This was the Calendar year that was

Goodbye 2009, Hell-o 2010.

You’d better a) be better looking b) be nicer c) put out a damn sight more than 2009, or I’m just going to go to sleep and not wake up till 2012 and the end of the world.

Seriously, Scott Jennings was right. 2009 was pretty sucky in many, many ways and not just for the MMO scene.

Now, quite a few people are doing predictions for 2010 (the aforementioned Mr J’s are, as usual, entertaining) and I’ve read most of them with interest, but I’m certainly not going to try my hand at them. For one thing, I’m the Kiss of Death, so whatever I predict will probably end up meaning woe and destruction for the poor predictee. For another, I’m almost always wrong about stuff like that.

My very general prediction is that there will be no WoW-killer (not counting Cataclysm, but that’s deliberate), that people will continue to look for one all the same, and that a few games will do well on a non-WoW-killing standard while many many others end up faceplanting. Star Trek Online will do all right — it’ll explode with interest and then settle down… provided it’s actually a halfway playable game, which I have no idea about since I didn’t shell out for Champions and therefore didn’t get the STO guaranteed beta spot.

Oh oh I know! I predict that in 2010 I will be in less betas than in 2009 and 2008 and 2007 and… you get the picture. Actually, I think I’ve managed to only be in one or 2 betas this year (okay maybe 3; or was it 4?) — which isn’t quite the NONE! I promised myself a few months back, but it’s better than the beta jamboree I indulged in during the middle part of the decade. Too many betas can kill your tolerance for things — in my case for dodgy connections, lag, and inventory issues.

I predict that we will get a damn sight more information about The Secret World in 2010, because it’s the only MMO in development that really really interests me right now. Well, apart from 38 Studios’ so-seekrit Copernicus. And World of Darkness MMO. There’s a crap-ton of hype for games I’m really not that bothered about (other than wanting them to do well), and zip-nada-rien for games I am bothered about. Bah humbug!

Oh, and I predict that Ragnar Tørnquist will personally offer me a beta spot in TSW. Yes, yes I do. Why not?  He’s seen my tweets, you know. That makes us pals. (Just Kiss-of-Deathed myself there.) Alternately, if anyone knows who should be bribed for TSW beta spots, do let me know by private mail.

I predict that I will most likely continue blogging, even though inclination and attention are somewhat lacking here at the moment for various dreaded-Real-Life reasons. Speaking of which, I predict that 2010 will be a difficult year but more manageable than 2009, which in many ways felt like a roller-coaster ride. I’m a control freak, I prefer having my hands on the wheel even if all I’m doing is 360-ing helplessly.

May all your 2010 wishes come true, unless your wishes happen to be of the Ultimate Evil World Domination type. Health, happiness, and enough money to at least pay the most urgent bills and keep a roof over your head.

Ensemble? Ensemble!

I just came across Stabs’ post on Stargate Worlds, now a shooter and not an MMO (Massively has several articles on the topic), and my comment threatened to become longer than the post itself so I moved back over here.

This is not a gaming post.

This isn’t actually about the on-again off-again not-right-now Stargate MMO, though personally I would jump all over that in a second. It’s about why SG-1 was a great show, Stargate Atlantis wasn’t so great, and Stargate Universe is downright crap. It’s about why the people with the power to greenlight stuff don’t seem to understand that just because Show A has 4-6 people in it who go to different places every week, Spinoff Show B — that also has 4-6 people in it that go to different places every week — will not necessarily be as good or as successful.

I’ve thought about this a fair bit over the years, because it seems to affect my liking or disliking shows regardless of what the shows’ actual subject matter might be. If the ensemble doesn’t gel, the show just doesn’t work for me. If the ensemble works well, on the other hand, I’ll watch despite plot holes you could drive buses through, cheap production values, and bad writing. Because if you’re doing an ensemble show (and there aren’t many other kinds these days), then the ensemble REALLY has to work. That’s not rocket science, but I’m sure it’s a recipe that’s hard to get right.

The original SG-1 team had humour, irreverence, humour, geekiness, humour, sex appeal (eye candy for all tastes), humour, and weird tech. But the show wasn’t about the weird tech, which is what SG:U is about and one of the reasons SG:U is crap. It had gobs of humour, unlike the oh-so-earnest and oh-so-serious SG-Atlantis, which was one of the reasons Atlantis was crap. SG-1 was ultimately about the people in the team — why they did what they did, how they felt about what they did, and how what happened in the wider world affected them; and that’s what makes a great show for me.

Great fiction of any kind is about the people in it acting on and reacting to the wider world around them. Doesn’t matter whether you’re dealing with a stubbed toe or with the end of the world — without a human context and primary dimension, it’s pretty much meaningless. (Which is why so many sci-fi and fantasy shows fail miserably, by the way.) And humour happens to be an excellent vehicle for narrative and character development.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying SG-1 was a comedy show and I’m not saying I require one-liners every few minutes. But the plain fact is, the central character was mouthy, irreverent, not particularly happy with heavy-handed authority and wasn’t afraid of saying so. His relations with the equally idiosyncratic other characters were interesting and humorous. He was easy to identify with.

Ahhh. Golly, could this be one of the reasons SG-1 was good while the rest of the shows are crap? Wait a second, I’m having flashbacks to college and English Lit. classes.

In comparison, it took Atlantis several years to realise that a detached intellectual diplomat wasn’t necessarily easy for Joe Viewer to identify with — especially a female one, so that was eventually scrapped and we ended up with the burly shouty military chap in the forefront. It had worked for SG-1, so why not SG-A? Sad thing is, Shepherd was no O’Neill, and the humour (which makes empathising easier, by the way, and is thus a very useful narrative device) — most of it involving either McKay the UberGeek or I’mAllMuscles Ronon — came too late to really do much good. You can see the formulaic seams far too clearly in SG-A, all the more because it’s a spin-off, and they’re stretched far too tightly.

One thing spin-offs need to realise is that while you can use the IP and setting and whatnot of an existing successful show, you really shouldn’t do exactly the same damn thing just with different faces and in a different location. It worked for Star Trek only because it was made 20 years after the original. For a current spin-off, you’ve got to keep the flavour of the original while breaking away from its mould, and I can’t think of many TV series that actually manage to do this. The suits (my generic “they”) always seem convinced that different names and different faces in the same situations will equal instant success.

Sadly, they’re not only repeating the Atlantis mistake with Stargate Universe, they’re compounding it with ultimate crapitude. The alien tech is so alien we’re too ape-like to understand most of it — which turns the viewer off. Oh, except for the bits we think will make cool narrative devices, so fortunately cameras 10,000 years ago worked exactly like they do today, so that’s easy alien tech. How lucky was that, eh?

And the ensemble is not an ensemble. Well duh, stupid! It’s about a bunch of disparate people who don’t necessarily like each other but who have to work together to survive. Key word there being dis-pa-rate — you know, by definition not an ensemble? Oh wait, haven’t I seen this *coughLOSTcough* somewhere else before?

Here’s the difference, and why LOST is great and Universe is not. After 2 episodes, most of the recurring LOST characters had very distinct personalities, quirks, emerging flaws and secret histories. After what, 8? episodes of Stargate Universe, the one thing I can tell you is that the Scottish guy is an asshole (sorry Robert Carlyle), the military guy is a slightly less abrasive asshole with a different accent, they have once a-bloody-gain made the fricking doctor a freaking female (have I beaten that one to death before?), and everyone else is kind of faceless, even if they did make one of the other women gay. (And isn’t that becoming an old chestnut on TV these days? Girl on  girl — yay! Guy gayness? Eeek! Heaven forfend no, we can’t show that!)

Atlantis and Universe are missing more than just decent ensembles (and Atlantis did eventually more-or-less pull that one together in the end, just in time to get canned). They’re both missing entertaining villains — Atlantis’ religious fanatics were faceless, boringly powerful, and just not much fun; and Universe doesn’t have any enemies at all right now except the (cue executive pitch face) “enemy within”. Oooh, exciting! — NOT. Compare with the animal-headed, Egyptian-themed, ultimately self-involved Goa’uld of SG-1: who doesn’t love a good Egyptian theme, eh? It was more exotic than Atlantis’ endless pseudo-medieval pseudo-civilised villages on unexplained planets, yet it was paradoxically much more human: the Goa’uld were pretty much out for Number One, and that’s much easier on the brain and eye than wanting to impose religion on everyone in the universe, Julian Sands’ zealous eye-easiness notwithstanding.

Atlantis was too big — I never really got a sense for the place as an individual entity in the show, which it probably should have been — and whatever the hell the Universe ship is called, it’s too small. Claustrophobic, in fact, which I’m sure is intentional but which ends up backfiring. Letting people through a Stargate by using a reallllly far-fetched “We’re only here for a few hours until the ship decides to move away, quick quick get through the gate, we need water/food/towels/hot chocolate!” device doesn’t counterbalance the ship-board claustrophobia all that well, especially since they keep showing us that the ship, in fact, is pretty much the size of a city. Hoooold on — wasn’t Atlantis a ship that was the size of a city, or a city that could turn into a ship? Oh YAWN. Been there, seen that, wasn’t so great the first time around.

Ya know, I really miss the Asgard.

So what’s the point to all this? There isn’t one, really. I just occasionally turn back into a Lit. student, and it entertains me to dissect shows (or books) and see why A works for me and B doesn’t.

And if anyone has a job in the TV industry for me, let me know. I can write, make coffee, and spot plot inconsistencies at 1,000 paces.

Whatever happened to EQ2?

A little while back I hit level 70 in EQ2, which currently has a level cap of 80, at least until February when the expansion comes out and it goes to 90. Yay!, I thought, I might actually one day have a character at max level in a game. Max adventuring level, that is — not something I do often, let me tell you.

As it turns out, I was probably wrong.

I don’t know what’s intended to happen in EQ2 when you hit the 70s, but I know what happened to me. I got hit in the face with a brick wall, repeatedly. One with experience debt. One where a kill takes 5 times as long as it did 3 levels ago, where critters hit 3 times as hard, and where sudden death lurks around every unexpected add corner.

I’ve gone from feeling entertainingly overpowered to feeling horribly overwhelmed, frustrated, and about this >< far from /ragequitting the whole game. Furies — a sort of nuking healer hybrid — aren’t weak in EQ2, not by a long shot, and for once I feel confident in saying that anyone who finds them weak isn’t playing them right. Because if I can play one and do really well, then anyone with a modicum of actual adventuring skill can too. So, yeah, it’s not because I’m playing a weak class. It’s not because I don’t know my class — I’m not raiding leet, sure, but I’ve been playing this gal for a few years and I do have a fair handle on what she can and can’t do.

Like I said: I hit a lot less hard (aka critters have more health), they hit a lot harder, and I’ve gone from laughing maniacally at the devastation I was wreaking to sobbing sadly as I die, yet again, when a single add comes up and stunlocks me into oblivion. One stunlocking (or 30% HP–in-one-blow-dealing) mob at a time I can just about deal with. Two, apparently, spells x-p-d-e-b-t. Which, of course, takes much longer than it used to to work off.

I’ll admit, I’ve had a frustrating few game days. Unhappy with the idea that I’d have to kill 1,000 mobs to level I decided to mentor down a little and try some of my older quests. One of them took me into Solusek’s Eye, which is probably the coolest dungeon EVAR but is also a dungeon that spors dizzying views with instant death for the unwary mis-step. With my acrophobia that’s just not helpful at all; I’m at the stage where I can appreciate how neat the design is, but not yet at the stage where I can caper around on transparent walkways above molten hot mag-ma without feeling like I’m going to upchuck Christmas dinner. Unsure how to get from A to B, visible below me but unreachable, I eventually gave up.

A day later I unwittingly ended up in exactly the same place and trying to get to pretty much the same destination, only for another quest. Got there, looked again at the ramps I couldn’t reach and at the transparent stuff I’d have to run around on to figure it out, and went home. This, mind you, after 4 hours of doing the previous stages of that quest.

Like I said, my gaming world is currently made up of brick walls, and I have two black eyes and a nose bent out of shape to prove it.

Tried a third quest — also ended up in Solusek’s Eye. In the space of a week, Lavastorm has gone from one of my favourite zones to being a place I’ll quite happily never visit again, thank you very much. Tried a couple of quests in Sinking Sands instead, for a change of pace, but after 40 undead kills without a single drop I needed for a quest, I gave that up too. I may be old-school, but I despise the old-school kill rates. Don’t waste my time.

So, willy-nilly, I end up back in my level-appropriate content where, in the space of an hour, I’ve died 4 times, which is 4 times more than I’ve died in the past 15 levels or so. And I’ve managed about 4% of level.

This is not fun. If it continues to be not fun, I’ll stop giving them my money. It’s that simple.

Yes, I’m whining somewhat. Frustration is part of gaming and venting is part of my blogging. If you don’t like it, go read something else.

In fact, I do know what happened: past 70, you’re supposed to be doing group content and working your way into raiding. I guess that makes this look like the tired old soloer’s complaint, but that’s not really it either. I’ve never objected to group content and I’ve never asked for group-content rewards. What I’m objecting to is not an increase in difficulty but rather the excessive increase in everything. Stuff is harder to do and takes longer and has very rapidly become a mind-numbing grind, because you have to do stuff over and over and over again to get a fraction of the progress you used to for the same amount of time and effort. It’s excessive.

And I’m only at level 73. I dread to think what 74-80 are going to be like, assuming I have the energy to try to get there. Right now, that’s not a given.

Merry Kwanmasanukkah

The increasing political correctness of this time of year makes it far more difficult than it used to be to wish people a Merry Christmas. On the other hand, being aware of other cultures and traditions is a good thing, and taking a second to stop and think that not everybody is like me and does what I do — that’s a good thing too. Expanding one’s horizons is always a plus, even if it’s less comfortable than a narrow worldview.

Anyway, so — whatever it is you may celebrate, be it Yule (which is just past), Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or just good old consumerism, do it happily! That’s an order! Here, have a Holiday Kitten. How can you resist?

Coming to the States from elsewhere, I’m always amazed by what a contrasting and occasionally downright weird country this is. On the one hand you have people campaigning because it should be CHRISTmas and everyone else should be burned at the stake, especially if they have the temerity to wish you “Happy Holidays” instead of a “Merry Christmas” — and on the other, you have the very fact that there is a debate. This place isn’t made up just of white anglo-saxon protestants, and many different cultures, religions and traditions have some kind of year-end, deep winter celebration. Acknowledging this diversity, even if it means we then have to wriggle in paroxysms of confusion about what the correct good wishes might be, is A Good Thing.

Peace on earth and goodwill to all. (Yeah, it should be “men” but I’m a WOman so I’m going to put my foot down here.) Cute Kitten demands it.

EDIT — Since the evil Scroogegrace ran off with Holiday Kitten, have Holiday Kitten 2 – The Replacement.

Launch Daze

I’ve finally realised that I’ve outgrown wanting to be around for launch days — be they for entire MMOs or just for events in said MMOs. Most of the time launch day is laggy or buggy, which latter will generally mean the servers get taken down for some emergency hotfixes, which means you either get to stand around lagging or wait around to get back online.

Most of the time playing on launch day is more waiting than playing, and more irritating than fun.

I’m sure there are lots of people out there who will tell me that nothing beats the excitement and the shiny-new, still wet with dev sweat smell. Well, not for me. I’m misanthropic enough to dislike the crowds of ravening fans, be they pixellated or standing in the street with me. Waiting in line for a movie to open? So not me. Waiting in line to get a book on launch day? Please. I wasn’t there when A Christmas Carol was published and it’s still a cracking good story.

It’ll all still be there tomorrow. It’s not as impossible to avoid spoilers as people seem to think (especially since I don’t have a cellphone umbilical, which means I really can get away from the rest of the world), and most spoilers aren’t much of a problem anyway. And you know what? It’ll taste just as good tomorrow, too.

In the meantime, those of you who love the crush and bother of such things can rest assured you’re one step closer to the front of the line since I’m not in it. Me, I’m going to check out EQ2’s new Frostfell event. It launched yesterday (or the day before, I forget) and should be both stable and somewhat less hysterical now.

And here, have some dragon screenies for lagniappe. I took em, you might as well see em!

Dragon in Lavastorm
Tunare quest dragon - "Whaddaya mean, you don't speak wood elf?!"
Dragon motif in Everfrost
Being John Scroogeovich

GLEE

Ya know, apart from the fact that they’re overused, often portrayed as overgrown pixies, mostly overly cute and/or overly old and wise, and that they’re almost always really smug about how superior they are to everyone else (almost courting xenophobia, albeit very genteelly)… there’s nothing that wrong about elves.

So, to offset the Elf Hate that’s been poured out in various places (I’m looking at you, Syp, Spinks and Arbitrary!), I’ve decided to found GLEE: Great Love for Elves and Elvenkind. Just because.

Besides, what other race goes bad quite as stylishly as elves do, eh?

It’ll give you wrinkles

Thinking will, that is. Still, I like Spinks’ Thought For The Day, which I’ve pondered many times over the last few years. What do we mean by “socialising,” these days? Sitting right next to? Having drinks with? Babbling uncontrollably at? Being in the same room, even?

I will say that “social” endeavours as defined by MMOs in recent years (i.e. grouping) have become so activity-focused that I talk less in them than I do when I’m doing just about anything else in game. The more button mashing we have to do, too, the less we’ll talk.

So what sorts of things could we do in games that would be a little more conducive to old-fashioned sociability? Traveling is the big one, though I’m not certain it was designed primarily to encourage chatting — it just happens to be something time-consuming and passive that almost everyone has to endure. But when are we going to be able to have picnics or parties or, hell, darts or bowling competitions?

I’m not asking that the big games suddenly become arcade centres but… well, I suppose in a way I am. I just remember that in Asheron’s Call we’d have parties and stuff, because you could drop stuff (food, equipment, whatever) on the ground — or, if you were good at positioning, on tables and other pre-positioned landscape items. People would show up and pig out, not because it “fed” them in any real sense, but because eating with others is about so much more than just food. Also, Asheron’s Call food items sounded fun and tasty, and many of them were chocolate-based (always a win).

We’d also hold equipment swap meets based on the same principles: bring your excess stuff, drop it around the place, pick up other people’s stuff that looks interesting to you.

(For those who wonder if the world ended up littered in other people’s dinner parties and excess gear, the answer is no: there was a sweeper system that would just remove stuff every so often. Bad if you were muling (moving stuff from one character to another), good for the game in general.)

Most Asheon’s Call players will remember nekkid dungeon runs, too. There was no particular point to doing them nekkid except that it was fun — and dungeons weren’t instanced, so you essentially got to streak past whoever else was in there being very serious and professional. We haven’t lost the ability to do things like that, but we just don’t seem to do them anymore.

Have MMOs become too achievement-oriented? Have our incessant demands to have more to do resulted in our having so much to do we never have time to just kick back and be silly? Silly is a large component of fun, at least for me. I miss it. It makes people laugh together, and that is social.

~

Last and mostly unrelated but not least, take a look at another great post from the other side of the fence over at Brian “Psychochild” Green’s place. (My armchair is comfier!)

En Garde!

No, not the play-by-mail game of the 80s and 90s (and if you know what I’m talking about, many props!). Rather, Syp’s thrown down the gauntlet to EQ2 players to give him 5 ways in which EQ2 is better than WoW. Since both games launched at almost the same time 5 years ago, it’s a good challenge.

I’m not generally a fan of numbered lists but this one does interest me, not in any spirit of WoW-bashing but more to examine why I’ve spent more time in EQ2 than in any other game since Asheron’s Call, my first MMO. We originally played it for a year in 2005-2006, then left for greener pastures. I don’t recall wanting to leave the game as such, I think it was more the lure of greener, shinier things “over there” — including various betas like Vanguard. I returned to EQ2 in April this year and have been playing it consistently ever since. The only game that’s lured me away for any length of time has been Dragon Age, and even that is on hold until I decide I’m willing to drag Kaitou’s bored backside through the end of the Fade section.

For the benefit of those new to this blog, you need to know the following about my playstyle to understand how I judge games: I am a crafter who adventures as a hobby; if it’s shiny, it must be picked up, no matter the danger; if it’s harvestable, ditto. I avoid raid-type stuff at all costs, primarily because I’m not motivated by the item-treadmill reward such raids offer, but also because I find them (much like other people view crafting) to be a rather tedious waste of time better spent doing something else. The only exceptions to my item-disinterest include anything that can be used to decorate a house or anything silly that can be used to decorate a player.

Snow White and the Shard of Love (I'm the dwarf on the far right)

So, the list, per Ysh.

1. Crafting. While the process itself is as repetitive and ultimately tedious (for many) as in any other MMO, the “sphere” of crafting, to intentionally borrow from Vanguard, really is independent from adventuring in EQ2. You don’t need to be a level 50 adventurer in order to be a level anything crafter, which was something that turned me off WoW both times I’ve played it. Crafting is the core of my gameplay, not the side-dish. There are many other things that fit into this category, like the plethora of crafter quests that are constantly being added to, that make EQ2 one of the few games that genuinely understand and cater to the crafting playerbase — not the adventuring playerbase that also happens to craft when they can’t get a group.

2. Guild Halls. Quite a few games have guild halls now, but not many of them offer the communal amenities EQ2’s guilds & halls can offer to their guild-based communities. Aside from being very grand buildings with tons of decoration options, guild halls can offer bankers, brokers (think auction house), crafting stations, adventuring/crafting writ givers, and a ton of other stuff that’s normally found in the outside world. The downside is that guild halls have become the social hubs of the game, emptying out city areas that were already underpopulated due to the weird partitioned way in which the two primary capital cities were originally designed. On the other hand, however, most guild halls are at least partly open to the public which means they can become genuine alternative meeting places.

3. Housing. Most other EQ2 players will mention this, I suspect, because it’s one of the most glaring lacks in WoW. If you like housing and you’re playing WoW, you’re SOL, to pile on the TLAs. Aside from the fact that it’s at least offered in EQ2, it also comes in eleventy-zillion different flavours — each city has its own distinct housing look and several different room-counts and layouts to choose from. In Freeport and Qeynos houses you can actually change the texture of walls, floors and ceilings. Furniture can be dropped freeform and moved as you please — there’s no x-axis rotation (as there is now in SWG), but you can resize, move stuff up/down, and rotate on at least one axis, all of which is a lot better than simply being given hooks to hang things on, as in LOTRO. (As an aside, that LOTRO system is one Turbine used in Asheron’s Call housing back in 2001 — time for a change, guys!)

4. Mentoring. Unlike many games, WoW still doesn’t have a system to allow players of disparate levels to play together. That said, since WoW’s focus is now entirely on getting people to max level as fast as possible, it would be silly for them to include any such system, but that speaks to a fundamental difference between the two. EQ2’s levelling used to be really slow, compared to WoW, even back in the vanilla days; the curve has been flattened quite a bit in the intervening five years, but EQ2’s motto is not, and hopefully never will be, “The Game Begins at 80.” This always jarred me in WoW, was one of the things (along with … well, #1-3 above) that turned me off the game, and is I think one of the major contributors to the bad side of raid-based gaming — you know, elitist jerks and gear snobs. (Who are starting to come out of the woodwork in EQ2 as it starts to focus more and more on raiding. Oh, EQ2, step off this path before you become Brown-WoW!) Now in EQ2 you can mentor yourself down for no reason other than that you want to be a lower level again for a while, which reopens up a ton of previously greyed-out content — and trust me, there’s a LOT of content in EQ2.

5. It’s not a Theme Park. It’s not entirely a sandbox either, but one of the things many people who try EQ2 often end up saying is “I didn’t know what to do or where to start!” This is a frequent sandbox-type issue, and actually EQ2 has become a little friendlier to new players over the years, but it certainly doesn’t put you on rails and send you out along the Ride To 80, even today. For the type of player I am this is a definite plus rather than a weakness, because once you get past that head-spinning stage you end up faced with tons of possibilities whenever you log on. It doesn’t always come down to the only choice being adventuring — and I know that’s not the only choice in WoW, but since so much of everything is tied to one’s adventuring level and since the game is by design slanted towards chomping through content, then adventuring and chomping through content sort of end up being most people’s default choice. Fighting stuff is very rarely my activity of choice in any game, and in EQ2 there’s still always more to do than I have time to do it in — which is exactly what I want from an MMO.

I could mention guilds as levellable entities, collections, appearance slots (so that you don’t have to look quite as ridiculous as you do in WoW), art style (it’s on the brown extreme but it’s learning to be more chromatic)… but I won’t, since we only get 5 slots. Go add your own to the comments here or to Syp’s.

Other bloggers to have joined this meme-in-the-making include Stropp, whom I may have had a hand in luring to EQ2 in the first place.  /halo. See also this Elder Game article kindly linked to by one of Syp’s commenters, since it’s an oldish post; good read!

Last but not least, Happy Thanksgiving to those who are celebrating it today in the US.

Time flies when you’re having fun

Time is a relative thing, especially in games. Specifically: if I’m enjoying something, it flies, and if I’m not, it crawls. This is true of most things in life, but it was brought home to me by some of the comments on yesterday’s post.

I probably wasn’t clear. The Fade/Circle of Magi thing isn’t taking me any longer to complete than any of the other long plot sections (if you’re OC about doing everything like I am). It just feels like it’s taking twice as long. That’s not helped by the fact that, knowing I still have a node boss to slaughter and buddies to free, I really can’t be arsed to fire the game up and slog my way through it.

(If anyone thought I was ranting generally about Dragon Age yesterday, this should set the record straight. I am finding the Circle of Magi bit in the Fade to be excessively long to play. I do believe a few design ideas were overused, which increases this impression of painful repetition, but that doesn’t equate to a sudden “Dragon Age sucks!” ruling.)

In games, a slog is bad. A romp is good, but can easily become so rapid you stop experiencing the game and end up merely experiencing the speed of your progress. The trick is pacing a game so that the player still feels as though they’re romping but is also going slowly enough to feel like they’re experiencing a LOT of stuff. This applies to MMOs just as much as it applies to single player games. I expect most MMO players have had at least one conversation with another player where content was experienced entirely differently by each (“zomg so SLOW and BORING!” vs “wow, that went by so fast I almost wish I could do it again”).

An added design problem is that pacing differs for each individual. We don’t all play at the same rate, do all the same things, or spend the same amount of time admiring scenery and dungeon art. It takes work to provide a smorgasbord of content that the content locusts can NOM NOM NOM their blind hungry way through, but that the … let’s call them content slugs can enjoy much more slowly and completely.

Okay, Content Slug just doesn’t cut it, especially since I’m one of them. Will have to find a better term.

 

Dragon Age: Fade to Tedious

I think this means my honeymoon with Dragon Age: Origins is over. This post is subtitled: Murder Your Darlings, from the writing principle that if you ever write (or design) something you think is way great!!11oneone then you should probably delete it, stat. Or at least make it much, much shorter.

* * * WARNING: Contains some spoilers * * *

 

They're like sheep. Sheep with magical powers!

Over the weekend I finally started the plot section that involves freeing the Circle of Magi from whatever it is some silly mage has unleashed upon it. You know what mages’ greatest weakness is? Their geek-like inability to ever believe anything can go wrong. “What, one tiny slip and the whole world will go up like a Roman candle and everyone will die horribly? 99% chance that this will happen? Noooo worries, we’ll just trust in the 1% — the odds are in our favour!” Actually, as a species they tend to remind me of Sir Didymus in Labyrinth, only less fuzzy and forgivably cute.

Stupid mages.

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