Podcast That Almost Wasn’t

Graduation Day

ducks I just thought I would start the post off with a picture of two ducks.  These are the ducks that we encounter quite often on our evening stroll around the neighborhood.  I guess they have decided that we are not really a threat, because shortly after snapping this photo the male duck decided to come up close enough to almost touch.  Granted he might have just been putting some distance between me and his mate, but I would like to think we are a recognized thing by now.  Now that you’ve had a lovely vignette, let me tell you about my day.  My nephew graduated from college today, and being the loving family we are… we attended.  This was an experience in both vertigo and insanely uncomfortable seating.  For starters the basketball stadium it was held in had some of the steepest seating I had ever experienced.  When they asked us to stand for the singing of the national anthem… I literally felt like I was going to topple over the “cliff” and down into the stands below me.

All in all it wasn’t really a bad day, but it was most definitely a tiring one.  I did however manage to top 10,000 steps on the fitbit, instead of my usual 8,000 to 9,000.  This was in part because we parked four blocks away from the stadium and walked it rather than fighting for parking.  The whole side effect of today and what will inevitably happen tomorrow is that I simply do not have the “oomph” to stay up late enough tonight to do a Steampowered Sunday.  In fact as early as we are going in the morning to see my mother, I won’t really have a chance to write a blog post in the morning either.  As a result I am writing this one Saturday night, and will publish it in the morning.  I hate when I have to “cheat” like this, but it is far better to do that than to miss posting something at all.

Podcast That Almost Wasn’t

robins This morning I talked about the little family of robins, that had nested in the white rock.  When I came home tonight there were two chicks poking their heads out of the nest until I got close enough to investigate.  They instinctively ducked down to try and remain hidden but I was able to get my phone up enough to snap the photo on the side.  I feel like each of these photos is somehow softening the blow of what I am about to say.  This week you damned near did not get a podcast.  Admittedly this is one part miscommunication and one part poor planning on my side.  It was Friday during the day when I realized that I would not be home in time to record the podcast.  Originally for some reason my wife and I thought my nephews graduation was early in the day.  However upon further investigation Friday, we realized that it was at 4 pm in the afternoon.  That meant in a best case scenario figuring 2 hours for the graduation, an hour for anything after the graduation, and another 2 hours drive to get back home… this put me being back around 9 pm, and hour after we normally record.

To make things more interesting it seemed as thought both Ashgar and Kodra were not able to record at all this weekend.  Ashgar had a similar situation to me and when I spoke with him Friday it was from an airport as he was flying home for his sisters graduation.  Kodra on the other hand, I am not really sure what was going on, but he was neither available Friday or Saturday evenings.  He would potentially be available very late on Sunday, but that didn’t really give me much time to get things posted, since I normally post our new episodes Sunday.  After some scrambling, it seemed as though Tam was also not available.  As the day went on Rae and I discussed whether or not we even wanted to record with two people down.  I was of the opinion that we would just take the week off, but I guess Rae was really gung ho about going forward.  She thought in a worse case scenario it would just be the two of us and we would do a relatively short podcast.

Doctor Hannah to the Rescue

While my wife and I were walking Friday night, Rae was able to get ahold of a good friend of ours Dallian and he was able to fill in for us.  I had long thought that Dal might be a really good fit for the show, and him being able to do it on such short notice was almost serendipitous.  So we almost did not record the show, but in truth it ended up being one of the more enjoyable ones to make.  We talk about a number of gaming topics from Wildstar, to ArcheAge and the obligatory Elder Scrolls Online discussion.  We also dip our toes into the world of comic books and Magic: The Gathering and Dallian tells us the riveting tale of how he created the @Doctor_Hannah twitter account.  Hopefully the amount of fun we had recording this one translates to our listeners.

Hopefully next week things will be at least partially back to normal.  We should have Ashgar and Kodra back, but I believe Rae may not be available.  Dallian is coming into town to visit us, and either we will have both Rae and Dallian or neither of them.  In any case next week should be interesting as well.  At this point I am going to close off this post and crash, as I need to get up super early to make my Mothers Day visitations.  I want to wish all the Mother’s out there a very happy day, and I will see you all Monday morning for another early morning post.

#AggroChat #Podcast #ESO #Wildstar #ArcheAge

Technically Alpha

I Need an Off Switch

There are times I absolutely hate that my wife can sleep through almost anything, and get to sleep so easily.  There is this thing she does that drives me insane, where right before sleep she winds up my brain by revealing some tidbit of knowledge that my mind takes the next hour and a half to digest before it allows me to go to sleep.  Over the week we have had a really sick cat, and are treating her for her hyperthyroidism with a cream that I have to rub into her ear twice daily.  She is getting better, but doing so very very slowly, so I had planned on calling the vet this morning to see if she needs to be seen again.  Moments before my wife went into her nightly coma, she dropped the bombshell that she is not sure that “Little Shit” has been peeing.

Not only did this wake me up, but I went into a full blown panic attack playing the “what if her kidneys are shutting down game”.  There was absolutely nothing I could do to calm down and I was up half the night literally… I finally laid down around 2:00 and drifted off to sleep about thirty minutes later when “little shit” decided to join us in bed.  Her constant purring I guess clamed me down, because she “seemed fine”.  This morning one crisis was adverted when I saw her pee in a place she isn’t supposed to, and another one started when she vomited and there were little red spots in the mixture that looked suspiciously like blood.  All the while I am envious of the fact that my wife can sleep on command, and I end up fighting incessantly to get the few hours a night I end up getting.  There was one night this week, that I thought was a “normal sleep” and my fitbit told me I had 32 periods of restlessness throughout the course of the evening.

Woah We’re Halfway There

I guess that is a bit misleading since dinging level 30 is by no means halfway to 60 effort wise… but it is at least numerically!  Once again I engaged in leveling my Night Elf Mage while hanging out with friends on mumble.  These are starting to feel a bit like impromptu podcasts, since we end up talking about the days gaming news and various sundry bits of geeky information.  We seem to talk about everything other than the game I happen to be playing at the moment I am streaming.  Originally my intent was to stream some Landmark last night, however the servers did not come back up until the wee hours in the morning.  I know this because I also streamed some of that during my panic attack state to try and calm the hell down.

All in all as much as I hate to admit it, I am starting to like playing a mage.  I am beginning to feel more useful in dungeons now that I have some semblance of an AOE in the form of Cone of Cold.  It is still not my preferred method of game play, but I am not absolutely disliking the experience of pushing this character to 60.  Yesterday the Godmother of Faff herself, @AlternativeChat posted about a new contest of sorts.  The idea is with all the boosting going on, to level your way to 90 proudly with purpose.  While I am fully in support of this notion, I am not sure if I qualify for it.

I currently have 6 90s, 2 85+, 2 70+, and my baby mage that my intent was to push to 60 and boost the rest of the way to 90.  I feel like I have experienced the leveling content in World of Warcraft more times than most players.  So I don’t really feel any shame in using my free boost to jump the character class I am least likely to play to the finish line.  However I do feel that most of the folks who have never had a 90, and are using their boost to get there are missing something in the process.  Some of the quests you have to struggle through along the way become a shared cultural experience.  As much as I hate the “poop” quests of Burning Crusade, I like that I did them and shared in the same frustration as other players.  Maybe that is an odd thing to say, but there are very few moments that all players have experienced.  Anyways… you should definitely check out the post that sparked this discussion.

Like There is No Tomorrow

Also on the docket of last nights streaming, I decided to take a break from the mage after dinging 30 and play some Wildstar.  In truth, once again I checked to see if the Landmark servers were back up yet… and since they were not, I opted to play the thing with the most current NDA drop.  I have to say there are certain aspects of the game that are growing on me.  The “soldier” archetype and the quests associated have definitely nailed my personal style of game play.  Namely… explore the world and kill everything that gets in my path.  Once again the “impromptu podcast” aspect of my streams continued as we discussed lots of gaming tidbits.  I have literally considered stripping the audio from these videos and stitch them together into a podcast.

This is what nights on mumble are usually like, as we discuss more than just what we happen to be playing at any given time.  I still am not really used to hearing my own voice yet, but I will get over that.  As far as Wildstar goes… I cover this in the video, but after this weekend the Beta is significantly changing.  Up until this point I have had essentially 24/7 access to the servers, and feel like I have generally squandered that by not playing.  Once this change occurs I am honestly not sure what kind of access I will have.  I know preordering gives you something, but I do not believe that we will keep fulltime access unless we have a 32+ character when the transition happens.  Additionally I think those players will be unable to progress past level 17.  The whole scenario is rather complicated, and I am not sure yet if I really grasp it.  As the thread says, the only sign of a successful compromise is that no one is happy.

No Sleep Til…  Landmark!

I had attempted to sleep for about thirty minutes, and then I realized that I was on the verge of going full blown panic attack… I opted to get up for a bit to try and calm myself with the dulcet tones of gaming.  Generally speaking in the past when I have needed to relax like this I would play Minecraft, and since Landmark is my new Minecraft…  I was thankful the servers were back online.  I figured while I was running around anyways, I might as well stream some of it.  I didn’t broadcast the fact I was doing so, because really I did not intend to be entertaining or talkative.  What the video does show however is the inside of my claim and my latest project… completely redoing the dungeon.  I have to admit at this point… it had been a few weeks since I had played Landmark.

Essentially I had gone high center on some of the crafting requirements.  In order for me to get better machines and better tools it involved absolutely silly amounts of Burled Wood farming.  For those of you who need a refresher, Burled Wood was a rare drop from almost any tree.  You originally needed 100 to make a single Burled Wood plank, and then most of these extremely high end crafting machines and tools required 50 or more of these planks.  This was one of the worst RNG grinds you could imagine.  I simply reached a point where I could not bring myself to chop down the number of trees that it would need to get the things crafted that I wanted crafted.

Thankfully in yesterdays patch they completely turned this mechanic up on end.  Now when chopping down trees they drop a single guaranteed “Heartwood” drop, with a rare chance of dropping more than one at a time.  These are now the items needed to craft machinery and tools, and Burled Wood has been relegated to a “lesser” and also more reliable drop crafting material off of certain trees.  What this means is if you need 27 Heartwood, you know that you will have to farm a maximum of 27 trees to craft that item.  Even if you need 90 Heartwood…  still having a fixed point that you have to farm is so much better than relying entirely on luck to get the drops you need to complete your projects.  Thank you so much for taking this one back to the drawing board.

Technically Alpha

Play 2014-03-14 00-40-29-95 Another very exciting thing happened yesterday…  I received an invite to the Heroes of the Storm technical alpha.  One of the more interesting tidbits about this, is that there is apparently no NDA.  We can blog about it, stream it… do whatever we want, with the caveat that we treat it like the alpha that it is.  I am perfectly fine with this notion because I have been looking forward to “HotS” as it is lovingly referred to… for some time.  Essentially Heroes seems to be set up to fix one of the problems I have with League of Legends.  I am all about team play, and when I am playing as a team I only really care about the end objective… our win.  When I play shooters I tend to be heavily objective and role based shooters that focus on the win condition and not individual player stats.

So much of the way game play works in League seems to be counter intuitive to playing as a team.  Progression is almost solely based on personal performance, not performance of the team.  One of the most frustrating mechanics I have experienced is that of “last hitting”, and this concept is entirely gone from Heroes of the Storm.  Granted I don’t have a lot of first hand experience with the game play… since I did not realize I even HAD access to the Alpha until about 1 am in the full force of my panic attack.  I think I made it about halfway through the tutorial before I made another futile attempt to sleep.  So far everything feels like I expect it to, and the tutorial character of Raynor was rather fun to play.  I look forward to cracking this open and experiencing the content for real over the weekend.  I hope to stream some of it, but with the last beta weekend going on in Elder Scrolls Online… not sure how much of that will actually happen.

Wildstar Impressions

The NDA Drop

WildStar64 2014-03-12 21-23-23-03 The big news from yesterday is that Wildstar dropped the NDA and announced an official launch date and that preorders start March 19th.  I have been in closed beta testing for quite some time now, and as a result have tried my best to maintain radio silence about the title.  I have occasionally referred to it as “that space game” when I absolutely needed to, but generally speaking it is just safer not to say anything at all.  Granted I have not played a ton of hours, in part because the game really doesn’t move me to play a ton of hours.  Every so often there is a game that just doesn’t feel “right” to me, and Wildstar falls into that category firmly.  Of note the other major release that also did was Guild Wars 2 and a few days ago I wrote about my feelings there.

For a long while I simply had trouble playing the game.  For whatever reason there was a specific graphical glitch that would cause my frame rate to absolutely tank.  So the game itself became extremely hard to play at 5 frames per second.  However the last several builds have fixed the issue and I have tried to poke my head in several times to continue to give it the old college try.  In part much like with Guild Wars 2, I keep wanting to try and figure out what everyone sees in this game that is so spectacular.  For a long while segments of my friends list have been completely devoted to it.  Combine that with the fact that a friend of mine now works for Carbine… and I really want to know what it is about this game that makes it special.

The Las Vegas Strip

WildStar64 2014-03-13 06-05-29-86 One of the things that distracts me about the game is just how “busy” it is.  The design ethic the Carbine has employed is one where something is going on in every possible corner of every screen.  So the above picture is on the Dominion starship, and while you can’t really get the full effect in a still frame, there is literally motion everywhere.  While this makes the game feel more dynamic and alive, it also makes the game feel a bit like the Las Vegas strip, with lights and sounds and motion everywhere.  While playing I get a sort of sensory overload most of the time.  This would be fine if this was just a city phenomena, but even when you are out in the world there are doodads and holograms floating about waiting to be clicked on.  The “more is more” design ethic almost gives me a headache at times.

The characters are well crafted, and the voice acting is at times extremely good… and even when it is not it is at least passable.  One of the weird disconnects is that the dialog the npcs are voicing, rarely syncs up with what is actually saying in the chat box.  So this adds a bit to the feeling of too much going on screen, since I have to watch the chat box and listen to the npc at the same time.  Additionally the UI feels like it needs a bit of work, namely in the minimap.  I find it hard to determine where I need to go to reach my next objective without constantly opening the main map.  There are symbols and indicators on the minimap, but it is simply not clear to me what they mean.  I have not really noticed something akin to an arrow off one side of the map to show me where the next quest I have highlighted is.

Confused Control Scheme

WildStar64 2014-03-12 21-33-30-45 The game employs a rather unique combat style, in that the game does not rely heavily on hard targets but instead involves a lot of cone and arc based attacks that fire in front of the character hitting everything in the path.  This in itself is really cool, but the experience while playing the game feels really odd to me.  I feel as though Wildstar really wanted to be an action combat MMO, but stopped just one step short of doing so.  For a long while I was using an addon that allowed you to toggle on permanent mouselook, and it drastically improved my enjoyment of the game.  I feel like the game overall would be more enjoyable if it had a control scheme more like Neverwinter or Elder Scrolls Online, where mouselook controls the view and primary attacks are on left and right mouse buttons with a targeting reticle in the center of the screen.

The combat itself feels too busy for the wow style movement interface.  Maybe this is not as evident with the games ranged classes, but as a melee class I feel like I am always working at cross purposes to get out of the big red “stupid” on the ground, while still trying to keep my attack facing at the right target at the right time.  Controlling the game makes me feel like I should have an extra pair of hands.  Last night when I streamed for a bit, I did not bother downloading the latest version of my mouselook addon, and it greatly diminished my enjoyment.  Since it is not likely that we will see an action combat interface this far from launch, it would be great if they simply added in the ability to turn on perma-mouselook by default instead of having to rely on a third party addon for it.

Extremely Content Dense

Last night I had all sorts of technical difficulties, so I ended up getting a late start.  As a result I did not stream for terribly long… and for whatever reason Twitch decided to stop recording 20 minutes into the stream.  However you can see enough footage to get a feel of the game.  I feel like I have been a “wet blanket” so far this morning, but I don’t really intend to be.  This is just one of the few MMOs that I was not immediately in love with… and like usual I keep trying to figure out why.  One of the big positives is that the game itself is EXTREMELY content dense.  While this gives the game the busy, almost migraine inducing characteristics… this also means there is a hell of a lot of stuff to do.  I was swimming through a lake at one point last night, and ended up engaging a lake race minigame similar to the one in Moonshade Highlands in Rift.

Similarly there are always “hold the line” type events out in the wild where you help the citizens of an area defend against baddies.  So the game itself is exceedingly rich and for 100%ers it will take you a long time to unlock all of the secrets in an area before moving on to the next.  Problem being, I have not been a “must get all the achievements” person for a really long time.  However I do find myself wanting to do the little combat challenges along the way as I unlock them.  In the video above I kill a single snail and find out that I need to kill a certain number within a time limit to get a bonus prize.  My goal from that point on became finding more snails so I could get the doodad.  The bonus prizes are never that good, but just the fact that I get to kill stuff with a purpose is enough for me to enjoy it.

Extremely Torn

WildStar64 2014-03-12 22-12-38-45 Right now I am completely up in the air as to whether or not I will play this game.  There are certain aspects I really like, and certain aspects that turn me completely off about it.  It is like a pair of ill fitting shoes, that look really cool… but no matter how many times you wear them they just don’t quite fit.  At this point I am not sure if I could honestly say what would need to change to make me love the game.  I plan to keep playing the beta off and on and seeing if I can reach a point where the game just feels like magic.  I think if I can ever reach the housing system, that may in fact be the hook for me.  I do love that as I am out and about in the world various housing things can drop.  The gameplay is not “un-fun” but it is not the type of thing that just drives me to play more and more of it.

Right now the biggest deterrent to playing is the price tag and the subscription that goes in tow.  I have no problem with a subscription model, in fact I tend to prefer them for a game I am really serious about.  The problem is, Wildstar is not a title I am extremely serious about.  Were it like Guild Wars 2 where I could pre-order my copy and play it at my leisure with no strings attached I would gladly do so and have my order in on day one.  However knowing that I have 30 days to decide if I like the game well enough to continue playing, means I really need to time playing the game in the first place during a time when I have a lull in other games.  The June launch date is likely too close to Elder Scrolls for me to really get into it seriously.  I think they are planning to pick up the people for whom ESO was not that great of an experience, and also grab the people who are tired of waiting on Warlords of Draenor to launch.

Wish Them Luck

WildStar64 2014-03-12 22-07-35-97 Ultimately I wish them the best of success.  I still stand by the statement that I have made multiple times that we need a lot more success in the MMO world in whatever form it comes.  Specifically we need more stable games that are not named “Warcraft”.  When a game launches, specially one with friends working on the staff…  I feel personally invested in its success.  I feel like they are launching at the best possible time this year.  I just hope they have enough time to set their hooks into players because Warlords of Draenor comes along and pulls people back into a new World of Warcraft adventure.  I feel like so many games are vying for the same pool of players that has not really gotten much larger over the years.  Someone is going to lose as a result of this, and my fear is this game is more likely than anything to pull players away from Rift than it is from WoW.

It’s Okay to Not Like Things

WoW Getting a Gatekeeper

Back in the beginning of January I crafted a post talking about how much I enjoyed The Gatekeeper encounter in The Secret World and how I felt it was a good thing to have in a game.  I extrapolated this further and said that World of Warcraft really needed a similar Gatekeeper mechanic.  At the time they had the proving grounds but they were universally ignored by players.  Based on a post from Watcher on the forums… it seems like Blizzard is thinking along these lines as well.  If I had to build a requirement for queuing for random heroics, I would have said that more than likely it would need Silver or better in the proving grounds in a specific role.  Turns out based on that post, it seems Blizzard was thinking the exact same thing.  Will this usher in a new area of better pugging?  Honestly I am not sure.

The biggest thing that I do like from the statement is that the requirement is apparently completely ignored with a prebuilt group.  This means you will still be able to carry your friends through the heroics to help gear them up.  Those friends will just have to meet the proving grounds on their own if they want to be turned loose out into the wild.  In the grand scheme of things this is just raising the bar on the heroics, but not really doing anything to fix the social causes for me not wanting to queue for them randomly.  Without a “social justice” system similar to that of League of Legends or Final Fantasy XIV people will still be as big of dicks as they are today.  It really is a catch 22…  folks complain that no tanks want to run randoms…  but when you do tank a random people generally treat you like shit.  I decided some time ago that it was a package of frustration I could deal without in my life.

Being Neighborly

EverQuestNextLandmark64 2014-02-22 10-08-41-17 I have slowed down greatly in my time spent in Landmark.  I am done with the bulk of the structural work on Belgarde Keep and now have begun some of the fine detail work.  In order to complete this I really need to finish upgrading all of my machines, and that means farming copious amounts of materials.  Namely mind numbingly farming burled wood.  Thankfully since I am on a forest island, I can pretty much just roam around in my “front yard” to find this, but it gets really boring at times.  As a result the bulk of my Landmark playtime is reserved for when I am watching netflix or something similar.  I’ve already begun joining the AoA channel like I talked about yesterday, but for the most part there has been nothing but radio silence.

Last night however I got to meet a person who was new to me.  Zarriya apparently is a longtime member of the Multiplaying community and friends with Zeli, so when she popped on we were both happy to have someone else to talk with as we built away.  Funny thing is, she was not on very long before she wanted to pop by my claim and see the work I had done.  It is wierd how this feels in a game like Landmark.  It almost feels like inviting someone over to your actual house.  I was a good ways off from my homestead so as I ventured back there she started on her way over as well.  This is one of the areas the game really needs improvement.  Firstly the friends list is not working, but even more so… we need an easier way to find each others claims.

I was impressed at how fast she found it off the /loc I gave her, because quite honestly… my brain does not function well on a coordinate grid system.  If I could do like EQ2 and set a waypoint to the coord I would be happy…. actually I don’t know if that is in game or not.  It just feels cool to have visitors in this game, since you have put so much work and effort into building your structures the way you want them.  Right now I am mostly working on the sub basement, which I intend to be a dungeon.  No proper keep can really go without one.  So to start I’ve built a series of equal sized cells.  Now I want to do some more open holding pens, but really to do that I need to gather up a lot of iron.  Still very much enjoying the game, but also really looking forward to having more systems in place.

It’s Okay to Not Like Things

A good friend of mine linked me this video yesterday and it seems relevant lately, with the whole force fed narrative of Wildstar vs Elder Scrolls.  While I like both of the authors of this article, the piece that MMORPG.com ran yesterday just feels like linkbait.  If you are a fan of the MMO genre and want more games to be developed…  we realistically need BOTH to succeed.  There have been so many big name MMO failures over recent years, and even if you do not play the game any longer.. it still hurts to see one close down.  The community is still reeling from the loss of Star Wars Galaxies, and similarly from City of Heroes. Both games had extremely vibrant and devoted communities, and both player bases are still trying to find a new home.

Similarly a certain segment of the population was being happily served by Warhammer Online, and Vanguard will have a similar player base abandoned when it closes down this year.  Losing ANY game is a horrible experience.  I will be honest… I like both Wildstar and The Elder Scrolls Online.  I think they are both interesting games.  The problem is I know for certain that I like one of them enough to pay a subscription fee, and the other one… I am not quite sure about.  As a huge supported of Elder Scrolls, it feels like around every corner is another person trying to… pardon the colloquialism “piss in my cheerios”.  So I do at times get defensive of ESO, because I think it is a really fun game.  That is not to say that that I don’t also begrudgingly enjoy Wildstar quite a bit.

Personally I would love to see both games do well and find their own little niche.  We need successful MMOs that are not named World of Warcraft.  If we don’t then this might be the last round of AAA MMOs we so for awhile, or at least ones that were designed without having a massive cash shop component in them from day one.  I still think the free to play MMO is alive and kicking, but the ones designed from day one to be free to play… feel money grubbing.  They feel like they want to nickel and dime you to death each time you play it.  SWTOR is one of those game I would love to be able to play periodically, but I just cannot stand playing it in their free to play mode.

I just wish I could get players past the tribalism of red versus blue.  I am a carebear at heart, and I just want us all to get along.  After all each of these games is a niche within a niche within a niche.  Gaming as a whole is still a relatively small community, and when we attack each other we only serve to alienate people who might be waiting in the wings considering joining in.  Right now the real decision if I play Wildstar will be based on launch timing.  Right now we have Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls coming out in March, and Elder Scrolls Online in April both of which I am deeply committed to.  I assume Warlords of Draenor will be a Christmas 2014 release since no word of the Friends and Family Alpha has leaked yet.  So if Wilstar releases during one of the lapses… I might give it a shot.

Not So Neighborly Bel

There is a bit of brutal irony in me talking about it feeling good to have a virtual neighborhood in Landmark.  We have lived in the same place for over sixteen years, and at this point we know exactly two neighbors.  I consider myself “on waving terms” with several more, but really we know the family to the south of us, and the family that has been mentioned so many times in other posts that previously lived across the street from us, but now lives about five houses down the block.  For the most part I like it this way.  While it may not come across as such in my posts, I am pretty deeply introverted, so after spending the day dealing with people… I just want to shut the doors and see no one by my wife until the next day.

The funny thing about it is… apparently I am known by my neighbors but not my wife.  In part this comes down to the fact that I get home about 4:30 when lots of other people are pulling into their houses, whereas my wife often times works late and doesn’t get home until 8ish some nights.  A few months back we had a few fires in our neighborhood.  Due to the extreme effect smoke has on me, my wife went out to investigate.  Upon meeting some of our neighbors they asked her if she was “new in the neighborhood”.  They apparently had never seen her and didn’t know she existed.  Maybe it is not normal to live somewhere as long as we have and not know the ins and outs of everyone in the neighborhood.  Thankfully the neighbor I write about so often… keeps track of everything going on and can keep us up to date on the intra-neighborhood politics.  For the most part where we live is a pretty quiet place made up of a mix of aging folks that bought the homes during the 80s, and working class families with young kids.

My brother in law used to have these massive impromptu block parties in his neighborhood, and while it was nice that he knew every single person…  it also felt fairly claustrophobic to me.  For me going to work each day and “acting normal” is extremely draining.  By the time I get home, I simply don’t want to have to care about the other people living around me.  Its awesome that they are there, and  are all relatively nice… but I don’t need to have any more people in my life that I have to interact with regularly.  I am more than happy to cocoon up on the couch with my laptop and a game and forget the people outside my door exist.  The irony is… that I end up playing multiplayer games.  I think the key there is that the interaction with other people is on my terms, and in the quantity that I desire when I desire it.  When someone rings our doorbell, or calls on the phone… it always feels like a horrible invasion of my personal space.  I guess I am just wired oddly.

What About Wildstar?

4.4.14

 

It as been roughly ten days since Zenimax announced the official PC/Mac release date of Elder Scrolls Online.  In doing so they either knowingly or unknowingly threw down the gauntlet to the other developers with their own tentative release dates.  The success and fail of an MMO has become so much more than whether or not it is a good game, but instead how distracted the gaming populous is at any given moment.  I remember a time in the not too distant past where major PC releases were truly few and far between.  However it currently seems like there is always something bigger looming on the near horizon.  Like it or not every single one of these releases is competing for the same relatively small pool of players, subscribers, and even money in general.

Yesterday Massively voted The Elder Scrolls Online… the MMO most likely to flop in the coming year.  While I personally think this is deeply cynical and maybe even more than a tiny bit inflammatory, I think more than anything it is short sighted.  Quite frankly the success and failure of Elder Scrolls Online has nothing to do with the PC gamer, and that is more than a tiny bit humbling.  We will no longer be the king makers for these online games.  With ESO and games like it, that torch is being passed from PC Gaming to the much larger pool of console gamers.  I have to say the console market is rabidly waiting for a new Elder Scrolls Experience, and especially a multiplayer one at that .  I think it might be a bitter pill to swallow to realize that the success and failure of these titles may very well be out of the hands of the “PC Gaming Master Race”.

3.25.14

 

Being the master tacticians that they are, yesterday Blizzard announced the release date for the Diablo 3 Reaper of Souls expansion.  With this they are releasing roughly four weeks ahead of Elder Scrolls Online, and as a result giving themselves plenty of time with the sole attention of the PC Gaming market.  Similarly however they are also hungrily eyeing the console market, and you can bet that they will be timing the release of the PS3/PS4/Xbox360/XBone release against the June release of Elder Scrolls Online to the next gen consoles.  I feel like a four week buffer is more than safe and should play well to the gamers that may not have the ability to purchase every title they want.  I know I am personally amped about this version of the game, because it fixes a lot of the loot problems I had with the initial release.  Additionally I am holding out hope beyond hope that they manage to roll in the console “controller” features as well.

There is no way to look at this release date as anything other than business strategy.  Elder Scrolls started this ball in motion, and now each game company will have to decide when the most opportune time is to deploy their own “forces” on the game board.  While the Diablo 3 demographic is not exactly the same as the Elder Scrolls demographic… there is more than enough overlap to have caused issues for either game.  As a result two major juggernauts have been placed on the “game board” and as a result the new year is less open than it was.  Now the launches of so many titles will have be strategized to figure out when the most opportune time to release will be.

Warlords of Draenor

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Since the title Blizzard announced was the release of Diablo 3 for the tail end of the first quarter, my assumption is that Warlord of Draenor was simply not close enough to ready to be able to launch against Elder Scrolls Online.  As a result I am guessing this means that WoD will be another last quarter of 2014 release much like a few other World of Warcraft expansion launches.  If this is the case that bookends the year up pretty nicely.  Diablo 3 first quarter, Elder Scrolls Online second quarter and Warlords of Draenor closing out the year.  You can already see the 2014 release calendar starting to tighten a bit and this will make it increasingly difficult for game companies to find a “clear window” to release against.  I personally thought I had written off the WoW franchise completely, but nostalgic can be a pain sometimes.

As a result I imagine there will be a lot of players that either intentionally or un-intentionally come back for the release of Warlords.  The lifespan of a WoW expansion rush seems to be roughly three months, so an end of the year release will also make the 2015 schedule some what slippery as well.  The problem is there are lots more pieces to be placed on the board.  Games like Titanfall and Destiny will also be chipping away at the pool of players that would h

ave normally played an MMO.  Additionally we still have EQ Landmark and EQ Next that have not committed to any release schedule and will likely be just as large of a force on the Calendar as the games that have already been confirmed.

What About Wildstar?

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I will be the first to admit… I am actually not that excited about Wildstar at all.  By all rights I should be, but for whatever reason there I have not followed it.  I do however have a lot of friends who have, and as a result I want it to be a success for their sake as much as anything else.  Up until this point we have heard a tentative “spring 2014” release.  As I have just outlined however the “spring” timeframe is extremely packed as it is.  Wildstar is in a really precarious place right now, and I do not envy them.  They are launching a new MMO, with a subscription model into a world that seems to have fallen out of love with subscriptions.  Additionally it is an unproven IP, and there are additional issues on selling a new player on “the vision” for this world.  Finally it is releasing against some really powerful forces.

The safe bet will be to release Wildstar in the July/August timeframe.  As much as I myself hate it, the players who are likely to leave a game will have done so by the time three months have passed.  July would be the beginning of a window where generally the “locusts”, a group I have been a member of so many times in the past… will have consumed what there is to consume with ESO and be looking for a new target to move to.  Plotting a course for this opening in the schedule seems like the safe choice for them.  However all it would take to make this more treacherous, is for the other pieces that are unplaced to fall into this window.  Releasing against EQ Landmark would be enough to make the fate of Wildstar uncertain, and we have yet to even discuss the potential for the upcoming and as of yet unnamed Rift expansion. 

My money is still on Wildstar penciling in a July release date, and EQ Next as a game being a spring of 2015 release.  I just don’t see Carbine being confident enough to release Wildstar without a good opening in the schedule.  They are in a much more tentative position than Zenimax, since the entirety of their fate rests upon the shoulders of the PC Gaming market.  Elder Scrolls Online could realistically release against another big game, since they will be gaining a bunch of “new to genre” players coming in from the console market.  Additionally they have a well established and well loved IP… and even if folks are not completely sold on the game… they are likely to at least dip their toes in the water for awhile.  I find myself caring far more about the people at the companies… than the companies and games themselves.  With several friends in the “industry” I honestly hope that they can stack the schedule in a way so that all of these titles fine at least limited success.  If we see another crop of relative failures, I think this year might be the last hurrah of the triple A MMO market.

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.

Wildstar Woes

Good morning you happy people in digital land.  I am trying to muster the “oomph” to do another days post.  For whatever reason since the “flood” happened, I have not been sleeping well at all.  I assume it is all the noise from the air mover fan we have had pointed at our carpet to try and dry everything out.  Luckily at this point… I think the carpet is completely dry so here is hoping that turning it off tonight will render a full nights sleep.

Wildstar Woes

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With all the recent strife caused by our washing machine and the subsequent damage… my morning posts have pretty much been dominated by that.  However in the gaming world there was quite a little shake up… at least as far as the twitter-sphere is concerned.  Monday Carbine announced the business model for Wildstar… and it was shockingly subscription based.  I think most of us in the blogging circles had been expecting Wildstar to launch as a free to play or some sort of hybrid model.  Instead we are getting a full subscription game with an implementation of the PLEX system from Eve.

Essentially all players will have to do one of two things to continue playing.  Either they will pay a monthly subscription fee, or they will purchase and consume a C.R.E.D.D. on the open market that another player has purchased speculating that they can sell it for enough in game currency to make it worth their while.  EQ2 also has a very similar system to this with the Krono, and it seems to work well enough at removing large sums of in game currency from the market.  The big negative however is that mere mortals are unlikely to ever possess enough currency to buy one of these subscription tokens.

In the games I have played that have them they usually start off reasonable enough shortly after the program launches… but over time it continues to trend upwards gaining in game currency value.  For example when I bought my first Krono in EQ2, they were selling for 500-600 platinum.  However the last time I sold one, I was able to get almost 1000 platinum for them in a few months time.  Additionally the REX token in Rift launched at around 600 platinum and now fetches roughly 1500 platinum depending on the server.  Essentially it is constantly pushed out of the reach of anyone that is not an auction house baron or a habitual gold farmer.

Killing Casual Interest

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Essentially in my experience there is really no way that anyone casually interested in a game like this can afford to buy the subscription tokens from the market.  They are stuck with subscribing to keep their access turned on.  For me my interest in Wildstar has gone from passing to pretty much dead zero.  All thanks to the announcement that there will be a subscription attached to the game.  Don’t get me wrong… I love subscriptions in games that I am really interested in.  I will happily pay a monthly fee to support the game and gain buffet style access to all its features.  But I am simply not “really” interested in Wildstar.

The problem is… in my large circle of gaming friends it seems very few players actually are.  There are a bunch of us, that likely would have picked the game up were it a “buy the box” or free to play model.  We would have given it a shot, seen what it was like in close up and maybe for some of us… it would have clicked.  But the fact that I know there is both a box cost and a reoccurring subscription fee really makes the game something I don’t want to take a chance on.   In a world where most of the games I have been playing… are free to play… that subscription fee seems like an awfully binding commitment.

Ultimately I will be sitting in the wings, waiting for the eventual switch over to free to play.  That seems to be the thing to do these days… and what started off as a way to bail out a sinking game seems more and more like an actual business model.  It feels as though there is the initial 6 month money grab of subscriptions… then a planned deployment of free to play to catch the players like me who were only casually interested in their net.  If this is really in fact a business model, it seems like a very disingenuous one.

There are players who are supremely devoted to the subscription business model.  One of my good friends Liore, has gone through a whole arc as a game she deeply cared about… namely Rift went free to play.  While she has softened to the idea of the Rift free to play implementation… since arguably it is likely the most player friendly one on the market..  she still is not a huge fan of the “death of the subscription”.  When a game company sets out to do a 6 month money grab then convert to free to play… they risk alienating all the players that are extremely pro-subscription.

Of Subscriptions

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I guess at the end of the day… my problem is not that Wildstar has gone subscription at all.  It is that Wildstar is not interesting enough to me to make me WANT to pay a subscription for it.  Granted I have yet to play it at all… so maybe the proof is in the play style… but right now having only received the publically available information I am just not interested enough to commit to it.  Additionally I seem to have a love/hate relationship with Science Fiction MMOs.  I enjoy the hell out of them for a short period of time… but the scifi genre in general seems to lack the hooks to keep me there for long.  Granted that would probably all change if a Mass Effect or Fallout MMO were ever to release.  However I highly doubt either of those would happen, and quite frankly after SWTOR Bioware should farm out the “MMO” portion to someone more experienced.

Getting back on track… I don’t see anything fundamentally flawed with the subscription model.  I pay a subscription to Rift, even though it is the best free to play model out there.  I do it because they reward me in so many ways for doing so.  Similarly I used to pay a subscription to EQ2, Lotro, DDO, etc… all of which are free to play games… because the subscription gave me something more than I could get otherwise.  Ultimately this comes down to a case of me just not being that interested in Wildstar.  The main issue with the subscription model is it turns off the revenue stream from players like me that might have bought the box if there were no strings attached.

Ultimately right now there are entirely too many good options for a player to play for no money outlay at all.  It used to be that all you could play for free were a handful of subpar eastern games.  Now you have games like The Secret World and Rift at your disposal… both of which are games I would happily pay a subscription fee for… but don’t have to.  Essentially Carbine is asking players to take a gamble on their game… by buying the box and paying a monthly subscription and I feel as though a lot of players just are not willing to do that any longer.  This is simply my point of view based on the “temperature” from both social media and blogs in response to the rather “shocking” announcement of Wildstar’s payment model.

Grain of Salt

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Essentially you can take everything I just said today with a grain of salt.  Just because I was shocked that Wildstar did not go free to play… does not necessarily mean I am opposed to the subscription model entirely.  For example… if Elder Scrolls Online were to come out tomorrow and announce that they were going to be subscription only, it would be equally shocking.  However I would care far less, because ESO is a game I am already 110% committed to playing at launch.  From the moment it was announced I have been figuratively been like Fry begging them to “Take My Money!”.  The difference is.. ESO is a title I deeply care about and have been wanting to play literally since the first time I played Morrowind.

I had played Daggerfall before, but with Morrowind I was already used to the MMO construct thanks to lots and lots of Everquest 1.  All the while I was playing the game I kept thinking… man this setting would be so much more enjoyable if I could play it co-op.  So I have been 100% sold on the concept of an online Elder Scrolls game since that moment.  Each additional TES game.. has made me want the ability to play it with my friends even more.  When I heard that Zenimax was working on an MMO, I hoped beyond all hope that it was the Elder Scrolls setting.  At this point they could charge a $200 box fee, and $20 a month subscription… and I would likely still figure out some way to play it. 

I feel however that this level of buy in from an MMO player is extremely rare right now.  We are literally deluged with really good options that cost us next to nothing to play.  The MMO climate is nothing like when WoW launched or even when Warhammer Online launched.  Players are not looking to ditch their current game for something new… they want to dip their toes in the water first to make sure they like it better.  Having both a box fee and a subscription fee sufficiently raises that barrier just high enough that a good number of players, myself included will not commit to the game unless we are completely sold on it.  For an unproven brand, from a publisher that is notorious for selling their games short (NCSoft)… it just seems like a massive hurdle to cross.

Wrapping Up

Well I need to wrap this up and get on the road.  We are taking delivery of the new washing machine today… so I am only working a half day.  Essentially I need to get to work and do a full days work in 4 hours.  I hope you all have a great day and I hope everything goes smoothly with the delivery and install of the new washer.  Last night was a bit of a mad dash around the house to try and clear room for the folks to move it into place. I think I am as ready as I will ever be.

Abolish Faction Walls

Good morning you happy people out there.  I joked yesterday about opening a real life air rift, but in reality I guess it felt a bit like that.  We managed to get through the storm relatively unscathed, but not everyone did.  Yesterday the report was that roughly 100,000 customers were without power, and in on the drive in there were numerous intersections that were reduced to four way stops.  The neighbor across the street lost the entire fence on the front part of his yard, and the shopping center my favorite game store is in was pretty much demolished by the winds.  It is so odd to have tornadic style damage without the Tornado.

Race and Class Restrictions

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Yesterday Rowan posted a thought provoking pieces on whether or not there should be class and race restrictions in games.  Namely this was spawned by Wildstar, but the question carries over to every game.  Why does it make sense that fanatical characters should be limited by some sort of pseudo real world logic?  In an example he gives… why CAN’T a robot do magic…  isn’t that just imposing some kind of logic on fantasy gaming that doesn’t really exist?  Is it not just as fantastical that humans can perform magic?

Ultimately I am against class and race restrictions…  but even more so I am against faction based restrictions.  My general theory is… that in every situation… ideology never breaks down solely along racial boundaries.  There will always be people that play across the lines and are branded as either Sell-swords at the best, or Traitors at the worst by their own faction.  One of the worst experiences you can have is when a new game comes out… and you are super pumped about one specific race…  only to find out that every single friend you have wants to play the OTHER faction.

My mantra has been anything that gets in the way of you playing with your friends is bad.  Faction based race restrictions get in the way of you playing what you want to play… and also playing with your friends that might have different tastes.  I will go one step further and say that Factions in general… are generally bad, but more so games that try and set up an artificial “red versus blue” faction wall.  That essentially feels like imposing artificial limitations on your players just to solve poor design problems.  If have to rely on polarized faction based combat to keep your game moving, you made some bad decisions somewhere along the process.

Abolish Faction Walls

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Some of the most liberating gaming experiences I have had come from games with much more flexible factional boundaries.  The Everquest series probably takes the cake for its ability to give the player malleable faction alignments.  Essentially you start out as either aligned as an Evil race or a Good race… and that sets up certain default racial relations that you have with other factions in the world.  Given the time and the inclination… you can perform tasks that will alter these boundaries through lots and lots of player faction work.

Iksar for example started off hated by everything and could do business nowhere but the neutral Nexus and Cabilis their home city.  However I had a friend who through lots of work managed to become maximum reputation with the Halflings… and he was treated as a favored guest in their territory.  I myself took my Half Elf ranger which is natively a good aligned race… and managed to get him the same reputation with the Evil Erudite city of Paineel.  This experience of letting the player dictate their alliances through their interactions with the world is the best possible scenario I have seen.  Sadly… no one since has adopted this model.

In Everquest 2 you had something similar… defacto good vs evil racial set up… but over the course of the game you could decide to betray your home faction and begin gaining rep with the other.  While this was not as rich and robust as the Everquest system… it was still a far better choice than the archaic “red versus blue” mentality.  Additionally no where in the Everquest realm are you ever limited in who you can group with, communicate with, and trade with.  All players can interact regardless of their personal choices.

Faction as Fiction

Singlehandedly one of the best choices Trion has ever made with Rift is to release the fabled “Faction as Fiction” patch abolishing strict faction walls in that game.  While not as open as a game like Everquest that was designed NOT to have firm factions, it was a great way to “hack” that functionality into an existing game.  Essentially in one pass they allowed Guardian and Defiant characters to group and guild freely, and set up a new neutral three faction based PVP system called Conquest.  Players essentially act as mercenaries for three different political factions and wage proxy battles for them.

I feel like this decision point more than anything has allowed House Stalwart to grow so much recently.  Many of the players that we were pulling in, tried it shortly after the release of Rift, but felt limited by the race and faction based choices.  We were a Defiant guild, but many players just feel more comfortable with the kinder, gentler, greener… Guardian starter experience.  Being able to tell them that “faction no longer matters” has almost become a rallying call as I get new folks invested in the game again.

I cannot help but think that games like World of Warcraft and Wildstar would not be far better served if they threw off the mantle of “red versus blue” and embraced letting players choose their own alignments.  While we have extremely rabid Horde and Alliance players… I was one of those players that had friends on both sides of the pond.  When Stalwart originally launched with the release of WoW, we had an Alliance Guild on Argent Dawn and a Horde Guild on Silverhand.  The intent was to play in both places, so that we could stay together… but over time the majority greatly favored Alliance… leaving a skeleton crew manning the Horde bulwarks.

So instead of having like Fifty players all happy and acting together… we had 35 happy alliance players, and 15 unhappy horde players that felt abandoned.  Any design choice that forces potentially pits players against their friends… is ultimately a bad one for the sake of building long lasting communities.  Had we been able to BE an Alliance guild, but also had a number of “Horde” race sell-swords… I feel as though this would not have been a problem.  The players didn’t care about the faction… they cared about the available races to play… and ultimately went to the side that they could play what they wanted to.

Looking Forward

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One of the biggest detractors for me in everything I have heard about Elder Scrolls Online is the fact that once again there will be three distinct and insular faction groups.  While choosing which faction to align to was easy for me… since I always play a Nord, Argonian or a Dunmer…  it will not be quite so easy for my friends.  I have a few friends that prefer Altmer for example… and I tend to go out of my way to kill them when playing Skyrim.  The Elder Scrolls is a setting where there have NEVER been absolute race based factional boundaries.  There are always Nords that are willing to sell their blade to the highest bidder, as well as Altmer that throw off their heritage and adventure freely in the world.

My biggest hope is that there will be a way for my friends to be in Ebonheart Pact where I plan on building the House Stalwart guild… but be able to play whatever they want to play.  This will ultimately determine whether or not a Stalwart guild succeeds in this game.  I realize that this is probably just a pipe dream, because everything that we have seen to this point seems to enforce the strict racial boundaries.  But I guess I can hope… I realize factional boundaries are easy for companies to enforce, that they greatly simplify many aspects of the game.  However this does not stop me from feeling like they are bad for the players.

ESO is still a long ways off, so I have the smallest glimmer of hope that they might rethink the firm racial limits, however Wildstar feels as though it is right around the corner and has set up the same tired walls.  We are going through the same problems with that game as we have every other faction based title.  Granted I am only really mildly interested in the game…  but various Stalwarts are EXTREMELY interested.  The problem is… each of us seems to natively align ideologically with one faction or the other… and currently it the sentiments seem to split down the middle.  All of this is generally because we prefer to play one type of race over another. They could really serve to take a book from Trion and make guilds transcend factional boundaries.

While we are on pipedreams…  one of the biggest flaws in The Secret World is the fact that Cabals are faction locked.  This game is so liberating in certain fashions…  you can group with any player on any faction or shard.  However the fact that their guild system is limited based on a specific faction really throws a monkey wrench in this whole openness scenario.  It has essentially forced guilds to manage three separate factional units… and then try and communicate between them using server channels.  Everything would have been far simpler had they just said that cabals were free floating.  I really hope this is a decision they revisit in the near future.

Wrapping Up

Well it is that time again… I have wasted another perfectly good morning rambling on.  I had intended to talk about all the awesomeness that we did last night as a guild, but that yarn can wait for another day.  On a related note however.. I totally suggest you check out Fynralyl’s blog post about her entry into the guild and reentry into Rift in general.  Warms my heart to see that folks are enjoying themselves in an environment I have pulled together.  Any questions I had as to whether or not forming a House Stalwart in Rift was a good idea… have long since gone out the window.  I hope you guys have a great day, and that the weekend comes quickly.

Player Taxonomy

This is the sixteenth post in my experimental “post every morning” scheme, and it represents the first true roadblock.  Up to this point, I had been posting about whatever was happening in my life, and namely whatever games I played the previous night.  The problem I have right now is that while I have plenty of awesome things to talk about from last night, I can’t speak a word about any of it.  I may or may not be under a pretty sizeable NDA.  So as a result I will be trying to find interesting things to talk about otherwise.

Player Taxonomy

I was having a discussion the other day with a good friend and we got into the whole dividing players into groups concept.  We often times have this notion that players are either hardcore or casual, and depending on which side of the divide you are on that other term becomes a slur against what you don’t enjoy.  He presented an interesting take on the divide, in that players are made up of multiple parts of different drives.  He broke things into 3 drives, but I have since expanded it into 4.

  • Casual – These players tend to play games on a very peripheral level.  They may play multiple titles, but not really get heavily involved in any one game.  They do not perform large amounts of research, even if it is a game they play very often.
  • Core – These players tend to get extremely invested in one or more games.  They may play multiple titles, but are more likely to dig into the theory and gameplay of one specific game.  They are likely to do large amounts of research on technique and related information.
  • Social – These players tend to be focused on the social aspect of gaming.  They are in games because their friends are playing them.  Their gaming experience revolves around interaction with their friends, and if enough of a critical mass of their community leaves the game they are likely to do so as well.
  • Solo – These players tend to prefer to do things alone, and while they may associate with communities they do so mostly for the benefits that being a member provides.  They will participate in group activities if there is a large benefit to doing so, but afterwards they often wander back off to doing solo content.

Essentially the theory is that we are all made up of these building blocks.  For example I tend to be Social-Core by nature in online games, but I will have large periods of being Solo-Core depending on if I am playing a game with a preformed community or not.  I crave the social connection of a community in an online game, however in the absence of it I tend to withdraw and not reach out to strangers.  I have tried to be Casual about games in the past but it rarely works, as I almost always end up digging deep into the minutia, figuring out mob spawn patterns, what the best drops are, and which areas I should be hunting.

There is a line of thinking that says that labels in gaming are a bad thing.  I agree to some extent, because the old social versus hardcore debate only really tells part of the story.  However the truth is that different kinds of players are motivated by different forces.  We need some kind of judgment free taxonomy to help understand what kind of a player someone is, and what they are looking for out of the online gaming experience.  I cannot claim the above is a new idea, as I got it from a conversation with a friend… and he cannot claim his ideas are new either because this is something that has been kicking around in the marketing side of the industry for several years.

I feel these building blocks do a pretty good job of modeling opposing forces, namely social tendencies versus solo tendencies, and casual tendencies versus core tendencies.  All that said I feel it is totally viable for someone to be social-casual-core striking a balance between really digging into a game and playing them on a superficial level.  The thing I have noticed over the years, is that most of the players that claim to be casual… myself included really dig deep into whatever game they happen to be playing.  They just may play lots and lots of games at the same time or serially.  I think it is an interesting discussion at least, and as a guild leader I have always tried to understand the drives of the people that I am trying to mold towards a specific goal.

Journey to Coldharbour

 

With all my personal posts and game log type posting, I have not had a chance to really mention this.  At the beginning of the month Zenimax released this video about Coldharbour the domain of Molag Bal.  I have to say right off the bat the footage from the video looks amazing.  I think it is awesome just how vastly different Coldhabour looks and feels from Deadlands the Oblivion plane belonging to Mehunes Dagon we experienced in Elder Scrolls VI: Oblivion.  It seems like the Dark Anchors that are mentioned are going to be similar to the Mehunes Oblivion gates.

I really look forward to seeing how all of this will really work in game play.  It seems like the anchors drop down from the sky, so I am wondering if they will be “Rift like” events that occur around the map, or static spawns.  The Elder Scrolls games have always had a certain measure of dynamic content, so it would be cool if the Anchors were this games answer to “Rifts”.  There really isn’t enough in the video to really make a call one way or another, but it is a super cool concept.  Every time they release one of these videos, I just want to play ANY Elder Scrolls game I can get my hands on.  Why hullo there Skyrim!

Wildstar: Devspeak Movement

 

So I am still on the fence about whether or not I care about Wildstar.  Firstly I have not had a great track record with me trying to get deeply involved in any Science Fiction based MMO.  They are awesome for awhile, but they seem to lack the stickiness with me that fantasy MMOs have had.  Secondly no matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to view this as anything other than a much higher resolution World of Warcraft.  There is a moment in this video that I immediately thought the guy was falling into Area 52 out in Netherstorm.  All of that said, the game does look much nicer in every department than WoW.

Range of motion in a video game is a huge thing.  If the combat animations feel clunky, the combat itself will feel clunky… as goes with the jumps, rolls, running animations etc.  This is a beautifully animated game, and the video really showcases that.  The big take away I always have from one of these videos however is just how amazing their Marketing and Communities are at engaging the public.  They do a phenomenal picture of painting a picture of the game and setting up an attitude that makes you want to play it.  I feel like this is going to be one of those titles that I will need to play before I can decide if I am going to look into it very seriously.

Aatrox, The Darkin Blade

Another nifty tidbit of information from yesterday, is that Riot games announced their next champion for League of Legends.  Basically it looks to be a badass AD melee character with life draining abilities.  Similar to Mordekaiser he uses a health spending mechanic to cast abilities.  You can click the picture, or this link to see a full breakdown of his abilities.  At first glance he kind of feels like a fusion of Mordekaiser and Zac, so will be interesting to see how he plays.

Initially I thought… hell yeah, badass demon dude with a molten sword and wings!  But ultimately I am really not sure if this is a “Bel” character or not.  So far I have not really enjoyed playing Mordekaiser, because his mechanic feels super “fiddly”.  I don’t really like champions that are very “do this one thing, so you can do this other thing or you die” in their ability set up.  I admit it, I am totally a barbarian and like simple gameplay…  think Garen, Wukong and Darius.  When I play a game, I am about as subtle as dropping a piano on someone.  I feel like even though he looks awesome, and I like his abilities (other than the health spending mechanic) he will definitely be a “try before I buy” character.

Adventures in Legally Viable Posting

So I have managed to weave together a post this morning after all, and this makes me happy.  I was afraid that my certain restrictions would dry up the well of rambling, but I have managed to grab a few things I thought was cool out of the air and cram them into a single posting.  Not that my nightly rundown posts are all that exciting in the first place, but hopefully folks won’t mind these posts every now and then when I am bound not to talk about the previous night.  I hope you guys have a great Friday, and that it is the gateway to a really amazing weekend.  We are going to be super busy this weekend finishing up the game loft, so wish me luck!