Archive for Gaming

FreeRealms Freeloading

So I have joined FreeRealms.  If you want to find me in game, I’m Jhaer Buegren.

Thus far, I’m entertained but disappointed.  As many people across the blog-o-sphere have pointed out, the game is fun.  Or rather, the games are fun.  I put it that way because the individual mini-games in FreeRealms for each of the classes are fun.  However, “the game” as a whole, to me, isn’t.

What’s lacking are the social aspects.  Finding your friends and getting them on your friend list is far too poorly implemented.  Its hard.  As of yet, I have none of my friends on my friend list because I haven’t been on at the same time as them, in the same place, so we can do that.  With my Xbox360, I can add friends from the webpage.  Why can’t I do that here?  Also, no one talks.  They are far too busy playing mini-games, which says something about the mini-games, but it also makes the game feel like I’m playing next to people rather than playing with people.  I quit WoW because all of their social interactions take place in guild/group, auction, or Chuck Norris jokes (not really, but the innane quality of the general chat when it does exist floats around that level).  FreeRealms won’t be really appealing to me until that changes.  Puzzle Pirates has more social interaction than FreeRealms.

In any event, seeing as how, for now, FreeRealms is not something I’d be willing to put a single dollar into, I’ll be freeloading.  I’ll keep posting about what its like to play a game with a velvet rope and RMT when you don’t participate in either.  In Puzzle Pirates, I play on a doubloon ocean which allows me to do “everything” for free as long as someone buys doubloons and sells them to me for pieces of eight.  So far, FreeRealms doesn’t offer a way I can grind past the monetary restrictions of the game.  At least not one I’ve seen.  We’ll just have to see how it goes…

Niches and Peaks

A few days ago over at Kill Ten Rats, Suzina put up a post about Niche MMOs.  It sparked a bit of discussion, and I even threw in a comment, and I just felt it was an idea I wanted to put here and maybe expand on a little.

The fact is, everything starts as a niche.  The first MUD was a niche to the uses of the Internet that existed at the time (hell, MMOs today are still a niche of the overall gaming market, and games are a niche of the entertainment industry, I’m pretty sure books and movies outsell games – for now).  Every iteration of what we would come to call MMOs evolved, taking what came before and tried to improve it.  From MUDs to UO to EQ to WoW (and before anyone gets angry that I left out their favorite game in there, I’m being short on purpose, I realize there are tons of games that fit), each game wanted to be better than the last, and with a few exceptions the one thing most MMOs had in common was a fantasy setting.  There are lots of companies out there that have seen WoW, seen WoW’s numbers, and decided they’d like to be WoW.  But trying to out-WoW WoW is a losing proposition.  If you spend $100 million on a fantasy game and expect to get millions of subscribers, you are going to be disappointed (and probably broke).  In the post WoW fantasy genre, the best you can really hope for is a niche game that fills a need that WoW doesn’t and hold enough players to make a profit.  If you take a look at Lord of the Rings Online, they aren’t trying to beat WoW, but they did take a number of lessons from WoW and then said “What if we built a fantasy game on a well known intellectual property and kept the story content high?”  If you’d like to play a fantasy MMO with heavy story, LotRO is your game.  EQ2 is over in their corner nurturing their niche too.  Even EQ is holding on.  WAR is in the process of recovering, slapped with the realization they didn’t out-WoW WoW on launch.  AoC is in the same boat with WAR.  And since WoW is still climbing, still putting out expansions that expand the player base, its not yet time for someone to take over the crown yet.  WoW, being as successful as it is, needs to falter before that.  In the meantime, the fantasy genre is dead except in the niches.

But fantasy isn’t the only game in town.  EVE Online has been trucking along in the Science Fiction arena for a while, growing slowly and steadily.  If I had to define EVE I’d classify it as the “UO of the Ship-based Sci-Fi genre”.  Right now there are a few new Ship-based Sci-Fi games set to hit the market.  Black Prophecy and Jumpgate Evolution are the two big ones, with Star Trek Online taking a middle ground with both ships and ground game (hopefully they won’t fall into the same pit that Pirates of the Burning Sea did), and I suspect Star Wars: The Old Republic might have some space ships in it (but I also suspect the game will heavily favor the ground based side).  Assuming none of these games screw up too badly, one of them might be the EQ of the genre, breaking open the market.  If that happens, in about five years we’ll probably have a WoW-sized success in the Sci-Fi MMO market (maybe Stargate Worlds will recover enough to make a showing, but I think that might be just wishful thinking on my part), at which point Sci-Fi will be in the same boat that fantasy is currently: one clear “winner” with everyone else either failing or nurturing their niche of the genre.

My thoughts on this aren’t completely pulled out of thin air… just look at other entertainment sectors.  In movies, the out of left field blockbuster doesn’t really happen often.  Usually a blockbluster is preceded by several failed attempts, minor and moderate successes before landing the perfect storm of funding, story, directing and acting to blow the lid off.  After a blockbuster explodes, movies and games experience the same effect: attraction.  Once the market showed that people would pay to see a well done movie about comic book superheroes, all the sudden you had all the big name directors, writers, actors and movie producers looking to cash in.  The difference is that movies leave the theater, they last anywhere from 90 minutes to 3 hours, and its easy to watch a bunch of movies, a different one every weekend.  In MMOs, every game is like an extended run film of 50 or 60 years ago.  Nowadays, new movies open at the multiplex every weekend, and there are 24 screens, but “back in the day” people went to see Gone With The Wind over and over, and the theaters (which often had only 1 screen, maybe 2) kept it because it made money.  A new movie had to prove it was worth getting rid of a money maker.  That’s what the MMO market is like.  You can’t just release a game and expect people to come running.  The majority of people will only subscribe to one game at a time over the long term, with two subscriptions overlapping as they decide which one to keep.  They might buy your box and use your first “free” month, but you have 30 days to convince them not to go back to their other game, the one they’ve already invested time into, the one they’ve already had fun playing.  In 30 days you have to prove to them that they need to subscribe to your game, and you need to prove to them that if it comes down to a choice they should cancel their other accounts and not your game.

The Free-to-Play model is working to change this.  With a F2P MMO, you only need to convince people to keep your game installed and come back from time to time, and maybe throw a few bucks your way every now and then.  Sure, you’d like for them to dump money in, but (hopefully) your budget and business model is actually designed around a minority of players doing that, with the majority spending nothing or spending rarely.  It remains to be seen if this model with be a success and if it will have a profound effect on the subscription based gaming sector, or just another niche outside of tween-based casual game social spaces.

Anyway, at this point I’m just rambling, so I’ll stop.

Dead Rising 2

Dead Rising is still one of my favorite Xbox360 games.  So, clearly, I’m excited about the sequel.

Vegas, baby…

Fight me!

Another in a long line of web pages diversion from productivity is My Brute.  You create a little gladiator, and then you send him to fight.  Three times a day, and you can enter tournaments.  And you control absolutely nothing.  You pick the opponent and that’s it, sit back and enjoy the carnage.

So, come, fight me and be my pupil, then take on other brutes in single combat.

Encouraged Grouping

There was an article over on Massively, and then Cuppy wrote about it, and it got me to thinking, so I figured I’d chime in…

The first thing to deal with is that games, especially MMOs, are a business just like any other.  And like every business they are very trend driven.  If one company has success with something, expect other companies to follow it, because, in their thinking, that way lies success.  You see it in movies fairly clearly.  One superhero movie does well and suddenly the market is flooded with superhero movies.  If next year a gritty noir cop film were to rake in a $60 million opening weekend, you could expect to see a few more of them the year after.  Books are another place this is obvious.  How many young adult targeted books about child/teen heroes battling evil existed prior to the success of Harry Potter?  How many after?  Bookstores practically have entire aisles of them.

EQ encouraged grouping.  I like to say encouraged rather than forced because despite what some people will tell you every single class in EQ could solo… many of them were just horrible at it.  Grouping, then, felt forced because a bunch of people who couldn’t solo effectively could overcome that and gain much better advancement by grouping together.  Because grouping was so much better than solo for the majority of classes, people say it is “forced”.  Semantics.  In any event, it worked well for EQ.  Grouping, forced or encouraged, fostered communities.  Players built friends lists and joined guilds, they frequented the same zones to be with the same people, they followed those people to new zones.  Because of this, the games that came shortly after all tried to encourage grouping.  EQ was successful, and that way lies success.

WoW came along and said people didn’t need to group.  Every class can solo, and often times they solo more effectively than grouping (because solo you don’t have to worry about stupid people invading your group and messing you up).  And it was more successful.  So, that way now lies success.  Most of the games since, and most of the ones coming down the pipe all allow for rewarding solo play.  In fact, many of these games, through experience split and bonus structures, and loot sharing actually discourages grouping.  Why split exp and loot with random strangers when you can just solo the content and keep it all yourself?  Of course, they still do encourage some grouping, in instances for groups and raids, but the game leading up to the “end game” doesn’t need, and plays more efficiently without, grouping.

This too will change.

The problem I have with this is that MMOs are not quite like other businesses.  If Nike were to decide to change the way they make shoes and I didn’t like the new shoes, I could still find the old kind, through eBay or even through Nike as they are likely to rebrand the old shoes as “classics” and keep selling them until they become unprofitable.  But when it comes to MMOs, if the new trend moves away from your game model, you only have two options: 1) change your game to follow the new trend, or 2) accept that your game might diminish, plan for that, and begin building a new game.

As I touched on in my post about quests, with EQ they chose option 1.  After the launch of WoW (and some even before, the benefit of being a running game while another game runs an open beta and media blitz) they began implementing changes in their game to capitalize on the new buzz of new success.  At this point, EQ plays more like a WoW skin draped over an EQ bone structure with a bit of reconstructive surgery.  The old EQ is lost (unless you want to play the Mac version, which I would, if I didn’t need a Mac to do it), and that is the game I want to play.

I want a game with encouraged grouping throughout, with quests you have to discover, without maps built in to the game, but no one is developing that game anymore, and even the games that were that game aren’t that game anymore.  I am a niche that is not being serviced.  When people ask what MMOs I play, that is the answer I give them.

Choices That Matter

Overall, even though I do like First Person Shooters, I’m not a big FPS guy.  Mostly this is because I’m not a savant at deathmatch, and so when I go online and hop in random games I lose significantly more than I win.  It’s okay to lose more than you win, as long as it doesn’t “feel” like you are losing.  If I get a kill for every 2 to 4 deaths, I feel fine.  When I’m only getting a kill for every 10 deaths, I don’t want to play anymore.

One of the things I don’t like so much about FPS games is that weapon choices are specifically just weapon choices.  Changing from one gun to another changes the damage, the field of fire, the rate of fire, reload rates, etc.

I’d love to see a game that took things a step further and tied other game elements into weapon choices.  The first thing I thought of was light.  Imagine a horror game like Dead Space, or Left 4 Dead, where if you are holding a pistol it allows you to hold a lantern in your off hand, giving you light in a 360 degree radius for 30 feet.  If you switch to the shotgun or machine gun, a two handed weapon, you can’t carry the lantern, but you have a flashlight attached to the barrel, allowing you to have light in a typical flashlight cone in a narrow arc, but it goes 100 feet.  In both cases you can always switch off the light, and use Nightvision goggles, giving you a green tinted low light in all directions, but would react to light sources badly (people could actually hide from you in a pool light much the way they would hide in a shadow from a player without nightvision, and a flashlight shined in your face would cause temporary blindness).  Throughout the course of the game, both solo or in multiplayer, choosing a weapon and a kind of light source could be made very important.

Maybe someone has already done this.  Are there any games out there where weapon choice is more than just a choice of weapon?

Defining Quest

Cuppy’s post about going back to EverQuest got me to thinking… One thing that has always bugged me is when people say that the title of the game EverQuest is ironic because the game had so few quests and was mostly a grind.  “NeverQuest” they often call it.  I heartily disagree… now, on to the tangent…

When I wake up in the morning there are things I do.  I shower, I sometimes shave, I eat breakfast, I check emails, I watch a TV show, maybe I write something for this blog, I go to work.  Work itself is a list of things to do.  Write some code to fix a bug, check on the performance of the servers, flowchart the processes of a new program, and more.  The one thing that all of those have in common is that not a single one of them would I ever, for any reason, consider a “quest”.

My quest in life is to be a writer, or perhaps a game designer.  The things I do on a daily basis are, in some form or another, tasks I perform in pursuit of those larger goals, either directly or indirectly.  And now we return to the point…

In my years of playing EverQuest, there was not a single day in that game where I was not on a quest.  Whether it be a small task performed to gain reputation, or the pursuit of some larger aspect of something else, but it was always moving toward the completion of some quest somewhere.  Headband and Sash quests, Ro Armor, Shackles, Epic weapons, Manuals from Knowledge, Rings in Velious, and much much more.

In my years of playing World of Warcraft, I can’t say I’ve actually done very many quests at all.  Every day, every session, I was completing tasks.  Busy work.  Dozens of little things to do, none of which took very long, and none of which mattered.  The rewards I gained from doing WoW’s “quests” would be replaced in days, sometimes less.  The only rewards that were even close to permanent and mattering to my character were ones gotten at the level cap, through raiding.

To me, a quest should be a long hard road through hell, something that directs more of you life than fifteen minutes.  When I think of “Quest” I think of The Holy Grail, I think of the search for Solomon’s Mines, I think of the search for intelligent life on other planets, I think of goals that consume you.  Quests in EverQuest in the “old days” had this.  Quests in today’s games don’t.  Today’s quests are nothing more than “To Do” lists.  Today’s quests are bullet points on the agenda.  Today’s quests are eating breakfast, checking my email, and reviewing code.

And that, I’m fairly certain, describes exactly why most modern MMOs, and even what EverQuest has become, just don’t seem to hold my interest.  I want to quest again…  Do any games have this? or have they all gone the way of WoW?  I had hoped Lord of the Rings Online would deliver, and perhaps it did later, but I only got up to level 17 and it was “quest hubs” and tasks, sometimes with a dash of story but really nothing more.

Limitations

Talk to me long enough and you’ll hear me refer to the book Illusions by Richard Bach.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you’ve seen mention of it a few times.  Within the book is a book, the Messiah’s Handbook, which is filled with all the things a messiah needs to know, and it is quoted on numerous occasions throughout the novel.  One of my favorites is as follows:

Argue for your limitations, and sure enough they’re yours.

Illusions isn’t the only place this idea crops up.  In Star Wars, Yoda tells Luke “Do, or do not.  There is no ‘try’.”  In the Matrix, a boy explains to Neo:

Boy: Do not try to bend the spoon; that’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Boy: There is no spoon.

The fact that this comes up so often in stories, about shaking off some feeling of the impossible and overcoming it to success, in my opinion, only lends to the truth of it, and to the fact that so many people spend so much effort in arguing for their limitations.  So, I’m not horribly surprised when the announcement of some cool new technology, like OnLive, is met with such resistance by many (read the comments).  Luckily, there are people out there capable and willing to see beyond what is to what could be and move things forward.

Personally, I look forward to watching OnLive’s development.  Although, I do agree that input lag could be an issue for them if they stay with the plan I read about where they have five or six data centers spread around the country.  I think they might find value in co-location with ISPs.  Like, if Comcast wants to offer their customers OnLive gaming as part of their cable package, put an OnLive data center directly on the Comcast network, with them subsidizing the cost of the installation in return for a share of the subscription fees.  Setting the servers as close to the end user as possible is one way to overcome input lag.  Once you get over that, connection to a game server to play with other people is no different than connecting to that game server from your own PC without OnLive, and people do that all the time.

Quake Live

Spent this morning playing some first person shooters on the PC… one was a beta, the other was the open beta Quake Live.

I had tried to play QL before, but the insane queue lengths kept me out.  I’d wait, then find something else to do long before I got into game.  But today I managed to get in and run through the tutorial and a couple of matches.  The tutorial started out alright, with me choosing the beginner level and quickly getting an 11 to 0 lead.  Then the AI adjusted and I lost 15 to 11.  Then I went and join some matches…

Either their skill levels are very broad or I somehow borked it up or everyone else is cheating.  First off, I hate deathmatch, and prefer team games where my personal frag count is less important than the team winning.  So I joined up with a capture the flag server.  Its been a very long time since I played bland CTF, usually sticking to Team Fortress, so I didn’t know any of the “standard” maps that were running, and I also didn’t know that I had to put flag-on-flag to capture it.  This coupled with the dumb ass on my team who was yelling at me to “go ahead and cap noob!” even though I was standing in the right place (the enemy had our flag too) confused me for a bit.  But that got sorted out, and we eventually won.  It was close, the score looks bad with an 8 to 1 victory, but it was much closer than that with a lot of good slugging it out for each hard won point.  However, I noticed while playing that even though I was doing alright, other players were fragging much more than me, and they were getting off air kills and other feats of awesome that I’m not so good at.  I really am of a beginner level, I know I suck, so how is it that I’m playing with frag gods when skill matching is supposed to prevent that?  Anyway, we won… then the second match started, and the other team picked up a few more frag gods while our team picked up a few more people like me.  We had to fall back into a pretty strong defence (the entire team, minus one guy) just to keep our flag on our side of the map.  In the end, we lost.  It wasn’t even close.  Sure, the score looks alright with an 8 to 5 loss, but we were winning at one point, all our caps were done pretty much by one guy and the other team got 5 of their points within just a few minutes, chain capping the crap out of us.  We got steamrolled.

Anyway, the game runs smooth, although now I need to go beat up on Comcast because I was getting “Connection Interrupted” every couple of minutes, just for a second, but it was enough to get me dead every time.  If you want to find me, I’m Jhaer.

Paradise Lost… and Found!

No, I won’t be talking about the upcoming game based on Dante’s Inferno… not yet anyway.  Instead, I’m talking about Burnout Paradise.  I’ve had the game for quite some time.  I finished the original game and all its online challenges, and even did some ranked racing (I think I got as high as 150 on the ranks at one point), and then I stopped playing.  Not because the game was boring, but that other games were new.  I kept coming back to Paradise City though.

Recently, the guys over at Criterion have been putting out new cars for the old game, and I have to say that I discovered that the right new cars can make the game feel like new again.

Sure, its still doing the same old races and the same old challenges, but I get quite a kick out of doing them all as Marty McFly, Michael Knight, a Ghostbuster or a law dodging resident of Hazzard county.  And the newest vehicles, the toy cars and bikes, make me giggle.

Much like the ongoing DLC for games like Rock Band, simple additions for small prices can totally revitalize a game.  With Burnout, Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and even new DLC adopters like Fable II and Fallout 3, it looks like more and more companies are trying to lengthen the life of their products without having to put a new box on the shelf down at Best Buy.  And I, for one, think this is a great thing… well, as long as they don’t start putting out “half games” they plan to complete with pay DLC later.