Blood of the Werewolf

AggroChat Episode #26


I feel like last night was a really good episode, or at least I hope it is.  It is one of those nights where the conversation flowed freely and we had way more topics to talk about than we realistically had time to do so.  Even at that we still recorded for roughly an hour and a half and it is completely packed full of stuff.  The title of the show is the “Gospel of Galaxy Trucker” and that is because Kodra has become an evangelist for the power of that game.  He has always been a big fan of the board game, and has latched onto the iOS port with both hands trying to get as many people to play with him as possible.  Problem is for me at least I don’t have any iOS devices, and I sadly doubt that android and iOS users will be able to play together….  although in Carcassonne you could play across platforms so here is hoping.

Other than that we talked at length about Dragon Age: Origin and mostly how Kodra has been getting along in the game.  He had tried to play it before in the past but was unable to get into it, so it seems as though he is at least over the hurdle.  As we refer to it “Getting Off Citadel” because that was the big hurdle of when Mass Effect 1 started to become interesting, and getting past Lothering in Dragon Age is a similar journey.  I talk at length about my issues with Destiny right now and the mindless grinding that is required to keep progressing.  I am far more grind friendly than the rest of my cast mates but even I am starting to hit my limit.  Finally we talk about the tell tale blank spots in the Blizzcon lineup and contemplate what they might be announcing.  We throw out a bunch of ideas for a new game genre for them to polish to a mirror shine.

Blood of the Werewolf

Blood of the Werewolf 2014-10-12 10-11-13-894 I picked this up some time ago on a Steam sale because it had two things that greatly interested me.  Firstly the fact that you were playing as a female werewolf looking for revenge for her slain husband was an interesting spin on the genre.  Secondly it looked in many ways similar to the original Castlevania with a series of levels that show your progression in form of a minimap.  The dual mechanics of “human” and “werewolf” modes seemed interesting as well.  So for this mornings Steampowered Sunday I decided to give it a spin and play it for a bit.  I was not really feeling up to interacting with the world so I opted not to stream it, however I did take lots of screenshots along the way.  This however is a review that almost didn’t happen because apparently this game is essentially broken without massive intervention.  When I launched it the first time I started getting C++ debug errors, and since I am programmer by trade and have visual studio installed… it kept asking me if I wanted to launch a debugger to step through the code.

It turns out this is a “known issue” and simply has not been patched.  In fact there is a “helpful” thread on the steam forums on how to fix it.  I put helpful in quotes because the “fix” requires you to edit your registry and hard code the resolution you want to run the game at.  This is a horrible horrible decision, and I damned near stopped playing the game at this point.  If you put a game on steam you should at least have a way to configure your games resolution without resorting to the registry.  Quite honestly this right along makes me not recommend this game for anyone at this point.  I feel like more than likely the current $1.04 pricetag and the regular $7.00 pricetag maybe reflects the fact that this game has some shitty development behind it.  All of this said…  the registry hack seemed to clear up my problems.

Charming Narrative

Blood of the Werewolf 2014-10-12 10-11-19-648 The art style and voice acting are really nicely done.  I maybe should have used charming in quotes… since in reality you are going across the country side on a revenge fueled murder spree.  But I guess in reality the original Castlevania didn’t give you much of a reason why you were going after Dracula…  so it works here as well.  The game is told from the perspective of the mother telling her son what she had to do to seek revenge for the killing of his father.  I am not sure if this is like a journal that the son is reading, but it seems likely.  Which makes me wonder does your character simply not survive in the end.  I have not played enough yet to really be able to determine that, nor do I know if I will play enough, but I can get into the reasons behind that later.

Blood of the Werewolf 2014-10-12 10-10-01-407 The only problem I have is that the enemies you face are mostly random monsters…  and while the rats and crocodiles and even other wolves make sense… I have no clue why there are giant fireball belching deep ones in the sewer system as well other than a faint nod to Castlevania.  I feel like the game didn’t really explain who I was fighting against other than someone killed my husband and the father of the person reading the narration.  What helps me care less about all of this is just how nice the characters and background end up looking.  It is very stylistic but at the same time still richly detailed without going overly minimalistic.

Interesting Mechanics

Blood of the Werewolf 2014-10-12 10-08-56-566 The gameplay is split into two different kinds of mechanics.  The first is that of your character as a human.  She is equipped with a crossbow and here is where things get a little wonky.  You aim your crossbow with your right thumb stick and fire it with your right trigger.  Now if you fire your cross bow without touching your thumb stick it shoots straight at, but there are many times where you will need to angle a shot.  The ability to fire directed arrows allows you to hit switches and trigger traps and angle shots just right to be able to shoot from relative safety.  All of this however in practice feels like a lot to do as something is rushing at you.  I got the hang of it as my play test went on, but it did not feel exactly intuitive at first.

Blood of the Werewolf 2014-10-12 10-24-52-241 Whenever your character goes out into the moonlight, you change immediately into your werewolf form which has a completely different set of attacks but maintains the same basic control scheme.  Right trigger to attack, right shoulder to perform special ability.  In werewolf form you get the ability to double jump, so a lot of the puzzles involve you jumping just at the right time in the middle of the air.  One of the things they carried over from Castlevania is the constant cavalcade of bats timed at just the right spacing as to make it damned near impossible to ignore them, but futile to actually try and destroy them.  Later the bats develop the same kind of loping movement as the medusa heads from Castlevania which makes them even more frustrating.

Uneven Difficulty

Blood of the Werewolf 2014-10-12 10-19-30-539  Other than the fact that the game does not actually run when you install it through steam without registry hack intervention… my number one complaint about the game is that it seems to have very uneven difficulty design in the levels.  Granted the original Castlevania had this going on as well, but it was very much not a good feature.  I feel like this game as a whole is a nostalgic nod to Castlevania in so many ways, and it even managed to carry over the same brutal and frustrating bits that quite frankly were just the product of poor level design rather than actual planning I feel.  I played the first two levels this morning, and in each of them the bulk of the level was rather sedate with logical progression gradually ramping up as you went through the play field.

Blood of the Werewolf 2014-10-12 10-18-22-570 Then they would throw you at a bullet hell section, where for the course of a single area you would have to avoid three projectiles at a time from an enemy on the far side of the room, while avoiding environmental damage form above, bats flying in from the side, crumbling tiles beneath your feet and still having to make perfectly timed jumps between ladders and platforms.  These sections are maddening but not in a good way.  They feel completely misplaced when compared to the rest of the level design.  Why should this one room be that much harder than the others, and why did none of the rest of the level really prepare you for it?  The first time you really encounter the crumbling tiles… is during one of these sections so you really have no clue what that block does until you have already failed at doing so.

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The above section is what finally made me decide I was done for the morning.  YOu have a series of crushers that are a one shot kill.  They move in all sorts of directions, and extremely quickly.  There are status indicators above or to the side of them that show you how long before the piston fires.  They require perfecting timing to get through.  There is a moment where at two lights, you have to wait a split second before jumping.  If you jump immediately after the second light you jumped too soon and die.  If you jump as the third light is coming on, you jumped too late and die.  I could have handled one sequence of these pistons but after doing three in a row… and having a fourth one at the top of the ladder in the above screenshot…  I just said fuck it and killed the game.  I was not in the mood for that, especially when the rest of the game was actually rather enjoyable.

Rhinestone in the Rough

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Given that it is the season of monster themed games, I figured playing Blood of the Werewolf was a good pick this week.  Now comes the hard part… do I suggest this game to others.  I can’t really say this game is a diamond in the rough, because there is quite a bit of rough that you have to deal with to get to where you can play it.  The steam forums are full of issues folks have had with this game, and apparently if you are not using an  xbox 360 controller…  you are likely going to have issues with controller support as well.  Like the subheading says this is more a Rhinestone in the Rough.  There are definitely some shiny bits that are fun, but the thing that got me was the uneven progression of difficulty.  If you really like Metroidvania style games, and there is an aspect of collecting bits that make you more powerful… and you don’t mind frustration games that can be down right unfair like say the Mega Man series…  this might be a game for you.

If you wanted a game that you could install, boot up without issue and play through without the feeling of wanting to throw your controller… this is very much not a game for you.  Thankfully like I said earlier the game right now is super cheap on Steam through the 15th for only $1.04.  At that price, even dealing with the bullshit it is probably worth it if you are at all curious.  Sadly despite its charm I will likely never boot this game up again.  I feel like Outland is better at doing the things I like about Metroidvania in every single way, so in truth you would probably be better playing it or Guacamelee.  If however you have massive amounts of nostalgia over the original Castlevania… this might be just the game you were looking for.

#BloodoftheWerewolf #AggroChat

Savior of the Heavens

War of Guilds


A few days ago on a whim I decided to reinstall Guild Wars 2 and patch it up, which is not an insignificant process at this point.  Last night before getting into anything else I decided to give it a spin.  I have done this a number of times since launch, with essentially the same results.  After a few minutes of running around I decided that I still don’t like the game.  I figured this post is relevant with all of my recent Elder Scrolls fanboyism…  that yes it is perfectly okay for you not to like a game.  Guild Wars 2 is one of those titles that I want to like, because so many people have so many great moments with the game.  However for whatever reason I just cannot see the magic in it that others can.

Guild Wars 2 stands alone as the only alpha program I have ever resigned from.  I just did not like what the game was, and how it deviated from all of things I had read into their manifesto about the game.  When it came close to release I got into beta and had a marginal amount of fun, and with it launching in a relative dead spot I decided to take the plunge and try it.  On the initial play through I managed to make it through to about level 40 before running out of care to continue pushing forward.  This is round and about the place most of us dropped out of it.  Largely it was the chaos that is GW2 group combat that soured the milk for me.

All of that said… I want to see the magic that others see in this game.  So every few months I patch it up and give it another try.  I have always prided myself in being able to see the good in something despite its flaws, and as a result it drives me absolutely insane that I cannot grasp why people love this game.  I don’t want the game to change to fit my desires, so after a bit of playtime every few months we agree to disagree and I end up uninstalling it again.  Other than the chaotic game play, there is just something about the game that feels largely pointless… and I can’t quite put my finger on it.  I love faffing about as much as the next person, and I do so happily in many other games…  but there is just something about this games style of faffing that seems hollow.

I am not going to rage against this game and bash it for being bad… because it very obviously is NOT bad if so many people seem to be enjoying themselves.  It is just not a game for me.  I don’t pretend to believe that I could have built it better, nor would I even know where to start to make it feel more like a game I would want to play.  So I guess in writing this… I want to show that it is perfectly okay to not like the game that everyone else likes.  In doing so you can not like it, but also not seek to spoil the fun of those who really do enjoy it.  There are a long list of games that I just don’t “grok” for one reason or another, but it is okay.  They exist, and people like them… and it is just fine for me not to.

Savior of the Heavens

Diablo III 2014-03-06 22-18-57-78 Last night I finished my play through of Diablo 3 this time on Hard mode.  I am not sure why, but for whatever reason I prefer to level my characters linearly.  I know I can jump around a bit after beating the game ages ago on my Monk, but it seems pleasing to see the story play out in front of me as I trudge through it.  Last night I played with a handful of friends, and managed to get a few nice legendary drops.  Traditionally I have stuck with dual wield, because in general I prefer that in most games.  However last night I managed to get an early 50s version of the Zweihander and it good enough to get me to abandon my dual wielding ways…  at least temporarily.

Diablo III 2014-03-06 22-41-41-28 I am pretty sure at some point I flipped a slider and the game decided I needed “more spikey bits”, as I now am this bladed lord of death.  The appearance is growing on me, and when you see it in small form on screen I look a bit like I imagined the Shrike looking from the Hyperion series.  Upon defeating Diablo I promptly restarted the game, this time bumping the difficulty up to expert.  As a result I have had to tweak my build a bit to add in a bit more survival.  It is not quite as faceroll as it was during my run through Hard.  Mostly I am noticing that my healbot spec Templar is starting to struggle to keep up, or at least allowing me to drop quite a bit before topping me back off.  Wondering if this will change as I upgrade his gear a bit.  I have been trying to keep it upgraded, mostly with my handmedowns.

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At the close of the night I managed to ding 56, so hopefully tonight I should be able to finish off my push to get this character to 60.  At this point, I can’t really see playing up another character until the crusader.  I am sure the Witchdoctor, Demon Hunter and Wizard are cool in their own way… but each of them is very much a ranged/finger wiggler class.  They are just not the type of character I enjoy playing.  I realize you can tweak them a bit to make them play in different ways, but at the core they will still be more glass cannonish than I care to play.  I enjoy tanks and tanky dps…  and I feel like the Barbarian, Monk and Crusader fit that bill just fine.  If I continue to struggle a bit I might switch to a sword/board build on my Barbarian as I have done in the past.  For the time being it is working, but I am having to finally start using my heal pots on elites and champions.

Steampowered Sunday Bioshock Contest

Just a quick reminder that I am running a contest of sorts to let you guys pick what I will be playing this Sunday for my Steampowered Sunday feature.  The idea behind Steampowered Sunday is to get me to install and play a game from my steam backlog.  Then I will write about the game play experience.  Sometimes it is extremely glowing, other times not so much.  This week I decided to mix things up a bit and post a google form that allows you guys to vote on which title I will be playing the following week.  I have had a handful of votes to date, but I am really hoping for more.  As of this morning it looks like if nothing changes I will be playing Alan Wake.  Tomorrow when I blog I will be tabulating the results and declaring a winning game.

Additionally to make this more interesting, I have decided to use this as a way to get rid of some of the duplicates I have in steam and have gotten through the various indie bundles.  This week I will be giving away a copy of the original Bioshock for Steam.  So when you vote, make sure you let me know if you want to be entered in the running for the copy of Bioshock.  If so make sure you include your steam id in the form.  Saturday morning when I blog I will be picking a winner for this as well and sending off the free game.  So get out there and vote… and decide my Steampowered Sunday Fate.

Vote Here!

Halloween 2013

Spooky Pasta!

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One of the things I love in the various MMOs I play or have played… are the varried Holiday events.  Some of them make an extreme effort to fit them into the lore of their world, and others just cut and paste a real world tradition onto their land.  Both have their merits and both are enjoyable so long as they don’t involve too much grinding.  Each game seems to pick and choose holidays, but there are two that every game seems to have…  Christmas and of course Halloween.

Halloween time is generally my favorite holiday because the traditions itself usually involve killing lots of dark denizens of the night.  Additionally the playing dress up theme usually means some cool weapon and armor skins that you can use throughout the rest of the year.  Currently we are in the run up to Halloween itself, and as a result pretty much every MMO has some form of event going on marking the holiday.  Going to take a few minutes this morning to talk about some of the cooler ones.

Nights of the Dead

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This event runs in Everquest 2 from 10/15 through 11/11 and is probably the grand daddy of all Halloween events.  Each year they keep adding new content, but still leaving all of the old content in place.  Zam has a really great guide to the various quests and events.  If you are one of the new to EQ2 folks who just partook of the free level 85 event… I highly suggest checking it out.  However even with a brand new account you can still participate in most of the fun.  My personal favorite event is the hedge maze that drops lots of nifty cosmetic gear.

Blood and Madness

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Guild Wars 2 supposedly has a really amazing event called Blood and Madness that kicked off on October 15th that involved a series of limited time events (one day only) finally culminating in a big event that only exists Halloween night.  Dulfy has a pretty comprehensive guild to the events, but for the most part if you are not already doing this series you have missed out this year.  This has been my key bitch about Guild Wars 2 to date… I hate the concept of short run limited time events.  The amount of busy work needed really only allows someone who ONLY plays GW2 to keep up… and because of this I just can’t be bothered to attempt it.  I would love to see this as a long term event that ran the entire length of the holiday, but until then it will be out of my reach.

Autumn Harvest

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Rift has an event called Autumn Harvest that starts on October 17th and runs through Halloween and potentially a little bit past.  They have chosen to focus on the harvest aspect of the holiday and as such have sent you to a special version of the Realm of the Fae where you help Atrophinius and his minions bring in the amber sap harvest.  There are a ton of cool things you can get, including a phantom version of several popular mounts.  The coolest feature of the event however is that you can get these short time use potions that make tons of artifacts show up on the ground in the realm of the fae.  This is a huge catch up on collections event.  This year around there are a ton of new items to be gotten and you can check out this preview guide on Rift Junkies.

Hallow’s End

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Hallow’s End is an event that occurs in World of Warcraft from October 18th through November 1st.  There are tons of nifty things going on like trick or treating, but the meat and potatoes of the event is the Scarlet Monastery Headless Horseman instance.  I have a love/hate relationship with this holiday.  Every year it has been available (and that I have been playing wow) I have participated in the event… all for a shot at the extremely awesome flying headless horseman mount.  Every single year I have come up empty handed.  When a game company places an item in an event, like a mount… that is usable every day… and makes it a super rare random drop… I want to stab them.

All Saints’ Wake

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Currently there is an event going on over in FFXIV that is completely new to me.  All Saints’ Wake started a little early, but was intended to run from October 18th through November 1st.  All of the time zones get a little discombobulated in the translation.  While I am not partaken in the event yet, so far the other one I have seen has been what I would call “Holiday-Lite” in that there is a FATE going on that awards some sort of currency that you then use to purchase things off a vendor.  Since the vanity gear system is not in place yet, this makes the things you can acquire super limited, but I plan on gathering them up just in case.  One of the most humorous observations from last night is that apparently the Pumpkin helms… are repaired by Cullinarians.

The Rundown

That is the rundown of the big ones I know of that are going on, but like I said in the first part of the post… this is the one holiday that pretty much EVERY MMO celebrates.  I can even remember in Hellgate: London there being a Halloween event of sorts that took its form in a Guy Fawkes day celebration… that happened to have a lot of Halloween themed stuff.  I would be curious to hear about any events that are your favorite that I missed.

Defense of Subscriptions

So it is neither morning nor Saturday when I sit down to write this.  I am about to cheat massively at my one post per day thing… primarily because tomorrow is going to be pure hell.  I have to get up and around early because I have a wedding to photograph for a friend.  I am completely terrified at this prospect but I figure I will make it through one way or another.  However with all the mess going on tomorrow I simply will not have time to do my leisurely two hour jaunt through blog post land that I normally do.  As a result I am writing up my post on Friday… and since I am impatient I am going ahead and publishing it today as well.

Defense of Subscriptions

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Over the last few days since the joint announcements that Wildstar and Elder Scrolls Online will be subscription based, I have seen a lot of negativity floating around the blogosphere.  You have one camp claiming this is the revival of subscriptions, and a diametrically opposed camp claiming this is a fluke and long live the free to play revolution.  Personally I can see a place for both in the game industry and I feel like we will see lots of both in the future.  Subscriptions are not going anywhere… because quite simply put high quality games have high dollar amounts associated with them.

Most of the games we now think of today as heralds of the free to play “revolutions” started their lifespan as a full functioning subscription based game with a $60 box cost and a $15 a month subscription fee.  This is the case for the Turbine games (Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online), the Cryptic games (Star Trek Online, Champions Online), the Sony Online Entertainment games (Everquest, Everquest 2, Vanguard, etc) and the new darling of the free to play market… Rift.  Each and every one of them experienced a decently long period of selling boxes and racking up monthly service fees before ultimately converting over to some sort of a freemium model.

Purely Free to Play

I was brainstorming with my friends, and quite honestly we had a hard time listing off significant MMOs that have launched as free to play.  There is a whole string of poor quality Asian market games that are too long to ever mention.  The only game I can really think of that does not have a subscription fee or box cost associated with it is Neverwinter.  Dragon’s Prophet to some extent is in the same boat, but it is still technically in open beta… and was also an Asian market transplant with a good deal of the costs simply being regionalization.  Neverwinter is most definitely a sub par gaming experience, with a good deal of incident costs hidden into the system and at least for me… overall forgettable gameplay.

As far as buy the box we have Defiance and Guild Wars 2… both of which appear to either be struggling or at least having a good deal of growing pains.  Trion has recently set about a massive restructuring of the company that involved dissolving the offices that supported Defiance and pulling that staff into the main offices in Redwood.  Guild Wars 2 has also going through a series of changes trying to deliver content at a more frenetic pace to try and keep paying customers glued to the screens.  Additionally with each update comes a slew of items that can only be acquired by unlocking the in game loot boxes.

My main issue to date with the Defiance and GW2 experiences is that while they are rolling out regular episodic updates… they are essentially throw away experiences and are only available for a limited time.  Defiance is really too young to fully judge, but they are about to release their first real DLC pack.  It will be interesting to see just how much content that adds to the game.  Guild Wars 2 on the other hand, seems completely tied to the concept of an expiring series of “living story” events.  In neither case are they really expanding the game on a regular and permanent basis to add value to that initial box purchase.

Paying Initial Cost

Rich game worlds with hundreds of hours of content cost an extremely large amount of money to develop, produce, market and ultimately distribute.  While I was disappointed when Wildstar announced its model, because ultimately it meant the cost of entry was just too high for someone like me… that only casually had interest in the game in the first place… I fully understood the decision to have a subscription.  Box costs and subscription costs help pay off the excessive costs of game development.  It has been said multiple times that the average blockbuster game costs far more than the average blockbuster movie.  Additionally the development of the game is a much longer drawn out process that someone has to bankroll until it finally sees a profit.

Lets take Elder Scrolls Online for example and try and work through some hard numbers.  Please understand that I am creating a pure guesstimate based on what I was able to pull together from Google.  Zenimax Online studios is in the Baltimore Maryland area, so there are certain broad assumptions we can make based on average costs in that region.  According to Wikipedia they moved into their current offices in 2008, and based on the E3 PS4 presentation, Elder Scrolls Online is slotted for a first quarter of 2014 launch.  That means that Elder Scrolls Online will have in essence been in development for roughly six years at the time of launch.  Please understand I am trying to just pull together some rough figures, it might have entered development before that and potentially after that.

The Hard Costs

Over the course of those six years, if you figure an average of 100 employees made an average of $45,000 a year… you get $27,000,000 in salaries alone.  Some employees will make more, likely some employees will make less.. and over the course of those six years you would have had significantly fewer than 100 and likely now in pre-launch mode significantly more.  From google we can see that the average price of office space in the Baltimore Maryland area is around $17 a sqft.  For sake of coming up with a figure we are going to say their offices are likely around 30,000 sqft, so taking that over the course of the six years you have $3,060,000 in rent.  Factor in a leased digital internet line ($300/mo), water ($400/mo), electric ($1000/mo), and gas ($400/mo) you have a vague guesstimate of $151,200 in utilities over those six years.  Finally if you figure roughly $3000 in computer equipment for each employee, you are at roughly $300,000 not factoring in ANY servers at all.

So far in things I can quantify you are talking about a guesstimate of over 30 million dollars on only a very few factors.  There are so many factors that we just cannot come up with a number for.  For example it was said that Star Wars the Old Republic took roughly 200 million dollars to develop… and that a majority of that was voice acting time.  This is something I simply cannot come up with anything sort of an estimate on.  All the voice acting rates I found online were so widely varied that they were meaningless especially when you consider the names that folks are getting are the Steve Blum’s of the world that are sought after for damned near every gaming project on the planet.  I don’t really know how detailed the voice acting is for ESO, but every demo I have seen to date gives me the impression that the game is fully voiced… which would lead me to guess bare minimum 100 million on the hundreds of hours of voice talent.

I’ve heard before that it costs roughly 1/3 of the total cost to develop a game… the rest of the costs go into marketing and distribution.  So at this point we are already sitting at around 130 million not factoring any tool licensing costs, or server infrastructure and network costs.  If that represents only a third of the total costs of the project… no wonder games NEED to sell boxes and charge a subscription to break even… let along fund future development efforts.  Essentially a AAA game experience is really damned expensive.  If you figure a company receives at most half of the $60 box cost… it would take selling over 3.5 million boxes just to make up for 100 million of the cost.  The reason why that $15 a month is so important is they are getting the entire portion of it.

Someone Has to Pay

Ultimately if we want nice games… someone has to pay for it.  Either these huge gambles can be paid off in box costs and monthly subscriptions… or they can be financed on the backs of a handful of “whale” players.  But ultimately there is no such thing as a free ride.  Game development and game infrastructure have large fixed costs that simply cannot be justified away by a players desire to not spend a dime.  We have nice free to play experiences in essence because players that came before you… paid for the cost of going there first.  They helped to pay off the loans that these companies I am sure have to take out to bankroll this kind of protracted effort.

AAA game studios simply cannot afford to build games out of the goodness of their hearts.  They have to pay ultimately hundreds of people just like you and me to build and support the games.  These are not nameless faceless corporations… they are businesses just like the one you likely work for… with a human resources department, and social security tax deductions and payrolls to make.  This is a real job for someone, and we can’t expect them to get some beer and pizza and knock out a game in their free time.  Overall the game industry pays some pretty shitty wages as compared to the IT industry as a whole.  I know for a fact that I make well more than any of my friends that currently work in the industry… and have pretty much since my first job out of college.

It is almost expected that part of the benefits package for these folks is the fact that they “get” to make games for a living.  Thing is though… they had to gain their skills the same way all of us did, with lots of hard work and sweat equity and now they work in an industry with next to no job security… because it all hinges upon the whims of whether or not gamers like us ultimately purchase their product.  So ultimately… all of these things factored in… I have ZERO problem with the concept of buying a box and paying a monthly fee when it is something I am committed to.  My friends in the industry need to eat, and pay rent, and survive on a day to day basis just like I do.

Free to Play

The free to play model seems to work extremely well at financing the daily upkeep and expansion of an existing game.  I think it has been the savior of a lot of games that have filtered their way out of the popular consciousness and were no longer drawing in active subscribers.  It is awesome being able to fire up an account you haven’t played in years, and revisit old characters.  While you are there more than likely you will spend at least a little money on the game.  Essentially it is the model of “some money is better than no money”.  The thing is, like I said above each and every one of these games that we vaunt so highly as free to play successes all had their time of box sales, expansion sales, and monthly subscription fees to pay back the excessively expensive development costs.

Do I get frustrated when a game that I have purchased the box for… and paid multiple months worth of subscription fees goes to free to play?  Hell no… because while I might bitch and moan on a regular basis about various aspects of gaming… I LOVE the games I play.  Whatever helps a game I have cared about succeed is ultimately going to be good for me personally in the long run.  The games that reward me in some way for being there in the early days and helping pay off the huge debt a company brings with them after a game release…  I love those even more.  But I go into their free to play conversion knowing that ultimately they will be better off in the long run with incremental sales.

Additionally players who start at the beginning of an MMO will always have a tangible lead on players that start later, especially if the game converts to free to play.  You have a head start in the economy before it stratifies, likewise you understand the lay of the land and where to acquire the best stuff.  When Rift went free to play my account had so much stuff unlocked thanks to longevity of play that a starting player would not have had.  For the explorers you get the feeling of actually discovering things before they are common place and on every website.  So while you might have had to pay for the box and subscriptions, you are getting something for your trouble that no one will be able to take away from you.

The games that did not have a box fee and a subscription however have to claw their money out of you somehow.  So while I get annoyed at loot boxes and item purchases and artificial gates to my gameplay… they are just trying to survive however they can, because ultimately at launch they were millions and millions of dollars in the hole at day one.  I feel like launching as free to play is going to forever doom a game to jumping through coin slotted hoops as you play the game.  Rift right now is the best player experience but I feel like it is only that way because they had two years and an expansion of relative success to pay off and fund a fully functional staff during all that time.

Wrapping Up

So if in a few years time… The Elder Scrolls online… that I have used as an example all the way through this post… decides it is beneficial to it to go free to play.  I will greet the change with open arms, knowing that ultimately this is going to be the thing that keeps a game I hopefully will love healthy and open to the public.  Going to go ahead and wrap this up, and likely get it posted.  I hope you guys have a great weekend and that I can survive tomorrow.  Sorry for breaking my own rules and cheating a bit by double posting on a Friday… but expect that I will have a normal post on Sunday.

Evergreen Content

After some technical difficulties caused by the fact that my upstairs computer appeared to have come back in a half alive state after what I can only assume was a power blink caused by last nights storms…  aren’t run-on sentences awesome?  I am finally sitting down at the computer to write this mornings post.  Additionally I am drinking the sweetest cup of coffee ever… because in my half awake state… I dumped the Splenda designated for my wife’s cup into mine.  The end result is a cup of coffee with like six packets of sugar in it.

Evergreen Content

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One of the things that has always frustrated me with MMO design is the fact that the higher up in level you are, essentially the fewer options you have for where to spend your in game time.  What I mean is that usually games spend a good amount of time to provide alternate starter zone experiences, and then those usually funnel into shared zones for your faction before dumping you out into a ladder of zone progression towards the “end game”.  Once you arrive at the end content you experience the same thing… everyone is pushed towards the same few content items.

When an expansion is released the same thing happens again but even more limiting.  You are pushed out of the “old world” content and into a much smaller new world with the same very vertical progression path.  Everything about the old content becomes completely disposable as it is immediately replaced by the shiny new things from the expansion areas.  Not only is the new content separated by distance usually, but it gives players absolutely no incentive to ever return and revisit the older content.  As a result each time an expansion is released the players are ultimately throwing more and more content in the dustbin.

A Better Way

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Granted some games do a much better job at addressing this problem than others.  In Rift when mentoring down you receive xp and rewards as though you were doing content at your level.  The same is more or less true with Guild Wars 2 and its always mentored system of scaling the player down to the content level at all times.  But in neither system do you really address the problem of lost dungeon and raid content.  Ultimately you can get rewards similar to what you could earn at level, but you will never actually be able to progress your characters in the same way unless you are always doing the latest and greatest content.

With the advent of systems like StoryBricks that allow for smarter AI encounters, I keep wondering if this is now the time to have a much better system.  Ideally this would work better in a system without hard level ranges, and more a “tiers of gear” approach like The Secret World has in place.  What if a mob could perceive you as a greater threat based on your “tier” and ultimately fight “smarter”.  This would make the old content scale to whatever level you happen to be at the time.  The old encounters would be evergreen in that beating them at Tier 1 would be significantly easier than beating them at Tier 4.

Horizontal Progression

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As a result you could continue to “pay out” the best tiers of gear, because all content would essentially scale up to meet the level of the players taking it on.  In a mixed level group it would get far more tricky.  You would have to do some sort of an average level for the encounter, but ultimately the base idea is that as you level your character you continue opening new doors to experience, rather than constantly closing permanently the doors behind you.  I feel in part that this is so enticing as no amount of hard worked content provided by the designers would ever be considered “throw away” or “leveling” content again.

This of course is a massive pipe dream, and I am sure there are all measure of technically limitations to what I propose, but I have always wanted a world that scaled to me that I never outgrew.  We can have this concept in single player games like Oblivion, I just think its time that we see a proper implementation in the MMO world.  One added benefit is that being able to progress regardless of the content you are doing… incentivizes players to do the right thing socially… and assign their friends and guild members through that “old world” content.

Socially Beneficial

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Being one of those players that regularly helps out the “young-ins”, it can be frustrating knowing that you will not actually progress your character while doing this thing that was “socially” the right thing to do.  Games like Rift or EQ2 provide alternate advancement paths that make it much more enjoyable, since you know you are ultimately still making your character better in the process.  However… would it not be that much cooler if you could provide a system that allowed for both the low tier player and the high tier player to receive the best type of rewards they could get… together in the same group?

It is always awesome watching a new player get their first really awesome item, because you grouped up with them to help them through a challenge.  Would it not be equally exciting for them to watch you getting the same because you chose to help them?  I have had a mantra for awhile… “anything that prevents me from playing with my friends is bad” and this is exactly the opposite of that.  It makes sure that playing with my friends will always benefit me in the same ways it benefits them.  Sure the content might be ultimately more difficult when you have 3 tier 1 players and 2 tier 4 and the end difficulty level is something in the middle…  but as group you will be able to work through the challenges.

The Problem

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As I sit here to write this post, it feels like it is coming out super esoteric… and as a result I am hoping to place it more firmly on the ground.  In my office on the wall are lots and lots of maps, and many of them are from MMOs.  There is one above my monitor that came from the Kunark expansion to the original Everquest for example.  As I look at the glorious landmasses that are all these games… I am bit sad thinking that so many of those zones I will never have a valid reason to return to.  They will never again be truly important to me, the same way they were when I was first leveling through them.

I would just like to see a design scheme that makes it always valid for us to return to the content we know and love and have conquered and find completely new challenges.  This goes double for dungeon and raid content.  Wouldn’t it be cool if you could zone into Blackwing Lair in WoW with a group of friends… and get an encounter tailored to fit YOUR level… and not a “roflstomp” soloable mess?  The worst part about the “e-sport-ification” of raid content, is that we are constantly having to throw away fun experiences for whatever the newest tier happens to be.  Sure you can always return to the older stuff, but it has been trivialized by the progression you have made since then.

I would just like to see something that fixes this.  So that a zone stays epic regardless of when you tackle it, and that there will always be new and more exciting challenges and rewards to be found there.  With the construct of scalable AI and encounters…  I think that maybe finally this concept is ready to be explored.  I have no desire to stay in the starter zone, grind boars, and become amazing like they did in the South Park spoof… but it would be awesome to be able to go back to that low level content and have a reason to be there.

Wrapping Up

Well I need to wrap up and get on the road.  I feel as though I have laid out a huge rambling mess.  Hopefully this will make sense to someone.  It has been a concept bouncing around in my head for awhile and all the talk of Storybricks and EQ Next and Scaling Mob intelligence has dislodged it enough that I wanted to try and put it down into words.  I feel like I am fairly grossly unsuccessful at doing so.  I hope you all have a great day, and I hope you can grasp the crux of what I was trying to say.

Story Problems

Good morning cadets… welcome to the flight deck… err I mean… never mind.  It is in fact another morning, and I may or may not have actually gotten some sleep last night.  Enough that I was able to wake up ahead of the alarm clock and get a minor head start on the day… that I have gloriously squandered.  I have a huge day ahead of me, namely that I have to fix an issue that I did not realize was broken until yesterday.  The old process is a rats nest of ancient visual basic… so here’s hoping I can gut it and replace it with something that works better.

Story Problems

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Yesterday Syp from Bio Break posted an article that rang true for me, called Living Story, Dead Interest.  In the article he talks about how the whole “living story” construct in Guild Wars 2 seems to be lacking any real traction for him.  That the rapid fire biweekly story changes are happening too fast for him to really know what is going on in that world.  Based on the comments to the post including one from me… it seems like there is a wide variety of players that just are not getting into the direction that Arena Net has taken the game.

Ultimately for me my malaise with Guild Wars 2 goes a little bit deeper than this.  There are so many things I like about this game.  I think the world is gorgeous and does an amazing job of disguising that it is running on a relatively primate graphics engine compared to its peers.  I think the combat is fun and easy to get into and gives an almost arcade quality to the experience.  I love the changes they made to inventory management, and I love the ability to dump your crafting materials in the bank wherever you happen to be… and then later access your bank from every crafting machine in the world.

The problem is… even with all this good.. I just simply do not care about the world.  It is wild and expansive… and feels completely dead to me.  There are interesting races and locations, but I don’t feel like I know anything about them.  The game chose to abolish two things… roles and quests, but the problem I have is that in neither case did they really replace them with something anywhere near as engaging.  I am one of those people who actually does at least skim through quests as I am doing them.  I feel they give me a sense of purpose out in the world.

In the world of Guild Wars 2… I can’t even recall the name of the world mind you…  I feel like I have no purpose at all.  My entire gaming experience is about popping around the world and performing whatever task is needed to check off various flavored dingbats on my map.  The story just is not there for me, and the class quest line story is too few and far between to really matter.  I don’t really feel like I care about any of the cast of characters I am supposed to.  I don’t like the characters, I occasionally like that I recognize the person doing the voice acting.

Back to the problem at hand…  the Living Story.  My big issue is that Arena Net has chosen to create a series of disposable content, rather than fleshing out the world over time and making the entire experience permanently richer for it.  Additionally I hate all content that expires.. I hate feeling like I am in a rush to experience it.  The end result is not me being pulled into the content and running around in a mad dash to try and experience everything… but instead me simply giving up on the game entirely.  Right now I end up logging in roughly once a month when the whim hits me… I kill a few things and log out, never really finding a purpose for playing.

Battle Bards

I tweeted about this yesterday, and often times retweet each time a new Battle Bards post is made, but I feel like this does not give enough credit to just how amazing this podcast is.  One of my vices is gaming music, namely the grand sweeping tracks that are usually associated with massively multiplayer online games.  Twice a month the Battle Bards…  Syp, MMOGC, and Syl bring you a themed show delving into the truly excellent music that accompanies your gaming experience.  If you are not listening to each new show you are really missing out because this is one of the best podcasts out there.

This latest post was especially nostalgic for me in that they chose to focus on the music of Everquest 2.  I have so much love for the world of Norrath, and a good part of this is wrapped up in the music that has always been associated with it.  I fell in love with Everquest the first time I heard the opening theme…  it was so grand and sweeping and did not feel like any other game music I had experienced.  Sure it sounds dated now but at the time it was a midi masterpiece, and I love the way that Everquest 2 drew upon this same musical style for its opening theme.

One of the interesting side commentary I had while listening to this podcast surrounds their feeling about the theme for Antonica.  While everyone seemed to like the track, they did not feel that it sounded like an outdoor zone theme.  It was commented that it sounded like something from a movie soundtrack and not that of a video game.  While I agree with the last statement, I feel that EQ2 outdoor zones have a very movie aspect to them.

It would not be a fitting track for the scale of say a World of Warcraft zone, but for Everquest 2 it works well.  Essentially all of these outdoor zones are on a scale that just isn’t seen in other games.  Antonica for example is roughly 5-6 times the size of Elwynn Forest in World of Warcraft.  It encompasses numerous distinct biomes, is the entry way to half a dozen dungeons and instanced zones.  The sheer scale is very movie like and dramatic, so as you are roaming around it… this jaunty theatrical music seems to fit.

Ultimately this has always been the overwhelming thing that I loved about Everquest 2.  Everything about the world feels epic in proportions.  There is a dungeon out in in the Jarsath Wastes on Kunark called Chelsith that you have to approach by water.  As you are swimming out you approach what appears to be a rock partially submerged, but as you dip under the water you see that this is the tip of the head of an ancient Iksar statue that has been long submerged… and that the entrance to Chelsith is t the base of its feet.  There are so many moments like that, that just say over and over again… this world is massive.

Stalwart Online

Yesterday we soft launched our new guild website, and are super pumped that it is starting to get some traction among our users.  It is still very much a work in progress and there are various bits and pieces that we want to do to expand it.  The graphical style and skin work is 100% the product of my co-worker and our master guild hall decorator… Audrae.  I know she has some future plans like to make the background swap each time the page loads, and have it pull from a pool of user submitted scenic shots.  Right now we have a promotional shot from Elder Scrolls Online as a static background, but that should change before long.

Essentially to move to a more living and easier to use website, we needed to completely abandon our previous site.  As a result we are soft launching this site and will eventually set the old forums into a read-only mode.  They will always be accessible off the archives link in the menu, but this is only to keep from losing almost a decade worth of posts and material.  Once we have made this shift we will redirect housestalwart.com to point to the new site as well as stalwartonline.com.

Essentially this is a revision in a long line of attempts to move Stalwart from being a game centric community to a larger multi-gaming community.  We have had a presence in almost every game released in recent years, but the previous forums were extremely World of Warcraft focused.  Despite my efforts to juggle the content in a way to keep them from being that… the old format just did not work that well.  Now we are switching to a more discussion and category based system that lists all the new content equally without burying it under a series of folders.

Here is hoping that our members will like the switch and that the new forums will revitalize our community.  Over the last year or so the old forums have been completely dead.  As a result users have just stopped checking in over time.  Here is hoping that the new content and new approach can draw them back out of the shadows and participating again.  Our Rift guild has been wildly successful, and my hope is to harness this new energy to do some really cool stuff.  In the past two week we went from 5 members and questioning if this was actually a good idea… to over 40 members and wondering what exactly we are going to do with everyone.  It is definitely a good thing.

Wrapping Up

Well I have rattled on again and squandered whatever time I gained by getting up before the alarm.  I need to get off here and  finish getting ready.  This morning I need to wake my wife up and make sure she is getting ready because she has a few things that she needs to get done today.  I have a mountain of work awaiting me when I get to the office, and I feel like it is going to take every last bit of it to get through the day.  I hope you all have great days… and feel free to check out our new website.  I feel like the majority of my readers are guild members already.

5 Biggest MMO Disappointments

This is one of those days I have zero clue what to write about… but as not to break the chain of constant posts I am going to push through and post something anyways.  In part this post about nothing has been brought to you today by the letters N, D and A.  So instead of a normal post about what I did last night, or what I want to do today…  I am going to make a post about my top five biggest MMO disappointments.  This is kind of the bookend to my post about my five favorite MMOs, so hopefully I can do this without coming off overly negative about each.

The Disclaimer

Some of my picks for this list will be rather controversial… but they are my picks nonetheless.  This list is not about what I consider to be the worst MMOs, or even bad MMOs at all.  In fact most of the ones included on this list are games I have played over and over again… and will likely play again in the future.  On the converse… these are the games I have been the most disappointed by over the years.  This could be due to lack of content, lack of depth, lack of features… or just simply lack of follow through.  This is by no means a death sentence for an MMO…  it wouldn’t be on the list at all if I didn’t care.  For example… I do not care at all for TERA or Aion… but I was not necessarily disappointed in either because I was not expecting to like them in the first place.

5 – World of Warcraft

World-of-Warcraft-Mists-of-Pandaria-Thunder-King-patch If you remember… I included World of Warcraft as number five on my five favorite MMOs list… and I think placing it in the number five spot on this list adequately represents the love/hate relationship I have with this game.  Without a doubt I have had some of the best times playing WoW, but I have also had some of my biggest disappointments in the path they have chosen to grow it.  It feels like an old high school friend… that you were extremely close to… but after years of being apart you grew in two completely different directions.  While you want really badly to be happy for it… you can see the potential that was there… and how it has been squandered.

World of Warcraft was a game that I expected not to like in the first place.  I remember my very first thought when I heard about it… was where the hell would they get their story.  Until Warcraft 3… every Blizzard game had essentially only had enough storyline to keep the game from completely falling on its face.  After experiencing the deep and rich world of Norrath… I did not think that Blizzard could pull off anything that engaging.  I was wrong… they wove together a world that was deep, rich, and filled with lore.  Additionally they incorporated the best features of every game that had come before it… and remixed it in a way that truly represented the absolute best of breed for the time.

However over the years… they have butchered the lore…  and instead of continuing to incorporated the best features on the market… have instead created half assed versions of them.  I have to keep coming back to the Transmogrification system… because it personifies this concept of the modern Blizzard approach.  They took something awesome… alternate appearance systems… and instead turned it into an extremely cludgy money sink.  The same thing happened over and over as they tried to incorporate features of popular mods… but the official version was never anywhere near as solid as the original mod that inspired it.

Then on the other side of the coin… the content was just lacking.  When new content was introduced… it was too little to late.  Like a quick appetizer that never quite turned into a meal.  Shortly after the release of Cataclysm… I started a brand new Worgen Druid… and managed to level it without much effort in under 5 days played time.  Additionally the raid content just felt more and more uninspired…  remixes of previous encounters.  So I will admit… at times I am one of those guys… that views the golden area of vanilla through rose colored lenses.

For certain players the new mix of content and the pacing works.  I have a ton of friends who are still knee deep in the thrall of this game… and more power to them.  I just reached a point where I could not view anything but the disappointment.  As a result I am not playing, and trying my best not to complain on a regular basis about the game.  But… additionally I do not feel this post would be honest if I did not include WoW in the mix.  I feel like it still has so much potential, and maybe if they changed to a content driven DLC style free to play model… they would have the endorsement to build content other than the raid ladder and dailies.

4 – Guild Wars 2

guild_wars_2_allotment This is another title I did not really expect to like when I first heard about it.  I was never a huge fan of Guild Wars 1 despite everyone telling me just how amazing a game it was.  I liked some of the concepts presented, like the Magic the Gathering style ability system and the ability to multi-class…  but everything else about that game I really despised.  If I do not like your games user interface or control scheme… no matter how awesome a game it is underneath  I just cannot bring myself to play it…  no matter how many times I try.  So all of this said I really had written off the concept of Guild Wars 2.

This all changed however when the folks at Arena.NET posted their Design Manifesto.  It basically said everything I thought I wanted to hear, and laid out a great vision for a new game.  So I was amped when I was able to get access to the testing program.  However I was immediately disappointed in the experience I had there, and lack of what honestly felt like a game.  I was disillusioned enough that I actually resigned from testing and wished them luck.  One of my friends remained in the test a little bit longer than I did…  and eventually bailed himself.  I hoped they would find some direction and turn the project around.

When it came time for open beta testing… I gave the game another shot.  The lowered expectations of expecting to dislike the game… caused me to view it through slightly different eyes.  I enjoyed the game enough that I picked it up when it came out.  The problem is… there just was not enough meat on the bones to hold my attention for long.  There are definitely some aspects of the game that I enjoyed, but the whole experience felt very disposable… more so than any game I had experienced. 

Additionally it did not feel like I was progressing my character at all.  By the time I reached level five, I had unlocked all 5 abilities for my primary weapon choices and the signets and other related abilities… just did not feel like they had enough weight to them to make them something worth striving towards.  The game set out to abolish the holy trinity of tank, healer and dps… but the problem is that it didn’t really replace it with anything in the process.  Group content felt like a chaotic mess, and I was extremely disappointed when I did my first dungeon and realized the zerging a boss down from a spawn point was totally a viable tactic.

In the Manifesto they proposed that – Shouldn’t Great MMOs be Great RPGs too?  The only problem is the key means for moving the story along in a role playing game is the questing construct…  but they sought to abolish that as well.  Once again… it is fine that they wanted to change the game… but they didn’t really replace it with anything meaningful in the process.  As a result I felt extremely disconnected to the world around me.  Things were going on around me… on scripted timers… but I didn’t really care about whether or not we won or lost.  I didn’t care about the people and place… and the lack of questing did this.

In the Manifesto they stated that it was time to make MMORPGS more social.  The only problem with that is that they introduced so much passive grouping, and took away any need for player roles…  that the end result is one of the least social games I have played.  When roaming around the world… you may be fighting along side other players, but you do not have to interact with them in any meaningful way.  Each player is a self sufficient independent state… and as a result has no real need for anyone other than themselves.  The game just feels like it is lacking reasons for players to actually be grouping together.

Let me reiterate, there is a lot to like about the game.  It runs amazingly well on low end hardware, and presents a very fluid gaming experience.  It has one of the prettiest worlds I have ever explored, and has a lot of things that incentivize exploration.  While it is presenting a ton of new content in the form of now bi-monthly updates… the problem is most of it is limited time only.  Instead of growing their world… they are creating disposable episodes that only serve to make the game play experience all the more disposable itself.

3 – Star Wars: The Old Republic

Star-Wars-The-Old-Republic-screenshot I’ve loved Star Wars since before I could even fully verbalize it.  My parents tell stories about me seeing the movie when I was one… and then coming home and jabbering endlessly about “Darfa Bater”.  So if there was any game that has enough storied lore to hold my attention… it should have been SWTOR.  I was a huge fan of Knights of the Old Republic, and as a result I was completely committed to the genre they genre they chose to set the films in.  Additionally I love the Bioware style of storytelling, and am a pretty huge Dragon Age and Mass Effect junky.

All of these things should have made SWTOR be the next 8 year game for me.  The problem is… the experience while amazing… is overall disposable once you have made your way through the content.  So much care and feeding were placed on making sure the quests were just right… and the voice acting was flawless… that it greatly cut into the total amount of content available.  The three chapters that were available at launch… felt like an awesome introduction to the game…  but the main course never really arrived.

I hear the Makeb release is extremely nice… and the continuation of the storyline extremely successful.  The only problem is…  that content came a year too late to stave off the players leaving.  I feel like had they had more content in the pipeline and ready to release a month after launch, they would have been able to keep the majority of all the players that started playing.  We just burned through the content way faster than they had expected.  Additionally the fact that there was only one path per faction… and that essentially all the quests were the same minus the handful of class specific ones…  alting became extremely tedious.

Additionally when they chose to go free to play… they adopted one of the most blatantly abusive models I have seen.  Essentially with free to play, you can choose to take the carrot or the stick… and things like gear locks, pay walling what should be base features, and rolling out a never ending stream of unique lockbox gear just feel too much like being beat with the stick for me.  It has however been extremely lucrative for Bioware… and enabled the game to keep its doors open.  If it means they continue to release new content… then in the long run it could be good for the game as a whole.

I am still disappointed however at what could have been.  Had they been able to launch a continuation of the main storyline each month or so…  it would have kept me glued to the game.  The original storyline was amazing… and there is no taking that away from the game.  The Jedi Knight storyline is probably one of the most epic story arcs I have experienced in any game.  It was just over way too soon, leaving me nothing really left that I wanted to do.  The problem is… that content was extremely expensive to produce.  There was never a way that they ever could have kept up with the demand.

2 – Champions Online

champions_online_screen_4 One of my all time favorite pen and paper games is Heroes Unlimited by Palladium games.  I had early experiences with D&D and AD&D… but this was the game that really hooked me on the possibilities of role playing games.  What made the system so cool is that it had rules to create literally any type of super hero or super villain you could imagine.  Of course I created my share of Wolverine or Batman clones…  but the game system was this fertile group that through a series of roles I could create some unique characters as well.  What made the game so engaging was that the sky was literally the limit in the types of things you could create.

I was a huge fan of City of Heroes, because it gave me some of this same rich character building…  but did so in an easy to digest MMO form.  That game however had a lot of short comings… and when Champions Online was announced it looked to be addressing all of these base issues and creating this wild open ended super hero creation system.  You could mix and match power sets… creating your own custom mix for your character… and this was placed on top of a character generator that was even more robust than City of Heroes.  Everything sounded like the perfect super hero game… and I was hooked on it early.

The problem is… the power sets were grossly imbalanced.  This is the first game I had ever played where certain power sets were literally unplayable.  You could reach a point where you just simply could not progress any further due to the choices you had made.  On the other side of the coin… certain power sets were so grossly overpowered that they completely removed any challenge from the content at all.  You could steam roll over the top of anything, while your friend that chose one of the broken ones… could not even fight the lowest rank mobs.

The major disappointment is that they did a very poor job of mitigating the different power sets.  They would buff one…. but then another power set would become the broken one… making it a constant cycle of your favorite power set potentially becoming the unplayable one.  The game had all the potential in the world… and just became grossly mismanaged.  Instead of understanding that this  constant state of power flux and un-playability was what was driving their players away…  they instead decided to streamline the content.

I really do not remember the timing, but I believe this happened around the time of the free to play conversion.  Previously there had been a pretty interesting storyline that had multiple paths your characters could take.  The end result ended up with everything being a big jumbled mess.  The thing that ended up as the nail in the coffin however… is that coming back as a free to play character… I could not play any of my existing characters.  Each and every one included some costume bits that were not open to free players.  This should be a lesson to anyone… grandfather existing characters…  because holding players characters hostage behind a pay wall is never a good call.

1 – Warhammer Online

warhammer-online-1 I had to put this one at number one… because really this game turning out the way it did is one of my biggest gaming regrets.  I love Warhammer… have since I was in middle school and painting my very first citadel miniatures.  I love the world and the lore… and the sheer brutality of the chaos gods.  They took a failing IP and placed it in the hands of MMO veterans… Mythic games… who had brought the world Dark Age of Camelot.  It seemed like a no-fail proposal.  I thought they knew exactly what players wanted… and could borrow from the success they had with DAoC and all the nuts and bolts that make a game work.

Unfortunately Warhammer Online is really the tale of two games.  The one to twenty experience was amazing.  The PVE content rich, the new public questing construct extremely fun, and the early battlegrounds extremely inventive and enoyable to play.  I still think that the early experience in Warhammer Online ranks among some of my favorite leveling experiences.  The problem is that when you hit about 20-25 the bottom fell out… the PVE content ceased to be interesting… and became increasingly more sparse.  The game changed from this fun questing experience to this “go grind pvp to level” experience.

I feel like the game as a whole was a clash between these two seperate games… one of which I enjoyed immensely… the PVE experience… and one I really could care less about.. the PVP experience.  Had they given me a pure PVE warhammer game… I would probably still be playing it.  The game as a whole did so many innovative things, and there were so many mysteries around the world to unlock for your book of deeds.  Additionally it shipped with an Addon system that was on par with World of Warcraft, and presented some extremely interesting class and race choices.

If only they had focused on giving equal time to both the PVE and PVP experience.  The only problem is… I feel like the makers of this game have come to completely different conclusions about why it failed.  Mark Jacobs has gone on to create Camelot Unchained… which serves to be a purely PVP game completely casting aside any PVE aspects.  I feel like his take away was that it failed because it just was not PVP enough.  In truth not a single friend that was playing left because of lack of PVP.  We had a guild of around 40 players… and all of us left when the post 20 forced pvp experience began.  Harecore PVP players are a niche within a niche, and I just don’t feel that you can really build any game solely around them as your target audience.

This is probably the game I feel would beneift the most from a free to play conversion.  Awhile back I signed up for a new free trial account just to give the game a spin and see if it really is as good as I remembered.  Overall the starter experience is still extremely fun, even though they have dumbed down the richness quite a bit by funneling everyone into the empire lands.  I feel like a free to play version, might pump a bit more life into the title and allow it to survive.  The problem is… this has become the textbook example for MMO failure… and I doubt EA would spend a dime on it going forward.  As a result I will always be left with the thoughts of what might have been had the direction been a bit more sound.

Wrapping Up

This post ended up going a lot longer than expected.  I’ve been typing for around an hour and a half now, but finally have reached a point where I have said what I needed to say about each of them.  Hopefully none of them came off as too terribly ranty.  I hope you all have great weekends, I will mostly be trying to relax a bit before Monday.  I am already stressing out quite a bit, because I know going back I will be having to fill in for my boss as he is going out of town.

Other MMO Wants

This morning is going to be pure hell on wheels for me.  Not only is this my last day before our vacation…  but also about 10:30 last night I got a nasty surprise when I checked work email.  Apparently there is a big impromptu meeting going on today, at which I have to represent the department and speak intelligibly about everything we do.  How do you cram a million things into a quick talk that doesn’t bore all the non-technical people.  Also as a result I had to scramble around the house to find a pair of slacks that actually fits me.  Dropping 8-10 pants sizes in a few months tends to deplete the stock of clothing you don’t wear often.

Basically this morning I need to bang out this post as soon as possible so I can get into work and prepare for the event.  As a result I got up and around this morning at 5 am rather than my normal 5:30… here is hoping the time can be spent wisely.  I would normally just skip posting on a morning like this… but I am afraid that if I skip a day my routine will unravel and usher in yet another one of my 4-6 month lapses in posting. 

Other MMO Wants

On Monday I made my Ten MMO Must Haves  post and it kind blew up… as in it seemed to get far more traction than most of my posts do.  The only bad thing about it all… is as soon as I posted I thought of a few more items that I should have put on the list.  Listing Beards in the final slot was maybe not the most well thought out thing I have ever done… but in reality it is a metaphor.  Every player I know has one feature that they look for in the character creator.  My friend for example is always hunting for actual blonde hair… instead of the orange mess that most MMOs have.  That is one of the most important things to her, and just like me and beards… if it is not there she does not feel as close to the character.  Here goes a quick stab at the rest of a list.

1 – Mentoring

This one is huge, and I have no clue why I left it off the list.  I did the list as a whole on the fly Monday morning as I thought of things that I really want in every MMO.  Essentially those who are not familiar with the term, it is the practice of allowing higher level players to drop down to the same level as lower level characters.  The first game I ever experienced in was City of Heroes… and I felt it was absolutely revolutionary.  Eventually Everquest 2 added it in, and now Rift and Guild Wars 2 also have similar systems that have improved upon the base concept.  Essentially I want a way to be able to play with my friends… no matter how high above them I am.  I have a mantra that “anything that keeps you from playing with your friends is bad”.

2 – Single Server / Cross Server Architecture

Back to the mantra of “anything that keeps you from playing with your friends is bad”..  the traditional server structure is way too restricting.  If you have a small group of friends that all organize at exactly the same time… and pick one server ahead of time..  it is no big deal.  However if you have many different pools of friends, that you feel constantly torn between..  servers are pure hell.  This is the case with me… at any given point I have groups of friends playing a dozen or more games and on each roughly a half dozen different servers.  I have to unfairly pick and choose between who I play with.  Stop making me choose.  Let players communicate and group freely with any player who is playing your game.

3 – Single Account ID

This one has been massively controversial, but I have warmed to it over time.  If you scroll back far enough, there are even posts of me rallying against RealID, but again I got used to it.  The thing I want is the ability to create a single account id, like the later BattleTag system that is not connected to your real world identity.  Then let me choose which players to give that ID out to… and in doing so they magically get to see every character I have regardless of where I am playing.  Additionally it would be amazing if the system also allowed for friending single character names… for those individuals you need to have communication with… but don’t want to give them everything.  It is such a pain in the but to send your friends a long list of a dozen alts for them to add to their friends list each time someone new joins the game.

4 – Multiple Paths of Advancement / Endgame

The answer to the endgame should not always be Raid or PVP.  There should be something else… something a player who does not have the time to raid, or does not have the penchant for pvp can do to constantly better their character in game.  This could be something like the Alternate Advancement and Planar Advancement systems in Everquest 2 and Rift… or could be a series of epic quests that allow your character to obtain very slowly raid like gear like TSW has implemented.  There needs to be a way for players to feel like they are constantly evolving their characters.  It is when characters start to feel stagnant that players lose interest with a game and leave.  Help me not get bored with your game, by giving me lots of things to do when I hit maximum level.  Daily Quests are fine… but they are not a solution to anything.

5 – Alternate Leveling Paths

This is something that has mutated over the years, and I really wish there was a way to undo it.  When Everquest launched it had a distinct leveling path for each race in the game.  While some of them quickly merged together once you hit the second or third zone… they still started out as unique experiences.  When World of Warcraft launched, you had roughly three leveling tracks per race… and this still ended up giving you a fresh way to level your alts.  Now in games like Rift and SWTOR… there is a single track for every member of a faction… and as a result by the time you level your alts… you have nothing really to look forward to.  Give us multiple ways to get to the end of your game… do not penalize players for wanting to jump around and try new content paths.  I realize multiple paths of content takes more development time… but it also improves the quality of your game for players in the long run and makes alting far more sticky.

6 – No Faction Wall

This is a concept that needs die in a huge inferno.  This is without a doubt probably the worst seemingly permanent lineage of World of Warcraft.  The concept of setting up a red and a blue faction that are diametrically opposed and can in no way communicate is just a shitty way to create a game.  Again back to the mantra of… “anything that keeps you from playing with your friends is bad”.  If your friend has to sacrifice what he wants to play… for the greater good.. he will always regret at least somewhat the path not taken.  Additionally it is very easy for two friends who joined the game at different times to end up on opposite sides of the battle field. 

Everquest and Everquest 2 had the best faction systems in the game… in that no only could you communicate with any player freely, but if you so chose to… and with copious amounts of work.. you could raise your faction and be able to function as a member of those societies.  Additionally in Everquest 2 they gave the option of betraying your faction through a serious of quests and permanently changing your allegiance.  Faction Walls are just a non-creative solution to the problem of setting up PVP.  Rift probably did the best decision it ever did when it released the “Faction as Fiction” patch, making it so that both Defiant and Guardian could group, communicate, and guild freely.  Additionally they set up 3 new factions that were not connected to either of the original… which recruit players to fight battles for them.  This gave you three way pvp without having to make life restricting to your players.

Wrapping Up

This one is going to be extra short today.  I’ve spent thirty minutes digging into six more items on the cutting room floor that MMOs should have.  I need to finish getting ready and get into work so I can prep for the event.  I hope you all have a great day, and maybe this will jiggle loose some other ideas you have about what a “best of breed” MMO needs to have.  Tomorrow I am off, so my intent is to try and finish up the second part of the “How To Rift” series.

Ten MMO Must Haves

This morning I got up roughly 15 minutes before the alarm went off… and decided to that rather than be groggy later… I would go ahead and get up and around.  Right now I am kind of questioning that decision, since the bed seems like a really amazing idea.  I had a really spastic yesterday as I never could really decide on a game to play.  Since Final Fantasy beta was closed by the time I got up and around I ended up cycling through Everquest, Rift, Vanguard, and Defiance never quite sticking in any of them.  As a result I don’t have much excitement to talk about… and I am nowhere near finished with my second part of How To Rift… so I am going off in a completely different direction.

Ten MMO Must Haves

Basically over the years I have noticed several features that I expect most MMOs to have, and when they are not there it greatly harms my enjoyment for the long run.  I keep cycling back to the ones that do have most of the list.  Granted this is in no way a complete list, as I am sure there are things I have omitted for the sake of a clean number, but these are definitely all things I would prefer to see in an upcoming title.  These are not necessarily in order of importance… but more the order in which I thought of them.

1 – Random Events

Nothing breaks up the monotony of questing and killing mobs like a random army invading the countryside.  I have always liked when random things happen in games, I even like random loot so long as it is not something I need to progress forwards.  In the post Rift MMO world, I feel like random things happening in your world is an absolute must have.  When it is missing, the game feels extremely stale to me.  When it is done well, you forget what you are doing and follow along the flow of what is happening in a specific zone.  This should be events chosen from a long list of potential ones… not the same event happening over and over like in Guild Wars 2.  Their implementation did not serve to make the world feel alive, but instead made it feel even more like a carnival ride resetting itself every so often.

2 – Passive Grouping

I should be able to help other players out, and they help me without having to worry about whether or not I tagged the mob first.  Grouping should be something you do to hang out with people, not something you feel obligated to do constantly just to get through game content.  I feel as though simply touching a mob should give me credit for whatever that mob is required for.  Rift and Guild Wars definitely do this extremely well… but when I go back to a game that does not have it… I become a kill stealing asshole.  I just forget that mob tagging is an actual thing that is still in games.  If you do not have passive mob tagging… you are bad and should feel bad.

3 – Puzzles and Collectibles

I have the tendencies in me to power level myself to the cap and then get bored feeling there is nothing left to do.  If your game has little puzzles and collectible bits it helps to make me stop and smell the roses.  I feel for other players this becomes a meta game all in itself.  These systems all seem relatively simple to implement, but it seems like there is a greater return on investment as far as gluing a player to your game.  Rift and GW2 both have amazing examples of puzzles, and EQ2 has probably the most extensive collection system I have seen in a game.  I greatly prefer there to be something for me to always be on the lookout for, that offers interesting gameplay and forces me to stop quest grinding.

4 – Moveable UI Elements

This one is huge to me.  Essentially I will if given the option set my UI to look the same from game to game.  I like certain windows in certain locations because it helps me not have to think about where things are.  When you play lots of different MMOs this becomes something extremely important.  Additionally I find myself setting up all my hotbars the same… 0 is the interrupt key, 7 is my combo point dump, 5 is charge/deathgrip, etc.  As a result I really hate your game when you force me to play with your idea of how the UI should look.  No matter how much research you have put into your UI, it is not ideal for everyone… and as a result you should never force players into your chosen UI design box.  Make the windows unlock able and moveable  either through the default UI like Rift or through Addons like WoW.

5 – Map with User Defined Waypoints

This is another big one for me.  Navigating your world should be easy for the players.  I should be able to open my map, click a point that I want to travel to and then get some kind of directions as to how to get there.  This can be as simple as an Icon on the edge of the mini-map showing you the direction of your destination, or as complex as some sort of golden path or arrow pointing the way.  Additionally it would be really amazing if your system allowed player defined permanent waypoints.  That way we could actively mark whenever we found something cool in your world.  TSW does an amazing job of this.. and I have tons of little markers scattered through all my maps pointing to nifty things I found.  This is definitely something all games should emulate.

6 – Sortable/Searchable Bank and Inventory

First off let me say.. that the concept of physical bags with limited storage is something no one should ever do again.  I greatly prefer one big inventory space because usually with that comes the ability to sort, filter, and search the contents of your inventory.  Rift does an interesting hybrid model, in that they still have physical bags, but they have a sort and search functionality that makes up for the fact of having to juggle multiple containers rather than just one.  Trying to find things in your bags should not be considered a meta game… and you should help players out so they have to spend as little time doing this as possible.  There have been times I have logged into EQ2… looked at the state of my bags and logged out immediately because I did not want to spend the next 30 minutes clearing them out.  That game is the worst case scenario… but I have had similar happen in many other games as well.  Make your inventory system help the player rather than hinder them.

7 – Sell All Junk Button

If your game drops junk items from mobs aka “Greys” and you do not have a sell all junk button… you are a horrible person and should be drug out into the street and shot.  Nothing is more frustrating than going through your inventory and having to manually sell a bunch of trash items that have no real purpose for existing other than to give you some cash.  Better yet, don’t even drop the trash items and give us additional gold instead.  I think the running theme of the last two should be that Inventory Maintenance is not a fun meta game.  No one enjoys it, and all it does is make the player feel like they have just completely wasted their time.  I am completely fine with getting additional cash in lieu of junk, but if you do have junk… for the love of god make a sell all crap button.

8 – AOE Looting

Thank you Rift for creating this construct… and thank you modern MMO developers for having the common sense to say “damn, why didn’t we have this” and adding it to your games.  Nothing is more annoying than trying to select that one corpse from a pile of corpses that still has loot on it.  My OCD will not let me go without searching all the bodies… it is like I knew that if I missed one… that would be the one that dropped some rare epic item.  Again this is a cousin of the whole inventory maintenance is not a fun meta game…  neither is looting.  Better yet… all corpse interactions should be AOE as well… where the hell is my AOE skinning.  The first company to give me AOE skinning, herbing, and mining of corpses… will be a god in my eyes.

9 – Full Character Appearance System

Now when I say this… I am not talking about Transmogrification.  I could go on an hour long rant about how horrible that system is and how it is a half assed version of the good appearance systems.  What I am talking about is additional sets of character doll slots that allow you to directly override the appearance of an item with another item.  Rift has probably the best implementation overall right now, since you can have something like 12 wardrobe slots with ready to switch to outfits on the fly.  The only gotcha there is due to their own constraints they had to implement a shitty “transmog” like system for doing the weapons.  Players should never have to run back to a vendor to change their appearance…  stop making them do busy work.  I would love to see developers emulate the way the system works in EQ2, because you can literally change your appearance to anything in the game… no class restrictions.

10 – Facial Hair

I had a few other items I considered putting on the list… but honestly to me personally this one has to be here.  If your game does not have the ability for me to give my character a nice beard, especially a moustache and goatee combo…  I will hate your character creator and likely not play your game.  I have no clue why this is so important to me… but it is.  Namely I have seen the lack of facial hair in the Asian MMOs… but I struggled to find a look I could stomach in Guild Wars 2 as well.  Additionally I cannot stand the “pretty boy” appearance that some games have…  but I won’t go into that right now.  Please for the love of god when you design your character creator… make Facial Hair a slider…  not something that is attached to another attribute like hairstyle.

Wrapping Up

So there you have it… my ten must haves for a modern MMO.  Like I said, I am sure that it is not a complete list at all… and as soon as I post this… I will think of another 10 things that should have been on the list.  These however are the things that immediately came to mind when being frustrated with MMOs that do not have them.  I would be curious to hear about what your list is, and whether or not I have hit your key frustration points.  I hope you all have a great day, and I hope I manage to stay fully conscious all day long since I got up so early.

Five Favorite MMOs

Tomorrow is going to end up being a super busy day for me, as I need to run a few errands for work… so I am doing this post a little differently.  I don’t feel like I will have enough time tomorrow to bang out a post like normal, so  I am working on this topic tonight.  I thought it would be interesting to do a post about my top five favorite games and why I like them so much.  I figured i would do this in count down style with fifth leading down to number one…  of course you can just cut ahead but lets pretend it is a surprise!

#5- World of Warcraft

2006-04-20_182329_Resized_pic I went back and forth several times on what should be my 5th spot, but as I thought about it… for sheer longevity of me playing the game, I had to give a nod to World of Warcraft.  I have essentially outgrown the game, but it does a lot of things well.  I feel like WoW is the junkfood of MMOs…  so long as you do not think about what you are doing… it is extremely enjoyable.  I played WoW as my primary game for roughly 8 years, and during most of that was the leader of a large social guild.  I have so many amazing memories and have met so many life long friends out of the game.  All of these reasons are why it at least had to make my list.

Best Features

  • People – WoW is still the game that most of the people you know are playing.
  • Colorful and friendly graphics and a world that matches them.
  • Lots of systems that allow solo players to engage in group content.
  • Game overall is extremely polished, they provide a consistent experience.
  • Roughly a decade of content and a wide variety of activities to do.

#4 – Lord of the Rings Online

ScreenShot00013 Lord of the Rings Online is one of those games that I really enjoy every time I get the bug to play it.  It is extremely immersive and brings the player into the setting surrounding the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I love the way that you are set up in the game as characters that just happen to be in the background of the activities of the fellowship.  Each step of the way you are doing events that are helping out the world, but also keeping tabs on the activity as the fellowship moves through the novels.  They do an amazing job of bringing the world to life and filling it with copious amounts of LOTR lore.

Best Features

  • One of the best communities – Landroval is amazing
  • Music system… you can play instruments in game, and players give performances regularly
  • Simple instanced neighborhood housing system
  • Hands down the best horses in any MMO… they move right
  • Breathtaking landscapes straight out of the novels
  • Intricate system within system… I admit it… I love deeds
  • Subscribing for one month permanently unlocks most features

#3 – The Secret World

TheSecretWorldDX11 2012-07-07 21-28-33-32 The Secret World is such a unique experience that I feel like everyone needs to play it at least once.  Not only it is a unique system, but it also has extremely different game play mechanics.  I have always been a fan of the whole occult and Cthulhu mythos, and this entire game is essentially a love song to H.P. Lovecraft.  It also has some of the best writing and storytelling, and additionally some of the most imaginative quests.  The only negative to me, is that it lends itself to very periodic and episodic gameplay.  Each time new content is released, I run in like a locust and gobble it up.  I believe enough in this game however that before its release I became a lifetime subscriber.

Best Features

  • Unique setting and amazing storytelling
  • Unique classless game play
  • All players can learn all abilities in the game
  • Nightmare modes are some of the most challenging content I have experienced in an MMO
  • Does not hold your hand… almost to a cruel end.  Very difficult quests.
  • No Subscription Fee – buy the box play forever
  • Single Server Infrastructure – play with anyone on any dimension freely

#2 – Rift

rift 2013-06-19 20-07-48-28 Rift is likely going to be one of those games I always cycle back to playing.  Essentially it is WoW, but improved in every conceivable way.  That is probably a massive disservice to the game to say that… but unfortunately that is usually what I think of in my mind.  Since the release on a monthly basis they have improved the gameplay so that it includes some extremely innovative features.  It has really engaging content that varies from epic quests to quick fast food push a button and get into the action features.  Additionally it just went free to play, and it feels like one of the better implementations.  The cash shop has a truly staggering number of things to purchase, but all of it is completely optional.  You can pretty much experience every bit of the content apart from the Storm Legion expansion… completely free.

Best Features

  • Most customizable out of the box UI that I have seen
  • Awesome non-intrusive add-on support
  • Awesome passive grouping content like Rifts and Instant Adventures
  • Most detailed housing system – you can literally build anything
  • Extremely flexible class system with ability to have more than 6 different specs
  • Great Wardrobe system allowing for tons of custom outfits
  • Extremely interesting and challenging raid encounters
  • Really fun holidays and in game events

#1 – Everquest II

EQ2_000020 The world I will always be the most nostalgic about is Norrath.  Everquest was my first real MMO experience, and it bit me hard with a vengeance.  The big negative however is it was very unfriendly to players, and caused a massive commitment of time to get anywhere.  However with the release of Everquest II, it took the world I loved and brought it into a much more player friendly frame of mind.  This is one of those games that I have played off and on since release.. and no matter where I am mentally… this is the one game I can always play even when I don’t really feel like playing anything.  I feel like EQ2 is the most underappreciated game on the market and has so much to offer players.  It just doesn’t look as shiny as other games, and the engine definitely feels dated at times.  The game takes of commitment to understand its systems, but you will not find a more intricate and rewarding game on the market (except maybe Wurm Online).

Best Features

  • 25 unique classes
  • 20 unique races
  • Massive scale zones, dungeons, and raids
  • More content than I have seen in any other game period
  • Massive epic quest lines…  one I worked on off and on for 6 months
  • Extremely detailed housing system with the ability to have 10 per player
  • Extremely unique crafting system
  • Guild housing that actually supports guild activities
  • Antonia Bayle is one of the best RP communities – Tons of Live Events

The Runners Up

There were several games that almost made the list.  I contemplated Star Wars: The Old Republic… because quite honestly it had some really engaging content.  It however has probably the most egregious free to play conversion I have seen, so its exploitive nature knocked it off the list.  I thought about Guild Wars 2, because there is something undeniably enjoying about the game.  However there are an equal number of issues I just cannot get past to really find it something I want to play on a regular basis.  Dragon’s Prophet is a game I am really enjoying these days, but I don’t feel like I have played it long enough to really give it a spot on the top five list.  Additionally Vanguard is a pretty amazing game, but I just have not played it enough to really know its ins and outs.

Essentially I picked the five games that have shaped me the most as a player.  I hope you enjoyed my little rundown and even more so I hope it inspires someone to give one of them a shot.  Of my list only World of Warcraft lacks a free to play option.  So I guess this is really telling about where we are currently in what is a viable payment model.  I find myself cycling between the two four on a regular basis.  Right now I am mostly in a Rift mode… but I am sure I will cycle back to the others before too much longer.

I hope you have a great day, and I hope you don’t mind the change in format.  I wanted to create this post, and I knew I would not have enough time tomorrow morning to complete it all.  Additionally I am busy tonight downloading things to load up my new laptop full of games.  So essentially I had time to kill and devote to this.  I hope I get all my errands in the morning done, and get to work on time.