Tag Archive for play

Give me a ping, Vasili.

Over at the Ancient Gaming Noob, Wilhelm discusses briefly his need for a flight sim MMO and then posts about World of Warplanes.  He asks in the title and at the end, “What else do we need?

I’ll tell you what we need: World of Submarines.

688 Attack Sub

Give me a 30 degree down bubble, engines at one-quarter, heading... somewhere over there where you heard the pinging.

The best part of this idea is that it wouldn’t need a high-end gaming system because I wouldn’t want to have a vehicle shooter where you drive around in your sub, strafing as you launch torpedoes at other players.  No, I’m talking about 688 Attack Sub type play, sticking closer to reality.  The player gets the deck of his sub, from which he can get status readouts of his hull and other systems, sonar screens, maps.  The only time “real” graphics would come into play would be through the periscope and if the game is restricted almost entirely to submerged play then all the periscope would get you is a view of other periscopes.  In fact, you could even remove it altogether and include “periscope depth” as just a place to go to get communications and other elements.

Taken a step further, without a new for huge graphic worlds, you might be able to have multiplayer subs, with people connecting together to run various stations.  Sure, you can run a boat on your own, but wouldn’t it be more efficient to have a sonar tech giving you the readings, a driver taking your directions and someone else loading and firing your torpedoes?  Damn right it would!

Someone, somewhere needs to get on this immediately!

Dead Island

I first mentioned Dead Island back in October of 2007 because it was mentioned in Games For Windows magazine.  GFW has been gone for some time, and many people though Dead Island was too.  And then there came this…

While I’m pretty sure that the game play won’t be anything like that, the trailer is incredible.  Amazing even.  I eagerly await more news of this game.  And I know I’m late to the party posting this about a week after it appeared, but my posting schedule demands that zombies are on Wednesdays.

If the version above is confusing for you, here is one that plays everything out in chronological order:

Free to be Super

Champions Online goes Free to PlayAnother game switching to the Free to Play model isn’t really surprising.  I’m pretty sure that most companies are realizing what most players figured out a long time ago: players aren’t going to subscribe to a bunch of different MMOs.  At best, subscription games get tourists, people who love one game but are burned out so go looking for something new to reignite them… and then they go back to the one game they love.  The elephant in the room is that World of Warcraft is that one game for millions of people.  Free to Play lowers the barrier for the tourists down to its minimum (at worst, a big download and install; at best, a tiny download and install followed by streaming out content to you while you create your character and play around in the introduction areas), and then pelts you with bonuses you can buy for tiny amounts.  And earning a few dollars from hundreds of thousands of tourists is better than earning a box sale from a small percentage of that number.  You also avoid people being able to say “the game just isn’t worth the monthly fee” because there isn’t one.  Now you just have to avoid them saying “the game just isn’t worth playing, even for free”.

I’ve always wanted to try Champions Online, but the cost kept me out.  I played City of Heroes for three years, and if that was free to play I’d be there in a heartbeat, but it isn’t.  At least not yet.  Looking over the Champions F2P Features list, it looks like they’ve put a good foot forward and the free parts will be worth playing.  Since Champions doesn’t have separate servers, they immediately avoid the pitfall of EQ2 in separating their F2P players from the rest.  Sure, EQ2 is reporting growth, but I hated that as a F2P player I couldn’t play my old characters from when I was a subscriber and I couldn’t play with my old friends.

Anyway, as far as I’m concerned, this is nothing but good news.  I’ll be looking forward to donning in game spandex next year when they convert.

Another Case for Class

It is amazing how much time I spend thinking about designing classes in MMOs when I really don’t care for them.  Or maybe I do.  Coming from a table top gaming background, many of those games had classes.  Sure, there were dalliances with systems like GURPS, but we always came back to D&D or some variant thereof.  Reading Tesh’s Quest for Glory post this morning (read it, it’s worth it – I’ll wait), I made the following comment:

I loved the Quest for Glory games, and I want that kind of differentiation between classes… however, every time I spend any serious effort thinking up a design for it, it always fails in an MMO sense. Yes, I want the rogue to advance by sneaking around and stealing things, planning jail breaks, cheating at games of chance, etc… but how do I fit those skills into a group dynamic?

Ultimately, I always end up at the idea of every character having two lives. The first if your traditional MMO style play, and the second is solo or specific group tailored quests that can cater to the class of the individual or the class set of a group (a rogue goes to the quest giver and is told “this is a two man job. you’ll need someone tough and good with a blade to pull this off.” meaning you need to duo the quest with a warrior, each of you having parts of the event tailored to your class’s strengths.

In the past, I’ve always tried to avoid this because it leads to heavy instancing… but I’ve gotten to the point where I think a better game design is giant city hubs of social activity with the majority of all adventures/quests in instances.

And it got me to thinking.  And while I worked the ideas rolled around in my head until I realized something… That second paragraph where I mention characters having two lives, that is exactly how the best table top games played out.

Four or five or six of us would gather and one of us would be the Dungeon Master.  We’d roll up our characters and play.  Our play would consist of two parts.  In the Adventure play, the group would head out on a quest, part of the major arc of the world we were in, and we’d investigate and fight, and mostly we’d play as a group, taking on roles in that group, occasionally a player would do something that only their class could do, but mostly this part of the game was rolling dice and reducing enemy hit points to zero.  Sound familiar?  The other half would be Development play.  Invariably, after an Adventure, we’d have learned some information that would point us into several possible directions.  The group would split up and handle tracking down leads.  The reality for this was because the full group could get together less often than subsets of our group could.  The result was that the rogue would head off to see if he could gather some more info from a bar down by the docks, the priest and paladin would head to the church library to do some research, and the mage would head to dinner with the town elders.  Each sub group would then have the DM play out for them a tailored mission in which they’d use their specific skills.  The rogue would use a disguise and then get in on a back room card game, manipulating the game and getting the other players drunk while easing information out of them.  The paladin and priest would discover a dark presence corrupting the church librarian and have to perform an exorcism.  The mage would use his knowledge of politics to get a better picture of who might be behind the dark days that are coming.  If the paladin had gone to the docks, the mage and rogue to the library, and the priest to the elders, each part would have played out completely differently, but possibly yielded the same results of finding the things the group as a whole needed to continue.

MMOs need this.  MMOs need two games.  One that encompasses the whole world and all the players with big dungeons and raids and guilds and… well, what we have now.   And they need to intersperse it with a class specific solo or small group game that caters to the class, the way single player RPGs can.  Many times in MMOs, I’m left feeling like a cog in a wheel, a box to be checked off on someone else’s spreadsheet.  Holy Spec Priest, check!  What it is missing are the elements that make me feel “Priest” or “Druid” instead of “Healing of an adequate level”, “Rogue” or “Hunter” instead of “DPS machine”.

To Stop GameStop

StopGameStopThe Internet exploded last week (in the gaming sphere at least) beginning with an article and a comic.  It was followed by tons of articles…

So, lets talk…  First, the guy from THQ isn’t wrong.  Anytime you buy anything second hand, the original creators see nothing of that sale.  This is true of video games just as it is true of books and DVDs.  I’ve got one friend who is all up in arms about this, that we need to stop second hand video game sales, to help protect the industry, but he’s also a comic book collector.  So I asked, “When you sell a comic, do you sent the author and artist their cut?”  He doesn’t.  I asked him if this needed to change, he didn’t think so.  He couldn’t explain how the two were different.

And of course, no one really bats an eye at second hand DVD sales.  But then, a DVD retails for under $20 in most cases.  Buying it for $10 might be saving you 50% but it’s only saving you $10.  A video game, however, might be $60 new, and $30 used.  Still 50% but now it’s $30 of savings.  Really though, the guys in the industry aren’t upset at the $30 sale of a year old game.  Their ire, which they don’t specifically state, is leveled at games less than a month old that places like GameStop are selling for $55.  In this case, someone bought it for $60, then sold it to GameStop for $20 (might be more, might be less – it varies), and GameStop turns around and sells it for $55.  People are saving $5 here and bilking the game company out of any cut at all.

If THQ really wanted to stop GameStop, you know what they’d do?  Drop their price to $55.  They’d garner a few new customers, the ones willing to pay $55 but not $60.  GameStop would probably drop to $50, and THQ could decide if going to $50 is worth it.  Games that come out for consoles currently tend to retail at $60.  If the same game is available on PC, they tend to retail at $50 or even $40, so clearly there is room to move the price around, especially since the console version often has less packaging than the PC version (who knows… perhaps producing a cardboard box and a jewel case is less expensive than the DVD case console versions get).

Or, they can do what they are planning to do, which is to put a one-time code in the game that unlocks some content (levels, online play, etc).  Their solution is fine, in my opinion, so long as they never hamstring the game so that it is unplayable.  I have no problem with them putting a code on online play since often online play means that they run servers, and they can always sell online play as DLC through the systems their games appear on, so that a player who buys used will still have to pay a small fee if they want online play.

Personally, I’d love to see prices drop.  I know I’d buy more games sooner if I could afford them, but as it is I wait usually six months or more so that I can pick them up for $40 or less (often a year or more later when I can get the Platinum Hits edition for $20).  That is less likely to happen than the one-time code hostage situation that is developing.  Oh well… I’ll just have more time for watching TV and reading books.

The Single Shard

One of the people from over at CCP, the people who brought us EVE Online, has written up An Argument for Single-Sharded Architecture in MMOs.  I fully support this idea.

The main reason I like it is the one thing that irritates me most of most MMOs is when I meet a new person in real life, realize we both play the same game and then realize that we can’t play together unless we a) start over/start new characters or b) one of us pays to move servers and leaves all our other friends behind.  Even the people with whom I played EQ with for many years can’t seem to get themselves on the same server when a new game starts, mostly because thanks to other games they have a couple of different circles of friends, and they want to play with all of them, but when twenty of their friends from WoW want to play on LotRO server X, and twenty of their EQ friends want to play on LotRO server Y, they have to choose.  And that sucks.

On the other hand, in a game like EVE, it is impossible for me to run into another EVE player that I technologically cannot play with (unless they play only on the test server).  All I need to do is warp to them and we play.  Even in Wizard 101 and Free Realms, which technically have multiple play shards, you can switch shards whenever you want and play with anyone you want.

Another reason for my like of a single shard comes to light every time I talk about EQ for very long to other people.  During my time in EQ I played on 4 servers.  My main server was E’Ci and I spent the bulk of my time there.  But I also piddled around on one of the PvP servers (one of the team ones, not the free for all) and one of the RP servers (were I spent most of my time in the bars of Neriak spinning tales for those who would listen – which surprisingly was more than I expected going into it, but unsurprisingly didn’t last long as power gamers flooded the RP server since RPers are much easier to push around and less likely to race to max level thus leaving high end content more available).  I also did time as a guide.  Each server had a distinct personality.  As a guide I was called in to deal with situations that didn’t happen on my main server, E’Ci.  E’Ci had a strong public grouping/raiding system, where other servers were entirely guild controlled.  E’Ci had, at the upper levels, guilds that, for the most part, maintained relations and raid schedules to give everyone a shot rather than fight, where other servers had guilds training each other and swiping raid mobs from each other and camping entire zones for days/weeks on end to monopolize spawns.  When I talk about the game of EverQuest, I’ve come to realize that not everyone played the same game that I did.  But a game like EVE or Wizard 101 or Free Realms or any other unified player base game, my stories are their stories.  If I talk about getting ganked in some system in EVE, I can bet another EVE player will know what I mean.  But when I talk about hanging out in the East Commons tunnel looking for deals back in the day, some people will say, “Don’t you mean Greater Faydark?” or “You mean the North Freeport bank, right?” or “North Karana was better.” because not every server evolved exactly the same locations for community gatherings.  But in EVE, the best place for you to go to buy stuff is the best place that everyone goes to buy stuff.

I hope more games take the single-shard design route.  Multiple servers were fine back in the EQ days when there wasn’t really much competition, but these days, even if I went back to EQ I’d have to choose which friends to play with since I’ve got friends on two or three different servers.  When I look at new games, my friends and I usually try to get on the same server, but eventually some of them vanish to other servers to play with other groups.  For me, this usually ends up with me losing interest in the game and quitting because I can’t play with all of my friends.

Smartphones

I’ve been a smartphone user for a few years now.  The funny thing is that about 90% of the features of a smartphone I don’t care about.  Here is the list of things I don’t need my phone to be able to do:

  • Play music/MP3
  • Play video/watch TV
  • Play games
  • GPS navigation
  • Make fart noises
  • Twitter, Facebook and 99% of the Internet

Now, here is a list of all the features a phone needs for me to love it:

  • Make/receive phone calls
  • Text messaging with a full keyboard because I 442833 trying to type with a 12 key phone pad
  • Sync my contacts with other sources like Google or Exchange over the air

That’s it.  Really.  So simple, and yet no one does it.  At least not that 3rd point, unless you get a full blown smartphone and pay $70-$100 a month for service.  Sure, a camera on the phone is nice, but I don’t need it and use it so rarely that I wouldn’t miss it if it were gone.  But its the contact sync that is the deal breaker.  Every non-smartphone I’ve owned could sync, but you have to buy software and connect it to your PC to do it.  Lame.

I could be wrong.  Maybe there is a phone out there that does just what I need and doesn’t require a large monthly payment for service.  But if there is, I haven’t found it yet.

Games as Art

Oh God, I think I’m going to crash the Internet with all these links.  And that’s just from searching for “Ebert” in my Google Reader.  You should probably read this one too.  All of those are worth clicking on and reading.  The comments also.  I think I even made a comment or two in there somewhere.  On the subject at hand, I’m not certain I’m decided.  Though if pressed, I might have to say that games are not art, or at the very least that the majority of games are not art.

One of the nice things about most forms of traditional art is that they don’t change.  The Mona Lisa is The Mona Lisa still.  Casablanca is Casablanca.  The text of Hamlet remains.  That last example begins to get to my line of thinking.  No one would argue that Hamlet is a work of literary art, but individual productions of Hamlet will be heavily debated.  In fact, in the artistic world, a production of Hamlet would be considered performance art, not simply art.

When you go to a museum and look at a painting on the wall, that painting will be exactly the same every time you go to see it.  What changes from viewing to viewing is YOU.  The same can be said for books and films and most of the traditional art forms.  If I were to load up World of Warcraft or Crysis or even a game like Flower (which many people consider to be art) and just watch it, it might be art but it wouldn’t be a game.  If I go to YouTube and watch videos of people playing games, it might be art, the video, and it might be a game for the person who made it, but for me it wouldn’t be a game.

A game is like Schrödinger’s cat, it is a collection of potentials that are, in actual terms, useless until we open the box and see if the cat is alive or dead.  A game isn’t a game until we play it.  To me, it seems that video games are more like sports than they are like paintings or books or movies.  A baseball player might have a beautiful swing, and there may be many artful things in a game of baseball, but I don’t believe that anyone would call a baseball game “art”.  Unlike most art, not only do you change between visits to a game, but the game changes too.  Sure, some games are so simple that they don’t change much at all, but those aren’t usually the games people claim are art.  Saying a video game is a single piece of art is like saying that all the productions of Hamlet are a single piece of art.  A game is ephemeral.  Unless someone video tapes it, you can’t return to the game exactly as it was before, and if you do it through video the subsequent times you return they are movies, which might be art but aren’t games.

As I said, a game isn’t a game until we play it, so the gamer is part of the game since we can’t have one without the other.  Many people bristle at the idea of video games being a sport.  Face it, many people who play video games do so to get away from sports.  (I kid, I kid!) (Not really.)  So perhaps we should stray back towards plays.  From the audience, a play is performance art, a performance of art.  But what is a play for the performers?  Is the act of acting “art” from the perspective of the actor?  Or is the performer the artist? A painting, completed, is art, but is the act of creating the painting art?  I don’t believe it is.  From that view, game developers aren’t creating art, they are creating paints and brushes and easels, production notes and outlines, tools from which art can be created by the gamer.  A game, completed, might be art, but again if you are experiencing a completed game you are probably watching a movie, not playing a game.

All of this talking around in circles leads me to believe that since I find it so hard to define a game as being art there are only two options.  Either the words and terms and methods to define a game as art don’t yet exist or at least are not known to me, or that games are not art but might just be a medium through which art can be created.  In the end, I’m liking that second option better because if games are art that make me an art consumer (or connoisseur if I’m fluffing my ego), but if games are a medium then I am an artist.

The Passing

I haven’t been playing much Left 4 Dead or Left 4 Dead 2 lately, but that is about to change.  Tomorrow, Valve is releasing a new add-on called “The Passing” for Left 4 Dead 2.

The story behind this is you are playing the usual 4 people from Left 4 Dead 2, but the original Left 4 Dead gang shows up.  Three of them alive and one of them… well, not so alive.  The dead one is part of the mystery we’ll learn tomorrow.  This add-on also offers a bunch of new game play elements and achievements, all of which looks fantastic and fun.

If all the stories are to be believed, Left 4 Dead will be getting an add-on itself that will let players play out the sacrifice of the fallen survivor, and it will be following in some measure of Valve Time.

Sadly, I won’t be able to play tomorrow as I have plans, but I’m working hard to clear my schedule for the weekend.  Feel like playing with me?  My Gamertag is Jhaer.

Concise Gaming

Spawned from this article from Kotaku and Gamespy, this post by David Jaffe got me thinking… I’ve played through a few single player games that end up taking twenty or more hours to play, some longer.  Which since I tend to only play for an hour or two maybe once or twice a week means that these games take ten to fifteen weeks to finish, some longer.  Now, while I’m willing to accept that part of that is my fault, another part of it is that one of the reasons I only play for an hour or two once or twice a week is because there are parts of many games that feel like repetition or filler.  Many twenty hour games could easily be pared down to ten hours, if not five or less, by streamlining.

If you make a game that consists of three or four hours of genuine “fresh” game play and then seventeen or more hours of “repeating” game play, I think you might be doing it wrong.  Multi-player games can more easily get away with repeating content because it is the other players than change.  A good example of this is Left 4 Dead.  I can play the same campaign with the same three other people and still have a different experience because the weapons are in different locations, the hordes happen at different time, and the other players don’t play the same every single time.  But in many single player games, once you learn how to fight monster X with weapon A, repeating that a thousand times gets boring, and this is usually the point I save the game, turn it off and go do something else.  I’ll come back later and play some more.

Like David, I think I’d rather see game companies trim down their product, give me a concise, powerful, exciting four or five hour story for about $10.  Then sell me downloadable story additions, four to five hours in length for $10 each.  If your game works as multi-player, give me a multi-player mode and then sell me new map packs or game modes for $5 or something.  But as it is, despite their being a good number of awesome looking games on the shelves, looking is all I’m doing because $60 and all that time is just too much.