If You Give Me A Free Option, I’ll Take It

Star Trek Online, Bathroom, Refresher

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.

Guild Wars 2, Plant Dragons

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.

Neverwinter, Gelatinous Cube

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.

//Ocho

Rusty Hearts in Memorium

Rusty Hearts

Thank you all for coming today.

I know for some of you the trip was inconvenient, taking your time off from work or just coming here in your free time, so we greatly appreciate it. Well, what can I say? We are gathered today in remembrance of Rusty Hearts, a good friend to some of us, a stranger or passing acquaintance to others, but overall a game that may have passed, but certainly left a legacy that will not be forgotten.

 

What I know of Rusty Hearts is not extensive, by any means. I never achieved max level, nor did I play it often. However, it was a game that stayed installed on my hard drive because it was just fun. It was different. It refused to follow western tropes that felt like staples of the industry. It was a game that I played periodically, a game that, at the time, was unlike any other. In an age where ‘MMO action combat’ was a rare sight, and tab targeting and skillbars-for-miles was still the order of the day, Rusty Hearts bucked the trends.

Rusty Hearts

 

Instead of letting the player create their own character from scratch, they had predetermined characters with different playstyles. These were Rusty Heart’s classes. Most people feel that this is a black mark, that to snub open character creation is a sin against the genre. But, to me, this was just one reason that made it stand out. We see this now in a title like Marvel Heroes, a game currently in it’s prime, hitting it’s stride, but uses pre-determined superheros. In Rusty Hearts, you wouldn’t play a melee dual-weapon class, you’d play Franz. You wouldn’t play a magic-wielding class, you’d play Angela. And you wouldn’t play a ranged dual-pistol class, you’d play Natasha. These characters weren’t just fluff, though. They were the main story. They were the characters who had a vengeance to exact against their enemy, the lord of Castle Curtis.

The story was… interesting. I wouldn’t call it a great, memorable tale, but the comic relief came fast and furious, great contrast and companion to the fast-paced battles that were found within the game’s many, many dungeons. That, and the story matched the anime-like, uber-colorful and stylized art nicely. If you think World of Warcraft is “stylized”, you ain’t seen nothin’. If anything, the style was similar to Champions Online.

 

The music was unlike anything I’ve heard yet in an MMO to date, too. In the game’s main city, it was a sad-but-hopeful haunting classical/jazz piano with a bit of an electric flair, to match the town’s somber mood. Inside the dungeons, and when fighting bosses, it was faster paced club music, electric guitar and violins to match the fast action combat. Really, phenomenal stuff. I highly suggest you take a listen while it still remains on Youtube.

Gameplay is where the game stood out, though, in my opinion. Sure, there wasn’t a lot of forced grouping or massive co-op gameplay that all the players today *think* they really want (but the numbers tend to prove them wrong time and again). It was a Guild Wars 1 or Star Trek Online style of lobby-based dungeon play, but it was a ton of fun. Mobs were thrown at you en masse and the short dungeons weren’t fully cleared until you beat a boss monster with harsh mechanics. The faster it was cleared, the more rewards were achieved, and rewards dropped like it was ‘National Loot Day’.

However, the grind. Oh the grind. Rusty Hearts makes most MMO’s grinds look like a walk in the park. You didn’t just run these dungeons once, you ran them about 15+ times each, quests telling you to head right back in after you just came out. That’s why I never achieved max level or made a serious play at endgame, the grind was just too much.

Rusty Hearts is succeeded, though, by a game that is still finding it’s place in the gaming world, Neverwinter. Not so much the art style or music, but in the gameplay. The characters are very stock types, the play is lobby based, albeit a little more open, but the action and bosses fought at the end of each dungeon are not exact, but reminiscent of the gameplay. An offspring, if you will. If you enjoy Neverwinter, there’s a decent chance you would’ve enjoyed Rusty Hearts.

So closing mere days before it’s third birthday, which would’ve been September 20th, with a heavy heart we say goodbye to Rusty Hearts. A game with ideas before it’s time, but holding fast to old grind tenets. A game with great style, both in art and music, and gameplay that was just plain fun.

Rusty Hearts was the game that really opened up my eyes to what could be different about MMOs, but still be fun to play. It smashed the idea that MMOs had to stay to a strict formula, that the term MMO was a lot broader than I believed it to be. It pretty much is the reason for my game-jumping. I learned from Rusty Hearts to expand my “comfort zone”, to try out and give each game it’s own fair attempt to see if I liked it or not. To not just blindly follow the crowd. You can say Rusty Hearts is then partially a reason why I started this blog, to share my thoughts that there can be good things in places you might not usually look.

Now please, for all those in attendance, there will be a repast held at the community hall down the street. All are welcome to attend.

Remember Rusty Hearts the next time you see a game and think “that’s not for me”. You never know. All you have to do is try it out. Rusty, you will be missed.

// Ocho

Too Many Options

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:

Guild Wars 2

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?

Rusty Hearts

Love the art style.

Rusty Hearts

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.

Alpha Centauri

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.

Neverwinter

Gelatinous Cubes, what jellyfish would be if they were found on land.

Neverwinter Online

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.

Guild Wars

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…

// Ocho

Euro Truck Simulator 2

On the road again. I can’t wait to get on the road again…

Neverwinter Does April Fool’s Day Right

screenshot_2014-04-02-20-19-45

I always say that you have to take everything you read on the Internet with a pound of salt, and April Fool’s Day is no exception. At least on April 1st, though, the posts are a lot more funny.

I took that pound of salt when I logged on and saw that Neverwinter was releasing a few new things. “Sure”, I thought. “What awesomeness is it going to be that won’t be real and I’ll be disappointed that it’s not real?” They had three things on the April Fool’s docket: A new Dragon class, a Gelatinous Cube mount, and a new skirmish where your characters are pieces on a D&D board. Ha ha, Cryptic. Very funny. The dragon class is obviously a prank, but the other two just sound really awesome, so it’s too bad it’s April Fool’s…

But lo and behold, Cryptic wasn’t joking. Yes, the dragon class is fake, but the Cube mount and the skirmish are totally real! And they are both a thing of nerdy goodness.

Neverwinter, Gelatinous Cube

My companion does not look that impressed with my new mount. She also doesn’t seem worried that I’m surrounded by acidic ooze.

I logged on last night and gladly forked over 800 zen for the mount. It hits all the right receptors as it bounces and slimes around town, wobbling just as one would expect a jelly cube to bounce. I love it. If a lime green jello mold could be adorable, this one definitely is.

Up for offer, too, was “Respen’s Marvelous Game” which completing 15 times netted a new Green Slime Companion! Since all of my companions are basic (get it? GET IT?!), and the next time I see 300,000 AD to upgrade them may be never (but then it may happen if I keep using Bing), the Slime would only take one night of grinding the skirmish. Cake.

Neverwinter, Raspen's Marvelous Game

This makes my Pathfinder playin’ self so happy.

However, Respen’s Marvelous Game truly shined and delivered a heavy dose of geekery. Designed for characters from level 6-60, your character becomes a miniature on a D&D map, on it’s own little base  in an epic pose. You then make your way through two different randomized dungeons. The first, the one I encountered more often, is a stereotypical dungeon filled with baddies, all the while the DM Respen is narrating as you go, fantastically using different voices for all the characters you encounter.

The second adventure is a search for an elven princess who has been kidnapped and involves going through the woods from place to place trying to find her, with events randomized. I loved near the end, after defeating an orc summoner, he says “With his dying breath the orc finishes the ritual and summons <audible dice roll> a pit fiend!” and a huge winged demon bursts from the ground.

Neverwinter, Raspen's Marvelous Game

Yes, we’re beating on a 20-sided die. Respen ran out of miniatures for orcs and goblins and used dice.

In order to get the companion, I had to complete the run 15 times, but since each run only took about 5-10 minutes, it wasn’t that bad. I got kicked out of a few groups for being too low level (elitists <shakes head>… damage was scaled so that we were all on equal footing, but my being level 35 still somehow annoyed the 60s that they couldn’t cope for 5 minutes). Sometimes I ended up on the top of the charts, other times near the bottom. Standard stuff. There wasn’t a time, though, when a dungeon was too hard to beat.

All in all, Cryptic showed what it does best. Quick, easy to group content that felt a lot more epic than it had any reason to be, lots of fun, and coupled with nice rewards for a decent effort. Well played, Cryptic.

Neverwinter, Raspen's Marvelous Game

The awesomeness is too much to take.

I always thought ArenaNet were the masters of MMO April Fool’s, but it seems there’s a new contender in town.

// Ocho

P.S. – I recently updated my Characters page to show all of the different MMO characters I play. Feel free to add me as a friend and send a message if you see me in game. 🙂

Neverwinter, Raspen's Marvelous Game

An oozing ball of green slime that I could call my very own.

P.P.S. – Sadly, I realized that as this is about to post that it will be too late to head into Neverwinter if you wanted to try the April Fool’s content. My hope is that this awesomeness is too good for a one-off event, and they’ll periodically be bringing this back. It’s too much fun not to.

Gaming Resolutions for 2014

Neverwinter, Foundry

Can we somehow make this a drinking game? Alright, for every one of these resolutions I actually make, we take a drink. Deal? I like this idea.

But, seriously, although I missed a day or two of Murf’s Listmas Extravaganza, it looks to have been a wild success. I mean, really, look at all of those lists. 67! I count 67 lists. I may, in the near future, take a look and highlight a few of them. But, seriously, good on Murf for taking the ball and running with it and good on the folks over at United We Game for keeping score.

But, if you’re not tired of lists, I have one more list for you all, and it is simply my list of gaming resolutions for the new year. Yes, despite rumors to the contrary, I will be keeping up this gaming hobby for the foreseeable future, so why not resolve to make it as awesome as possible. Here are my goals, in no particular order, and the probability I give myself of actually completing them.

The Walking Dead

Finish The Walking Dead, 400 Days, and Walking Dead: Season 2

I haven’t finished Walking Dead yet and I’m really not sure why as it is quite an awesome and compelling story they’ve penned. I plan to finish up the first season, play the interim game, and then catch Season 2 on a good sale and finish that. Really, this should take that long. Probability of completion: 90%

Achieve Max Level in Neverwinter

I play Neverwinter in spurts. Awesome features like the Gateway, Foundry, the storyline, and wanting to see the latest modules all make me want to jump in and play to cap. But there is always something that seems a *little* more worthwhile to play. However, I want to get to max level so I can play these modules, which I’m sure will keep coming, along with new classes. Being around level 30, I may have a ways to go. What even IS the max level these days? Probability of completion: 70%

Play More Older / Indie Games

If 2013 had something awesome going for it, it was the crop of Indie games that came out of the woodwork. I mean, really, a metric ton of them, and I just want to play them all. I still have yet to pick up Gone Home, but I have picked up games like UnEpic, To the Moon, Dust, Braid, and Dear Esther, and I need to give them a solid shake. Also, as are many others, I’m a big fan of older games and need to play a few of them as well. I think I’ll develop a random system to do this. Set up a list of games I really should play, and then run it through a number generator or something. Keep me on my toes. Probability of completion: 50%

Finish the Bioshock Series

I played the original Bioshock and it blew my mind. Yes, it was a shooter on rails, but the world you railed through was tremendously well crafted. For a cheap game I picked up at Target, I was ridiculously impressed. So, I own Bioshock 2 and Bioshock Infinite, but I feel I have to play them in order.  Probability of completion: 80%

Shroud of the Avatar

Don’t Buy As Many Games and Play What I Already Own

This goes hand-in-hand with with “Play More Older / Indie Games” because I already own a metric ton of older and indie games… I just need to give them more priority. This past Steam Winter sale (which I know isn’t completely finished), I’ve maybe spent a grand total of $12 on 4 games. I’m slowing down on buying, but I think that is because the sheer mass of owned games is becoming a force of reckoning on my mind. Now let’s see if I can focus…. maybe. Probability: 30%

Guild Wars 2

Achieve Max Level in Guild Wars 2 

All the fun stuff seems to occur at max level, and if they spread it out a bit, it’s not exactly optimal. I like the concept of the living story, though I haven’t really liked how they’ve rolled it out. However, since it looks like Guild Wars 2 is going to be bringing the rosy story of Scarlet to a close, now is as good a time to get in there and jump to max so I can join in on all the Season 2 fun. Probability: 70%

Play Through Guild Wars 1

It’s still kicking. ANet hasn’t cut the cord to the server just yet, and I keep comparing Guild Wars 2 to Guild Wars 1. You see, I REALLY want to like Guild Wars 2 more than I do, and I think a way to do that is to complete all the storyline in Guild Wars 1. This may backfire, though, and show me the missed potential that Guild Wars 2 has, but either way Guild Wars 1 is still a beautiful game that is still running. But let’s be honest: Probability: 25%

Secret World, End of Days, Shadowy Forest, Vestige

So that’s it. As you notice, nothing about any of the new MMO’s coming out, although I can’t seem to gather a real interest in them. This may change. I am a sucker and do like the new shiny as much as others. My wallet does not usually agree with latest shiny, though. Tokyo and Shroud of the Avatar may end up taking up a huge chunk of my time, too. We shall see, I guess.

From all of us here at the Casual Aggro household, I wish unto thee the greatest of New Years! May it bring you health, wealth, happiness, and as much gaming as you can handle! As always, thank you for reading.

Game on, my friends.

// Ocho

Listmas 2013: For My 100th Post, My Top 10 Favorite Posts on Casual Aggro

Today’s list, in celebration of Listmas, is going to be one that is a little self-aggrandizing. Forgive me, but I think I have a little reason to celebrate: This, right here, is my 100th post!!

Alright, 100 posts is not a big deal to some people who post daily, who can make that number in a couple months. But that’s not how I roll, I’m certainly not as prolific, and writing was by-far not my best subject in school. In fact, I’d still find more pleasure in working on a math problem that takes up three pages than write a three page paper. I think I spend way too much time fiddling with my text, making sure it’s as error-free as possible, and overall I’m still pretty hard on myself.

Yet, I’m still here and still posting, because deep down I feel like I am making a positive contribution to this hobby. I feel like I am making a difference, no matter how small, to this burgeoning industry, and I’m glad to be a part of such a huge, positive community.

So, for your enjoyment, here are what I consider to be my top 10 favorite posts of what I’ve written so far.

Guild Wars 2

10) Really, Why Are There Levels in Guild Wars 2

To this day, I’m still not positive why there are levels in GW2. As a form of measure of character improvement, I know it’s been around for ages, but I still believe there are better measures. Abilities, Gear, etc. I had the thought a while ago, that the whole reason why we go through the gear grind is simply to make content easier for us. That those who want difficulty truly don’t really want it. A leveling curve, if you keep up with it, just makes all content feel like the same difficulty. I’ll have to write more on this later…

9) NBI: List of Blogging Do’s and Don’ts

I started blogging during the first Newbie Blogger Initiative back in May of 2012. Alright, 100 posts in 20 months, that’s still 5 posts per month, which is still pretty good. But when the second Newbie Blogger Initiative came around this past October, I was a veteran. I had seen the horrors of blogging, and came back with stories and advice to give. This was not only a post to help the New Newbie Bloggers, but an acknowledgment of how far I have come.

Star Trek Online, Vault, Shuttle

8) Time Gates and MMOs Don’t Mix

Star Trek Online, for a while, had the brilliant idea to make some content only available during a small period of time. This made no sense, especially for those of us who don’t play a game all the time, or play casually. Keeping players away from playing content is just a terrible idea. Thankfully, they came to their senses. The content now can be played at anytime, with benefits for playing at specific times. Much better.

7) A Personal Argument Against the Always-On Trend

 I love MMO’s, but one of the key features of MMOs is that you’re online while you play them. But for single player games demanding that you always have an internet connection just to play them, under the guise of DRM, where you get no benefits from the internet connection, doesn’t make much sense. If I need to be connected, give me a good reason to be.

Battle Bards

6) Top 5 Favorite Video Game Music Compositions, A BattleBards Inspiration

Confession: Music was a big part of my life for a long time. In high school, I sang in the choir, was a member of the select choir, was a part of the band, and was a part of every musical production. Out of high school, I initially went to a big music school, was a part of a prestigious choir, and learned a lot about musical composition. Then, I was a part of student-run theatre organizations, starred in more musical productions, and then got offers to start working in New York theatre off Broadway, which I did for a couple minor productions.

Nowadays, music is not so big on my list of hobbies, but I still have a deep appreciation for it. So, combining music and gaming in a podcast is like combining chocolate and peanut butter. It’s perfect. Syp, Syl, and Mogsy do the honors in the BattleBards podcast, and I haven’t missed an episode yet. One of these days, I’m going to write in and tell them my appreciation, but I think telling all of you fine readers and passing along their work is worth a lot more. So, if you enjoy podcasts, and you enjoy video game music, check them out.

5) Master of Orion and Syp: A Tale of Humanity

I do mention Syp a lot on this blog, but he was the one that initiated the Newbie Blogger Initiative, and so is a big inspiration for me. Syp was playing the game Master of Orion, and blogging about all the details of the epic battles along the way. I’ve never played Master of Orion, but during this series of posts, I was really drawn in. Mostly because he was using other bloggers names as the names for planets, and this added a fun depth of community. But, really, it showed why we love games that let us forge our own path, and that is that we can create our own stories.

Also, Mr. Joseph Skyrim over at his JVT Workshop is doing the same, but playing the awesome old-school game Darklands. Give it a read.

Shroud of the Avatar

4) Shroud of the Avatar, DRM, and Why The Gaming Industry Should Take Notice

Shroud is going to have a very open-ended way of playing their game. First and foremost, though, is exactly what the game is. Is it a single player game? Is it an MMO? What is it? The answer is a combination of both, but I think it’ll lean more toward the single-player. If you want to play Shroud, you can play without an internet connection single-player, you can play with a connection and still play single player, you can play solo where other community members affect your game, and finally you can play and have other players play alongside you. So, an MMO? Not really, but it’s a lot more than just your average single-player game.

3) The Best MMO Payment Model Ever

In this post, I take a hard look at payment models, and why there is such a passionate fight behind them. I weigh the positives and negatives of each model, and reason what would be the best theoretical payment model. Hint: It’s Buy-To-Play.

Perfect World, Neverwinter, Star Trek Online

2) For Love of the Grind: 5 Reasons Why We Grind

Grind. Even though it has 5 letters, it feels like a 4 letter word. Many people rail against it, and burnout of playing a game is largely due to how much grind that game makes you go through. However, if our games didn’t have grind, they wouldn’t be MMOs. Grind is a necessity in our games, but is also one of the worst forms of content. In this post, I go over reasons why we still grind, despite our passionate fights against it.

1) How MMOs Are Adapting the Psychology of Casinos 

Yesterday my wife and I drove down to Atlantic City to attend a timeshare presentation. They were very accommodating, but we didn’t fall for their tactics, which included loud music to prevent overhearing others, making a big deal when somebody signed up for one of the timeshares, trying to drive a wedge between my wife and myself so we would fight each other, and playing very specific music guised as background music. I think I heard “Let’s Hear it For The Boy” from Footloose multiple times. Dance music from 1984? Fascinating.

I’ve lived a short distance from one of the USA’s gambling meccas for my entire life, and they’ve just built a few casinos across the river from us in Philadelphia as well. So, when entrenched with the psychological tactics that the casinos use to try separating one from their hard-earned money, you tend to understand the tactics, see them for what they are, and either go along with them, or fight them. However, the same tactics these casino use work so well that MMO’s have picked them up as well. This post details a few tactics that both MMOs and Casinos use, and they may not be exactly what you think they are.

Star Trek Online

So, there you go. 100 posts. It’s been a fun journey so far, and one that I will keep up with for as long as I feel like I’m making a difference. Hopefully, I’ll see you at 200.

// Ocho

How MMOs are Adapting the Psychology of Casinos

Well, folks, in about 16 hours Neverwinter, the latest MMO from Cryptic and Perfect World will be entering it’s open beta phase of development. Past this point there will be no character wipes, though, so for all intents and purposes, consider Neverwinter launched. After all, the difference between a soft open-beta and a full-on launch is just bug fixes and patches, which happen all the time in MMO development anyway.

So once the floodgates open, we can fully start enjoying our time on the Tarnished Coast in all the glory the Dungeons and Dragons setting can muster (without really being very Dungeons and Dragons). But, to be honest, I’m a little apprehensive. I’ve spent a long time playing in Perfect World and Cryptic’s other games, namely Star Trek Online and Rusty Hearts, and the trend I’ve seen is a little scary. Namely, that the psychology behind relieving the player of their money is getting better and better.

Now, I’ve lived around gambling for quite some time. I was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia in the great state of New Jersey, so all my life I’ve been less than an hour drive to one of the USA’s great gambling meccas, Atlantic City. And now, Philadelphia itself has started to becoming a gambling destination of its own, sprouting up a few casinos in the past couple years. With my fascination of human behavior, this has led to a keen understanding of how the casinos are able to pull the money out of your pockets so easily.

And with the rise of Free-To-Play MMOs and casual mobile gaming, I’m starting to see the same signs invade our hobby…

Seeing Others Win

Have you ever put money into a slot machine, and even if you’ve won just a few coins the machine started whooping and hollering like a banshee? This is 100% on purpose. The noise and alarms that arise from slot machines is both for your benefit (You won! Woohoo!) but also for the benefit of others around you (Look! That guy won!). The draw of seeing others win with lights and sounds is a signal to others that they can win, too.

In games that use subscription models, this acts more like a Skinner Box, pushing you forward to your next dose of positive reinforcement. In Free-to-Play, though, seeing others win is an impetus to get where they are, and spending money is the easiest way to get there. In Star Trek Online, for example, whenever a lockbox is opened and the top prize is given out, a message goes out to the entire playerbase that you have won. Every… single… online… player.  And there is NO OPTION to turn it off!

Giving you the option to do so would seriously hurt their income, too. Seeing others win is the biggest driver of sales of the lockbox keys, which puts money directly into their pockets. With the odds of winning being as low as they are, and the frequency at which people are spending money on keys to open the boxes… they aren’t going anywhere. Lockboxes make them money hand over fist, and despite the loud complaining about them, the players keep buying them, hoping for the big hit.

Playing With Points and Not Real Money

When you want to start gambling at table games, the first thing you do is head to a table and drop some money on the table. These are then replaced with clay chips that are used at the gambling tables. Universal, and nobody thinks twice about it. But really, they should! Why chips? Why have tokens that represent money? Well, for one, the casino finds it easier to transfer money en-mass and little chips are easier than stacks of paper. But the biggest reason is that, in the players mind, those chips stop representing real money. They become a plaything, a toy used in the transaction of gambling. The most I’ve ever dropped on a single hand of blackjack was $60. In chips, that’s two green $25 chips, and two red $5 chips. This was very easy to do at the time. If, in order to play, I had to pull three $20 bills out of my wallet and bet them on ONE HAND of blackjack… the better part of my mind would’ve stopped me. Those three $20s aren’t just bills… that’s food, gas, etc. However, in chip form, there’s a disconnect between the chips and real money.

In MMOs, the same goes with store points. Most games don’t do this, but Perfect World’s Zen has a direct 1:1 correlation with the American dollar. 1 Zen = $.01. So $20 = 2000 Zen and so forth. So that big Andorian Kumari Vessels 3-Pack that’s 5000 Zen literally translates to $50! However, once those bills are transferred into points, they don’t go into the same category as cash in your mind. And with Star Trek Online’s Dilithium or Neverwinter’s Astral Diamonds, even these have a direct correlation with Zen, which has a direct correlation with real cash. They become just another game currency, and as such, they’re easier to spend as your mind treats them differently.

Comfortability and Keeping You Active

In older casinos, finding clocks is relatively tricky. There is, however, a new thought of casino design that since people have easy access to a clock themselves, changing the environment to hide the outside world isn’t the primary thinking anymore. It’s more about being comfortable. If people are comfortable and they enjoy their environment, they will spend more. Roger Thomas, the head of design for Wynn’s Resorts has essentially reinvented the modern casino. Now, instead of a cave setting, Wynn’s casinos feature sunlight, opulence, and artwork. The key here is that a casino is now an adult playground, designed to be so comfortable that you’ll want to spend more time in them seeking whatever pleasures are offered. More time, afterall, equals more money in the casino’s pockets.

The same goes with MMOs. The more time you spend in them, the more money you will spend in a Free-To-Play game. And so, the key is to make the players as comfortable and as busy as possible, with reasons to keep coming back. Comfortability is easy. Players like the familiar, and are too thrown off by the different. If they see mechanics that they’ve seen in other games, they’ll find it all very comfortable. My recent review of the game posited that Neverwinter is really just a blend of other games, not doing everything the same, but not really adding to it, either.

And then keeping players active is Perfect World’s modus operandi, something they have perfected. How many times have I logged into Star Trek Online to stay for a few minutes, only to end up staying for an hour or more? From Forbe’s exultation of the game’s Landing Page and timed events to STO’s real-time Doff system or Neverwinter’s timed crafting system (like Zynga’s multi-billion dollar strategy), giving you stuff to do and giving you reasons to come back is paramount, and they do it well.

So What is The Future?

Really, it’s not going to stop. With Zynga opening up real online casinos, and Perfect World using casino strategies in their games, it will just lead to a bigger and bigger industry. Casino psychology has been around for ages and is only going to get stronger. Although Neverwinter is taking the chance by not offering a subscription at all, they know the psych game well and so it’s not really a huge risk for them.

You will find me periodically heading into Neverwinter, and I will most likely periodically be spending money there, too. If the game is fun, I don’t mind it at all… but always in the back of my mind is that itch. That little voice that says “The House Always Wins”. So, I don’t see myself spending tons of time in Neverwinter, maybe just a weekend trip here and there.

Just like a vacation to the casinos.

// Ocho

Neverwinter is Coming [NWO]

This past weekend, because of my lifetime membership to Star Trek Online, I was thrown a Beta invite for Neverwinter and I took full advantage of it to answer all the questions I had about the latest Cryptic/Perfect World title. Is it more D&D or MMO? Is it just another fantasy WoW clone?! Can it hold on it’s own in this day of MMO proliferation?!! Why can’t it be Winter?!!! Are there way too many kobolds?!!!! <Ahem> Excuse me. Got carried away there. Anyway, what I found is that Neverwinter appears to be a true blend of the MMO landscape. There wasn’t a lot that screamed new and revolutionary, but then they also aren’t claiming anything of the sort.

Of course I have to add in a little disclaimer of my review: WHAT I SAW IS STILL IN BETA! You know what that means. It’s all subject to change. What I say might end up being completely different by the end. Also, this is, by far, my longest post. I wanted to give a complete picture of Neverwinter, though, and I couldn’t seem to do that succinctly.

So What Is the Game’s Overall Style?

Have you played Dungeons and Dragons Online? How about Star Trek Online? Rusty Hearts? Then you’re mostly familiar with how this game rolls. After the tutorial, you start out in the communal area of the city of Neverwinter known as The Protector’s Enclave. Here you meet up with quest givers, visit the marketplace and auction houses and do all your big city tasks, similar to DDO’s Stormreach. Important quests in the questline are done through individual instances with doors to these instances off the main city. Once you finish with the the starting questline, you move to other areas. However, these other areas, like the Blacklake District, contain both wandering mobs AND doorways to instances. These areas felt a little more like the formula we’re use to seeing in WoW or LotRO or the like, with quest-hubs and quests of mainly the “Kill 10 Rats”  variety, but then interspersed with the instances and once completed led right back to The Protector’s Enclave.

Gear is acquired by completing quests, token exchanges, loot drops, and by spending Diamonds, similar to any game I can think of.

Story is Very Important to Me. Does Neverwinter Have Any?

In my short time playing, I was able to complete three campaigns: Recovering a stolen crown, snapping the power of a bandit group, and breaking the power of an orc group.    The storylines themselves so far are pretty weak. Coming from Star Trek Online, this is surprising, as the stories told in STO are fantastic and a huge draw to the game. The stories so far in Neverwinter have been pretty much “Hey! Go kill this bandit leader!” then once you slay him “Thanks! That’s awesome! Now go kill this other bandit leader!” I can see how these bandits are posing a problem, as they are next door neighbors to the safe Protector’s Enclave, but the “story” so far just feels like a murderous to-do list.

However, there is a light at the end of this tunnel: The Foundry. The Foundry is, I believe, where Neverwinter will truly shine. Keeping in line with the Neverwinter series of games, the User-generated missions, so far, are where I found the most story. Neverwinter’s first Foundry Spotlight is Zebular‘s ‘The Dweomerkeepers, Act 1‘, and was EXACTLY what I was expecting from Neverwinter’s community. Being part 1 of an 8 part series, you were sent to investigate why the Drow had taken up residence at an abandoned inn. You found statues to old gods, parchment that turned to dust in the sunlight, bookshelves filled with old tomes, relics to investigate, and a lot of Drow elves that had a problem with you being there. Well done. If there had been a Part 2 ready, I would’ve jumped into it. If you play it, leave a tip as well. Tips are a lot more important in Neverwinter as opposed to Star Trek Online as I’ll explain shortly.

Although FINDING the Foundry missions in the first place took a little time, not being able to be started from anywhere like in STO, there is already plenty of missions available to try. In a big step, Neverwinter will be working in the missions organically into the gameplay. You can find a whole slew of Foundry missions on the cities Help Wanted boards, or periodically you can run across “well-informed” individuals who will point you to nearby user-made missions. Finding Foundry missions in the wilds, making them easier to find, grouping them into campaigns, and not just randomly choosing from a list of 1000 missions will make the Foundry a much more useful storytelling tool for many.

Is it Truly D&D?

Uhhh… no. It’s not. Not truly, anyway. Now, although I own a set of dice (they’re around here somewhere) I haven’t played a round of tabletop D&D in ages. But I do know how D&D generally functions with the d20 being the crux of the game. Do I know 4th Edition well, the edition Neverwinter is supposed to be based off of? No. But I’m positive this can’t be it.

According to the last Beta Weekend details, the level cap was raised to 40 for the beta, but the overall level cap will be 60. 60! In D&D terms, where around level 30 starts to be considered god-like, level 60 is unheard of! At-will powers start out as incredible, like my level 1 cleric being able to create spears of damaging light as his normal attack, Encounter powers calling devastating light from the heavens, and Daily powers that aren’t… well… daily. They’re huge abilities that you charge up by being in combat, but far from being usable “daily”.

Then, of course, there are the classes. So far, they are the Guardian Fighter, Devoted Cleric, Great Weapon Fighter, Trickster Rogue, and Control Wizard. So a tank, healer, and 3 types of DPS. Okay. However, one of the hallmarks of D&D are the multitude and customizability of classes. Hell, having classes in D&D is the basis of why we have classes in every other MMO to begin with! Not to mention being able to multi-class. So where DDO has 13 classes now, and a plethora of ways to customize them, Neverwinter will start with just a handful of kinda-customizable classes. Is this a bad thing? No, it’s just not the openness of D&D. Most likely, as a means of making money, new classes will be added and sold in the store as time goes on.

Big Pimpin’

What’s the Main Currency?

Neverwinter, like any other MMO, has a number of currencies already in place. Gold, from loot and quest rewards to spend on consumables, supplies, etc. Astral Diamonds, rewards from daily activities, and then your standard Tokens for dungeon loot, etc. The part that surprised me, though, is that unlike Star Trek Online where the primary currency is Energy Credits (gold) that is traded back and forth by the players, the primary currency is Astral Diamonds. That means buying and selling things on the Auction House is all in Diamonds. The currency that is more restricted, the currency that is directly purchasable with Zen store points, is the primary currency. What does this mean? Well, in STO where you get EC from selling items and standard loot, you could make enough EC to trade for a huge item on the Exchange, like a new ship. Then, the player getting the EC could also trade it for ships, or use it to buy lockbox keys also on the exchange. In other words, anything that can be sold on the exchange is all in EC but acquiring EC is extremely simple, so the prices are wildly inflated. There is no way you can turn EC directly into Zen Points, though, only Dilithium, the Astral Diamonds equivalent.

Not Neverwinter. In Neverwinter, acquiring Diamonds will be a little more rare. However, say you find a +15 Sword of Cute Bunny Slaughtering. You could sell it to a vendor for gold or you could sell it on the Auction to another player for Diamonds. These Diamonds can then be traded directly for Zen Points! And then what do you buy with Zen points? Any big items. Companions, Mounts, Dyes, Classes, Races. Sure, in STO, some ships are purchasable with Dilithium, but the majority of ships you really want to fly are bought with Zen points.

From this I could see the items in the Auction staying a little more reasonable as players will be less-willing to let go of them. It’ll all depend how many they make available to the average player and where they can sink them to see if it turns into a stable economy.

Will I have a Lot of Weapons to Choose From?

No. The time I was playing the Devoted Cleric, I only saw 1 weapon type, a symbol. Down the line we’ll probably get fancier and fancier symbols, but as far as I can tell we only get symbols. Great Weapon Fighters get two-hand swords, Guardian Fighters get a sword and shield, Control Wizards get… that little ball over their shoulder? Something having to do with their two fingers that they keep staring at? No idea. But you get my point, weapon selection seems to be non-existent. If you’ve ever played Rusty Hearts, this is the same style. Natasha uses dual pistols, Angela uses a magic scythe. However, even they get to pick other weapons during the course of the game, so this may (and probably will) change.

I will have ALL THE CHEESE!! MUAHAHAHAHA!

What Features Are the Most Noticeable From Other Games?

The instanced quests, aside from being non-repeatable (yet), are very similar in style to Rusty Hearts. You enter the instance, start fighting mobs, get to the end, there’s a quick cutscene of the boss, you fight the boss, and then get a chest of loot. The instances are relatively quick, too, taking about 10 minutes. However, it’s not like Rusty Hearts in that you don’t have to repeat the same instance over and over and over again. It’s a once and done thing, which still feels a little quick. But there are Foundry missions, non-instanced camps of mobs, and Skirmishes if you need to grind a bit, so all is not lost, though instanced quests do seem to be the best source of crafting materials.

The combat is most similar to Guild Wars 2, but expect to not move around so much. This is both good and bad. Bad because I’m now so USE to running and gunning at the same time, and evading is a piece of cake, but Good because it involves a little more strategy. If you see a red circle around you, you have to stop attacking immediately and run, else you get hit. So if you move more, you attack less. You could attack more, but be prepared to be hit more, too. It plays to more of a balance.

Every hour you can call upon your gods to grant you loot and buffs. This is taken from another Perfect World title, PWI. There is smaller group content, aside from the 5-man dungeons found in every game, called Skirmishes, which are quick. These are similar to LotRO’s Skirmishes, but can’t be done solo. And finally, you can gain companions, similar to Bridge Officers from Star Trek Online to help you solo.

So How Was the Devoted Cleric?

I found the Devoted Cleric a powerhouse. After dungeons and skirmishes, I usually found myself at the top or near the top in both damage output and healing output, so I may keep using him into the Third Beta Weekend coming up March 22nd. Being the only healing class, and since health doesn’t regenerate naturally (at least at the low levels), the Cleric is a straight-up necessity. I don’t usually play healing classes  because the high demand puts a lot of pressure on playing well, but I may give the Devoted Cleric a shot. I ran the one dungeon I could at level 16, the Cloak Tower, and we sprinted through it without too much trouble. Healing is sometimes difficult, but mouse-look targeting to heal?! It was a little more frantic than I had anticipated. I heard that further down the line, you can pick up a lot more AoE heals, but the mouse targeting of party members to heal was tricky to pick up, but still doable. I think I did admirably given my noobishness.

D’Awwww Puppy!

I Care About Looks! How Are the Graphics?

The graphics are a lot better than I was ever expecting. It’s an MMO with collision physics! Even among other players, you can’t stand in exactly the same spot as anyone else, you would collide with them. When you kill a mob on a sloped surface, they slide down the surface. Think Skyrim and ragdolls. Basically, way cooler than I was expecting. Mixed with the nice lighting and shading effects, I was more impressed than I thought I’d be and think this is easily one of the nicest-on-the-eyes MMO’s I’ve played yet.

How Is Neverwinter Compared to Turbine’s DDO?

Another D&D MMO on the market, and both entering into the Forgotten Realms. It’s tricky, to say the least, and it really depends on what you’re looking for in a game. If you’re a big fan of D&D, DDO is much better as it sticks to the true D&D better. I would even still give the better storytelling to Turbine’s DDO. However, if you’re not as big a fan of D&D, more into action-style combat, and more a fan of the “standard” style of MMO, you would appreciate Neverwinter more. Essentially, I don’t think Neverwinter will be usurping the D&D MMO crown but sharing it, especially with all the strides that DDO has made recently.

Feel the wrath of Four Leaf Clovers! (Not Red Balloons)

You Can’t Seem to Shut Up in This Post. Just Give Me the Rundown, Already. How Was It Overall?

I might come off as a little critical in this post, especially since it’s still in Beta, but I truly did like it. I don’t think it’ll become more like D&D, and will stay more like an MMO, which I like. The story will most likely improve as the game progresses and the Foundry will grow along side it, becoming a huge reason, if not THE reason, to play it. The graphics will still be really nice, especially for an MMO. Weapon and armor selection will most likely stay limited and might expand to a secondary weapon, but I wouldn’t expect a whole bunch more.

Overall, and most importantly, it was a lot of fun to play! Will it be the be-all-end-all MMO? No. Certainly not. Not in this day of an over-saturated MMO market. However, I can see it easily finding a place in the market and being fully free-to-play (and I mean FULLY, can’t subscribe to it if you wanted to), will most likely keep the servers nice and full.

I don’t see this becoming my “Home” MMO, as that currently belongs to STO, but I can definitely see adding this to my repertoire.

// Ocho