Summer Holiday; Gone Bad

October 30, 2009 at 6:49 am | Posted in General | 10 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

Are we heading to The Bad Place™ for MMOs?

I’m very guilty of this terrible crime; I buy an MMO on release because I read a few reviews online that say the game is at the least respectable.  I invest in the game for the 30 days that my initial purchase buys me, and by the end of it I’m pretty sure that I won’t be playing any longer, whilst pretending to myself that I’ve not wasted my money.

MMO tourism at its worst.

It’s not as if I’m unhappy playing the games I’ve already got.

Is this me chasing rainbows?  Am I looking for the El Dorado of gaming?  Or am I just helping to perpetuate the Wrong Sort Of Games by purchasing high-profile games from companies that want their own 9 million subscribers?

I suppose one of the problems I have is that when MMOs are in development, the developers don’t give me a call and ask me what I’d want in a game.  This makes me sad, because if they did, I’d help them create The Best MMO In The World.  Well, for me, it would be The Best MMO In The World.  Your game experience might vary.

So the next best thing is for me to keep trying games out, until I find the one I like.

Gone are the days when I’d take any old MMO tat, and be happy with it.  I’m smart, I’m MMO savvy, and the worst thing is I have an over-inflated ego that thinks it knows enough of game design theory to be dangerous.

In point of fact, I am a very different consumer to the one that first saw a mate playing Everquest so many years ago, and thought; “Cool!  MUD with pictures!”

And yes, I am a consumer.  Publishers don’t release MMOs because they’re a charity, or because the Government is using it as a sneaky form of Care in the Community for geeks.

No, they’re there to make a profit.  Of course, no profit means no product, and if the MMO sector is seen to be a guaranteed loss-maker, soon there will be no more MMO games.

Right now, there are many products vying for our attention.  As well as all those games that are currently hyping themselves up during development.  All of them want our loyalty; all of them want our feeeelthy lucre.

I’m now going to pick on Star Trek Online.  I’m sorry, Star Trek Online (for all our sakes I hope and pray you’ll be wonderful.  But I don’t think you will.  Prove me wrong).  I was never a huge fan of Star Trek; the original series wasn’t bad, but dated horrendously.  Subsequent series failed to ignite my passion; the only series I thought was cool was Deep Space 9, and even that had bad patches.

So there’s brand recognition there.  But not enough to make me feel like I *have* to be there at release day. Stepping further, I have to look at Cryptic’s recent record, and decide if I feel confident that they are creating a game that I want to play.

Many people are prophesying doom and gloom for Champions Online.  What’s been considered a bad launch month, followed by fears over its continuing survival have made people wonder if it will be facing neglect as Star Trek Online becomes Cryptic’s shiny new golden child, and saviour of the company’s finances.

Then I read, courtesy of Are We New At This? through Syp at Bio Break (he’s *so* my Fallen Earth enabler)  that Star Trek Online won’t have npc voice recordings, because they’re not needed and they don’t fit in to their release schedule.  Here’s the quote I shamelessly copied and pasted from Are We New At This? because I’m scared to find and read the whole statement:

“What we want to make sure we do is be able to have a pipeline, is be able to make content and get that content out to the player as soon as possible after launch, and continue to update the game and continue to do things to the game. Putting that big huge VO section right in that pipeline makes things a little bit more difficult in terms of getting content out.”
– Craig Zinkievich, Executive Producer, Star Trek Online

Umm…  Huwah?

Maybe I’m just wrong-headedy-wrong-headed, but if Voice Overs get in the way of releasing content after launch, then what exactly is being released?  Surely voice acting (if it’s going to be a part of a product) gets released as a part of the initial release?  It’s almost as if we’re being told that [Any Given Film] will only be released with subtitles because the film-makers don’t want the nasty speaking bit to get in the way of the DVD release…

Personally, I don’t give a monkey’s chuff about voice overs in MMO games.  I usually find something that annoys the pants off me that occurs a bajillion times per fight (Minstrel banjo-twanging, Aion Cleric nonsense-word shouting), and annoys me enough to play with the sound off anyway.  Reading is not a problem.  The problem is the implication that Star Trek Online *will* be released, whether it’s ready or not, and if that means cutting good game goo, then cut it shall be…  It’s bad enough to hear that the Klingon race has been reduced to a mere PvMP bit-part, but now I fear for other elements of the game.  What if the fun gets cut?

I want a game at launch.  I don’t want a company to release a high-profile contender, what’s known as a “AAA” title, unless it’s fully ready.  The reason I’m paying for it is because it will be ready.  I do not want to pay to beta.  If I wanted that, I could relive my time in Star Wars Galaxies, or Everquest 2.  Or bung Bioware a huge wodge of cash to let me in the Star Wars: The Old Republic beta.

Where is your pride, game developers?  I understand that when you’re creating something, when you’re right in the middle of it, that it is really hard to take a step back and view it objectively.  But maybe the reason that Champions Online didn’t do as well as you wanted is because the product was released On Time, as opposed to a game being released when it was ready.

The reason to go with a big company over an independent is that I want to indulge in the complete gaming product at the start, rather than waiting for six months or a year.  Yes, I want updated content as I play the game.  But that’s one of the reasons I’m happy to pay a subscription; I pay for the game to get a game.  Not the promise of one to come.

The reason I’ve picked on Star Trek Online is that it’s currently set all phasers to Hype, yet everything I learn about it makes me worry a little more.  And it’s probably because I’ve seen them occur elsewhere.  It takes me a while to learn from experience, but it does happen.  Tha Seekrit Wurld worries me just as much, to be honest.

I have a soft spot for the “little guy”.  We British (I’m Colonial British, dontchaknow?) love an underdog.  Us Colonials even more-so.  I’ll sometimes throw money at an independent just so they can use my money to survive another five minutes in the jungle, before the corporate tigers eat them.  And because their resources are far more limited, they get a commensurate amount of slack.  I go in knowing I’m investing time and money into an independent project; I happily trade polish for specific vision on the part of the developers (I also don’t think that independants should charge any less than the big publishers; due to the economy of scale, independants need to charge more than the big boys just to keep going).

As opposed to being told that my thirty shiny golden coins of the realm will buy me the best thing since sliced Star Wars melon.

This is The Bad Place™ that I worry about.  As MMO gamers, we are a lot more savvy than we used to be.  We’re not playing our first MMO any more; we’re fully aware of the genre, we’re capable of making value judgements about it, and we’re not going to just accept what’s being thrown at us because we don’t know any better.  We do.

So when we buy a game and it just doesn’t deliver on its promises, we ditch it.  But whereas we might have played a game for a good few months in the past, nowadays the first month is all that’s needed.  For some of us, a couple of days.

Pretty soon, I’m going to hit a point where I will only buy an AAA game after a glowing personal recommendation from multiple people whose opinion I respect.  Because taking a financial gamble by making my own mind up will just be too expensive, and lead to too many dashed hopes.

It’s got to the point where I have the fear about any MMO in development.  The fear that makes me think that games will be badly implemented, that they will be rushed out with so many promised things cut, that they will be unoriginal and bland.  That includes you, Star Wars: The Old Republic.

That fear, that anger, that loathing: That’s not leading me to the Dark Side, it’s merely paving the way to The Bad Place™.

Cheers,
Hawley.

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Hawley, destroyer of amphibians

October 29, 2009 at 7:56 am | Posted in LotRO, Minstrel, Moria, raiding | 5 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

Recently, I killed a turtle.

Admittedly, that’s not the most impressive-sounding of feats.  And it’s a turtle that many others have defeated before me.

At first, it even looked like a particularly weedy opponent (especially for a raid), but pretty soon I discovered, in true Father Ted stylee, that this was because the turtle was Far, rather than Small.  This turtle was a big turtle.  So much so that it went from being “the turtle” to “The Turtle” pretty rapidly.

I’d not faced off against The Turtle previously.  It’s a one monster, one room fight.  It’s a test of dps, where the idea is to race between the amount of damage we can kick out, against the rapidly increasing amount of dot damage the monsty kicks out.

In an age where fighting raid bosses seem to be more a case of performing random crazy acts at the same time as tanking, damaging and healing, this was a refreshing change.  After time spent in Ulduar, this was a fantastically straight-forward fight for a healer;

Can I keep healing fast enough, and cleverly enough, to keep everyone alive?  Or am I going to blow my power so fast that we all end up dying?

It was also a reminder of why I love raiding.  I love pitting my wits and skill against a situation, and constantly wondering if I’ve got it right.  Especially when I’m in a situation that I’ve not encountered before.  Because I’m targeting other raid-members rather than the monsty itself, I have no idea how much longer I need to keep things together; feeling like it’s just about to unravel when the raid boss drops is the best feeling in the world.

It was the first time I’ve been involved in killing Nornuan.  Probably won’t be my last.

Cheers,

Hawley.

A decided lack of Moral Fibre

October 28, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Posted in General | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

My durty-durty secret of the week is not that I migrated my World of Warcraft account to a Battle.net account.

In a rather sudden collapse of my moral fibre, I availed myself of a Steam account.  I thought about it, and decided that maybe deciding it was evil was more effort than just accepting a possible future for games distribution, signing up for it, and finding out that the world did not end, and that sometimes my principles are just a pain in the nethers.

And there was a good offer on for Borderlands.  Left 4 Dead 2 also looms large in the future.  But I digress.

Fallen Earth is on Steam.  Every time I look at the Steam application, Fallen Earth looks back at me.  It wants me, and what’s worse, I want it.  Just one (or two, or a few) clicks and we could be together.  It would be so easy just to give in…

Am I talking myself into buying Fallen Earth?

I’m really tempted to buy it, just so I can play it, find out it’s not what I wanted after all, and finally get it out of my system.  But I’m also tempted to try it just so I can feel like I’m helping the little guy against all the big nasty corporations.  And because it’s post-apocalypse and I watched Steel Dawn recently.  Until I try it, I won’t know.  But boy has it managed to get under my skin.

And then, just as it looked like I was going to have to give in and buy it sight unseen, Icarus release trial keys as part of their Halloween event.  Huzzah!  So here I am, having a look at Fallen Earth.

I also decided to download the demo for Machinarium, after hearing Unwize playing it and chatting to him about it.  Gob-smacking design and vision.  As well as being surprisingly sweet and beautiful.

Don’t worry; I still have my irrational hatred of PayPal.   Some things will never change.

Cheers,
Hawley.

I have seen the future, and it is Niche

October 24, 2009 at 5:58 am | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

Straight to the meat on this one.  No rambly introductions.

Niche gaming.  It’s the future.

Done.  Dusted.

Now for the rambling explanation bit.  We all know the history of MMO gaming:

First there were MUDs.  Then, skipping a few million years of evolution, we had the First Three; Ultima Online, Everquest and Asheron’s Call.  After that came the Dark Ages (of Camelot) which only ended when Blizzard said; “Let there be World of Warcraft”.

And then, pretty much as Fukuyama predicted, history ended (ok, Fukuyama was talking economically and philosophically.  But the point holds.  Just).

Many publishers saw the success of World of Warcraft and decided they deserved their own 9 million subscribers, since when we’ve had plenty of high profile games that have clamoured for our attention and our monthly subscription.  But none have attained anywhere close to the same success, and many have just fallen by the wayside.

World of Warcraft’s Right Place, Right Time factor was very, very high.  Previous generations of MMO games had raised the profile of MMO gaming to the threshold of mass acceptance.  No longer was it geeks who desperately wanted to be Gandalf, it was regular gamers playing a hardcore game style.  Blizzard tipped MMO gaming over that threshold.

Because of the brand loyalty that World of Warcraft engenders, it’s likely that the only game that will take over from World of Warcraft will be its own sequel.  It is highly likely that no game in the future, including the much announced “wow-killer”, will ever have that many subscribers.

This is no bad thing.  The fact that there are 9 million subscribers to a game means nothing to me when the server can only hold 50,000 gamers at any one time.  As a player, all that matters to me about numbers is knowing that there are enough players on the server to allow me to interact in a meaningful way.

Of course, to the publisher it’s a different matter entirely; those 9 million subscribers are needed to recoup the initial development costs, as well as generate new content.

This is where Niche comes in.  A smaller enterprise with lower overheads can not only survive, but prosper if it chooses its niche well.  Concept and imagination cost nothing, and when allied to effective use of budget, both players and company are on to a winner.  Modern development seems to be all about the bloat; small companies must learn to live without it.  Eve continues to go from strength to strength, whilst the big boys just seem to go from one failed product to another.

Furthermore, by requiring a smaller playerbase in order to draw a profit, developers can step away from the formula, the MMO-by-numbers, that we see so often nowadays, and actually attempt to innovate.

On Planet Hawley, I can only see win.  Because more choice is good, and gives us more chance of finding that one game that really, really feels like it was made for us.

I’d much rather have a number of games I hate with one I love, than a world of bland desperately attempting to offend no-one.  I don’t have to play the games I hate; that’s the beauty of consumer choice.

That’s the beauty of Niche.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Instancing versus Solo questing

Wotcha everyone,

Life is easy in World-of-Warcraftville.  Pay a thousand gold, get a dual spec.  And then rub your tummy in glee at the thought of being able to have one spec for soloing, and a second for group/raid/instancing.

I did.  I got a dual spec as soon as I could afford one with Shaman Herewerd, and I’ve never looked back.  Talent specs make such a difference to a hybrid class that having the ability to easily and quickly swap between a Restoration spec for healing groups and an Elemental spec for when I’m alone and need to kick out some damage has meant that I’ve continued questing, when previously I might have put Herewerd in a box, only to be brought out when needed for healing purposes.  Yes, the alts have suffered as a result.

But now Minstrel Hawley is at maximum level, and things are different in Lord of the Rings Online.

Lord of the Rings Online has a trait system, but it’s much simpler and easier to organise.  However, that doesn’t mean it’s any less complex in min-maxing terms.  And trait setups make a huge difference to gameplay.

One of the first things I did at level 60 was change setups from a more damage-based setup to one that is designed around healing, and getting the most for my healing buck.  The upshot is that solo combat is at least twice as long as it previously was.  Having said that, I now feel more like a healer, rather than a rubbish dps class that could heal.

When it comes to changing trait setups, I’m lazy.  I set up what I think is a good set of traits, and then adapt my playing for the situation.  I find that easier than sitting in front of a Bard scratching my head whenever I’m off to do something different.  Considering that one of my gaming mantras is “Evolve or die” (especially useful when visited by El Nerfo, the evil wind of change), it would be a bit daft of me if I couldn’t adapt to each situation presented to me, regardless of my trait setup.

Yes, some situations are more difficult than others.  But now Hawley is level 60, it’s time to spend most of my time in groups.

If I want the solo/levelling experience, I have many characters to choose from.  Including that potentially (probably) evil Rune-Keeper alt of mine.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Whip Crack-A-Way (or how I jumped on a bandwagon and learned to embrace change)

October 22, 2009 at 5:55 am | Posted in World of Warcraft | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

I appreciate the fact that I’m not a newshound.  I also appreciate the fact that I’m the strangest sort of Early-Adopter; if something cool and techy manages to ping on my radar, then I’ll check it out (and most probably get it).  But I can be fabulously reactionary, especially when it comes to dealing with change.

There has been some comment through the Blogosphere on Blizzard’s requirement to change World of Warcraft accounts to Battlenet accounts.

Now, because I’m easily confused, I saw the artwork they’d used on their login pages and thought that I’d be forced to get one of those Security Fob doohickeys at the same time.  And whilst I appreciate that they can improve security no-end, I can also appreciate (from time served in IT helpdesks) that they can improve security to the extent that no-one can log on.  I have issues about service denial, and Security Fobs add an extra layer of complication that I just don’t like.  Security slacker that I am.

There’s also the issue of cost.  If your phone doesn’t support the Security Fob software, then you’re going to have to pay what amounts to a one-off tax to play the game you’ve been playing and paying for previously.

Unsurprisingly, that got my Reactionary gene going.  Commentators adding that this amounts to Blizzard forcing us to sign up to Social Networking just added to my reactionary zeal.

I was in serious danger of a Face-Nose-Cutting-Implement-Interface-Issue.  If Blizzard were going to force me to do something, then I just wouldn’t play their game!  Haha!  Sucks to be you, Blizzard!

Ahem.

Calmly working through the available information helped a lot.  No, I didn’t need to get a Security Fob.  I could just merge my current subscription account with the Battlenet account.

And…

I can choose to ignore the social networking side of things.  I already do my best to ignore the world of social networking that’s already out there.  I must admit to having a Twitter account, but that was purely for a work-related test.  I’ve also forgotten the password, and I’ve no real inclination to sort it out.  Other than that, I shall not boast about how much of a social networking luddite I am (because I also appreciate that blogging is social networking too, and my hypocrisy does have limits).

So I went ahead and merged my logon details with a Battlenet account.  And the world did not end.  Are there any social networking elements?  I have no idea.  I’ve no need of them, so I didn’t bother checking for them.  They can sit there unused, for all I care.

MMO gaming has been recognised to have a far longer lifespan than any other game type.  World of Warcraft has been around for 5 years and shows no signs of dying of old age.  In game years, that’s positively ancient.  So it’s not surprising that social networking sites are starting to appear for games.  Including single/multiplayer games like Dragon Age.  If they extend the lifespan of a game, then of course publishers and developers will want to use them.

We don’t have to.  I’m not talking about some insane mass boycott thing, just… I’ll not be using it.  I think it’s a sign of getting older.  Every time I encounter something like this, I have to wonder whether the object of my wrath is actually worth the effort of me hating it.

Oh, and I also got a penguin pet for signing up.  The joy.  I’d have preferred something useful, but at least the pet-collectors can joy-joy dance about it.  Unless they don’t get one, at which point I apologise.

All in all, it was painless.  Yet I have to admit, I did all of this secure in the knowledge that in just over a week my subscription runs out and I most probably won’t be playing World of Warcrft again until Cataclysm comes out, or friends beat me with sticks.  So it’s not like I’m losing much.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Now we are 60

October 20, 2009 at 7:54 pm | Posted in LotRO, Minstrel | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

The Poppets have a reason to be proud of their slacker son.  Hawley Poppet has finally got to level 60.  It happened a few days ago (thanks to the vagaries of scheduling, and the fact that I’m a slacker), there was a small amount of “Woohoo”, and a celebratory brew was partaken of.  A tea well-earned, I felt.

It’s no speed record; I don’t really mind about that.  I got there on my own time, and got there because I wanted to, rather than felt like I had to.  All in all, it was more than worth making the effort.  For all the times I spent lost in the dark, crying into my tea at the unfairness of making someone who gets lost on the way to the toilet in his own house have to navigate Moria’s rather labyrinthine zones, there was a moment of wonder, of beauty, and glorious technicolour.

Eregion, Moria and Lothlorien are great places to visit, great zones with plenty of content.  They’re also packed to bursting with atmosphere; some of that will be hold-over from the books and films, but most of it comes from the fabulous design and stunning vistas that the developers have put in.  Levelling through them has been great.

But it did make me start to ponder a few things about what happens next.

I’ve not looked into it fully, but I do believe that next comes the Radiance Grind.  Getting enough of the right pieces of radiance armour set to be able to go and play with the other big kids in the big kid’s adventure playground.  This might have filled me with fear in the past; with so many people already fully geared up, would I be able to persuade them to go back to somewhere that they’re already sick of going to?

Burnout is something that’s endemic in MMOs.  We don’t *have* to run the same content again and again, but if we want to get to the Mad Hatter’s tea party we have to follow the White Rabbit.  And the White Rabbit likes repeating content.

I like instancing and raiding.  For me, it’s the joy of working together as a team to defeat the obstacles placed in our path rather than gaining trez, so I can be pretty tolerant of going and repeating content.  I tend to burnout on an instance when the content and challenge become trivial, rather than through overdoing it.

Of course, I’m now ready (just in time) for another 5 levels of the levelling game when Siege of Mirkwood comes out.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Overdue at the Library

October 19, 2009 at 4:02 am | Posted in LotRO, Minstrel | 3 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

I am a voracious reader.  When younger, my parents were constantly worried that I’d end up some sort of freak because in any possible moment, when not told to do something, I’d have my nose in a book.

Of course, they needn’t have worried.  I am a perfectly normal and well-adjusted individual, as anyone can tell.  Normal.  Very.  Me.

So it is with a certain sense of irony that I can report that when it comes to completing the Book quest lines, which play such a large part of questing in Lord of the Rings Online, I am completely rubbish.

Completely.

It’s almost embarrassing.  I know why the rot started though; my dislike of PUGs.  And because so many chapters required groups, I just sort of ignored them.  And as many were unrepeatable at first it meant that getting into a group with kin-mates was more difficult than it needed to be.

The last straw was a particularly torrid tour of the Trollshaws in the company of Legolas, two other hunters, and three other minstrels.  I still look back on that run, and giggle hysterically.  Least said, soonest mended.

I also have a habit of being ocd enough to only want to do them in order.  So apart from the prologue to Volume 2 which is compulsory if you want to go into Moria, I’m stuck at Volume 1 Book 8.  Chapter 5.

However, I am going to change this.  My new resolution is to have ALL books in both Volumes completed by the time Siege of Mirkwood comes out.  I shall!  I shall!

Why?

Well, they’re a large chunk of the Lord of the Rings Online gaming experience that I’m missing out on.  And when I do partake, it’s no longer a challenge.  I like challenge in games, so by spending the next few weeks catching up on the books, I can at least get to the point where I am making the most of the Book experience.

They are also a fantastic way of making the most of the Middle Earth setting; the Books are grand stories, epic in feel.  Defending Trestlebridge, hanging out with Gimli whilst he takes on most of a zone by himself, witnessing the departure of *the* Fellowship from Rivendell.  Moments in time, that take me from being just another player to someone that’s a part of what is going on.

Despite my neglect of the Books, they have done a fantastic job of drawing me into the game that Turbine have created; Minstrel Hawley feels far more a part of Middle Earth than Shaman Herewerd ever will in Azeroth.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Arthas: My part in his downfall

October 16, 2009 at 6:33 am | Posted in raiding, World of Warcraft | 2 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

Spinks posted a lovely article here, and whilst I wanted to reply to some of the points she raised, I didn’t want to clog up her comments with an unholy mess of a ramble.

So here it is.  Lucky you (it’s not too late to run).

I can understand how there might be howls of anger at Arthas being the end-boss of a 5-man instance.  Surely Arthas, Lich King of Dooooom and general bogeyman throughout Wrath of the Lich King should be end-boss of a 25-man raid?  And a real challenge at that.  He is, after all, the Apex Predator of raid bosses, surely?

According to the Lore, he’s the biggest, baddest dude on the face of Azeroth.  Just thwarting his plans has taken the combined might of two alliances, numerous groups and societies, and a few hundred guilds.  Per server.

I try not to be a Lore-monkey.  Where did “Lore” come from?  Isn’t it…  “Background”?  At some point game background, there to add some flavour to the games we play, became more than just background, and to reflect that newfound prestige it gained a brand new, more impressive title; “LORE”.

And with it came Lore-monkeys.  Ready to complain at a drop of a hat whenever THE LORE was ignored.  Or even worse, when it was changed.

As you might have gathered, I’m not that interested in LORE.  I like some semblance of coherence to a game, but I’m more of the opinion that what makes for a good game is far more important than making sure the LORE is followed to the letter.  After all, fun is the reason we play, and a good game is going to be more fun.  If the LORE means less fun, then dump the LORE first.

I also don’t think that every part of the World of Warcraft is a raid waiting to happen.  Why should Arthas be solely a raid boss?  Why does he need to be a raid boss?

Not everyone who has played through Wrath of the Lich King is in a raid community.  And not all of those raids are going to be geared up enough to take on Arthas in Arthasland, if Arthasland is the final top-tier raid at level 80.

Now, with Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard have tried to create a play-through story experience.  Areas in some zones change to reflect our position within the story; we get cutscenes and even flash-backs to previous, world-changing events.  We even play Arthas, so we can have a better understanding of the big cuddly harbinger of doom.

So, here we are.  We have played through the storyline.  We’ve seen the start of his reign, we’ve seen the effects on Northrend, we’ve played through a massive campaign which has had the sole aim of ending Arthas’ designs upon Azeroth.

I wouldn’t mind seeing an end to that story.  Don’t I have the right to some form of story closure?

The LORE should exist to enhance my gameplay, not restrict it.  And if Arthas is such a big bad guy that only a raid should be able to take him down, then why stop at 25 man?  Oh, how soon we forget those halcyon days of 40-man raids.  Ragnaros got 40 people beating on him at once.  So did Onyxia, back in the day.  So who’s this no-mark who only needs 25 people to take him down?

No.  I want to play my part in Arthas’ downfall.  I want to be able to put the boot in, even if that meant a really cool solo encounter.  One hobbit does it for Sauron..  One man kills Kurtz.  One man kills the Emperor (Okay, he’s more machine than man.  And he had his slacker son in the room).  The science fiction and fantasy genre is filled with One-man-making-a-difference.

Haven’t I earned that right?  Dress it up however it needs to be, but I’ve got just as much invested in seeing Arthas kicked to death than any other player, so why should it only be a small, select group of people on each server who get to do it?

Go Blizzard, you make Arthas a 5-man instance boss.  And I thank you for that.  You could even make him a solo encounter.  Maybe I could wait until he’s asleep.  And on the toilet.

After all, I’d hate for the climax to this story to just be another way of measuring the size of my epeen.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Aion: Post Mortem

October 14, 2009 at 6:32 am | Posted in Aion | 6 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

I’ve always felt that if a game took longer than a couple of weeks to really grab me, then it’s probably never going to grab me.
Aion has not grabbed me.  But why?

It looks gorgeous.  I am not alone in saying it.  In fact, just as everyone who plays Fallen Earth calls it “Niche”, everyone who plays Aion says it looks gorgeous.  But a game needs to be more than just gorgeous; look at Age of Conan.

In no particular order, let’s see what’s stopping me from loving Aion;
Gold Spam.  Did you know that my first received whisper in game was from a gold seller?  It wasn’t long after I started.  I think I had enough time for most of the first level before his happy little message popped up on screen.  For a while, that little chap was my only company through the early levels.  I normally shut off public channels because player spam is quite off-putting enough for me, but there is a lot of gold spam, and unlike the queues there’s no sign of them abating.  Despite official announcements to the contrary.  I didn’t think there’d be any game to rival World of Warcraft for gold spam, but here is me holding up my hand and saying I was wrong.  I was wrong.

The Queues.  I don’t mind the queues.  I do my chores whilst queueing.  My lovely lady loves that.  Makes me look good too.  My Xbox loves all the attention that Mass Effect is getting.  But there’s the thing; I should be antsy to play, and I’m not.  That makes me think my sub-conscious is telling me that this game is not singing to me.  Yes, I enjoy it when I get on, but there are other games I enjoy, that I don’t have to pay a subscription for.

The PvP.  Where is it?  It’s at level 25?  One of things that Warhammer Online got spot-on right was the ability to jump into PvP at level 1.  Fantastic.  So for a game that’s marketed at the PvP market, it seems daft that the only PvP I get to do before level 25 is dueling people on my own side.  That gets a somewhat sarcastic little “yay”.  I’m not sure I can wait for level 25; I don’t get that much time to play, so every hour I spend levelling to level 25 is another hour of me thinking I could (should) be levelling Minstrel Hawley, or finding a PUG for Shaman Herewerd.  The PvE experience just isn’t that challenging, or even exciting;  Aion needs PvP a lot sooner than it gives it out.

The Alt situation.  I like my alts.  I usually start off two or three characters when I first get a game, and level the alts when I fancy a bit of a rest from levelling the main.  And Aion is no different, but this time I’m spending time in other games rather than levelling an alt.  This is possibly because of the nature of the game; there’s not much for me apart from more killing.  And whilst I’ve no problem whatsoever with a target-rich environment and carte-blanche to murderlise as much indigenous life-forms as I want, the regions are very close and channelled.  Either I’m messing up completely, or I’m doing a lot of running around through long-cut channels to get to where I need to, because the zone won’t let me go in a short-cut straight line.  I hate pointless running.  In real or fake worlds.  So doing it more than once is a painful thought.

Kinah.  What a name.  If we’re going to rename Shiny Gold Coins, can we call them “Feeeelthy Lucre”?  Please?  Because Kinah’s…  kinah rubbish.  Especially for a game that is so cash based.  I have to pay to bind.  I have to pay to recover lost xp when I die.  And then I have to pay for all the other things that you pay for in MMOs; crafting, items, skills.  If World of Warcraft is obsessed with equipment, Aion is obsessed with cash.  You don’t even get equipment falling from monsties, or from quest rewards all that often; just more…  Kinah.
There are good points to the game (more than documented elsewhere), but nothing that is outstanding.  Yes, it has those looks, but they’re skin-deep, and let’s face it honey, they’re not fulfilling my emotional needs…  Ahem.

Aion isn’t broken.  It’s very nice.  And I can’t find anything to actively hate.  And for once I’m finding it difficult to put this into words; It just doesn’t sing to me.  That little siren song that calls to me, that makes me want to see what’s over the next hill, that makes me want to see more is missing.  And without that, it’s hard for me to be fully enthused.

If friends asked me about Aion, I’d tell them to try it out and see if it’s for them.  The legion I joined is lovely, and I’d recommend Vaatyrium to anyone looking for a semi-casual guild to join.  But Aion isn’t for me.  And I think that the worst thing about it is that, for me, the game is just…  bland.
Shame.
Cheers,
Hawley.

Niche Gaming

October 11, 2009 at 7:15 am | Posted in General | 2 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,
World of Warcraft brought MMO gaming to the masses.  Despite what you hear about 94 trillion accounts (and how much you believe it), and what you think of the game as a whole, World of Warcraft did MMO gaming a huge favour.  It brought MMO gaming to the masses, it brought it into the popular consciousness, and most importantly it brought it to the attention of games publishers.

Suddenly it was worth investing in an MMO.  No longer were they a game style for the uber-geek.  They were mainstream, and there was money to be made.

But every time we get a new game coming out, the term “WoW-killer” pops up.  Just as every new smartphone is an “iPhone-killer”.
Gosh.  Don’t you just feel the love from all the hot marketing buzzword action?

Personally, I wish World of Warcraft a long and healthy life.  But it’s as if the nasty marketing men want us to believe that only one MMO should exist; we  live in a culture where big numbers = success.

The number of friends you have in your MyFaceLiveSpaceJournalBook, the number of subscribers to your MMO of choice, the number of views to your blog; it seems to be a quantifiable way of gauging success, but it’s not.  It’s not a sign of how popular or good you are, it’s just a sign of how good you are at collecting.

I’ve been reading up about Fallen Earth.  It’s interesting to me, as it increasingly sounds like a great game, and all the buzz I’m hearing about it is from people who are playing, as opposed to media hype.  But many people are using the term “Niche” when talking about Fallen Earth, and almost as if it’s an apology; having a small number of players makes it a failure, surely?
Well, no it doesn’t.  It just makes it small.  Small is not bad.  Ask a satsuma.  It’s juicier, it’s easier to peel, and it never outstays its welcome.

I like to think of “Niche”, when talking about games and gaming, as having a specific rather than broad appeal.  What appeals to me about Fallen Earth is the post-apocalyptic world and the sandbox nature of the game.  Fantasy is the mainstream of MMO gaming;  having used table-top role-playing games as a source, it’s hardly surprising.  Add to that the reluctance of money-men to gamble on something new, and you get a genre that is predominantly fantasy-based.  And thanks to the game model that World of Warcraft established (quest-based levelling, with raiding at high level) a sandbox game where you have to (gasp!) find your own fun is most definately niche.  And there’s no reason for that to change, especially when you have players screaming that a game doesn’t have enough content.  Which means quests, raids, and instances.

When I were a lad (cue Dvorak) getting bread from t’mill five mile every day wi’ just me socks on (if it were frozen, o’course.  Summertime we just wore 6″ nails through our feet) we made our own fun.  The “internet” was a bicycle rim, and a “computer” was a stick for making the rim go as far as we could.  “Content” was the weird kid from down the street who had a leather football.
Niche is good.  Something designed to be as popular as possible across as wide a group as possible is most often bland and uninteresting.  Let’s use Pizza as my model.  It’s a superfood.  It’s a starter, it’s a main course, it can even be dessert.  Fantastic foodstuff.  But not everyone likes Anchovies, Pineapple, Garlic and Pepperoni on a pizza, so my local pizza place of choice probably only makes one of those per month (mine, and I’m trying to cut down hence once per month).  Their Hawaiian’s are much more popular.  Their Mighty Meaty, as well.  Cheese and Tomato is most probably the most popular of all.  But my niche pizza is fabulous.  It’s everything I want in a pizza, and I don’t care that no-one else likes it.  Cheese and Tomato might well be non-offensive, but it’s also non-tasty.

I want tasty gaming too.   I don’t care if a game has more players than World of Warcraft.  I do care that a game has something more than just the ability to spend time on it.

Niche gaming is something to be embraced, not feared or derided.  I’d prefer to play a game that had one server and 50,000 players that I really, really wanted to play than play a game that was bland but had 4 million players over umpteen servers.  Why?  Let’s look at Eve.

Eve is fantastic.  You don’t play a person.  You play a ship.  You don’t get any quests.  You get PvE missions that involve shooting other ships.  Or delivering stuff.  Where’s the content?  It’s in the detail.  By having such a detailed crafting and technology system, the game is its own content.  Alliances mean something because it is players that run them, create them, and destroy them.  You don’t just defeat an opponent in PvP; you can crush him technologically and financially.  You don’t choose to do something because the quest-giver will give you xp and shinies.  You do it because it matters to you.  Compare that to the cut’n’paste questing in World of Warcraft, or Lord of the Rings Online, or Everquest 2.

I wish I loved Eve as much as some friends do.  But the one thing that I can’t do is identify with a spaceship.  It’s a lump of metal, not a “person”.  If I could get past that one little thing, I’d be all over Eve like a rash.  I love the freedom, the ability to do what I want, not what the game demands.

But I love the fact that it’s out there, blazing in the darkness, a big fat beacon of specialisation in the darkness of all this populism.  It’s a sign that games that appeal to small numbers of players can not only exist, but thrive.  I’m really hoping that Fallen Earth joins it.  Choice is good.  I’m tempted to give them my money just for that reason alone.

Remember, kids, we don’t want World of Warcraft killing off.  We want more choice, so we can find that one game that really sings to us, so we can play for the joy of playing alone.  Niche is good.  Choice is good.

Cheers,
Hawley.

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