Tenfold Hate

The Excitement is “Mounting”
November 30, 2007, 3:33 pm
Filed under: Age of Conan, Warhammer: Age of Reckoning

Okay, worst play on words ever. But just as I was about to call it a week, what should show up in my mailbox but the latest monthly newsletters from both Age of Conan and Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. Aside from the usual spin, hype-building, and non-information, there’s some stuff worth looking at in both publications.

The AoC newsletter provides some further detail on their mounted combat system that looks very promising. The WAR newsletter reveals another ‘hubba-hubba’ dark elf career (the sorceress) along with a beta update and some concept art for their own mounts (dwarf ale powered mount for the win!) Enjoy your weekend.

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T.G.I. Rambling
November 30, 2007, 11:36 am
Filed under: Gaming, MMORPGs, Pirates of the Burning Sea, Tabula Rasa, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

Looks like a slow end to the week–and the month–MMO news-wise. After a largely PC-less 2007, I scraped up my end-of-the-year savings and ordered a new gaming rig with what scratch isn’t going towards Christmas gifts.

I work for a college out here, so we have a built in week off between Christmas and New Year’s. My plan? Spend as much of that week as possible making up for lost game time. I’m talking skipping showers, ordering takeout, phone off the hook, chainsmoking, tinfoil on the windows, trucker speed taking, Depends undergarment wearing-style gaming. Okay–not quite that obsessive, but I’m excited nonetheless.

First on my agenda is taking that second crack at Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. The upcoming revamp alluded to in the SOE producer’s letter will either provide the game with an overdue jumpstart or sink it altogether. Either way, I want to give Vanguard the old college try before it’s finally cast out of the limbo it’s lingered in through 2007 and either crash lands or sprouts wings. I’m all too weary of SOE’s promises of the great things to come in the “future.” Guess what? The future is now. Poop or get off the pot.

January brings PoTBS, which, coupled with Vanguard, would give me cause to get a Sony Station Pass for the first time in my MMO career. I had this one on preorder from Amazon but canceled after sinking a bit too much change on this new comp. Looks good, but I’m back to holding out until the initial round of “first impression” reviews hit the net.

If Sony’s incapable of holding onto my subscription dollar I might even give Tabula Rasa a shot. Despite my love of Lord British’s Ultima saga, my irrational disinterest in sci-fi MMOs has kept me from this one. But a lot of bloggers and podcasters whose opinions I really respect seem to be having a lot of fun with this game. At the end of the day, I can’t help but feel that whatever games get me through the winter are just filler to pass the time before WAR and AoC go head-to-head in the spring.

Mostly though, I’m enthusiastic to get back behind the keyboard to write about playing games, rather than the long-winded, theoretical pining and speculation you’ve had to contend with so far from me.

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Static Worlds Kill RP
November 28, 2007, 12:22 pm
Filed under: Fantasy, Gaming, MMORPGs

Static worlds kill role-playing. I’m not talking about spewing Middle English in group chat or the slew of other silly stereotypes many a modern gamer equates dismissively with RP. Ideally in an RPG, you can do anything within the realm of possibility (and in MMORPGs, within the constraints of game physics): incorporate elements of your environment into a brawl, dig a ditch or sack a city, plant rose bushes or hack down a forest, become a noble cavalier heralded by the peasants or a murderous cutpurse hunted by the town guard.

Donkey Kong was never considered an RPG. Your avatar in Q*Bert or Crystal Castles never evolved or left any real footprint on the game world outside of advancing from level to level until you got bored or ran out of quarters. You followed a scripted course of play to save said princess or clear said board of adversaries. Sound familiar?

In an RPG, your character not only advances in level, but you “write” his or her story alongside your fellow players. You create a character, not a cog. You are adopting a role for the two or three hours you spend in game, not simply racking up dancing cherries or in the case of MMOs—blue or purple items. Did all the level 60 magic-users in your pen-and-paper campaigns parade around in the same robes? Nope. Because everyone was not pushed and prodded down a near-identical path.

Single player games have given us glimpses of the types of worlds we can leave a stamp on. It’s just a matter of time before our video cards and processors allow for this on a massive multiplayer scale. I for one would forsake multiple continents and vast oceans for a smaller game world if it indeed felt like a world, not the façade of a movie set. But will game studios be up for the challenge, or should we brace ourselves for another decade of hovering yellow question marks and grinding repeatable content?

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The Final Frontier?
November 27, 2007, 10:15 am
Filed under: MMORPGs, Star Trek Online

Perpetual’s change in ownership has been confirmed. Last night, startrek-games.com had this to report:

“Perpetual has been acquired by new ownership, reportedly a media company looking to use Star Trek Online to make its first major inroads into the video game market. Along with the acquisition comes a partial retargeting of Star Trek Online to what our source describes as a “more casual” experience, one which may potentially eschew subscription fees in favor of the practice of charging real money for optional in-game items, a practice popularized by various Korean MMOs.

[T]here have been no significant layoffs with the change in management, [but] a number of employees have allegedly left the company due to a dissatisfaction with the new direction the game is said to be taking.”

Use Star Trek Online to make its first major inroads into the video game market?” “Partial retargeting of Star Trek Online?” This is the corporate speak of venture capitalists out to make a quick buck if I ever heard it. The direction the game seemed to be headed in to begin with was less than spectacular. Now microtransactions? I’m sure there are intelligent ways to handle microtransactions that keep the playing field level, but I haven’t seen them yet.

I realize as the industry expands, there will be a plethora of alternate payment methods for MMORPG players. Subscription fees aren’t the only answer, but I firmly believe that at this point in time, they are the best answer. Microtransactions give players a marked advantage depending on how much money they’re willing to throw into the game. Not my cup of tea.

My apprehension towards this game has turned into flat out disinterest before seeing a single screenshot. The Star Trek IP has such rich content, culture, and story to lend to a well-developed MMORPG. It’s a real shame this is the route the license’s new handler is taking. Well, at least there were no layoffs.

In the words of James T. Kirk, “K-H-A-A-A-N!!!”

Drudging the MMO Tar Pits
November 26, 2007, 12:53 pm
Filed under: Gaming, MMORPGs

Every move the gaming industry makes seems to signify another nail driven in the coffin of the hardcore gamer. Games are constantly accused of throwing in easy button mode or being simplified to appeal to the silent majority: people who can’t—or won’t—spend 4+ hours a night and 5+ days a week in game.

One thing that is seldom discussed, however, is the fact that “hardcore” play as it is largely defined is based on a blueprint that is just shy of a decade old. Let’s face it—that’s ancient when we’re talking about the lifespan of your average game. I don’t believe we’ve reached a point in MMO history where players want everything handed to them. Challenges and difficulty simply need to be rethought and presented in a way other than time sinks.

Hardcore players are not dinosaurs because they want difficulty and challenge in their gaming. They only become dinosaurs when they continue to define challenge and difficulty in the most narrow of ways—through archaic, clunky old game systems and the rule sets of yesteryear.

In order for the genre to continue to evolve, hardcore and casual play must no longer be defined by the amount of time a player has to sink into a game. Game developers need to up the ante and reevaluate HOW they can make games challenging and rewarding without falling back on the moth-eaten blueprints collecting dust in the attic.

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Reality Asylum
November 23, 2007, 5:35 pm
Filed under: Gaming, MMORPGs, Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

The other night I was listening to a discussion on Troy and Karen’s always thought provoking Voyages of Vanguard podcast regarding upcoming changes to travel time in Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. From what I gleaned from the producer’s letter released a few weeks back, players will eventually be able to traverse the vast game world quicker, allowing them to spend more game time PLAYING rather than commuting from Point A to Point B.

Some hardcore players act like the sky is falling. Most of us, especially anyone who has a substantial commute to and from work in real life, really don’t need this sense of “reality” in the limited game time we have each night. Travel should be meaningful. But if half the gamer’s time is spent traveling from the guild hall to a dungeon on another continent, only to realize it’s bedtime upon arriving at the destination, well, that’s not fun no matter how you cut it.

The Voyages of Vanguard discussion turned to gamers’ definitions of “reality” or “realism” in games. Certain elements of reality add to immersion and enhance player experience. Um, like climbing ladders, scaling walls, kicking over a table, picking a torch off a wall, tying a horse to a hitching post—things that ironically, you can’t do in most of today’s most popular MMORPGs. And people are whining because it might take 10 minutes rather than 40 to get from Point A to Point B? Down with monorails and jet planes, I say!

I get the impression that these are the same people who LOVE crafting because of the sense of “reality” it lends to a game. There’s nothing wrong with crafting. Crafting adds a nice mini-game to most MMOs. It’s great to be able to make your own gear–and crafting can be an important pillar of a player-based economy. It has meaning in this regard. But the ACT of crafting? Boring.

I play games to do things I can’t do in twenty-first century society—cast spells, wear chain mail, battle fantastic foes, run around town waving a cutlass, etc. If I wanted to craft, I’d buy a decoupage kit. I can do it in real life with a much more satisfying end result. Crafting in real life–from woodworking to knitting–can be challenging, meditative, intuitive, mathematical, and extremely gratifying. Crafting in a game (for me) is a series of button clicks and probability rolls that occur in between half-watching The Office or talking on the phone.

Once again, I digress. Reality has it’s ups-and-downs, but that’s why we have things like games, music, movies, whiskey, and books to help ease reality’s grasp on us when we need a little breather. Let’s leave the more monotonous aspects of reality out of our entertainment time.

Happy Turkey Day!
November 20, 2007, 9:25 pm
Filed under: Gaming, MMORPGs

One of the key factors that keeps me coming back to MMORPGs is the sense of community they provide–one that transcends geographical and national boundries, age, and political beliefs. Thursday, we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States, ushering in the holiday season from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon.

This is the time of year when between hectic Christmas shopping and propelling ourselves into holiday debt, we have the opportunity to reflect on what we value, spend time with the people we care about most, and set goals for the year to come. Enjoy your time away from the keyboards stuffing yourself silly. The games will still be there after your in-laws or siblings or crazy Aunt Alice are little more than a lingering headache Friday morning–and you’re chowing down on a cold turkey sandwich back in front of your computer.

We as gamers are fortunate to be a part of (what is in my opinion) one of the most fun, engaging pastimes out there. We have a constant link to socialization, adventure, and a network of fellow enthusiasts around the world even when we’re homebound. I know it sounds terribly hokey, but this season I urge you to take the time out to value not only what we have on a personal level, but on a local and global one too.

Whether that means being a little nicer to the abrasive cousin you can’t stand at Thanksgiving dinner, or donating some food or toys to a holiday drive or soup kitchen, or walking a dog at your local volunteer animal shelter, or maybe even taking the $15 you’d lay down for a monthly game subscription and giving it to your favorite charity–find something that’s in your comfort zone and let’s make a positive mark on the real world before heading back to the comfy shelter of our virtual ones as we gear up for more holiday chaos.

Treasure the company of your family and friends, both in-game and out and most importantly, have a great holiday!