Archive for the ‘Other Gaming’ Category
The exceptional Rowan over at his corner of the web, (For the World is Hollow and) I Have Touched The Sky, has declared the week from March 28th till April 4th Developer Appreciation Week! I know I’m a little late to the party, this being April 4th and all, but I still wanted to say my peace before it expired. In this collective hobby of ours, that which we pour a great amount of our free time, that which encompasses a massive portion of our hard drives, and that which takes over our favorite news site preferences, we wouldn’t be where we are and our lives would be totally different were it not for game developers.
Gaming in general has taken over our collective consciousness. There isn’t a single person I know, not a single one, that hasn’t at some time been heavily invested in some video game at some time. This has led to a staggering amount of sales, and made arguably one of the biggest industries in the world, surpassing both the movie and music industry. And, I mean, I work in a pretty large industry myself, but there aren’t fans who consider my every move and what I’m working on to be of newsworthy importance like we do with the developers of the games we play.
Game developers are everyday people like you and me that get paid salaries similar to you and me, and yet they are our celebrities and we hold them to an almost superhuman status. We discuss ad nauseum what they say, hyper analyze every word they say, all because it affects how we spend our free time and how we open our wallets in pursuit of our hobby. And they take on this celebrity status willingly! To be honest, that’s a level of stress on a whole other level that not all of us would be able to handle.
So, to all of the game developers out there, thank you. Thank you for not only producing all of the fantastic games that we use to make our free time a lot less boring, but also for putting up with the height of the pedestal that we put you on. Thank you for producing quality artwork, for spending an unheard of amount of production hours for something that a number of us will skip 90% of just so we can hold it above our peers and berate it for “not having enough content”. Thank you for putting yourself out there, yourself personally, your life, just to develop a connection with us gamers, those that will praise you in one breath and then throw shade the next over some nerf. Thank you for being simultaneously both our superheroes and showing great humility, for putting up with us fans at our best and at our worst.
Thank you to the developers of the Ultima series past and present for starting my love of gaming, Richard Garriott, Warren Spector, Paul Neurath, Starr Long, and many others. Thank you.
To the developers of the fantastic MMO The Secret World past and present, Ragnar Tornquist, Joel Bylos, Joshua “Scrivnomancer” Doetsch, Romain “Tilty” Amiel, Laurie “Sezmra” Payne, and many others. Thank you.
To the developers of Star Trek Online past and present, a game which I have considered my “home MMO” for many years, Daniel Stahl, Craig Zinkievich, Christine Thompson, Al “Captain Gecko” Rivera, Nick “Tacofangs” Duguid, Thomas “The Cryptic Cat” Marrone, and many others. Thank you.
To the developers of the multitude of other games that have shaped the way I play and enjoy games over the years, Jane Jensen, Colin Johanson, Ree Soesbee, Chris Roberts, Sid Meier, Jon Van Canegham, and many, many, many, many, many, many others…
We are gamers. As gamers, overcoming challenges is kind of our primary thing. Any challenge, especially in the digital space, will be conquered. Speed runs through games where the developers want us to take our time? It’ll be done. Collect every single little collectible? Oh, definitely. Playing every single race/character combination? Of course. Replaying a game multiple time just to see every single possible ending? Par for the course. So if you dangle a carrot in front of us, and then tell us that, oh hey, there’s a way to acquire this carrot just by playing the game? Well bring it on.
The problem is, though, that we are in the Age of Free to Play. On one side you have the staunch Old Guard, banging on their drum of subscription, singing that one monthly fee gives them every single thing in the game and that the only advantage comes from your own drive, the challenges are badges of pride. On the other, you have the New Blood, those born into microtransactions, those that will flit from game to game wherever the crowd of public opinion takes them. “Everyone is playing this latest indie craze?! Then I have to play it, too!” To them, a subscription just doesn’t make sense. Why pay monthly for a game that they’ll be done with in a week? The market is changing to new demands, and so tries to cater to both. But both sides have heavy influence. The Old Guard brings with it disposable income. The New Blood, their ample numbers and time. Their mixture brought about Free To Play.
Dragons, dragons everywhere!
Though personally I will wander from game to game and I do not find value in time-based subscriptions, my playstyle is steadfast that of the Old Guard. As such, I find myself torn whenever these MMOs offer ways of attaining store items through in-game methods. Neverwinter, Guild Wars 2, and Star Trek Online, for example, have ways of exchanging in-game acquired currency for store points. Wildstar and EvE Online have methods of exchanging in-game currency for subscription time. Lord of the Rings Online gives you store currency for performing achievements, and many other examples.
If you give me a method of playing your game for free, well then buy-gum I’m going to do so, not because I’m cheap, but just because the challenge was thrown down. For example, over the past two months, Star Trek Online has given away two Tier 6 ships, the Breen Sarr Theln Carrier and the Kobali Samsar Cruiser, with just quick daily mission requirements to get each, though you could use Lobi, the consolation lockbox credit, to buy them as well. For the Carrier, it was 25 days of the winter event foot race; for the cruiser, the anniversary mission and 15 days of Omega fragment hunting. I have prevailed and have both of the ships in my inventory! Challenge completed! But man, that much logging in, for those quick little events? The fun wore off quickly. So I have the ships, still in their boxes, and no desire to open them. The events burned me out.
If not for STO’s Lifetime subscription, I honestly probably wouldn’t even be playing. I would want to get everything for free by grinding for it, exchanging dilithium for store credits, just because the option is there. But that option is such a long grind that it numbs me to the game itself. It numbs me even with my lifetime!
This is why I haven’t put that much time in Neverwinter. Get a fantastic steed by just exchanging gems for store points, and grind ages for the gems, a never ending grind. Same with Lord of the Rings Online. I found myself in the early levels waiting and fighting other players for mosquito spawns just to complete a slayer challenge for store points. It’s not fun, but give me the option and playing any other way feels like cheating, and I pride myself on not cheating.
Come at me, cube!
This is where being caught in the middle of the Old Guard and New Blood really sucks. The Old Guard would just stick with one game, pay their sub and be happy. Grinds don’t bother them so much as it’s like other games don’t even exist, and their sub covers a lot of ground. The New Blood is cool with the little cheats. They get really upset at nerfs, they’re cool with the exploits that allow them to grind experience much faster than they should, the easy build guides, the experience boosters, all because they’re just moving on to another game soon anyway.
It’s a harsh realization when the games you enjoy playing have stopped catering to your specific playstyle. You feel like it’s passing you by. But then they offer another challenge, with a mighty fine carrot dangling on the end of the string again…
They know us so well.
Currently I’m going through my gaming transition, as I usually do around this time of year. As soon as Spring hits, I crave the outdoors. My gaming time and interest tends to take a nosedive, and then come Fall, like clockwork, my want to play games increases again. I find myself usually returning to games around the time that all MMOs are starting to celebrate their Halloween shenanigans.
I may be a bit early, but a foot injury has sidelined me a good amount this season, and so my Ultimate playing for the season is essentially over. My injury will hopefully heal over the winter and I’ll be good to come back into next season’s Ultimate ready to go. Still won’t stop playing Disc Golf, though. I’ll try to keep that up until the ground is covered in deep piles of snow, like last season. I am hoping to be a little more active this winter to stave off the holiday weight gain and I’m hoping to get into a friend’s softball league next Spring. We’ll see how that goes, “best laid plans” and whatnot. <ahem> Sorry about that tangent…
But gaming wise, my mind is filled with cravings to play all kinds of different games and it’s causing me a bit of indecision. Here’s a quick list of the ones that are currently jockeying for position:
Vines and plants. Eating salad feels like revenge against these things now.
Guild Wars 2
I recently finished the main story and have started in on Season 2. I really love how they’ve set up Season 2 so that it can be played at an easier pace, and how they’ve integrated it into the world. We have instancing in these games for a reason, and that reason is story. Keep it up, ANet! I’ve finished all the story up to Dragon’s Reach: Part 2, and am really liking the story. They’ve really kicked the story up a notch on this one, although making your character the main figurehead and putting all kinds of words into our mouths, it’s offset by the fantastic characterization of your companions and surrounding characters.
Now I just have to… figure out what else there is to do at level 80. Having done zero research about GW2’s “endgame”, the top level items/weapons and what it would take to get them, it’s a bit of a mystery… they don’t make it that obvious in-game. But these boss battles are something else. If I can get through one and not die 100 times, I’m happy. So maybe a little grinding is in order to get some better or more synced equipment… I’m not a fan of using guides, but I may have to.
Star Trek Online
The next season and the latest expansion Delta Rising are quickly on their way, and the last content I did was against the Voth inside the Solanae Dyson Sphere. Good content, I really enjoyed it, I like how the STO devs are creating content that can’t just be gobbled up and moved on from. They use Reputation grinds, but Rep grinds feel alright for end-game content. My only issue with STO, ironically, is their propensity for long grinds, but I have to come back for Star Trek. I feel compelled. Also, the mountains of zen I have from my Lifetime account don’t hurt (4 years worth of a lifetime sub mixed with a propensity to only buy storage upgrades and costumes).
Since I’ve last played, though, the amount of changes is extensive, and is a hill to come back in. Specifically, the changes in how kit powers work. Knowing STO’s history, it may not be that intuitive. Also, how it looks like they’re handling Tier 6 ships is… interesting. Making them not necessary but obviously more powerful? So… making them necessary?
Love the art style.
As of this post, Rusty Hearts is shutting down in about a week. This makes me sad as it’s the first MMO that I’ve ever played that is shutting down. It won’t be missed by many, but it will be missed by me. I want to give it one final play session before the servers shut down, and I should be able to as my account should still be active.
Old School D&D Games
And I mean OLD SCHOOL. No, really, I’m talking like 24 year old, can buy itself a drink, Champions of Krynn old school. Either that or Neverwinter Nights, or Baldur’s Gate. I remember playing the old school Krynn series a LONG time ago, and I played a bit of NWN and BG, but never completed them or made any headway. I’m in a when-we-can-get-together Pathfinder group, you see, and I completely suck at it, but the D&D bug still bites pretty hard, and I do love me some old school.
I know, Civilization: Beyond Earth is coming out near the end of October. It looks awesome, but it gives that nostalgia hit to play me some Alpha Centauri, Sid Meier’s last attempt at a Civilization game on a world besides Earth. Dealing with other ideologies while at the same time trying not to be horrifically hurt by aliens? Good stuff.
You see, Beyond Earth is coming out a good time. The premise, if it’s anything like Alpha Centauri, is one of living with the planet, not against it. Using methods of living that don’t harm the ecosystem. In AC, if you don’t learn to live with the ecosystem, it will fight back. Hard. Parallels with current day issues? You betcha. Art imitates life, after all.
Gelatinous Cubes, what jellyfish would be if they were found on land.
I like Neverwinter. It’s a lot of fun, even if it doesn’t hit all the D&D notes that the old school D&D games I mentioned above do. And they just released their latest expansion, Tyranny of Dragons, so… Dragons! Dragons everywhere! As I said, I like Neverwinter, it just never makes the top of my MMOs to play list.
The Sims: Medieval
With the release of Sims 4, the Sims bug is also itching. But for me, I always wanted a little more out of the Sims. It seems like a great base to tell a whole bunch of stories, but stories that don’t just revolve around relationships and remodeling ones bathroom. But there is a great Sims title that does go a lot further… The Sims: Medieval. You play multiple people in the standard fantasy medieval community. Say you decide to play the king/queen and go through their story, then when you next play the blacksmith story, you get the benefits of the world changing from the royal’s story. The caveat is there isn’t much in the way of house-building, but to me the quests more than make up for it.
Did anyone else feel that wind?
Guild Wars 1
Playing through the story of Guild Wars 2 has made me want to go back in time and play through Guild Wars 1! Prophecies! Factions! Nightfall! Eye of the North! Plus, this would give me the ability to get all the fun Hall of Monuments stuff that I don’t have from not really playing GW1. And with Rusty Hearts closing, it just makes you think that an old game, like GW1, could shut down at any time. All it takes is for ANet to turn around and say “Well, it’s not making us any more money. Shut it off.” and that’s it, it’s done.
Walking Dead: Season 2
As far as my current TV watching, I’ve been into The Walking Dead. I like it, but what made me start watching it was playing through The Walking Dead: Season 1. Amazing. That game is amazing, but I’ve only done a few chapters of Season 2, and I should really finish it up, because I’m sure I’m going to love it.
Those Other Games I Have Half-Finished
Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall, Half-Life, and Gabriel Knight, specifically. I stopped playing all of them for pretty good reasons, but they’re still nagging me being unfinished. I think my want to “explore” in these games is too much and is getting in the way. I don’t like just rushing to the next plot point, but at this rate I’ll never finish anything! Argh!
So I don’t know. What do you think? Maybe I’ll just keep driving my truck. This ore isn’t going to deliver itself, you know…
On the road again. I can’t wait to get on the road again…
Well, the left side, technically, which is correct, but it took me a few minutes to get use to.
The other day I was looking through Green Man Gaming’s list of 30 Must Have Indie Games, of which I have quite a few already, but found myself inexorably drawn toward Euro Truck Simulator 2. I quickly checked Steam which, thanks to a handy browser extension called Enhanced Steam, I was given a coupon code that allowed me to pick up the game on the cheap. I couldn’t resist.
Marvels of engineering impress the heck out of me. When I was younger, I use to love going to amusement parks and then, in my head, urged to want to build scale models of them. At the time, either I didn’t know of Roller Coaster Tycoon or it hadn’t released yet. Even to this day when I’m on my way home from work and I’m stopped at some local railroad tracks waiting for the train to pass, I get the urge to play a train simulator or something. I usually don’t act on these urges, but who knows. Sometimes the kid in me has free reign.
Cities are just depots, right? I’m not sure cities have other roads…
The tutorial was an eye opener. Now, in general, I consider myself a good driver, but suddenly making a left hand turn in an enormous vehicle with 30 tons of momentum behind you on the wrong side of the road?!! Whaaaaat?!!! I haven’t even started challenging myself yet, though. Currently, I’m playing on simple video-game-style automatic transmission. You know, ‘W’ goes forward and takes care of gears, ‘S’ is both reverse and brake. But the potential options here remind me of playing those Mech games of old, where you had to memorize scads of key combinations to make stuff happen. It can be as easy as WASD, but as complex as getting your own steering wheel, gear shifts, and pedals and going nuts.
The game starts you out as a basic driver, looking to be hired to run jobs. Cake. Just drive from point A to point B, don’t worry about gas, lodging, tolls, fun management stuff, continuity, etc. Just follow the traffic laws, and you’re golden, an easy few thousand euros. Do this… for a crazy amount of times more. I’ve only made a few deliveries total, but the next part of the game is starting your own trucking business and for that you need to buy your own truck, which runs at it’s cheapest into the 100k euros. A good simulator won’t be easy, I know, but getting the funds to buy a truck without getting ripped off by the bank on interest fees… that’s going to take a while. Maybe I’ll play once a day or something until I get there.
Clouds, sun, water, trees… is there much else on the sides of the road?
The game feels realistic, though. I’ve found myself cursing at slow drivers and cars cutting me off, missing turns offered by the GPS, and trying to stay relatively around the speed limit, as I do in real life. I’ve become quickly acquainted with the buttons used for the multiple horns. And trying to park this sucker once you reach your destination?! A Steam comment on the first Euro Truck Simulator summed it up nicely…
Saving the world? Easy.
Creating my own civilization and leading it to world domination? Easy.
Catch all Pokémon? Easy.
Make my way through hell? Easy.
Parking a truck backward? Impossible. Great game though.
Nailed it. In the rain no less.
But I wonder about the side-of-the-road visuals and how much it is really like traveling through the european countryside. Are there really that many fields of sunflowers? Are hot air balloons a regular sight? I need to find where all the good sights are, I guess. So far it’s been a lot of roads, roads, roads, circles, tight turns, and more roads. I’m not even sure what highways these are supposed to be… I think they’re marked when you first get on, but the GPS isn’t telling me, and they really all look similar.
Is Euro Truck Simulator 2 a well put together game? Yes.
… Is it fun? Well… I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. The fun is found in it’s realism. Because I’m not sure how this truly compares to trucking, I’m not sure I can truly say how “realistic” it is. However, nailing backing the truck up right? That’s a good feeling right there.
Allow me a little narcissism. It seems a gaming questionnaire has been circulating among my fellow game blogging compatriots lately, started by Jasyla at Cannot Be Tamed (Thanks, Jasyla!). So, why not? A little survey occasionally is good for the soul, and it gives you a little more insight into my particular point of view, if you’re interested. Also, it’s my site and I’ll post whatever I want, whenever I want, thank you very much.
1. When did you start playing video games?
My memory does not extend that far back, to be honest. I want to say… 8 years old? Which would give me gaming cred for about 25 years now. Looking back, my parents were amazing to me growing up. They purchased me an Atari 7800 and I played the heck out of that thing. Still have it in my basement somewhere with a full bin of games. Good ones, too. Saints. My parents are saints.
2. What is the first game you remember playing?
Donkey Kong on an old CalecoVision. Literally. I don’t know how old the CalecoVision console was at the time I was playing on it, maybe 7 years old, but it’s the oldest game that flashes back to me.
Core i7, in case you’re curious.
3. PC or Console?
These days I’m all about the PC. I’m not going to go into the whole “PC master race” nonsense as it’s just that: nonsense. However, my PC is the most versatile piece of technology I own. The choice was either have a game console that is just a game console, or a PC that is a game console plus a million other things. A PC is just more efficient to own, even if it is a little more costly.
4. XBox, PlayStation, or Wii?
To me, it doesn’t matter. I’ve owned a Playstation 2 that I took apart and put back together a hundred times (I use to buy broken ones, fix them, and sell them again at a profit), I own an XBox 360 and a Wii. Now, they all accumulate dust. If I got the latest iteration of any of them, they’d probably do the same. I’ll give the Wii credit for the most versatility with it’s free use of Netflix and capability as a DVD player, though. Wii Sports is still fun, too. :)
The OG of RPG’s, as far as I’m concerned.
5. What’s the best game you’ve ever played?
Ultima 7. Totally rose-colored-glasses here, but at the time, Ultima 7 was a mind-blower. I played it on my parents IBM, and the game took up a whopping 20 MB of space. Comparative to today, that’s like a game taking up about 700 GB. But the experience was amazing. Ultima 7 was one of the first “open world” games I remember. There was a storyline in there somewhere, but every NPC in the entire game had a daily schedule that included their home, their work, lunch breaks, after-work activities, dinner, socializing, etc. You could attend concerts! Mine for ore! Craft swords! Bake bread! Compare this to other games at the time and there was no comparison. Ultima 7 would be similar to Skyrim today, but if Skyrim let you play in more open world.
6. What’s the worst game you’ve ever played?
Crusaders of Might and Magic. I was a big fan of the Might and Magic series, and had just finished one of my favorites of the series, World of Xeen, before playing Crusaders. Boy was I let down. Crusaders was more of a first-person-shooter style, but not, and a very linear gameplay. Totally different than any other Might and Magic title. It was my first real game that I finished and thought “Well, that… was not good.” It may not actually be the worst, I’m sure I’ve played worse, but since it was the first it sticks out the most.
7. Name a game that was popular/critically adored that you just didn’t like.
Any game that has the words “Call of Duty” or “Battlefield” in their title. I gave them a good shake a few times, and though I’m a fan of shooters, I just couldn’t get into the whole realistic military setting. Felt too glorified. War, realistic war, is not a game and what soldiers do is necessary in defense of one’s country. Glorifying realistic modern military in the gaming space is irresponsible, in my opinion.
I am heartbroken that Rusty Hearts is shutting down, I really am.
8. Name a game that was poorly received that you really like.
The one that jumps to mind is the soon to be shut down Rusty Hearts. As a MMO player, it was a refreshing game to play. One of the first MMO action titles, too, it had a silly/serious manga style story with an artistic gothic painting-like atmosphere, a soundtrack mixing light jazz and hard rock, easy to jump into and interesting dungeons, and abilities that made you feel like a badass from the very beginning. It will be shutting down on September 15th, 2014, though, and it never reached any real following. It’s a shame, really. It was a lot of fun.
9. What are your favourite game genres?
MMOs, First Person Shooters, Point-and-click Adventures, Indie Games, Most things Elder Scrolls and Might and Magic, and really anything. I’ll try anything at least once.
10. Who is your favourite game protagonist?
Ooooooo…. it’s a tossup between Guybrush Threepwood or Faith. Mirror’s Edge is one of my favorite games, mostly because Faith is such a badass and for the game’s originality. As for Guybrush, I haven’t seen a character learn to swordfight in a more entertaining way.
One of the first FPS’s I’ve played that didn’t need any S.
11. Describe your perfect video game.
One which will deliver me a beer and pizza while I’m playing it. Make it happen, people.
Really, I have no perfect game. I see video games these days as works of art, meant to be appreciated for what they are, not how they live up to some definition of perfection. I am no artist, so who am I to tell the artists how to make their masterpieces? Imparting expectations on artwork is futile and only leads to disappointment.
12. What video game character do have you have a crush on?
Who is that woman behind the protagonist on the Mass Effect 2 box cover? Yeah. Her. No idea why. Don’t even know her character, haven’t even played Mass Effect 2. Maybe it’s her hair?
13. What game has the best music?
Guild Wars 2. Tough question, though. There is a LOT of really good game music out there. Thankfully, at least MMO music is covered by the Battle Bards Podcast. I still think the best video game music piece going is the Civilization IV intro, though. I even wrote up a post about this once…
14. Most memorable moment in a game:
That I can remember: BioShock, the twist near the end. More recent: pretty much the entirety of To the Moon.
Gah. Goosebumps got me again…
15. Scariest moment in a game:
I have a hard time not saying The Secret World for this one. Too many good ones, but the part that sticks out the most is Issue 7: A Dream to Kill, inside the Nursery. Opening the room with all the dolls for the first time gave me goosebumps on top of goosebumps. Creepy dolls always get me.
Also, the scene in Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers when Gabriel attends the lecture and falls asleep. The dream he had made me instantly stop playing the game when I was younger.
16. Most heart-wrenching moment in a game:
The self-sacrifice by Dupre in Ultima 7: Part 2. The first time I played it, I was dumbstruck. I didn’t even know games even had emotional depth until that moment.
17. What are your favourite websites/blogs about games?
Who wants a shoutout?! I can’t list all of them, I’d be here all day. If you’re reading this right now and have a site of your own… it’s you. No, really, it’s you. I’m fascinated about your opinion.
I follow Massively sort of religiously, but I don’t usually agree with most of the GOML commenters who just want the “old days” to come back (“Get Off My Lawn”… I feel #GOML needs to be a thing), but I love reading all the experiences that my fellow bloggers have in every game they play. I’m truly fascinated in how we can each be playing the same thing, and have a multitude of different reactions to it. In my mind, that is what makes video games art.
Uplifting, but overall a very sad tale.
18. What’s the last game you finished?
Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood or To The Moon, I can’t remember which I finished last. Both excellent games in their own right, though.
19. What future releases are you most excited about?
Shroud of the Avatar, but that could be because I’ve already invested so much into it.
20. Do you identify as a gamer?
I do, yes. Not 100%, though. I also identify as husband, friend, coworker, disc golf player, techie, and a multitude of other identities. Gaming is just one part of my identity, but I won’t deny it’s existence. I think Mr. Kuchera really hit the nail on the head, and I can’t say it better than he can.
Not really a “game”, but I don’t care. So good. There’s a reason Walking Dead is at the top of most gamer’s lists.
21. Why do you play video games?
I like to be told a good story, be it by book or movie, or any other medium. Books allow a story to be more descriptive where all the action goes on in your head and allows your imagination to run wild. Movies are more about the visual and audio components of a story and hit hard viscerally, but are a lot shorter.
Video games, though, allow you to interact with the story itself. A great mix of other styles, games allow you to be immersed in a world, not just be swept along with the plot. To be able to explore a world’s nooks and crannies as well as the plot. To walk alongside the hero/heroine and feel their accomplishments as your own.
This is why I play games. Simply, I feel they are one of the best ways to interact with a good story.
Thank you for reading, folks. If you want, take the survey yourself! As I said, I’m always curious to hear your thoughts, too.
I am a creature of habit.
Sometimes those habits don’t quite mesh well with my hobbies, but that’s just the way it goes. Specifically, my gaming habits change dramatically with the changes of the seasons. I’ve found that during the fall and winter (last winter we got 68 inches of snow) I tend to stay indoors and will start picking up and playing more long-term games like MMOs a lot more seriously. During the summer, though, I head outdoors. BBQ’s, bars, camping, going down the shore, baseball games, disc golf, weekly Ultimate, you name it. So in the summer, gaming takes the far backseat. Sadly, writing about gaming goes with it. When I don’t play, I don’t have a lot to say (unless you want to hear about my Ultimate and disc golf exploits? Maybe?).
Walking Dead, Season 1. Complete. Damn, Telltale really is doing a fantastic job.
I realized I had a pattern to the way I play games way back during my young days of playing World of Warcraft. Back when I kept the subscription going year round on the “hope” that I would find time to play, but never did (what a fool I was). I found, though, that I kept coming back at the same time every year. Right in the middle of the Halloween festivities.
So from October to March, I’m all about gaming. From April to September, not so much.
This doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped playing entirely. Quite to the contrary, I’ve found my tastes shift. I’ve really started getting into single player and indie games, finishing up games like Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2. Also playing a lot more mobile games like Tiny Tower, games that I can pick up on the go (Note: I use the phrase “mobile” and “games” in the same sentence very loosely, these mobile things are more like psychological traps).
Tiny Tower. Seriously, this game should come with a Surgeon Generals warning.
The latest MMO offerings this Spring really haven’t been enough to draw me away from this pattern, either. Here are a few very off-the-cuff thoughts:
Landmark – A Minecraft clone with better graphics. Pass. Sidenote: Why did they remove the Everquest title from Landmark? Are they now backpedaling, and cutting any possible link that would have existed between the two games? Sorry, just seems a little shady.
Elder Scrolls Online – Yet another fantasy hack and slash themepark MMO, wearing the trappings of Elder Scrolls, one of my favorite series. I won’t lie, the setting of a game means a lot to me. It’s why I’m still such a big fan of Star Trek Online after all this time. But when they remove the soul of the series, TESO doesn’t have much left that hasn’t been done before. The title may say Elder Scrolls, but it just doesn’t have the *soul* of Elder Scrolls and that’s a major turn-off for me. If it had been the same engine, but any other IP, I might have been more interested.
Wildstar – Looks a lot better than the others, I’ll give it that, but even the premise of Open Beta didn’t entice me. The telegraphing system looks to be just an evolution of The Secret World’s style, which is fine, but nothing drastic. The art style, though gorgeous in it’s bright colors is too reminiscent of World of Warcraft’s cartoon styling for me to not be reminded of it at every turn. Finally, the “elder game” looks to also be trying to grab that piece of the Warcraft pie, using the same raid-or-die approach. What this all says is that the game simply isn’t for me. I’ll leave all the real time-investment-heavy stuff to those of you with more time and interest.
ArcheAge – This may be the only title that has really piqued my curiosity as of late, but I’m not sure why. I don’t think sandboxes and I make a good fit. I don’t have the time to invest or the inclination to use others pre-made efficient builds, which most sandboxes require. But the whole “paying for alphas and betas” thing seems too sketchy. Pay a lot of money to be a part of a buggy experience and the chance you might get really tired of the game before it even launches? Ha! No thanks. If anything, the cost to be a part of alphas and betas should be LESS than the cost of the game when it launches. Stop this enticing with items nonsense and entice with price. I’ll wait for release, whenever that will be, to see if I’m still interested.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch. Not a long game, but frustratingly fantastic. Not to mention some of the awesome one-liners.
But in the meantime, I’ve heard that The Secret World’s Tokyo is right around the corner. Even though the hype of it has long since faded, I’ve read that it is still very much worth the wait. Star Trek Online has released Season 9, and has a new Featured Episode, which I hear is one of their best ones yet. My backlog is still plenty full and needs trimming, and then I’m still working on that old resolution list.
In other words, don’t mind me. I’m still here, just more in the background, getting as much out of summer as I can. Even if that means less gaming.
This thought has come to mind a little too often for me, lately. Do we enjoy difficulty? If we claim a game we are playing to be difficult, is this a good thing, or a bad thing? On the surface, I would say my individual answer is yes. I know I personally enjoy a game that is more challenging, one that takes a bit of thought process or learned skill to get through. But are the games we are playing really difficult, do we just convince ourselves that they are, and do gamers today really want difficulty?
This topic is a lot more complex than the surface belies. As so happens, one of the myriad podcasts that I listen to, How To Murder Time (which I highly suggest you listen to as well), recently delved into the topic of difficulty, covered it pretty extensively, and led me to this post.
MMO Skill is an Illusion
What is difficulty, anyway? I think this is where the root of the issue lies. Difficulty can have a whole plethora of different meanings. The first one that jumps to mind, and the first one the podcast brings up, is “twitch” skill. It’s found in it’s purest form in games that don’t offer many character development options and has level design that keeps getting more and more challenging, like Super Meat Boy. The Super Mario games are a great example, too. Sure, Mario can get larger by ingesting fungus but overall it’s the levels that increase in difficulty. Completing the game becomes the accomplishment. It pits a specific level of skill that, if yours is too low, you’ll never beat the game.
But what game nowadays has that kind of challenge? Even FPS multiplayer shooter games like Titanfall, which just released, has leveling progression in which you gain experience to attain access to better weapons and a bigger toolset to use against your foes. If you’re then faced against a new, lower level player, sure, the lower level has a chance to use their skill to beat you, but the higher level players still have a decided edge. In this sense, are we leveling just to make content easier? Do we even want difficulty at all, if we work hard to nullify it?
You’ve seen the roosters strutting around in whatever MMO you’re playing these days. Those peacocks of the gaming world, strutting around in all the best and shiniest gear. And good for them, it shows their dedication to the game that they were able to get their hands on said loot. But was it really difficult to do so?
I call this place… Pain in the Ass Tower.
In the grand scheme of things, here is the defacto MMO progression:
- Do content, get loot, level up.
- Use levels and loot to do higher level content, get better loot, level up.
- Repeat until max level.
- Continue to run content and get more loot (or just take the shortcut and buy it from other players on the auction house), which makes top level content easier.
- Keep running content until maximum loot power is achieved and game becomes too easy.
- Leave game out of boredom/complain about not having enough content on forums.
At that point, even the most difficult content becomes a cakewalk, but we’ve earned that through the time we put in to get that loot. Reward is good. But the entire time during this progression, the difficulty really hasn’t changed. We level up, our gear levels up, and the content matches difficulty stride for stride. It’s a linear progression. We do normal dungeons until they get too easy, then we do elite dungeons until they get too easy, then we do nightmare dungeons until we gear up to maximum and stop running them as they become too easy.
Our reward for running content is just to make content easier.
I’ve even heard content in The Elder Scrolls Online becomes trivial if you come back to it overleveled. A boss that gave you a hard time in the past suddenly is not so tough when you’re 10 levels higher, are they? The difficulty in TESO, then, just comes in rushing forward too fast. I am starting to hear more and more good things about the “exploration” aspect of TESO, but have yet to be convinced that it’s more than an illusion buried in the willing suspension (which relates to the next section).
The Walking Dead isn’t a difficult game to play, it’s a difficult game to *watch*.
Puzzle Solving is Entirely Optional
But difficulty through skill is not the only level of difficulty. As Jon and Tim go on to discuss, it could also be about puzzle-solving. This is my favorite, by far, and one of the reasons I love The Secret World. As a content filler gap they recently just added four new investigation missions to the game, which I consider to be the real meat and potatoes of TSW. I’ve already completed one, and without giving away any details, I had to pull some real mind-bending out-of-game stuff to figure it out (keep a smartphone handy).
But this kind of difficulty is only challenging to the player that wants to do it in the first place. Puzzle difficulty is entirely by choice if the player wants to challenge themselves or not. I’m not one to cheat, but sites like Youtube, Dulfy.net, TSWDB.com, Star Trek Online wiki, and a plethora of others just hand out the answers to anyone willing to search. I even had a search term today that led someone to this site where they were looking for the answers to one of the new TSW missions! They just came out on Tuesday! They didn’t find it here, of course, but that they even were looking in the first place means something.
This isn’t a recent issue, though. I remember buying games at Gamestop and part of the salesperson’s spiel was to try to sell the guide to go along with it. Nothing has really changed, except it now costs a lot less effort and money to find the answers to these puzzles and quest guides.
Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations
And find those answers gamers do in droves. So much that it’s even demanded by the community in some situations:
Oh, going into a dungeon you’ve never been in before and you haven’t researched it? What a scrub. What, do you just want to be carried by everyone else? You want to waste everyone else’s time? How lazy and selfish!
Seriously, this is why I don’t PUG or have any want to run group content at all. The communal expectation to be professionally knowledgeable about dungeons you’ve never set foot in are too high. There is no such thing as a noob the second those guides hit the internet, only “selfish” gamers.
Then it comes back to the skill to perform the guides steps, but “skill” in MMOs is really intrinsically linked to one’s Gearscore (read: random loot tables over time). That’s why the demands you see from the community for running PUGs keeps getting more and more ridiculous. These elitists don’t want a challenge! They don’t want to enjoy content with strangers! They’re lazy and want the most reward given for the least amount of effort, and so demand that from others, unceremoniously booting those who don’t live up to their demanding standards. Only those on the right side of the bell-curve may apply.
Can you tell I’m a little burnt out and jaded?
Still one of my favorite moments all-time from MMO gaming.
Wrangling Herds of Cats, Though
Finally, there is, arguably, the only real true form of challenge left posed by MMOs today: dealing with each other. Kind of the point of MMOs right? Playing with others? But the highest level raid content, or just content made too difficult to solo is in these games for a reason. And that is the challenge of working with and coordinating a group of people who are all only looking out for their own self interests. The content itself may not even really be that difficult (of course it’s not, “correctly” geared players mitigate the risk of failure), but organizing a group of 10-15 people to all do the same thing at the same time, with no real guarantee of reward, is impressive as hell!
The amount of time and energy driven to herding players to a single goal is outstanding. I know. Not from gaming, mind you, but I was a higher-up in a student run theatre company, and the experience is very similar. In the professional world, at least employees are being paid, but getting people to be dedicated to a common goal when it won’t put food on their table is not exactly easy. It’s why I put my time in theatre on my CV. It shows the skill of leadership when your charges are only present of their own whims. Having formal education in human psychology and group dynamics, though, doesn’t hurt.
However, I’d still caution against putting “Raid Leader” on a resume, if only because the social stigma against gamers is still heavily present in society. The skill, though, the pure skill of human wrangling, is universal and still quite impressive.
I’ve never wanted to punch a cloud in the face so much.
More Than A Struggle
Aside from having to deal with each other, we’ve gone from the days of a game’s content becoming easier with actual time, practice, and mental gymnastics, to becoming easier through in-game power ups and cheats. Do we get the same amount of accomplishment, though? I think what we gain is a lot more tangible.
We get great stories, we get great visuals, we get a sense of accomplishment not only at the end, but all the way through. We get lost in a great world. We get shared achievement. We get a thriving community that we can gladly raise our hand and claim to be a part of. We get a sense of belonging.
We get everything but difficulty.