Machvergil Comic number 043

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Death Penalty – the Right Way

Monday, January 31st, 2011

So, it seems in the last week the Death Penalty mechanics in Star Wars: The Old Republic have been the subject of much discussion. It sounds like members of that game’s player community are calling to BioWare to make Death mean something.  Just in case you haven’t read it, I want to quote game designer Damion Schubert from BioWare from when he weighed in on the subject:

I see a lot of posts saying things like ‘death should have sting’, or ‘players should feel death’. We agree! However that being said, miscalibrating your death penalties can very insidiously destroy your game from the inside out.

We don’t want people to ignore the cost of death, but at the same time, we also don’t want players to avoid taking chances. We want them to take risks. We want them to try wacky new strategies, and exotic new builds. We want them to wonder if maybe they can solo that boss creature. In the name of creating a sense of fear and risk, overly harsh death penalties can inadvertently make people stop taking them.

To wit: too harsh death penalties can create grinding. If death sucks too much, players will stop taking on higher level creatures or even equal level creatures, and instead only take on creatures that are lower level than them – even though those creatures carry far less reward, the fact that they offer far less risk, might make them seem safer and more efficient to the player. Of course, now the player is fighting boring, ultimately non-threatening enemies, and is being bored to death.

Harsh death penalties can disincentivize grouping. I’m sure we’ve all been in some pretty bad groups in our MMO playing. How likely are you to group with a healer or tank that you don’t know if the penalty for failure is disastrous? How hard is it for new players to learn the skills they need to contribute to groups if other group members feel they can’t risk taking on a new guy?

Harsh drop penalties (i.e. you lose all your stuff when you die) can result in players leaving their best epix in the bank all the time. Sure, you’ll PROBABLY win fully decked out in ph4t purples, but what if you don’t? And just like that, your epic purple lightsaber is something you only ever equip at the bank… just in case.

Harsh death penalties can create flavor of the month builds. If death isn’t something disastrous, players will take risks and find new and exotic builds in the skill tree that continue to reinvent the game (and challenge the combat design team :-)). But if death is too harsh, more players will feel they have to go with a cookie-cutter template they found on a website, because it’s just not worth the risk if your wacky idea is wrong.

Harsh death penalties can ultimately force designers to make the game easier. If it takes 10 minutes to respawn after a fight or the dungeon becomes inaccessible, for example, it dramatically limits the ability for players to repeat the fight and learn it. This forces designers to make the fight easier so that a reasonable percentage of the players can succeed.

Ultimately, we want players to play the freakin’ game. We want them to group. We want them to deck out in their gear. We want them to experiment with builds. We want them to explore the nether regions of all the planets. We want to make really hard stuff for them. And we most assuredly want them to seek out challenges bigger than themselves.

Does that mean we want the game to be a cakewalk? No, we want there to be tough fights. We want there to be complex fights that might take multiple tries to get right. We want to put in challenges for groups of players that require good tactics, good teamwork and flawless execution to pull off. But I would seperate the idea of ‘challenge’ and ‘punishment’. I would rather our challenges be gated by whether or not you have the skill, the gear, and the teamwork to succeed than whether or not you have the credits and/or time to wait out the forced downtime in between, you know, the fun part.

(Source Post)

Personally, I think his head and heart are in the right place.  I know that I’ve played some games, especially the ones where death has an XP penalty that have strongly discouraged risk taking or exploratory behavior.  Even the ones where death has a financial burden, like repair bills can have the same effect.

I feel that the greatest penalty any game can use to punish me for something is wasting my time.  I can’t count the number of “corpse walks” I’ve done in WoW that I just didn’t want to, only because the walk back to my body would still be less time consuming than the 10 minute resurrect sickness & how long it’d take to make back the lost gold in repair bills. Misharum and I have also talked about Guild Wars’ approach to Death Penalty.  While it lacks the long-term effects of WoW’s, the fact is you still can acquire enough DP that you have to start whatever you’re doing over again, and sometimes that means 20, 40minutes of work down the drain.  The rough no-wipe tolerance of most of the game’s campaign-missions are even worse.

Even outside the realm of multiplayer games, I feel that the death-induced time penalty can sometimes make/break a game.  I know I’ve had points in a couple of Final Fantasy games where the long distance between save points has caused me to take long breaks from them.  I love that Fallout 3 saves at every major doorway, but that hasn’t stopped some absolutely epic runs through some wasteland sewer get ruined by a crash and having to redo 20 minutes of work. At least in Fallout I have luxury of “Well maybe I should have saved,” but not every game gives you that choice.

So I was curious if any of you had any thoughts on the subject of Death Penalties in games, or really Failure Penalties et-all.

Rift Beta 5

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

So in a move that even I consider a bit odd, I tried out Rift for a week during it’s Beat #5 event. I had first heard about the game when Penny Arcade and Steam started advertising it, and at that time I decided to go search for materials about it.  After my initial search I had this to say about it on Twitter.

I don’t understand #Rift. It looks like another wanna-be #WoW with only a few new ideas and poorer art direction. 2011’s Warhammer Online.

Now mind you, the whole time there was one feature about the game that really interested me – it’s “Soul Tree system.”  Eventually I read enough about it that I decided “You know, if I get a chance to play this for free, I’d like to see how that damn thing works,” and then there was a Beta Event this week, and was handing out keys for free, so I got one and I played it.  It’s now over, and I thought I’d share my thoughts.

So how was the Soul Tree system?

Long story short, when you roll your character in Rift, you choose 1 of four classes:  Warrior, Rogue, Mage and Cleric.  Mages and Clerics use Mana, Rogues use energy and combo-points like in wow, and Warriors have a system reminiscent of Warhammer Online’s “Action Points,” with their own system called “Attack Points” on top of that, which is like combo points except the only go to 3 and stack on your character not on the target, so they can be used on any target, not just the one you hit with the attack point building skills.

However, all this class choice does is place a general archetype for your character (and role… sort of… more on that ahead).  The first thing you do as a new character is choose a “Soul” to take on.  You see, by choosing the class, you’re choosing what set of around 8 different souls you want to take on, and these souls, become your “talent trees,” so to speak.  By the time you leave the starting zone (in this beta, I guess others were different?) you had 3 souls, ergo, three talent trees, and had in a way invented a custom class.

For example, let’s say you roll a warrior and decide you want to go melee DPS.  You’d start with Champion, a soul that most strongly resembles Arms tree from WoW.  Then let’s say you pick up the Riftblade soul, which allows you to add some ranged magic and mage dot variation to your attacks.  Finally you pick up Beastmaster soul, to give you a pet who fights in melee with you.  Bam, you suddenly have a powerful solo farming questing build.

But what happens if you need to tank?  Well, there are quests you can undertake from the faction’s capital to add more roles (think dual spec except it goes up to 4 and you can start adding rolls at like level 10) and any class trainer can reset any of your roles for almost no money (reseting a role not only resets your points spent, but also lets you choose what 3 souls to have in it again).  So, you setup another role where you’re a tank, taking paladin (blocks and counters), Reaver (dots and threat), and VoidKnight (anti-magic defense).  Switching between them is pretty quick outside of combat.

The result?  Despite your initial choice, through proper use of the soul tree system you can be one of two, maybe more roles in a given situation, and the low cost of respec and the eventual ease of aquiring more souls just invites experimentation and play. Of course, I’m sure once the game comes out and there are top-tier Raiders, “the elitist jerks” of the world will figure out how to min-max everything and it will ultimately suffer from the same problem WoW’s talent trees do, but for the short bit I was in the beta, it felt like a fun and magical place to explore.

There’s another really neat thing I like about the Soul Tree system in that it brakes up the effects into “Branches” and “roots.”  essentially, the “Branches” are what we think of as a typical talent tree, but as you put points into a given soul, abilities unlock from the “Roots” regardless of where you spend the points. What’s great about this is it means that no matter how you build your Paladin soul, there are certain mission-critical skills you know you’ll get, and these skills are often chosen knowing that you may be relying heavily on this one soul to get the job done, so it has a nice variety of attacks you can use to keep yourself from being ineffective.

Overall Beta Impressions


The game’s plot was… good.  Not mind shattering, and certainly not going to live up to the quality of WoW as of Lich King, let alone whatever Cataclysm is up to these days.  Still it is an interesting twist on the fantasy norm.  Due to the SHORT time the beta was active, I focused on playing the Defiant faction, so I have no idea how the Guardians play.  From what I hear, there are a lot fewer kids playing Guardian right now than Defiant.

The world of Telara is basically under attack by planar forces.  The gods have historically helped defend the world from planar invasions, one of their tools of which being resurrected heroes called “Ascended.”  However, for some reason the gods have failed to defend the world from the latest efforts of Regulous (the arch-villain)  and while some have remained faithful, others have sought to invent their own ways to defeat the evil without the gods help.  To that end, the Defiant have turned to Herecy and Technology to figure out how to defeat the rifts with their own power,  while the Guardians continue to channel the faith and laws of the Gods to try and stop the threat.  The two factions hate each other, ergo, your Alliance and Horde for this game.  There are six races to choose from, Guardians getting Elves, Dwarves, and European looking humans, while the Defiant get Kinda-Earthy-Looking-Big-Humans, Middle-eastern looking humans, and Corrupted-Elves-with-weird-skin-colors-and-face-markings.  I made one of the corrupted elves because I could easily make her resemble my NE Warrior Tanadel from WoW, though honestly, the races are so blaaahhhh you should just play one of the two humans IMO.

As a Defiant PC, you emerge from a tube from which the Defiant have successfully engineered their own Ascended using their technology.  The problem?  It took them until near the end of the world to figure out how to do it.  You have to get your ass to a time machine they call “The Failsafe” that will take you back to when it was built and try and save Telara from before Regulous succeeds.  The n00b zone is actually a fairly cool instanced off entire zone in which you were fighting your way through the invaders who would end the world to get to this failsafe.  It’s cool by vanilla WoW standards however, and lacks any of the nice touches of the DK start zones in WotLK or anything I’ve heard about from Cataclysm.   Still it was fun to play through.

Once through the time machine (about level 6) you begin defending the zone of Freemarch through a series of your typical suite of “Go there, kill X things, gather X things, or use this item on this object, and then come back to me” things.  I didn’t in my 15 levels of play see anything from the questing to suggest it’d be revolutionary, but it DID do a number of smart things that would make it far better than the questing in Aion or vanilla WoW. One example of this is if you show up while someone is killing a named mob, and you help kill it even if you’re not in their party, you might still get credit for it.  I say might because I ran into 1 quest where this wasn’t the case and it was annoying.  If the quest also involves activating an item and someone not in your party but very close to you activates it, you’ll also share credit.


The part about the game’s PvE play that was fascinating however had nothing to do with Quests. The rifts, of the game’s namesake, add a level of chaos to the zones that can be interesting and quite lucrative. While you and our fellow players are out killing their X wolves/undead/whatever, a tear in the fabric of space and time may open over your heads and an invasion force from another plane might break through.  This immediately causes a structure much like Public Quests from WAR or Champions where the pug of people nearby need to complete various objectives to seal the rift again.  Sometimes they are minor rifts and this is easy to do and access to basically free loot.

Othertimes however, the forces of the other plane take their invasion VERY SERIOUSLY.  A ZONE WIDE public quest will start as around 20 rifts will open across the zone, spewing out elite mobs with the goal of finding, destroying, and occupying towns and quest hubs throughout it.  If the players don’t band together and stop them, their towns WILL fall and you WILL NOT be able to hand in your quests because your quest NPC WILL BE DEAD.  I got wrapped up in a massive Death Rift invasion and was defending one town for like an hour, as wave after wave of elite mobs tried to (and succeeded twice) to take it out. While we were doing that, other parties across the zone were finding rifts and sealing them, so that reinforcements couldn’t go through.  Finally, the lord of the assault appeared and the players had to destroy him to end the event, returning the zone to normal.  Though I died A LOT during this event, I gained nearly 2 levels and far better loot than I would have from questing and, quite frankly, it was a lot of fun fighting off the rift invasion.

I’m a little worried though that this rift mechanic may suffer from the same problem WAR did when it’s population dropped.  They better plan on scaling these Rifts to how many players are in the zone, otherwise this system could be VERY ANNOYING instead of anything resembling fun.

The Combat

The combat could be summed up really easily as “WoW with more options.”  Seriously, it’s very very obvious where the game’s designers got their inspiration for the souls and their abilities.  In my time playing I saw a “mortal strike,” and “execute,” and “overpower,” an “eviscerate,” a “slice and dice,” a “evasion”, you get the idea. A lot of mechanics are the exact same:  bodies aren’t solid, you must be facing your target to hit it, mobs come in normal, elite, and boss form, potions operate on a cooldown, there are various consumables you can use to augment a fight, etc etc etc. From a core gameplay standpoint I think Rift thinks that the more it’s like WoW the better, so that those who come from it will spend less time confused and more time just getting shit done.  Again the big different isn’t the skills themselves, but the synergies that you get to create by mixing them with skills from other souls.  I mean honestly, in Rift, you could make a Mage who is part Fire Mage spec, part Affliction Warlock spec, part Restro Druid spec.  I’m not kidding.

So if you like the Combat in WoW, you’ll like the combat in Rift.  The only wrinkle is I wasn’t able to find a “true Hybrid” class, though I didn’t play the Cleric Archetype at all during the beta.  It sounds like if I had I might have been able to find “a tough melee fighter with healing buttons,” build but I wanted to try and get to as high of a level as I could before the end so I could see PvP and dungeons and as it stands I didn’t make it.

The stuff I didn’t see

The game also has dungeons and pvp.  It has battlegrounds, its first dungeon is level 20, and it has mixed faction zones to encourage world PvP.  I didn’t get to see any of it, though what I heard from guild mates was that it was at least decent, if not very fun.  I heard one guy describe the first Rift dungeon as “Very linear, but also overall well designed.”

Oh yeah, and I found a guild to run around with during the beta.  This is why I’ve been on our vent less this week as they basically don’t use /gchat at all in favor of vent.  Decent group of guys, play all kinds of different games, haven’t decided if I want to roll with them or not.  If they played Guild Wars sure but they don’t really.

Final Verdict

Is Rift a fun game?  Yeah honestly I’d say it was.  Of all the WoW spin-offs I’ve played (Aion, WAR, Runes of Magic) this one definitely was the least frustrating and most polished and just felt nice to play.  It lacked Aion’s senseless grind and bad quest count and it lacked WAR’s unpolished graphics.  And while I stand by my previous statement that it has worse Art Direction than WoW, at least on the character model standpoint, the world design and special effect design is actually really good, and quickly starts making up for it.

Does it have enough going for it to make you play it instead of WoW?  Based off what I’m hearing from Cataclsym, I’d guess no. It’s not like the game isn’t going to have an upfront box cost plus a monthly fee, so if you’re in WoW keep playing it.  As for me, I’m not sure.  If Rift came out today, I wouldn’t buy it, because I still have more fun vanquishing Tyria or beating Guild Wars campaigns than I do playing Rift.  That being said who knows, after a while I might miss the game’s unpredictable nature with the Soul Trees and the Rift invasions.  I might also miss the guild I was rolling with because they were descent dudes overall.  I’ll probably try and do the next Beta event when it happens.

Rift is out in early March, for those who care.

WNGN: Ionia vs Noxus

Monday, December 6th, 2010

My League of Legends friends and I got together and did our own Ionia vs Noxus match based on the upcoming event.  We had to fight our way through Comcast being down, including me driving to campus to get internet to participate, but we managed to pull it out.

The result?  See for yourself:
Gamenight: Ionia vs Noxus match

(click image for better view)

It was a tight game at first, with no towers down at 22 minutes in.  Noxus started out by showing a strong laneing presence, but over time Ionia was able to make up the difference in team fights and tower pushes.  It was an epic match, and a fun game, and I want to again thank everyone who participated.

I look forward to seeing the results of the actual match later this week!

I used to draw stuff

Monday, September 27th, 2010

That title is a bit deceptive.  I do still draw stuff, but I’m not nearly as prolific about it as I was in college.  A large part of that is a shift in schedule, specifically that working 8 hours a day without break doesn’t allow for the spare time I used to spend throwing together sketches that going to a few hours of class a day did. That goes without saying.  However a second part of the problem is a shift in creative energy, decreasingly from an artistic angle and more and more towards a more technical one.

To be more specific, all throughout high school and college I always had various self-motivated creative projects to give reason for my art.  A few of you have heard about my dabbling with novel writing on an enigmatic project I’ve probably only refereed to you as “my life’s work.”  Working this project motivated a solid 90% of my drawing throughout high school.

Many  more of you are familiar with my dabbling in fan-fiction, which was well still very different from what most people do, and the “R&D Warz” stuff that surrounded it, culminating ultimately in Rhapsody & Requiem. That project and all the work that went in before it motivated a lot of drawing.

Then of course there was the comics, which at this point remain on the top of this very site as a byproduct of my in ability to take the time to replace them with something better.

Across all of these I had these side projects that gave me a reason to put down controllers/keyboards and stop playing video games long enough to commit something artistic to paper,  as well as possibly scan it and then upload it to a web space.  However, in my post graduate years, I find myself not really motivated to do that sort of stuff any more.  I imagine again that part of it is time, while another is that I’ve spent that free time that would have been spent writing a story on well, gameknights, and the projects that go along with it.  While I know it’s not ‘artistic,’ I still argue there’s an awful lot of creativity that goes into inventing programing solutions and new features, and I’ve certainly been doing a lot of that over there over the last 8 months.

That being said, I still draw, from time to time, but something has to motivate it.  Lately that “something” has been our Dungeons & Dragons games.  I know that I am a capable enough artist to throw something basic together, so the notion of using default D&D art to represent my character bugs me enough to break out pencil, paper, scanner, and photoshop to bring something together.  Still as I do that it doesn’t occur to me to throw that art up on this site.  I suppose I could  fix that, though I’m not sure what good it’d do.

At the end of the day, there’s definitely a part of me that’s sad I’ve allowed myself to let my artwork slip so far back on my priorities list.  Drawing is still a bit part of who I am and how I express myself, but these days that expression stays mostly with myself and doesn’t ever reach a public place.  In some ways that makes me sad, but in others, I remember what it was like doing art as a form of generating content for a website and that can get tiresome.   If I wanted to fix that it’d be really easy for me to just start drawing and CGin’ more often and just doing fan-art of my favorite games or what not.  I’m not doing that though because it goes against my personal rules against doing fan-art.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against fan-art, nor do I have something against artists  who do it.  It’s a clearly powerful way these days to get people to learn about you and care about your work if they do a google search for their favorite video game character and your art shows up.  I just personally hate doing it.  Sitting there over my drawing pad, obsessing over how accurate I’m getting someone else’s character design, if I’m matching the personality, etc.  I’d just as soon cook something up in my head and draw that.

Of course the problem with that is, getting people to care about your art, which yeah don’t have a solution to that yet.

The whole point to this post is to try and explain why I don’t really do the artwork thing online anymore.  I’m not sure I succeeded.  I’ve noticed that without some sort of ongoing creative project to motivate the drawing, I don’t do it, and right now, I don’t have such a project, and getting one isn’t something that will happen while I’m still knee deep in improving the game knights site.

So to all of you (if there are any of you left which I doubt) who used to come to this site to follow the fan-fics and/or the artworks, sorry, I don’t see them coming back any time soon.  If they do, it’ll be somewhere on this space, but these days, I spend too many hours of the day being a web developer to be a writer/artist.  As I write those words they make me a little sad, but hey, gotta pay the bills right?

Guest Blog and Portfolio Update

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Hello friends!  Been a bit I know.  I’ve been busy keeping active at the other site, and I feel bad about it because I’ve had a couple ideas for blog posts and then didn’t set the time to sit down and write them.  Should have done that while I had the energy/inspiration to do so.  Oh well, lesson learned.

I did want to update you all on two things.  The first is a couple of weeks ago I had the chance to speak to Professional Writing students at MSU as a graduate.  The primary topic was “What is Professional Writing,” but that discussion lead to all sorts of fun questions, including “What didn’t the major do to prepare you that you wish it did?”  Tweeting about this topic resulted in an old PW class-mate of mine who keeps a blog asking if I’d guest blog on the topic.  I was honored to do so and I invite you to give it a read.

I also wanted to let you know that I’ve updated my portfolio with new work.  We just launched the new Sustainability website for MSU (in fact this news is so fresh that if you look at that link right now the DNS might not be updated yet and you may still see the old one >.>) and I’m pretty pleased wit how it turned out, so feel free to check those out too!

Portfolio Update

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Added 3 new sites to my portfolio. All 3 are long overdue.

I also really should redesign said portfolio. 2005 was a long time ago and it’s the only site I have left still running Joomla for no reason.  I really should axe it and re-boot it fresh with a new system.

Picking up StarCraft II

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

I had wanted to write this last night while the experience was fresh, but I ended up deciding to sleep instead since my efforts to take the 27th off work failed.

As the day before launch approached I fell into a bit of a panic.  My Pre-Order from Newegg was still in “On-Hold” status and Newegg was giving me no idea of when it would ship (one rep made it sound like if it would ship), and wouldn’t let me expedite the shipping until it’d moved into the “processing” phase.  Growing worried I might not see the Collector’s Edition of the game after all, I went into a panic to try and think of a way of how to get my hands on the Collector’s Edition of the game the day it came out without a pre-order.

Some calling around after work revealed that Best Buy at Meridian Mall was going to do a midnight release, opening the doors at 11:30.  I gave them a call and they confirmed they’d be selling both the normal and collector’s edition.  Figuring there’d be a line like there was for WoW expansions, I though I’d leave my apartment around 10:30 and get there about 30 minutes early.  I grossly over-estimated how long it’d take to get there and was there a whole 45 minutes early.  I was the only one there.

At first I felt a little bit like an idiot.  There I was, leaning against a post playing my DS in my Terran Marine shirt as Best Buy employees who were going to sell the game were still showing up.  Eventually a line of about 4 customers showed up, forming up behind me. While it still felt good to be first, I still felt silly, and a little disappointed StarCraft II wasn’t going to get the kind of showing a WoW expac got.

As 11:30 approached the line reached about 12 people. Meridian Township police drove by to find out what was going on.  We explained it was the midnight release of a video game, and the police man wished us a good night and moved on.  We were a little surprised no one informed the police, but even if they hadn’t, what was a bunch of mostly quiet adults going to do?  About ten minutes later another Meridian police car passed by and said into the loudspeaker “Attention, for your safety, please do not Zerg Rush the store.”  Those of us who got the joke laughed our asses off.

You could tell the poor folks at Best Buy didn’t want to be here.  At 11:30, the manager let in the pre-orders, which totalled in like 10 people out of the over 40 people in line at this point.  The line was long enough that I couldn’t see the end from the front of it anymore, but at the front of it I was. We waited another 30 minutes or so before the manager finally let the rest of in, handing those who wanted it free energy drinks from a fridge they rolled out.  With a smile I sauntered up, asked for a collector’s edition, bought it, and got my free poster.

As I went to leave, a Meridian Township policeman at the door asked me “what’s in the big box?” After I explained to him I asked if he was the guy who told us not to Zerg rush the store.  He responded “Oh good, someone did hear that!” and I gave him a high five.  In high spirits, feeling victorious, and with all the giddy glee of a little boy on Christmas Day, I got in my car and drove home.

Twelve years ago I bought StarCraft I from this very Best Buy as a 15 year old. Nine years ago I beat Starcraft: Broodwar.  Finally, after years of waiting, Blizzard has given me StarCraft II.

Hell, it’s about time is right!

The co-op conundrum

Monday, July 19th, 2010

I’m one of those gamers whose favorite mode in any game tends to be the cooperative one.  That’s not to say I don’t enjoy good PvP – my exploits in Starcraft, WoW, and now League of Legends speak to that – but I’m not such a competative gamer that PvP is all I like to do.  In fact, given the choice between “beat up on the computer with my friends,” or “go alone against a bunch of people I don’t know,” I’ll almost choose to play with my friends (though “beat up people I don’t know online WITH my friends” also has very strong pull).

The issue with this of course is when most games have multiplayer it’s the competitive play they focus on.   This is totally understandable.  No game has achieved the longevity or fan-base of Counter-Strike, Street Fighter, or Starcraft due to their single player campaigns, oh no.  It’s because each of those games are prime eSports games that they are still highly played and highly regarded, and have a loyal fanbase. Making a solid competitive game experience gives a game developer much desired street cred and cash so the push in that direction makes sense.  It’s just unfortunate for those of us who would rather team up with your friends instead of frag them all day.

However, there is one genre of game that thrives off of it’s “Player vs Environment,” or PvE; One type of game in which the quality and challenge that the developer brings to the table for teams of players, both large and small, to overcome against computer-controlled opposition is what makes or breaks the game in the player’s eyes moreso than any amount of competitive play:  The MMORPG.

This genre is the lone online game genre where you can have the best PvP on the market, and if your PvE endgame is trash, everyone will quit your game after maximum level.   One need only look at the update schedule that World of Warcraft has used to see an extreme of example of what players expect.  If you can’t keep the player base amused with a continuing stream of new challenges and rewards, the players will bore, and move on to your competitor’s product.  To top it off, the most successful MMORPGs include a PvP element, even if it is tacked on, so that in between your large group assault on a computer-controlled dungeon you can go out and match wits against players as well.

Of course the genre has its own problems, specifically the presence monthly fees and the extreme time sink these games tend to be.  It’s a bummer that the only genre that caters so well to the cooperative gamer at the same time requires such a commitment from both their time and money.  It makes it difficult to sustain the idea of continuing to play such a game anytime another game takes your interest.  Right now I’m really enjoying League of Legends, but the game’s lack of meaningful cooperative play (because the bots are just a joke – provided they don’t take down bot play entirely), means that when I get sick of fighting my friends I have to play something else.  By the same token, it’s hard to justify the monthly fee for a game like Aion or WoW if I’m still going to devote most of my gaming time to something competitive like League of Legends.

In the end, as much as I want to escape having to pay a monthly fee for permission to play a game, until other co-op friendly games come around (or I can bring people around to Guild Wars again), MMORPGs will probably be the best place to go to scratch such an itch.  From a gaming stand point that’s fine, as I find such games fun and rewarding, but I just wish they were less intense in terms of commitment so if one “saw other games on the side,” they weren’t so horridly punished.

Thoughts on E3 2010

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Now I didn’t go or anything, but much like I’m sure most of you I’ve been tracking some E3 Activity over the internet.  I’ll not bore you by rehashing the news items that I’m sure Kotaku or other gaming news sites have already covered for you, but I’ll just add my two cents.

First, while I am a fan of the name “Kinect” for Xbox’s motion control system, I am currently incredibly underwhelmed by what both it and Playstation Move have to offer.  Most of what I’m seeing feels like off-brand Wii titles, and I’m already bored with those kinds of games on the Wii.  What I want to see out of motion controls on those platforms is motion controls applied to “Triple A” HD games.  Anything else is just being a Wii knock off and frankly, as of right now, I’d rather play these kinds of things on my Wii, if for no other reason than I have a Wii and the investment is already there for me.

The Xbox360 slim is an interesting product, though not one I am in a hurry to get.  I will doubtlessly get one once my 360Pro bites the bullet, but no sooner.   I see nothing compelling enough about it otherwise to get it sooner.

I’m really thrilled at the titles announced by Nintendo this year, which is the exact opposite of last.  I can’t wait to buy a 3DS and will probably try to get one as close to launch as possible.  I’m still using a classic DS, yes I don’t even have a DSlite, so this strikes me as the time to enjoy that Nintendo portable upgrade I’ve been waiting for.   Zelda: Skyward Sword looks fun, I’ll buy it and play it without a doubt, and Kirby’s Epic Yarn looks fun enough for me to consider buying it, though probably not as a day 1 title.

Some of the games I’m most looking forward to from E3 are coming out this summer on XBL Arcade.  Castlevania: Harmony of Despair looks like it could be a ton of fun for someone like me who absolutely loves the 2D “Metroidvania” games. I’m also really looking forward to seeing if Uber Entertainment’s fusion of Third Person shooter and DotA works out in “Monday Night Combat.”

Outside of the XBL Arcade view of things, my interest is piqued on Vanquish.  So far Platinum doesn’t seem to be able to make a game I don’t at least enjoy, as I found MadWorld fun and Bayonetta incredible, so perhaps with Vanquish they can impress me again.   I’ve also seen some pretty interesting gameplay footage of T.E.R.A Online which promotes that game from “oh another pretty Korean MMO” to “OOooo that looks interesting.”  I will probably have to check it and Blade and Soul out when they each come out.

The most painful moment of E3 for me had to be the news that they were re-making Parasite Eve: The 3rd Birthday to PSP.  I was a huge fan of the Parasite Eve games on PS1, and would normally revel in the opportunity to enjoy the ongoing adventures of Aya Brea and her struggle against the soft-science Neo-Mitochondria.   Unfortunately, as much as I love Aya, I don’t love her enough to get a PSP, I really don’t.   So sadly, just like the first publish of this game on Japanese cell phones in the early 2000’s, I’ll have to pass.

Finally, Vigil Entertainment’s WH40K: Dark Millennium Online and Relic’s WH40K: Space Marine both look like they could do a solid job of keeping me into the 40k Universe while GW’s tabletop product continues to do a fantastic job of keeping me out of it.  Both games strike me as very risky as this is both Vigil’s first MMO and Relic’s first not-RTS, but based solely off trailers both games look very pretty and fun and epic.  Of the two I’d say Space Marine has the greater chance of success since whenever I play Gears of War I always feel like a Space Marine, and now that feeling doesn’t have to be in my head only.  That being said, I look forward to this PC-tweaked version of Darksider’s gorgeous engine on for 40K:DMO and seeing how the game play for it will actually work.

2011 and on has some pretty solid games on the horizon, and these games only add to the list of titles I’m looking forward to which include Guild Wars 2 and to a lesser extent SW:TOR.  No fear for this gamer, I have plenty of titles to look forward to by end of this year and looking into the next!

Reach an Understanding

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

I have an obsession with understanding things.  The previous statement requires clarification.  What I am trying to say is that I recognize that I cannot know everything, but I have a desire to have an at least fundamental understanding of many things.  I feel that even if you fail, the effort of understanding something can grant you sufficient knowledge to find peace with its existence, and allow you to more effectively deal with the subject matter in the future.

As an example, many men feel they cannot understand women.  For most, it is sufficient to leave it at “Women make no sense,” and base their dealings with the other gender with that mentality forefront in their mind.  For me, I seek to understand why I have problems understanding some members of the opposite gender by befriending women and conversing with them.  What I’ve come to learn over the years is that in most cases it is not that “Women make no sense,” as much as “the particular human being you are dealing with, whom in this case happens to be a woman, is behaving in a way that is illogical to you.”  That is not to say that there are not somethings that despite my best efforts I still do not grasp, or that I’m some sort of saint of gender equality because I’m sure I’m just as bad as the next man about being insensitive to the other gender when I don’t even realize I am doing it.  The point is, rather than give up, I am still trying, and will continue to try because for some reason I can’t just leave it at “I can’t understand them.”

Okay enough about gender equality, I’m hardly an expert in that field.

When I posted last about developing an irrational hatred of World of Warcraft, I continued to explore what it was that was causing it.  While I’m not going to rehash what I wrote already, I will mention my process for this was to indulge myself in the community once again, pretending for a moment I hadn’t frozen my account out of frustration.  I watched some machinima, read and watched some guides on the latest Raid encounters, and read about some of the latest news regarding the game.   Exposing myself to this material did start to remind me why I played the game for so many years: that the game itself has some sort of, for lack of a better word, “magic” that draws a very dedicated community around it, one that is hard to find in any other game.  WoW players share a vocabulary, a list of in-game and social skills that the game fosters in them, and as such WoW players have a kinship for each other.  Many WoW players carry marks of membership to this community with them, using their terminology in other games.

That’s not to say that all WoW players are “nice” to each other – they aren’t. There are in fact deep rivalries within the community, the most obvious of which between the game’s two factions (which is a hilarious and fascinating topic of discussion in and of itself), but also between certain character classes, pvpers vs raiders, hardcore vs casuals, etc etc.   Still once you ‘belong’ to one of these communities, you can find entertaining social experiences through the game that are hard to find elsewhere.  Being part of a weekly raid group is a unique experience and it’s hard to imagine anything I’ve done that was like it.

In realizing this I think I have come to understand why I had developed such hatred for the game.  The mechanical underlying game of World of Warcraft has become a barrier between me and this community to which I once belonged.   I had grown so fed up with the game itself I could no longer belong to this community which I used to enjoy.  So now, when I sit on the other side of the fence, as a non-player, and watch members of the community revel in Arthas’ defeat or their shiny new epics, and wax poetic about the next expansion (which still sounds overall stupid to me), I grow angry at the game that is keeping this community I miss enthralled when I’ve grown so very done with it.

To put it another way, World of Warcraft gave me new friends, and then took them away, and that is why I hate the game.

In coming to this understanding, my hatred for it has cooled.  Irrational emotional reactions to news from the game has stopped, and I’m able to objectively consume such information like a normal human being again.

I still have no desire the to play the game short of finding some way to pretend I’d never played it before and start over from scratch: new server, new characters, possibly different faction, and make new friends so I don’t have to deal with the old ones, and even that idea isn’t that appealing (I’d rather go back to Aion at this point and see how patch 1.9 turned out).  Still my efforts to understand the people who still play the game and still enjoy it despite its growing number of flaws has allowed me to come to terms with what was an irrational behavior and put a stop to it.

My next project is to figure out why on Earth someone would play DotA or HoN over LoL.  I get that LoL is “dumbed down” lacking such things as ‘creep denial,’ and uses a far simpilier item shop mechanic, but to me these systems are improvements over obstuse and hard to understand implimentations from before.  It’s kind of like how at first EQ fans said WoW was too easy, when in fact much of about WoW that made it “easier” (like removing exp penalties for player death) made it a vastly superior (as in “more fun”) game.

Anyway, I’m hoping reading some articles and watching some videos or replays from either game can clue me in on what I’m missing, and if not, I’m sure the exercise will help me appreciate LoL more if nothing else.  After all, it’s just something I do, even without thinking about it.  The quest for understanding must go on.