December 1, 2013

Two things that have been lost to MMOs in the past few years

It’s been a while since I posted anything here. There isn’t much I can say other than I have just been trying to keep my mind busy with all that has been happening lately, kind of a roller coaster ride I guess, but suffice it to say I guess I need to just get out there and talk a bit. Anyways, onto the point of this blog; one of the things that just came to mind recently was that the concept of my mind of the MMO identity. Now, this is not some singular thing but an encompassing idea that I personally feel has been slowly getting lost in the MMO.

Now it’s no secret that even to the casual observer that MMOs have been getting easier and less involved with the social aspect of the game in place of just focusing more on the singular experience. A noble goal, in its own right, but one that has blinded what the entire genre was about. Instead of creating worlds that are interesting to be in, a singular experience of objectives have been created that instead focus too much on a singular story that ultimate makes the player feel more like a bit piece in the end than someone that could potentially forge their own destiny. I’ve covered that before but there are other, smaller things I’ve been taking stock of that I feel has actually been hurting the whole experience.

So, what follows after this point is not an end all be all, but I feel that these two items demonstrate things that actually have removed the feeling of an immersive world in favor of just simplifying things and kind of excusing the need to put effort towards other objectives for this.

The Flow of Time
The flow of time is one of those things that I’ve been noticing has been getting sacrificed on the edifice of telling a story (not necessarily a good story, but a story). Some of the most recent MMOs released and those currently under development have even taken this one step further by completely removing any day and night sequencing in the game. The time is always locked to one particular time of day and it’s something that players won’t notice at first, but as they continue to play, they begin to notice that the sun never sets, or it is always dusk, or even just night time.

The whole goal of this, from a developer and storyteller’s perspective, is to create atmosphere, but in doing this it does something very jarring that is subtle but your brain notices immediately; there is no sense of scope or passage of time. Now while this effect can be done beautifully without ever removing the whole concept of day and night from the game, it irrevocably demonstrates that the flow of time is being lost, and any concept of the story “advancing” seems lost when you do quests in their game that are basically from 3+ years ago next to events that are supposedly be happening as part of a future.

This creates what I generally call a world frozen in time effect. The absence of any true time progression is sacrificed in favor of allowing newcomers to partake in these quests and thus either new “future” quests are placed beside older quests, creating some very jarring time experiences, or new areas have to be introduced that are far out of time compared to the old areas, thus creating yet another dichotomy as one passes from the old into the new it almost feels like stepping through a bubble as one area is locked in a perpetual state and the new area is suppose to be three years ahead of that last event.

It just fascinates me that this basic concept of a world that actually advances in real time has been lost so readily to the whims of the story, and the attempt to appease people that weren’t there, that they try so hard to appease everyone, but the end result is just mediocre at best.

I never understood why players and even developers are afraid to let the time line advance anymore, and to remove old quests from the game to represent this passage of time. It’s not like anything from those old areas would even quantify as needful things, as the items themselves have lost any meaning or value when the game reaches that point in theme park games. But then again that is the problem in itself, the desire to make a theme park instead of an actual, interesting world that players want to keep coming back to instead of just a bunch of strung along stories that may or may not be good.

Part of the reason MMOs don’t have much staying power anymore these days is because of that lack of desire to create a living world and make the story apart of that world instead of just trying to create set pieces around a story. A story has to progress to be good, and always having the old set piece sin place can be more problematic than helpful in the long run.

Player Tools are often Missing
Outside of the misanthropes who think socializing is something that they never need, MMOs are very much social experiences. Personally I think if you hate playing with others then complaining about being required to team in an MMO is not exactly the fault of the game, but with yourself. But, the squeaky wheel always gets the grease and more and more the entire concept of the social tools for players have been getting removed slowly. Just areas to idle and converse or areas to do things that would evoke a sense of belonging to the world, these things that some of the oldest MMOs had are not even given though to anymore these days for the modern MMO genre.

Doors are closed to houses, never to be opened, while things like auction houses and smithy’s are becoming less and less social outlets and more and more private ones away from the contact of fellow players. Hell, some games have even given tools to remove other players completely from ones screen, thus removing any sense of the whole multi-player aspect of the game.

Then there is perhaps the biggest victim of all; the crafter. Crafters were one of the biggest outlets for social experiences in an MMO. Long ago, a crafter never had to be someone that focused on being an adventurer; in fact a crafter never had to pick up a sword once. But, as games have gone, the idea of the crafter became something of a taboo as companies kept thinking up ways to get players to play in their carefully constructed dungeons. The result, what crafters made was less important than what a player found in the heart of a dungeon.

Adding insult to injury, going out and trying to gather up resource nodes became a level locked past time, instead of allowing for the idea that players actually enjoyed just doing that. Resource nodes were considerably shrunk down in number, and their placement often dictating that the player had to join his fellow adventurers and level and gear up through the dungeons. Indeed, the crafter found that to create gear of equal level to what they needed, they often had to be much higher level to create the gear, thus destroying the whole concept in one fell swoop. Thus, the life of a crafter ended. This signaled the beginning of the end for the social experience of MMOs, as gearing and dungeon runs became more important and socializing and getting to know your fellow players became less important.

In today’s MMO, the idea that socializing past a weekly event is considered taboo. Many players are still trying to rally against even those as the requirements for these runs continue to decline. The number of participants for raids has drastically been declining. And big encounters are no longer events that one might see, but now turn style encounters that you do every week or few days now. The removal of such social aspects has created what amounts to drones doing what they are programmed to do in the end, and while some find those activities fun, it is no longer an MMO experience, and more or less a multiplayer game experience session.

This of course just creates what is laughingly known as mega servers (something Zenimax is trying to claim they are pioneering, but many MMOs have been using for 8+ years now). It’s an interesting quandary, the whole aspect lately has been to remove as much social interaction for MMOs, then why are developers going out of their way to force as many players together then? The short answer is, they want to get players to socialize, but of course they don’t understand how they can do that in the current dynamic of the MMO world they’ve created. They are afraid to give players the tools and a sandbox, as it might go against their ideals, so they put the cages and leashes on, but tell us to enjoy.

The thing is it can’t really be enjoyed when you know what you are doing has no potential outcome to affect anything. Personalizing a story in a world where thousands of players are playing in the same space at the same time just doesn’t have an impact. The whole idea of trying to recreate a single player experience in an MMO just doesn’t work like developers like to believe. There is a reason that MMOs have never reproduced the success that WoW has, and even WoW is showing signs of losing steam.

WoW started making a lot of design choices specific for their own game, and as a result it worked for them. But they’ve continually been amputating all the bits and pieces that MMOs use to have that players enjoyed that has resulted in a loss of self in the long run. MMOs blur together now, because playing one is like playing the others. Differences might range in UI and names, and maybe some control schemes, but fundamentally they are the same games now with a different coat of paint. You spend all your time, rarely even paying attention to whatever story might be there, just to get the objectives and move on. Some devs are trying to get clever and lengthen the quests with micro objectives in their objectives but it still the same deal.

In the most basic sense, MMOs should be massive sandbox worlds that players have the tools to create their own adventures. It’s sad to me that players need intentional guidance and handholding to be inspired to go explore that cave, or check out what might be at the top of the mountain. If the game play was there from the beginning, a part of the world as a whole; players wouldn’t need to see NPC # 374 to be told to kill those wolves, the player would do it themselves as they would want to get the skins for their leatherworking to create armor for themselves or their friends.

You wouldn’t need quests every step of the way to make a player feel like they are progressing and you wouldn’t need the game. To tell a story you would just have events happen that players can be a part of, they get to see them unfold and participate with quests specific for them, but not something the player has to work up to through some misguided notion that the player might be lost of what’s going on because they didn’t do the zone beforehand. It’s honestly time to get back to making the MMO what it used to be about and not try to just take single player games and slap MMO on them, because in the end, developers can’t create content fast enough to keep the player interest that long.

July 16, 2013

Confusing Gear to Play as Learn to Play

One thing you will often hear in the world of MMOs in general and gaming at large is the term, learn to play. Now this can often be abbreviated many ways and many of you have probably seen the various ways it can be spelled, abbreviated and other ways such as L2P, lrn2ply, learn2play and quite possibly many more out there that I don’t know or have tuned out not to even bother remembering them. In a previous blog, I stated in the context of the phrase, learn to play, it is generally used as an insult by some people to denote how much better they are than some people. But in the reality that the actual phrase falls in, learning to play like those players denote, generally doesn’t mean what they think that phrase means.

Let me clarify a bit; in past games, your actual skill and ability determined a lot of your playing power in various games long ago. However, in this day and age your skills and abilities have relatively been replaced by automated systems, assistance programs or even the lowest of the low, what is known as pay2win type deals that actually give a significant boost to your character’s actual growth or abilities. In these type of systems there is really no learning curve so the term Learn to Play doesn’t even remotely apply. This is what is not as well-known as a term called Gear to Play.

Now gearing to play takes many forms in games these days, the most common of which is obviously in the title of the description; getting gear for your character to increase their relative power or give them more damage in their attacks or more useful abilities. This is an obvious point of that statement but there is an additional layer to this, one that is becoming more prevalent in games in general but has been a staple of MMOs for a long time, which is the leveling up system which provides increases to the characters relative power in itself, but when these two types of systems are combined the general concept of learning to play as many would present it is completely thrown out the window.

Now in gear based progression systems, gear is very powerful. In many cases they make up a huge chunk of the character development. The level based progression generally uses levels as a sort of small benchmark for this, with increasing power on a relative curve system, with the curve generally spiking higher the higher level a character goes. But even in games where levels just only unlock things like new combos or new guns, levels are still important because access to those new types of gear are important to the overall growth of the character, and in many cases some of the powers, combinations or gear items are so powerful that progression through the game otherwise would be monumentally difficult at best, to near impossible at worst.

While “learning to play” does have a small part in these types of systems, over all in the longevity of the game, they play a very small part and at the end of the day what determines your overall ability will be your level and your gear/abilities you are given to that character. This presents the issue that skill is less important to the overall play experience and more emphasis on your time investment to find items.

Now is this solely the fault of developers with these types of systems in play? Not really, again this stems back to the whiney, self-entitled lot that we gamers actually are. Gamers are highly competitive, no matter what they claim, and many out there can’t handle the fact that someone could actually be better than they are by default, so they’ve demanded that developers put in overt handicaps into the system at large to give a leg up for players that either refuse to or just can’t improve themselves to get better. Is it a bad system? No, not in the least, but sometimes things just go too far.

Now, of course, when you take a step back and look at everything as a whole, you realize the entire system blew up in the faces of the whining mass of gamers, because instead of it being a learning system where you utilize placement, timing and such to their fullest, now it’s a time based system of investment and those that have more time will be ahead of those that don’t. The end result, the playing field is now even wider a part as the skilled players now has the handicaps on top of their own skills to give them an even greater boost. The result, gamers inadvertently, through our own petulant demands (and we were rude about it on many occasions, which makes me wonder how devs could stand it) have created the gaming world at large where it isn’t a matter of just learning the system anymore it’s also a matter of putting in the time to get the gear to play.

In short, gamers and developers need to take a large step back. Learning curves have been replaced by easy hand outs and gearing systems that try to replace the need of skill with either easy lock on targeting, insane power boosting systems, or just giving out insane weapons that completely replace any need for relative skill anymore. In short, learn to play practically doesn’t even exist anymore especially in most MMOs. It’s gear to play or go home. Skill hasn’t really been a part of such systems for a long time as gear progression systems continuously replace the need of learning skills and abilities to actually improve yourself.

June 28, 2013

Weighing in slightly on consoles, and why modern MMOs "fail"

Well before I get into the parts of this article I am going to go on a tangent about, I guess I should probably weigh in on the whole console war debate and winning E3 thing. Honestly, the whole console war thing is now getting ridiculous, and the fact people are throwing in their lot with X or Y brand in something that, if it doesn’t change how it operates soon, will be a relic of years gone by is astounding to me on many levels.

The fact that this year’s E3 was “won” because one console sucked the least is even more astounding on so many levels, and the fact that things like console exclusives and such to try and bait people to their specific name brand is another nail in the coffin leading towards the next video game crash. In short, I think it’s time consumers started taking a step back and stopped letting consoles and in other cases publishers, try to rule developers lives with what they are creating. It’s gotten to the point that a game that sells a million copies isn’t good enough anymore is a pretty pathetic state of affairs as far as the video game industry goes, and just shows how far it has fallen.

But now that that is out of the way, let me talk about the other issue that’s been creeping into my mind lately; why have modern MMOs been “major” flops since World of Warcraft launched? Why is WoW the only game that the average consumer thinks can succeed and ever beat itself? Actually the answers fairly simple and by how simple it is probably also demonstrates why Blizzard doesn’t get it either. Now, some may recall an article written by some big wig over at 2K games or something like that (the parent company maybe?) and him trying to tell the world at large that North Americans do not like MMOs. This statement is baffling on many levels because they are popular, to a point.

So what is the point that an MMO is popular in North America? Quite simply, a North American player will only tolerate playing the same game so many times. For the last nine years now, developers have been pushing out the exact same game since World of Warcraft launched, even some other companies attempting to try and reformat older games to be just like WoW, and gamers take notice of this. It doesn’t matter how much you change the paint job, the overall gameplay experience doesn’t change, a players interest is not going to last months. It might last a few weeks at most the more like WoW the game actually is.

Innovation is a word I rarely like to use, because generally when innovation is involved companies don’t know when to pull the reigns in an analyze if their innovative idea is fun or not. You can pretty much run down the list of every MMO game you’ve played since World of Warcraft launched, and you would find precious little difference between each of them. And this is the very reason these new games with big budgets and multi-million dollar devs team behind them fail. They don’t fail because the games were bad or had poor launches, those are just excuses of the players, they fail because they’ve done absolutely nothing different from World of Warcraft.

To be blunt, North Americans don’t like being told how to play the game, if I were to make an observation. It’s most common questions asked, can I explore, can I build the character I want, etc etc, and the answer in every one of these games is a resounding no. Developers try to say you can, but if you have a class lock system picking trees isn’t changing much to the formula. Changing how the bland kill X enemy quests to be local area isn’t changing up the formula either. And offering nothing else as an alternative style of gameplay, such as crafting, isn’t going to get much enthusiasm in the end. Hell, when you shove your PvP into secluded and segregated areas, you have also pretty much made two games, and promising people these things is both a lie and a slap in the face.

MMOs are meant to be emergent worlds where the actions of the players dictate how things can go. The modern MMO is a rather pathetic mess, a single player game forcing a player along a specific route, and North American players are very capable of seeing this crap that they’ve been there and done that already. They want something new. The markets outside of North America, are they just more tolerant or are they just accepting of any mediocre thing that’s put in front of them? Who knows? But I think it is safe to say if you want to get in on North America, you can’t make yet another clone of WoW. People will just stick with WoW in that case.

June 7, 2013

The lack of any true failure in an MMO

This is going up sooner than I thought. But it is something I was thinking about after I wrote my last blog entry, and that is the concept of failing. It’s hard to miss the concept of failing actually, it’s an internet meme. You probably can’t even throw a rock without seeing some person having posted a picture of telling some other person that they have failed at something. Yet, this basic idea isn’t even possible in the modern MMO. Even if you fail, you still are rewarded, and thus it creates a problem.

This is still tied into the ideas behind a sandbox but this is one of those things that I think is required. Without the threat of failure looming overhead, people tend to get complacent and if you reward someone for failing, even if it is a reduced reward, you just tell them that they can earn something no matter the results, and it creates an atmosphere of no consequence. This type of atmosphere is actually not very good for an MMO and is counter to the whole idea of a sandbox theme world and style. Removing the threat of failure from any aspect of the game just instills into people the idea that they don’t need to try and as such when you actually try to introduce challenging content, people will demand that it be made easier because the developer put themselves into a corner by making the rest of the game easy and impossible to fail.

You can see this concept in action in every modern MMO to date now. While, again, people will tell others quite often how much they have failed at doing something, the truth is there is no way to really fail at it unless you do nothing at all. Every quest is designed that there is no wrong answer to completing it and even if the mission would penalize someone for not doing it the right specific way, it will do nothing other than either remove some invisible bonus or just reset the player so they get a do over with no consequence or worry. This type of no risk and all reward system is not good for a healthy community of an MMO game.

Of course, there are those who believe this would breed elitism, but it is not really elitism when people want to do things right and want others to stop wasting their time. No one wants to have all the time they worked towards completing a goal to turn out to be worthless because someone refuses to actually work with other people. Even these people who bulk at elitists are elitists in their own way, but like any normal human being, they refuse to see they are acting just like the other people that they are slamming.

So how did this no risk, all reward atmosphere come about to begin with? Quite simply; the self-entitled, whiny gamer types that we are demanded it because of self-perceived notion of that a game should always be about winning, and there should be no chance that we could fail or lose because that would defeat the purpose of our persona. This, of course, was acted upon because the big wigs saw dollar signs, and they acted upon it. Quests are fall of a truck easy, and the rewards are large thus whenever a quest given offers a small reward, players are very quick to point it out how a lower level quest or a much easier quest that they just did had a better reward. This is one of those corners that developers have programmed themselves into by listening to gamers too much.

Now, while it is great to always feel rewarded, it is bad when there is no risk involved to gaining that reward. Players might get frustrated with particularly tough challenged and they may hate seeing messages that tell them they failed, but the reality is it makes a player strive to be that much better for the next time they try to do a mission, quest or whatever task they are doing just like it. They stop being complacent and actually try to learn from their mistakes. And, the long term result is that the player feels more rewarded when they succeed because they actually tried instead of shrugging their shoulders because they know there is no way to fail.

In the end, failure is something that needs to be put back into the MMO, for the long term health and the continued interest of the players. Subconsciously, players are realizing they can’t fail these games anymore and it’s having a negative impact on the game industry as a whole. I am not saying punish players for failing a task, but don’t reward them for practically doing nothing. This is what gets raiders interested in your raids because there is that chance to fail the raid, but even that is starting to lose its bite as the trickledown effect is effecting that aspect of MMO gaming as well, as the raids are becoming harder and harder to actually fail. In short, it’s time to stop pampering the players and challenging them to get better.

June 6, 2013

The Qualities of a Sandbox MMO

Hello out there, I know it has been a while since I’ve written anything and for all the readers I might have, I do apologize. Had mostly family things come up, namely dealing with the fact my father getting sick and passing away, which I think many could understand would have an impact on anything I could write about. It’s been tough the past few weeks, and I miss him terribly, but I should at least look at things to try and keep my mind busy.

Anyways, not trying to bring anyone down and certainly don’t want to make this some sort of depressing rag about my life, so I decided to work on a topic I touch on a lot but I guess I never really describe at heart; what defines a sandbox game. This is something I feel that has been lost in the past few years, as the lines, for whatever reason, have become murky and ill defined, mostly because of preconceived notions created thanks mostly in part to World of Warcraft pretty much becoming the definitive MMO in the mindset of everyone out there. For an insight into where I am aiming at in this blog, I suggest watching MrBtongue’s YouTube episode (Un-Ruining the MMO) on this very subject. It’s definitely entertaining but hits all the right notes on exactly what I am discussing.

Needless to say, what defines a sandbox game, something MMOs were before, as MrBtongue would say, WoW ruined everything, is actually fairly easy to define. The problem is that people believe, falsely, that these elements exist in the modern MMO, but they don’t. The parlor trick of the modern MMO is cleverly, or not so cleverly, designed to forcefully direct players on a set path. Some developers go that extra mile by providing a secondary path towards to disguise the convergence, but the end result is the same. You are destined to go from point A to point B along this road and deviation from this path is not only frowned upon, it is highly discouraged, and in some instances, illegal to the point attempting to change your course could even result in penalties against your account.

Now, let me try and define what makes a sandbox game;

Number One: Freedom. This doesn’t just relate to freedom to create the character you want, though in reality, people have actually been tricked into believing that the carefully structured character classes in the modern MMO is freedom to build the character they want. This is both a lie and false advertising on many levels. But more on that later. Freedom implies that once I log in, get my bearings and figure out what in the hell is going on in this game world, I can sod off and do whatever I want. The modern MMO frowns upon this heavily doing everything it can from allowing us this freedom, such as, but not limited to, level gating content, restricting access to areas, and dead-ending experience gain from critters and other objectives so much that we are almost forcefully compelled to do the quests that the developers have created for us.

While people will make up excuses that this isn’t true, and pointing out outlying instances of people doing such and such to reach max level in a game (namely WoW) this is again, an outlying instance and proves the point excrutiatingly well. It was possible, but the player in question not only was inefficient about level gaining, but the time it took them to reach max level was many times longer than anyone just doing the set path. In past MMOs, a player was not required to do the quests, they were fun little activities as an aside and even gave a micro goal into the normal set of grinding, but players were free to choose whether they wanted that goal to kill wolves, or if they just wanted to kill wolves on their own without some NPC telling them to do it.

However, now the attempt to kill wolves without a quest is so highly frowned upon that the experience to advance your character required is dramatically lower. Developers do everything in their power to make sure that players follow the set path, even putting artificial barriers that the player doesn’t perceive consciously, but their subconscious can see. This gating even extends to exploring, though people may not realize it as the terrain is carefully constructed to guide players on the set path. In fact, it’s well known that if players find ways off the path, though developers will jokingly claim they love it when players do that, many actually do not and such methods tend to get fixed or altered so it’s not possible to do anymore. In short, if developers loved when players find things like these, they would not be so quick to alter them so players could not do them anymore.

Of course, this freedom also extends to how you want to play to. The current MMO thinking is everyone wants to be some heroic knight, or flame wielding wizard type to get anywhere. The truth of the matter is, no, they don’t. Now, I won’t disagree that the heroic knight is probably the first thing many people think of when they start playing this game, but as time goes on, people start gravitating towards what they really like to do. You can’t achieve this is a structured class system, of course. For instance, in my case, I want to craft. I want to make things and be useful that way to the game as a whole. But I can’t do that because most of the modern MMOs not only make crafting fundamentally useless because a crafters gear can’t keep up with loot off of critters, but because I can’t level my crafting unless I become an adventurer anyways, defeating the whole purpose of a crafting system to begin with.

For other people the freedom to explore is what they are after. But like I stated previously, MMOs are being “cleverly” designed (I am using the term loosely) to funnel people in a specific direction. Exploration itself is actually frowned upon by developers if you go outside of their defined parameters. While people, again, will claim this isn’t true you don’t have to look far to see that this isn’t the case. Areas are specifically level gated, you need prerequisite gear and items to compete, and any attempt to jump over that cliff is often met with an invisible barrier that doesn’t allow such things and glitching the terrain to do so can actually get you in trouble.

Even the quests now are being designed that way. While people believe The Old Republic gives you RP freedom, it robs you of that. No matter your choice or desire, the outcome is always the same at the end. There is no real deviation from that course other than a few differences in dialog. This is the furthest from freedom, and this cinematic experience actually kills the whole world within a world aspect of the game. RP itself has been hopelessly destroyed because the very identity of the characters we wanted to create was completely removed and taken out of our hands. You have to follow the set path, by design, and any deviation from that not only penalizes your character, it may even restrict you from unlocking your characters full potential. And nowhere else can you see swift changes to a game because players attempted to deviate from that norm.

Take in stark contrast Skyrim. Now I know for some people that loved their Morrowind, this game is an abomination, for some reason, but let’s be factual; Skyrim is a sandbox game, only one step short of being an MMO. While at the beginning of the game we are given an objective that says go do this, we can basically say sod off and do anything else we feel like from that point onward. In stark contrast, TESO will not allow for this, as it is very purposely being linearly designed. A leveling treadmill is in place and players are expected to follow a set path. Yea, I’ve seen the leaked beta footage, and while graphics and such may get cleaned up, the core gameplay won’t change much from this, and since the emphasis, much like TOR, was on that personal story, you can bet your last dollar TESO is going to be yet another Theme Park in a long list of Theme Parks.

Number Two: Bigger is not Better: Another thing that makes the sandbox different from the theme park MMO is the inherent balance that is already within the system and the fact that people can equalize themselves to match the others within the system. Skill is actually the name of the game, not the gear worn. While gear is useful, and helpful in cases, it is not the end all be all of the gaming experience. This is not true in a theme park game, especially one following the WoW formula, whereas levels get higher, the gear has to progressively get better. The idea is that bigger numbers and bigger stats are always better. The skill of the player, while it can be a factor, is often only a small portion of that result. A very skilled player will more often than not, be beaten by a below average player who is better geared and equipped than they are.

This is also the case based on the class system these games often force down specific paths to. Like it or not, while some people will claim otherwise, there is always going to be a class that is easy mode in these systems for a specific thing. They tend to pump out tons of damage, and strangely enough have tons of defensive measures to boot to make sure they continue to deliver that damage. Nothing about this requires any actual skill to deliver, contrary to what many WoW rogues or TOR snipers might claim, because it is the easiest thing to do and a subpar player can do it without worry or consequence. If it actually required a lot of skill to do, players would not gravitate towards it so much, especially in the PvP environment. This is not to say that a person skilled in the class wouldn’t be deadly, they would be, but the application of skill required is less than that of another class.

In a sandbox game, gear is not a major factor and in fact player skill is the deciding factor in a long run. A player who just mashes buttons will find them increasingly outclassed by people who actually know when the best time to use their moves is and planning accordingly, instead of just blowing their entire wad in the first few seconds of combat. Timing is key, and gear is only a distant second fiddle to this. The same stun locking, button smashing rogue trying that in a game based on skill and tactics would find they are severely outclassed by players that actually understand timing and the fundamental rules of the game, and would turn the tide quickly on the rogue.

But in the end, in this type of system, dungeon loot is de-emphasized and crafted loot becomes the big prize. Though there will be things that dungeons would be required for, they would not be the end all be all of the game, left in the hands of those daring enough to traverse them for the materials for crafters, or explorers who think the risk is worth the reward. In basic, a player economy, and thus a community, is born because of this, and player loyalty is actually rewarded instead of punished.

Number Three: An Open World: This is similar to number one, but basically in a sandbox game, the world is open. It’s explorable, there is no corner you can’t go to to see what is In that nook or cranny, no invisible barrier blocking your progress, no level gating, the only thing determining your fate is your skill and your own wits to survive. Your death is determined either by your own hubris or stupidity. But this open world is not limited to just exploration, nope it also includes PvP.

The modern MMO has done a lot to try and push PvP out of the public eye of players, forcing the PvPers into carefully controlled arenas for their matches or shoving them into specific lake areas. Of course, the reason for this is because player killers (aka PKs) never really had a punishment that fit their crime before in games. But then again, many of the early attempts made the mistake of giving them too much freedom without any reprisals to be had. The worst that would happen is a PK couldn’t get into a town, but that was easily countered by alts or friends.

While it’s been instilled into the head of modern gamers that PvP is somehow evil, the truth of the matter is that it’s not. The same PvP jerks that talk smack are still talking smack in PvE. The difference now is that you’ve given them the power to do so and no one can reprise against them. What’s even funnier, most of the people that claim they hate smack talking in PvP are the people that do the smack talking, and generally acting like an ass most of the time. In short, hypocrites.

All in all, the world of an MMO needs to be open. It needs to be open to exploration, it needs to be open to conflict, because that is what drives RP and story (sorry bar people, it’s true) and it needs to be open to the fact players don’t want to follow your set path.

These are my basic points of a sandbox MMO. Now I know this is only a small list, there is a lot more I know, but this article is already getting long and I feel it’s time to stop padding and start letting people read. I don’t know when I will put up a new blog, as I said I am currently still dealing with my father passing away, but hopefully it won’t be two months again before I do. Until then, take care and I hope people start inspiring developers to make sandbox games.

Please leave a comment below.

April 7, 2013

Why I feel Kickstarter is a bad thing long term

You know, I keep seeing people bring up Kickstarter a lot lately for video games, and I see several big names (names who don’t need it in fact) abusing Kickstarter to get avid gamers to foot the bill for them. And that’s just sad to me. Why is it? Well, this crap has happened before, but it wasn’t the gamers back then that it happened to, it was the publishers, because publishers foolishly paid up front, in full, for things and the result was the actual developer had no incentive to develop quality products which lead to the gaming market crash in the early 80s. If you want some full insight into the inevitable crash the gaming industry is currently heading towards if they don’t change their practices, I suggest watching CleverNoobs video on YouTube, it is an excellent watch and highlights several points that I am about to discuss.

Now, if you look around, you will find many that see Kickstarter as an ingenious idea. Why is that? Well quite simply the people believing in this idea, despite the many negative eggs we’ve already had, are the fanbois and in some cases, PR pushers for specific big name people to boost hype for such things. Though name alone probably helps these people do also employ paid people who purposely go out to hype the ever living hell out of their product under anonymous names, and in turn this hypes up fanbois who in turn spill it down. However, I have several reasons I do not like Kickstarter and see it as a long term fail in the making and nothing more than a temporary band aid fix for developers still wanting to make a quick buck instead of a quality product, or in some cases, just want to stay relevant when history has already told them to piss off. Again, my reasons for not liking Kickstarter are many fold, but I will list three main big ones for myself, personally.

First reason, this system has a huge potential to be abused by scammers. And before people deny this, it has already happened on multiple occasions. Several people have already used Kickstarter to gain money off the gullible people who put blind faith into these products and the end result is, well, they will never see a return in that investment. While a few have been publicly caught, there are undoubtedly more who have yet to even be discovered and probably won’t be until the time of their product coming due actually arrives, and by then anything that people put forth into the product is well past unrecoverable. Now I know there are people who say they have preventive measures in place for all this, but the reality is, any measure you put up you can counter, so this system is not even far from impenetrable, and I seriously doubt it is as difficult as some might think.

Second reason, at least as far as the gaming industry is concerned, just like with publishers, Kickstarter rapidly became a big boys only club. If you don’t have a name you are shit out of luck of actually catching interest in your product besides a few people. If you didn’t have ghost fans pushing you out there to catch the hype train of real fans, you were left with your own circle to try and get it around. And it is getting worse because the big named people are throwing out bigger and bigger figures while the people just wanting to do what they are striving to are struggling just to meet a realistic goal. And add into the fact that some of the big names are now throwing out shameless incentives to just throw more money at them well past the quota figure promised, the actual small named indy game developers are finding it harder and harder to actually compete with this.

And my third, but not final reason, for not liking Kickstarter is pretty simple. You are paying them upfront for an unfinished product that they have no incentive to make sure is a quality product. Yea, you might get a game, like Atari got a game that was sort of like Pac-Man back in the 80s when they paid a developer upfront instead of making him develop a quality product, but in the end you are at greater risk of receiving something that is not only generic in the end but all the promises that were made will just turn out to be little more than fluff that bears no use in the game, or at worst, not even make it into the game as a whole. And worst than even the quality part of the product, there is a chance that it could fail to even launch, and if that happens the backlash from people who funded these projects will be catastrophic.

While I know that the big publishers pushed a lot of developers away from that side of the industry, the current problem is the big names using this program are now abusing it without reason to. Many of big name developers using Kickstarter are furthest from strapped for cash to be able to produce the titles they are looking to produce, but they threw out these rather large figures at what they feel would need to be to create these games, some of them with not even a demo or name of the product to be seen, and even threw out shameless incentives to get people to pay more.

In the end, even the big names aren’t above abusing their fanbase, regardless of how people think. All they have to say is remember my one good game and they know their fans will jump on it, especially if said big name makes large promises that claim their in development product you’ve never seen will be like one of their famous games of the past. There is no proof that will happen, just their word, and in the long run, this is going to cause more damage to the gaming industry as a whole, and will definitely hurt the legitimate indy developer struggling to try and get their game out there and really show change and potential in an otherwise stagnant industry.

So to reiterate, I firmly believe that Kickstarter is just going to cause more damage than good in the long term of the gaming industry and once the bubble breaks on Kickstarter, the gaming market will most likely crash hard. Will it recover? Probably but there will also probably be a very large gulf when we see a new game title surface after the crash happens.

If you agree or have a differing view, leave your comment below.

March 29, 2013

Dumbing Down of Games is getting ridiculous

One thing I think has been becoming predominantly bad lately is the fact that graphics have been overtaking gameplay in the modern game. Long ago it used to be about making fun, engaging games that players could spend hours playing, but lately the new thing is “revolutionary” graphics to cover up the shoddy gameplay aspects of the current generation. And I don’t say that lightly. Each new generational leap, especially in the console market, has been about pushing the graphical quality of the game while the gameplay quality has either been becoming dumber in the process or completely forgotten, and this is just terrible.

I think the evidence can speak for itself in this regard. When most people talk about gaming they typically refer to games that they use to play a lot of when they were younger. Games that had gameplay in them and encouraged smart thinking, versus what we have today which is either too easy to play or just has so much hand-holding going on that you spend more time screaming “Yea, I get it” at the screen than actually playing. The popularity of the retro market booming, I think, has more to do with the fact people are getting tired of the dumbing down or lack of actual gameplay in a modern game and wanting to have a game that plays, you know, like a game instead.

Let me voice my opinion of a recent retro game that is getting a “modern” update; DuckTales Remastered. Now I, like many people who played the original, was quite excited about this and it made me wish I still owned a console to take advantage of it, but as news started coming out about the game I started scratching my head. First thing stated, the game was made easier. Now for people who never knew that collective sound you heard was the fact the brains of a lot of fans just fell out of their head at how stupid this remark was. Why? First and foremost, DuckTales was not even a hard game, not even on the hardest difficulty. It was memorable and fun not because of its epic challenge but because of its gameplay and how fun it was. The most challenging part of DuckTales was just collecting the secrets which in themselves weren't terribly secret, or the fact the text from the supporting characters crawled slowly.

This is a game that on my first night owning it I beat it but I still continuously played over and over because it was fun. And the part that baffled me the most is how the developers actually think the average game player is so stupid that they can’t understand a concept such as “Down + B” to use a standard skill after jumping. Seriously? I mean this is how far gaming has devolved and that a graphical update to a classic, but albeit easy game is revolutionary, but the gameplay of said easy game was tough it needed to be made even easier? I don’t know how to rate this but it definitely falls within the ballpark of facepalm worth.

A lot of games, modern and retro refits, are being remarkably dumbed down lately for the sake of process, and through each dumbing down the identity of the game is being lost in the process. Hell, you can see such dumbing down in current on-going series games that exist today. A prime example, again pointing this one out, are BioWare games. Each successive game in a series they've developed is losing all the things from the original and being replaced by one button solutions that remove identity and in many cases, fun from the actual game all for the sake of making sure the developers perception of the average player is met. And do you know how the developer perceives the average player these days? Quite simply as a dumb sack of stupid incapable of understanding that “Down + B” lets you use the pogo jump ability of Scrooge McDuck in a DuckTales game.

This is insulting to the intelligence of gamers, and the sad part is, there will be a large enough crowd that applauds these things saying it streamlines things for the casual market. Seriously? Are you really going to try and call casual gamers retards and too stupid to tie their own shoes? Because that’s basically what you are claiming.

KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) is an often quoted thing from people who defend these types of decisions but there is a line that needs to be drawn. The constant pop ups explaining how things work, the ridiculous hand holding, and other things that just annoy people lately are becoming exceptionally more intrusive. The sad part is, the games of yesteryear could teach more with less without a visual pop up in an entire tutorial stage than the modern game can do in 10 tutorial stages that they often plug into the game making the game annoying and less fun for all. There's keeping it simple and then there is just calling you an idiot, and it often baffles me how many people want to be called an idiot.

There is a large reason that retro market games are picking up in popularity and it isn't just nostalgia; it’s because those old games were actual games, and even they could tell better stories than the current generation of games that exist today with less padding to boot. Most gamers are grown up, or pretty intelligent people. Many have been gaming for decades but it’s getting more than a tad insulting that we get treated more like children who don’t understand simple concepts such as “Down + B” to use the special pogo move. This is the reason people hate remakes, is because it treats the audience like a retarded idiots that shouldn't be near a toaster instead of intelligent people able to understand the basic concepts of movement in a game.

I recommend watching a very good overview of this very concept from EgoRaptor on YouTube called Sequl-itis here. It at least paints my view, using a good game, Mega Man X from the Super Nintendo as an example. Warning, NSFW.

But yea, words like innovation, graphics and even emotions *shivers at the David Cage stupidity of the century* is now trumping things like gameplay, fun and entertainment. It's gotten so bad that even gamers have been swallowed up in the river of stupid and actually believe that graphics are what makes games now. No, they don't. Not even close. Good gameplay, fun and entertainment is what makes a good game. If graphics are all you live for, then just go look at high definition renders with single photos, because there are your graphics, heartless, soulless and no inspiration.

Back to a previous point, people keep quoting KISS a lot, but the funny bit is, developers try to simplify things so much they make the damn thing even more complicated in the end. When half your game is bloody tutorials, it should be time to realize you fucked up somewhere. When you need to interrupt the flow and features of a game to have a pop up to explain to an FPS player how to aim and shoot a gun in your FPS game, you fucked up somewhere. I think developers and gamers need to take a step back and take a long look at why games today are no where near as fun as the games of yesteryear.

March 12, 2013

Why I despise multi-guilds

I touched on this in my rant about GW2, but I think this deserves more explanation and talk about my view why I think that multi-guild is a terrible thing and will only increase guild drama. I don’t think people have to go far in GW2 to see this has already begun to happen, but let’s get it out of the way and discuss it at length. I will try to keep each point to its own paragraph, but they will undoubtedly bleed into each other as I have a tendency to ramble. So, without further stalling let me get into the reasons why multi-guilds are terrible.

First and foremost, for the multi-guild system to work you need to represent a guild, but you can only represent one guild at a time. Right out of the gate you are already going to garner hurt feelings from people as a lot of the functions of one guild are locked out until you represent it, including the chat features, and any contribution you give only goes towards the guild that you are representing. This is just stupid in and of itself. Why even have multi-guild in the first place if all of the guild features are going to be locked out to you unless you represent them? Not to mention this also causes hurt feelings because people on both sides of the fence feel you should be pulling your weight for them. And you are left in the issue of who do you represent more.

Next on my list of why multi-guild is a bad idea is pretty simple one; it destroys community. If you can casually hop in and out of a guild, ignoring that people are going to get offended by this, then it doesn’t foster the idea that growing a community in a game is even something to strive for. Guilds are a large part of the backbone of a gaming community. But casually tossing the one last bastion of gaming community into the recycle bin like that completely negates all that. It just creates more undue tension and drama as people are stressing over who they should spend more time with.

And now my biggest gripe about multi-guild systems is this; it makes it way easier for spies to get into guilds of opposing factions to relay info to enemies. If people don’t think this is a big deal for PvP then you obviously have never played an MMO in PvP or any PvP based game before. This is one of the issues that GW2 has, outside of bots and cheaters, the number of people that relay information to opposing groups. And if you think that PvPers would not find that edge by getting alternate accounts, then you really have not played MMOs before. Just go over to the WoW forums and see how much of a stink has been raised by multi-boxers (players who play more than one account at once) because the /follow command was removed from PvP.

You want to know how to solve multi-guild issue. I’ve brought this up before in other forums, but it’s a fairly simple concept that, believe it or not, older MMOs from the early days actually used. It was called guild alliances. What makes this different from multi-guilding you might ask, well many things. First, an alliance is a separate chat channel and you can participate in an alliance chat, even if you are in another guild. Furthermore it bolsters community and healthy competition between the guilds in an alliance. Finally, it removes a lot of undue pressure on individual players from their guild that their guild might be offended they aren’t representing them enough. It leaves the control within the group of power, and it doesn’t cause break ups or harsh feelings. It solves all the issues and creates no extra drama that multi-guilds would undoubtedly create. Even if your guild is not hardcore PvP, a guild in the alliance most likely would be so wouldn’t be hard pressed to find it.

That’s my feelings on the whole multi-guild thing. It’s stupid, it’s creating undue pressure on individual players as well as the guilds in question, it removes any resemblance of community that MMOs even have left and it’s a breeding ground for battleground spies. I don’t know why developers have been opting for this when they have to see the negatives vastly outweigh the one positive multi-guilds have, and foregoing a system that has existed almost since the beginning of the modern MMO era, and that is Alliances.

Anyways, feel differently about it, leave a comment below.

March 2, 2013

My reviewing/ranting about Guild Wars 2

This is kind of a subject I wanted to avoid, but I realized the more I tried to ignore it the more it ate at me. This is going to be a review/rant at GW2 and tearing down the walls that the fanbois and apologists built up in defense of that game. Now, I want to preface this, there is no misconception, there is no I just haven’t played it long enough as many of the fanbois will undoubtedly say. I have, I’ve spent several weeks playing the game, a few of them devoted to just finding a class that wouldn’t bore me to tears, because make no mistake, this game makes the cardinal sin by being mind numbingly boring in the worst ways for an MMO.

I am going to get this point out of the way. Right out of the gate you are pretty much required to grind things and while people kept clamoring and claiming everything you would do in GW2 would be epic (including ArenaNet, so no backpedalling their boys, like you did when you tried to claim GW1 wasn’t an MMO after years of claiming it was), you are still met with grinding that would make even the most hardened EQ1 fan cringe. Each class is repetitively boring and while might start out fun, all of them fall into the same trap as losing steam by the time you reach around level 15. And losing steam in the worst way to.

Part of the reason for this issue with the character classes is they are completely aimless. You have no idea what they were designed to do, how they should function or in what way would be best. You meander around looking for something to fill in but you can’t, and instead try to get by being a jack of all trades. And it isn’t a problem of just not understanding the class design, it’s clear that ArenaNet had no real design in mind just what they felt would be cool, because while some classes have a lot of great tools, others have questionable tools that leave you wondering what were they thinking, and it’s almost like they didn’t even bother balance testing a lot of this.

Quests are superfluous, as you are doing menial tasks from farming for lazy NPCs to picking daisies for incompetent star crossed lovers. There is nothing epic about these fights so already that’s one lie out of the gate about everything you do is epic. Later on the quests devolve into killing X rats, and while people will say no it doesn’t, I’ve done at least 8 different zones and ended up doing the same kill X mobs in all the heart points every time. This is the absolute worst facet people hate about MMO quests, and all they did was move the quest giver from someone you talked to, to a local area for nothing new. Hell, the epic battles are actually so far and few between and give so little rewards I actually had to beg people just to tackle a giant in the Charr zone. And when you get a big battle event it’s not even that epic as you are watching several dozen people doing damage and nothing really else with zerg mentality going full steam.

In addition to this, you don’t feel rewarded. The thing about WoW, Champions and such, every level you felt a little bit rewarded for reaching that level, even if it wasn’t a big reward. In GW2 the gulf between getting something new and interesting is so far and between that just getting there feels like you are walking barefoot over rusty nails. And that’s only up to level 30. Once you pass level 30, you’ve already hit the peak for what you potentially wanted. Even the trait gaining doesn’t even feel like milestones because you get so little for your investment.

The world itself is so god awfully big that it is actually a detraction from the enjoyment of this game. They basically said at the office let’s do WoW but EXTREME and obviously people nodded their head in agreement because the terrain is unrealistically big, the buildings are unrealistically big, even the architecture is unrealistically big. And while there are some very beautiful areas, they are far and between. I hate designs like this, you don’t make your world actually big in design to make it feel big. This is incompetent game design and drives me up a wall.

This also brings up the waypoints in the game. This is the only game, I’ve ever played, that waypoints are actually mandatory, not a convenience to your enjoyment of the game. Waypoints should be conveniences to your game, not design requirements. But they don’t allow mount travel, but everyone has a way to increase their movement speed, in some cases significantly, and of course there are the gobs and gobs of waypoints.

Next, the story. Oh god this story. I thought SWTOR was a badly written game, whoever wrote GW2’s story should feel ashamed. They set back the whole story in industry a good decade with this mess. It’s like they hired Stephanie Meyers, or the lead writer was taking notes from her or something. And let’s not get on the voice acting, because it was obvious the voice actors were only there to get a check, because the way the lines are read are so cringe inducingly bad, I can’t believe people take this atrocious mess seriously and think it is good. This is as bad as the prequels with as many plot holes as the TNG movies.

Then oh boy the bugs, bad controls and crappy camera. This is the first game I’ve ever played that has actually made me rage because of how poor the controls are. And there are also numerous bugs that constantly get to me, in addition to the poor camera and just poor responsiveness of the controls of this game. One bug that always annoys me, despite the game has a solid lock on and I will be locked onto a target, facing it all the good stuff involved and my character will still turn to face at something behind me and start shooting at it once I start pushing my fire button. This is not an uncommon occurrence either, I tend to get into large fights because of this bug alone with crap I had no interest in fighting.

And barring the buggy camera not getting to you, the jumping puzzles are so insultingly easy that I wonder why they even bothered with them. The hard ones are actually based around speed running while platforms disappear underneath you not on actual precision jumping because very little of the precision jumping is actually anything that can’t be easily corrected in the game by a simple jumping back up.

So that brings me to the PvP maps. After 30 levels of the teeth gritting bad story and the mind numbing heart quests of kill X mobs, I decided to just PvP my way to 80. Except that 3 of the 4 PvP maps are the exact same map, right down to the last detail, and that the only map with anything different is the 4th map. But, and unfortunately for me, my realm was hopelessly outnumbered, because the server pop is actually only high (according to the server list) while the other two realms are in the very high status. On average, the other two realms generally bring odds that favor them 3 to 1 against us, average, per realm (it’s often higher odds against us). Nevermid that fact we never get that outnumbered bonus because… who the fuck cares obviously, because while 50 baddies might be attacking a keep with only 15 of us inside of it defending.

In short, as far as the PvP is concerned, it’s obvious ArenaNet didn’t think too hard on it. Gear and level play important roles there, no matter how much people try to say you get auto leveled to 80, that doesn’t help matters when people are using top PvP gear and maxed traits against you. They make a big difference. And that isn’t even bringing to the table the fact that this is zerg PvP at its worst. I’ve been told people feel the maps are too small, but that isn’t even the problem, it’s the maps are the exact same except 1 of them, and the other problem isn’t their size, its if one faction dominates they can set up way points inside keeps they control. The problem also isn’t the size of the maps because they are entirely too large, but the fact that any point that gets taken over can be near instantly retaken over in almost an eyeblink.

There isn’t even time to set up defenses if the PvP is especially aggressive, and considering, again, my server has the other two servers deciding to beat down on us cause we are a small server we tend to have very little chance to actually set up defense until everything we fought for is lost. And what’s sad at points is our server proves that we can actually keep them at bay, but when they fight together against us that means we are outnumbered 6 to 1 and due to fast turn arounds it’s impossible for us to maintain territory.This doesn't even include the fact that the game is riddled with bots,a nd in PvP bots and cheaters are especially prevalent which apologists or fanbois will try to downplay.

This also brings up the issue I have with guilds. Since anyone can be in any number of guilds, it makes spies quite a large possibility. I know on my server there is a guild leader that likes to think he’s a great leader (funnily enough whenever he leads our alliance we lose everything) and tries to claim that he doesn’t have guildies on other servers despite we’ve seen them. He’s a laughing stock and claims he doesn’t run a spy ring. However, most everyone knows differently. I personally hate this multi-guilding non-sense as all it does is breed contempt between people when someone isn’t devoting time and just makes it easy for spies to get in.

In the end, just to put it bluntly, GW2 isn’t a very good game. It’s very dull and repetitive, it blows its wad on anything shiny very early on and snoozes the rest of the time for the rest of the game. The PvP is poorly implemented and balanced with obvious copy pastaing going on for the maps that are also poorly designed, with several important structures within siege weapon distance from a safety zone for specific areas. People believe the trinity is dead in the game but it is obviously still there, as doing content like dungeons if someone isn’t healing and someone isn’t drawing agro, you tend to die, a lot. And even more comical people believe the game play is vastly different from other MMOs, yet I still just watch cooldowns on powers thus my attention is still focused more on my hot bar than actual game screen. So in the end, this is yet another game that made a lot of promises, and failed to deliver on. Sorry for GW2 fans if that isn’t praise, but I am going to be honest about this stuff.

February 12, 2013

The things that I think are MMO design no-nos

I’ve discussed a lot on what I think would make a good MMO before and there is still a lot of ground to cover on that subject but I think another aspect I think should be covered are things that I feel are definite no-no’s in the field of MMO creation and building. Now, this is not a comprehensive list nor is it ordered in level of importance, but I have noticed a trend in designs that I feel many MMO developers lately have been going towards that have been actually hurting their game designs, instead of helping. So, let’s dive right in to what I feel are some of the things that developers should steer away from as far as MMO development.

Making the world WoW big
This one is probably going to be confusing to some on how I present it, like, the first question is, “What in the world is WoW big?” WoW big is actually a term I use to describe worlds that are just unnaturally big just to be big. This doesn’t mean a world that is designed to offer a lot of explorable terrain, quite the opposite really, but terrain that is made as if for people that were way bigger than the characters actually are. To me, this is a big negative in the feature of the game. Now, in areas the common statement is that it’s designed that way for ease of camera use and movement, but when a lot of structures and areas have this unnatural design and feel to it like it was meant for people fifty times bigger than the characters, it is a huge detraction from the actual enjoyment of the game for me.

Making something big just to make it big is not a proper answer to good game development and actually hampers a lot of immersion for players from the game. When you enter a building, you want to actually feel it was reasonably designed with the height of the largest race in mind, of course, but when it looks like 100 foot giants should inhabit the area, it presents a feeling that the developers actually built the world smaller, then just up scaled it to make it look bigger.

This has the negative impact of removing players feeling of being a part of that world as well as presenting the issue of needlessly increasing travel times from one point to the next. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a nice sized world and encourage world design to be built with a scale in mind, but I want it to feel like a natural scale. This also puts a damper on PvP when the world is so large like that distances from one point to the next are actually tedious instead of feeling natural. If the goal is to make the world feel big it should feel naturally big, just don’t set your scale to over drive and call it a big world because everything is bigger in proportion to the character. It is actually a huge detraction.

Land to just have land
This is kind of the same vein as above, but different enough that it warrants its own point. Putting in land to just have land is pointless and needlessly adding things that don’t need to be added to the game. Don’t just keep adding land and expecting people to like it, and thinking it’s enough to satisfy people who want a big world. It feels unnatural when you do so. You also don’t want so much land that people become lost and confused from one point to the next.

Again I move back to PvP and I will use Guild Wars 2 as an example here. In GW2’s WvW there are 4 continents for PvP for players to play in. And each of these lands are huge in their own right. But, the PvP player base isn’t large enough to accommodate such a grand scale on the maps themselves. This creates a dichotomy and needless bloat for an activity that people would like to participate in but just presents too large of a land area for PvP to be participated in meaningfully.

Hand holding of exploration
This, again, is another sin that GW2 makes; the hand holding and out right requirement of finding all the points of interest, vistas and other such shenanigans in the game in order to build a viable character. Players do like large swaths of land and they naturally are inclined to explore. But players hate having the exploration shoved in their face to the point that it feels like handholding, or worse and more likely, that the devs are trying to shove your face into it. Yea, you might have created some beautiful terrain and such, but players want to naturally explore it, not feel like they have to or even have every part of them shown to them. It doesn’t feel like exploring them when everything is conveniently marked, or when it is actually required that you do that activity in order to enjoy the game.

Quests, quests and more quests
This one will probably shock people, but games that are built around nothing but tons of quests and events bore the ever living hell out of me. It’s yet another nail in that coffin that removes my sense of purpose and self in the game and hinders my enjoyment of exploring a vast world. People will try and claim GW2 lacks these things but moving the exclamation marks to heart locations is just the same shit in a different way. I am still required, for decent advancement, to go to these locations and complete their tasks in order to gain experience to advance my character. I still feel like I am on a rail and have little control over where I want to go.

The concept was to make quests feel natural and such, but it failed on so many fundamental levels. I can handle events, but I want to choose to be a part of them, not required. Quests should feel natural to, such as NPCs mentioning things or you finding things along your way, not having to go visit a particular point to complete them.

Don’t get me wrong, I think quests are good, in their own respective ways because they give people things to do. But MMOs these days have gone overboard. Sometimes a player should just create their own quest such as if they see a dungeon and go explore it. They shouldn’t be required to see NPCs to get the quests for bloated XP gains just to continue. And that’s another factor I hate about quests to, the huge XP bloat making them the main feature and required instead of the actual adventure itself. Developers need to put quests in more naturally and use them more sparingly, not at every opportunity they think they can put in a guy with an exclamation mark.

Always on rails
This is a cardinal sin all modern MMOs have; they put their game on rails, whether or not the players realize it, and lead the players by the nose along that set path with little deviation. There is little choice on where you are going and how you are getting there. The path is always going to be the same with only slight differences from one step to the next. This to me is dumb. A player should be able to choose where they want to go or how they want to get there. The fact developers seem absolutely terrified that players might try something off the beaten path boggles my mind. Let players have some freedom with your game.

The butchering of social interaction
The social experience has been getting butchered more and more in MMOs as time progresses. The constant focus on solo experience has been removing the need for people to even bother socializing with others and this is just bad design. While some people will say it’s dumb to be forced to team, my answer is you shouldn’t be playing an MMO anyways if you hate to team. No, I am saying that there should be things and activities that are designed around socializing and joining others to be a team. These are things that help out an MMO, and the scary part is how many people keep believing that roles and such are evil and should never even be considered for MMOs these days, as if the very idea of working with others is somehow evil. I don’t get it personally.


Anyways, those are my views on the subject. Leave a comment below If you have some points to bring up of your own, and if you are looking for an RP guild for TESO, maybe check out The Black Wolves and see if we might be what you are looking for.

February 10, 2013

Differences between single player an MMO experience

Well, more information is slowly coming out about TESO, so I am wondering if I should start writing this more as a blog towards TESO. Probably not, for now, since just posting random speculation is pointless as it serves no real purpose other than making conjecture and non-sense about something we know exceptionally little about other than personal accounts of a private screening several months ago. However, there is probably one thing I think that should be touched on with this blog concerning the expectations and the divisionary line between a normal, single player gamer and an MMO player, and the obvious lines of difference between the games.

Why I am writing this is more or less aimed at the crowd of people that undoubtedly have a certain expectation of what they think TESO will be like, and quite frankly, some of those expectations are a tad ludicrous. This is not to say that I don’t have certain expectations of my own as well, I most certainly do, but there are certain things that just won’t translate well into a field where many people will be playing in the same area. Certain things, for instance, just won’t be acceptable, no matter how it is attempted to be justified in the grand scheme of an MMO.

One of the biggest hot topic debates is, of course, the first person view debate. Now, first person view is a great little thing… for single player title games where it works at. Why? Because a game built around single player is designed and constructed where the player only has to deal with those elements immediately near them and most often within their field of view and control. Some may argue to the contrary but even things at range are carefully designed so that players can still see them. In an MMO this is not the case, especially with big complex boss battles. Things are happening that the player needs to be aware of to keep ahead of the curve on because things that happen don’t always just happen with the boss themselves. Sometimes it might actually be the environment that you need to be aware of, and first person perspective just doesn’t offer this. Furthermore, first person is just plain inferior for basic surveillance. Yea, the argument is for immersion but really, first person has its place, and it can help with immersion, but it certainly doesn’t make feeling a part of the game any stronger since the hands you see are still not your own.

Another thing that’s come up is pick pocketing. This was a debate in MMOs since the days of UO when pick pocketing was allowed, but suffice it to say, regardless of player intent, eventually everyone is pretty much a thief by the end of their game play session in a TES game. You could have started out with the idea of being a noble knight, but by the end of the game you’re probably a skilled larcenist with at least several high profile assassinations under your belt as well. Needless to say, there is just no way to balance this in a multiplayer stage setting. Most people that think taking from other players think it would be cool and fun, but fail to realize that they can have their stuff taken in turn. And most of the times, when people think of pick pocketing, they do not think of it happening to them, only them doing it to others.  And pick pocketing from monsters would either end up being useless and underwhelming or so lucrative that it’s all people will do so there is no real way to balance it reliably within the scope of an MMO.

That brings up another thought in general, something single player gamers never really think about anyways; balance. Single player gamers have options, a lot of them. In fact, you would probably be hard pressed to find a single player gamer who hasn’t used a mod, console command or altered save files to better suit their play style. Hell, even quick save and quick load are things that single player gamers take for granted to remove unfavorable things that happen to restore lost items. In an MMO these options won’t exist. When you die, any items you used will be lost and any progress you made will have to be redone to a point. You won’t be able to call up a console command, alter save states, or install a mod that changes things to suit your play style. And there is no quick save or quick load. What happened, happened, and the consequences of your action are more readily apparent.

Finally, another thing that single player gamers, a major thing, that they might have to contend with is the fact that when things happen in an MMO, it’s usually with other players. This means that bad blood you form won’t be forgotten because you left town like is so often the case in Skyrim. If a player hates you, they will remember you and probably hate you for a while. Furthermore, you have a chance to lose in an MMO. Single player games just make things rather simplistic, defeat is just a quick load away from correction while defeat in an MMO has more tangible effects. This can range from death penalties, repair costs, to just respawn points at a distance away from where you were.

There are way more things of course but I think those are the major things to look at. I know this was sort of a random, jumbled mess, and somewhat incoherent, but I figured I would try to put two cents in on each of those topics. Next blog I think I will make a part two to my last blog post because after I wrote that I realized there was a hell of a lot more objects that would actually make me completely interested in TESO and a staunch player of it if it happened.

Leave a comment below, have fun, and until next time.

January 27, 2013

How to change my cautiousness to optimism for TESO

Some might be wondering what will shift my stance from cautious to hopeful when it concerns The Elder Scrolls Online since it has admittedly been the first fantasy MMO, let alone MMO in general, that has actually garnered a real interest in me and I have actually decided I wanted to beta in a long time. Well that’s a complicated question, but I think it deserves a few bits of analyzing.

First thing on that list, for me at least, will be open world that isn’t locked down. This is a bit of a loaded response, of course, because it’s hard to gauge this one. But to put it basically I want to explore and I want to roam at my leisure, not to have overt or covert barriers in my way preventing me from doing that. Most MMOs have covert barriers, usually through artificial level stigmas or just enemies that are flat out impossible because you don’t meet an imaginary toughness rating. Some games have a very overt barrier as in things are just plain locked out to you until you actually hit that level or do something special. I want to be able to wander about and explore, and that is very important to me. And artificial barriers don’t help my view either. If I see an interesting creek down in a valley, for instance, I don’t want to run towards it only to meet the world wall and be told I can’t go on. That is frustrating in and of itself. While Zenimax and Bethesda are promising a huge world, I am remaining reserved there.

Second thing that is important is my immersion factor. I like to RP, in fact I think I can say that is the one thing that has been killing my enjoyment of MMOs lately, is there is no way to feel a part of the world itself and thus my desire to RP in it is diminished greatly. Part of this stems from the fact of feeling like I am just being led by the nose from point A to point B, giving me no chance to break from the tired and worn path and look around for myself. In short if I am following the same path that someone else just beat down not more than five minutes ago then it’s already ripping out my immersion. But also offering me the chance to become the character I create in the world is also a huge step in that direction. This is something a lot of MMOs these days also don’t offer, because you are still in their very tight and limited story. If I see a cave I want to explore it, being told I can’t just kills it for me. Again, Bethesda and Zenimax are promising a lot in this case, but it is something that has caught my eye. RP for me isn’t always hanging out at the local tavern and conversing because I just can’t stand sitting around doing nothing all the time, but actually integrating events going on as a part of my character to. So this is a big part for me.

Third; the freedom to play my way is very important to me. Regardless of what people will tell you of current generation MMOs that have recently come out, there is very little choice or options on ways to play your character in those games. Once the dust begins to settle and people start figuring out how things work, stats, builds and gear all start floating towards a singular point. There is no denying this fact, even in TSW specs, gear and abilities are already doing this. People denying this are just purposely being blind and obtuse. The concept, right now, of me being able to play a rogue that can tank it up, or cast spells or range or really a lot of things has caught my interest a lot. My character concept before has always been sort of roguish, but because of the lack of utility and playing my way that current MMOs offer, I was often left being more of a warrior character just to fill in that tank role. These are things that matter to me and I want to have the option to be sneaky one moment or just go all out smash the next or just blast people in the face with fireballs or heal others when I want to.

Fourth, crafting has to mean something to. This is something I think all current generation MMOs have missed on greatly. Crafting has been more or less shuffled off to a basic after thought in the current MMO climate and it leaves much to be desired. As I’ve stated elsewhere, my biggest memories of MMO times don’t always come from the dungeons I go through or how many people I beat down in PvP, but just hanging around in a local town and creating things for others that want it. In UO, I use to hang around Brit forge just either making weapons and armor or repairing gear for people. I built up a small reputation based on that even, and when I wasn’t there I would run a shop that sold fairly well. I would love to be able to do stuff like that again, to just sit and relax some days and converse with people while making stuff. In short I hate being idle just to be idle, I like to actually be doing things while socializing.

Fifth, the team based game play actually has to be strong and engaging. I am a team player when I am not socializing or forging. Solo play can be fun but tends to get dull. In a game that emphasizes that socializing and teaming are key points, having the game mostly being soloable just doesn’t cut it for me. It harkens back to those D&D table top days for me of friends gathering around exploring dungeons and what not. This doesn’t mean that it requires the holy trinity, though that does help, but people should be able to fill in those roles they enjoy, and I want to know that the content is challenging and engaging. I think the major problem people have with the trinity is that it just makes them think the content is all tank and spank, which is dull. But if the content itself offers greater challenge for the team as a whole, not just a simple tank and spank mechanic, then it goes a long way in enforcing those roles, not taking away from them.

Finally, the game play has to be balanced. I don’t mean every class has to be the same but there needs to be a way to counter things so one spec or build doesn’t rule them all. This is a trap that many MMOs fall into, which leads up to my above statement that despite all the work and claims of people saying choice matters, in the end certain specs, abilities and gear just end up trumping out in the end. Things need to be balanced so that everything is viable in its way to allow for all play styles those chances. This goes for PvE and PvP. Changing tactics is smart, but changing builds because I am planning to do one thing or another isn’t. I shouldn’t have to require a specific build for PvP or PvE I should be just as viable at both as long as I can use my abilities and skills smartly.

These are some of the things that would need to be looked at for me, it’s not a completely comprehensive list, of course, but it’s a start. I won’t lie and say that the fact I can make a werewolf character, something most games haven’t really offered before, hasn’t caught my eye either. In fact, it was the first question I asked. My interest wasn’t that high when they said no, but now that they’ve been saying yes you can, it has actually intrigued me more. It’s a wait and see in the end, but I am trying to keep my expectations grounded until I learn more information. I haven’t really cared for most MMOs these days because of how static and linear they are and they fall into the basic MMO traps.

Anyways, leave comments if you can. And as a side note, despite me saying I would never start one again, I decided to anyways. I am forming a guild for TESO in the Ebonheart Pact, currently; The Black Wolves on Guild Launch. Ebonheart being my most logical choice because I actually like the Nord and I really hate elves, and I’ve always hated elves since I first saw them in D&D; a clich├ęd race as any. Guilds aimed at being a bit more tight knit this time, not aiming to be a huge guild, focused more on small team and skirmishes. And definitely for the RP. If you want to join you can check out the application, or if you just want to chat on those forums, you are more than welcome to.