Halp! I need somebody, halp!

Okay, that title was maybe a little more histrionic than I intended.

WFS’s Gordon made me laugh yesterday when he said “Time to start an alt” — just taunt me a second time-a why don’t you?

My name is Hyperbole and I am an Altoholic.

The long and short of this post is that it’s a shameless begging post. I already have my 9 alts made (duh!), a few of whom date back to 2004 and whom I can’t bring myself to reroll while the rest are fresh off the cookie-cutter line. I can’t put them all in Knights Who Say Ni because, well, that’s just greedy — I’m not the only altoholic in town and I already have 3 or 4 chars in the guild as it is, which is probably more than I should. Ni has an alts guild, but, meh.

Okay fine. I just want my own damn guild bank. Happy?

Cue begging: if anyone (well, 3 anyones) has a spare character slot and can make an Alliance char on Icecrown for as long as it takes me to get the 3 signatures we need, I’ll be eternally grateful and, um… will say something nice about you every week till August 2014. How’s that for a deal?

EDIT — Okay, blogging power and Twitter power are sometimes rather awesome. Many thanks to Shawndra, Stargrace and @R0NlN for the guild-creation help! There’s nothing quite like being helped out by total strangers (physically-speaking) to remind me why I love my MMOs. It’s not the game, it’s the people. <3

Blogging: the Chinese whipsaw effect?

Sometimes I love the blogosphere: it binds us together, it enables us to share and circulate ideas, and it allows us to have far-reaching and far-branching debates about all manner of gaming things under the sun.

Sometimes I loathe the blogosphere, for exactly the same reasons.

So as I read the various posts and discussions spawned by Eric of Elder Game’s original post — including my own (Eric link at top, everyone else at the end of the post) — I end up wondering: do we actually read each other, or do we just use each other as opportunities to bang on our own drums, grind our own axes, and stand on our own soapboxes?

I’m bemused and almost irked enough by it to be doing one of these petty, self-justifying set-the-record-straight posts, which in itself irritates me even further. (Doesn’t help that I’ve only had one cup of coffee, come to think of it.*) On the bright side it’s the weekend and nobody reads blog posts over the weekend, so I can mutter quietly and mostly to myself in my corner.

Record–straightening #1. I never said classes were better than not-classes. I said Eric said skill-based is hard, and I agreed with him based on my personal gaming experience. Actually, I do believe I said once or twice that classless is very rewarding, but it’s a lot more work — granted that my only “development” experience of that is for tabletop games, but while I didn’t mess about with million-dollar budgets, I do have some idea of the relative amount of work-time required between managing a classless, skill-based campaign and managing the opposite.

(For those who like this kind of thing underpinned by “evidence,” the tabletop game I ran for the longest time — about 8 years — was Ars Magica, which is pretty much a skill-based game with incredibly messy and open-ended rules, at least the ruleset we used, which was mostly 3rd ed with a smattering of 2nd, 4th and house rules.)

Once again. In a purely theoretical sense I still don’t see what’s so contentious about “skill-based is harder to design and balance than class-based” — I really don’t. As an extremely general statement, it seems pretty straightforward to me. Given the perils of speaking for others at this stage, I won’t — but I certainly never said that just because something is more difficult to design, nobody should bother with it.

Record-straightening #2. I never made any comments about easy/hard and choice/not-choice. Other people’s drums. Sure, I have stuff to say about those things, but I didn’t say them in that post.

I’m still boggling at how this has, once again, become a debate about easy-mode versus iron-man Mr. Real Player, even in terms of development. If you like structure, you’re a sheeple. If you like to be able to screw up your character without hope of recovery, you’re a brave pioneer forging ahead into the wilds of game adventure.

Yeah, whatever.

Yes, I’m paraphrasing rather inaccurately. I felt it was my turn.

I’m definitely starting to think it would be useful for the gaming community as a whole to lose the “if it made me want to chew my arms off, it was BETTER” elitist attitude we’re dragging around with us whether we notice it or not. There are arguments to be made for both simplicity and complexity and they’re a great deal more, um, complicated than simply saying one is better than the other, which is a pretty meaningless assertion without context, actually.

I’m done griping now. Move along. Nothing to see here, classy or otherwise.

~

* Please. No advice on how I should quit drinking so much coffee if it makes me that grumpy. Can’t a person even use hyperbole on her site anymore without being adviced-at? I’m really just grumpy by nature and coffee has nothing to do with it. Now get off my damn lawn!

Classless is a pain in the assless

(Edited with further reading posts at the end.)

Sad classless panda is sad.

AKA: Elder Game’s Eric reckons “classless” is really rather more difficult to design for MMOs than most people are willing to admit. My first reaction was Noooooo! Do not say this! Do not want to hear it! Lalalala!

But common sense generally recognises itself, and certainly in the case of Asheron’s Call what Eric writes jibes exactly with my own experience as a player. Yes, you could technically put your experience points anywhere you liked in AC, and for example end up with a character built like a stick-insect who was capable of crossing the entire map in under two minutes, they ran that fast. But you wouldn’t be able to fight those pesky reedsharks nipping at your backside while you ran, and you’d be easy prey for any zephyr or lounging virindi waiting to shoot a lightning bolt up it.

I know all about this, because my first character — first ever, fresh off the Pen’n’Paper table MMO character — was made in an attempt to approximate reasonable tabletop RPG design. In other words I was careful not to min/max my stats while still having one stat that was a little above the rest, and I picked a nice, rounded variety of skills (Monster appraisal!) that I thought would help me in this new world of online role-playing.

As a result, Eloise was a gimp and remained a gimp for a long time, until it became possible to slowly move stats from one attribute to another and to drop/acquire skills. The very fact that the AC community rapidly evolved a term for being a sub-optimal character — “gimp” — shows that the players, at least, perceived some builds as good and most others as, well, crap. And while players are asshats and often meaner than a sackful of weasels, many of them also know how to crunch a mean number and the whole gimp/not-gimp thing wasn’t just a matter of perception. There were smart ways to spend you character creation and xp points, and there were less smart ways. The smart ways would enable you to kick the crap out of mobs, which is essentially what one does in most MMOs… and the less smart ways would have you struggling to do the same thing while wondering where you went wrong and why you were at the lifestone yet again.

(Tangent time. There’s always someone who asks “Why didn’t you just reroll?” and I’m never sure how to answer that because simply asking the question implies a wide chasm between how the asker and I approach our characters in games. Sure, lots of characters get made for the purposes of trying something out or experimenting with a given role and then usually get deleted. But in many cases, the characters I make in MMOs will gel and become characters, not just waldoes for me to manipulate in the game world, and rerolling is just plain murder. There’s a point up to which that can be done — past that point, it’s not happening. And as I said, if I have to explain it or if you’re asking, we’re probably not on the same gaming/character page to begin with.)

I demand the freedom to be a gimp!

Sure. Here, have it. There are times when we’re all happy to play a sub-optimal character, either because it’s fun or because we’re role-playing or because we’re kinky that way, or even because such a build can fill a particular specialist niche in a game, like crafting mules in AC. Whatever — when you have a classless game, you’ll have kinky-build characters. The stick insect. The quick hulk with no hit points. The mage with the enormous brain and BITE ME tattooed on his chest.

But no player in their right mind wants all kinky all the time, no matter how loftily they may speaketh of RP and how it’s only the character that matters, not the numbers. I call bollocks on that one. Most of the time you want a character that will perform consistently within the parameters of the given game, given some variance for player skill (said variance being, er, rather variable depending on what game you’re playing). Most players, for that matter, want to know that their character SmashMouth001 is almost identical to SmashMouth002, and that the only real difference between them is that SM001-player actually knows how to mash buttons and in what order, whereas poor SM002-player does not. I’m not sure I’m that happy to be part of the herd, but classes are what they are in most games and they do provide a way to compare and contrast oneself with other players when it comes to examining roles and one’s performance of said role. They also make it a damn sight easier for designers when it comes to examining metrics and seeing how one group of players is doing in comparison to another.

Beyond that, though, it was also pretty obvious pretty quickly in AC that mages — anyone with any kind of magical skills, of which there were 4 major schools — had a gigantic leg up over anyone who didn’t. Pure combat mages basically kicked everyone else’s ass, in most cases, and any character with even a smidge of magic was usually far superior (better survivability, better buffs, better heals, whatever) to a similar character who had, say, picked Person and Monster appraisal over magic.

Secret and Classless

So here’s what worries me, since I’m so busy waiting on The Secret World even though I’ve said nary a thing about it lately. (It’s playing hard to get? I’ll play blind blogger. So nerh.) From the on-site blurb:

Freeform gameplay – Experience a game that has no classes or levels. Truly freeform character customization allows you to create the alter-ego you want to play, and gameplay that goes beyond the usually rigid MMO structure allows you to play the game the way you want to play it.

Hundreds of powers – Wield fiery katanas, gold-plated pistols, and deadly automatic rifles. Learn martial arts, black magic and voodoo. Choose from hundreds of powers to create a character completely customized to your liking.

Yeah! Um… uh oh… Ack!

Now, a few of the other things that have been said do indicate that classlessness does not imply role-lessness, and if there’s one thing MMO players are conscious of these days it’s roles, perhaps even more than classes. So although you’re not called a “fighter”, it sounds like you can pick a power deck (or whatever it’ll be called) that will allow you to perform fightery-type roles, or healery-type roles, or whatever it is you want to play that day. Maybe. If it’s done right.

It’s not that it can’t be done, and that’s not what EG’s Eric is saying (mostly, I think). It’s that it’s a lot more expensive and intensive and it’s a pain in the ass once you have designed it. I can see that — that actually makes perfect sense, sadly. I’ll just have to hope that the TSW team are aware of this and have worked out how to present us with a classless, level-less system while still having some pretty rigid, manageable mechanics underneath.

I’m having trouble working out how a fiery katana is going to compete with a deadly automatic rifle, for instance. (Okay, that could just be part of the “wear what you like, it’s not what you’re actually using” appearance system they’ve been talking about… but what if it isn’t?) How are they going to avoid having a handful of optimal builds — or powersets or whatever they’ll be called — and a million gimp builds? Because for every Jane who doesn’t mind that it takes her a bit longer to kill that zombie or that she can’t down that boss because her character is gimped, there will be 999 Joes who resent that very much and will always make sure they use the best available build the community has worked out, no matter how cookie-cutter it may be. Killing shit > original build. Killing shit easily / killing elite shit > other stuff.  You get my drift. We gamers have fairly simple minds when it comes to certain mechanics.

Ultimately, classless and level-less and number-less weren’t that easy to manage even in tabletop RP, and that’s not just because we RP geeks love us some numbers and some dice*. It’s because classes and levels and numbers-based mechanics provide us with systems that help ensure at least a modicum of parity and a reasonable amount of fairness all the way around the table, both between the players themselves and between the players and the person running the game session. And indeed, a diceless RPG system is harder to set up and maintain as a GM than a more rigid system — I’ve been there. That’s not to say it isn’t rewarding, but it certainly is more difficult and more time-consuming to manage. (Players bitching that other players have more powers or can do more. Players bitching that they should be able to do A B or C, when a more mechanics-based system would enable you to just say no. Making sure confrontations are confrontational and not constant cakewalks. Et-ad-nauseam-cetera.)

I guess we’ll see, as far as TSW is concerned.

And one day there may even be a beta and I may even be in it. Shut up, vaaaaaaporwaaaarrrrre raven!

Further reading

Aim for the Head – The Skills of EVE

Psychochild – Stay Classy

Rampant Coyote – Defending the lack of Class

Tish Tosh Tesh – Classes, Trinity and Balance, Oh, My

(slightly tangential, or at least inspired by a whole different original post) Big Bear Butt – The (Un)Holy Trinity

~

* Amber. Yes, I know. One exception does not actually entirely disprove the contention.

Cheeseburgers have cheese in them

Here’s something I’ve never understood about the internet opinionating. It used to happen on the old mailing lists and bulletin boards, it used to happen on forums, now it happens on blog and article comments. Person A writes “ABCDE”, very reasonable and pretty straightforward stuff, and person B lets off with a diatribe out of nowhere.

Here’s an example. Call me a literary critic (since I’m trained to be one), but I think Syp hits the parental nail on the gaming head. It’s rather poetic and it’s incredibly sincere, and for my money you can’t ask for much more in a blog post. Course, I don’t expect every single “gaming journalism” blog post I read to be a review of GT4 or SuperMario In Your Pants, The Sequel.

And here’s the rather mystifying “omg you left hair in the sink, I’m moving back to my mother’s!” comment. Um, what?

It’s not, mind you, that I have anything against readers being fickle bastards and altering what they like from week to week. I’m exactly like that myself.  I just don’t understand the causality in this case, even though I’ve seen it happen a million times over the years.

Person A: “Cheeseburgers have cheese in them.”

Person B: “OMG you are SO full of cheese! I can’t believe I ever read anything you wrote! How can you claim to be a legitimate emailer / poster / blogger / journalist / carbon-based lifeform?! I’m off to a blog about real Limburger!”

/blink

It’s happened to me a few times on MMORPG.com lately, too, though to be bluntly honest I try not to read the comments over there, or at least only through slitted, somewhat glazed, unjudgemental eyes. But okay, I do read them. And occasionally I’ll get an “OMG you’re full of shit! This is SO inaccurate! You are a tool of the MMOlitary RPGdustrial combine! You call this game journalism?!”

Actually, no. That’s why this blog’s subtitle is MMO musings and commentary and that’s why the MMORPG gig is marked as perspectives. Pure opinion. No facts implied or advertised. Bias inherent and admitted. What’s so difficult to grasp about that?

I should know better, but I still boggle at the gap between what we write and what people read.* God knows that’s caused a lot of online drama over the years, especially if you count game chat as a medium. There’s already a gap between what you think and what you say, and then between what you say and what people hear, simply in normal conversation — but add non-physicality and a wholly typed medium and you’ve got a recipe for misunderstanding that makes me wonder how we manage to communicate online at all.

Even so… even knowing that what one says and what is understood are never quite going to match up, I still have to wonder at the strange gap between “Cheeseburgers have cheese in them” and “That’s it, I’m outta here.”

Yay for freedom of speech and blog-reading choices!

~

* Or indeed between what person A says or does and what person B hears or expects. There’s a reason two of the most-used tags on this blog are “design” and  “expectations”. Maybe I should move on to marriage advice too. (And the first person who calls me Dr. Ysh will have a contract taken out on them. Just sayin’.)

Monday Miscellanea: Linkage snippets

This. If I were less polite I would rip the entire post and quote it here, but I won’t. I love me some Elder Game. Snippet:

Magical woman knowledge.

There is an unspoken assumption that women devs – and all women, in fact – have magical knowledge about women that can help us tap into the market of women gamers. (You knew about that, right? It’s a back-of-the-box bullet.)

Also, with appropriate hat-tip to Teki/Gruvy Munkie, and because trust me, it’s entirely true: Why working at home is both awesome and horrible. This made me snort coffee and laugh more than I have at some of the Penny Arcade stuff, even, so that’s saying something. PURE WIN. Safe for work, apart from the coffee-snorting bit — and of course, entirely SFW if you happen to work from home as I do.

And finally another WoW screenie — it’s part of a daring disguise escape attempt, but maybe you had to be there. Some people have complained about the number of cinematic cut-outs in Cataclysm, but I’ve been really enjoying them. Some of them are genuinely funny, which is something WoW has always been good at and finally exploits to the hilt in Cataclysm. More on this later, maybe.

 

Cheap Tricks and Friday content

Yes, I’m that cheap. Here’s what I wrote for MMORPG this week, go look if you’ve a mind to.

It’s actually kind of odd doing that writing gig. Compared to this blog, I don’t feel as free to say whatever the hell I please, partly because they’re paying me for the columns but partly because it’s not my site. I know that shouldn’t really make a difference, but it does. It’s not just my opinions, it’s my opinions as published by a pretty large and popular gaming site. (That said, I’m really vanilla compared to some columnists. I’m probably being overly nice about the whole thing — and I mean nice in the older sense of the word, definition #2.)

Not that it’s gagging me entirely, you understand, or I wouldn’t have written the word “asshat” about 75 times in last week’s column. Still, it’s weird. Add to that the fact that I don’t really understand the readership and you’ve got a column I mostly enjoy doing but also somehow dread doing every week (which may help to explain why I’m always shaving the submission deadline so close *cough*). I’ve actually been tempted to dredge up some of my better posts here (as defined by me, rather than as defined by traffic, or I’d be writing about Hugh Laurie’s hawtness every day) and see if I can’t rework them for the column, but that still feels like semi-plagiarism and recycling, even if it’s only myself I’m copying.

I dunno. Maybe I’ll grow into it and get comfortable with it, the way most other bloggers I know who do “commercial” columns seem to have done. Or maybe I’ll always feel a little uncomfortable about it. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing — discomfort should at least keep me from getting too blasé about it and writing utter pap just because I can.

Am going to leave you with a couple of pix to ponder. Upon one hinges the fate of an entire world. Upon the other hinges the fate of one (admittedly somewhat used) brain. From the sublime to the squamously ridiculous, as Mr B might have said if he’d read more Lovecraft.

Every Now And Then

… it occurs to me how much fun I have when I’m gaming, and I remember to take a screenshot. I’ve been taking quite a few screenies in WoW of late, and while most of them aren’t blog-quality, some of them are quite fun and I am hereby inflicting them on you all.

Ironically, for a game that touts its All About The Endgame nature, WoW is amazingly good at the levelling part. It’s been about a calendar month since I came back to WoW, and my main was 55 when I did so. She’s now 82 — and yeah, that’s probably not much in a month for most people, especially in WoW, especially with the new levelling curves, but to me it still seems amazingly rapid.

The thing is, though, I don’t feel like I’ve been rushing through anything or skipping content in my level-ho attempts to climb the ladder of MMO social importance. Quite the contrary.  I’ve sampled a zone here, a quest hub there, and every time I’ve wanted to move on because a zone got tedious or because I’d just had my fill of bloooooo (Zangarmash, I’m looking at YOU!), I’ve been able to do so and find another fun and interesting place to explore.

The Cataclysm content, which I finally reached a couple of days ago, has been very similar. I could be organised and do each zone (or one of each pair) in a methodical fashion… but I’m not methodical. It’s almost a dirty word as far as my brain is concerned, and that — among other things — is why I will never be a computer programmer or a brain surgeon (though I haven’t quite given up on rocket scientist yet). So yes, I’ve been working through Vashj’ir in a relatively linear fashion, which isn’t difficult because the zone is very linearly organised, but I’ve still found ways to a) get side-tracked, b) miss quests and have to go back for them, c) accidentally enter the Horde quest hubs despite the enormous RED-NOT-ALLIANCE flags outside, and d) explore other places, like Mount Hyjal. Speaking of Hyjal, I’m not sure I like the place, but I’ll give it more than 3 quests before I make up my mind.

Okay, that’s my stab at content for the day. Have some pix.

Definitely one of the most fun vehicle-based quests EVAR
Oh wait, this one's fun too. Except I feel like I should be on the hood of a car.
AAAAAAAHHHH! I really hope they haven't seeeeen meeeeeeee!
How to literally suck players into your games. MOAR KRAKEN!
Adventures in zone design - let's add a whole nother dimension!
ProTip: Don't use the Boots of Jumping to the Surface when you're only 15' down

 

 

Girl, indecisive

So RIFT is available for pre-order now, at least in the United States (and I won’t rant about the rest of the world being treated like poo or, at best, Johnny-come-latelies to the playing party, it’s not like it’s the first time an MMO company has done this — the whole distribution and licencing and whatnot side of things seems just a wee bit convoluted to me, designed to benefit everyone except the actual non-US players. Oh wait, am I ranting? Good rant, but in this case actually not warranted, it seems. Oops. Sorreeeee….).

RIFT. Pre-order. Yeah… I probably won’t.

It looked okay and everything, in the short couple of hours (if that) that I played over last weekend’s beta event. Please note, this is not (read it: NOT) a review. I don’t think I’ve played long enough to review the hairstyles, let alone the actual game, and at best I can give you some first impressions. In any case this is about why I won’t pre-order.

RIFT was slick and it was polished, don’t get me wrong, especially for what’s technically still a (end of) Beta. It looked better on-screen than it does in my screenshots, actually, but here’s one anyway. Is it just me, or does my char have a Kim Wilde thing going on? Maybe I should burst into “Kids in Telarica”?

The soul-class-not-class-system-thing was really interesting, from the little I saw of it, and I was grateful (if a little overwhelmed) that the beta threw it at me so quickly. I didn’t understand it well, but at least I grasped the basic One Char, Many Souls, Pick Three, four is right out concept. I think.

The world under siege theme was well-presented — in fact, as far as I’m concerned, too well in the human (?) starting area that I saw, pictured above. The constant bombardment constantly bombarded my ears the entire time I was playing there, accompanied by wails and whatever other sounds were appropriate for the time. I turned the music off very early on (no offense, RIFT, I do that to every game) so at least that wasn’t added to the cacophony. But, while it might stir the blood of normal players, add to their immersion, and generally make them feel part of some large urgent world-invasion event — to me it rapidly becomes just a wall of sound, and not the good musical kind either. I have sensitive ears — or something.

Laugh if you must, but ironically it was enough to make me log off and not log back in that weekend. I liked the character, I found the UI rather familiar and quite easy to get along with, but I couldn’t stand the idea of spending another hour or three with explosions and crumps going off every 3 seconds. So I didn’t.

Which microcosm experience sort of reflects my macrocosm decision not to pre-order. (Yet. This is an MMO, so Rule #1 is Never Say Never.) Pretty, slick, nicely done, ever so sliiiightly original but not so original as to put off people who expect a WoW-clone — like, you know, probably 90% of the gamer population who don’t read blogs and who don’t give a shit about the industry’s attempt to define itself outside of the shadow of the benemoth… But it didn’t grab me.

If I get invited to any other betas I may give it a little bit more of a chance, though the insane noise of the starting area is a huge drawback for me. Some people don’t like nails on blackboards, I don’t like noise, to the point of wanting nothing to do with the source. And yes, I could make a char somewhere else and I probably will, though sadly it won’t be an Elfy type, and GLEE wept. The char models look odd to me at best; the dwarves are actually pretty cute, but the elves on both sides of the divide are, how do I put this politely? FUGLY. See below, and I rest my case — is that a miserable-looking cow or what? Heroin Elf-chic, I guess.

Another reason I don’t think I’ll get this ahead of time — and very likely won’t play it at launch either — is that I’ve only just got back to another game, and I’m actually rather enjoying it. It’s possible I’ll be bored of WoW by the time RIFT launches, but this time I’ve got a bunch of friends there too, and that really enhances a game’s stickability. I don’t see myself being ready to move on come March.

We’ll see. There’s no such thing as Never in the MMO world, but for now I don’t think I’ll be pre-ordering and I’m not really panting for launch.

Frustrating /= hardcore. Hardcore /= more worthy.

Poll? What Poll? Oh all right, that Poll where I promised enlightenment in a day or two. Well, you should be happy I didn’t just promise enlightenment, take your money and deliver bubkes — I see adverts for that all the time on TV. You may be unenlightened, but at least you’re not broke.

Where was I?

Ah yes, the playstyle poll. I had a sudden thought, a couple of weeks ago, that it’s not really the games we play that are hardcore or not — we are. Because as far as I can tell, “hardcore” for a game tends to mean “has a crap interface, lots of bugs, and systems that aren’t that well designed”. That’s not hardcore — that’s just low quality.

But death penalties! Item wear! Not getting your first pair of shoes till you’re level 20 and having to go see the quest givers uphill in the snow both ways, twice a day! That’s hardcore! Eh… I suppose. Here’s my contention though: it’s not just how the systems are designed, it’s how the players approach the systems. And I’m far more interested in how we categorise ourselves than in how we categorise the games, because at the end of the day it’s our personal playstyle that determines whether we stick with a game or not. An MMO can be cocaine-in-a-can without the unfortunate addictive side effects, but it won’t do it any good if it doesn’t gel with the players’ playstyles.

So it seems fully 3 1/3 out of every 10 people I know are hardcore; I’d like to know which third, but we may not be that well acquainted. To me, hardcore means that someone is willing to put up with an entirely unreasonable amount of frustration thrown at them by a game, for whatever the reward may be. Hardcore means someone who not only accepts crap interfaces, lots of bugs, and badly-designed systems, but rather revels in them because it paints them as more dedicated than everyone else. Hardcore means…

Yes, all right, I’m being unfair. That’s actually Elitist Hardcore, a player type for which I have very little time because I outgrew that kind of Alpha dog posturing years ago and I really don’t need to see who can pee further to determine who is more important in the greater scheme of things. To be equitable, however, I also don’t much like the Whiny Casual type — you know, the people who loudly demand every damn thing that’s available in a game without their even having to log on. At least show up for class, you lazy bastards!

We’re actually all hardcore to some extent or another — we’re just not all hardcore about the same things. I was quite willing to log on at stupidly antisocial hours and spend more stupidly antisocial hours looking for that lovely-jubbly cat I got last week; to me, that’s hardcore, because I’m willing to change my real life schedule around in order to obtain a bunch of pixels in a game. (By that definition, incidentally, the young would tend to be far more hardcore, because they have more time available and can give a game a far higher priority than we ageing responsible types can.) I’m not hardcore about getting items, doing dungeons, or doing that raiding thing, for a number of reasons we don’t need to get into right now — point is, I’m not willing to prioritise those things ahead of other pursuits, so that makes me not-hardcore in that domain. I can harvest nodes allllll day — that’s hardcore harvesting right there, and most of the time I’m pretty hardcore on crafting too. Being the first to discover new content? Meh, not so much; not hardcore.

Death penalties and item wear and all those so-called “hardcore” game mechanics, they’re not hardcore; not inherently, anyway. I don’t consider myself hardcore and I never had any problems with Asheron’s Call’s death penalty system, which included xp penalties and corpse runs. (Okay, at 2 in the morning on a school night I did kind of have problems with them, but anyone with an actual life would.) Neither did I mind EQ2’s death penalty system, back when it actually had one. What I do mind are systems that penalise me either randomly (BLAM! You’re dead, hahaha isn’t that funny? — and fortunately I can’t actually name any games that do that right now) — or that penalise me excessively for hitting the wrong key. If I hit 0 and I should have hit 9 in the course of a normal fight, and suddenly I find myself at the lifestone with a 3 hour corpse run, that’s excessive.

Systems that are designed to add an element of caution and the idea of nothing being permanent or free (e.g. item decay) aren’t hardcore in and of themselves. When they’re well done, they add depth and a level of immersion that is entirely lacking in games that don’t use them. Actions having consequences is a good thing, even in MMOs. I expect a little extra work when I die; I expect my gear to slowly degrade over time (even though these days, the primary purpose of item decay is as a money sink and not as an immersion-booster). When they’re badly done, however, they’re just a pain in the ass. When they’re done as a way for the designers to say “Nyah nyah, we’re so much more hardcore than you, you noob!”, they’re a gigantic pain in the ass. Yes, I’m exaggerating and no, I don’t think devs sit in their cubicles being all Dr. Evil all day, but there are hardcore devs just as there are hardcore players — just sayin’.

It’s all about the proportions. Penalties in moderation I’m fine with — they actually enhance my gaming experience, when they’re done right. Outrageous penalties, or penalties that get applied because I inhaled when I should have exhaled — I’m not hardcore enough for that. I’ve never liked arbitrary effects, in real life or in games, and when they’re designed into games I’ll usually just get up and walk out, because they’re not arbitrary, they’re designed to frustrate me, and that’s not something I’m willing to pay money for.

Just to get the odd comment kicked off, here’s a very biased summary list. (They can also stand in for actual comments. No posting on my part means a sharp drop in the amount of commenting, and that’s something I miss more than I realised I would!)

1. If you’re not hardcore, it means you want everything for nothing.

2. If you’re hardcore, it means you EARN what you’ve got — by extension, if you’re not hardcore, you’re a scabbing moocher and just got lucky.

3. If you’re hardcore, it means you live in your mom’s basement, that she dresses you funny, and that you still don’t believe women — sorry, chicks — actually play games.

4. If you’re (elitist) hardcore, you’re somehow better than everyone else because you’re willing to put up with a sadistic amount of frustration without exercising your human right to free choice and walking away — that’s kind of like enjoying hazing. Basically, it’s putting up with bullying and saying thank you sir may I have another! But hey, YMMV.

There’s a very big difference between putting in a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable reward, and putting in a stupid amount of time for that same reward. In that sense I overdo things when I harvest all day in games. In that sense, some raid encounters that are designed to be as punishing as possible are just stupid. Ironically, it’s possible Blizzard are starting to understand this; from what I’m hearing and reading about Cataclysm dungeons, you have to actually pay attention to what you’re doing, but if you do, it’s very much more rewarding than it used to be. Good.