So a day after my unabashed praise for all things Everquest Next Landmark, I've seen some words added to the Landmarkosphere that were...expected: the passive-aggressive "I don't get it-followed-by-thinly-veiled-backhands-against-those-of-us-who-like-it" comments. Some folks aren't as excited about the game as many of us are, and that's OK. Some folks are just not into the concept of "buying into an alpha", and that's OK too. Some folks are already sick of hearing about something they're just not interested in, and I suppose that's OK too. They have as much right to express their opinions (knowing that most are their opinions about our opinions, and not about their experience with the product they aren't actually experiencing right now).
The final judgement call, good or bad, can't be made now by anyone. For those of us who are praising it, we're elastic: we like the aspects we experience now. We look forward to whatever will come in the future. We imagine what'd we'd like to see happen. We're not focusing at all on what we might not get, or what aspects may be added that we won't like (and any gamer worth his or her salt knows you will never like 100% of any game, ever).
Are we ignoring "the bad". Yes, but not in the way folks without a stake (investment) or interest (interest) would assume. There's a massive difference between being affected by issues, and accepting issues. For example, there's been a problem where items placed in our claims have been vanishing between sessions. From my point of view, there's two ways a player can approach this: The first is for someone to bitch, whine, yell, scream, and get on the soapbox and tell everyone that the game sucks, it's broken, things aren't working, and try to tear down people's expectation and assumptions based on this situation. The second is trite, but true: know and accept that it's alpha. It's not supposed to work all the time, or in ways we expect. It's supposed to be broken. It's up to people to decide if they can stomach that. Many people can't, but for those of us who went into this situation with eyes wide open, we expect and embrace "the bad", we report it, and we move on.
Thankfully, SOE has been open and honest about these issues. Someone mentioned that their constant info stream has lead to his increased ability to accept problems because he knows for a fact the problems are acknowledged. It's in contrast to "patch notes" which happen after the fact. Most of the time when we encounter a bug in game and bother to report it (which I'm sure most folks don't even bother to do), we never know if it's being addressed until we see the next round of patch notes. So "the bad" rarely stays bad with EQNL at this stage because we know what's on the bug-hunt agenda, we expect and embrace it, and we move on.
Many of us see The Potential in EQNL, but others will say that they "won't pay for potential", and that's fair. There are very few things in life that most people will purchase half finished, but then again there are those people who will buy unfinished furniture, broken down cars, model airplane kits. On the extreme, let's look at it this way: if you take a single LEGO in your hand, what do you see? Do you question why anyone would find this fun? One block isn't fun, but if you know anything about the toy, you'll know and understand that you need more bricks to build something. So now if you have a handful, what do you see? Is this better? Can you build everything you imagine with just a handful of bricks? So go to the store and look at the LEGO section, with all of the boxes of Star Wars and Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and Ninjago kits. With these pre-built, planned sets in front of you, can you think back to that single brick and recognize the potential for what that single LEGO bricks represents?
So you stop at a single LEGO, while the rest of us are looking forward to taking all those pre-built sets, throwing them into a barrel, and letting our imagination take over. THAT is why we are excited about EQNL.
Android Netrunner is what they call a "living card game", which is a denomination of a certain type of collectible card game in which there are no "blind pack" purchases. Instead, players buy the core set (starter cards, rules, tokens, etc), and can then buy themed packs and boosters of known cards, which can be combined to build custom decks. It's also a term trademarked by Fantasy Flight Games, maker of Android Netrunner (AN from here on out) and other LCGs, so there's that.
In AN, you take on the role of either a corporation or a hacker in a cyberpunk setting. That should be enough of an explanation of the setting to conjurer the appropriate assumptions, so we'll move on. The game is asymmetric in that the method of play differs for each side.
As the corporation, your job is to deploy and "score" agendas. These are cards which are meant to represent a corporate's business plan and as such, engender the entire reason for a corporation's being. As the "runner", your job is to hack the corporation's servers, uncover, and steal these agendas while trying to avoid being "flatlined" by the corporation's protective "ICE" (Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics). Runners deploy "icebreakers" to subvert these protections and gain access to corporate servers. Standard cyberpunk stuff. The winner is the first player to reach 7 points through collecting agendas, however the corporation player can win by forcing the player to discard more cards than he has in his hand (the flatline), and the runner can win by forcing the corporation to empty it's R&D stockpile.
The corporation deploys all cards into servers, which are columns of cards with purpose. The HQ contains the corporation's representative avatar card, any upgrades (buff and special abilities) and the player's hand. There's the R&D server, which is the player's draw pile, and the Archive, which is the discard pile. Beyond that, the corporate player deploys agendas, asset, and upgrade cards to remote servers, of which there can be any number. Each server can be capped by one or several ICE cards to protect those servers from the prying eyes of the runner.
The runner's play area is broken up into programs (icebreakers), hardware (for special abilities) and resources (buffs and special abilities). The runner's draw pile is called the stack, and the discard pile is called the heap. The player's hand is called the grip. As a runner, the player makes "runs" against the corporate servers, choosing one column to interact with. He can use icebreakers or special abilities (operations) against any installed ICE on that column and if successful, can examine the core cards on that server. If unsuccessful, the runner falls suffers the effect(s) of the ICE he was unable to subvert.
The strategy required is enormous. I started out by playing against myself, and then accidentally won by flatlining my runner side when my corporate side was able to knock out more than the number of cards I had in my runner hand. After that, I watched the official into video from FFG, embedded below. I also spent a lot of time watching tournament games on YouTube. I didn't really learn a lot of specifics, but I did get a better feel for how people play, and how certain actions are intended to play out.
From the corporation side, the goal is to keep the runner occupied while you build up protections around your servers and "advance" agenda cards to the point where they can be "scored". In cyberpunk, servers are protected by these ICE programs, but servers can also be "honeypots", which look like normal servers but which serve to draw a hacker in in order to trace/track them to their source, or to delay them until they can be identified. AR has cards like this, which makes playing as the corporation a hell of a lot of fun, but you're entirely in the defensive position as you build fortifications behind which you attempt to score agendas.
From the runner side, the goal seems to be to hit the corporation quickly and repeatedly in search of agendas to steal and other cards to trash. If the runner can get into remote servers harboring agendas, or can dig through the corporation's R&D or Archives before the corporation has the funds to deploy ICE, the game could end relatively quickly. The runner side seems to require more strategy, comprehension, and memorization of the opponent's cards than I am personally used to (in my advanced age) in order to deploy the proper cards and to assume the composition of the corporation's cards.
I tried playing AR with my wife as the corporation, but the rules were still beyond my grasp at the time, and neither of us was having a good time of it. Android Netrunner can be played via the OCTGN online framework, which would help in finding folks to play with, but I'm not entirely sure I'm mentally equipped to handle this game on the level it requires.
If you've been anywhere near a social media outlet, or even a gaming blog or news outlet this weekend, you're probably aware that SOE's...everything killer...Everquest Next Landmark had entered alpha last Friday. In a surprising turn of events, they dropped the NDA after only 18 hours.
Alpha, And The Trappings Thereof
EQNL is in alpha, which precedes beta for you Greek-deficient out there. Alpha used to be reserved for the worst of the worst, a product that was barely coherent, which worked a small percentage of the time, and which was only inflicted on those who find Special Forces training "a leisurely vacation". Beta used to be about getting more, non-company bodies involved to broaden the base, find more bugs, and tune the game according to different hardware specifications. Over time that has changed, and now beta is more of a marketing tool than a bug hunt, but alpha is generally still reserved for those with strong constitutions, and is limited in scope.
SOE decided to sub out alpha work to the community. Actually, I don't feel right about phrasing it that way; the product they released is about "60% complete", which is better than 10, 30, or even 50%, but it's not as good as 70, 80, or 90%. There is work left to do, and SOE's decision to let people into the game now has two purposes and a massive caveat. The first purpose is to help wreck the game in creative ways so that the developers can fix things faster. With thousands of grubby hands pulling levers and kicking tires, issues pop up quicker, can be investigated faster, and can hopefully be addressed in less time than if the team had to rely on their handfuls of internal testers. The second purpose is interesting, and I mean that in both the academic and the beard-stroking connotations. The caveat, of course, is that the current state of the game is not indicative of the product, and should not be used to judge the game forever and amen.
You're The Fifth Beatle
One of EQNL's selling points is its voxel environment. The popular phrase is "Minecraft on steroids". You can take a pickaxe to any spot on the ground and blow a hole through the world, collecting the resources that magically levitate as a result. You take those materials and you build stuff. But we're not talking blocks here. We're talking nice curves, slopes, spheres, and angles. It's a much better looking Minecraft, and the building tools are just fantastic.
But this isn't just a feature, because SOE wants players to create great works of art so that maybe some of them can be considered for canonization in Everquest Next "Prime" as actual structures. Yeah, it sounds like SOE is farming out their labor to the community, gratis, but what gamer wouldn't explode from pride in having her building become the "official" Desert Temple in EQN?
Building structures is just one minor reason for opening EQNL to the masses at alpha (selecting constructs will be an ongoing purpose of EQNL, if I understand it correctly). The more important reason SOE claims is that they want players to suggest how to make the game better.
Focus on that: SOE wants to listen to players tell them about the kind of game that they want EQNL to be.
We're not talking about "my stuff keeps disappearing fix it WAAAAHHHH!" that we usually see on the forums. We're talking about "how about having a list of materials needed to craft a specific item on the side of the screen" (real suggestion from the forums), and then having a dev or producer stop by and say "that's a damn good idea" or even better, "we're already working on something like that ; )".
Design by committee is never a good idea, but rather than slap down a lot of what the developers think is beneficial to players, the team at SOE is asking the players what they consider beneficial. Not all suggestions will be seriously considered, but what's the harm in just listening to people during the phase of development when really good suggestions can be built in to make the game more appealing?
So What About The Damn Game?
Oh yeah! Well, like I said, it's only about 60% done, which means that stuff doesn't work a lot. Also, many of the eventual features are missing, like combat. Right now, you can run around, dig and harvest materials, craft some recipes, claim land, and build structures.
When it works, it can bring a tear to the eye of those of us who enjoy such game play (sorry, raid-minded folk). Digging is satisfying, oddly enough. Finding a vein of copper on the surface is great, but seeing it give way to tin is even better. And finding a rare vein on the surface or beneath is a cause for elation (and time to look over your shoulder to make sure no one swoops in).
Crafting can be frustrating, due to the levels and quantity of some of the materials. You really have to work at harvesting, and at progressing the tools if you want to get ahead. Sadly, some tools which you lack need to be crafted, like the builders Select tool. Crafting provides concrete goals and milestones, but can also serve as a roadblock for those who just want to build and don't want to deal with progression.
The crown jewel of EQNL -- claiming land -- is also the most problematic, it seems. Claiming land requires two things: a claim flag, and an available, unclaimed spot in the world. Everyone in the alpha has a flag, but with over 20,000 people in the alpha, finding unclaimed land has been frustrating at best, rage-inducing at the absolute worst for some people. The feedback from the game isn't super intuitive (it's alpha, 60%!), which causes confusion, and the lack of explanation on using the leyline hubs to change continents and servers to search for more open spaces (it's alpha, 60%!) compounds that confusion. Plus, there was supposedly a bug which made maps look like there were fewer open areas than there really were. But it's alpha, and folks need to roll with these kinds of situations. Considering there will be a wipe (maybe several), folks just need to pick the first available and get down to business. It's possible to find land, but leg work is involved at this stage of the game.
Scrapbooking For The Future
I didn't get into the game until the Saturday after the late-night Friday launch (damn left-coast people!). My initial character managed to find a claim, and I had started harvesting stone to build a building, but then the servers went down. When I returned, I found that my claim was buried beneath a mountain, and I didn't like that. I deleted my initial character, and started afresh.
However, my second character was lacking the special Founders Tools. The stock tools were just too slow, and I was also missing the bonus ring and bracers that would have helped gather resources. I thought maybe third time would be the charm, so I deleted that character as well and started again. Still, no Founder's items.
SOE came to the rescue in the first update of the project late Saturday night. They simply gave everyone another set of Founder's tools, so when I logged in on Sunday, I had my stuff! In another stroke of luck, I managed to find an open area to claim that wasn't too far from the leyline hub on the Knoll continent of the Courage server!
But I was wary, so I didn't place anything in the claim. I verified my server/continent, and then went out to collect tier 1 resources so I could begin the crafting process to create more advanced tools. I needed to make that building Selection tool, which requires tier two materials. Thanks to the Founder's items, I amassed quite the fortune shortly after the servers rebooted, which meant that there were T1 nodes aplenty and low player populations. I crafted a forge and a sawmill last night, and placed them in my claim. Hopefully they'll be there the next time I log in, but if not...it's alpha!.
Once I get the selection tool, I'll be content to just collect and build on my claim. I'll template things up to keep them between server issues, and can consider myself "settled" in EQNL for the time being. I'll take things slow when it comes to crafting, angling more towards building props than anything super-functional.
And The Overwrought Soapbox Part
Although I doubt anyone at SOE will see this, I need to add my voice to the choir: Thank You, SOE, EQNL team, and those who stayed up Friday night into Saturday, and then-some, and those who went into the SOE offices on Sunday when the servers were behaving strangely. Thank you to David Georgeson who was insanely candid on the forums about what was going wrong. Thanks to John Smedly who was Tweeting to the players SOE's stance on EQNL: transparency, communication, and no bullshit. Thanks to the community managers like Dexella who have been hosting livestreams and have been interfacing with the community. Super special thanks to those who we don't know by name, who have built the game so far, who have stayed up longer than a human being should have in order to keep the servers running and to apply hotfixes, and to troubleshoot and plan for the future. And thanks to the community, who have been remarkably civil for the most part, on the forums and in game.
SOE is one of the companies that receives a lot of shit from all quarters for their business practices (their in-game Marketplaces, their deal with ProSieben in Europe, closing down games), and for their design and development choices (The NGE). We play these games and enjoy them, and sometimes businesses make decisions that are in the interest of their business or which they believe to be in the best interest, but which are stupidly unpopular at the street level. A lot of times these decisions are made without actual customer input. It's no longer en vogue for companies to do what's in the best interest of the consumer, and SOE has been pilloried several times over for many of these transgressions because we make these games our own, and we feel that even though we didn't contribute to their development, we're a part of them, and they of us. We are asked to invest ourselves in these games, and we do, and sometimes decisions made offline feel like they're directed at us.
This time, it seems that the EQNL team is trying very hard to avoid some of the old industry-standard habits. Whereas developers and publishers are notorious for draconian NDA (TESO, Wildstar), SOE said "screw it, let em post, stream, and discuss". Other companies are cryptic in communications, and SOE has been frank and up front. Other companies are conspicuously absent when the shit hits the fan, and SOE has been doing their work from the trenches of their forums and from social media. They said they want the players to feel like they're part of the development process, and although I think it's safe to say we're not apprised of every decision that's being made, SOE has seemingly gone out of their way to avoid the historical pitfalls that high-profile game developers assume when dealing with their customers during difficult times, and have been reaping the benefits of a appreciative community as a result. Everyone* feels good about the project, even when shit isn't working, and it's because SOE has treated it's customers like adults, and not like cash-waving resources to be harvested.
The ball will forever be in SOE's court to maintain this, but the benefits are already plain. We appreciate their candor and their dedication; they appreciate our not being assholes, and our dedication. It feels far more like a partnership than any other producer/gamer project I have ever witnessed, and I hope that SOE continues this level of transparency throughout the life of EQNL/EQN and adopts it for their other products. They still have to run a a business, of course, which means they will need to make unpopular decisions, and no community can be appeased 100% of the time no matter what a company does, but SOE is most certainly on the "right" track here.
It also helps that EQNL is already looking like the new "gold standard" in MMO games. The decision to allow players to claim land, to "destroy" the land, to make the game a home is something that MMOs have skirted or have paid lip service to for over a decade now. Some games ditched all pretenses, choosing to bind players to the game by burying them so deep in treadmills and years of monthly-fee investment history that leaving the game was unthinkable, which allowed the developers to slack off, to cruise on auto-pilot, and to develop from an ivory tower (SOE included). But if SOE can continue on their current trajectory, any future MMO that doesn't offer the player an actual stake in the world is going to seem antiseptic and antiquated, and rather two-dimensional in the way games we once played but which we no longer play seem today.
I think EQNL marks the end of a chapter for developers who think it's OK to do things the way they were always done, and who opt to put their energy into hyping their product through the roof instead of putting it into finding unique ways to evolve the MMO genre. We as players have allowed this because we really had no choice; we could either play yet another clone MMO, or not play any MMO at all (we're gamers, so I don't know if it was really "a choice"), which meant that there was no reason for developers to deviate. They treated us like cattle, and we were OK with it because every pasture was basically the same.
AAA game development is Big Money, and companies have been loathe to spend that money to deviate from A Sure Thing. We've lost a lot of time and potential while developers and publishers played it safe, chasing the market leader because they felt that finding that special sauce was more important than the overused mantra of "by gamers, for gamers". It's rather ironic that so many people use "SOE" as shorthand for some of the most egregious slights against the gamer community, but that it's finally SOE that's taking the MMO genre off the smooth and familiar road and into the wilderness, and is doing so by allowing anyone a hand on the wheel.
So I guess this EQNL alpha is more than just an opportunity to shape what this single product will become. It's a chance to plant a flag (or make a claim!) in the new wilderness of future MMO development. What EQNL/EQN does will have ramifications on the industry and the gaming community. We as gamers aren't just sitting by the sidelines here, accepting what we're given. We have an opportunity to help pilot the product and the genre for the future, and that's something I never thought would happen when I started playing MMOs.
* I can't speak for everybody, but I know people in my circles, aside from a few die-hard asshats who can't let any historical slight go unpunished, seem to be over the moon in response to the way SOE has been handling the "launch" of alpha.
And yes, alpha participants are "privileged participants" in that we have paid to access the game at this point. I don't see that as an elite status; I think of it as believing that this is a chance to support a project, or even to help develop a product during it's early stage, but it's privilege for us to help push the genre that we love in a different direction than the one that we've had no real effect on in the past.
Gamasutra has a post entitled "Beauty in the Ordinary" which boils down to [wicked paraphrasing here] recognizing that games are often focused on the extraordinary, but in assuming the life -- the ordinary life -- of someone else, we can find adventures just as grand as if we were asked to rid the galaxy of The Ultimate Evil.
This is an awesome observation for so many reasons.
There's nothing wrong with assuming the role of The Hero. I think, from a psychological standpoint, we need that, whether it's escaping through a book or a movie or a video game. Just like we take vacations to get away from work, envisioning life through the eyes of a hero is a vacation from our personal ordinary. We get to vicariously experience situations and people (or creatures) that we'd never experience in the course of our lives, and it keeps the imagination well oiled ("Ashes to ashes, dust to dust; if you don't take it out and use it, it's going to rust.")
But we can never truly get away from our own ordinary. In my opinion, we shouldn't. In fact, I think that there's a lot about society today that is sending the wrong message, in that if we're not taking a shot at being famous, making it big, or always trying to get to the next social or financial tier, we're wasting our lives. I have a daughter, so I've watched more than my fair share of TV shows from The Disney Channel, and they have a definite pattern in their premises: kids being extraordinary. Usually as pop-stars. Sometimes wealthy. Never ordinary, like the people watching. I suppose there's some kind of well-meaning lesson to never stop trying to live up to your potential, but it seems in the age of American Idol, The Voice, The Sing-Off, any reality show where people trade humanity and self-respect for fame, the message becomes more about being less ordinary, and less about trying to always be a better person.
The thing about games is that they elevate you beyond ordinary. You're asked to be something extraordinary because the (game) world needs a hero. In the case of multiplayer games like MMOs, you're asked to be one of the heroes, forming an army of other beings who are the world's/universe's Only Hope. If we were to approach these games from a narrative standpoint, the lives of our avatars were probably ordinary at one point, but then they had greatness thrust upon them. It's a popular trope, the otherwise indistinguishable farmhand who must rise to the ultimate occasion. I think we as players overlook this aspect, as focused as we tend to be on the actual mechanics. So even through our super-humanity now becomes the baseline for ordinary within these games, designers fall back on making us to stand out though our equipment, which itself ultimately fails as everyone progresses towards the cap, earns the same gear, and flattens the curve.
I am wary of games that "celebrate the ordinary", however. It's fine to recognize the beauty in the ordinary in your own thoughts, but when a game is about the ordinary, it stops being ordinary. It's now the plot and the purpose. Games are finite, with a beginning and a middle and an end, and there's a goal involved that we have to reach through some rather ordinary behaviors. The Gamasutra article mentions Gone Home, Papers, Please, and The Stanley Parable, none of which I've played, but I can understand that as soon as we focus on the ordinary, it becomes extraordinary because being ordinary is the purpose. Our reason for doing what we do is the core of the game, which elevates the action to something more than day-to-day life.
The one thing that surely makes the ordinary more than just ordinary is when we're asked to inhabit the ordinary of another person. This is really the core of any game's narrative. Games always ask us to inhabit the lives of others who have different histories from ours, different current circumstances from ours, different goals and dreams and friends and problems from ours. Often times those lives are several rungs higher than what we know -- taking place in a land of high fantasy, or deep in space -- but their ordinary is our extraordinary and that is part of the attraction.
Funny thing, though, is that we don't need to turn to video games to get that kind of fulfillment. One of my favorite words is sonder, which isn't really "a word" (yet), but comes from from the Tumblr blog The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. It is defined as:
[T]he realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own...
Which is to say that our real-life ordinary is someone else's real-life extraordinary. It's really hard to think about that when we see a bus driver, or a janitor, a teacher, a cubicle worker, a stay at home mom, or anyone else who isn't trying to make a nation-wide name of themselves. Everyone has their own histories, joys, sorrows, and goals, and if we could be an unseen observer of the life of another person, it could seem just as fantastic as any game we've played because it takes us out of ourselves and makes our own lives a little less ordinary.
[Special thanks to Rog Dor for bringing the original post to attention.]
In a "dayum, Gina!" moment, the second Kickstarter for The Repopulation has completed after having earned well over three times it's goal amount of a mere $50,000. Know, then, that this KS was basically a campaign to fund stretch goals. Several were met, including some new NPC spawners, a new mount, and traveling vendors (a la SWG's NPC vendors, but this time YOU are the vendor, and can vend while AFK!).
Shit's gettin' real, yo. This game has a lot of update news, 3x the funding from this KS alone, and they don't seem to be done yet, as you can still support them via PayPal on their website.
The game is getting more noticed as time goes on. Initially, it was an under-the-radar project that I learned about when they showcased their "shells" system, and I remembered it only when it was mentioned. Recently, though, after watching several videos, I got hooked on the premise. Now I can't seem to get away from it. It was even boosted recently during a Reddit AMA with SOE captain John Smedley who alluded to a new project that would "make SWG players very happy." Many people (myself included) wondered if he was alluding to some unmentioned partnership with The Repopulation, but that was unfounded. Still, many people were asking the question, which could only help with visibility of the game.
The private alpha round 3 is coming up in March, and with my initial donation and my "boosted" KS donation, I'll be eligible for one weekend in that phase, and all rounds of their private beta. I'm very much looking forward to it.
Hot on the heels of admitting that I don't write about what I play, I'm going to write about what I played...in 2013.
I had actually stopped using Raptr, the gamers instant messenger-slash-shame tracker sometime last year in favor of Steam's friend list. Raptr was nice and all, but it seemed like it was doing double duty for tracking who was doing what, considering everyone had Steam running anyway. This, despite the fact that Raptr tracks much more than Steam does (unless you can add a game to Steam), I cut the chaff and stopped using Raptr. Plus, it initially didn't play well with Windows 8.
But thanks to the Raptr rewards program, I reinstalled it and left it running for part of 2013, so it has some of my stats, but I don't think it has ALL of my stats.
Any previous assertion that I was "done with MMOs" is patently false. Apparently. I spent a lot of time with Firefall, which is good, but I have to admit that my time in Rift was due to zombie-driving in order to get some Raptr Rewards qualifications. I also played a lot of Defiance, but I suspect some of that was picked up during beta (which Raptr seems to do with alarming frequency, considering some betas it picks up are actually under NDA). Further down the list, I'm surprised to see some things on there, like The Sims 3, although that was another "let it run overnight" situation because I wanted my families to just go about their business. The rest is mostly just gravy, although I swear I put more than 4 hours into Bioshock Infinite.
In other news, I tallied 399 hours (142 hours it the Raptr average), with 69 different games tracked (average is 13). July was my busiest month, and Saturday was the busiest average day.
Interesting thing of note is that 2013 was on par with 2012. I had 435 hours in 2012, tracked 88 games, was busiest in July, and played most on Sunday.
So there's my legacy. I play more than the average, play longer than the average, don't leave the house in July, or on the weekends. Sounds like a stereotype!
Although now into 2014, it's taken me this long to come up with a post here that I felt I wanted to release under this title.
2013 was kinda blah from the LC perspective. I haven't actually yet found a "voice" I'm happy with. When I feel that I have something to say, I think of the blog second -- social media is first. I think blogging is (pardon the pretension) passe mainly because it's a pulpit and not a community tool. If a blogger wants his or her blog to be a community tool, then it has to be a person's business card to a greater medium. My circles have been pretty static over the past year, and this blog hasn't been effective in expanding my community any.
In 2014, I expect to either close this blog, or at least re-purpose it for something else for a few reasons.
First and foremost, I am spending WAY more time working on my own game than I am playing anything, currently. I like this trend, and I hope it continues. As a consequence, I've been sharing my experiences at one of my other blogs with greater regularity than I do here. Although my attempts to build something have suffered fits and starts over the past few years, I've made tremendous headway in the past six months (by my reckoning), and it feels amazing to see ideas actually working, and to at least feel that I'm on track to contribute to my hobby instead of just consuming it.
I would like to stream more. I think I'll close down the Levelcapped Twitch channel in favor of the Wombattery channel because I think the Wombattery channel has a greater chance of being more visible if more of the Wombats opt to use it, as opposed to everyone limiting themselves to their own channels. I can't speak for everyone else involved, but I think it would be a nice achievement to have something that we can build together.
In a much further, less defined future, I've been thinking once more about the possibility of some kind of steady product. Streaming is certainly one option, but a podcast is also on the table. Podcasts are a dime a dozen, and I again admit that I don't listen to them myself, but I would like to participate.
So I guess that's the goal for 2014: Participation. Doing something bigger than just shouting into the wind through a blog. Working alongside others to hopefully make something useful for the community at large. It would be nice, I think.
Yes, games. It's why we're here.
I don't own a "next gen console", although my 70 year old father got me a pre-order for Destiny on the 360 (that must have been funny to see...my father in Gamestop, trying to explain what he wanted). I'm still on the fence about these machines. Again, I don't game from the couch, or really use the consoles I have, so the practical side of me says "hold off", while the gamer in me says "BUY ALL THE THINGS!!1!"
We don't need to look far ahead to see the avalanche of stuff that's coming our way. Both Wildstar and The Elder Scrolls Online are due real soon. I may be looking forward to one, but I am certainly writing off the other. I can't say which, or why, but those who know already know.
In a really weird twist of events, I'm stupidly excited for The Repopulation. It's billed as a refuge for Star Wars Galaxies refugees, with a hint of Ultima Online thrown in for flavor. Considering those are two titles which I hold in regard as examples of "most innovative in history", that's a damn fine pedigree. However, 75% of the game is PvP focused, which gives me pause. I'm not about owPvP, but I always remember fondly my time in Warhammer Online, and would love to get that kind of feeling back through The Repopulation if I could. So I'll roll on the "normal" server, spend some time in the NPC factions while testing the water, then maybe head out to the wilderness of a rogue nation and see what's what.
And last but absolutely not least, EverQuest Next Landmark is coming up to alpha very soon. I've got my Explorer pack, and have been considering upping to the Trailblazer. Paying for a F2P game like this is stupid to many people, but hyperbole aside, this is some serious, groundbreaking stuff here, people. If Sony can bring this system up to it's potential, it'll make most everything else on the market look really old and outdated in a heartbeat. That's historical right there, and it would be stupid to not be a part of that.
Most of my posts here end up being about the philosophical side of gaming (or that's the intent, if not the actual practice), but very little about my experiences in the games I play. I've thought about it from time to time, but realize that even I am bored by recounting my experiences, for the most part. Some folks get away with doing this with great success, and I couldn't figure out why I like reading their accounts, but don't consider my own to be anywhere near as good. Today, I figured that out.
99% of my experiences are at the starter levels of whatever game I'm playing. That's 100% of the exact same content that everyone else is experiencing when playing that game. There's nothing about my experience that's really any different from anyone else's, so to me, writing about it would be like reporting a news story as it happened, to the people it happened to. Kind of pointless.
The posts that interest me are from people who have reached the highest levels of a game, which might be interesting to me because I never get that far. Many folks do, but compared to how many people experience the starting content, the number of people who experience the ending content is fewer (if only by one -- myself).
So I guess my preferred style of post is an attempt to fill this gap left by not wanting to simply rehash the same experiences that everyone who plays the same game has known (sometimes several times through alts). While I'm not entirely happy with the bent of my posts on this site, I'll have to consider some other content or outlet to take it's place so I'm not constantly beating people over the head with heavy handed pseudo-psychological posts.
Everquest Next Landmark is going to be the precursor to Everquest Next, and will focus more on...well, homesteading, I guess is the best way to describe it. You'll be able to claim some land and build on it, harvest from it, and it'll be yours to do with as you see fit.
I have concerns, as this plan really requires people to "play nice" with one another. At the low end of the spectrum, it'll be a given that everyone will want the "best" land they can claim. So those who get in first have best pick, and that's OK: the Trailblazer $100 pack gives people a head-start, so anyone who wants to pay $100 can have their land.
At the next tier, then, is organization. Players who want to build near one another are going to more or less go in together and steamroll the area, or else go way out into the wilderness.
And the final tier is just people being considerate. Say someone makes a claim in a valley, and then you come along and like the area also, so you claim a spot nearby, only to find yourself harassed by this other player who tells you that he was holding that area for a friend, or that you're blocking his view or something else like that. That's what happened to me in Wurm Online, and the guy was such a dick about it that it was easier for me to quit the game than to deal with his childish bullshit.
Warframe is not a new game. You may have heard of it, but it may be one of those games you overlooked because it sounds like some kind of Eastern European-produced shooter that exists only to justify a punishing cash shop. That was my initial impression, but during our last LAN party a few of us downloaded it and played a few rounds, and I've recently gone back to it in earnest.
Framing the War
In Warframe, you take on the role of a Tenno, a "space ninja", for lack of a more concise description. You're a weapon that was put on ice a long time ago, but have been re-awakened in response to a threat to the solar system. Not just any solar system you're expected to care about; it's our Solar System (double caps), in a far distant future.
The game is a third-person shooter in which you (alone, or with up to three other players) must take on missions in a randomized maze of rooms and hallways while blasting, cutting, jumping, slicing, and hacking your way to an objective. Sometimes you have to secure some prisoners. Sometimes you have to sabotage something. Sometimes you have to take down a boss (at the end of the mission trail). Along the way you can smash cabinets and collect mods, materials, and perks.
When you start, you pick a default warframe from a pool of four, and that's the frame you're stuck with until you either buy one whole (using Platinum, their premium currency), or craft one using found materials and blueprints that are dropped from the system bosses, so if you start, be sure to do your homework before you choose.
What's Better Than A Space Ninja? Four Space Ninjas!
Warframe is very easy to get into. There's four modes: Online, Private, Invite Only, and Solo. Each mode determines who plays with you. When you're playing solo, it's just you. Invite Only is by your invite, and Private means only your friends can drop in on you. Online is a free-for-all matching system which allows you to jump into a round in progress with random people who have room in their party to accept you.
Playing alone can be difficult. The enemies aren't pushovers, and you can only "die and revive" four time per 24 hour period. After that, when you die, you can only exit the match and forfeit any loot and possible rewards from completing the level.
But since the game makes playing with others so damn easy, the only reason I can see for playing alone is if you're selfishly farming content with a high level frame. Multiplayer is where it's at, as you can be revived by other players and not be forced to use one of your four daily revives.
Even Better? Sexy Space Ninjas!
One of the first things you notice about Warframe is that it has no reason looking as good as it does. There are other multiplayer shooter games out there which look OK, but Warframe has some seriously wonderful art and animation. I think that the art style, the design of the Tenno, and more importantly the design of the NPCs (the Grineer actually freaked me out and disgusted me, which is good, considering I'm asked to shoot them in their ugly faces) lends a lot to the game. It's alien, and not just "familiar with a twist" alien that normally passes for "alien". It's the "I don't even know what that thing is or what it does because it's not like anything I recognize" style alien.
It's also the little touches that make the game worthwhile. You can wall-run, horizontally over gaps, or vertically to end with a backflip to reach ledges above you. If you're slinging a bow and arrow (ALIEN bow and arrow), your shots can actually pin enemy bodies to the wall. And it's always fun to sprint and then slide like a badass into a room, guns blazing.
Building a Better Ninja
You have three weapons and a frame. Each levels independently, so use the weapon you want to "grow". Each of these can be expanded by applying "mods" which in this case take the form of cards, a la CCGs. You find these mods in the game, and you can collect multiples in order to level up the mods through fusion, or can transmute them into another, random mod. Some of these mods give bonuses, and some impart special abilities. My chosen frame, the Loki, has mods that allow for invisibility and decoys, for instance.
As you play, you'll collect a lot of materials from the maps, and these can be used alongside blueprints to craft new and better gear. As stated before, fighting the bosses allows you to collect blueprints for new warframes, which is great if you don't want to spend any money in the cash shop. You can also buy blueprints in the cash shop for in-game money, but you still need to collect the materials yourself.
Buying a Better Ninja
Speaking of the cash shop, it does offer the option to spend Platinum, the premium currency, to buy new warframes and weapons outright, but that's a convenience feature. You can always work for them by buying or finding blueprints, and then by farming materials if you'd rather not sully yourself by financially supporting the developers of this free to download, free to play, enjoyable title.
Beyond the needful things, you can spend cash on ephemera like color schemes and profile portraits, if that's your cup of tea.
The interesting thing is that you can trade Platinum (and other items) if you're a member of a clan and if you craft the key that allows you access to the clan dojo (guild hall).
A Protracted War
As much fun as Warframe can be with a solid, forward-moving plan, I've tried games like this before. The random dungeon with limited mechanics that simply puts a new face on the same old gameplay is something I can stomach for a while, but at some point I always expect to come to my senses and realize that the game is just spinning it's wheels and is trying to fool me into thinking it's fresh by swapping the scenery. I have two options, then: blow through the game as quickly as possible and forfeit the farming aspects, or dig deep for as long as I can stand it, and walk away at whatever point that ends up being.
For everyone else, Warframe is a good "party" game. Joining random groups is mostly on the miss side of hit-or-miss because you can end up arriving just as the group is completing the mission, and since farming is a big part of the game, you'll probably get a group that's more interested in their own well being than they are at helping your dead body off the ground (forcing you to abandon or burn a daily revive). Instead, find a group of people you know and beat them until they capitulate and install Warframe, and take the game at an agreed-upon speed that everyone can enjoy.