their swagger and bluster, are no different from anyone else. And gamers, despite the stereotype of being loners and being socially awkward, really want to be liked and respected by their peers. If you walk into a Legend of Zelda convention and loudly proclaim that the series is “merely ok”, you’ll be leaving with a triforce wedged somewhere where Zelda will never find it (see what I did there?).
Out Hipping The Hipsters
Most rational people will say that “respect is earned” by doing the right thing in difficult circumstances.
Other people believe that you can put people in a situation where respect is given because the recipient believes that it’s due. You see this a lot in crime dramas where the thug demands respect because he has a gun.
In some cases, geeks like to lay claim to counter-culture beliefs as a way to make themselves more attractive to the culture. It’s like a mobius strip made of stupidity, I know, but it’s not limited to geeks, or even the 21st century. It’s the same “I couldn’t care less” attitude that we’ve seen from rebels and outcasts for years, since Caesar was all like “Psssh. Whatever!” when people told him to beware the Ides of March.
Take heed, gamers: Romans in togas will totally call you on it.
Don’t Be That (Last) Guy
I don’t think Amy (the author of the post) belongs to the bragging group, not because she’s an eloquent writer (who correctly believed she could buy our allegiance with an animated GIF of Jennifer Lawrence and a meme based on Downton Abby), but because every gamer has a fucking list like this. Amy writes truth, so I consider her to say what we’re all thinking. Maybe not right now, or in the past week, month, year, or decade, but she’s totally in the right.
* Actually, I do, so I am stating once more that I am not a psychologist and don’t claim to be. I just like talking about my own theories on how and why people think and act. I mean, there was a time when even “psychology” wasn’t a thing, right? Those degrees didn’t just spring out of nowhere, you know!