Archive for Gaming

The story of my gloves…

One of the things I’ve come to loathe in modern MMOs is the item grind and the lack of attachment that comes with it.  In World of Warcraft, I don’t care at all about my items because the chances are pretty high that I’m going to replace them soon.  It might be a couple of days, or a few hours, or more often than I would like just a matter of minutes.  I recall one day in particular where I upgraded my character’s pants seven times in just two hours of play.  I probably could have kept any one of those since each upgrade was just a couple of points, from 120 armor to 122 or 8 strength to 9 or adding a stat bonus the previous pants didn’t have, but I felt no attachment to any of those pants.  They’d been so easy to obtain that the stats were all that mattered.

And the appearance, but when the game practically forces you to look like a rodeo clown trying to maintain a cohesive and good look is practically futile.

In my perfect MMO, character stats would be on a smaller scale.  No more crazy strength of 874.  There would be a cap, 100 is a nice number, but then I’ve always had a soft spot for the old table top D&D standard of 25.  With a smaller scale, a single point increase from a magic item would have noticeable impact.  Magic items would then be more rare.  In fact, I’d probably place true magic items only at the end of long quests, coming from incredibly hard boss mobs (assuming the game even had them) or through the arduous labors of master craftsmen.  The obtaining of a magic item would be a story you could tell.  Rather than “Yeah, I got these gloves from delivering pies from Joe to Stewart.” your story would be more along the lines of “Well, about three weeks ago, I undertook a small task for the local sheriff…” and spiral off into a series of deeds and fights or harrowing escapes.  More importantly, those magic gloves would take a long time to replace, if ever.

Over the long haul, your character would become a graphic representation of the stories you could tell, instead of a collection of the best gear you’ve obtained lately.

I think this desire, this design, springs from the years I played EverQuest as a monk.  In the early days, a monk could barely wear any gear, and he was 70% effective even naked since his gear was so weak and he fought without weapons.  Thus, every item that I wore was something I obtained through playing the game.  Some of it from long quest chains, some of it, later, from slaying dragons and other rare and dangerous beasts, from invading the planar homes of the gods, crafted by dear friends using rare materials obtained through adventure.  Even as the game changed and the design encouraged monks to wear more gear, and more monk wearable gear became available, I’d been playing one way so long that I continued.  Every item I carried was a story.  The Treant Fists were a tale of a lost weekend in the Gorge of King Xorbb, the headband of the Ashen Order and the sash of the Silent Fist that eventually lead to the Robe of the Whistling Fists and the Celestial Fists, the Iksar shackles, the Shiverback Hide armor, and so much more.

I’d love to see a game, or perhaps I’ll have to make one, where I actually care about my gear beyond the numbers it increases.

All Running, All the Time

Since I tend to want to approach games with the thought of immersing myself into the world, I tend to do weird stuff.  At least, things other people think are weird.  Like, while playing the game Red Dead Redemption, I never used the camping method of fast travel until after I’d completed the story and was just chasing achievements.  I used the wagons, and I even did the thing there you hit the button, John says “I’m going to sleep” and you skip the travel parts, because, you know, that made sense.  But setting up a campfire and a tent, and suddenly being halfway across the game world… immersion breaking.

With that in mind, you can imagine how I feel about logging into an MMO and finding a world where everyone is running, full speed, all the time.  The funny things is, back in my days of EverQuest, people were more apt to switch over to walking, at least while in town and perhaps a little more pliable to role-playing as opposed to when they were sitting in a group on a wall whacking mobs for experience and loot.  In World of Warcraft, however, I don’t think I ever saw a person walk until I went to the RP labeled servers.

In my perfect MMO, walking would be the norm, and every player would have an endurance bar.  There wouldn’t just be walking and running either, there would be varying speeds you could toggle/cycle through.  Walking to fast walking to jogging to running to sprinting, each having an increasing effect on endurance drain.  And players could get bonuses to endurance recovery, and even reductions in endurance drain for special situations.  Like, if you just switch over to sprinting for no reason at all, endurance would drain at X rate, but if you enter into combat and your adrenaline is now pumping, sprinting would drain endurance at, perhaps, X/2 rate, allowing you to sprint longer to flee an overpowered NPC foe.

I’ve yet to decide if this endurance would be used in other places, like fighting for example, but I’m leaning toward not.  At least not the same endurance pool anyway.

Infinite Leveling

Here begins a series of posts, when I remember to do them, in which I will discuss the elements that would make up the perfect MMO for me.

One of the things I hate most in games is levels that “matter”.  And by that I mean content that is gated or trivialized based entirely on level.  However, I do understand the desire to have a constantly rising metric by which players can compare themselves or show some aspect of their selves to others.

In my perfect MMO, there would be levels and there would be experience gained through killing, questing, crafting and any number of other things.  These levels would be entirely a measure of effort.  If you kill 8,000,000 rats earning 10 exp per rat, your level will be higher than someone who has killed only 1 ogre for 1,000 exp.  However, if the two of you were to face off in combat, how you played, what abilities you used and other factors would determine the outcome, not level.

Level would simply be… well… experience.  A beginner would be just that a “Beginner”.  As that person played the game and did things they would become a “Novice” or “Neophyte” and progress up through different titles until they eventually reached something like “Extraordinarily Experienced Grand Master” or some such.  This title could be modified by sub-levels determined by the means which you obtained your experience.  If you did so through a majority of exploration you might be “Worldly Grand Master”, or if you did so by crafting you might be a “Grand Master of Labors”.

Looking at a person’s “level” (which would not be expressed by a number, at least not a single number) would actually tell you a bit of the story of their lives.  And that is why such a system appeals to me.  It also appeals because unless you plan so poorly that you exhaust the entire English language by allowing people to gain ten or twenty levels per session, you could literally have infinite leveling.  All you need is another tier of words, and a formula to calculate how to gain that next tier.

For Your Consideration

I have held, and will always hold, that it is the little things that matter most.  You can have two items, two stories, that are in large strokes exactly the same, but it is the little details that end up endearing one to a generation while the other winds up mostly forgotten, completely independent of its success.  The endearing tale could be one that hardly makes anyone any money but it a cult favorite for decades, and the “forgotten” one could make millions in the short-term and in a few years people barely remember that it existed.

Almost every MMO these days uses some form of the color con system.  Red often means that it is going to be hard or impossible to beat, some form of grey or green often indicates an easy kill, with shades of blue, yellow and more in between to let you know your chances if you decide to fight it.  And yet, beyond the color or number or whatever other indicator they use, there is nothing more. We are, at this point, expected to know what that means.

A giant diseased rat scowls at you, ready to attack. What would you like your tombstone to say?

Sometimes, however, I think we’ve lost something by moving entirely to numbers and UI indicators.  EverQuest added flavor to the consideration system by spelling it our for you, giving you your faction relationship and a difficulty assessment all in one quick message.  But the most important part of it was that while some information might be readily available in your targeting window, you had to actually /con the target to get the message.  It lent just a little push toward the RP in MMORPG, that your character, that you, had to stop and look the target over, reading his demeanor and body language, that your character was a hero who kept abreast of clan markings and signs of madness, that the hero you controlled, that you embodied, would be able to look at a monster and say, “Not only does that thing probably hate my guts, I’m pretty sure he’ll beat the crap out of me too.”

To me, it’s the words that made that happen, and it is the lack of words, the purely UI based blinkies and numbers that make my brain flip immediately to math and calculations and I wind up saying, “The level disparity will reduce my effectiveness to the point that I don’t believe my DPS is enough to bring his hit points to zero before he does to mine.”

It’s just one more things that brings me again to my conclusion that I seem to be out of sorts with so many MMOs because they’ve reduced themselves to being just games instead of being more than games.

Too much carrot, not enough stick

You might have noticed a lack of my Sneakin’ Around and other WoW related posts.  I’ve cancelled World of Warcraft again.  The truth is that I absolutely loved playing in a strange way, but not enough to feel like a $15 a month charge is money well spent.  But what really drove the nail into the coffin was the constant feeling like the game was broken.

It isn’t broken.  Not really.  But I play MMOs for two things: community and immersion.  The enemy of both of those things is leveling.

It was almost impossible to play without leveling at an absurd rate.  The experience rewards for quests are so out of whack that I can’t finish a line of quests, finish a story, without being horribly overpowered by the time I read the final mission.  That boss who is supposed to be hard to fight isn’t when I’m now three to five levels higher than him.  My other option is to chase quests that have the most challenge and ignore the story.  Abandoning quests just because they go green made me feel bad.  “Hey guys, I know was helping you with your problem, but, ah, I’m gonna move on to the next area now. Hope things work out!”

And lets not forget that unless my friends and I played dozens of alts, we could almost never play together because missing a single gaming session could leave you five or more levels behind your friends.  Slow leveling of old games never felt like work to me, but constantly playing catch-up in an attempt to just be able to effectively group with my friends did.  I supposed I could do what most other people do and just accept the fact that we’ll even out at max level, but the prospect of playing for 85 levels as filler until I get to the real game doesn’t entice me to want to log in.

The reality here is that Blizzard has seen that people are generally happier when they are “progressing” and rather than allow people to actually work for and earn things, they just lowered the bar so that you practically can’t log into the game without gaining something.  And most people seem to want that.  They’ve become reward junkies, the constant dinging of achievements and levels and other random things bringing them joy.  But to me, it’s all empty.  I’ve got over 50 levels and dozens of achievements on one character, but I look at him in the armory and don’t feel any attachment to any of it.  I didn’t really earn it.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t hard earned achievements in WoW, there are plenty, at the high end.  However, the 85 level escalator to get there is full of Fool’s Gold and cubic zirconia.  And I think escalator is the right word to describe the ride.  You get on and it is pushing you forward and if you’d like to stop, you can’t, but you can stay relatively still if you run backwards, working against the flow.

Where am I going with this?  I don’t know.  I really don’t.  I only know that playing World of Warcraft simply doesn’t get me what I want from an MMO, and I don’t think any of the offerings coming down the pipe will either.  I want a game, where I’m playing the “real game” from the moment I exit the tutorial, and I want that real game to have as few restrictions as possible, to let people make their own rules.  A guild should be a guild because the people want to be a guild, not because raids require X number of people with Y number of tanks and Z number of healers and a DPS output of greater than N.

Back in my EverQuest days, I used to tell people all the time that it’s “not just a game”.  And maybe that’s what I want most, to feel like it’s more than a game, and WoW, with its flashing lights and rapid rewards feels very much like just a game.

Wii U

As you no doubt may have heard, Nintendo announced their next console: Wii U.

The short of it is this… pretty much a Wii on steroids.  Better processors, better memory, better graphics, embraces HD, wiimotes and the balance board are supported as are all Wii games.  The early word is that it will beat out the 360 and PS3 for power, but don’t expect that to matter too long as Microsoft and Sony will probably launch their new consoles a year after this and put it to shame… unless the market decided to go sideways instead.  I mean, it’s very possible that the next Xbox will be the same as the 360 but with better processors, memory and graphics (and maybe 3D) with an integrated Kinect over a separate peripheral.  Sony could do that as well.  Iteration over innovation.

But then you get to the other part of the Wii U: the controller.

 

Aren't you a little big for a game controller?

 

Yes, that is a screen on the controller.  The obvious bits are that you can use it like a tablet and surf the web, and you can also use it as a main display (freeing up the big TV for other activities if needed), it even has a stylus for drawing, but it can also be used as a secondary screen.  Immediately many people pointed out it could be used for maps or inventory or other bits of a normal game that could be shuffled off to this second mini screen.  I started trying to think of other things…

How about an Aliens game where the pad if your motion sensor?  Even just as a large controller with extra touchscreen buttons and virtual keyboard, MMOs become much more possible.  A flight or driving simulator where one player controls the action while another player with the pad navigates, does damage control and performs other duties.

So many lost hours...

My best idea yet?  Dungeon Keeper.

In the original game, you play the overlord of a dungeon.  You set up traps and other things to run your dungeon and protect your treasure room from the heroes who come seeking to steal your loot.  It was great fun.  But with a setup like this, you could have one player being the hero on the main screen, hacking his way to fortune and glory.  On the tablet you have the second player, the overlord, playing the RTS similar to the old game, laying traps and scrambling to react to what the other player is doing.

Really, any game that requires one person to have hidden information from the other players would work beautifully.  The only shame here is that thus far word is that only a single new controller will be supported and so card games and board games played local multi-player may be out.

I’m excited for the possibilities… now I just need some people out there to make games like these.  Just in case, I’m going to start putting away a couple bucks per paycheck so that I can afford this when it comes out.  For once, I actually might want to be an early adopter.

Space Pirates And Zombies

And that isn’t just the title of this blog entry, that’s also the name of this game.  Space Pirates And Zombies (S.P.A.Z. for short) is a top down shooter.  It isn’t your traditional zombies, but hey, it looks fun.

Right now you can only buy it from Impulse, but hopefully there will be other options (like Steam!) at a later date.

Losing With Style

Lately I’ve been getting a bit of traffic on the site, mostly because of the Urban Dead post I made over 3 years ago.  So, I decided to take another look at the game… which lasted about ten minutes before I remembered exactly why I left.

The main crux of that old post, and the reason I quit the game, and the reason my return was so brief is that I have no desire to play a zombie.  On the whole, I tend to find stories about zombies to be boring.  Stories about survivors in a world of zombies on the other hand are awesome.  Even when the survivors don’t win and they all die, because a good zombie story is about humans, and what we will do to and for each other to survive.

Imagine this: you are playing a game where you are a cop hunting down rapists.  You find clues, perform interviews, gather evidence and eventually, if you are lucky, you get to shoot them.  Now imagine if in this game, when you fail to catch a rapist you are forced to be a rapist until you can be turned back into a cop.  Totally unappealing, right?  I mean, I hope that is unappealing, because if you want to play a rapist in a video game you need to stop reading and seek help.  Now.

I don’t want to be a zombie.  I don’t want to eat people. That game just isn’t fun for me at all to play.

What would make Urban Dead worth playing for me?

First, a simple “reset” button.  When I die, rather than be a zombie, I’d like to be able to just start over without having to create a new account.  I don’t mind losing experience and skills or having to wait a period of days, I just don’t want to be undead.

Second, a world reset event.  If all the world is undead, if no survivors remain, wipe the slate clean and start over.  If you let people pick zombie or survivor from the start, had levels and skills with the personal reset button causing some skill loss and a waiting period (24 to 72 hours), then you create a true “us versus them” style of PvP, and at that point you can define a win condition.  If all the survivors are dead or all the zombies are dead, the server declares that side the winner and the entire game resets.  When the world resets, everyone starts off human, but people who pick the zombie side start infected and in X days they’ll all die and be able to stand up as zombies.

I think that would be a great game.

Project Zomboid

Project Zomboid

They're coming to get you, Barbara.

Really like zombie survival games but tired of so many of them being shooters?

Project Zomboid might be right up your alley.  An isometric RPG set in the zombie apocalypse.  Build defenses, search for food, fight zombies.  Decidedly hardcore (they maintain that you WILL die eventually, there is no “winning” or happily ever after), this game of shambling undead is one I’ll be keeping an eye on, which shouldn’t be too hard considering they’ve got the game blog plus three developer blogs and a forum.

With any luck the game will support some form of multiplayer, which might end up making it the game I’ve always wanted to play.

This has the potential to be awesome.

Sneakin’ Around: Fortune and glory, kid.

Am I being watched?

I'm not stealing. I'm discovering.

For some reason, and I don’t know why, I keep thinking that you need level 30 in order to take up archaeology in Azeroth.  But it’s level 20.  So, basically, I needlessly scraped my way through 10 levels on daily quests, random non-violent tasks, and mining/herbalism when I could have been scouring the world for artifacts.

I feel like Indiana Jones.  Not because of archaeology itself, which is quite possibly the worst designed trade skill/crafting ever put into an MMO.  On my other characters, the ones who fight, archaeology is boring and stupid.  You wander around in a zigzag path hitting the survey key until you get an artifact, which you then pick up.  Repeat.  On the rogue, however, it reminds me fondly of my days in EverQuest as a monk, feigning my way around zones, checking out cool stuff.  Kaens has to carefully make his way though the dig sites and wait for just the right moment to perform a survey.  Luckily, with sneak and vanish, I can avoid most of the dangerous creatures roaming the land.

While previously playing the rogue felt like a fun job, with archaeology in the mix is finally feels like an adventure.  Now I just need a hat and a whip.

The single best part about archaeology is that I don’t have to interact with any NPCs at all except for when I need training.  Otherwise, I just go to the places on my map and I am able to craft my own stories and my own adventures.  This might be the most fun I’ve had playing an MMO in a long time.

Level 32 and surveying…