Tenfold Hate

Player Versus 2007
December 21, 2007, 12:48 pm
Filed under: Gaming, MMORPGs

I’ve learned quite a bit about myself as a gamer this year. The lackluster releases of 2007 have forced my hand on this issue, causing me to do a lot more thinking about gaming, reading blogs, and listening to podcasts than actual gaming.

The steady evolution of MMORPGs prior to 2007 has spoiled me. I’ve come to expect a lot more from games than ever before. First off, I feel like I’m done with pure PvE. Until MMORPGs jazz up their AI a bit, I’m over it. I’m far from whacking my last mole so to speak, and I’m not a huge PvPer, but the proposed “meaningful” synthesis of PvE and PvP as promised in WAR or AoC may be the last salvation of the genre in my eyes.

From now on when I try out a game, I’m going to ask myself the question, “Would I be playing this if it were single player?” Don’t get me wrong. For me, the multiplayer aspect of MMOs is the genre’s greatest asset. A strong community can make a mediocre (or downright shitty) game palatable. But ideally, a strong community should serve to compliment a stellar game rather than serve as the primary draw to a largely uninspired, humdrum title.

Another New Year’s Resolution I’m making–and this’ll seem pretty stupid and obvious–is I’m going to play MMOs on my terms rather than the game’s terms. Put simply, my goals will be mine and not those set out by the demands of the game. Thank you, rep grinds for hammering that point home. Life is too short and my game time is even shorter.

Though I’m much more of a classic “explorer” and “socializer” than anything else, I do have a healthy OCD streak in me that makes me very goal-oriented. Not in a competitive way, but in a way where ultimately, I will gladly engage in monotonous, work-like chores to reach an objective laid out before me.

If MMOs have taught me one thing, it’s that if a title is more about reaching a destination then the fun in getting there (cough) (endgame), it probably isn’t worth it. If I’m not enjoying the long path to the top, chances are it’s going to be even less fun once I arrive.

2007 made me wonder if games have just stopped evolving at a substantial enough rate to meet the evolving tastes of the gamers who play them. At the very least, it’s proven the gap between the two has widened disappointingly. Here’s to hoping 2008 proves me wrong.

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Vanguard Week Two: An Overview
December 17, 2007, 1:08 am
Filed under: Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

Admittedly, I didn’t clock in as much game time in Vanguard this week as I did last week. I enjoyed the time I did spend playing it, but it didn’t quite scream to be played like other games have in the past. I haven’t yet found the answer to the question, “Why Vanguard and why NOT WoW, EQ2, or LoTRO?”

I rented a wyvern and took a bird’s eye tour of Qalia, but otherwise I’ve just been knocking off quests with my blood mage feeling like I’ve done this all before in a slew of other games. If this was my first MMO, I’d probably be in love. But it isn’t.

Vanguard is a fine game. There’s just some intangible that’s not quite sucking me in. For all of their faults, both WoW and LoTRO have a stylized, coherent feel to their respective worlds. I’m just not getting this from Telon. I’m not a big PvPer by any means, but I do miss having a vaguely meaningful way to mix things up a bit when I want a breather from kill and collect quests. And frankly, if I am going to pursue the pure PvE route, I’d much rather do it in Tolkien’s world than McQuaid’s.

Admittedly, I was never a big EQ fan. I know this is the closest thing to blasphemy that can cross an MMORPGer’s lips, but it just wasn’t for me. I have a wee bias against EQ’s brand of high fantasy. I think rainbows and unicorns are the stuff of little girl’s bedroom wallpaper, not high adventure. Vanguard is a little darker, a little grittier, but also a little too similar mechanic-wise from what I’ve played in the past.

I can be a little testy about this stuff. I loved Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. When San Andreas was released, I tooled around with it for a couple weeks then dropped it like a hot potato. Outside of a few different mini-games, it was the same old song and dance beneath the surface. The same can be said for most video game sequels. This is one mark of Nintendo’s genius. The Mario games are all similar enough where there’s some level of brand continuity, but they’re always offering enough new elements to keep things fresh and appealing.

The whole fantasy MMORPG genre sometimes feels like those too-numerous-to-name, competent but unspectacular, sequels pumped out by any number of console game makers. So you like Pac-Man? You’ll love Ms. Pac-Man!

I hope I’m not sounding too negative here. But I think for any fantasy MMORPG released at this stage of the game, there has to be an answer to the question, “Why this game and why not EQ2, WoW, LoTRO, GW, et al?” In week two, I have yet to find the answer. I hope I do.

Perhaps I’m spending too much time daydreaming about the copy of Tabula Rasa I hope to find under the Christmas tree this year. Perhaps my real life WoW cronies’ proposition to start up a weekly casual play group this winter has got me nostalgic about peeking my head back into Azeroth.

After a year of licking my wounds from raid burnout, maybe I feel like if I’m gonna go back to a familiar playstyle with gear-oriented advancement systems, I might as well do it in a game I had a year-and-a-half invested in rather than under the guise of a “new” game.

But for now, I’ll keep plugging away at Vanguard and having a perfectly okay time doing it–unless either Funcom or Mythic decide to drop beta invites in my stocking. But I’m not gonna hold my breath on that one.

Dark Knight Trailer Leaked Online
December 14, 2007, 4:04 pm
Filed under: Comics, Film

Apparently, someone whipped out their camera phone at the midnight premier of I Am Legend Thursday night and captured the Web’s first peak of The Dark Knight trailer. The quality is shoddy at best, but a must see for any Batman enthusiast. It probably won’t be around for long–seems that Warner Bros. has their internet bloodhounds on the case. Catch it if you can.

Director Christopher Nolan and Heath Ledger manage to capture the Joker in all his deranged, psychotic glory from what I’ve seen. Perhaps it can erase Jack Nicholson’s portly, polished, pale interpretation of the character from pop culture memory once and for all.

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Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Christmas Comes Early in Telon
December 12, 2007, 10:52 pm
Filed under: Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

Vanguard Game Update #3 went live tonight. This is a biggie, including the introduction of Ancient Port Warehouse and Overland raids, further optimizations, a Khal revamp, new areas for player housing, and holiday content. Hopefully, the long-promised Trial Island is not far on this patch’s heels.

Welcome news for all those level fifties anxious for new content–and they threw some bones to the rest of us peons, too. Player reception to this update should be a fair indicator of whether Vanguard has a bright future or is just treading water until the axe finally falls. It’ll also serve as a good barometer of SOE’s true level of commitment to their red-headed stepchild.

My game is still patching, so not much else to add at the moment. Get the gory details over at station.com.

Game Master, There Are Grinds in My MMO!
December 12, 2007, 1:05 am
Filed under: Gaming, MMORPGs, World of Warcraft

On this week’s Shut Up We’re Talking podcast, Brent from VirginWorlds dared suggest that despite all our bitching, MMORPGers LIKE grinding on some level. I immediately thought, “Hell no!”

As I finished my fifth “Kill 10 scary monsters and return to me with 10 scary monster scalps” quest in Vanguard tonight, something hit me. I was having a good time. And damn it, Brent had a point. But the fact remains, even if Marilyn Monroe is dangling a carrot in front of me, eventually I’m gonna get tired of looking at her. It’s not a question of whether or not MMOs will ever be grind-free. All “grind” really implies is that something has stopped feeling rewarding. Or perhaps more accurately, grind begins once repetition and monotony outweigh potential reward.

As the Ancient Gaming Noob pointed out in the same podcast, there are things that’d be downright monotonous that become a lot of fun if say, you’re engaging in those tasks with a group of friends. The multiplayer element of MMOs throws a random factor into tasks that, if performed solo, would become brain-numbingly repetitious pretty darn quickly. The right group dynamic offers a built-in social element, an added tactical element, and the extra satisfaction of working as a team that turns even the most repetitive Whac-A-Mole Furlbog rep grind into a night well spent.

If there’s enough variety to how they make me jump through hoops, I’ll do it again and again. Sometimes I want Marilyn dangling the carrot. Other times I’ll settle for Jayne Mansfield. I am a pretty simple animal. Initially all designers had to do is change the pretty scenery every so often, make the monsters bigger and scarier, throw me some coins and decent loot here and there, and I’d grind ’til the cows come home. This is where WoW lost me. They began using the same old formula for every rep grind and virtually every dungeon and every form of character advancement.

I don’t necessarily need an MMO that plays like a console game or an FPS. Eventually it’ll be a fun twist once someone actually gets it right–but honestly, for all my longing for that ‘next-gen’ title to blow the lid off the industry like UO or WoW did, all game companies really have to do is come up with more clever ways to throw me off: different formulas, different game mechanics, and different types of character progression.

Vanguard Week One: An Overview
December 9, 2007, 9:09 pm
Filed under: Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

Today marks my first full week as a resident of Telon. My bloodmage reached level 14 this afternoon. There’s no shortage of quests at these early levels. In fact, they seem to pop up in huge clusters. I’m finding by the time I’ve made my way through 3/4 of them, I’ve dinged, run to town to buy spells, and then come upon yet another cluster of quests that pull me away from the region I had been exploring. I guess I’m not a completist when it comes to these things.

Almost everything you kill in this game impacts your reputation with one faction or another, either positively or negatively. I’m not sure how significant a role reputation plays in the game at so early a stage. I just hope it doesn’t come back to bite me on the butt down the road. I’m of the mindset that reputation should have positive repercussions for those with outstanding rep with a particular faction, but it should never be used as a glass ceiling to prohibit players from obtaining certain crafting patterns or access to a dungeon. I don’t have time for that type of silliness.

I had my first opportunity to try my healing shoes on for size in a small group quest outside the Neamsong Bunkers this week. I did okay, considering my group was composed of a sorcerer and a rogue. After our first wipe, I quickly learned that the traditional healing spells in my toolbar were just not energy efficient if I was gonna do a halfway decent job keeping my small band of adventurers alive. “Entwining Vein” is my friend. The spell drains life from a foe and transfers the hit points to an ally, allowing the bloodmage to mend allies and mutilate enemies all in one handy incantation.

The fun factor of this game, admittedly, has been much higher than I expected and technical difficulties on my new comp have been virtually non-existent. I did experience two crashes to desktop, both this weekend. Neither made me a happy camper. Otherwise it’s been smooth sailing.

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Getting My Gnomish Feet Wet in the Adventuring Sphere
December 6, 2007, 11:21 am
Filed under: Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

My bloodmage dinged 10 last night in Vanguard. I was able to purchase his beginner’s mount with what silver I’d squirreled away from harvesting ore and stone and selling vendor trash. I was also lucky enough to have an uncommon lowbie chestpiece drop off one of the mobs in the library outside Mekalia which garnered me a wopping silver piece.

So I reached level 10 in four nights of casual play (2-3 hours an evening)–and that was with plenty of experience loss and mucking about not knowing what the hell I was doing. I acquired a new combat form that I haven’t had the chance to experiment with and it seems a bunch of new tabs popped up on my taskbar.

I made my way to Kahl, which is the human city on Qalia. There’s a lot more action here player-wise, but the city struck me as a little sparse in character, lacking the coziness and flavor of my toon’s gnomish home in Mekalia. I guess humans just aren’t as touchy-feely as us gnomes, embodied well in some very cool Kahlian architecture I spotted. The entrance to the town’s harbor is flanked by two imposing statues that really lend a harsh, militaristic feel to this port city.

I’ll have to find some trouble to get into there once I’ve had my fill of questing around Neamsong Bunker. I need to break in my new mount, so I’m opting for the open plains and plateaus until the novelty of not having to run everywhere gets old.

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