When you get a bunch of people together in a room, and ask them to identify “the best” of something, you’ll wish you spent your time looking at funny cat videos instead. There really is no “the best”, especially on the Internet, because everyone’s needs and wants are different, and as a consequence the things that fit their needs and wants will differ. Instead, we have to look at a larger picture, tally the columns from a set list of features, and declare the ones with the most votes as “the best”. Then we need to shut off the comments because we’re going to catch hell for our decisions.
But screw that: this is my blog, and here are my top examples of things that some games do that every game really should do.
5. Screw Combat
Listen, I’m under no illusions that a good amount of people — maybe the majority, maybe the SUPER majority — enjoy the hell out of hitting things with swords or shooting them with laser guns. Making combat THE reason and THE driver for these games goes way back into human history because in combat, there’s one clear winner, and one clear loser. It’s easy to determine when to give rewards, and when to give punishment, and as sad as it may sound, a lot of gamers need this kind of ambiguity to feel accomplished.
And while I’ve got your ear, we need to acknowledge that video games aren’t just niche hobbies any longer. Yeah, the “hardcore” squeal about the influx of “posers” who play casual games, but gaming isn’t a gated community any longer. With so many MMOs out there, and so many more gamers coming online every day, it’s time that developers started looking at non-combat systems as first class citizens that can stand on their own, without the need to engage in combat.
Crafting is the old standby because so long as a player can avoid combat, he can gather materials and work his magic. But crafting has lost it’s way, having become push-button simple, and requiring us to grind out copies of useless vendor trash ad nauseum. Housing used to be “a thing” until Blizzard decided it got in the way of killing things, and everyone else followed suit. And you would not BELIEVE how much time people put into dressing up their characters in The Secret World.
Best Examples: Everquest 2, The Secret World, Vanguard
4. Account Presence
Nothing bugs me more than having to re-build my friends list with every alt I make. Why are my characters treated as different accounts when I have to log in to access them all with ONE account? Just because I make a new character doesn’t mean I want to create new associations with totally new people, and leave my friends and guild members behind. And we have to face facts: people still mule, and so moving items between alts should be a lot easier than it generally is.
It’s really a weight off my shoulders when I log into a game with a new character and see all of my friends in the list, or even find that I’m already in my guild. It’s a lot less housekeeping that I have to while wading through the tutorial for the hojillionth time. Shared bank space is right up there as well.
Best Examples: Cryptic gets a gold star for porting friends and chat channels across GAMES, not just alts, and Guild Wars 2 for their account-centric guilding.
3. Make Guilds Matter
Guilds at their most basic implementation are private chat channels. Even in 2013, developers seem at a loss for what to do with guilds, if they even consider there to be a room for improvement at all.
People join with others in a guild for two reasons. First, they’re already friends, and want that private chat channel. Second, they want a regular stable of bodies at their beck and call. It’s easier to get people together when you have some kind of shared allegiance than it is to run with PUGs all the time. But guild mechanics have been almost as stagnant in the MMO space as crafting has.
We need to make BEING IN A GUILD matter. How about a real guild project? Not just “do what you would be doing anyway, and earn guild levels and buffs”. That’s not community. Maybe give guilds an instance where they have to work together to build and maintain their own guild hall and adventure zone. The more people you have in the guild, the harder the tasks get, but the bigger the reward. Guilds need a reason to BE a guild beyond huddling together for warmth.
Best Examples: None that I can really think of, although EverQuest 2′s guild halls are pretty impressive
2. Concurrent/Complimentary/Ah Fuck It Leveling
A sage once said that “time is nature’s way of preventing everything from happeneing at once”. Leveling, therefor, is gaming’s way of preventing everyone from having access to all content from day one. Levels are nice triggers that developers can use to tell a player “you’re not ready” or “you really should move on”. They’re also great ways for players to measure their progression
But levels striate the population. When areas are “level appropriate”, that means that everywhere you AREN”T is “level innapropriate”. If your friends are of lower level, or of higher level, playing together is pretty damn difficult. Some games have tried to put a bandage on this by allowing limited de- or up-leveling to match party members, but it’s not a solution. Most games are content to say “ah fuck it”, let players rolls alts, and form spoken leveling pacts with their friends and guild members. We can do better than this.
Best Examples: Guild Wars 2, EVE Online
1. ONE FUCKING SHARD!
We’ve been told for years that the reason people play MMOs is (or should be) for the social aspect, and yet in 2013, we still see games being released that divide the population by shards/servers. The best offenders (though still offenders) allow players to move or temporarily move to a friend’s server, but the worst offenders don’t offer anything of the sort (or make you pay for it).
There are several games which use one server/shard technology, or can fake it well enough that we don’t notice the difference. As complex as online multiplayer games are, you mean to tell me that this is one irritation that developers and engineers can’t eradicate?
Best Examples: EVE Online, Star Trek Online, The Secret World
Despite their relatively youthful status, MMOs end up with some of the lamest, most overused bitch-fests this side of a console FPS. The really sad part is that for as long as there have been MMOs, there have been similar arguments and complaints that seem to be “baked in” to each and every game, standard and free of charge. The latest trend towards free to play is generating a whole new bumper crop of asinine sentiment, so now’s as good a time to break ourselves of these habits, and re-learn how to enjoy our entertainment.
5. This Game Will Be Closed in [Insert Random Number of Months]
No armchair pundit has the insight to make this statement with the actual certainty with which it’s typically presented, yet it always appears on the forums within the first week after launch. I think that the majority of us read this and understand that it’s really born out of the writer’s frustration and dissapointment, but I’m sure that at least one poster, somewhere, and possibly ALL people who post these kinds of posts, actually believe in their abilities to prodict the future.
Here in the West, companies aren’t actually that quick to shutter their MMOs. Yes, it’s happened. Yes, it’s happened quickly, There are scads of games which have suffered horrible setbacks, some technical, some financial, but those games are still operational. Many of them are so low level you might not have heard of them, leading you to wonder how they survive at all. For large companies like EA, it’s easier to close doors because their eggs are in many baskets, but for many companies, their game represents their entire reason for being. They’ll sell their children before they close the servers, and at that point you know it has nothing to do with how Johnny Gamer feels about his avatar’s running animation.
4. Cash Shops Are All About Greed
Free to play is a great innovation that was pretty much a swear word less than five years ago here in the West, mainly because “F2P” was synonomous with “cash shop”. Why the hate against cash shops? For one, we were still in the grip of the “subscription buffet” model where people believed that $15/month was a small price to pay for everything under the sun. Having to pay incremental amounts for what, in many people’s opinion should be standard was an affront to common decency. Companies that implemented cash shops were purposefully trying to scam players out of cash by forcing us to buy our games piecemeal.
With 500,000 subscribers at $15/month, that company makes $7.5 MILLION dollars a month to keep the servers running and their employees paid. With 500,000 subscribers and no monthly fee, a company makes exactly $0 a month, which means they need to fire their employees and shut down their servers. I’m no accountant, but I think that in order for an online game to operate, for bugs to get fixed, for new content to appear, we need to accept that while we like the idea of having something for free, it’s not really free as in beer. It’s free as in if you really like it, support it by buying some cosmetic items.
3. Cash Shops Are P2W
This one has always baffled me because the majority of MMOs are PvE. Saying that a cash shop is all about “paying to win” implies that there is something to win, and that the cash shop offers items that give one player an advantage over another.
If Western games were organized like some Eastern games, then sure: spending your way to victory would be problematic, as we’d have to pump money into the game on a regular basis just to stay alive. Who wants to do that? (*cough*real life*cough*) Most Western cash shop content is focused on cosmetic and vanity items, services, and convieniences. The only time your buying an item in a cash shop helps you “win” would be if the shop was selling an item that could be used in PvP, but no legitimate Western operator believes that it’s a good idea to unbalanace their game like that, except when you have an avenue to earn that same item just through normal game play (Tribes: Ascend and Planetside 2, for example).
2. F2P Games Attract Asshats
Whenever a new F2P game launches, or especially when a previously subscription-only game makes the switch, current players get all uppity about the impending influx of dirty, uncouth know-nothings that will descend on their pristine, happy family, crap on it’s lawn, trample it’s flowers, and set it’s guild houses on fire before departing to the next game they intend to ruin.
While F2P removes barriers and allows those who were wary or unable to pay a monthly fee to try the game, I’d be willing to bet that for an older game making the transition, the majority of players who show up were players who had left the game. Not everyone leaves out of boredom, having reached the cap in the first week, crapping on the lawn, and setting fire to the guild houses before they flipped the game the bird and moved on. Some folks just burned out, or couldn’t afford the monthly fee any more. Now, having had their vacation, and being invited back for the low price of free, why wouldn’t they return?
Besides, jerks ALSO have credit cards, too. Credible studies show that many of them are elitist as well.
1. Arguing About World of Warcraft in General Chat
Like Godwin’s Law, the Law of General Chat states that “no General Chat channel in any MMO can go more than 30 minutes without someone arguing about World of Warcraft”. WoW is as obiquitous as oxygen. No matter hor hard, how fast, or in what direction we run, we’ll never emerge from WoW’s monumental shadow, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the General Chat of any MMO-that-is-not-World-of-Warcraft.
We’ve got people comparing this game to WoW. People who bitch about WoW. People who tell stories meant to let people know how awesome they were in WoW. Makes you wonder why these people and WoW don’t get a room…a room that isn’t the General Chat room.
The thing about video games that makes them different from books or movies is that each person’s experience is different, but more importantly that each game allows players to have different experiences. Why ruin your potential and future experience in this new game by concluding every undertaking with “That was fun, but in World of Warcraft…” It is the opinion of this blog that every game deserves to be experienced, judged, and enjoyed on it’s own merits, and not based on how it stacks up to World of Warcraft. If all you can do in a new game is to talk about ANOTHER game, then maybe you’re not ready to move on to another game quite yet.
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?
Thanks to MoxieDoodle, a new Kickstarter campaign was brought to my attention. It’s called Greed Monger, and it’s a game in which you apparently monger greed. I don’t know what that is, but according to the KS page, it sounds like an MMO for those of us tired of the incessant focus on hotbar-centric combat combat combat. The short list description includes an empty world – no shit, really empty, except for trees and animals and monsters – where you build all the things, including armor, weapons, and most importantly, housing. For $20, you get a plot of land (up to 4 plots!) and you decide what to do with it. Leave it open and charge players to hunt or harvest, or you can add a house and live life to the fullest, making furniture and decorations to sell through your NPC vendor.
The citied influence comes from Ultima Online, which was Sandboxious Maximus in it’s heyday, allowing many of the same perks as are listed above. I also detected a whiff of Star Wars Galaxies in there, but also an overpowering scent of Wurm Online. That’s kind of where I put the breaks on, so to speak.
WO is really one of a kind. It, too, is an empty world which allows players to buy land with real money, and to harvest the land to build houses, raise crops, domesticate animals, and so on. Each parcel is locked to the owner, so if you have a lot of trees on your land, you can prevent folks from taking them.
The idea is that sandbox fans will be so overcome with joy that they’ll link arms and skip down the rainbow road, buying up land and forming in-game towns where each person will bend to a particular task, and will share the fruits of his/her labors with the other players who make up the fair town. There will be hundreds of these player-created bergs, and inter-village commerce will flourish, and everyone will enjoy one another’s company, and learn the true meaning of cooperation.
In reality, there’ll be a land rush where those who get in early and pay the most set up camp in the most desirable locations, bringing along their friends to circle the wagons around the best resources. Anyone coming in later, or without a support group, will be limited to the dregs of the land, locked out of opportunities controlled by the land barons who are more interested in extortion than in creating a greater community. At some point, someone(s) will come along and find a way to specifically grief others through land ownership, and your plans to get your friends together to form a little hamlet end in frustration because you can’t find a contiguous area that allows you all to build nearby one another.
This is not just a Worst Case Scenario. It happened in UO – remember castles, which took up so much goddamn room? I’m sure SWG had similar issues. And don’t get started on my blood-boiling foray into Wurm Online. In each case, the plans look good on paper, when there’s no actual boots on the ground. There’s a lot of assumptions that people are going to both work together, and end up in conflict, but I think the grand plan is that it’ll be on a settlement-by-settlement basis, not a first-in-by-newcomer basis. Sure, there’ll be a lot of people who span the spectrum from kind and inclusionary, to total and utter douchenozzles, but this is the kind of design that’s has a built in allowance for a certain percentage of frustration. I can almost hear the shrugging going on – what do you want US to do?
OK, so it sounds whiney. It is, I admit. This game appeals to me. I like the idea of a game built around self-sufficiency, where you start with nothing and then achieve anything only through your own power. Working with others is additive, and beneficial for each and every one of you. But we’re not new to this. We know how “people” are. The prognostications above will happen, because they’ve happened before. It’s only a question of magnitude, and that depends on the opportunities offered by the game itself.
I pledged my money, enough for two parcels of land. I figure that one parcel was fine, but two is more breathing room. The chances of me expanding to three or four is pretty much nil, since three and four will certainly end up having to be claimed away from wherever I set down plots one and two, because someone else will abut my own property. Will there be enough people I know who buy into it, so we can make a go at starting a village? Perhaps. Will we all be able to find enough local property to not have to build around someone else’s planned settlement? It remains to be seen, I guess.
I’ve been very good with money, as of late. Normally, I’m not bad with it, but my wife handles the bills (she has a degree in accounting…mine is in biology), so I really never know “the damage” until I hear her screaming at me from the basement, demanding to know what the bazillion PayPal payments were for. Money hasn’t really been an issue for us, thankfully, so my spending went more or less unchecked for quite some time. Until recently, and I have some idea of where to lay that blame.
Most of my purchases were on games. $10 here for something on sale, $19.99 there for an expansion, maybe a pre-order or two. Right there, that’s about $90 – $150. That’s a lot to be spending on entertainment, especially for a self-professed ADHD gamer. Having the means, the motive, and no impulse control and few consequences means that a lot of bad decisions were made. Well, not really bad, but…things could have gone better.
Since the beta period of Guild Wars 2, however, I thought that my plate would be clean. Then I tried The Secret World beta. I bought both. I bought lifetime subscriptions to both.* I think that’s it. Really. Sort of. There’s Borderlands 2 and X-Com, but aside from that, I can’t think of games on the horizon that I really care about. It’s like a dark, impenetrable wall, looming in the distance. I can’t see, hear, or smell anything on the other side of that wall. Add to that the fact that my only other scheduled heads-up was Vanguard going F2P – which was then blindsided by the announcement that Star Wars: The Old Republic was also going F2P – and I can’t imagine what the hell else I’d be looking for in the future. I even came out of the latest Steam Sale unmolested. That was when I knew something was up.
But I’m also concerned. I’ve always believed that the more you know, the better off you are when it comes to discussions. Simple, yes? Video games are my area of interest, like some people have an interest in football or classic muscle cars. I’ve not only used my purchasing freedom to buy games, but also to actually get my hands on something so I could learn about it, form my own opinion about it, and speak to it with a greater degree of authority than those who only crap on anything by name alone. I don’t like to make things up, and when I know I don’t know, I don’t want to pretend I do know. Not having experienced as much as I feel I must means I sideline myself, and that makes me sad. I’ve felt rather disconnected from many discussions that aren’t GW2 or TSW related on the social networks as of late.
The upside is that I’ve put myself on a budget: $50 per paycheck goes into a secondary PayPal account. If I want something, it comes out of there; if I don’t, the pool keeps building. That savings mechanism is pretty heady: I no longer look to the next scheduled release. Instead, I have started to wonder how long I can build this pool before it reaches the level where it can be used on something above average. Ideally, I’d like to save for a Windows 8 Pro tablet. I don’t know if I have the fortitude to last that long (that’s well over a year’s worth of saving), but we’ll see. Meanwhile, I’ll have to hope that it’s not just me who feels that the near future release schedule is a little thin, and that we all end up on the same page for lack of anything better to talk about.
* Yes, I know GW2 has no subscription. That’s the joke. You’re welcome.
Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition is either something you love, or something you hate, from what I gather from my travels on the Internet. Purists think it’s “too MMOish”; new players appreciate the lack of lookup tables and rules governing saving throws versus getting your junk caught in the zipper of your armor. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle, as we discovered by playing through the first official 4E module, Keep on the Shadowfell.
We used the Fantasy Grounds virtual tabletop software, with VoIP provided by Google+ Hangouts.
The players – a dragon-born paladin, a halfling rogue, a human mage, and an elf cleric – were recruited by Lord Padraig, a suave, Champaign drinking noble who had to wear a nametag because of a childhood head trauma. Turns out he’s really into maps of old and deadly places, so he sent the team to the old keep to map it out. He plans on photocopying it and selling framed prints through HomeGoods.
D&D of any stripe is complex. Or simple. The glory of PnP RPGs is that you don’t NEED to roll dice at every step if you don’t want to. Ignore encumbrance. Let players get a good night’s sleep on the cold dungeon floor amidst the bodies of the recently slain, or totally fubar the rules for using healing surges. Some rule-bending is intentional, and some is accidental, because whether you use them or not, there are so many rules to govern stuff. We made plenty of mistakes, and most of them benefitted the players.
The biggest issue (at least from my side) was the over-awarding XP. We had 4 players, but the XP rewards are geared towards five players. I divided the listed XP bounty by four instead of reducing the XP award down for four players. They were level 4 – the level the characters should be at the end of the adventure – before they got to the second floor.
We also played pretty loose with reality. There was a lot of full resting without disturbances. Part of this was because a single room took most of the night, and throwing in a reinforced mob to wake the players would have taken several MORE hours to get through, or could extend the adventure significantly. Part of it was that I ran the module as written, and didn’t spend a lot of prep time drawing up random mobs or returned adversaries who got away. Part of it was that although I wanted the module to be difficult, killing the players within the first ten rooms would have totally spoiled the game.
Splug, and the Embarrassment Of Roleplay
Splug was a goblin prisoner who was thrown in the brig for cheating other goblins at cards in the guardhouse. He presented himself to the players as a pathetic victim, and offered servitude if they released him. Of course, they did because goblin footman! And because this was the most lawful good party D&D has ever seen – even the thief didn’t start stealing stuff until the end (and was outted by an accidental click in the VT software by yours truly). The thief could have learned a thing or two from Splug, who took the first opportunity to make an attack of opportunity on the party, and then to run like hell into the depths of the dungeon. Splug became a focal point for the group, who spent several evenings hoping to run into him for some less-than-lawful-good payback. Much to their dismay, Splug met his demise at the hands of a giant slime, and not their own weapons.
There wasn’t a lot of roleplaying going on in this game. Making weird voices, or getting all comic-book villany with the speeches just felt cheap. Kalarel, the final bad guy, was supposed to be taunting the players and being all about doing nasty things to their corpses, but he didn’t say a word. Partly I blame the embarrassment of talking funny, but also this module wasn’t really conducive to a really fleshed out story. Go in, map the keep, discover a plan to unleash Unspeakable Evil, try to put a stop to it. That’s the nutshell. Everything else was just gravy.
The Final Countdown
So after many weeks of coasting through what ended up being a shooting gallery in which over-leveled players mowed down an irrational amount of 1HP trash mobs, I decided to make the last battle count. There would be no laziness here. I spent most of the evening staring at the pages for stat-blocks for the NPCs, reading and re-reading the tactics when it was my turn, and planning actions based on the NPC’s strengths. Unfortunately for the party, this turned out to be a Really Bad Thing: The paladin was annihilated by being blown into the Orcus portal, the thief was constantly dying and being healed at the feet of Kalarel and his minions, the mage – who never fully recovered from falling 50 feet into the pool of blood – took a necrotic bolt to the back of the head, and the cleric was gnawed upon by a wight who was deft at avoiding his Turn Undead powers. Kalarel and his minions crowded around their healing runes with their backs to the Orcus portal, allowing The Thing In The Portal to take a swipe at anyone who ventured close. It was a bloodbath, and not just the one in the center of the room.
In retrospect, this fight was a lot more difficult even on paper than appropriate level characters probably could have handled. Running it correctly, it was pretty overbalanced. Kalarel didn’t even break a sweat with almost 200 HP, and although he didn’t use it, the wight could have resurrected the one skeleton the players killed. There was just a ton of benefits available to the enemies, and not much for the players to work with, regardless of level. Maybe, in the cosmic reckoning, allowing the players to slide through the 98% of the rest of the dungeon to in order experience the thrill of the game over the number crunching balances out with the brutalization by the last mob, but it still sucks to have a party wipe on the final boss.
Was That An MMO-ism?
The thing that really struck me was how rusty we all were with tabletop RPGing. There was a lot of MMOism going on in the game, mostly in thinking about how something should work if this were an MMO, or taking MMO tropes for granted, as if they had been part of the tabletop RPG scene from the start.
It didn’t help that this module was very linear. Room by room battles with just a framework of a story. Ideally, a better DM would have fleshed out the scenes, done all the characterizations, and made more of an experience out of it, but part of the reason we’re playing online from various parts of the U.S. is that we’re all busy adults, leaving little time to spend writing in notebooks with stacks of sourcebooks in front of us.
If there’s one thing I disliked about this adventure, it’s that we ended up playing it like an MMO. There was little personality in any of the characters, player or NPC. It didn’t really matter that there was only a thin story, because most MMOs have only a thin story: you’re there to bash stuff and take their XP and loot, and you don’t stop until you’ve reached the end of the adventure, when you get to upgrade your stuff so you can do it all again. That’s not what RPGs are about. They’re about putting people into a story, leaving the meta-gaming out of it and taking on a role. Players should be surprised by the things they encounter, the enemies should be epic, and the outcomes always uncertain. Loot is not the goal. These are heroes, after all, and heroes do heroic things, think heroic thoughts, and make heroic decisions that have far ranging consequences. Basically, everything you don’t find in an MMO.
The one thing I liked about this adventure was being able to play, period. As mentioned, adults with responsibilities rarely get to do “fun” stuff. We find tabletop RPGing just as fun now as we did when we were younger, but because of age, or proximity, or because we’ve made friends who think D&D is lame and have lost track of friends who don’t, the Internet has been a godsend. Although Fantasy Grounds did act up, causing us issues while also allowing us to rely on it’s automation far more than we realistically should have, it provided a fantastic tool for playing the game. And Google Hangouts, despite the “Are you still there?” disconnects, worked flawlessly 95% of the time. No matter how much fun you have with people in an MMO, you will never have as much fun as you do when playing tabletop RPGs with friends.
I love deep, complex strategy games, which is what I tell myself every time I pull the trigger and buy one. These are the kinds of games I grew up with, where 90% of the weight of the box was the manual as big as a phone book (which is how we used to look up people’s phone numbers and addresses, kids. Visit a museum once in a while, all right?), and I have a particular fondness and some kind of pathological desire to get back to those days, apparently.
I feel that I’ve been hit over the head with the PR stick, compliments of Stardock who’s been incessantly tweeting and re-tweeting other tweets about their latest collaboration with Ironclad Games on Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, a “stand alone expansion” to their Sins of a Solar Empire (a game with no qualifier). Naturally, I own the original Sins, and played it for as long as my contract with the Gaming Gawds required (a week?), but I felt strangely compelled to pick up Sins: Rebellion, maybe through mind-control, or maybe because I still believe that some day I’ll actually get a hardcore strategy game that I can stick with long enough to not make me feel that I would have gotten the same results if I had opted to flush my cash down the toilet. I’ll give Stardock’s PR props, because I really didn’t know anything much about Sins: Rebellion before I bought it, but I was then kind of sad to find out that it was basically Sins with add-ons. I essentially re-bought a game I barely played, but with content I’ll probably never get around to seeing. That’s the power of marketing, folks!
But I’m not bashing the game! Far from it. I looks like a 4X game (explore, exploit, expand, exterminate), but it plays like an RTS, with the fortification, research, and resource management routines we know and love/hate. You can zoom out to system level and see all the explored and local unexplored systems, or zoom in an toast your marshmallows by the exhaust from your fleet’s antimatter engines. This is a game for people who love to blow shit up in ways that make the word “epic” seem woefully inadequate. Once you’ve got a sizable fleet, you’ll be rolling through the galaxy with the space-faring equivalent of a soccer mob, trashing other race’s storefronts with lasers, missiles, ion cannons, and orbital bombardments.
My very first non-tutorial game was a small universe against an AI set on Easy. I started with a planet, manufacturing facilities, and some scouts, so I made a capital ship and some escort frigates and casually sent them to a neighboring system to rough up the locals in the name of commercial opportunities, while lazily fortifying my home system with gauss gun platforms to ensure that I didn’t get the same treatment. It wasn’t long before I received notification that pirates were spotted in my area, but I wasn’t sure where they were going to show up. My fleet was hand-holding my newly oppressed people, but I figured that a few pirates could be held off by my home defenses long enough for me to get my fleet back there in time to mop up any stragglers.
An entire fucking pirate society warped into my home system shortly after. I couldn’t even see my planet through the white icons of their attack ships. I panicked as they casually tipped over my gauss guns and started taking baseball bats to the windows of my construction facilities. I sent my fleet back to the home system as fast as their fat asses would allow them (hint: not very fast), and they engaged the White-Out Pirates as soon as they completed their jump. I figured my cap ship and bad-ass frigates could clean the floor with their lice-ridden corpses, since…you know…space battles, ho!
My civilization was wiped out by a pirate horde. The cap ship was the first to go, which instantly turned the frigate captains in clones of Hudson from Aliens after the survivors had barricaded themselves in the operations center. Needless to say, if the cap ship went down, the frigates didn’t stand a chance. I’d erect a statue in their honor, but I no longer had a planet to place it on.
To my credit, I didn’t rage quit. I bore witness to the erasure of my race, flipping the pirates the bird (literally) once the last structure was destroyed, and offering one last salute before starting a new game. This time, with no pirates because fuck those guys! Fool me once…
So far, things are going much better. I’ve researched the hell out of the starting tree, upgrading resource collection and fortifications. I have lethal fighter hangars in orbit, along with “out for revenge” versions of the insulted gauss platforms from Game One. My fleet is better composed, and larger, and I’ve tempered my expansion plans to as not to spread myself too thin. I’m only on my second system, which is quickly digging in for possible incursions from The Other Guy. I feel like I’m still flailing around, because there’s no pause on this game; when I’m squinting at the “why did they choose this unreadable font” descriptions and stats, machinations are being machinated on the other side of the galaxy by an AI that doesn’t have to take the same time to learn the game. I’m sure he’s churning out units like a Korean MMO factory on speed.
I fear for my civilization. Thankfully, they don’t know what I know, or else they’d all be growing unkempt beards and wearing sandwich boards on the street corners. I’ll try to do right by them, but I can’t make any promises. My usual MO is to build up a silly-large fleet and then try to go toe-to-toe with the enemy. I like, though, that Sins: Rebellion has other options for victory, like diplomatic, or who has the biggest fleet-penis, so technically I could never engage the enemy at all and still lose horribly because I just can’t read that goddamn font unless I’m 10 inches away from the monitor.
By my own account, I shouldn’t like TERA as much as I do. It’s basically EVERYTHING that I have been bitching about for the past six months, with it’s walls of text and linear design. What it has going for it – action combat and impressive visuals – shouldn’t be enough to make the game appealing to me.
But I guess I’m tried of spending energy fighting – even passively – opportunities for enjoyment. I’ve decided that it’s not worth the cost to complain about lore, or about scantily dressed avatars, or animations, or systems, and to use those as excuses for why I’m going to pass on an opportunity that might be fun overall.
I really don’t have “high standards”. I tried to convince people that I DO by extending the pinkie and putting my nose in the air, but to be honest, I’m lying, to you and to myself. I play games for enjoyment, and like a lot of enjoyment, it requires that I need to be willing to enjoy it. That means a lot of bullshit triggers may need to be switched off, which means that I have to be willing to shut them off. In the end, enjoyment s the result of making a decision to suspend nitpicking. Up to this point, I’ve been saying that my palate has become so refined that if the product doesn’t conform to my exacting standards, I couldn’t enjoy it. I realize that for me, this stance is false. I should be choosing to find the enjoyment in what is in front of me, and not looking for excuses to not like it.
This is a personal point of view. I can instantly imagine all kinds of things that people can offer that would basically shred these arguments if I were to say “this is how YOU should play too!” It’s not my place, nor anyone’s place, to tell anyone else anything like that. We know this, and it’s why we roll our eyes at the chat in General channels when people just blurt out “[Insert name of other MMO] sucks” without provocation. It’s not true; it’s just grandstanding. It’s an attempt to grab attention, a way for someone to say “engage me!”. And we are all guilty of this. That person may not like something, but that’s not the game’s fault.
To be honest – and I don’t know of a delicate way to put this – I really don’t care why someone does or doesn’t like a game. And from my own point of view, I guess other people really shouldn’t care why I like or dislike I game. These are personal decisions which are only relevant to us. But don’t confuse willful complaining with thoughtful and balanced reflection, where the author doesn’t sound like he or she has an axe to grind. When opinions are wielded like weapons in an argument, or are used to prolong a discussion that should have ended at “I like/dislike [Insert name of MMO]”…well, it just goes beyond information and in to the realm of “look at me!”
I have been guilty of this, and TERA has more or less caused me to see it because it turns out that what I had been saying that I disliked wasn’t really what I disliked. At that time, the current offers just didn’t do it for me, and any reasons I could offer as to why would be superfluous and entirely self-serving. So thank you, TERA, for helping me to stop worrying, and learn to love the MMO again.
Earlier I wrote a rather lengthy and apparently well received bit about how some/many/all MMO operators aren’t in-tune with the emotional investments that their players have with their experiences. In the process of writing that tl;dr, though, I started to think about the problem that may be the root cause of a potential disconnect.
We (as consumers) are all giddy about the features of a game, the bullet points, and the promises of specifics that we are told/that we hope will differentiate New Game from Old Game. These changes are rarely earth-shattering. They’re usually one-off additions, or tweaks to the way Old Game implemented ”Feature X” so that the developer diary videos can claim that they’re being “innovative” with their re-skinning of familiar mechanics. Even when the features don’t deviate wildly from the norm, we like to hear about how familiar systems will be handled: how will LFG work? Will we have guild banks at launch? How about crafting? Skill trees? Pets? We’re just as guilty of approaching these games in terms of mechanics as the developers are of talking to us about the game as if it were some kind of construct that was nothing more than the sum of it’s parts.
So I guess it’s really not a surprise that a lot of these games are built on mechanics, and without a soul. Not a metaphysical soul, of course…that would be creepy. But it seems that so many games aren’t being pitched to us from the standpoint of why we should play them, just that we’ll be excited to play them because of the exciting motions of the buttons and levers.
I think I’m starting to understand where the “art game” differentiates from the “mainstream game” in this regard. I’m not saying that the next MMO that’ll get my money will be pitched as some kind of meditation on human tragedy as it stood between the years of 1850 and 1895 or anything, but I’d like to see a big budget game downplay the levers and buttons and elevate the real investment we have in these games, in time and emotion, by supporting what we put into it at it’s development core.
Easier said than done, naturally. The only emotion that games are good at on a regular basis is fear, and even then it’s the “popcorn fear” of things jumping out of the dark when we least expect them. When a game proposes that it’ll “make you feel stuff”, I think the majority of us shut down and ignore it because we don’t play games to be told how to feel; I think we do want games that allow us to feel, or games that recognize that we’re capable of generating our own emotional response – and can be counted on to do so. Focus on mechanics as the reason to play New Game A over New Game B or Old Game C is cold, calculating PR. We do love it, to be certain, but maybe if games were pitched as spaces for emotional resonance and less about how many stats you’d have or how many raids you’d have, we wouldn’t feel so bored with New Game X.
So I’m sitting here, half tired, hopefully not getting sick, wondering if I should just give up and go to bed. Problem is, I don’t want to go to bed because then I’d sleep, and when I wake up I have to go back to work, which is about a desirable as stuffing a chili pepper into each nostril.
What I don’t want right now is stress.
Have you ever had that feeling? Of course you have. We’ve all come home from…something. Maybe work. Maybe a holiday party at the in-laws. Maybe we had to spend all day stumbling around in the sun at some amusement park (I am neither amused, nor am I allowed to park, at an amusement park, so they are horribly misnamed) and all we want to do is to take a nice, hot shower, get into the pajamas (or just take off the pants) and unwind with a nice game of…
I’ll let you finish that sentence, because right now, I can’t. Currently, I have the following games knowingly installed (laws knows what never uninstalled correctly in the past):
- Star Trek Online
- Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
- Anno 2070
- City of Heroes
- SOL Exodus
- Legend of Grimrock
- Tribes: Ascend
I think out of these, the only ones that wouldn’t cause me some level of stress would be…Minecraft. That’s about it.
Stress is something we seek to minimize in everyday life, but most games are specifically built around it by modeling some kind of conflict. We’re always putting our “lives” on the line against some opponent, and our main goal is to knock him/her/it out before he/she/it does it to us. Personally, I don’t deal with stress very well. Most of the time I end up flailing around like a kind of human claymore mine: anyone in my radius – including me – is in mortal peril because I tense up and figure that if I’m going down, I’m taking as many people down with me as I can. Usually everyone else is smart enough to get out of my way. Not everything is about high-action tension, though. Anno 2070, aside from Minecraft might seem to be low stress, but there’s money to consider, and building placement, and in-game events that need to be taken care of before the deadline, taxes, immigration and emigration, and keeping all the chainsaws in the air at once.
Statistically speaking, I wonder how much stress gamers feel while playing their games, and what affect this has on their health. Maybe here and there it’s OK, but if gamers aren’t eating healthy, and sitting down in front of their computers or consoles for a few hours, and are getting all tense and bunched up (I can’t play an FPS on the consoles because my neck starts to hurt after about 45 minutes), that has got to be doing something nasty to our innards, doesn’t it?