Levelcapped A Gaming Blog! How Novel!

31Mar/14Off

The Isolated

Polygon has a quick post this morning about a study done at the University of North Carolina that reports that "loners in gaming are the exception and not the rule".

Taylor's team, which included colleagues at York University and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, traveled to 20 public gaming events in Canada and the United Kingdom to observe the behavior of thousands of players, and take a detailed survey of 378 players. The research was focused particularly on players of MMORPGs such as Eve Online and World of Warcraft.

Based on the headline, and the conclusion of the paper (when taken at face value), I applaud this finding. Naturally, as someone inside the demographic being sampled, I knew this already, but I have a hard enough time getting people to read this blog, never mind listen to me when I'm ranting on the street corner.

The comments, however, are picking nits. The major complaint -- as if having a complaint is required in the face of otherwise "good news" -- is that the study sampled gamers who were playing socially oriented games at a socially oriented event. Granted, not every MMO player is a social butterfly, but chances are good that showing up at a public gaming event indicates that one is comfortable being around other people.

The point being missed by these pillars of intellectualism is that this report is not targeted at gamers. It's targeted at psychologists, or businesses, or other non-consumer-grade folks who can actually use this kind of information. Another example of the "not for gamers" information spigot is Michael Pachter, perennial punching bag of a vast swath of gamers who believe that his analysis of the video games industry is "out of touch" or just plain "bullshit". Pachter doesn't report his analysis to gamers; he publishes it for investors who want to know the temperature of the industry and to get a sense of where it's headed. That gamers know of Pachter's findings at all is strictly because consumer-facing blogs report it, most likely because they know it'll rile up some page views.

It's hard to grasp the importance from this side of the demographic divide because we know that MMO gamers are playing in a social environment, and we know that gamers attend conventions like PAX and ComiCon and other 'cons around the world. Folks on the other side of the divide don't need to know that, and so don't really care, because these are the same people who think that all geeks love "The Big Bang Theory" because we should inherently "understand" the characters. Having reports like this one show that not only are gamers not avoiding social contact, but they're actively seeking it out, and that the stereotype of the solitary male gaming from his parent's basement should be put to rest.

Really, at this point, anyone who thinks that the loner stereotype is still valid as a blanket assessment is the one who's isolated.

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31Mar/14Off

The Agony And The Sarcasm #TESO

The ball has started rolling for The Elder Scrolls Online with the 5 day head-start kicking off yesterday.

I have to say, I'm a little miffed. When I bought into TESO, I ordered from Green Man Gaming because of their habit of selling new games with coupons or at a discount. I wasn't sure if TESO  would engage me beyond the free thirty days, and with the subscription, I wasn't sure I wanted to pay full price for the standard edition.

GMG's pre-order offer came with a three day head-start which I thought was nice, but then I read on the official site that there was a five day head start. Naturally, thinking there was a typo, I reached out to the TESO Twitter account for clarification, and was told that the five day head start was only for those who ordered direct from Zenimax. My memory may be failing me, but I can't recall any company splitting the access between retail outlets like this -- between editions of the product, sure, but I wish this difference had been communicated in some fashion; I had just taken the offer at face value that a three day head-start was universal regardless of where it was purchased.

It's the way the world works, so I deal with it, but then the old circumstances rear their ugly heads once more. It's a level based game, which means you either have to keep up or be left behind. For some people, it's a religion. For others, it's a play-style. I know a lot of people who are getting into TESO, most of whom are already in TESO, and most of whom will already be well on their way before I manage to even create a character. I'm not a fast leveler, even when I'm dedicating myself to the game.

Considering how I've become recently accustomed to linking my enjoyment of an MMO with a group, it does not bode well for my future with TESO. I'm thinking I might as well save the cash and just write off Wildstar at this point as well. I've already been meh on the closed beta launch of Landmark, and my experiences with this important trio leaves me absolutely cold on the idea of sticking with MMOs. I've played 98% of my career as a soloist, so technically none of this should matter, but the thing is this: I'm just as easily influenced by what goes on around me as anyone. When no one is playing a specific game, it's easy to ignore; when everyone is playing something, it's impossible to ignore. It's the feeling of wanting to be part of something peopled by the folks  you love and respect. It's not a lack of wanting to be part of what friends are a part of that's causing the issues; it's the being left behind and being left out that diminishes the desire to bother even trying.

28Mar/14Off

#Landmark

Everquest Next Landmark is now just Landmark, following in the footsteps of such luminaries as Madonna, and The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. This is technically A Big Deal, as dropping the EQN portion of the name acknowledges that the game has about as much to do with Everquest as I have to do with a fluorescent bulb. There's still some consumer confusion surrounding the proposed differences between Landmark and EQN, and the shortening of the name to just Landmark is probably aimed at widening the distance between the two (but surprise! Not really!)

The game is now in Closed Beta, with Trailblazers seeing their four, one week buddy keys transmuted into four, unlimited Closed Beta keys. A lot has been done since Alpha.

A the tail end of Alpha, players could expand their claims within their buffer zone in order to get more building space. That's a serious boon for those folks who dream big. There was also a rudimentary friends system, but it really didn't do a hell of a lot.

The biggest changes in Closed Beta are that the claim upkeep is in, and the friends list is more functional.

Having a claim was fun, but now it's looking towards a more traditional land ownership system, whereby the owner needs to pay a daily fee in order to "maintain" the plot. Currently, it's 300 copper per day, with the ability to pre-load the bank for up to 5 days. There was some grumbling on the forums about the limited look-ahead period, as a week is about the average length of a family vacation, and coming back from Disney to find that your claim was jumped because you couldn't pay the upkeep wasn't sitting well. It was mentioned, however, that this was an overly aggressive scheme for the time being, and wasn't representative of the final parameters.

On the sunny side of the street, then, we have the #1 absolute best most awesome super spectacular feature of any MMO: group harvesting. Vanguard has this, but few MMOs offer the ability for a group of players to party up, harvest, and get bonus materials based on the number of people in the group harvesting at the time. Not only does this speed up the material acquisition, but as Belghast discovered, it allows folks who are further ahead in the tool progression to funnel resources to party members who lack the advanced tools. I can see this being insanely profitable for people who lead groups of new players into the upper tier zones.

Sadly, I'm finding myself not all that excited about this phase of Landmark. I blame overkill during Alpha. I have an intense hatred of doing things, and then doing them all over again. The idea of having to collect all the resources again, to jump between tiers to find materials, to craft upgrades upon upgrades just to get to the point where I can play the game I want to play...It doesn't appeal to me so much at this point. I'm seeing a lot of people making ridiculous progress, considering the game has only been open since Wednesday. I'm way behind the curve, but I don't really care very much. I still like Landmark, and once they get more mechanics in place (caves, water, combat, which is weird because I'm usually cool on combat), I'll probably see my interest returning.

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26Mar/14Off

The Next Generation #PS4

I hadn't made serious plans to buy into the next console cycle because I'm mainly a PC gamer, and although I had three consoles in my house (2 Xbox 360s and a PS3), I can't remember the last time I had used any of them. That was kind of a problem, though, as they were gathering dust. My wife has asked why I never turned in the games I had to GameStop, so about two weeks ago, I decided to do just that.

I had received a notification in the GameStop newsletter that my console hardware trade-ins could net me 50% more in-store credit. I packed up the 360-s version, the PS3, and a whole lot of games and hauled it to the GS closest to my place of work. I felt kind of dumb, though, bringing so much merchandise into the store, but it was during the work day, and there was only one skanky couple ahead of me and once they left, I was the only person there. Adam, my sales concierge, was cool about all of it, and after he had tallied the haul, I had $365 in credit.

So I bought a PS4.

A Traitor In Our Midst

When I did use the console, I gravitated towards the 360. I think it's an East versus West mentality. I like JRPGs -- at least I tell myself that I do -- but the Western focused 360 always felt far more "correct" to me. I actually liked their dashboard when compared to the PS3's disaster of a UI, and so everything we got for consoles was for the 360, except for what I could only get on the PS3 (Uncharted, mostly). We also used the PS3 as our BluRay player.

When I was at GS, though, there were not PS4's in stock. They had a hell of a lot of XB1's though, including the new Titanfall bundle. What I left with would depend on one thing: could I order a PS4? The answer was yes. Not only was it cheaper than the XB1, but it seemed that everyone I knew who had a next gen console either had both, or a PS4.

Sorry, Xbox.

Over The PS3

I hated the PS3's UI. It was just pretty poor organization-wise, and didn't easily allow you to quickly get to what you wanted. Their UMB paradigm was clunky, and reminds me of early 2000's website navigation hotness, with menu ribbons and drop down options.

I like the PS4 UI better. It's still got echos of the UMB, but your main interface is a recounting of your recent history, with the essential access elements one level above that. Here, the UI is nice and sparse, with selected item context elements, a la the Vita, but mostly on-screen.

I also appreciate that the physical design of the console has a flat top to it. It sits on my computer desk, and I have a surround-sound speaker there as well. With the PS3, the speaker frequently slid off; with the PS4, it sits comfortably on top of the console.

Featurerama!

Sometimes it's the little things that speak the loudest.

I like being able to pause a game to access the messages. Naturally, I had to harass folks on my friends list to let them know I had received my console, and while I was playing inFAMOUS Second Son, I was receiving replies. I'd use the PS button to get to the dash, check out the message, and quickly got back to the game very quickly.

The sharing thing is pretty cool. Press once for a menu to save the last 15 minutes, a screen shot, or to broadcast to Twitch or UStream (if in a game). Long press to quickly take a screenshot. Double tap for an on-demand recording session. To quote a phrase, "it just works". In testing the streaming, however, it does seem that there's a lot of unnecessary wasted space taken up by the player portrait (only if you have a camera, otherwise it's just a placeholder), and the chat area is just white text on gray background. The game play is pushed into the upper-left corner and while it takes up 90% of the screen, it could really use a design overhaul because it's ugly.

The controller feels good. I preferred the Xbox controller over the PS3 controller because the thumb-sticks on the XB controller were shorter, which I found easier to use for precise activities. I think the PS4 controller has the same stick height as the PS3, or just a smidge shorter. What I don't like are the position and design of the OPTIONS and SHARE buttons. They're on either side of the fancy touchpad-button which sits in the upper middle of the controller, and that pad has an edge-ridge. I'm finding it difficult to instinctively get my thumbs on the OPTIONS and SHARE buttons, relying on finding the edge of the touchpad and then moving outward until I feel that slightly raised button. Even then, it's sometimes hard to find.

I also got the PS Gold headset, as it came highly recommended. This is an excellent, wireless headset, and it works for the PC as well (although using voice, friends on TeamSpeak said I sounded like I was in a tin can). The headset has a built in mic, so there's no boom for you to spit on. The audio is excellent, and will allow me to play with other people nearby (like when my wife is working three feet away).

The biggest, baddest feature that I love is that Sony finally embraced the 21st century and integrated their console store with an online web version. The PS3 store was ass-slow. This time, it's zippy. And with the low-power standby mode, I can log into http://store.playstation.com and find a product, buy it, and have it immediately start downloading to the console to be ready when I get home.

On the other hand, I tried downloading DC Universe Online several times last night. Every time, there were issues (including the game crashing on character select, and the game freezing the entire console). Download speeds have not improved, although I am on wireless. I have plans to wire it up tonight, since I'm only about 5 feet from the router.

Finally, there's the Vita integration. While helping my daughter with her homework, I was able to use the Vita's RemotePlay functionality to get to the PS4's dashboard to check on downloads in progress. I haven't actually tried to use it for playing, but navigating the menus has noticeable lag. Plus, there's a definitive range issue. Get too far from the console, and the Vita can't detect it, so it's not a "play anywhere in the house" kind of thing.

The Android Playstation app works well too. I can't wait until there's a game with the Second Screen functionality (like The Division).

Overall!

Thumbs up. Way up. Although right now, I only have inFAMOUS: SS, DCUO, and Awesomenauts Assemble. The catalog is pretty sparse, as developers are still pumping out 360 and PS3 titles. I have a pre-order for Destiny, but for the 360, so I'll need to see about getting that shifted t the new platform.

On the up-side, I have fewer games to distract me when I want to use the PS4. Hopefully I can make it through a whole game for once.

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19Mar/14Off

EQ Next Landmark And Project Spark

Yes, I know: EQ Next Landmark is in closed Alpha, and as of today, Project Spark is in open beta, so it's technically apples to oranges. But both are devoted to building things, and eventually both will be able to support actual game building.

Make Your (Land)Mark

EQNL currently allows you to dig into it's voxel based world, dredge up raw materials, and build with them. It's a smoother, sexier Minecraft, but without any danger at the moment. A lot of people have been spending a lot of time building spectacular things with their copious amount of free time, with some of it simply academic, and some of it obviously intended to catch the eye of SOE to maybe make it into the future EverQuest Next "Prime" as official architecture or scenery. Players can also use materials to craft in the more traditional MMO style, making furniture and wearable boost items.

In EQNL, you claim a plot of land on one of several continents replicated across several servers. This one plot (for now) is the only place you can build, and finding a plot that hasn't been taken has been a pain for many players who are looking for a scenic view, or to be situated next to friends or family. Recently, SOE allowed players to craft add-on plot claims which let players attach another plot area to their original claim, within the normal buffer zone.

Beyond that, there's not a hell of a lot to do in EQNL right now. EQNL was always understood to be the "sandboxier" of the two games (EQNL and EQN), but word on the street is that EQNL will eventually get Storybricks support, other assets, and will allow players to craft their own missions and actual game-play scenarios for each other.

A Spark Of Genius

Project Spark is very similar to EQNL, but also vastly different. Project Spark is more specifically a "game creation toolkit". It provides players the ability to sculpt and paint terrain, place props, and program behaviors using the Kodu programming interface. There's a stupid amount of possibility in this regard, and I don't know that I've seen something this flexible since Neverwinter Nights and it's Aurora toolset.

Because it's devoted to creating compartmentalized games, Project Spark is set up like services such as New Grounds: you can browse the games that have been published, and you can jump in to play. Project Spark is not an interconnected world; it's more like an absolutely massive arcade.

The amount of elements that you have to work with when building are gated by your own progress. The more you work in Project Spark, the more in-game currency and XP you earn, and the more things you can buy. Many items (biomes, props, etc) can be purchased outright for real money if you're hell-bent on getting certain things quickly.

Apples to Elephants

EQNL and Project Spark are two totally different products, although each should appeal to those folks who have always wanted to build games after having played games for so long.

Right now, Project Spark has the advantage in this realm for a few reasons. First, and most obvious, is that it's further along, so we actually know what the product will do for us. Users can create their own maps, place props, and add interaction, items, and stories. There's also some non-standard games in Project Spark already, which shows that the product isn't limited to one-off RPGs.

But EQNL has a while to go, and a lot can happen between now and then. One benefit is that EQNL is an MMO, so everyone is playing in the same sandbox, and you can visit your friends and oogle other people's creations. It's more natural by allowing players to harvest materials from the ground -- any ground -- to make everything from scratch. It's more free-form than Project Spark, but at the current moment, it's really very limited.

14Mar/14Off

Building Our Personal Cost-Benefit Analysis

We do cost-benefit analysis in every day life, from comparative shopping to deciding if it's worth the risk to try bungee jumping. When we evaluate the cost of something compared to the benefit we'll receive, we make the decision based on what's important to us as individuls. There's no "universal standard of worth". Even currency -- which we often think of as being pretty immutable -- is subject to fluctuations in value.

The cost-benefit analysis of gaming is at the core of an ongoing debate over how games are made and marketed, and how they're designed to make money for the developers, and take money from the consumers.

A Brief History of Monitization

I've been through all modern phases of video game monitization. Here's a quick timeline as I remember it (which may or may not be entirely accurate):

 

  1. Games are self contained and sold for a "box cost". This was during the early days of the Atari 2600, NES, Sega Genesis, and even PC games.
  2. When the Internet arrives, we get BBS and online provider games through services like AOL and CompuServe, but which require a per-minute fee to play (on top of the money we spent to access the service provider).
  3. As PC gaming continues to rise in prominence, modern MMOs arrives. Now, we pay for the connection, then a box price, and a monthly fee. On paper, this seems suicidal, but thanks to the popularity of World of Warcraft, people warm to it, and the genre explodes over the next 15 years.
  4. Smartphones and tablets arrive, bringing a whole new and untapped frontier of gaming that needs rules to be written. Publishers experiment with different price points to see what the market would bear. With such an open field, devs that traditionally published for console or PC flock to mobile to stake their claim before the money dries up.
  5. Existing subscription games and new online games start to offer non-subscription options. Games add cash shops which allow players to spend in small increments for various services, convienience, and content. Having it's pedigree in the East, where the model forced players to spend in order to advance and compete, this free to play model gets a bad rap in achivement-oriented Western culture, and is quickly associated with "pay to win". Meanwhile, mobile gaming has followed suit, offering games for free with cash shops that offer "shortcuts" for players.

 

We pick up the thread at this point.

A Tale Of Two Cities (Or Rather, Gamers)

There's two distinct camps in this scene. The first is the "traditional" gamer. The second is the "nouveau gamer". Sometimes the lines blur, but more often than not, the traditional gamer busies himself with both camps, while the nouveau gamer might not even know the other camp exists.

Traditional gamers are used to at least items 3-5 above. Older gamers can stretch back beyond item 1. Regardless, at some point during the formative period of the traditional gamer's gaming identity, he found a monitization scheme that worked for him, and he stuck by it. I think that for most gamers, this is item #3 or #1.

MMOs are unique in that -- in theory -- they never end. The world continues to run when we're not logged in, and we can (ideally) look forward to expansions that make the game bigger. We also get patches and updates, game play balances, and if we're lucky, some free content here and there.

They're also unique in that for the past 15 years, MMOs came with an ongoing subscription, a practice that became the norm. Because of the wild success of WoW, anyone who wanted to make an MMO had to support it by charging that monthly fee, and the company that could reproduce WoW's special sauce could potentially rake in millions of dollars per month. We as consumers learned to accept this, because we felt that the benefits of the cost were worthwhile. MMOs with subscriptions were "buffets" of content: we had access to everything the game had to offer, with no artificial restrictions or additional payments.

Gamers must have felt that this was a good deal, because the subscription MMO market exploded after WoW. The explosion was both a desire of publishers to have a cash cow, and consumer's acceptance of paying a monthly fee.

Non-traditional gamers don't view things in that light. They came into the picture around item #4, and ONLY for item #4. They don't have the baggage that traditional gamers do. They don't play a wide spectrum of games, don't play often, and aren't used to spending tons of money up front for a game. They don't see anything wrong with paying $5 for the convenience of playing at certain choke-points, which is how Candy Crush Saga earns millions of dollars.

The Cost-Benefit Ratio

If there's any universal constant, then it's that people like to get the most bang for their buck. That includes getting everything for nothing, but in lieu of that, it means getting as much as possible for as little as possible. We all have thresholds of how much we're willing to pay based on what we expect to get from it. Like so many things, however, we don't necessarily know what we want or where that threshold is, but once we experience it, we recognize it, and once we recognize it, we rarely see any reason to keep looking for anything better.

On the other hand, no one likes to feel like they're being fleeced, or that they're being treated like a commodity to be nickled and dimed. It's harder to see value in an overall product when the transactions are spread over time and for different aspects of the bigger picture. This is both a blessing (for publishers) and a curse (for consumers) because the statistics favor the payee over the payer.

For the traditional gamer, and depending on the individual's genre of choice, the cost-benefit ratio of payment to payout is going to hit a ceiling at some point, and from there it will not budge. Some gamers won't go beyond pay once, play forever. Others feel that $15 buffet model is tilted in their favor. Still others feel that getting something for nothing is better than getting anything for a fee, and the final group has no issues paying a la carte.

But each level there often seems to be many gamers who are violently reactive to the level above it. Box-cost only fans can't fathom why anyone would pay a subscription. Subscribers can't abide by the cash shop model. Many free to play fans won't go near the cash shop. Only the full-service free to play user has no one to rail against in this space...except games targeted outside of their own demographic.

Many traditional gamers -- no matter what monitization tier they occupy in their own space -- find the practices being employed in the mobile space to be abhorrent. Brian Green (who worked on Meridian 59, and who therefor knows about this kind of thing) posted a link to an interview with former Free Realms developer Laralyn McWilliams on the current "best practices" in free-to-play game design. Part of the gist of it is that the way the market is now, there's no room for trial and error, so when a game like Candy Crush Saga makes millions of dollars by allowing players to spend their way out of a jam, other companies will adopt it, and it becomes the new de facto "best practice".

Po-tay-toes and Po-tah-toes

Traditional gamers can't see the benefit to the cost that these "best practices" are espousing because for the most part, they're used to having their game at their fingertips. Games are meant to be played, and the more game you play without restriction, the better. Just as buffet fans might consider the F2P model to be exploitative, the idea that a company would purposefully design their product to frustrate a player to the point where their progress is held hostage unless they pay money to progress is an affront to what gaming is all about.

One of the best examples is EA's recent mobile version of Dungeon Keeper. The original PC game allowed you to create and defend a dungeon. This new version follows the same idea, but as you're building your dungeon, you're forced to wait HOURS for a single task to complete. Impatient players can spend real money to hurry this along, ensuring a continuous game play experience, but therein lies the problem from the traditional gamer point of view (especially those who honestly remember the original Dungeon Keeper). Why did EA make this bastardized version of such a well regarded IP instead of making another entry in the traditional vein? The cost of paying to skip the four hour build time isn't worth the benefit. Normally this might be up for debate, depending on the point of view of the person involved, but we have prescident in how the Dungeon Keeper franchise should be played, and it's NOT having to pay to skip a four hour queue.

Still, some folks are OK with this. They've got no baggage the way traditional gamers do. Mobile games are so transient that many strictly mobile gamers think it's a plus that the games are free. With so many no-cost games, it's perfectly OK to pay a little here, a little there, now and then. Maybe the "why" is lost on them, but I'm of the mind that it's not; it just doesn't matter as much to them as the idea does to traditional gamers. Their threshold for cost to benefit isn't just higher than that of the traditional gamer, it's in a totally different league.

In Closing

Everything that we do has a cost-benefit analysis attached to it, and the hierarchy of fees associated with gaming marks different thresholds for different people. But gamers are very covetous of their hobby, including it's trademarks and use of said trademarks. Many traditional gamers would barely acknowledge most mobile products as "games", but in the face of business practices that are designed to exploit a person's willingness to spend their way out of a jam, these gamers will seek to distance themselves and their own aspect of the industry from association with mobile gaming where these are considered to be the "best practices".

These views are codified based on the cost-benefit ratio that each individual has accepted as his or her personal ceiling. The benefit is how much game they get for the cost, with some preferring to pay for the buffet, and some who are willing to play for free and to spend on content a la carte.

What worries many traditional gamers, however, is the incessant harping that mobile and tablet gaming is the future of the hobby. We've heard about how the gaming industry has seen declining revenue over the past few years, with at least part of the blame resting on the notion that more people are gaming on mobile and tablets, and less on console and PCs. For those who count gaming as their primary hobby, being told that their "future" is this platform which values visibility, metrics, and sales over "by gamers, for gamers" is a frightening and infuriating prospect. Traditional gamers have already started hating on mobile gaming when "their" developers ran to capitalize on the empty playground of mobile platforms and put their future PC and console plans into question, but seeing how companies have adopted "best practices" that amount of holding a game hostage is sending many gamers into fits of rage.

 

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12Mar/14Off

TESO and Wildstar

This is not s shoot-out.

Wildstar's NDA is down as of today, so we can talk about it.

I've played a few weekend tests, and overall, I like the game. One thing that struck me, though, is how "busy" the game is. For some reason, it seems that there's a lot of activity going on in each area. I'm not talking about NPCs or players, but rather the props and environment. Maybe it's things that are in motion -- banners, bubbling phylacteries, machinery -- or the bold and wild colors, but overall it's pretty distracting, and takes away from my ability to focus on where I am, what I need to do, and even gets in the way of parsing the UI. Maybe it's old age creeping up on me, or maybe the game is just too overwrought in certain places. Admittedly, I had a better time of it once I was out in the wilderness, but the feelings returned in the player hubs.

But in regards to The Elder Scrolls Online in conjunction with WS.

I've gotten away from the subscription model. I don't play MMOs to their potential, so for me, the buffet model is paying for content I'll never end up seeing. It's difficult for me to get back into the subscription mindset unless a game really grabs me and doesn't let go. Sadly, neither TESO nor WS are those kinds of games. Both cleave very closely to the theme park model, and at this point in time in the evolution of MMOs, topping it off with a subscription seems anachronistic.

Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed playing both games. I have pre-ordered TESO, but only because many people I know did the same, and because I'm interested in the PvP aspects of it. Sadly, that means that I'm already stretching my interest beyond where it currently stands. I can't bring myself to buy and sub to two games which I consider to be outdated for 2014. I haven't heard many folks in the AofA talking about WS, so I'm not sure there's much interest there, and soloing these days is pretty much out of the question.

On the up-side, TESO has at least 30 days to blow me away before I have to actually pay a sub, so if it doesn't manage to pull that off, I'll still be able to pre-order WS before it's launch. Then it will have 30 days to wow me (pun intended).

12Mar/14Off

Gasp! I Like #Titanfall

It's not really gasp-worthy. People's tastes change, and although I find it odd, as I age I'm caring less about long, drawn out games and am gravitating more towards jump in, jump out games. That means fewer RPG-likes, and more EXPLOSIONS! I can't sit at a game for hours on end any more (partly because my chair sucks), so when I want to play something, I want to be able to start quickly, play the game, and then go have dinner or something.

Recently, this has taken the form of shooters. I'm an unabashed fan of Firefall, despite it's ups and downs, and still harbor fondness for Defiance, although they just released another DLC pack which blindsided me. I "like" MechWarrior Online as an old-time BattleTech fan, but the depth is bordering on tedious. Hawken is  high on my list for rapid deployment mech bashing action, but like many folks, I've been waiting for the release of Titanfall.

Traditionally, I've never played online shooters. You'd expect that kind of qualifier when talking about Titanfall because it's made by Respawn, the studio formed by the ex-Infinity Ward heads who were responsible for Call of Duty and who were cut loose by Activision in a much publicized brawl. CoD and it's ilk are always regarded as one of the shallowest pools of humanity in online gaming, with the notion that they harbor foul mouthed adolescents with self-esteem issues. It's not only that: there was an online discussion among several of us older gamers, and we had considered that one of the reasons we didn't play these kinds of games online was because we just sucked at them. Of course, one of the reasons we sucked at them was because we didn't normally play them, and so the wheel comes 'round full circle.

TitanFall 2014-03-11 21-06-23-69Titanfall has been mentioned as "a shooter for people who are no good at shooters" (paraphrasing there). There's a gun that quickly locks on to targets so you can hit them even when not facing them. The eponymous titans -- towering battle-suits that are dropped in from orbit -- can take a hell of a beating, and can be set to follow the player around the field when the player isn't actively on-board. The game even spawns AI grunts that are a lot easier to kill than real players yet which contribute to a player's final score. That's on top of the same bombed-out battlefields, stairwells, and alleyways we've come to expect in multiplayer shooters, which should be familiar to those who play these kinds of multiplayer games on a regular basis.

After playing a few missions in the campaign last night, I felt that I had really enjoyed myself. I still get way too tense when playing these kinds of games, so I had to decompress for another hour before I went to bed, but overall, the experience was -- pleasant. There was no trash-talking. People actually spoke up in the lobby chat, with some joking, some hellos, and even a "good luck" to everyone. The game itself was frantic, to be sure, with people running all over the place, things exploding...titans.

TitanFall 2014-03-11 20-35-24-87Normally when I play these games, I'm constantly being sent back to spawn with nothing to show for it, but in Titanfall, even the act of mowing down the AI grunts was a satisfying experience. It made me feel that I was doing something aside from dying all the time. And getting into a titan for the first time during a match was like a sigh of relief: I knew that I'd probably end up dying again, but it wouldn't be soon, and it wouldn't be easy for the opposing side. With luck, I might be able to step on a few pilots. And interestingly enough, the anti-titan weapons were pretty effective. They're not one-hit-kills, but the most satisfying part of the game was when I get the notification that my rocket blast took out a doomed titan. I also found that at least in the campaign, the level disparity between teams didn't seem to be a decisive factor. I played a match where our team had one person above level 10, against a team that had at least three players above level 15, and we still won.

I didn't truly believe the "shooter for non-shooter fans" designation when reading it, but having put my hands on the game, I can say that there is certainly some truth to it. Granted, non-shooter fans will need to have the cajones to get into the game in the first place; it's still a kinetic shooter, with all that entails. There's a lot of options that seem to be able to offset the skill gap between veteran players and the rest of us, which not only helps to bring in the traditionally-non-shooter fans, but also allows us to get better through practice.

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7Mar/14Off

PAX East 2014 Tweetup News

PAX East has traditionally been a great time for social networking folks to meet up at an over-priced bar to shoot the shit, to dump inhibitions, and to meet other Internet folks in person. I'm pretty proud that we've been able to host it every year thus far, because I feel that even though we're really friendly online, nothing beats the pressing of the flesh in person. We've had local folks, and distant folks (like, from Ireland!) attend, and it's really and honestly the highlight of the convention for me.

But because people are jerks, it was really difficult for the average gamer to acquire a badge this year. A lot of them were snatched up by opportunistic assholes who are looking to sell the passes at a profit on eBay, which it more than a gamer should have to endure. A lot folks can't make it, and that's sad. PAX is an event that's transcended the operators, and for me, has become a comfortable cocoon of friendship and like-minded individuals. I really divide the event into two parts: the floor, and the Tweetup, with the Tweetup being the highlight.

It is really my ultimate dream for everyone to make it to PAX East one year -- or at least as many people as possible -- so we can meet. As much as I love my social networking friends, there's something primal about meeting them in person, to talk with them without the delay or filter of the Internet, and to spend time with them in a more personal setting. We often times berate the anonymity of the Internet, so meeting the people behind the persona is about as intimate as we can get, and shows how much we can trust one another with our real selves.

Unfortunately, we won't be holding the Tweetup this year for a few reasons. Mainly, I'm not sure that anyone within the sound of this call to arms is going. Secondly, I couldn't get on-site accommodations this year, so I'm at the mercy of the shuttle.

I am really saddened by this year's proceedings.  Hopefully, PAX East 2015 will be managed better, and more folks will be able to attend.

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7Mar/14Off

The Absolute Worst Aspect of MMOs?

Character resets.

For some of us who frequently walk away from an MMO for a spell, and return to it later, there is no greater pain than finding that the developers made some change that forces you to reset your character.

I got back into Marvel Heroes because of social networking peer pressure, and found that there had been a change which requires me to reset all of my character's ability points allocations. I have no idea what trees I had been working on for the handful of characters I have. Ideally, I can work on the characters fresh, but it's still a royal pain in the ass.

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