I’ve taken a bit of a break from The Secret World, but it’s still primary in my mind. Reaching Blue Mountain after Kingsmouth and Savage Coast, I’m ready to be done with Solomon Island, and the atmosphere has gone from supernaturally creepy to stuck-in-a-car-with-the-family-for-a-trip-through-the-real-Maine irritating. But I want to go back and play, even though the zone is irritating the crap out of me like a crisp care-tag on the neckline of a brand new dress shirt.
Much has been said about MMO quest presentation, and that has a lot to do with it. I prefer the cut scenes and context-relevant quest pickups in TSW to a wall of text, but the real reason that I think about TSW despite being in a place I dislike is because I don’t need to concentrate on advancement. The same thing happened in Star Trek Online, although a little differently. Without having to worry about levels as a measure of progression, I find that it’s easier to just focus on what’s in front of you. In TSW, that’s the fantastic presentation of the content, and the stories. In STO it was the mission arcs that played out like episodes from the TV shows. In both cases, I’m not playing the game to work, I’m playing to enjoy the game.
I’d like to see more games ditch the level-ladder and drive player progression through story as opposed to numbers. I’m under no illusion that it’s a simple thing to do. Having a great underlying story requires some talented writers with unique ideas, but presenting them through an interactive medium, and simply using them as a replacement for wall-o-text mission panels doesn’t cut it. It’s the attention to the total package of story, presentation, and atmosphere that makes it worthwhile. I suspect that it’ll be few and far between games that can make a player care more about the why of the situation that it does about the what’s in it for me.
I don’t usually alt, but when I do, I…do, I guess. So I did, even though alts in The Secret World aren’t all that useful. Without a class, you can be all that you can be with a single character, and since all factions start the action in the same area, and progress through the same content, if you’ve seen it once, you’ve seen it. The only reasons I can see for alting is because you want a PvP specific character, or because you screwed up your SP and AP allotments before you knew what the hell you were doing.
Not that that happens in today’s “play my way or the highway” MMO society…
…But of course it does, so I created Kelly “Keliel” Joris. Kelly was living in Seoul, having been sent there from London to oversee the opening of a satellite office for her company. When the bees hit, the Dragons were first on the scene to “claim” her, so in a state of total confusion about what was going on, she accepted their offer. Unbeknownst to her, her brother Steve “Scopique” Joris had also been stung and was now working for the Templars. Their next Christmas get-together with the family should be…interesting.
Knowing now what I didn’t know then, I’ve been more careful with my points. I opted to take the Warrior deck, armed with a shotgun initially, but then also with an assault rifle. If I may say so, holy shit she’s a goddamn wrecking ball! There’s a reason the pre-made decks are designed the way they are: they work! I was able to mow down the zombies in Kingsmouth faster with the new, barely any points character than I could with my elder Paladin-deck character.
This is probably old news for some folks out there, but I’m not one to read about other people’s deep-dives into the ugly mechanics of min-maxing. Really, the less thought I have to put into creating my character, the happier I am. I personally feel that staring a tiny numbers, re-arranging the statistical furniture in the name of some over-achievement fung shui isn’t seeing the forest for the trees. The game may be in the stats, but you can get that kind of gameplay from a spreadsheet. Instead, it’s the art, the world design, the conversations, and the situations that I’m interested in whenever I fire up a new title. The thrill of newness contributes to my gaming ADHD, and is also what makes it difficult for me to alt through content I’ve already experienced.
Consequently, it’s a testament to TSW’s design and execution that I wanted to alt in an otherwise alt-pointless game. I did Kingsmouth in beta, and once in retail, and I’m damn well ready to do it again because it’s so well done. Although I can burn through the investigation quests, and I’m not watching the cut-scenes again, I’m having a great time with a more careful and focused build.
I tried very hard not to come here with another The Secret World post, but I can’t help it. It’s not just because I am enjoying the game beyond measure, although there’s a bit of that factoring in. It’s also not because many folks have not only stepped lightly off the fence with intent to test the ground, only to find themselves cavorting on it’s eldritch shore. More than anything else, it’s because I think no one expected the game to launch like this and because I’m excited for the possibilities that the game can offer a jaded MMO public.
A lot of people heard that the game was developed by FunCom, and turned up their noses. Anarchy Online had one of the first and worst launches in MMO history. Age of Conan didn’t fare much better. MMO gamers like to believe that they’ve got a company’s number based on their personal experience, and those who felt “slapped in the face” by the company didn’t have a lot of faith that FunCom would be able to release anything other than a poorly baked casserole of suck.
Obviously, I don’t think that’s the case, and surprisingly, neither do a lot of other people. There are some issues with the game, and we won’t gloss over that fact. Still, some people live too close to the surface, where the smallest pebble in their mattress will make them grumpy, but at least in my social circles, people are more level headed than that and have chosen to take TSW for what it is, or isn’t. It’s not going to turn the genre on it’s head, for one. But on the other hand, if you see an elf, it’s your express job to put a bullet in it’s head, which should make legions of people happy.
The setting is the thing with TSW, first, foremost, and absolute. It’s modern, which doesn’t sound like a decent bullet point for the box because after all, playing a game set in our neighborhood is called “Real Life”. So instead, we get “Real Life Plus”, where the “Plus” is every and all folklore, myth, and terrible tale ever devised by primitive man to explain the world around him before he knew what science was. We now relegate that stuff to stories fit for children, but TSW makes it real. Really real. And dangerous.
What’s really exciting is the potential for what can be done with TSW. A lot of people will say that they don’t want to pay for potential, but that’s usually in terms of adding in features later on. Instead, FunCom has…I don’t know…several thousand years of human history to sift through for material, from all corners of the planet. No matter how prolific the writer, there’s no way that a single author could match the fantastic output of ancient mankind for stories to scare the shit out of people. Right now, TSW has a few world areas like Maine, Egypt, and Transylvania, but for the future the whole world is game. The rest of Europe. Russia. Asia. Central and South America. Africa. Australia. Anywhere in between where human beings have stories explaining things that go bump in the night. It’s all on the table, and the shit that people once believed – and might still believe, but might not admit – is way beyond any high-fantasy horror that most games pass of as an “ultimate evil”.
With high fantasy, we’re asked to take everything a face value. People live in houses made of plants; OK, sure. There’s such a thing as half-man, half-horse, and it ain’t no thing. We can’t expect to be moved by that kind of fantasy in a real world where our days are filled with sitting in traffic, paying the cable bill, buying school supplies. But if…if…
I went for a walk yesterday, and overhead I heard the cawing of a crow. It’s a sound I’ve heard thousands of times in my life, but it wasn’t until I started playing TSW that it gave me goosebumps. I’m not a horror aficionado, certainly not the “torture porn” that we’ve been sold as horror for the past thirty years. I do like H.P. Lovecraft, however, and the word Polaris sends shivers down my spine. This is the first game which has given me a reason to look over my shoulder, to check under the bed, and to keep a watchful eye on that suspicious figure ambling alone on the dark street. That is a major accomplishment for any company, and I’m glad to attribute it to FunCom as proof that grudges only hurt the ones who hold them.
This is one of those “no duh” posts, the kind that everyone may certainly agree upon, but which no one really digs beneath for ramifications, so I want to talk about the ramifications of announcements.
Marketing is both wonderful, and is one of the lowest, filthiest, most underhanded jobs on the planet. Marketing is a creative medium, and as any Super Bowl will tell us, can even be funnier than Saturday Night Live has been in decades. But marketing is a psychological game. It’s purpose isn’t just to notify us about the presence of a product, but to make us believe that we need the product. Sometimes, it’s even employed to tell us why we do not need a competing product.
As is well known at this point, The Secret World’s pre-order launch happened last Friday. It’s the most high profile launch since the rise and fall of Star Wars: The Old Republic at the end of last year, and it’s the only high-profile MMO launch until Guild Wars 2. Up until the later part of last week, though, we didn’t have any idea when GW2 was going to launch. Up until the day before TSW’s soft launch, to be exact.
So amid the elation, a few people stopped their partying to wonder if this announcement was timed to coincide with the soft launch and this week’s public launch of TSW. Conspiracies abound, fitting comfortably in TSW’s wheelhouse. Then came the speculation on the World of Warcraft expansion’s release date (still silent on that one) and how it would affect TSW and GW2.
No one at street-level really knows how or why companies time these announcements, but their coincidence certainly seems suspect. Apple recently had an iOS 6 spectacle, which was followed by Microsoft’s presentation for Surface and Windows Phone 8. This was followed a week later by Google IO and their presentation on Jelly Bean and the Nexus 7 tablet. They all had their products, and they all revealed them one after another. All three focused on the same arenas, and all three are known combatants in those arenas.
The consequences – or the shadowy assumed consequences – are that these announcements are timed to squash any enthusiasm for a competing product more than they are to announce anything of substance. In the case of TSW, I think the GW2 announcement did just that. I’ve seen many, many people claim to be on the cusp of trying TSW, only to justify their reticence by reminding us that GW2 is only two months away. There are other reasons that people cite as well, like the monthly fee, which many people were happy to fork over to SWTOR just a few months ago…but I digress.
Actually, I don’t digress. It’s difficult to not draw a line between the timing of ArenaNet’s announcement, and the launch of a competing product, and then to see the reaction in the crowd. GW2 has no monthly fee associated with it. That’s a big sell from a big name, and I believe it’s widely thought that it’s the final nail in the subscription model for MMOs going forward. Now that GW2 has a firm release date, the mere mention of “subscription” is like the plague, and it’s spreading. I have no doubt that GW2’s release date announcement is costing TSW. Is that proper, or is it dirty pool?
Certainly, it’s legal. No one is holding a gun to anyone’s head. We’re free to play what we want, and knowing the crowd that this post will reach, we’re all guilty of being promiscuous with our entertainment. Is it morally right? Does that even need to be a concern? Free-marketeers will flip me off for even suggesting such a thing. Of course it’s right, since the market is a competition. Failure is due to the weakness of one, and a validation of the superiority of another, right? The thing is, TSW isn’t an inferior product. It’s a damned good product, and a lot of people are finding themselves pleasantly surprised that FunCom made it. But nothing can withstand the hopes and dreams that have been pinned on GW2. It’s been a juggernaut for so long that even news of Jesus’s return would have gotten buried in the wake of ArenaNet’s announcement.
In the end, I don’t really care whether or not it’s a question of market fairness or dirty pool, or even manipulation of sentiment. I would just be saddened if TSW didn’t capture it’s potential audience because another company timed it’s sure-thing announcement purposefully to distract attention.
I am upset.
Today I have to spend the day at the in-laws, which means there will be scores of zombies and other foul creatures who will escape to menace the coastal town of Kingsmouth in my absence. But I trust my fellow Templars, Illuminati, and Dragons will do fine in my absence.
Yesterday was…difficult. As I suspected I would, I went with the Grand Master Pack subscription: the lifetimer. However, this didn’t work out too well because my payment was stuck in pending status for the better part of four hours. Adding insult to injury, every time I tried to log in, I was given a generic error message about my password being incorrect. It’s case sensitive, you know?
See, these are the kinds of things that sour people on certain games, and on certain companies. Many gamers would have half-assed it, struggling with these issues, then throwing up their hands and taking to the Internet to bitch up one side and down the other about how piss-poor the launch is (because they can’t log in), or how FunCom didn’t have it’s act together to process payment (because they were having issues). They throw tantrums and claim they’ll never, ever, never forever buy anything from FunCom again. Ever. [Cue breath holding and arm crossing].
Thing is, the payment thing was my fault. Since FunCom is an international company, my bank blocked the transaction. I should have called to let them know. When I did, the transaction sailed through, smooth as glass. And the password problem? I had a bum beta client. There was a single, small thread on the forums for people who were having the same issue. One thread. Not hundreds, and this one wasn’t very long. Super-isolated incident.
I don’t hold grudges, especially when, through perseverance, it turns out that the company was blameless, or didn’t deserve all the blame. I even don’t hold anything against them when they experience issues. I’ve even seen people who work in the games industry badmouthing companies, as if these people had never worked on a game of their own the way they were acting like spoiled forum scum. It’s sad, and pathetic.
And I had enormous fun in The Secret World once everything got ironed out. I spent hours in London, hunting down lore and listening to people. The zones were nice and populated. Many zombies died that day. Again.
I know a lot of people are waving TSW off because of Guild Wars 2, which I admit that I mentioned also, but I like this premise enough to commit to it “for life”. I have room in my schedule for both games. GW2 has a lot going for it, but it is still high fantasy. TSW is a different world, and it’s refreshing enough to make me want to see what’s beyond Kingsmouth.
Immersion is an intangible quality that can’t be engineered into a game. Some people like to claim immersion when they role play, but let’s face it: in a game of similarly designed quest panels, a mute majority NPC stock, and varying degrees of design that may or may not cater to putting you “in the world”, most MMOs really require you to dig deep into the well of “suspension of disbelief” for any kind of immersion.
Which is why I’m kind of on the fence with The Secret World. If there’s any MMO that can put you in a place, I think it’s this one. It’s a modern setting, so we know what we’re looking at, and not in a “I’ve read Lord of the Rings so I know what an elf is supposed to look like” kind of way. It’s got really good voice overs, in my opinion, and I like the character animations that go along with them. That gives certain NPCs personality, which makes them easier to relate to and to remember. And it’s got unique ways of presenting information to you. Items of note in the world have icons with fly-out menus, so almost anything can be interactive, anywhere in the world. I’ve had three quests during beta which have provided me with unique UI elements that differ from the standard “gilded scroll” format of most sandbox MMOs: one was a cell-phone text message, another was a phone book, and the other was a clipboard. Add to that the fact that as a New Englander, the first zone you play in – Kingsmouth, Maine – is recognizable as pretty much spot on for what you could expect from a small coastal New England town. And the references to other New England luminaries like H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King are a riot to discover.
But atmosphere aside, I’m trying to calculate how much the gameplay is preventing me from pulling a Fry and pre-ordering. The game has a very The Matrix Online vibe, with it’s focus on hot-swapping skills and the prevalent but inconsequential focus on not just being a badass, but looking like a badass. It has a lot going for it in the atmosphere department, but the combat is…well, I’m not really sure, which is the actual problem. It doesn’t jump out and say “Hell yeah!” It’s one of those cases where I think I am tolerating the combat because it’s between me and another interaction with the storyline.
But it’s the degree of annoyance I have with the combat that’s the big question mark. Can I plow through it? Is there going to be enough redeeming otherness about this moody, classless, modern horror-story that will make me want to put my head down and get through the combat?
I figure that since Guild Wars 2 still doesn’t have a release date, at least 30 days of The Secret World might be enough of a stop-gap. It feels kind of scummy to say to someone “you’re not my first choice, but you’ll do in the meanwhile”, but considering I’ve played so many MMOs over the course of my career with less of a desire to form a relationship, I figure this one certainly isn’t one worth avoiding.
Although I debated whether or not to lump any Guild Wars 2 post in here at LC, or to create something dedicated to what will certainly be a fountain of content, the stars aligned as stars are sometimes known to do, and The Tyria Chronicles was born.
This Guild Wars 2 site is a collaboration between Slurms of Multiplaying.net fame and myself. We both seem to have been taken by the game enough to want to dedicate an entire space to news, opinion, experiences, fiction, and – most importantly – discussion about Guild Wars 2.
The only problem right now is that the game is still in beta, so there’s not a lot to talk about except the community’s mad scramble to ramp up their usual pre-MMO show filled with character builders, guides, videos, and editorials.
So please add us to your general gaming or GW2 themed RSS reader, and bear with us as we anxiously await the release of Guild Wars 2.
We’ve had almost 15 years of the “modern MMO” under our belts, and we’ve all gotten to be pretty much pros at navigating them. We’re all armed with a mental check-list of what a game offers simply by reading bullet points off the back of the box (remember when we bought box copies?). We may even chaff at having to go through a tutorial. “Yeah yeah,” we sigh. “Talk to the dude with the ! on his head, skip the flavor text, kill X of Y, return, repeat. I could do this in my sleep.” And it’s true. We know the tropes of the modern MMO like the backs of our mouse-and-WASD-hands, and a lot of the time that familiarity truly breeds contempt. There’s billions of electron-hours devoted to how the MMO genre is in a rut, and how we need something different.
People place a high value on their time spent in their in-game. For those of us who have a habit of testing many waters, it’s easy to forget that there are millions of people who have never left their first MMO. They’ve gotten the mechanics down cold, and know all the stats by heart. They’ve put a lot of time into their MMO, and the idea of starting not only from scratch content wise, but knowledge wise, is a hard sell, if not outright alien. It makes sense: accumulating knowledge is hard labor, and we deserve to enjoy the results of that hard work. After working at it for so long, the idea of returning to a time when we know nothing about the subject can be immensely frustrating.
ArenaNet is walking a fine line between maintaining vision, and making a system intuitive enough that users can just understand it through experiencing it. I’m not entirely convinced that they’re winning that fight. When ANet’s “learn by example” meets “I’m a veteran MMO player who’s spent years playing WoW”, we start running into that frustration from the last paragraph. There’s no obvious “golden path” through a zone; the entire zone is expected to be experienced on one’s own schedule, which is a design that is already throwing many people for a loop…and the game is still only in beta.
One aspect that engenders confusion is the “hearts”. Hearts are magnets that attract players to a certain areas of the map. A single heart offers as a single task, which can usually be completed in several different ways. Some require you to kill stuff, others require you to engage in mundane activities like watering plants. Once you complete the task, though, the heart is filled and you can move on. Or can you? It’s natural to consider the heart as GW2’s “!”, but it’s both more and less than that. Less, in that it’s a single task. More, in that it’s a beacon to get you into a certain section of the zone. Once there, you’ll be alerted to the dynamic events that pop up in that area.
The dynamic events were one of the big bullet points for GW2, and for more in-depth discussion on them, we’ll refer you to Massively’s explaination (Via @Dusty_Monk) with a video, too. These events seem to be the second confusing part. One never knows when or where the events will occur, or for how long they’ll last, or how many stages there are, or what stage the event is currently in. There’s a lot of variables going on, and it’s because these dynamic events aren’t single-threaded occurrences; they’re clocks that operate in different ways based on the ways that their gears turn. Succeed in an event in the east, and an event in the west will open up. Fail that same event, and the event in the west doesn’t happen. Maybe another event happens elsewhere. Maybe it continues in an hour or so. Maybe it’s a back-and-forth between two or more factions, where your participation determines the outcome.
I’m not insinuating or stating that people are stupid. The thing is, no one likes to feel stupid, and after years of dedicating oneself to learning the ins and outs and mastering a singular system, having to re-wire the brain to think about roughly the same concepts in radically different ways can make a person feel stupid. As an application developer, I know that when I try to learn a new development language, I get frustrated with how much I don’t know when I feel that, with a lot of core concepts in common, I should know more than I do about it. Maybe it’s a geek thing, that we value knowledge so much that we put a premium on the height of the knowledge over the act of obtaining the knowledge, and that faced with nothing but an up-hill climb, our previous knowledge doesn’t mean a thing.
The major ramification of this situation, though, is what we do when confronted with “different”. We have to be willing to start from scratch. It’s too easy to just compare slivers of similarity between different systems, make a judgment, and call it a day. “Different” requires us to put aside any reservations about our observations, and to resist framing them in the context of what’s comfortable and familiar to us. It takes a conscious effort to reset our experience back to the time when we didn’t know anything about anything have to do with MMOs, and when we were in awe of everything we could do, and didn’t really care about what we couldn’t.
Guild Wars 2 may not be 100% different than what we’re used to, and that’s to be expected in a generally risk-averse climate, but it’s different enough that I think it can proxy for something far more extreme in design. If gamers can take to the changes in GW2 and adapt, then the industry should notice that risk can equal reward. If gamers maintain that resetting their learning curve in face of something different isn’t worth the time or frustration, then I can’t imagine that it’ll be worth the industry’s time to deviate from the familiar and well-worn path of the theme park MMO.
I have decided to admit to myself that Guild Wars 2 is my unicorn: a mythical beast that shouldn’t exist, but I’ll be damned that it does.
Like many gamers, I’ve played many a game over the years, and in that time there’s a lot of water under the bridge. Many sights have been seen, many fights have been fought, and many lovers have been loved, but with any trip, it’s the journey and not the destination that defines the experience. All of the MMOs that I have played over the years were way-stations on my journey to an unknown destination. I always figured that the final resting place would show itself to me when it was good and ready, and in the meanwhile the cosmos would allow me to just bounce around the landscape as I saw fit.
I think the end of my journey is in sight.
Like any trip, through, it’s never just one, so I will continue to sample other MMOs. And like any destination, it’s never going to always live up to glossy expectations set forth in the brochure. I don’t expect to leave other MMOs behind forever; I don’t expect Guild Wars 2 to be the end all, be all of MMOs. We have a history, those other games and I, and like anyone with a shared history you’re anchored, and it’s comforting to return to those locations from time to time. But they weren’t strong enough for me to call them the destination. No one purposefully takes a trip to a highway rest-stop and calls it a day, after all.
The thing for me about Guild Wars 2 is that is just felt natural in the BWE. I wanted to be there, and also to range far from the hub. I didn’t want to go out to seek fortune, but instead I just wanted to seek for seeking’s sake. What was out there? What’s going on that I don’t know about, and how can I get involved? I didn’t need any NPC to send me into the wilderness because I was already bolting off in that direction for my own selfish reasons. Even when I was being decimated in WvWvW – and especially when I was doing the decimating – I felt that yeah, this is just about right. This is how it should feel. I don’t want to leave, and when I am pulled away (or ejected thanks to periodic beta scheduling), I just want to return.
So there it is. I dub myself “Guild Wars 2 fanboy”. I don’t travel the familiar fanboy paths, though: I still don’t care about gear or discussing balance between classes or using numbers or stats. I’d make a fan site, but without those kinds of topics, I can’t foresee the site being anything other than “this is what I did in game today!”, which isn’t interesting to anyone else but me (and not even then, really). So I’ll probably keep my fanboyism to myself, with the occasional display here and there, but always with a mind that this isn’t a Guild Wars 2 blog specifically, and that rampaging and frothy-mouthed fanboyism is a sure way to get on people’s nerves. I don’t need Guild Wars 2 to do that. XD