Blaugust Day 11 – Mashup and Miscellany

So here we are, HA!s notwithstanding, combing the writing prompts forum thread for inspiration. I would like to shift some of the blame for being hoist by my own petard on the time of day I’ve had to do these posts, because I typically write much more easily in the mornings (which is itself odd as I’m not really a morning person). My mornings have been busy with that stupid Real Life game where you have to keep logging in to grind levels and dailies or you lose your damn mount, your house, and all your other phat lewt.

Anyway, I found enough there to spark a postlet. I am mashing up several prompts because I am a wild spirit and you cannot contain me with your writing prompts even as I use them as crutches! Ahem. Here we go. In no particular order…

5 things you don’t know about me

  1. I speak English, French and German. I also think, dream and sleep-talk in those languages. Apparently it is extremely weird to have your SO mutter in German in the middle of the night. (Presumably this would not be so weird if *my* SOs past and present spoke German.) As an aside, I like to give my D&D dwarves silly German-word names like Achtung and Ausweis Bitte. As another aside, I suspect only Japanese beats German for sounding like you’re yelling at someone when you’re probably romancing them. And finally, swearing sounds SO much more like you mean it when it’s in German. (I realise this is actually NOT a thing you don’t know about me if you’ve read the blog in the last couple of weeks. Sue me. I needed to warm up to the subject.)
  2. I knit and crochet and am not ashamed of either. So there. I have made 275 afghans and scarves and have finally screwed up my courage to tackle actual shaped garments. It’s Zen. It’s also occasionally incredibly annoying (patterns can be teh suq), but it’s mostly calming.
  3. I have an enduring addiction to anything made of paper (well, except papier-maché) — books, notebooks, pads, journals… — and anything used to write thereon. I have made herculean efforts to keep this in check over the past few decades because planet and eco and all that, but it’s — twitch — not easy. There’s something so tactile about paper and the act of writing on it… that and the fact that unless I write it down with a pen, it won’t go in my head or be retained. If I write a phone number down, I’ll remember it right away. If I enter it in my phone or computer, I will forget it instantly. I wonder if I’m too old to change that, but I don’t really care.
  4. I have visited nearly 20 countries and lived in 7. I wasn’t always too keen on it at the time (that UN-brat thing) but the older I get, the more grateful I am to have had the opportunity. Travel truly does broaden the mind.
  5. I am utterly impervious to deadpan. I am also rather gullible and I suspect the two are related. The spousal unit has taken to saying “BAZINGA” after every deadpan joke, just to make sure I actually get it, and it’s helping. As for gullible… I tend to take people at their word and, given how cynical I am about other things, I don’t really mind. I’d rather assume people are telling me the truth than assume they’re lying to me. That’s no way to live.
  6. I can’t count. BAZINGA.

A Stylish Selection of Past Posts

These are kind of random but I’m still happy with most of the posts I did in 2008-2011-ish. Actually I’m still happy with all my posts but the earlier ones actually had things to say rather than being “don’t shoot me for not posting” fluff items, which comprises most of what I’ve done in 2013-2015-ish. (Yes, you sharp-eyed reader, I missed 2012. That was the in-between year.)

Get your RP on III – Begone, Quests! (2009)

Frustrating /= Hardcore. Hardcore /= More Worthy (2011)

Why? – 2008 (As in, Why I play…)

Last But Not Least, Required Reading

And lo, I shall deliver the word from on high. In other words, I shall link to Raph Koster because whether you agree with him or not (and I do with a fervour that borders on the creepy), every gamer interested in the why and how of gaming and MMOs could do worse than read what he has to say. The links below relate primarily to SWG (Star Wars Galaxies) but they and the other articles in the series are relevant to MMO design on a much more general level. I’m sure I’ll get back to that someday because if MMOs have lost their way in the last decade (per my Anook AMA post) it’s by being less like SWG or even CoX and more like WOW. Both these articles are from earlier this year, so hardly obsolete.

Designing a Living Society in SWG, part one

Designing a Living Society in SWG, part two

Peace out. (I don’t usually say that but I had to end the post somehow.)

Blaugust Day 6 – Anook AMA

Because Blaugust isn’t hard enough as it is, our friendly blogging taskmistress (aka Syl) decided a little extra sadism was appropriate so she started the Blaugust AMA thread over on Anook. Seeing that I’d get to ask TAGN a question I went for it, only to discover he’d already more than covered my question in his blog (curse you, Wilhelm!). Jaedia from Dragons & Whimsy then asked me a question and I had no choice but to meekly comply. So here we are.

Q: Do you feel as though MMOs have lost their way over time? Or are you excited for the future and the unique ideas that it brings?

A: Yes, and no. Yes, and no.

Okay, whew, that was easy! See you tomorrow!

Double-curses! I’m not meeting the length requirement! (Thank God there’s no ‘meaningful content’ requirement.) Surely I’ve done a post about this in the past!

/starts searching

/realises that searching archives from 5-6 years ago will take longer than actually posting

/goes back to posting

Do you feel as though MMOs have lost their way over time?

Yes, because they’re not at all like they used to be 10 or 15 years ago… And no, because change isn’t necessarily a bad thing — despite the way most gamers react to it. Games have changed quite a bit over the last decade: to name just one example, we’ve gone from super-simple combat interfaces (smash monster) to having eleventy-million buttons to hit (see EQ2-Exhibit_A) and back to having fewer buttons to hit. Because it turns out that having lots of things to do in combat is fun, but mashing buttons as an interpretation of that ‘things to do’ concept is actually un-fun.

hotbar_madness
Buffs and debuffs and HoTs oh no!

And no, because change is inevitable. For one thing MMO gamers are an incredibly opinionated and whiny lot (you wonderful people excepted of course, at least as far as whining goes) and we demand change all the time. Then we complain about the changes that were made. And when those changes are toned down (by developers who really ought to know better), we complain about the changes to the changes! But if no changes were ever made to games (I’d add an example but I can’t think of one) we’d complain about them being too static and… unchanging.

You know, I think the world needs another post on how MMO gamers are probably the most annoying people in the world. But not today.

As far as ‘losing their way’ goes… No, I don’t think so. The MMO industry is still really quite young, considering — I don’t know the insider stuff but I’d guesstimate we’ve had maybe 4-6 ‘real’ development generations for MMOs, if we can call them that, and that’s not a lot. Games aren’t made in a vacuum: studios and devs see what other studios and devs are doing, play what other studios are doing, like some of it and emulate it, don’t like some of it and try to correct it or make it better, and so on. We tend to forget that we’re still figuring out what makes a great MMO — and given the variety of playstyles, preferences and genre options I’m not sure there is such a thing as The One MMO to Rule Them All. World of Warcrack did a great job at the ‘One Size Fits All’ genre, but now we’re seeing that smaller, so-called ‘niche’ MMOs are not only doable but possibly a better option.SOTA

Do I miss the old-school MMOs? Of course. No game will ever be the same to me as my first MMO was. Asheron’s Call was weird, quirky, and amazeballs… but much of that comes from the fact that it was my first MMO. And because I had hours and hours to play back then. And because I was younger. And because MMOs weren’t as sophisticated (and neither were their players) nor as widespread as they are now and we didn’t have as much choice, so we were less picky. And because I met some of my best RL- and e-friends in that game, many of whom I still hang out with in person or online.

But I don’t think that means they’ve lost their way. If anything, I would contend that gamers have lost their way. And we won’t even touch the whole GamerGate thing which makes many of us hesitant to even use the G word anymore. (For the record, I come down hard on the side of the so-called SJW and if that bothers you so much you can’t get over it, feel free to read some other blog in your spare time.)

…or are you excited for the future and the unique ideas that it brings?

As for question 2, I’ve probably halfway answered that already. I am excited for the future of MMOs, though I hope there will be some re-adoption of old mechanics and ideas — in my case I’m desperate for a game that doesn’t offer much loot and depends almost entirely on a player-driven, player-crafted economy like SWG did in its early days. There are games in development that offer exactly that. Project Gorgon for one (I think – don’t shoot me if I’m wrong), whose current Kickstarter project has 17 days to go. I backed it because Eric & co of Elder Game have some design ideals that are very close to my heart. Camelot Unchained is another that I’m intrigued about. And then of course there’s Shroud of the Avatar, which I also backed last year and still can’t find the time to explore as much as I’d like. And if sci-fi is more your thing, there’s The Repopulation. [Note that those are all sandboxes. That’s my personal preference. I’m sure there are old-school less-sandboxy games in development as well.]

repop

I expect the future of MMOs will certainly include more mega-titles, because some companies can afford to make them (EA, Blizzard, Square Enix), but I think it will include a great many more ‘homebrew’ or ‘indie’ or, you know, normal-sized titles. And I suspect that the ‘niche’ games will be just as successful as their larger brethren, once the smaller studios find out how to plan, develop and publish them in a way that doesn’t bankrupt them or force them to expect unrealistic revenue. Crowd-funding is one option and it’s certainly worked for the tabletop and MMO projects I’ve backed (even if it took Project Gorgon three tries – we’re all learning as we go here).

If we add technology changes into the mix (Oculus, anyone?) we’re looking at an evolving sector with evolving players, evolving technologies and evolving platforms, and it’s a wonder MMOs today are still recognisably the same type of game as they were 15 years ago. I can’t wait to see what they’ll be like in 2030, assuming I’m still around.

Damn straight I intend to be an MMO-playing pensioner!

Synchronicity

In reply to my previous post, pskinner mentioned Trove, which apparently could be a crafter’s paradise. I saw that this morning, just before checking my mail…

In which I found this:

trove

And then I remember why I quit ArcheAge before the alpha phased into beta, and why I’m unlikely to ever pay for a Glyph game again. It’s one thing to give actual perks for subscribing; it’s quite another to offer features that nobody would want to be without. If you’re going to be free to play, BE free to play. If you’re going to be subs-only, then man up and admit that’s what you are – it works pretty well for WoW after all.

Maybe the whole ArcheAge thing just left a sour taste ($150 for the privilege of Alpha testing being the first thing, and I won’t get started on the rest or this will become a rant of epic proportions). It was my choice to spend the money, after all. Just like it’s my choice to not play any of their other games now. There’s just something too… grasping about the whole Glyph money model.

I’d also forgotten Trove is supposed to be a Minecraft-alike. If it’s very much like it — specifically with how the camera works — then the only thing that will happen is me hurling my breakfast all over the room, so that’s another no right there. I think if I want a voxel game I’ll just go back to Landmark; it’s been over a year and a great deal of water has gone under that bridge (which isn’t even a Sony bridge anymore), so maybe those pesky graphics issues — the ones where anyone with an nVidia card would crash — have been fixed.

 

The Repopulation – Hour 1

It’s on sale on Steam for a few more days. Find out more about the game here, or do a Google search you lazy bastards. Here are my very brief first impressions.

  • It’s in alpha. Read it again: ALPHA. Repeat after me: Aaaaalllph-aaaaaa. So stop crying about the bugs, the disconnects, the crashes, the bugs. (And it’s running very stably for me so QQ bitches.) If you don’t want that experience, wait a few months. It’ll be on sale again and it doesn’t launch till Q4 (that’s dev-speak, so I’m guessing May 2016).
  • It’s a sandbox. There’s a basic “here’s how you walk, talk and shoot things” tutorial and then you’re dumped in Mos Eisley one of the two faction starter-cities to sink or swim. However, NPCs are literally spamming your inbox with mission offers and the rest is pretty self-explanatory for anyone with a working braincell. Want to harvest? Find some nodes, swing that axe. Want to fight? Find some mobs, pewpew that pistol.
  • It feels a lot like SWG and the UI elements borrowed all the nastiest, clunkiest, screen-hoggingest crappy bits of the SWG UI (of all the things to copy), but it is most definitely not SWG or UO, so don’t go buying it because someone said it was. It’s ‘inspired by’ — and that’s definitely true. It’s not a clone. Your character may be, but it isn’t.
  • I’m not a huge fan of the graphics or even the art style, but that’s highly subjective. Bodies are reasonably well-proportioned and fairly realistic (moreso than in most games). The buildings in the starter cities are suitably grimy. The outside bits are suitably tree-y and rock-y… But somehow it leaves me cold. I’d almost rather SWG’s cartoonish art than this gritty, realistic and ultimately unpoetic view. So far the landscapes haven’t made me catch my breath, but I haven’t gone far. AND it’s alpha. Always remember alpha.

2015-06-19_00004 2015-06-19_00002

  • The crafting system looks complex. It may still  depend on grinding 1000 craft-foozles to master, but there’s very little way around that in an MMO – at least no fair way. I haven’t really crafted anything but I have chopped down some trees and harvested some flowers and ore. Oddly enough if it reminds me of anything, it’s Anarchy Online, simply because it’s so freaking complex and there are so many recipes and Recipe 1 depends on subcomponents A – M each of which is made by a different crafting profession…
  • However, the game does have a Work Order system, which is the only way you can make genuine crafting interdependence work. I have already sold little bits and pieces to people who needed them for whatever mysterious purpose they needed them for. I’m guessing grinding.
  • I have no idea what combat is like, other than a bit buggy. I pewpew-ed shit with my trusty handgun as needed to reach nodes. I don’t care about combat.

I have a feeling there is a LOT to discover under the surface, especially with harvesting and crafting and perhaps even housing. I will probably carry on discovering, but I doubt it’ll pull me away from SWG or WoW or my main games, not for a while.

SWG – The Master Speaks

I mentioned Raph Koster’s post a few days ago, but as it turns out there are a bunch of them about SWG and I’m still cursing the loss of Google Reader (yes I bloody well hold a grudge, at least in this case). So for my own convenience and that of a couple of other people who keep saying they need to read those posts — and they do, they’re fascinating — here are some links.

Designing a Living Society in SWG – Part 1

Designing a Living Society in SWG – Part 2

SWG-tagged posts

That should be enough to get you started.

It’s weird how often Mr. Koster says they didn’t end up with what they wanted for various systems in SWG (especially crafting!), when I and many others still remember it as the best crafting system ever, bar none. Actually to me it was the only real crafting system ever, bar none. All the others were just… bleh. Even EQ2, and I love EQ2 crafting — but it never even remotely compared to SWG crafting. The difference is one of several orders of magnitude in terms of complexity and depth. EQ2 is fun, but it’s whack-a-mole: once you’ve figured it out, you’ll never get anything but pristine (and yes, that was true even in the days when Death By Forge was a possibility).

And this is why SWG worked for crafters and people who wanted to be part of a society and not just someone who ran a ‘toon’ (apologies to all of you who use it, but I hate that term). It’s also why I doubt anyone will ever design another SWG. More’s the pity, but at least we have the Emulator:

I get asked this question all the time. In fact, now that I do consultancy from time to time, it’s not unusual for a company to come to me and say “can you put in crafting like SWG? Our players say it was the best ever!” Usually, they have actually, you know, designed their game already, or even built it. And I have to tell them, “No. You build your game around it, not the other way around.”

In other more fluffy news, I managed a little bit of playtime in between bouts of being sick and feeling sorry for myself. Here’s a pictorial account:

Coronet by night
Coronet by night
Poor Heidegger, can't hold his liquor
Poor Heidegger, can’t hold his liquor
A gift from a princely Master CH in Coronet. I shall pay it forward.
A gift from a princely Master CH in Coronet. I shall pay it forward.

SWG – I informed you thusly

It’s been linked all over the place these last couple of days, but I’m going to add a link here for the perhaps 1.2 people who may not have seen it elsewhere.

“It” being Raph Koster’s article, in which among other things he states

Well, my opinion is Jedi are evil. Heh.

I couldn’t agree more. The absolute BEST time to be in SWG (despite all the compromises and cuts and issues mentioned in the post) was at the beginning, before the first damn-it-to-the-ninth-circle-of-MMO-hell Holocron ever appeared on the scene. Brute force is not a good way to be doing anything in a game, unless all you care about is getting something just to say you got something.

I’ve never been like that, which is why I was so comfortable in SWG. And I know I’m not like most people, and that many people I know did (sort of) enjoy the Holocron grind — or maybe they simply enjoyed being able to say they were keeping up with the Jedi-Joneses — but yes, there was a time before Holocrons and the whole time after.

It skewed planetary economies, for one thing. It skewed player relationships, for another. And it turned the game into a giant, afk-if-possible grind-fest. That can’t be right. A repetitive activity is only a grind if it’s overly long and/or becomes tedious – but the profession grind, that was a grind and it fundamentally changed the nature of the game for a lot of people I knew, myself included. And everyone else, of course, as we ended up with NGEs and CUs and all the sturm und drang those brought with them.

The other thing that broke SWG, in my opinion, was caving in and putting in a loot system. But maybe that and Jedi aren’t that unrelated. Some players seem to care mostly about opening loot boxes and achieving things, even if they don’t value the achievement at all after it has been obtained.

Eh, I’m getting bitter and maudlin. Go read the article for yourself. Extra points if you know the title reference.

SWGeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

That pile I was talking about last month? It just got bigger.

SWGEmu1

One of my favourite games EVAR and one I miss perhaps even more than I miss Asheron’s Call (which was a wonderful MMO-virgin game nevertheless). I miss it like the spousal unit misses UO or hardcore raiders miss EQ. I followed SWGEmu a number of years ago but time, life and the state of the emulator’s progress back then conspired against me and I never got to try it out.

This is about to change. Well, in 2 or 3 days when my pooey internet allows me to update.

I’m not even going to mention the NGE and the CU and if you don’t know those acronyms you’re much better off, trust me.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. I’m really excited about this. My workload is pretty heavy right now but I may have to make time (i.e. lose sleep) for this one.

A propos nothing, it’s the game I was playing just before I got caught up in the Warhammer hype and started this blog. That was back in 2007-2008. Man, that was a long time ago, and despite all the changes they’d brought to the game it still had something unique going for it. Can’t wait for that update to finish…

Elite: Dangerous, you'd better be worth it…

… because so far I’m not impressed. Let me count the ways.

(Warning to those who aren’t long-time followers: This is not about the Sims and there will be f-bombs, because this is a rant. Which means it will also be entirely subjective and unreasonable. Switch channels now if needed.)

(And here’s a link to the game if the recent hype has passed you by. It’s Elite, only more. Or maybe it’s single-player EVE. I’m not sure, because I haven’t played it yet.)

1) The launcher is more interested in selling me new paint jobs than in getting me to the game.

2) There’s no proactive “Would you like to download the game now” or even an automatic-but-stoppable “I’m downloading the game now, because if I don’t you’ve wasted $60 on a game you can’t play”. You have to find the right option and click the right option. Fair enough, but do me a favour, Frontier: make the option REALLY OBVIOUS, m’kay? Like I just did.

3) There are separate play and log in buttons. Why? Can I play without being logged in? I wouldn’t know, because I only just discovered that what I thought I’d downloaded wasn’t the game, it was some sort of training simulator I think.

4) I don’t know what I did download yet, because when I told it to actually download the game (which again, should have been auto-fucking-matic, what is this, 2002?), it removed the option to play whatever it was I’d downloaded. Because you know, it’s so much more fun going to my blog and ranting about why I can’t play the tutorial while the game downloads in the background.

Seriously Frontier, those are some fucked-up launcher design and functionality decisions. And now, because I don’t live in a city and therefore have pretty crummy internet, the day I had BLOCKED OFF SO THAT I COULD PLAY YOUR GAME AND WAS SO EXCITED ABOUT I’M ACTUALLY USING LOTS OF CAPS is going to be spent playing something else.

And right now I’m steamed enough to /ragequit entirely and just NEVER play the game, but that’s sort of cutting off my nose to spite my face and I’m not actually much of a grudge-holder (except in one specific case and we don’t mention that), so I’m sure I’ll play eventually.

Just not today, and with a nasty taste in my mouth because my very first encounter with the game, via the launcher, was frustrating and annoying. Not good.

Rant over. Next week we’ll do puppies and unicorns, I promise. (Maybe.)

Here, have a picture of what I’m looking at while I wait to be able to play.  At least my wallpaper is very soothing (credit added for those who love it so much they want it too).

Elite FU Dangerous

Kickstarting Pathfinder Online

I really shouldn’t spend money when my 2012 Q4 taxes are due, but I did it anyway.

Bill Murphy must have hit just the right button on Facebook because I read his post, clicked through, and pledged $35. I liked the possible benefits if this project ever comes to fruition.

However, since I’ve only just heard of this game and haven’t acually read anything about it yet, and because said tax payment cheques have to be in the post today and I’m about to go out… I’m an ignorant dork who just pledged some money.

If you’re also a dork who likes sandbox MMOs (ignorance is optional), consider pledging. There are 9 hours to go and the funding goal is almost reached.

Click here to find out more.

PS: There’s even a token woman in the long list of dungeon designer geeks on that page! Go tokens!

A little light reading

From Rampant Coyote’s “Why the AAA Games Industry is Screwed” – an always-interesting blog with a link to a fascinating article.RC’s post itself is short and to the point, but if you don’t have this blog on your radar, you probably should.

The article linked is long but well worth the read if you have even an armchair interest in the industry, as I do.

Death March: The long, tortured journey of Homefront

“There is an expectation,” explained one producer, “that if you spend eight months developing a demo for E3 that does really well in the press, then that’s eight months well spent. Because you just sold another 500,000 copies of the game. It comes down to this very, very bizarre math. … No other industry would actually let you work like this. … So a lot of people are abused in the gaming world. Especially for marketing and things like E3. And I think that’s a business problem.”

I won’t comment – partly because it’s way too early in the morning, I’m under-caffeinated and I only just read it, and partly because it’s one in a long stream of “OMG how can an industry with so much potential get like this?”.

Well okay, maybe one little tiny comment. As a player and not a developer, I don’t necessarily care who makes my games (actually I’d rather it were smaller studios, since I have a cynical dislike of any megabusiness, even in gaming), but if the giants are screwed, will the indie studios be good enough to pick up the slack? There’s some amazing stuff coming out of indie studios and I’m not implying they’re not capable, but there’s a certain level of… glitz and glamour, I guess, associated with the humungous productions which – as it does with Hollywood blockbusters (whether they’re good or not) – does contribute to the buzz, anticipation and pleasure that flies around AAA game releases.

For me, gaming these days is almost as much about the anticipation for a game as it is about the game itself (which might be worth pondering further). While I decry the hype-wave fairly regularly, I also don’t shut it off completely because sometimes it’s fun to jump on.

Hype doesn’t make the game, of course, as we well know – I won’t even name names. But still… I’d miss the glitz if it were to vanish. On the other hand, I’d gladly ditch the glitz if developers and studios were able to feel a little more stable and not work psyche-breaking crunch hours. I’m not the first one to float the ridiculous idea that a little job security and a little less insanity in the workplace might make for a better industry in the long run.

Maybe part of the problem is that game studios seem to be run like Hollywood studios?