Wherein there is No Particular Order

September 13, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

A recent jaunt across the Irish Sea meant No MMOs For Hawley For A Week, which is a harsh period of cold turkey for an addict such as myself.  For reference purposes, it’s worse than No Pizza, but nowhere near as bad as [shudder] No Tea.

Slight tangent: In Ballina, Mayo, there is a restaurant called Padraic’s Restaurant.  It looks like the sort of greasy-spoon diner that was last decorated during the 1970s.  It doesn’t have the ambience of the cooler sort of contemporary eateries, and the menu wasn’t designed and produced on a Mac by someone who is very creative.  Yet the late lunch we had there was my favourite meal of the entire holiday.  You see, at Padraic’s, the service is friendly and welcoming, the food is high quality, the portions are large, and the menu itself is wide-ranging and universally good.  And for what you get, the prices are more than right.

It’s a good job it’s another country away; if there was one in my home town, I’d be twice the size I am.  And I’m big enough already.

Heading slightly back on track: Not being able to play MMOs doesn’t mean I didn’t think about them, and being Multi-Game at the moment, about what makes me *want* to spend time in three different MMOs.

So, in no particular order:

Star Wars: The Old Republic.  The gameplay doesn’t just make The Old Republic some sort of warm woolly blanket every time I need a comfy and welcoming gaming fix.  It’s all those lovely storylines; for the first time I’ve had moments where I’ve sat and thought a decision through before making it.  And once this went so far that I was forced to go and make a brew, and then ponder through the decision before settling on my choice.  I’ve not been forced to do that since Fallout 2, and that’s a long time ago.

I’m also a huge fan of the combat and related class skills.  Playing a trooper makes me feel like I’m playing through my own personal war film, whilst consular felt like an old-school hermit-based wizard.  The skills just support that, and the pin-sharp animations really bring it home.  Yes, every time Hawley picks a droid out of the ground and lobs it at some monsty, I grin like a loon.

The Secret World.  The thing that amazes me about this game is the level of detail that Funcom have brought into this game.  Every time I play, I’m surprised by how deeply immersed I get, how many smart references there are, and how well gauged the atmosphere is.  Just the thought of seeing more of the game world is enough to keep me wanting to play, never mind the sheer joy of the classless character system.

Guild Wars 2.  PvP.  Just WvWvWvWvWvWvWvWvWvWvW me up please, because I loves me some WvWvWvWvWvWvWvWvWvWvW.  Fighting over a dedicated PvP conquest zone is just loads of fun, and something that makes me giggle.  No, I’m not a hardcore PvPer.  I’m not even good at it.  I am, however, enthusiastic and willing.

I had a wonderful time on holiday, but just as it’s always nice to come home after, it’s nice to be able to log on and play an MMO that will give me something that’s whole and hearty.

Oh, and don’t forget to go for a meal in Padraic’s some time.

Cheers,

Hawley.

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Is Cataclysm World of Warcraft’s Last Hurrah?

December 31, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Posted in General | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

The next year or so looks like it could be a period of change for MMO game-play.

Admittedly, I’m not the person to come to when it’s news about MMOs that you’re after.  I am barely capable of venturing an opinion in print, never mind backing it up with cold, hard facts based on proper research.

I’m a shoddy researcher.  When it comes to MMOs, I’d rather be playing than poring over the publisher’s website for hidden nuggets of information.  But, just like any good consumer, I don’t like getting stung by a retailer.

So I do a little research.  Not enough to feel that I can news-blog, but enough that I can feel comfortable partaking in the whole consumer/vendor relationship.

Currently, my research has involves going to an MMOs website and watching the trailers, after which I’ll skim down the “News” section and see if there are any articles that catch my eye.  Finally, I’ll see if there are any funky-looking screenies.  Loves a good screenie, does I.

Where does all this tie in with that title up there?  The contentious one, squatting like some particularly gargoyle-like gargoyle?

Well, virtually every site I’ve seen really, really wants to tell me that their game is Next Generation.

“Next Generation” isn’t, it seems, just a Star Trek thing.  As with all jargon, it’s a fantastically woolly term, that marketing men probably hope means all things to all men.

To myself, and when applied to MMO gaming, it means a significant advance in game-play.

That doesn’t mean a particular game was the first to include a particular element, and is no guarantee of innovation.  And to muddy the waters, there are those games that seem to straddle the generational divide, being a perfect refinement of the previous generation, yet including many elements of the new generation.

I’m not going to sit here, and profess my beliefs on how many generations there have been within the MMO genre, and I’m not going to state which games have heralded a new generation.

My main reason is that it would completely destroy a rather fun but thoroughly geeky discussion/argument that’s perfect for drunken evenings in the pub.  And I’d probably get it all wrong.

For all that, I can’t help looking at these trailers, at the hype, and think that the behemoths looming on the horizon might actually be the real deal when it comes to advancing the genre as a whole.

From all the hype gushing out, I can see two elements that, for me at least, signify the advancement of the genre.

First is the pre-eminence of story, and the personalisation of that story.  In the past, story has been on the grand scale, with players partaking in the grand story by taking and completing quests, but without any of it being of any real impact.  No story mattered (or even could matter) overmuch because the game world would be reset in ten minutes time.

In the future, story might well be freed from being tied to questing; I would imagine questing won’t be removed, or even sidelined, but unscheduled events occurring in and around the player, as well as content specifically for the created character, are making story important in its own right, rather than as something tied to a chunk of xp and some trez.

Both Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic seem to have this as a core part of their game design.  Having monsters actively participate in naughtiness, rather than hang around waiting for a player to enter their aggro range, is one of the exciting elements of Guild Wars 2.  And both games have spoken about having a tailored story for each class, resulting in a different game for every player.

Yikes, that’s exciting.

And whilst I think that, thanks to its marketing campaign, Rift is placing itself firmly in the “Ultimate Refinement Of This Generation” camp rather than “Herald Of The Next Generation” spearhead (that’s what happens when you keep saying you’re much better than the other guy.  Sorry.  Try saying that you’re just *that* good, standing by yourself.  You’d probably get my money then.  Oh, who am I kidding; you *would* get my money then), I can’t help getting excited by all this rift malarkey.

Rifts opening, monsties barging through, taking over an area, and having to be forcibly removed?  That’s just pure gaming jam, that is.  That’s “to be spread on toast, thickly” levels of nice.  In fact, it’s so nice it’s noice.

It makes the world feel like a world; what was supposed to make poor, doomed Horizons such a great game (Horizons is one of the few games that I wish had lived up to all of its aspirations.  It would have been so wonderful) was a changing game world, where player actions made a difference to the landscape.

Anything that aids immersion is good, in my book.  A more interesting world to game in, one that changes due to player action, is something that really makes me excited.  The Secret World’s attention to detail, with The Test (I’ve taken it twice now, and came up Templar both times.  There is a part of me that is vaguely worried that I’m becoming increasingly reactionary as I grow older) the Kingsmouth website, and even the zombie invasion of Kingsmouth trailer all serves to make the game world more immersive, and therefore compelling.

Suddenly the revamped levelling experience, the comparatively heavy use of cutscenes, and the nifty use of phasing seems less exciting than it used to.  Of course, it’s always hard for something that exists, that is currently available and has been experienced, to compare favourably with the fevered wish-dreams of this particular geek.  Of course a game in development is going to be amazing; they all are, especially when viewed through a Greener-Grass Filter.

But I can’t help wondering if Cataclysm is the last time that World of Warcraft will be the big fella; the one everyone looks to when an opinion is needed.  It’s hardly surprising, seeing as it’s now six years old.  I’m pretty sure that in MMO years, that’s older than most pyramids.

And seeing as World of Warcraft is very much of *this* generation of MMOs, it’s hard for it to be a part of the *next* generation as well.  The way that the game has been put together would make it hard to modify into the all-singing, all-dancing promises of dynamic worlds with dynamic events; it would probably be easier to just create a new game.  Quite possibly with a working title of something like, oh, I don’t know…  “Titan”?

Add in the seductive promises of enhanced story-telling (in a fourth pillar stylee), and it’s highly likely that, in a year or so’s time, we’ll be looking at World of Warcraft in the same way that we looked at the original Everquest shortly after Azeroth opened its doors:

As a bit tired, old fashioned, and worn around the edges; like those grand old fleapit cinemas filled with faded glory that we all abandoned shortly after the new multi-plex cinemas started appearing.

It’s a shame, but it’s also part of the natural order of things.  Old games get replaced with new games, in some sort of electronic evolutionary chain.  World of Warcraft will most likely be at least seven years old before all these shiny new temptresses sashay onto the shelves anyway, so there’s plenty of time to enjoy what World of Warcraft does best.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Of Swords and Ploughshares

November 18, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Posted in General | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

I am more than aware I have been striding purposefully down the “Bah humbug!” path when it comes to Events in MMOs over the last however-long.

That’s “Events” with a capital “E” because I’m not just referring to the seasonal events beloved of so many (right-thinking) players, but also things like the Elemental Invasion in World of Warcraft, or the Trivia Nights and Motorcycle Rides in Fallen Earth.

At the same time I look at recent (well, for *me* they’re recent, they may well be old hat for you) changes in the way that Rogues work in World of Warcraft, and I find myself not particularly caring that the game has been “dumbed down” to use the terms favoured by detractors, or “improved” if you’re a developer who worked on that particular area.

In point of fact, I tend to find that I approve of most of the changes.

Let’s take poisons.  Nasty rogueses and their poisons.

Almost 6 years ago, a rogue had to go and buy potion bottles and herbs, and then sit there making potions.  It was a skill-based progression just like any other profession skills, and was the immersive option.  Then Blizzard decided it was a waste of time; a redundant skill, and an opportunity to stand there doing very little that was actually fun for a few minutes.  So whilst poisons were still level-based, they were sold as consumables by vendors.

Now, they’re not even level-based.  They just scale the damage according to level.

In the midst of all this, the way that poisons worked changed as well.  They stopped having both a time limit and charges, and just had time-limits.

Sorted.  Big thumbs up from the slacker here.

Less work, less silly “wastage”, less carting around assorted crap in bags.

Of course, your opinion might well vary on whether or not this trend amongst games to step away from the minutae and towards an “enhanced” gaming feel is something you appreciate or not.

And it really depends on your opinion of what a “persistent world” should be.  Is it an actual world, where players can exist as a part of the world, or is it a playset, there to be a backdrop for the game?

Are MMOs about the world, or the game set in it?

I used to believe in the Persistent World Dream.  The fact that the technology couldn’t support it when I started playing MMOs didn’t mean that each successive generation of MMOs couldn’t and wouldn’t take us closer the dream.  But time has managed to savage that dream, with a succession of slings and arrows.

Not all of them are related to software developers, game publishers, and evil marketing men (okay, not all marketing men are evil.  One or two *must* be nice; it’s the law of averages at work).  I’m not the same geek I was even 3 years ago.  I have wife, job, and a lot less time to spend in front of a pc living the virtual life of an orc.

And if I want the virtual life of an orc, I can go to…  Second Life.  Whatever Second Life is doing at the moment; I never entertained Second Life as a gaming option because it isn’t a game in the way that I would see a game.  I am, at heart, still a gamer.  I like rules, and a win condition.  So I know it’s there, but I’ve no interest in the opportunities it offers.

I’ve also no need to play Offices and Accountants.  I get to live in a mundane world as part of normal existence.  I want adventure, I want crazy mad action, and I want huge piles of trez at the end of it.

Just without the requirement of getting shot, stabbed, stamped on, denied frequent access to tea, or any of the other really horrible things that happen to real people who go on adventures.

Events just seem to get in the way.  I was positively outraged at those elementals that decided to attack Stormwind as I was attempting to find the Shaman trainer with Shaman Herewerd.  I couldn’t have cared less about attacking elementals; I was trying to get Herewerd set up with talents, and they were *JUST IN THE WAY*.

My gaming time is quite often a snatched hour away from other hobbies, chores, or quality time with my lovely lady.  I log in with a game-plan of things I want to get done.  And anything that gets in the way of the shopping list I want to get done is bad and wrong, and shall be given the short shrift it deserves.

Don’t get me (too) wrong.  I enjoy logging on and pottering about in an MMO, but to me that pottering about isn’t about reinforcing my position in a world by doing mundane things.  It’s more about casually murdering a few monsties for their trez.

I want to miss out the boring stuff, the pointless and petty grind of such tasks as making poisons.  I want to get on and game:

I want swords, not ploughshares.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Scaling Up!

March 1, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Posted in General | 4 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

A distinct lack of real-life activities left me with nothing obvious to do just yesterday.  It being a Sunday, that’s a nice change from the usual, so I decided to make the most by spending some time gaming.  Little was I to know that the stars were right, and I’d run the gamut of gaming goodness…

Let me explain.  I started with some Mass Effect, because until I finish it, I shall not even think of Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect 2.  See me stand by my decisions!  Anyway, I’m close(ish) to the end, and a couple of hours of single-player adventure gaming flew by.

After a short tea break, I decided to log on to Lord of the Rings Online to run a solo skirmish or two with my hunter and evil captain, as that would get them both to level 38.  As I logged on, our kinship message of the day advised that an extra healer was needed to run Dar Nabugud.

“Hmm”, thinks I.  Never had the opportunity to go, thanks to the evil that is radiance gating.  My radiance was at 45, and 65 is the bare minimum requirement.  Having said that, I was 4 medallions away from getting the +25 radiance minstrel hat (that looks like it should be worn by a 70’s minstrel-pimp from the ghetto.  I hate that hat design)…

So, whilst running a solo skirmish with my hunter, I inform the kin officer in charge of the run that with help to run a couple of Sword Halls of Dol Guldur instances,  I could be that required minstrel.

Cue a short delay, a rounding up of two hunters, and I’m healing whilst one hunter tanks the Sword Halls.  Surprisingly smooth run, and one that shows that a hunter set up specifically to tank a 3-person instance can.  Nicely, as well.

Part way through, I’m asked if I fancy running Sammath Gul.  “More medallions”, thinks I.  “More tea”, I continue to think.

A short break to get a brew, and I’m sipping my way through a lovely cup of tea whilst healing a commando raid through a 6-person instance.  But for some reason, we couldn’t prevail, and after a few attempts at Mr Indecisive Himself (Ooh!  I’m being confronted with nice people that want to kill me lots.  What should I do, Mr Sauron?  What, kill them first?  Ok, Mr Sauron, if that’s what you think I should do…) we called it off.

That was ok for me; by that time I had more than enough medallions for that fugly hat, and it was far enough into the afternoon for me to get ready to go a-raiding.

And that’s where the evening ended.  Minstrel Hawley, in his first multiple-boss 12-person raid since the halcyon days of The Rift.

Fun.  Maybe not the same challenge as The Rift was, seeing as most of the raid were at level 65, and the content was developed for level 60 Moria players, but I’ll not complain as it was still nice to just go and see the place, and it’s not like doing content 5 levels lower in other games, in that it’s still a challenge.

And because I went in with no expectations, there was no stress or worry.  It was just nice to see a part of the game I’d not seen previously, and kill stuff.  And two bosses later, it ended with a number of people who’d not seen the place getting a taster of what it was like, and much fun had by all.

I suppose what struck me about the day wasn’t just the amount of gaming, but the scaling.  Single-player game to MMO raid, and every stage in between.  A rare day, for that, but one where the variety meant that it was never stale.

Cheers,
Hawley.

Required: More hours in day.

February 26, 2010 at 4:59 pm | Posted in General | 1 Comment
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Wotcha everyone,

Busy life, multiple games.

Of course, I’d prefer a busy life to the alternative.  I’ve had periods of quiet life, and they are particularly boring.  And MMOs are no substitute for a social life.  More a complement to one.

So, my current issue is that I have three games that I’m particularly enjoying, but despite recent dual-monitor tests, I don’t particularly want to attempt to play more than one at a time.

Now, my usual Modus Operandi is to just fire up whatever tickles my fancy, and play that for as long as it’s still fun, or bedtime.  Whichever is first.  However, if I’m not careful I end up letting a game get all lonely and neglected, and I feel all guilty, so I try not to think about it, so it gets a bit more neglected, and suddenly it’s three months since I fired it up and I’m wondering what I’m paying the subscription for.

Thus, A PLAN.

Plans are good.  They can come in different types.  A’s, B’s, all sorts of letters, and you can even get 9 ones From Outer Space.  They are quite fantastic for organising what to do in a specific situation.

My plan is simple.  The three quietest, on average, nights of my week are Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  So I shall devote one night to each game:

Monday is for Lord of the Rings Online
Tuesday is for Fallen Earth
Wednesday is for Eve Online

The rest of the week can be less regimented, because there’s still being sociable, or deciding to indulge in one of my nerdier passions, or even swapping a night over due to an in-game or real-life event, or some-such.

Each game gets one night a week to shine.  Thus none of them will be neglected, and I get to make the most of playing three games at the same time.

Can’t say fairer than that.

(I give it two weeks before I forget which night is which, and we’re back to the chaos.)

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.

Star Wars: The Beta Republic

October 1, 2009 at 11:50 am | Posted in SWTOR | 7 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

My beta testing experiences are somewhat limited, to be honest.  I’m someone who enjoys playing a finished (in so far as MMOs are ever something so pedestrian as “finished”) product, rather than experiencing the random roll-backs, server crashes, and the knowledge that EVERYTHING YOU DO IS DOOOOOOMED thanks to the eventual server wipe before release.

Having said that, I am also fully aware that beta testing allows me to see if a soon-to-be released game is fun enough for me to want to spend money and time on it at release.

What prompts this random musing?  I read on Bio Break (but you can find this out pretty much anywhere that geeks gather on the intarweb) that Star Wars: The Old Republic is open for more Beta signups.  I must admit that my first thought was most certainly from the lizardy bit of my brain, and it was screaming at me.

Clicky-linky!  Sign up, play game now!  Make lightsaber go WOM!  Make X-wing go neeeeeeeeeeeyow!  Now!

Yes, the lizardy bit of my brain has issues with syntax.  And quite often semantics.  It gets easily excited.  It also forgets, in its excitement, that X-wings aren’t a part of The Old Republic period.  It will cry when it realises that bit.  The lizardy bit really likes X-wings.

Why the pull from Star Wars: The Old Republic?  Obvious really.  When I was 5 years old, I hadn’t discovered tea.  But I did discover Star Wars.  1977 was a great year, and it made me the geek I am today.  There is, and will always be, a part of me that is still 5 years old, watching the movie for the first time.

I’m also impatient.  I’m very much an instant-gratification sort.  The way I deal with the long delay from first marketing forays to release of a game is to do my utmost to forget about it.  It’s one of the reasons that I don’t tend to read gaming magazines, or check out pre-release websites for information.  I just get all angsty and tetchy.  So by putting my head in a bucket of sand, I can hopefully be all surprised when the game announces the release date.

Being a beta tester invalidates my Startled-Ostrich approach to gaming release harmony.  It also means that, should I be successful, I will be ignoring all the games that I am actually paying to play.  That seems a bit daft to me; despite its draws, the Beta game is not the full release game that I am paying for.  Star Wars: The Old Republic can join the raft of games vying for my attention when it releases, not before…

I also want to be astonished, surprised, to gaze in awe and wonder at launch.  One thing that I’m enjoying about Aion is exploring a game I know very little about, other than online reviews.  That’s a lovely feeling.  Which I’d lose if I saw everything during the beta.  I’m not much of the explorer type, being far too goal-oriented, so I try not to kill off the explorer in me before he gets the chance to actually explore.

So, despite the constant background gibbering of the lizardy bit of my brain, I’ll not be signing up for a Beta Tester slot.

This doesn’t stop me desperately hoping for a fabulous game when it is released.  And wanting it now!  WOM!  WOM!  Neeeeeeeeeyow!

Cheers,
Hawley.

Fighting the Good(?) Fight

September 28, 2009 at 6:00 am | Posted in Aion | Leave a comment
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Wotcha everyone,

Pretty soon I shall be playing Aion. Or maybe that should be Aion: The Queue For Eternity…

Now, seeing as I’m a heal-freak the only real investigation I’ve done (apart from is it worth shelling out for?) is what sort of healers are in the game. So I know little about the background world of Aion, apart from the fact that it’s hosting a war between the Elyos and the Asmodians.

Which are most certainly NOT angels and demons. No.

Just like Loremasters aren’t wizards. And Rune-Keepers aren’t wizards. No. No. We’re fine here, all fine…

Personally, I’m only vaguely religious, so I couldn’t care less what a game uses to visualise its “Them and Us” mechanic. I’m also not a 12 year old with angry parents who think a game is going to be just the first step in my route to sexual perversity and satanism. I like to think that I’m smart and savvy enough to separate fantasy from reality. Others might differ. Diversity of thought is a wonderful thing.

Why the waffling preamble?

Well, I need to choose a side. I am a subversive Special Snowflake. Many players might want to choose the cool side, so they can be one of the cool kids. I like the dork side. I want to be the online equivalent of the nerdy kid with the braces and the pocket protectors.

Why?

Easy. I’ve spent so many years being fashionable I couldn’t be fashionable if I tried. The only times I *am* fashionable are when I accidentally tap into the fashion zeitgeist, at which point I feel a bit stupid and self-conscious for a while.

So I tend to overreact and deny fashion. But there’s more to it than that. It’s easier to rise to the top if you don’t have much competition, and I am a lazy slacker. If I’m competing against the hordes of cool kids, I’d have to work at it.

Now for some excessive sweeping statements and injudicious pop-psychology. Sorry.

Spinks is correct in a lot of her statements regarding choosing sides in PvP games.

Players want to be on the badass side, and kicking arse is a bad guy schtick. However. Many World of Warcraft players I know created their first character on a PvE server, and chose Alliance. They then created a second character on a PvP server, and chose Horde. The main reason stated was that they wanted to “see the other side”, but they could have done that on one of the many other PvE servers…

Maybe it’s because when we choose our first character, we choose how we want to be seen. So we choose a “good” guy, a stylised representation of who and how we want to be seen. And for when we want to go and pick on other people, we choose a “bad” guy because we can then divorce our actions from who we are:

“I’m not griefing you because I’m a bad person. I’m griefing you because that’s what undead rogues do”.

I’ve never had a problem with divorcing my in-game actions from who I am. I’ve been role-playing on table top and rubber-swording it for decades now. I’ve played saints and sinners, liberators and tyrants, angels and demons. And all the grey goo in-between.

I think things are beginning to change. Part of it may well be a reaction to the massive imbalance between Horde and Alliance on PvE servers, but I also think that as MMO players are maturing, they’re hitting the rebellious teenage years. Which means dressing in black, unwholesome flirtations with black makeup (most of the blokes I know have no concept of the terms “Cleanse”, “Tone”, and “Moisturise”), and listening to angry music in their room.

I’m pretty sure that this means that the Asmodians will be popular. Heck, all that black spiky armour, the black feathered wings, the smouldering looks from dark glowing eyes; even I’m getting moist.

But. And this is an important but. I shall be choosing Elyos. Playing “bad” is easy. It’s far, far harder to be a genuinely good person than it is to be anything else. It’s easy to pretend to be good but be evil underneath (“I’m doing it for their own good” is almost as good an excuse as “I was only following orders”), and it’s really easy just to be casually evil due to acting in a selfish manner.

But being genuinely good means analysing every possible action and every motive for action, before choosing a course of action. It also means (usually) not looking as cool as the cool kids, because let’s face it, bad is cool.

Popular culture also helps. Fantasy authors are deconstructing your dad’s Good Versus Evil tropes, and giving us a darker, more gritty modernity. George R R Martin and Joe Abercrombie (other authors are available) are taking “real” people, and putting them in moral situations where they won’t necessarily choose good. Heck, The Blade Itself numbers mass murderers and torturers as part of its ensemble cast of anti-heroes.

Personally, if I want evil, I want unremitting evil. I hate the wishy-washy post-modern bad guys that have to be empathised with. I hate the “but loves cats” sort of bad guy. This extends to the backgrounds of the “bad” guys. I can see why games designers want to put a better spin on their evil playable races, but if I’m going to play “bad”, I want honest evil, the sort that can only exist in fantasy, rather than the reality we see around us. If a fantasy bad guy wants to destroy the world, I don’t want it to be a metaphor. I want world destruction.

And I want to play my part in it! So, there we have it. I don’t want to pose as bad. And I don’t want to hang around with the cool kids. In any game. I’d prefer to be dorky but honest, and be a good guy.

Cheers,

Hawley.

Playing Doctor

September 24, 2009 at 8:03 am | Posted in healing | 6 Comments
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Wotcha everyone,

I had a revelation today.  It was sort of niggling in the back of my subconscious, sitting next to all the thoughts of what I’d do if I had a lightsaber, or an X-Wing, how much weight I’d gain if teleporters existed (the fear, the fear), and where would be the best place to hole up in the event of zombies deciding to walk the earth.  Y’know, the important stuff.

It was the fact that the first thing I check out in a new MMO is what healing classes are available.  Not what classes, but what *healing* classes.

Now I like to think that I’m a reasonable, balanced individual with only a few completely random and unsubstantiated biases, so that when I check things out I do so from a rational standpoint.  I investigate, I research.  And from a neutral starting standpoint.

Yet here I am allowing what information I can find on healing classes to influence my first impressions of a game.

Is that right?

Well, apart from a few blips, most of my MMO “main” characters have been healers of one sort or another.  I like playing healers.  They suit my style of play, and make me feel happy-joy feelings when I can try out a new style of healing play.  So it’s not really that surprising that I look to see what classes are available for my playing style.

So yes, the first glance at what healing classes are in game does have a huge influence.  There’s no point investing time and effort in a game if there isn’t a class that I want to play most of the time.

I enjoy playing alts.  Some of them even get past the starting zone.  But it’s rare that they do, especially when I’m levelling my main, which nowadays is invariably a healer of some sort.

One could also add that the lack of innovation in online gaming has also helped my condition.  Now, that’s a whole different can of worms, and my opinion is that if I can’t think of any innovations to put in an online game (genius thinker that I am) then I don’t get to moan about any games that come out that can’t think of any innovations either.  Whilst we have mindless violence in games, we’ll have Holy Trinities (or Holy Quads, depending on how lucky the Crowd Controllers amongst us are).  That’s fine by me.

It’s not my sole reason for judging a game, but a healing class that looks like it will be fun to play is something that will get me looking at a game in a more than cursory fashion.

I can be so shallow…

Cheers,

Hawley.

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