Ego: The Final Temptation

Oh dear.

Harb is doing a 20 days of blogging thing which he got from IHTTS, which percolated down along a chain I’m too lazy to list (and I don’t read those blogs, at least not yet*).

My ego finds the idea very interesting. The rest of me is trying to beat it into submission and silence. I still love the idea of blogging, but I’m having a devil of a time finding the time to do it. Add the fact that I’m not really playing any MMOs (or any other game) right now and you get a big fat nothing to write about and very little time in which to write it.

Sometimes Facebook is just easier.

I can’t believe I just wrote that.

And yet my ego wants me to tell you all about myself (again) for no particular reason other than its own pleasure. Perhaps confessing the kinky temptation will make it go away. Thirty lashes for the ego and get back to work, dammit!**

cat-red-dwarf

 – – – – – – – – – – – –

*As an aside, the demise of Google reader appears to be spelling the demise of my blog reading. Feedly is okay, but it’s not as clean as Google Reader. There’s also the fact that I don’t have time to read blog posts these days, which might be the more important factor. Still, I don’t like change. Boo hiss. I’ll get used to Feedly but I’ll complain about it first.

**As another aside, one of the characters in a play-by-mail game I ran years ago (or it may have been one I played in) was a Spanish knight called Ivor Hujego. Loved that name. Still do. May have to steal it for a game someday, even if it means I have to transgender it to Iva Hujugo or something.

No Google Reader for YOU!

Yesterday when I went to read my RSS feed, I got the same popup most other users of Google Reader got: the service is going away in a few months, apparently for lack of users.

Which is mildly ironic. I have a blog, a lot of people I know have blogs (which is how I got to know them) and a pretty large proportion of us seem to use G-Reader to keep track of each other’s posts. According to one article I read yesterday – I didn’t bookmark it and can’t find it now, so you’ll have to take this on faith – RSS feeds are for nerds and nerds don’t need dedicated stuff because they can find other ways to do what they need. And they’re nerds, so they can suck it up. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, direct RSS feeds aren’t “sexy”, apparently. Ah, right. I never realised that what I want from my software is sexiness.

The author did have a point. RSS is kinda nerdy and there was no easy way to explain what Google Reader does. Or did. But just because something isn’t easy to explain (or grasp) doesn’t mean it’s useless or that it shouldn’t be used. If that’s the equation we’re making today, then it’s not just MMOs that are dumbing down.

Anyway, I’ve been looking for alternatives. A friend kindly pointed me in the direction of Feedly, so I’m trying them out first. They were slammed yesterday but seem to be doing a little better this morning. I have to say, I do kinda like the magazine-like presentation. I could like this service. And if not, there will be others out there.

Because if there aren’t, I’m not going to be reading very many more blogs. It may work for some, but I cannot and will not use Facebook and Twitter to keep track of what 100+ people post and when. Yech. I want my feed to be there when I need it, and I don’t want to have to ‘llike’ a bunch of FB pages and trawl through my timeline.

If you ask me, it had nothing to do with popularity, or not directly. Ultimately Google Reader went away because it couldn’t be monetized.

Sim City mildly blues

I haven’t played enough to have much of an opinion yet. However.

EDIT for full disclosure – after trying to get into a game for half an hour, and then trying to create my own game for another half hour, I’m rapidly sliding out of the “Oh, silly EA” opinion chair and into “You guys just had to force us to play online and you just had to fail to have the server infrastructure (or whatever it is) to cope.”

During the ENTIRE development process, did nobody stop to say “You know, this game will be utterly unplayable if the servers aren’t working, and yet we’re not calling this an MMO?” – or, for that matter “Is it really wise for force the internet connection thing on people for a single-player game? We haven’t done it to the Sims yet, maybe we should hold off on doing it to Sim City…”

I now bring you back to the original, less bitter post.

1. When I buy what has been a single-player game (with recent multiplayer elements) since the late 80s — and I too had SimCity 1.0 on my Mac SE — I expect to be able to enjoy a single player experience. Meaning I should still be able to play if the servers are down.

2. If you’re as big as EA, PLAN FOR LAUNCH. This really isn’t rocket science anymore and saying “Oh, we didn’t expect the internet!” really isn’t an excuse.

3. The cities are too fecking small. I don’t care if I can play 16 cities at once in the same region. What if I want to play one giant, single-player, orgiastic megalopolis? Too bad, so sad, go back to playing the game in the single way Maxis feels you should be able to. Shame shame shame.

4. Did Microsoft give Maxis design lessons? Because it sure feels that way.

5. EDIT – And what’s with the crappy zoom out distance? That’s just nasty.

I guess we’ll see how it goes. I’m sure this version has some interesting new things to offer, and there are some cool new features (like non-grid roads, because not every city in the world is designed the way American cities were), but I’m still a bit peeved.

If I wanted launch day bullshit, I’d have bought an MMO.

SimCity bah

Wheels and ladders

Two things.

First, this: Drakkashi’s Ability Wheel for The Secret World, shamelessly stolen from Sheep The Diamond on whose post I found it.

I haven’t logged into TSW in two weeks, for various reasons to do with work and other exploratory procedures (small world, since Dragonchasers seems to have gone through a very similar experience just recently). On the bright side though, I haven’t had that little Subscription Gremlin sitting on my shoulder telling me I should be playing to justify the cost of my sub. In that respect the lifetime sub is very liberating – I realise I’m still paying and that it’ll take a while to actually ‘pay for itself’, but psychologically I don’t feel any pressure to play simply because I need to justify the expense.

For me at least, a single (admittedly large) one-off payment has become a thing in the past and now I’m playing the game for ‘free’. Which means that when I can’t or don’t log on for whatever reason, I’m not feeling as though I’m wasting my monthly fee.

I still miss the fact that I haven’t had time to give the game I’ve waited so long for, but I also know it’ll be there when I have time to pick it back up. And of course the first monthly update should hit tomorrow, if they’re still on schedule. I admit I also haven’t been checking forums.

Second, this: Zubon’s post about Asheron’s Call allegiances and patronage. AC was my first MMO and I’m always interested in posts about it, but I think Zubon may have represented only one side of things. The comments section for that post is rife with “eww, this is creepy!” type reactions, and I’d like to show the other side of that.

In a nutshell: In Asheron’s Call, allegiances were pyramidal. Every player in an allegiance had a ‘patron’ (the player ‘above’ them in the hierarchy) except the ‘monarch’, who sat at the top and was effectively the guild leader, and any player could have ‘vassals’ (players directly ‘below’ them in the hierarchy). Vassals passed up a certain amount of experience to their patrons who would pass up some of that to their patrons and so on up the “chain” all the way to the monarch. There was an equation for it, so it wasn’t a simple 1 for 1 or even 10 for 1, but that’s the basic system.

The allegiance setup is odd, looking at it from the outside now, though coming in to my first MMO I had no clue and it seemed perfectly normal to me. Yes, there were allegiances set up explicitly to wring as much xp out of the system as possible for the maximum possible pass-through. But the vast majority of allegiances I knew were really bog-standard guilds with a different name and slightly different mechanics.

The guild I joined in Asheron’s Call is still the guild I’m in these days, even though we’ve long moved on from the game. Joining was about playing with like-minded folks and NOT about how much xp you could generate for the shark-like gestalt. Effort were made to match newbies with like-minded patrons if they didn’t already have connections, to make sure they’d be tied to someone whose playstyle and availability matched their own. It’s about as casual and laid-back as a guild can get, and even in AC there was no talk of having to produce xp or needing to do X, Y or Z to be considered useful.

In any case, how is this substantially different from raiding guilds who require their players to be online on certain days and for a certain amount of time in order to run certain raids and obtain whatever loot it is they’re after?

Personally I’d rather be passing up virtual xp to a virtual patron than have to give my guild my real-life phone numbers so they can make sure I’m adhering to my raiding schedule. Now that’s creepy.

Pity me for I am made of whinge

There — I think you’ve been warned enough that this is an ego post. Look away! Fly, you fools!

If you’re still reading, I’ll try to keep it brief. (By my own measure. You know, the one where 2500 words isn’t much.)

The MMORPG.com gig is starting to grind my gears a little. For one thing I am so running out of things to write about it’s not funny. For another, most of the time the people who read the column just want to fling poo, usually at me but often just at each other, and while I don’t read them all that often it still makes me want to wash my face and brush my teeth whenever I do. I miss the smart people here and wish I were more motivated to post on my own blog even though there’s no filthy lucre involved for doing so (and yes, I need the filthy lucre these days).

Today, someone made the effort to message me over there to make sure I’d actually read their comment on a recent column. Which essentially boiled down to “You’re okay even if you are totally up your own arse and you never consider anyone else’s point of view!” — which I happen to think is entirely unfair. I’m very likely up my own arse but I am nonetheless always aware of other points of view; I just don’t feel obligated to do more than mention them in passing if they’re not relevant to a column that is actually supposed to be, well, about MY experiences. Okay, player experiences in general, but I’m not doing a standup sketch in the style of Bill Bailey parodying Eddie Izzard doing James Mason (err, sounding like James Mason. You know what I mean.).

My byline or whatever those text blurbs are called: “[snip] discussing topics important to her as a long time player of MMORPGs”. Seems unambiguous to me as far as mandates go.

I’m also a little weirded-out by the responses the columns get. Most of the time something I think will get loads of comments just drops like a resting parrot dead duck, and stuff I think will evoke maybe a yawning agreement or two over coffee makes a bunch of ageing farts like me come out of the closet and join the Old Fart Gamer Pride March. Once or twice I’ve written something intentionally polemical, though the utter shit-storm over the SW:TOR post took me aback a little — then I read some of the comments and realised that most people were, as usual, commenting on something entirely irrelevant or entirely not under my control (like why the discussion thread was in the News forum), so I stopped reading them and almost immediately felt human again. Early on I wrote something I thought was going to be polemical and it sank like a dead whale shark, which was interesting if not entirely instructive.

Thing is, I don’t really know what’s going to be polemical and I don’t really want to. I’m not particularly cutting-edge and I don’t particularly like to stir shit-storms (debates, sure), so I don’t do it much. And it feels odd to think that I probably ought to be trying to do that more for the column gig, because if there’s one thing polemic and shit-storms do it’s generate hits, which is exactly what the site wants and, um, exactly what they’re paying me for. It’s just not something I like doing or something I’m good at. I’m good at rambling and… uh, rambling. I ramble really well. I could ramble in the Olympics! But polemic — not so much.

So these days I kind of feel like the old lady trying to sell lace doilies in the corner of a leather gear store — not bad for business per se, but a little out of place and all the dominatrixes look at me funny as they walk past browsing the new whips. And I decided to whinge about it here, because empty though it is this is still my place and I can write what I want, when I want.

I’ve been pondering the ethics of whether to leave the comments open on this post, because I see it more as a vent-post than a baby-seal cry for sympathy, but I’ll leave em open anyway. I’m not too proud to accept a pat on the back, though now that I’ve vented I’ve kind of done that for myself already. If you want to say something nice, go ahead. If you want to fling poo, I’ll fling it back, because this is still my place and I can do that if I want. That was my Cartman voice, by the way.

Tol Barad: the attackers' lament

Let’s start with a few caveats. I’ve only done about 20 of these Tol Barad battles, and I’m no PvP expert; I’m barely even a PvP noob. On top of that, my situational awareness in visual effect-heavy PvP is diabolically bad — I’m working on that, but I’m easily visually overwhelmed.

All that being said, I’ve been reading up on Tol Barad and I’ve reached a few conclusions of my own. This post is partly to set out those conclusions for  review and partly to get feedback from the more experienced PvP types out there, because I really would like to work out if it’s possible to win Tol Barad through strategy, or if it mostly comes down to waiting for the defending team to be bad enough to permit a win.

For those unfamiliar with Tol Barad, this is a much better introduction than I could provide, though it may be a little dated. I gather there may be some TB changes in the works, but I haven’t actually done any research on that yet — so this post is based on the situation as I know it and as it seems to be right now. Listos version for those who don’t like links:

1. The zone is contested and never starts off neutral. The team currently in possession defends, and the opposing team attacks. Maximum team size is 80 (2 raid groups). I’m not sure what the minimum team size is currently because that’s been tweaked a bit since December, but I’ve never seen less than a mostly-full raid.

2. There are three capture points, arranged as the points of a triangle around a central non-contested location (Baradin Keep). The attackers have to hold all three at once to get a win. The defenders need to retain only one at the end of the countdown timers to win.

3. The initial battle timer is 15 minutes, but this can be extended in 5-minute batches by destroying 1-3 defending siege towers. The siege towers can be destroyed by using siege engines positioned at various points around the map, which have to be driven up to the towers. Those same siege engines can also be driven around the map for other purposes, though they can’t really do much other than be really bulky and have lots of hit points. Note that as far as I know, the siege towers serve no purpose whatsoever other than to give an extra 5 minutes when they’re destroyed. They don’t help the defense and they don’t hinder the offense.

4. The attackers always respawn near the capture point where they died, at one of the three triangle points. The defenders always respawn at Baradin Keep, right in the middle of the map and equidistant from all the capture points.

5. At the beginning of the battle, the attackers spawn on a bridge leading into the zone proper, which is a little to the left of the top point of the capture-point triangle — which means that that particular capture-point becomes the obvious first point of attack (and has been in every attacking battle I’ve been in so far).

So that’s the basic setup. From what I’ve seen, attacking strategy seems to be to grab the first point as fast as possible, which doesn’t usually take long, and then to always move clockwise around to the next capture point. Defenders are occasionally left at the first taken flag, but usually not enough to put up a creditable defense. Zerging is the most prevalent strategy on both sides, but it seems to work a lot better for the defenders than it does for the attackers.

My observations and possible strategy ideas are as follows. Please feel free to destroy them and improve on them, bearing in mind my opening caveats.

I. Fight at the flags. Flag/capture-point possession begins to shift as soon as there are opposing-team bodies around the flag. There’s no need to kill anyone or clear the area around the flag before possession can start changing (which if memory serves, was a requirement in Warhammer scenarios like Nordenwatch). If those defending a flag have 10 bodies there and you bring 30, and even if those 10 mount a heroic defense, possession will immediately begin to shift towards those with greater numbers.

The obvious conclusion here is that being near the flag is actually more important than killing the opposition, other than as a means to reduce the number of opposing bodies at the flag. The corollary to that is that fighting away from the flag is strategically unhelpful. And yes, luring people away from flags is a common tactic — from what I’ve seen of late, the Horde appear to understand this flag mechanic while the Alliance (my team) doesn’t.

II. Intelligence is crucial. In just about every battle I’ve been in, I’ve seen the Horde leave corpses at the capture points so they can keep an eye on what’s going on. I’m not sure we’re doing the same thing, and I’m starting to think we should be. Of course, being a corpse isn’t really that glamorous and the instant reflex is usually to respawn so you can rejoin the battle as fast as possible. I have a feeling it would also be useful to have scouts on the roads, but that might be a) dangerous for the scouts and b) spreading the team too thin. The attackers tend to get spread pretty thin around all three bases as it is.

III. Defend the captured points. Obvious as it is, this is the really hard part. The attackers have to keep moving because they have to take the other capture points. The defenders, in theory, could use about 80% of their forces to just zerg from one capture point to the next and make sure the attackers can never hold all three at once. This is pretty much what actually happens in the matches I’ve seen, both as an attacker and (less frequently!) as a defender.

The question here is, how many do you leave at a flag? Leaving a handful is pointless unless you can rapidly reinforce them, and “rapid” just doesn’t seem to be possible in TB. Comms aren’t easy, and most of the time nobody listens because 75% of what gets said in raid and general chat is either conflicting or just plain bad advice. Leaving 10-15 lets you defend a flag for a little while but generally doesn’t work when the opposing side brings 20-25. Leaving 20-25 of your own leaves you too short to effectively attack the other capture points, especially if they’re well-defended.

IV. Communications. I’m only including this because it should be, but I don’t see this being affectable. There are too many people shouting too many different things in chat, and the good comms gets drowned out by the crap. Good communications would be an invaluable tool for victory, but I just don’t see it happening.

V. Kill priorities. I have a feeling that if the attackers could decide on kill priorities they might have a better chance. Instead, battles tend to be incredibly chaotic — which of course is the nature of PvP. My own priorities as a hunter are to hunter’s mark any healers I can spot and then take out any of the softer targets I can see. I think I’m going to start sending my pet in to bug casting classes, especially healing casting classes (i.e. priests).

VI. Better use of AOE annoyances. This is almost certainly skewed by my many deaths, but it seems to me that the Horde knows how to use their ground-based AOEs to better effect than Alliance does. It took me several matches to realise I should be putting down traps ALL the time, because even if they’re only a minor annoyance, local skirmishes can actually hinge on such minor annoyances. I’m not sure what all the other classes can do but if the Horde can do it I’m pretty sure we have the means to as well.

VII. Go counter-clockwise — that’ll totally fox ’em! Okay, I’m (mostly) joking on this one. But you never know. As it stands, everyone knows the general direction of battle is clockwise, and I’m not sure that’s really a strategy. I’ll grant that it’s a start — people need to have a basic idea of where they should be going, but that only seems to work for a few minutes. Once the capture points have changed hands a few times, the attacking forces are scattered between them, and the clock has counted down a few minutes, it all seems to devolve into even greater chaos. People will holler for reinforcements in chat for their own beleaguered area, and the match turns into instant-reaction rather than overall tactics. This probably goes back to Communications, and since I don’t think it’s possible to effectively communicate and have people actually listen, this may be insurmountable.

VIII. The towers are irrelevant — or are they? I welcome clarification on this point. Right now, as far as I can tell the towers do nothing for either side other than prolong the agony for the attackers. If that’s true, then there’s absolutely no need to pay any attention to them. From what I’ve seen, if the attackers can’t win in 15 minutes they won’t win in 30 — in fact, extra time seems to work entirely to the benefit of the defenders.

IX. If VIII is true, use the siege engines for other purposes and use them a lot. Those siege engines are slow, but they’re BIG and they have quite a lot of hit points. I noticed as a defender (only the attackers can use them) that they’re a real distraction when someone drives them right onto the flag and just bimbles around there, getting in the way, until the engine finally gets destroyed. Maybe I’m just easily visually distracted, but it seems to me that we could and should make use of those engines to add a bit of chaos and force the flag-stickers to move around. If nothing else, while the defenders are ganging up on me in a siege engine, my buddies have a chance to gang up on them.

That’s about it. I’ve noticed a few other things but they mostly pertain to my own character and how I still suck at PvP. For instance, Warden’s Vigil is a horrible place to fight at when you’re ranged. There are stairs with corners on the way up to the flag (outdoors but still), which impedes line-of-sight, and the damned flag itself impedes LOS — which means that I can see my opponent perfectly clearly, but I can’t bloody fire at them because of LOS issues. I need to figure out my own positioning up there so I can be more effective both as an attacker and as a defender. As a result, I’ve noticed that I’ve been avoiding Warden’s Vigil like the plague if I possibly can, which isn’t much help to my team if that’s where I should be.

Comments? (Helpful) suggestions? Observations of your own? I’d love to hear them. I’ve been enjoying Tol Barad for the last week or so that I’ve been playing it, but a string of defeats has left me frustrated and wondering if it’s even worth bothering with. If I can improve, if we as an attacking team can improve enough to have a chance of winning, that’s one thing. However, if it mostly comes down to waiting for the defenders to be crap — then I probably can’t be bothered to take part. That’s not fighting, that’s just gambling, and I don’t gamble.

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!

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’.)

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.