The Great Divide III

More than levels and more than lore, you know what divides players from other players most?  The players.  And nothing divides players faster than giving them exactly what they want.

People look back at EverQuest and they make fun of the difficulty of the game.  In fact, they often laugh it off as not being difficult at all but instead as being imposing or broken or wasteful.  They look back and remember (or just hear stories about if they never actually played in that era of MMOs themselves) dying to a rat and they belittle the experience.  Killed by a rat?  And why is my hero killing rats anyway?  But you know what?  They weren’t rats.  They were large rats.  They were giant rats.  They were diseased rats.  Even if the name of the monster was just “a rat” the thing was the size of a large dog.  And those weren’t beetles you were killing, they were fire beetles.  But people complained.  It was too hard.  Leveling was too slow.  There weren’t enough quests.  The spawn times were too long.  The loot didn’t drop fast enough.  Raids were too big and required too many people.

So, later generations of games have given players everything they asked for.  Easier fights (I’ve actually played WoW characters up to level 30 without ever dying), faster levels (I have a level 39 character that was level 33 three days ago, and that was in just 3 or 4 hours of playtime, maybe 5) and quests… good gods are there quests.  Dozens of them.  You can’t swing a dead rat without hitting a score of floating exclamation points.  I haven’t run into a spawn time greater than a couple of minutes, even for elites and bosses (raid instance locking doesn’t count).  My bags are so full of good loot from mobs and quests that my only choice is to vendor most of it because it’s too common to be worth selling to other players.  And I don’t need 65 or 100 people to kill a god anymore, I just need 9 people to go with me, maybe 19 or 24.

The one thing players don’t need so much anymore?  Other players.

I’ve mentioned before that I recently returned to WoW to try to play with some friends.  Haven’t actually played with them much, in part because of level disparities, but also because our schedules don’t seem to line up very often.  Doesn’t matter though.  I don’t actually need them to play.  In fact, playing without them is faster.  No problems of people being in different phases or on different sections of quest chains, no issues of level problems, and I can get fast and easy exp, gaining a couple of levels a night, fighting monsters that in no way actually have a chance in hell of beating me as long as I keep mashing my attack keys.  Hell, I have a druid who’s gear is so out of whack (and this is all found and quested stuff, I haven’t bought anything from the auction house) that I play with no fear of ever running out of mana.  Most of the time I play in cat or bear form, and between fights I pop out to normal and heal myself, then back to melee.  The wife’s hunter is even more insane.  The speed at which she kills means she rarely ever needs healing at all.  When we play together, I don’t even bother staying in normal form.

I’ve tried to play with other people, but it’s actually hard.  Grinding exp from monsters isn’t worth it, and finding people on the same quests is a losing battle.  I could queue up for dungeon runs, but that’ll just put me in a random group with random people who I will likely never see again.  Back before I quit the last time, I was in a guild, and we had guild chat and a vent server and it was very social… except for the fact that none of us were actually playing together.  On the same server, sure.  Sometimes even in the same zone, but grouping up always slowed somebody down.

At least in EQ, the only people slowed down by grouping were the quad kiting druids and wizards, fear kiting necros, and the occasional AE or charm kiting bard.  Even that isn’t true anymore as I actually saw with my own eyes a cleric soloing even con mobs the last time I returned to game, and not kiting either, he was standing toe to toe.

Now, don’t take this as railing against solo players.  While I personally don’t enjoy doing it, I do realize that it is what other people want.  I mean, WoW has 12 million players not because that many people suddenly realized they wanted to play MMOs.  It’s because that many more people were able to play the game because they didn’t need to actually have other people to play with.  And there is nothing wrong with that… except that many of these people refuse to acknowledge the impact that their style of play has on people who do want to group and play with others.  The impact is in server resources and population make up.  In older games where the majority of people were wanting/needing to group up, finding groups was easy.  These days, with the majority of people not wanting to be reliant on other players, finding groups is hard.  So much so that Blizzard actually had to make cross server instances possible and a group finding tool just to alleviate the pressure.  The issue now is that for many of the people who want from grouping what used to be an integral part of grouping (the social interaction and bonding), the LFG tool is an empty gesture.  It solves the symptom of not being able to find a group while completely destroying the ability to bond with those players.

But how do you solve that?  Again and again on this blog you’ll see me advocate the single server design for games because I whole-heartedly believe that the best way to solve player problems is to allow the players to solve their own problems.  If finding better groups is as easy as travelling to another part of the game world that is a much better solution that trying to get different game worlds to be able to share a player pool for certain kinds of grouping.  However, given that at this point Blizzard, and most game companies, can’t redesign their entire server structure to be a single server design, what then?  Free server moves?  That seems like the best possibility, and perhaps put a lockout so that a player only gets one free move every 90 days or something, and if they want additional moves they can pay for them.  If I meet cool people in the dungeon finder, I might move to their server if it were periodically free, but I can’t see myself ever paying $25 to move a character based on the interaction of an hour or two.  Nor would I pay $25 to blindly move to a random server in the hopes of finding more people to group with.

Once again, though, looking forward at new games, I’m less enthused about wanting to play them because of the divisions between players.  Even in the Rift betas that I’ve been playing in, I’ve got friends playing on 5 or 6 different servers playing with subsets of their own friends, and none of us are playing with all our friends, or even have the capability of playing with all our friends without creating characters on a bunch of servers, on both factions, and maintaining characters at several different level tiers.

White Night

Nine months after reading the eighth book in the series, I finally got around to reading book number nine of the Dresden Files.  By now, it should be fairly clear that I love these books.  They aren’t “High Art” (whatever the hell that is supposed to mean), but damn it if they aren’t fun.

White Night doesn’t mess with the formula that works as Dresden gets dragged in to trouble, this time helping out an old flame look into the deaths of some lesser talented practitioners and protect those that are still alive.  We also get to see that Harry has been training Molly, and he’s been continuing his work as a Warden of the White Council and fight in the war with the vampires.  But the kicker here is that someone has been trying to make it look like a Warden has been killing off the little witches, while some other reports put Harry’s half brother, a vampire of the White Court, at the scene of the crime.

While this book doesn’t have quite as many knock down drag out fights as the last couple in the series it certainly doesn’t lack action.  Plus, I don’t mind spending time getting to know more about the characters.

As always, I enjoyed my trip to Butcher’s Chicago.

The Reviews Are In

I love to browse Every since they improved the hell out of their wish lists and organizer functions, I love looking at the recommended products for both myself and for the people whom I’ve registered gift giving occasions for. (If you haven’t taken advantage of the gift lists and organizer features of Amazon, I suggest you do.) Its kinda neat to see what gets recommended to me and why it got recommended. Is it from stuff on my wish list? Is it from stuff I own? I’ve even been recommended things because of stuff I’ve rated low… it didn’t come out and say it, but basically it was showing me an item because I’d rated “opposite” items with only one star.

Once I’ve found an item that is intriguing to me, I then find myself browsing the reviews of the items. Sometimes you come across some real comedy gems in there, like the now long deleted review of the xbox 360 where it overheated setting the house on fire and killed his family but he gave it a 5 star rating because up to that point the games were really fun. But mostly, I spent my time actually reading the bad reviews of items.

Frankly, I could not care less about the opinions of someone who thinks that the product is the best thing since sliced bread, because… well… a gushing “my god this is awesome!!!!!1!1!!!!!” review just doesn’t help. So instead I sort the reviews from lowest to highest rated, and start reading in the gutter. The negative reviews are so much more helpful. Firstly, its easier to spot a negative nutjob than to spot a crazy product lover. “I bought this book and it had pages!! You mean I have to read it myself?!?!” Second, once you’ve decided the reviewer isn’t a nutjob, you can focus in on what exactly they didn’t like and decide if you also will not like it, which is often more beneficial than trying to align your tastes with someone’s positive review, mostly because people who love something tend to be willing to overlook flaws… flaws which to you might be very important.

Anyway, those are my random thoughts of the day…

The Wish List

I really enjoyed the Artemis Fowl books by Eoin Colfer, so when I browsing through Barnes & Nobles’ “Books under $3” deal a few months back, I picked up The Wish List for $1.

The basic plot is this: a girl, who was in the midst of being bad after having done a number of bad things in her life, dies after doing something good, which winds up with her having a fifty-fifty read on the good-evil-ometer. So since neither Heaven nor Hell can take her just yet, she is allowed to go back to Earth and help out someone who needs help. If she succeeds, she goes to heaven; if she fails, she goes to hell. And while Heaven agrees to let her make her own way, Hell cheats and sends someone to stop her… the spirit of the man who did her in. When she gets to Earth, two years have past and she ends up having to help a man complete some items of his wish list before he shuffles off to the afterlife himself.

Okay, so its not so basic. But it was a good read. I thoroughly enjoyed the tale as she, Meg, deals with the man she has to help. I guess with this book Mr. Colfer hops over on to my “good author” list, which means if I see his name, I’ll probably enjoy it.

On Earth As It Is In Hell

I picked up the new Hellboy book On Earth As It Is In Hell warily. I really enjoyed the last two by Christopher Golden and seeing a new author on the books, well, I wondered if they’d have a similar touch to the tale that I found so interesting in the previous books. My apprehension was unwarranted in the end as the book proved to be quite good. Excellent in fact. Brian Hodge did a great job putting you not only into Hellboy’s head, but the heads of all the members of the BPRD. In fact, this book reads more like it should be titled a Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence book instead of a Hellboy novel.

The short version… Seraphim show up at the Vatican and try to burn a priest and the document he is studying. Turns out the document may or may not have been written by an elderly Jesus Christ, who survived the crucifixion and ended up in a place called Masada (real place, about which a number of odd stories surround). So the Vatican, or rather a small group of priests who want to protect the document and actually reveal it to the world, calls in the BPRD to protect the pages until they can figure out who wants them burned. Only, as usual, Hellboy and his team get in a bit deeper than intended, and don’t sit on the sidelines where the Vatican wants them to stay.

A good solid read, and kept me turning pages all the way through. Another book I highly recommend.

The Last Seat on the Bus

I ride the bus to work, and I really enjoy it. I get to read, or listen to music, all the while not having to worry about idiots in traffic. It doesn’t really take any longer than driving myself did, and with gas prices these days it’s a hell of a lot cheaper. At last tally, I’m saving myself over $200 a month by riding the bus. But there is one thing that bothers me…

I get on the bus as the main transit center, which means the bus is empty or near empty when I get on. Now, traditional society dictates that since all seats on the bus are in pairs, if you get on the bus and there is an open pair, you sit there before sitting next to someone else. Women are allowed a bit of leeway, it’s okay if they sit next to another woman instead of taking one of an open pair if she doesn’t want to risk sitting next to some random man later on. As the bus drives, we pick up more people, and always by the time we reach the transfer station to the train, the bus is full.

In the city of Atlanta, we have a large population of blacks and hispanics. So, its not unreasonable to believe that often I’m the only white guy on the bus. Sometimes there are a couple of white women, but not always. As a white guy, I also have a shaved head. My hair line is receeding, and I look awful when I grow my hair out, so I shave it because it looks better. I have a goatee. So, I’m a white guy with a shaved head and a goatee. I’m also a nice guy… I’ve got no visible tatoos, no scars, and I wear business casual clothes (polo shirt and khaki pants most days). I sit and read my book (science fiction, fantasy, classic literature, mysteries, the odd other book here and there) or I have my headphones on listening to MP3s from by PDA phone. Every single day, the seat next to me is the last one to get filled.

I don’t know what’s up… should I feel slighted? Discriminated against? I don’t stink, I’ve asked. And I’m not wearing any internationally recognized symbols of hatred. I’m just a guy reading a book and/or listening to music. And yet, once it gets down to the last seat available, the next person to get on the bus will look around, scanning the entire bus looking for a chance hidden seat, before finally fixing their face in a downtrodden look of defeat and resign themselves to being forced to sit next to me.

I just don’t get it.

8 March 1999

Let me start with this. Stanley Kubrick is dead. He’ll be missed. I’m going to have a screening of 2001: A Space Oddessy and A Clockwork Orange tonight. If you know where I live, feel free to drop by.
Next on the list, wisdom teeth. I had mine pulled on Friday. Egads! It hurts like nothing else. And I can’t eat. But I do have some wicked pain killers. So at least I got something out of it.
So I’m sitting at home all weekend, just watching TV, some DVDs and chatting on the PC in IRC. And my ex-girlfriend and I talk quite a bit. It’s odd I guess, but she and I seem to talk just as much as we used to. I think I like that. But then there is this other girl I’ve been kind of seeing (who might just give me hell if she reads this here) who didn’t say two words to me all weekend. It seems its always like that. I’ve been running an odd sort of experiment and I’m sad to say the result were what I expected. You see, I noticed that I was starting all our conversations. So I decided that I would wait for her to say the first words. We’ve barely spoken in over a week now.
All of this reminds me of a movie I saw, and not really the whole movie, but just one line, one idea. Which is better: to be with someone for the wrong reasons, or alone for the right ones? In my relationships, I’ve always tried to be right, to end things when I became aware I was sticking around for the wrong reasons. This girl, she just got out of one of those “love of my life” kind of relationships. And I totally understand that, I had one myself once. And I get this feeling that maybe I’m the “I just don’t want to be alone” guy. Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions. Maybe I’m reading too much into nothing. Maybe… maybe I’m not.
I was alone for 4 and 1/2 years because I needed to be, and because I didn’t want to be wrong. I don’t recommend the experience to anyone. 4 and 1/2 years without someone in your life, it’s hell, it’s even worse when you try starting over again. But my unique perspective gives me pause, and makes me wonder… did she wait long enough? did she wait at all? does she need to? Some people don’t. Some people can hop right back in the saddle like they never fell off. But… I just don’t read the situation that way.
Perhaps it’s something I should take up with her instead of typing it out here to no one in particular, and I will. I just don’t know when… when is a good time for something like this?
Today’s Movie: Somekind of Wonderful. It’s the movie that the idea above came from. Good movie. Go see it.