Mixed Gaming Weekend

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Everquest is a game known in part for it’s interesting factions and your ability to not only completely wreck them…  but in some cases improve ones that started out bad in the first place.  My High Elf Ranger for example was friendly with Paineel, and my friend had an Iksar Monk that was completely at home in Rivervale thanks to hours and hours of clearing Runnyeye.  The factions have interesting names too like “HighHold Citizens” or the “Deepwater Knights” and are fairly granular in that you might be perfectly fine in most of a zone but one specific area will attack you on sight because you wrecked your faction.  I had a weird dream last night that there was a law firm that acted as a mediator to help you repair your damaged factions.  I don’t remember exactly I was there or what faction it was that I had offended, but I remember being across a giant board room from some NPCs that just kept chanting “You’ve ruined your own lands, you’ll not ruin mine!”.  I eventually was able to appease them slightly with an assortment of bear pelts, slashed deathfist belts and bone chips…  which only makes sense in Everquest.

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The primary thing that I played this weekend was our April AggroChat game of the month…  Night in the Woods.  I don’t want to talk too much about this other than it being really good and I highly suggest playing it yourself.  That said the suggestion is with a tiny bit of reservation because I found it a deeply emotional experience.  There are things in the game that pattern my own choices in life and others that were the road not taken.  I am mostly saving the ammunition for the podcast next week, but I have some feels about this game and its characters and small town life in general.

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I also played a bit of Defiance 2050 this weekend… and I have to say I am deeply confused by this title.  Maybe I completely misunderstood what this game was supposed to be.  I had gotten the impression that it would be a game where a bunch of time had passed since the original game and that the world had drastically changed.  So as a result I was deeply confused when I followed a sequence of events in Mount Tam that if I am not completely mistaken are pretty much exactly what happens in the base game.  So I am not exactly sure what is up with this one, because it seems like the same game with no changes that I could see?  I did not play for terribly long but was extremely confused the entire time because I kept expecting something new.  Yes I realized that I just used confused three times in rapid succession…  but I am trying to drive that emotion home here.

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The other bits of my weekend that I did not specifically call out here were spent in Monster Hunter World working on the weekly objectives…  namely hunting Black Diablos and doing 9 Star missions.  Here you can see me hanging out with T’Challa who I did not realize was into Monster Hunter World…  after taking down Xeno’jiiva.  Things I learned this weekend…  my fear of Diablos is largely unwarranted because waiting this late into the game to really start farming it…  means it is way easier than my memory would tell me.  The last time I had fought a Diablos was the one needed to clear the main story step.  I have avoided these like the plague because that fight…  was pure hell at the time.  Now I seem to be able to take them down pretty easily and I did four of the weekly event quest involving taking down both a normal Diablos and a Black Diablos.  As far as the 9 Star quests… I SOS Rouletted them which involved two Xeno’jiiva fights, a double tempered bazel fight, and a tempered rathalos/hard tobi fight.

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I did also spend a few attempts on Kulve Taroth and figured out that you can filter your session by folks doing the encounter.  I’ve been kicked a few times… the first because I am guessing they wanted a fixed party comp and I snagged the last slot they were saving for someone else.  The group disbanded and was locked when it was reposted.  The other time I am guessing that it was for simply being a longsword player because that seems to be the weapon type that everyone bags on as this games “Dragoon”.  I mean it isn’t wrong… I take a lot of damage and do plenty of stupid things but more often than not I also break big parts off things with spirit helm breaker.  Other than that I wound up getting into a few really good and chill groups and got more weapons…  sadly no more oranges but I did get a couple of decent purples.  I have this interesting collection of death shots and in this one I think I died to a magma splash, either that or someone else fainted and this was my final action shot.    I have a few really good ones from my many attempts at Nergigante as well because the scene at the end of the encounter always seems really interesting to me… so more often than not I take a quick snap.  All in all it was a pretty good weekend and I am really looking forward to next weeks AggroChat so I can get all of these thoughts related to Night in the Woods out of my head.

 

Unintended Night

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What I was supposed to be playing last night is World of Warcraft as Wednesday is our normal mythical nonsense night.  Unfortunately we were down two people already and I myself wasn’t really in the mood to do it either.  I’ve been dealing with some stuff and yesterday was a bit of a bad mental health day.  When those situations happen I tend to turtle up somewhere quiet and hang out by myself until whatever it is has passed.  World of Warcraft is such an inherently social game that even the act of logging in ends up prompting a bunch of people to poke me and say hello…  and it feels bad to ignore them when I need to ignore them.

Sure there is now “Appear Offline” mode but even then that is not a perfect scenario.  For me at least there are a handful of people that I am generally okay with interacting with, because they know the drill.  They understand deeply because they go through their own periods of turtle time, and as a result there is no need to attempt to keep up appearances as it were.  However if you are in Offline mode and you reach out to one of those people who are on the closest rings of your monkeysphere…  they cannot respond.  You will be able to send them messages all day long but they will always get the offline message when attempting to respond back to you.  As a result when I am feeling like this I just avoid WoW like the plague because it isn’t worth the hassle.

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What I wanted to be doing was to sit on the couch and play some Everquest while watching some more Mighty Boosh streamed through the television.  Unfortunately they seem to have had a rather traumatic maintenance yesterday.  The servers went down at 5:00 am EDT on the 18th and did not come back apparently until 2:30 am EDT on the 19th.  I have no clue at all what was going on…  but I kept trying to fire up the launcher and getting the maintenance message.  I have been enjoying myself a shocking amount in Everquest, but I realize that I am riding the drug that is nostalgia.  I am not sure how long that drug will last but for the moment I am riding its high.

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What I did instead was play a lot of MTG Arena as I got it set up on my laptop.  Yesterday Scopique wrote an interesting response to my post about Arena…  or at least one that mentioned it because it wasn’t exactly a direct response.  The funny thing is I wouldn’t necessarily call myself much of a competitive gamer.  I traditionally shy away from player versus player situations, but games like MTG Arena or the Crucible in Destiny don’t seem to bother me that much and I am not entirely certain why.  I stumbled across a post from Tobold who very much did not enjoy his time with Arena, but for the moment I don’t mind at all that it is largely just a stripped down 1v1 client.  I think ultimately if you are going into Arena expecting Duels of the Planeswalkers or MTG Duels either one… you are going to be sorely disappointed.

Arena is simply a Magic the Gathering Online that isn’t horrible.  Sure MTGO is serviceable but nothing about it is really intuitive and it feels like you are jumping through a lot of hoops to make anything work.  MTGO was absolutely less cludgy than the days of trying to arrange a game on IRC and then getting both parties to fire up and connect to each other through the Apprentice application.  However card gaming on a PC has changed drastically since then and Hearthstone more or less has led that charge.  Arena is that Hearthstone-esc interface for the far more seasons and complicated game of Magic the Gathering, and the thing is… it works amazingly well.

There have been a few times I have been bit by the game trying to move forward without me…  but in the grand scheme of things it seems to do 99.9% of the right things at the right time.  The other moments don’t bother me too much because I am not placing a lot of my personal ego into whether or not I am winning.  I am simply enjoying playing cards and occasionally I do really well.  I do feel like Tobold’s comment of not feeling like he could be competitive with the decks presented was a bit nonsense given that I have been entirely playing the stock Golgari Exploration deck.  I felt like I was able to pick it up and start winning matches almost immediately…  and sure as my rank has risen I am winning less matches but even that doesn’t bother me much.  I am still winning more than enough to complete daily quests getting me packs and gold…  to buy more packs.  All in all I feel like Arena is going to shape up to be a very solid version of Magic the Gathering Online…  but we need to stop the comparisons there for our own sanity.

Everquest For Reasons

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Last night I did some nonsense “for science” or mostly to refresh my mind so that I was no longer talking completely out of my arse about Everquest.  Prior to last night the last time I had played was apparently in 2013 if my screenshot archive was to be believed.  So not exactly the most up to date information about the game considering it is still receiving updates and tweaks.  Prior to starting up… or more correctly as the game downloaded I watched a video from Cohh to sort of re-familiarize myself with the game.  This video included a link to Brewall’s Everquest Maps pack… which I then installed to have slightly better guidance than the default options.

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The game presented a series of servers… some of which were flagged as preferred…  something I am not completely certain what it actually means.  However it did get me to end up rolling on Vox instead of one of the classic servers that slowly got joined over the years.  This is technically a newer account than the one that I had while playing the original Everquest, but it is the one that I have the vast majority of my EQ2 characters on…  so if I am going to sub somewhere it would be here.  On my older account however my characters are spread between Veeshan and Xegony…  neither of which sounded like an amazing option for starting fresh so I just went with Vox the new standard ruleset server that was being presented in the preferred list.

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Originally I created a Gnome Shadowknight…  but the fact that I could not change the color of the eyebrows from grey to something else caused me to ultimately delete that character and roll something completely different.  This time around I went with a Troll which  was a more min-maxery choice given that the latent regeneration has always been a little broken.  Essentially there are three races that are large enough to be able to Slam…  or essentially shield bash without the requirement of having a shield.  So you if you play a Troll, Ogre or Barbarian you can interrupt casting while using a two handed weapon…  which always seemed to fit the feel of a Shadowknight better than sword and shield.  Yes these are things that I was somehow able to dredge up from the past and summon forth to advise my judgement.

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The user interface still makes me deeply frustrated because it is sort of a much worse version of Everquest 2…  and I have never thought the EQ2 interface was that brilliant.  After about thirty minutes of tweaking I managed to get things moved in a way that didn’t make me quite so frustrated…  though still not entirely happy.  The hardest part was the mouse but after tweaking both the X and Y sensitivity I managed to get mouse look feeling a bit more normal.  The next step was trying to figure out how to get tab targeting to work properly which lead me out onto the forums to sort out which of the keybinds would actually do what I wanted it to do.  It turned out that basically I wanted to bind two things to tab…  nearest npc and cycle extended targets…  which combined sorta give me the style of tab targeting I am used to which is target the nearest thing or cycle through the things I am currently engaged with.

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Over the course of the evening things started feeling significantly better as I got adjusted to this window on time.  The combat is still largely non-interactive at low levels for a melee character and it was not long before I set up my old “Taunt and Slam” macro so that I could have a single button to train both abilities up with.  Originally I had lumped Sense Heading in there but it seems that you maybe no longer need to train that like you did before.  Most combat involved me pulling with my single spell Spike of Disease then starting up the auto attack and hitting my single ability button anytime taunt or bash/slam were up.  It was not glamorous…  but also pretty chill to hang out downstairs while watching television.

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Unfortunately as of writing this…  I am finding out that they apparently moved the spells so you start to get something new every level instead of not giving Shadowknights much of anything until around level 10.  So I just bought Sense the Dead, Locate Corpse, Invisibility vs Undead, Disease Cloud and Siphon Strength which should serve to make combat significantly more interesting.  The other thing that makes this entire experience more reasonable is the introduction of mercenaries… so I am running around with I believe a Human Cleric allowing me to do my tanky nonsense almost indefinitely receiving the occasional heal to keep me alive and functional.

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All in all it is not a bad experience so I do need to back pedal a bit regarding some of my comments the other day when talking about Project Gorgon.  That said I do think the interface for Gorgon is leaps and bounds ahead of this one, and it is probably the single most frustrating part of the experience for me.  I feel like I will spend some time soon trying to clean the interface up a bit or seeing if I can hide some of the interface elements to reduce the size of everything.  I am linking in a picture from Project Gorgon for reference…  as there is just way less stuff on the screen but providing most of the same information that the Everquest screen does.  Regardless it was interesting enough for me to get to level 8 and it is highly likely that I will keep leveling for a bit just to see how the experience expands once I leave the newbie cave.

 

 

Better Faction Systems

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Loss of Nuance

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I had this topic that I wanted to talk about this morning, and jotted it down so that I would not forget.  Then last night I suffered from a bout of insomnia.  So my hope is that even without much sleep I can still make this topic work, and devote the amount of attention it deserves.  For years I have talked about my dislike of the faction wall system that was first popularized by Dark Age of Camelot, and then carried forth into the modern genre of MMOs thanks to World of Warcraft adopting it.  For many players they know nothing different than picking a red versus blue faction and living their entire gaming life’s within the confines of it.  I think I struggle against this concept because I remember a time when this wasn’t necessarily the case.  Lately I have been spending a lot of time playing my smuggler in Star Wars the Old Republic, and yes I realize that game is a very faction locked experience.  However if you think of the Smuggler itself in the Star Wars mythos, it has always been a character that skirted the lines trying to exist in Republic, Imperial and Hutt space at the same time, carving their own path balancing between them all.

The problem is, other than the original Everquest no game really supports this notion.  You cannot live between the faction lines making your own choices, instead you are asked to choose an allegiance that is about the most impersonal experience imaginable.  The problem is that I feel no personal responsibility for choosing Horde or Alliance or in many cases Red or Blue.  They don’t represent me as a person, and as such I have no real loyalty tied to them.  However in Everquest you were assigned essentially a default template of allegiances based on your racial choice… but from that point on you could blur the lines at will.  I remember spending copious amounts of time hunting Kobolds in the Warrens off of Toxxulia Forest, for the purpose of gaining faction in the otherwise aggressive city of Paineel.  Why did I do this? Honestly for no real reason other than I could, and that I thought the city of Paineel was extremely cool in its layout.  Sure I could have simply banked and quested at the far end of Toxxulia Forest in the already friendly city of Erudin, but instead I made the conscious choice to hang out with the Necromancers.

Sapping Creative Expression

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The problem with the faction wall system is that it forces all of the players to essentially be the same person.  Later games started throwing in optional faction grinds, but those grinds are always connected to “things”.  Gain this much reputation with this faction and you will get a nifty sword, or a pretty mount…  but otherwise once the current expansion is over they will be utterly meaningless from that point on.  The problem here is that these tertiary faction choices don’t actually effect the players game experience.  They don’t unlock new areas of the world, or more so close off other areas that the player did have access to.  Granted in the early days of World of Warcraft they did manage to create a few of these Factions that did actually do interesting things.  Namely I am talking about the back and forth seesaw of the Bloodsail Buccaneers and the assorted Goblin factions.  If you were truly insane you could skirt a thin line between gaining faction with the Bloodsails but also doing faction repair work with the Goblins to make sure you were not ever hitting “Kill On Sight” status.

The problem here is… this was an isolated example that granted players access to a handful of boats in the ass end of the world.  This area was made immediately irrelevant as soon as the Burning Crusade and subsequent expansions released.  Instead as an Alliance player I always wanted to figure out a way to gain factions with the Tauren.  They were the only Horde race that seemed to cling to any ideals I could get behind, and I thought it would have been so interesting to be able to gain faction in a way that would allow you to enter the town and do commerce there.  Things are never completely black and white, and even in the lore there are characters that skirt the lines managing to be friendly to two different groups at the same time.  The entire World of Warcraft experience would have been so much richer if it allowed players through sheer will to grind out their own niche that lay somewhere between the predetermined choices.  I think it would have been interesting to allow players to create the ultimate “diplomat” that was friendly to essentially ALL of the races.

Fear for the Future

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The problem with games being iterative is that once a feature set becomes common, it essentially stays there forever.  This past weekend when we talked about Tron 2.0 in our AggroChat Game Club show, one of the lines of discussion was how the cultural norms for shooters have changed over the years.  What used to be representative of most of the shooters that were out in 2003, is no longer recognizable through the lens of the basic feature set that we now have come to expect.  World of Warcraft borrowed heavily from the games that came before it, and since it chose to go with a walled off faction system, games that have borrowed from it have essentially followed that mold.  Red and Blue factions with their own walled off areas of play have become the template for how to build a game, and right now the only real evolution has been a return to three factions instead of just two.  Sure games like Rift have torn down the wall and made faction into “fiction” but they have not really gone anywhere in the struggle of making faction a personal choice.

Now going back to the original thing that spurred this topic, Star Wars the Old Republic.  How much more rich would the smuggler have been if you quite literally could have been a freelancer in action and not just name.  The game does a decent job of making you feel like you live somewhere between the red and blue lines, and then when the second chapter happens it essentially rips all of that forcing you to align to the Republic faction.  Sure you can still play a dark side Smuggler, but these aren’t “real” decisions with any sense of “real” lasting consequences.  You can’t decide to say screw the republic and opt to live entirely in Hutt space or Imperial space.  You can’t decide to say on Alderaan or Balmorra and improve your faction with one of the leaders, opening up new questing opportunities that are unavailable to the average player.  Everquest is a game that I could never really play again, because I just can’t handle the essentially “primative” game client.  There however are still things that the game got right, that no other game that I have played have really tried to copy.  The problem is… right now I cannot see a game adopting a more real world faction system, without somehow turning it into a marketing focus and losing sight of all of the other things that have to be in place to make a game enjoyable.  Essentially I want real factions… but still be able to keep all of the things that I have come to expect from an MMO to this point.  Unfortunately I fear that the era of MMO experimental-ism is over… and at this point our feature set is locked in place just like the feature set of shooter is locked as well.  In the meantime however… I will still carry a rose colored torch for this features that I wish I could have in modern games.

 

Fear of the Unknown

MMO Nostalgia

pathfinderonline One of the interesting subtexts this week that we will likely talk about on tonight’s AggroChat is Kodra and Pathfinder Online.  He has begun the descent into this game and been trying to drum up a certain measure of interest from the rest of us to join him.  The problem is that as I listen to him talk about the game I realize that I have already played this.  In fact I gave three years of my life to Everquest, and everything about Pathfinder Online feels like a nostalgic throwback to that era.  I am sure it is a perfectly awesome game, but while I miss the sense of community we had back then there are many things I don’t miss about it.  This is all the more relevant since right now the Ragefire server is open in Everquest and folks are flocking there for their own hit from the nostalgia pipe.

The thing that I don’t miss about that era is the way I felt chained to the computer.  Every time I set foot in the world I had a tangible fear of losing everything that I had worked so hard to attain to that point.  There was always the fear that you might take a death in a place where you could not recover your body.  Over time the items on your body started to decay and disappear, and eventually there was a point where things were simply no longer recoverable.  The problem is when you took a death your entire mission in life became about getting that body back.  I’ve known people that skipped major events in their life all because they were in the middle of trying to get back their virtual items.  I’ve personally gotten calls on the middle of a Sunday afternoon begging me to go home and log in and go find them so that I could resurrect their body and give them back some of the lost experience.

Fear of the Unknown

kithicor-thecrew So while I don’t miss any of that bullshit, I do the constant and tangible sense of fear.  The problem being that the modern games seem to have missed the boat in what exactly caused this fear.  Right now so many of these sandbox games take the cheap route and make every player afraid of every other player.  The problem with this is that it is counter productive to building a community.  You want your players to band together, rather than avoid each other like the plague.  What caused the fear was that the world was this scary and unknown place.  There were no in game maps, there were no mob statistics…  and it was the lack of information that made the world frightening.  We didn’t know what we didn’t know… and often times our imaginations invented a far scarier scenario than the game servers were possible of creating at the time.  We imagined complex plans within plans… and that the server was quite literally out to get us.

There were situations like Kithicor Forest in Everquest, where during the day it was a friendly low level hunting zone, but at night all manner of maximum level undead spawned and started roaming.  The truth of Kithicor is that there were far fewer undead spawning than we realized and that we were never in as much danger as we actually thought we were.  In all the times I ran through the zone at night, I never once died to the undead…  but I was constantly in fear of it.  I “knew” death waited around every corner and because of it I tiptoed my way out into the world constantly aware of my surroundings and constantly afraid that at any moment the server would reach out and smite me for my impudence.  The fact that it never actually happened, didn’t really matter…  because I lacked the data mined information to tell me exactly what the spawn rates were and where the roaming paths were located at.

Players Together, Not Against

watching_sat We are quite literally overloaded with information about the games we play.  Knowing the amount of hit points a given mob has is just expected now, along with knowing every other intimate piece of information about the game.  We know the attacks a creature is capable of making, and how exactly to counter them…  before we even see said creature take a swing.  Where this modern incarnation of Everquest nostalgia falls short is understanding that it was our lack of knowledge that made us afraid to venture into the world.  It was not necessarily the harsh death penalties, and it most definitely was not that we were afraid of other players…  it was that the world was cruel and unknown.  The focus on PVP as a way of providing cheap content always seems to miss the point of why the original games worked.  Everquest and Dark Age of Camelot worked more than anything because it caused players to be willing to look for help from anyone who would offer it.

When you expect the world to strike you down at any moment, you are willing to accept assistance from anyone willing to lend it.  Especially in Everquest it felt like every player in the game was on the same team, that it was us versus the world.  Sure there were territorial squabbles over spawn camps and the like, but more often than not each server had its own hard and fast rules for dealing with this sort of thing.  We the players made order out of the chaos, and there was protection in numbers.  There were many zones that you didn’t go to because you knew there were not likely to be other players to help you out if something went wrong.  By the same token these untouched zones became the perfect place for a group of friends to go off exploring on their own.  This is what we need in the current crop of nostalgic games, a sense of why exactly the first games worked and a certain measure of ignorance to make us all fear the darkness.

The Guide Program

There are many stories that at the time were frustrating but become more humorous through the lens of nostalgia.  I think we as gamers all have thousands of such tales in us, and with this new feature my goal is to try and devote some time to committing these to paper.  Nostalgia is a powerful force, but one that is fun to wallow in every now and then.

Exeteroth Iceforge

EQpic_LOIOPosingAgain I’ve been sitting here for a bit staring at a blank screen, not quite sure what to write for my Storytime Saturday post.  Which lead m to start thinking about the things I miss in games.  One of the casualties of the whole Daybreak Games debacle was the majority of the in game GM department.  From what I have heard they currently have only a single GM per game, which makes me wonder why there is not talk about bringing back the Guide program.  For those who are not familiar with the concept, the Guide program was a series of player volunteers that gave up some of their in game time to serve as junior GMs on a server other than their own.  These guides took care of a lot of the day to day requests like players stuck in geometry, and minor behavior infractions.  The guide system always felt really cool because you knew more than likely you were getting another seasoned player helping you out, and in part you felt more connected to them because of it.

This freed up the GM staff to do some interesting things like live events.  It was always extremely awesome when something was going on, and it was amazing how fast word trickled through the community.  Players would drop what they were doing to flock to whatever zone something cool was happening in.  The unfortunately thing is it has been literally years since I last participated in something like that.  Modern games seem to have a GM staff that simply does not come out to play anymore.  There was a time when on Xegony in Everquest we knew all of the GMs and guides assigned to our server.  There were so many times they would be hanging out in zone with us as we took down a raid boss, cheering us on.  The problem is there were tales of GMs doing questionable things to help out some of the top tier guilds.   I really hope they were just rumors, because while we might have had GMs in zone with us they never did anything to assist us other than to lend moral support.

Spawn Rights

magiptasa One of the rights of passage in Everquest was the obtaining of the epic weapon.  This was an extremely long process that involved the camping of many rare spawns.  I’ve talked in the past about playing a cleric which was actually one of the less annoying epic weapons to obtain.  The worst ones relied upon steps in raid instances that were extremely rare spawns.  I remember getting home from work, logging in and seeing messages in guild chat that “Pasta” was up, and everyone immediately knew that it meant we were going to the Plane of Hate that night.  Magi P’Tasa was a super rare spawn on what I vaguely remember being a two week long spawn cycle buried deep within the Plane of Hate.  When it was up… it became a race among all the various raid guilds on the server to see who could field a raid first and clear to it and defeat it.  So many times there was a fever pitch battle to try and log people in fast enough, and get us all into Hate in order to grab the spawn rights first.

That was one of the awesome things about Xegony is that for the most part the raid guilds respected each others “spawn rights”.  Meaning that if someone was in a zone, it was more or less off limits to any other guild trying to come up and muscle them out of it.  So whoever gained a foothold in Hate for example, owned Hate until they were doing farming it.  These farm sessions could last days at times, especially on the weekends.  This however was not the case on every server.  Originally I started on Veeshan, the home of the fabled Fires of Heaven raid guild.  They respected no ones “spawn rights” in any form, and there were constantly tales of them steamrolling their way through a zone that someone else was currently farming to muscle through to the spawn they needed.  Often times training mobs on the rival guild to keep them busy while they got what they were after.  I feel like in part the reason why we have instanced dungeons in World of Warcraft, is in part because of these sort of shenanigans.

Murky Depths

Npc_lord_bergurgle The cool thing is that while all of this was going on, it was not unusual for guides and GMs to be hanging out watching the race for the spawn.  I have to say the coolest instance of GM intervention I ever experienced was while I was working on my own epic weapon quest.  At the bottom of Lake Rathetear was a particularly annoying step that involved farming a set of Aqua Goblins until a rare named goblin called Lord Bergurgle spawned.  Like so many of the spawns in Everquest this on was based on a random chance anytime you killed the placeholder.  This often meant spending hour after hour on the bottom of Lake Rathetear which was a slog of a camp because the bottom of the lake was pitch black…. with nothing other than some crumbling ruins to stare at.  During one of my sessions down on the bottom of the lake a random GM popped by and spend several hours just keeping me company as we waited on the spawn.  It was awesome that she was more than happy to chat away keeping a lonely cleric company while waiting on an annoying spawn.

Basically I miss this sort of interaction between the customer support staff and the player base.  During these early days there was so much more cooperation between players and customer service, because it felt like we were in this together.  That we were working together to make this game we both loved all the more awesome.  I am not saying that CS is not doing an amazing job currently, but I miss this era of manual and personal intervention with the players.  The GMs and Guides were physically in the game with you, not connected into it through a chat server in a call center somewhere.  In part it was also cool that “guide robes” were something that was instantly recognizable as a person of authority.  It was like a uniform that every player immediately recognized and respected.  They were the in game security guards and forces of right and good.  I keep hoping now that we have these smaller niche games that they will bring back something like the guide program.  I think it is good for the community as a whole to have representatives in direct contact with the player base on a regular basis.  If nothing else it is fun to fondly remember this era in MMOs, even if I doubt it will ever fully return.  I feel like this is probably something that gets harder to support the larger the game gets.

Doubling Down

Still Frustrated

EQ2_000006 Yesterday I broke my self appointed rules and made two posts because I felt the news warranted it.  I said my peace but the problem is… I am still frustrated this morning.  At the time of posting yesterdays blog piece I really only knew about a few of the people who were let go.  As last night wound its way onwards, more names trickled out and at this point I am absolutely shocked by the scope.  While I am not sure about the numbers, it feels like roughly half of the folks I was aware of over there were let go.  Granted the actual numbers could be anywhere, but I am basing it simply on the faces that have shown up on twitter saying they were no longer Daybreak employees, versus the ones that have said they still are.  In any case this will be a massive blow to Everquest, Everquest II, Everquest Landmark and whether or not we will ever actually get Everquest Next.  For awhile on Aggrochat we have joked about Next being vaporware, and that we would only ever get Landmark…  but now I am starting to really wonder if that is closer to the truth.

Everquest will always hold a special place in my heart because it was my first footsteps into the MMO world.  Similarly I am drawn to Everquest II in ways that I cannot quite understand, and while I go for large swaths of time without playing, I often return to it was the gaming equivalent of “comfort food”.  It is this strange mix of a world that I am absolutely in love with, and a combat system that I hate beyond words.  If I had to create a list of “favorite games that I am not playing” I would put Everquest II at the top of that list…  so I guess I ultimately am part of the problem.  I love this world but I am not inhabiting it on a nightly basis, and as such not giving it money to grow.  I’ve bought into Landmark and H1Z1 but I am not really playing those either.  I remember feeling the same way when City of Heroes closed its doors, that I had so many fond memories… but that I had also ultimately moved past that game as well.  I guess we want the things we once loved and enjoyed to stay protected in a bubble forever, never to change…  but when we move on are we not also ultimately to blame?

Doubling Down

Gw2 2015-02-05 19-08-06-25 Before the events of yesterday I had a topic kicking around in my head about the worlds that we play.  I am not sure how the events of yesterday feed into the narrative, but I am going with it in any case.  I feel as though the era of the “new mmorpg” is all but over.  There will of course be new games that identify with the “mmo” ideals, but they won’t be quite the same as the worlds we have had had in the past.  I feel like we are going to see a lot more games like Destiny, that is “mmo-lite” or another genre with mmo features.  I feel like the worlds that were crafted during the golden age of massively multiplayer online role-playing game launches, are the worlds we will have to live with for better or worse.  When Blizzard cancelled Project Titan, we can look at that in so many different ways.  We could say that it was a sign that MMOs were dying, and that they no longer believed in the genre.  We could however take that as a sign that they believed that the worlds we had already were worth saving.

So many of the games that we love are not broken toys, at least not yet.  Each of them if given the devotion and the development resources could be transformed into a truly magical place.  I am looking at the transformation of Final Fantasy XIV from 1.0 awkwardness to 2.0 and beyond splendor as proof that a game can change for the better.  I’ve played each of the major MMOs for some length of time, and have experienced that each have exactly the same problem.  How do they keep the player engaged on a daily basis, rather than in bursts of activity each time new content is released?  I feel the problem is that games right now are mired in the construct of expansion releases, pooling up major features until they can sell another box of the game.  This means the best features tend to either get bottled up for years time, or never actually make it into the game at all.

The episodic construct is a bit better, but you have to be careful that you are not adding “expiring” content into your game, making players feel rushed to somehow grind through it all before the next patch hits.  The problem I had with the Living Story in Guild Wars 2 was that when I fell behind, I didn’t feel like there was a point to actually try and catch up… since I had missed so much already.  The fact that the content was expiring made it feel less “real” to me… that they weren’t permanently improving the game, but instead running a series of limited time events.  I feel like the shift needs to be moved away from both of these constructs and instead the focus placed on fleshing out the world.  Do you know how frustrating it is to me in World of Warcraft that there are five portals below Wyrmrest Temple but only two of them go anywhere?  Each world we play is littered with these forgotten expansion ideas, and all I really want is for a game world to quit teasing us and start living up to its full potential.  Now is the time for these companies to double down on the content they have, fix the issues with their game systems… and try and make their games worth our copious time and devotion.

A Simple Night

ffxiv 2015-02-11 19-54-39-33 Because of the news yesterday, and because of other events leading me to question myself and my connection to other people… I was not in the best of places emotionally last night when I got home.  I have to say my mood was improved by hanging out with my extremely awesome free company in Final Fantasy XIV.  For a few nights I had promised to help my friend Solaria work on knocking out some stuff, since she was fairly new to 50 and in doing so also spent a good deal of time running dungeons with Thalen and Asha.  I have not had a night where we tore through multiple dungeons in a night, and I have to say it was good for the soul.  Granted I felt a bit wobbly, since I have not really tanked much of anything other than our raids, and dungeon tanking ends up so drastically different.  That said we managed to unlock a few dungeons for both Thalen and Solaria, and in the process get some Tomestones of Soldiery and Poetics.

I’ve missed logging in, getting pulled into a group and then spending the rest of the night tromping through dungeons.  It is like connecting with my most basic instincts of trying to make sure everything in the dungeon hates me equally.  I really enjoy the pace of Final Fantasy XIV, and its particular brand of tanking.  The Warrior just “feels” right, and I am hoping I will be equally at home with the Dark Knight.  If nothing else I will always have the Warrior to fall back on if the Dark Knight ends up not being the class I have wanted all along.  I know Thalen has several more dungeons yet to unlock to qualify for high level roulette, so I am going to try and force myself to build groups more often.  I get stuck in my own little world, and spend most of my time soloing… but I know when I do group content I feel so much better at the end of the night.  While last night did not cure me completely… it did make me feel significantly better.

Night Falls

Unfortunate Bonus Round

This is going to be a bit of an oddity for me, I am breaking my normal one post per day rule.  I feel like the gravity of the situation warrants it, because right now I am feeling so many different emotions at the same time.  By now most of you will have heard the news that I believe first broke over on the newly erected Massively OP website.  Today Daybreak Games, formerly Sony Online Entertainment has chosen to make some sweeping cuts to staff.  Among the individuals caught in this madness were none other than Dave “Smokejumper” Georgeson and and Linda “Brasse” Carlson.  I cannot fathom a chain of consequences that would lead to this happening, but I will get into that later.  For me and many others these two individuals along with Scott Hartsman before he left to join Trion…  were the face of the Everquest franchise.  They were the spirit of the game, and the lifeblood that kept the player base constantly engaged, because never once did you question their sincerity or devotion to making the game world awesome.

Last Tuesday when the news broke that SOE was to be no more, and they would be taking up the new name of Daybreak Game Studio I tried to keep things in stride.  After all I had gotten used to Everquest transitioning from Verant to being called Sony Online Entertainment hadn’t I?  When I found out they had been purchased by what seemed to be a cold and faceless financial holdings company, I tried to keep a positive tone in that it seemed that they were holding most of the companies rather than chopping them up into pieces.  I held in the back of my mind the possibility that the future was in fact going to be positive, that maybe out from under Sony they could reach previously locked off markets like the Xbox One.  After all this same company owned both Rhapsody and Fiverr, surely they knew what they were doing right?

Night Falls

Today it seems that my worst fears have been realized, and that things really can’t stay the same.  As online gamers we get lost in the worlds created by the games that we love to play.  Part of that world are the names and faces of the individuals who act as the conduit between our normal mundane lives, and the magical realms we spent our free time in.  At least in a small part they act as civil servants to the virtual cities we inhabit.  As we watch public presentations and read patch notes and press releases, it is amazing just how quickly we can rattle off the names of the key players that are relaying the information to us.  Even though we may never know them, we develop an almost personal relationship as they take the stage to give us tidbits of information about the future state of “our” game.

The problem is…  we get extremely close to these personalities, so that when one leaves either by their own hand, or by circumstances the shock waves reverberate through the community.  Today a mighty shock wave happened, and I am still not quite sure how to talk about it with any intelligence.  For many years, Brasse has been the public face of the Everquest community team, and Smokejumper the face of the future of that franchise.  It was impossible to watch either of them and not see just how excited they were to be representing this game that they too loved.  I find it exceptionally hard to try and imagine a future that does not involve them, and I have to say a lot of my faith that there will even be an Everquest going forward is more than a little tarnished.

The Survivors

This has been the month of senseless corporate action.  First with AOL killing off their blogs, and now the selling of of Sony Online Entertainment.  I am deeply concerned about the future of these games, in part because the gravitas of Sony…  allowed for SOE to be a little “funky”.  They devoted time to building a lot of unique and quirky features that we were not likely to see come out of any other company.  Do you think that any other company would have given us something truly strange like SOEmote?  Sure I never used it, but I thought the tech was extremely cool especially for the roleplaying community.  The tools that I did love, like the robust housing system and the dungeon builder…  likely would not have come to fruition in a company not quite so willing to chase rabbit trails.

All of this said… I think it is important to also think about the people who were left behind.  They are reeling from the layoffs, and seeing their friends gone.  Having been through more than one layoff, it completely changes the feel of the office.  Every action becomes questioned, and every motive suspicious, making it almost impossible to focus on doing the excellent job that the “citizens” are expecting you to do.  It is easy to say you are done with the Everquest franchise, because of these rather rash actions…  but in truth you are just going to punish the people who are still there, still trying to create the game worlds you love.  Hopefully we can all take a deep breath, grieve the loss, and try and figure out how to move on without being bitter.  I really hope this next week gives us some really good news, because this month so far has turned out to be a fairly tragic one.

Things That Should Die…

…in a Fire

This morning I thought I would take a stab and talking about some of the constructs in online games specifically that need to just go away.  Over the years I’ve noticed a bunch of things that really do not benefit players in games and only serve to divide them.  This is going to likely be a more free form style post than my normal 3 blocks structure… but I am just going with that one.

1) Region Lockout

mapofinternet There are literally an unlimited potential visualizations of the internet, because so much depends upon the activity at the moment you observe it.  The image to the left is someone’s vague attempt at “drawing” the internet.  It looks like many things, but you know what it absolutely doesn’t look like?  That’s right there is no way to somehow match that image up to a map of the countries of the world.  The internet is this grand technology that has essentially abolished borders and turned them into meaningless distinctions.  I have friends in England, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Ecuador, Brazil, and more than I can possibly count in our sibling to the North…  Canada.

Ultimately I want to be able to play freely with all of them, and if it was not hard enough to try and juggle time zone conflicts…  game companies seem to feel the need to throw up artificial boundaries to keep players from different regions in separate bundles.  This needs to stop, and while server localization is a good thing…  blocking players from freely mingling between the areas is a bad thing.  Region based launches and region based exclusivity also need to “die in a fire”.  We are living in a global community, and its about damned time we realize it.

2) Server Restrictions

serverlist Another massive frustration is that as gamers we are still somehow constrained to playing on servers.  Don’t get me wrong… I love servers.  Before it went to shit I loved Argent Dawn my role-playing server in World of Warcraft, and currently I am in love with Cactuar in Final Fantasy XIV.  I absolutely think having a small intimate group that you see every single day is a good thing.  What I don’t think is a good thing is the hard boundaries.  Just because I live in the Tulsa area in Oklahoma… doesn’t mean I can’t go visit someone living in the Dallas Texas area.  Essentially this is how our games should work too.  There are certain games that are already doing this and it is amazing.  In Rift for example you can choose to move your character between servers at will once every week, but more important than that you can choose to transfer yourself temporarily to ANY server in your cluster and you are able to group across servers freely.  The Secret World has the same sort of setup, and it allows you to join up with literally anyone else playing the game.

Both of these situations represent the ideal, that you still have a server structure that gives you familiarity with other players but at the same time the freedom to hang out with anyone else who happens to be playing the same game as you.  Completely abolishing servers on the other hand isn’t as good of an idea.  In The Elder Scrolls Online we free floated on the same server, but the fact that player names were hidden and that you were constantly being mixed with a different batch of players… kept you from developing ties.  There are friends I have in FFXIV only because we saw each other doing the same things over and over and struck up a conversation while doing it.  This is important, but it is also important to be able to hang out with that person you meet five months after you started playing… and find out they are playing in a completely different server community.  Your character is just data, and it should be able to flow between servers… which are also just data.

3) Faction Walls

redvsblue Another thing that I find super frustrating is when you meet someone that happens to be playing the same game as you… but then you find out that you are on opposite sides of some meaningless conflict in game and as such your characters are sworn enemies.  Red versus Blue mentality needs to go away.  It is a very dumb way of dealing with the concept of factions, because in the end it is the players that end up losing out.  I’ve never felt faction pride in a video game, because these factions have nothing to do with me.  I didn’t get to choose the way that the Horde was founded in Azeroth.  I didn’t choose to align to the Orcs and the Tauren and Undead and god forbid the damned Blood Elves.  I was brought into a situation where those were already connected for various also meaningless reasons.  Nothing about that has anything to do with me and my motivations as a player.

What is more meaningful is that for players to start out in the world with certain baseline alignments determined by their race or their class… but have those be malleable.  One of the things I loved about the original Everquest was that your faction choices were personal in nature.  Paineel was a city of Evil Erudite Necromancers… but by choice I aligned my Wood Elf Ranger with the city through lots of personal work.  Meaning that I could go there at any time I wanted and use the city like any other city.  Similarly I knew players who factioned with the giants turning Kael Drakkel… an area that is normally a raid zone into a useable player city.  These are interesting choices ones that take lots of effort, but ones that also bring the player deeper into your world as a result.  Setting up artificial boundaries just for the propagation of shallow player versus player combat is a horrible idea and needs to go away.  Let the players choose their allegiance, and let the players decide just what they are willing to fight for.

4) Weekly Lockouts

not_allowed_to_roll_lfr_wow This one is a thing that is starting to change slowly, but where it still exists it needs to go away.  What I mean by weekly lockouts is that once you run something like a raid you are locked out from participating for another week.  This used to create this complicated process of making sure that you stayed unlocked from this or that content to make sure you were eligible to participate in it with your raid or your guild.  As a raid leader it was always disappointing to get ready to go and find out that one of your key members had locked themselves out earlier in the week.  Like I said this is starting to change slowly with the introduction of the “loot locking” construct, where you can participate as many times as you like but you can only receive loot once.  Even this has many forms because the World of Warcraft version is a per boss loot lock, and the Final Fantasy XIV version is a single piece of loot period from the entire instance.

In both cases however it is significantly better than being locked completely and unable to help out your friends.  If you notice that is a running theme in all of these things that need to go away.  Basically there are a lot of MMO constructs that get in  the way of you playing with your friends.  For awhile now I have had this maxim of “anything that gets in the way of you playing with your friends is bad” and I still stand by it.  What I would like to see is that there be some reward for the players “just helping out”.  Sure they can’t win the actual loot off the boss, but maybe for participating they get a loot bag at the end of the run that can contain some interesting stuff.  This sort of thing would give folks warm fuzzies for helping out their friends, but also not be rewarding enough for people to abuse it by grinding the raids over and over.  In any case… these are four constructs that I feel that MMOs would be better off without.

Death of a Genre

Downfall of a Game

One of the problems within the MMO community is that we seem to view each release as a zero sum game.  As such when something new comes out, it threatened to chip away at the player base of whatever game we happen to love and are currently playing.  When that game falters and begins to fail, with this point of view it becomes extremely hard not to take pleasure in that downfall.  The problem is this is an extremely toxic and dysfunctional outlook, and ultimately is what has lead to the current climate in MMOs.  For years companies have been chasing an illusive dream of trying to create another World of Warcraft.

This was an inherently flawed vision because really…  “mmo gamers” are a rather small niche in the market, and most folks who play World of Warcraft are not actually “mmo gamers”.  If you take a look at the size of the market before World of Warcraft, you saw a handful of games with sub-million subscriber numbers.  Before the launch of the first expansion World of Warcraft had boomed to be an over 6 million subscriber game.  This was not the conversion of all of these other MMO gamers, but instead the conversion of fans of the existing Warcraft franchise into the MMO genre.  The thing is…  these new gamers are there for a myriad of reasons, but none of them easily translate into a new franchise.

So as these new games launch they are essentially fighting over the same piece of pie over and over.  All you have to do is look at my immediate circle of friends.  A large chunk of them stuck with World of Warcraft, and it would likely take an apocalypse or the servers shutting down to pry them from it.  Another group has wandered away from the game each and every time something new and shiny showed up on the horizon.  Very few of these players stick around in any game for longer than three months, and more often they play their free month and then return to whatever the status quo was before the new launch.  I watched this pattern play out for both Elder Scrolls Online and Wildstar, and the games industry is finally realizing that this is going to happen for every single new game that releases.

Indictment of the Trend

The cancelling of Titan has been a far more contentious issue in the blogosphere than I expected.  At this point my point of view is that this is Blizzard admitting that the MMO genre has no more room for new players.  While there will always be a core group of players in World of Warcraft just like there is still a core group of players in Everquest, Everquest II, and Dark Age of Camelot…  that core group continues to shrink as folks either “grow out” of World of Warcraft as they find it no longer suits their interests, or simply run out of the copious amounts of free time it requires as they get that job, family, whatever.  I think they have done some really simple calculus here and determined that there simply is not enough of a pool of players to make a brand new MMO from Blizzard successful.

With World of Warcraft they have a decade long buy in from a large number of gamers.  They have literal years of memories and hard to acquire items to keep them chained to the game.  With a brand new IP, they are starting from scratch in the same position as all of these games that have floundered have been in.  Blizzard brand name recognition just isn’t enough to guarantee success, so I feel like it was a pure business decision that it just did not make sense to further dilute their subscription player base by trying to launch a new MMO.  As much as I love the clean subscription model, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to launch a new game with it.  After watching what happened to Wildstar and to a somewhat lesser extent Elder Scrolls Online, the market does not want any more subscription games.  So by launching a new MMO they would be converting at least a portion of their subscriber base of easy month to month money to far more dicey and less predictable free to play money.

No Joy Watching Wildstar

I find it impossible to find joy in the unraveling of Wildstar that I see before me.  I am not playing the game, so I am in essence part of the problem.  For whatever reason it was an accumulation of all of the things my BC era self said they wanted in a video game.  The problem is we gamers are notoriously horrible at trying to decide what we want.  “We” said we wanted a hardcore game like Everquest and a return to forced grouping…  then when we got Vanguard no one actually wanted to play that.  We said we wanted a hard core PVP game like Dark Age of Camelot…  and then when we got Warhammer Online no one actually wanted to play that either.  So I find it no suprise that when we said we wanted a return to the golden says of World of Warcraft raiding…  no one actually wanted that either when we got Wildstar.  The truth is we have no clue at all what we want until we actually see it and experience it.

The problem is that the MMO design ethic has been so wrapped up in trying to target what the public is asking for, that it has stagnated into a mire of “wow like features”.  A week or so ago there were a series of posts taking point and counterpoint on whether or not WoW has ruined MMOs.  In a way I have to say yes, but not through anything that they did on purpose.  World of Warcraft has been this juggernaut that everyone else is forced to content with whether or not they actually wanted to.  It is a gold standard that every new game is judged by.  So you either have games that try and out feature it like Rift, or out lore it like Star Wars the Old Republic… but each and every new release is at least in someway a response to the success that World of Warcraft was.  Without that outlier of success we probably would see a much more healthy MMO ecosystem…  albeit a ridiculously smaller one.

Death of a Genre

So I cannot take joy in watching Wildstar, or Elder Scrolls Online or any other MMO falter right now, because I see it as all being part of the same shared ecosystem.  When one of these games fails, it is in essence taking a chunk of players out of the pool that will likely never return.  So many of my friends have simply just checked out of online gaming for one reason or another, but the core thread among them all is they are just tired of the volatility.  The choice is either return to World of Warcraft and make due with the status quo, or jump from game to game to game getting a months worth of enjoyment at a time before the ultimate crash.  None of this sounds like a healthy ecosystem, and all of this is what is driving triple A studios away from the notion of even trying to do an MMO.

If you think about it right now…  there is nothing really on the horizon for gamers to latch onto.  There are a few boutique titles like Pathfinder or Camelot Unchained… that are super focused on a specific niche and that may or may not be at least partially vaporware, unlikely to actually launch with all of the features they are touting.  Then you have a constant spin of Korean titles as they have their own MMO renaissance that we went through several years ago.  However After the launch of ESO and Wildstar…  there is really no big western titles on the immediate horizon.  Everquest Next is the closest thing but realistically it is still several years from release.  The other games that are coming out are more akin to Destiny than they are to a traditional MMO.  So I can’t blame World of Warcraft for this current situation, because in truth it is our flighty nature that has salted the fields in our wake.   We are the reason why there is no fertile ground for a new MMO to take purchase.  It is because of all of this… that I can find no pleasure in watching yet another game fail.