Archive for the ‘MMORPGs’ Category

I like what I like

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Over the weekend, I had some more free time than usual, so I decided I’d try to take my own advice and actually try to pare down my backlog a bit. The problem I run into is that lots of the games I have are so long, and my time to play them has shrunk as I’ve gotten a career that doesn’t involve me playing video games all day. That means that I look at games just sitting there waiting for me to play them that take 30+ hours to play through once, and then I think about the time commitment, the opportunity cost of doing something else (like reading something or watching something on television), and the lazier option usually wins.

But I decided that I wanted to make an effort and actually get through some of these things that have been sitting in my library (in some cases, for years). Or, if not get through them, at least try them to see if they’re any good. So, to that end, I decided to play a couple of indie darlings that weren’t too long: Fez and Journey. Both looked interesting, and I more or less knew what I was in for (and I knew that I could do a playthrough of them over the course of a long evening or two). What I found surprised me: I didn’t really like them.

Fez, I didn’t like because the primary mechanic made the game clunky and tedious. Journey, I liked a little bit better, but it seemed like it was trying too hard. I’m clearly in the minority on both accounts.

It’s been suggested to me on occasion that my tastes in games is weird and I don’t like popular games just because they’re popular and if you tell me I have to like it, I won’t like it out of spite. That’s only partially true.

It’s true that I do like weird, off-the-wall games. Always have. I also liked some popular games like the Half-Life series, or the Final Fantasy series (through 8, I haven’t played anything past that except for the MMORPGs). But there are also hugely popular games that I didn’t like for one reason or another, such as the original Halo or Dragon Age: Origins.

I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow account of popular games that I did or didn’t like, but the point I’m trying to make is: I’m not wrong. If you like the games that I didn’t, you’re not wrong either. I know that this is going to sound corny and completely obvious, but different people like different things for lots of reasons. That’s a wonderful thing.

Your opinion is uniquely your own. And, no matter what critics or naysayers say, you owe it to yourself to form your own, and to not take the word of reviewers or experts as gospel. Consider their opinion, certainly, but never feel like you always have to agree with the herd. Just remember: if you’re honest, going up against popular opinion doesn’t necessarily make you a hipster or a troll. It just means that your opinion is not perfectly in line with everyone else’s.

That doesn’t make you weird. That makes you normal.

Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.

Operation: Get Stuff Done

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

I’ve written on more than one occasion about how ponderously large my video game backlog has gotten. I would tell myself, “I’m saving up so I’ll have something to do when I retire.” Jokingly at first, and then semi-seriously. I kind of stopped saying that when I realized that the backlog had gotten so enormous that, at the rate I’m acquiring games today, even if I retired tomorrow, I might not be able to finish them all.

I mentioned before that a big reason that my backlog has almost taken on a life of its own has to do with the social component. Most of my friends and I have diverged in what kinds of video games we play, so there’s not as many things we can discuss about whatever game we’re playing, and there’s no friendly rivalry to see who can get all of the Gold Skulltulas first, or whatever.

But I think that’s only a part of the equation.

The second part is that there are just too many video games. There are so many video games coming out these days, and between the ludicrous number of bundles out there the wallet-destroying digital sales (Steam, Origin, GOG, etc.), it’s very easy, and sometimes very cheap, to quickly get so many games so quickly that the sheer number of the things hits you like a tidal wave. It looks daunting, but you can steel yourself. You know you can do this, you’ve been playing video games for years.

So you start trying to figure out what you want to play and analysis paralysis sets in. Do you want to play something relatively short, or do you want to play something that will take dozens of hours to complete? Which of these looks like it will be long enough, but not too long? Will I have time to play it around the times where I have to do Grown Up Stuff(tm)? Will I be able to put it down for a couple of days or even weeks and then be able to come back and remember where I was? What if it’s no good? The critics were all over the place with some of these games, what if I wasted my money on it? What if my instincts were right and I find that a game is actually good, in spite of the critical score. What if it was critically acclaimed, and I thought it was boring?

All of these whatifs were really slowing me down. I’ve been getting dragged down into analyzing the minutiae of my potential game experience and hemming and hawing about what game to play so much that instead of playing games, I’ve just been thinking about how nice it would be if I could play some of these games in my backlog, but I just don’t have time.

Or is that really true?

I wasn’t sure. I mean, I have more responsibilities now than I did when I was younger. I have a full time job, a house, I have to do my own laundry, buy and prepare my own food, maintain my own vehicle, and so on. But I’m not actively doing one of those things every moment of every day. For example, I do sleep on occasion. But what do I do with all of my time? Where does it go? I decided to find out by my typical method: overanalyzing the situation, to find out. And that means, making a chart.

Pretend there’s a chart here that shows what I’m likely to be doing at any given hour of the day.

The chart was interesting. It showed me that I have about 30 hours per week where I’m doing nothing in particular. It also showed me that even though I don’t have an 8-5 job any more, that I’ve still got my sleep schedule set up like I do. And that means that I’ve got a couple of hours that I’m spending idle every morning that I could be using for something besides sitting around waiting for time to go to work. I also have more time during the weekend than I originally thought, even though it’s pretty well scattershot through the day.

That’s encouraging.

That means that I do have time to get some game playing in, and I can slowly whittle down my backlog if I can manage to shoehorn it into the timeslots I have available. But, there’s another problem.


It’s weird to think that I would ever need to get myself mentally motivated to play video games, an activity that I have enjoyed for most of my life, but sometimes that motivation just isn’t there. I could play a game anyway, and see if that forces me to get motivated to play it more, but I don’t think I want to do that. Forcing myself to do something when I don’t really want to seems like a good way to sour me on the whole thing, which seems like a bad idea. But I can use that time to do other things related to games. I could update my blog (see the last few weeks’ worth of updates), I could read something, watch a video, create a video, and so on.

*A very important aside, I know that loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy can be a possible sign of depression. I’m pretty sure that I don’t have that, but if you think you might, nothing I say in this article is going to help except this: I encourage you to find someone qualified to help with depression and they will help you. Depression is a serious issue, and not something that this article (or any other article on a crappy blog site) is qualified to help with.*

I also want to set some goals for myself so that I can revisit this post somewhere down the line and see if I’ve actually made any progress in whittling down the backlog. Feel free to follow along or add your own:

  • Play something for a few minutes every day.
    • Even if it’s something that I’ve played to death, playing something for a few minutes is going to keep my momentum going to tackle something bigger
  • Ignore the Backloggery
    • The Backloggery is great, but it’s a pain to remember to go update it when I buy something, when I finish something, when I 100% complete something, when I start playing something else, etc. etc. Plus, there are no penalties for failure, and no real reward for succeeding, either
  • Don’t go for 100% completion.
    • I wasn’t doing this much these days, anyway, but I need to avoid trudging through a game, trying to collect ant heads or whatever for some unlock or a trophy or something.
  • Don’t rush through the game, either
    • I’m weird, I know, but I hate rushing through a game the first time I play it. I like to soak in all the ambiance and immerse myself into it if I can.
  • Play one new game per month
    • This one is going to be tricky, and my not be sustainable. But the idea here is to at least try something in the backlog instead of letting it sit there and rot, especially if it’s one of the shorter games, to see if it’s even something that I’ll like. I’ve bought some duds before, and didn’t find out about it for over a year because it took me that long to get to them.
  • If a game is terrible, shelve it
    • This goes hand-in-hand with the above. If I try out the new game and it stinks, well, then I just won’t play it any more and I’ll move on to the next one. I don’t need to force myself to slog though it to the end, hoping it will get better. It might, but I don’t really want to waste my time not having fun now for promises of something that might be kind of fun later. I need to trust my instincts, if it’s not fun now it probably won’t be fun later, either.
  • Limit MMORPG time
    • MMORPGs are great, but they will sink and steal time like no other activity I know. And, since they never really end, there’s always something for you do to in them. I had to kill my World of Warcraft subscription a while back because that was all I was doing with my free time at the time. Now, since there are so many MMORPGs that are free to play, it’s incredibly easy to get lost running around a virtual world doing things for hours and hours without actually spending a dime. That’s almost worse than a paid subscription. A paid subscription makes you feel like you need to play something to get your money’s worth out of it, a free subscription is always there, waiting on you to have an hour or three to kill, and that can be dangerous.

Of course, these are only guidelines. Who knows if I can actually stick to them or not, but I won’t know if I don’t try. I’ll be refining them as I go on, seeing what works and what doesn’t. I don’t expect to ever have a backlog of zero unless I just sell all of my games and consoles (fat chance of that happening any time soon), but I can do more to get it pared down, it’s just going to take some work.

And, who’s afraid of a little work?

LAN Parties

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

Just over 10 years ago (yeesh!) I did a little writeup of Million Man LAN 2. I enjoyed it, but not quite as much as the first Million Man LAN, and I haven’t been since, which is something I’m going to fix this weekend.

Million Man LAN 2 wasn’t my first event, either (or even my first MML). I first heard about this ‘LAN party’ thing way back in April 2000 and convinced a buddy to pack up our computers, drive to Louisville, Kentucky (a mere 120 mile drive), and pay some people some money for the privilege of using their network to play games nonstop for an entire weekend. It was something called ‘LanWar 7‘.

We arrived to Louisville a bit ahead of schedule, and it was the first time either of us had driven that far out on our own, so we took some time to drive down the main drag and check out some of the sights. And, once we stopped at a local Hardee’s to use their restrooms, we realized that we had crossed into another time zone and we were actually late.


But, we finally arrived to the University of Louisville campus, paid our registration fee and hauled our computers inside. What I saw was mind-blowing: rows and rows of people and computers playing games (Quake 3 Arena, Half-Life DM, and Unreal Tournament? Yes, please). There were also file servers full of interesting files to download (all legal, of course), an IRC server, a projector showing geeky videos on a big screen, etc. etc.

It was an incredible experience. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even blink all weekend as I tried to take it all in, and when the weekend was over I hopped on ICQ and tried to get everyone I knew to go to the next one. We gradually got more and more people interested and even formed a loose-knit group of friends who attended LAN parties regularly. And, for the next several years, we went to various parties around the area. Bi-weekly LAN party in the attic of a PC parts store? In. Local LAN party needs staff members to help pull off the event? I’m totally there. No LAN party this week, but want to play LAN games anyway? Just have a mini-event at my house. No problem.

If this all seems weird to you, you have to remember that broadband was still in its infancy around this time. My home internet service at the time had just been upgraded to a blistering 0.5 Mbps, which was phenomenally fast (10 times faster than my crappy old dial-up modem, anyway). Trying to play multiplayer games on a dial-up modem? Forget about it. It worked, sort of, and you had to tie up your phone line while you played. Forgot to disable call-waiting/someone else needs to make a call and picks up the phone/cat knocks the receiver off the hook? Too bad, game over. So, broadband helped with the reliability problem (connected all the time, and I can still use the phone? Sold!) but trying to find people to play games with was still a bit of a chore.

Downloading the latest Linux distribution (or your other favorite large file) would still take hours (or days), and practically necessitated a download manager to get them all while you slept. So, to find a place where there were not only people playing games on reliable private network, but that there were also the files you wanted, but didn’t want to tie up your Internet connection to get available was an amazing experience. To experience that with hundreds of other people who also loved computers, technology, and video games was just eye-opening.

Social networking sites didn’t even really exist yet, and in my hometown, finding tech-minded people was (and still is, sadly) very difficult. Facebook and Twitter wouldn’t even launch for several more years, so to even find people in the larger enthusiast/gaming community (heck, finding that the community existed at all) that you could actually talk to and interact with? It was an experience like no other, and an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

But, like the local arcades, I’m afraid that LAN parties are not long for this world. Reliable, fast broadband is reaching more homes and more people than ever before, Free-to-play and MMORPG games haven’t quite displaced LAN gaming yet, but they’re getting close. Lots of multiplayer games these days rely on some servers out on the Internet somewhere. Social networking and video streaming sites mean that I can find and virtually interact with anyone with any interest (just about) anywhere on the planet without having to leave the (relative) comfort of my own chair. And the Old Guard is, well, getting older. I’m past the point where tearing down my computer and hauling it a state away has become tedious. I have a full time job now with real responsibilities (geez, when did that happen?), and killing a weekend or so playing games is a tough sell. Finally (I have yet to see this firsthand, since I haven’t been to an event in several years), I suspect that the younger crowd aren’t replacing the folks who aren’t coming any more. Likely, they don’t see the point.

So, tomorrow morning, just over 13 years after my first event, I’m going to tear down a computer, load it in a car, pick up the same buddy I picked up then, and drive back to where it all began for me, to the scene of what will likely be the last actual LAN party that I go to.

It’s been a good run.

Final Fantasy XIV team gutted

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Back in October, I bought a copy of Final Fantasy XIV on release day. I really liked Final Fantasy XI, but didn’t really have the time to dedicate to it, and since XIV was to be more geared to solo/casual players, I figured it was time to dip my feet back into the Final Fantasy MMO scene.

Oh, how wrong I was.

It turns out that the game in its released state was broken in so many ways (not including their baffling decision to not process credit cards domestically for us users in the United States) that it resembled alpha-level software. Features were incomplete or nonexistent, the game was unstable, and it was not much fun to play. I lasted about a week and a half before I gave up (logging in twice).

So the guys at Square Enix rallied, apologized, gave people an extension on their complimentary month of game time in anticipation of some big fixes that were around the corner, including implementing such features as “can scroll map with mouse in PC version”.

And, true to their word, a patch was released in mid-November that addressed some of these issues, free game time was extended again, and more big fixes were promised, though some major game-breaking issues remain. For example, the decision to not have an in-game auction house means that buying and selling items between users is so time consuming and tedious that you can spend all night looking for something that may or may not be available.

That’s not fun.

So, even with the Big Changes(tm) that were coming down the line, I had given up hope on this game ever being good. But, then I got an email update with some surprising news:

Thank you for your continued interest in and support of FINAL FANTASY XIV.

While more than two months have passed since the official launch of FINAL FANTASY XIV service, we deeply regret that the game has yet to achieve the level of enjoyability that FINAL FANTASY fans have come to expect from the franchise, and for this we offer our sincerest of apologies.

After thorough deliberation on how to meet those expectations, it was decided that the most viable step was to approach improvements under new leadership and with a restructured team.

To realize this vision, and in doing so, provide our customers with a better game experience, we have assembled our company’s top talent and resources. Taking over the role of producer and director is Naoki Yoshida, a passionate individual for whom customer satisfaction has always taken top priority. Not only is he one of our Group’s most accomplished and experienced members, Naoki Yoshida is also a charismatic leader possessing the skill to bring together and effectively helm a team which encompasses a wide range of responsibilities. We also welcome several new leaders handpicked from other projects to work with the existing talent on FINAL FANTASY XIV.

We realize time is of the essence and are fully determined to provide our customers with quality service. It is because of this that we ask our customers to be patient until we are able to confidently present them with a concrete plan outlining FINAL FANTASY XIV’s new direction. The free trial period will be extended until that time.

Regarding the PlayStation 3, it is not our wish to release a simple conversion of the Windows version in its current state, but rather an update that includes all the improvements we have planned. For that reason, we have made the difficult decision to delay the release of the PlayStation 3 version beyond the originally announced date of March 2011.

The FINAL FANTASY XIV team is working hard to bring our customers an unparalleled adventure, and we ask for your continued understanding and support as we march ever diligently towards that goal.

President and CEO, Yoichi Wada

You can read the rest of the announcement here, which includes an apology from Hiromichi Tanaka, the producer who is stepping down. I have to admit that I’m flabbergasted that this shakeup is being made so public. It’s clear that Tanaka is being made the scapegoat here for the mountain of problems this game has, but I don’t know that changing the programming and art teams is going to be enough to save this game. Once the free trial eventually ends, unless the game is radically reworked (and their payment system fixed) I expect a mass exodus no matter what they do.

Massively Single Player

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

It’s been quite some time, really, since I decided to try the new online sensation that is the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. Since then I’ve logged several hundred hours across Final Fantasy XI, World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, The Lord of the Rings Online, Dungeon Runners, Everquest, City of Heroes / City of Villains, and R.O.S.E. Online.

And I’ve given them all up. For one main reason:

Trying to organize a group of strangers to achieve a common goal is next to impossible.

Take Final Fantasy XI for example. Most of the game consists of finding a ‘camp’, sending one guy out to lure a monster over to your camp, and then beating on it mercilessly until it keels over and you get somehow stronger. Especially in the early levels, it really is that simple, but you’ll get people who act like they’ve never held a controller before, will walk off from their PC / Playstation without telling you, or instead of bringing one monster back to the camp, they’ll bring every monster in a five-mile radius for an insta-slaughter.

Or World of Warcraft. You might have a quest that tells you to take a thing to a guy in the next town over. If you’ve done the quest before and you know where the second guy is, you tell your buddies and start off to deliver the parcel. You get there only to discover that one guy followed you there, one guy got lost and ended up falling off a cliff, one guy is still at the store getting his gear fixed / selling trash, and one guy went to get supper 20 minutes ago, but didn’t bother to tell anyone, so he’s two towns back wondering where everyone is and begging them to come back to help him finish up the steps of the quest that everyone’s already done.

And on it goes that way. It’s as if the people on the other end of the game were plopped down in front of the control panel of a nuclear submarine, and all of the controls were in Esperanto.

So, rather than trying to deal with that nonsense, I mostly end up playing those kinds of games in single-player mode. Which is great, I don’t have to listen to anyone whining, I don’t have to bother with trying to coordinate chunks of missions around someone’s dog-walking schedule, and I can generally do things in the order that I want to, with the added bonus that if I take down a challenge that’s meant for a group by myself, then the victory was harder fought and slightly more memorable.

Of course, that means that I also miss out on large chunks of the games, mostly because I’m not bothering to do much of the group stuff, but that’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make.

MMO Game Design Has Stagnated

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

It looks like today might be MMO day. Richard Garriott, progenitor of the Ultima games has delivered a keynote in which he notes that design of MMO games has not significantly changed in the 10 years since he brought out Ultima Online

Core gameplay elements are the same, and Garriott argues, the lack of innovation is cheating players out of a richer experience.

“Combat systems, character leveling that caused players to obsesses over ‘grinding’ and the misassumption that AI can be replace by player-controlled characters were the features he dismantled and accused MMO developers of being overly reliant on.”

I’ve only had in-depth experience with two MMORPGs, Final Fantasy XI and World of Warcraft (I’m not counting my trial of 9Dragons), and the sameness of the core gameplay is striking. I’ve put together a quick and dirty comparison of them below:

Activity FFXI WoW
Quests where you kill a certain amount of Enemy X(kill quest) Yes Yes
Quests where you find an item and bring it back to some character too lazy to do it himself(fetch quest) Yes Yes
Gaining experience points by killing things to get stronger and kill slightly stronger things, to get stronger to kill slightly stronger things (level grind) Yes Yes
Using the offal from the monsters you slay to create items (crafting) Yes Yes

Unfortunately, most of the activities in these games can be put into each of these categories. The NPCs don’t move and don’t change what they say or do in response to anything that happens in the game world, or if they do, it’s because of a fairly significant world event. This seems to be because even though there are thousands of players in a given server or world, they are all experiencing the same story. They are the hero going on epic quests to whatever end, most likely quelling evil. What happens when you finally defeat the Great Evil? Nothing, really. You get a cutscene, some loot (phat lewt, no doubt), some adulation by some NPCs and the Great Evil reappears for the next group of adventurers to try their hand at vanquishing it.

I’ve not played them, but games like Eve Online give the players the chance to play the economy, build companies, and the like. This is good for those who don’t necessarily want to stand in one place and kill goblins all day, it gives them something to do to break up the monotony. I also understand that Star Wars Galaxies allowed characters to open shops, create communities, and generally alter their game world, but since I’ve not played either it or Eve I can’t really say how much fun either of those things are. I do, however, like that they have activities that are slightly different from the norm. It helps keep the game fresh.

I understand that my view of these games is somewhat skewed, but the single design I would like to see changed is geared toward the single player. I quite enjoyed playing both of the MMORPGs that I did for the time I was a subscriber, but I’m strange and ran out of stuff to do, even though I didn’t get to the maximum level. I prefer to play those games either with people that I know in real life, though a pick-up party on occasion is nice, or to play them by myself. The big problem is that MMORPGs are developed around the concept of parties. You do everything in a party, you do quests, you slaughter native fauna (and sometimes flora), and you experience the bulk of the story all in a party. So if my group of regulars is unavailable when I want to play, my choices on what I can do are pretty limited.

The question then becomes, “Why are you playing a multiplayer game if you want to play by yourself?” The answer is that I like the game, I like the mechanics, and I like checking out the game world. The problem is that in real life I don’t have to gather a group of six people to slaughter sheep while I run to the store and fetch some milk, or chop some wood, or mine some ore. Yes, real life wilderness is teeming with wildlife, but there’s not some creature waiting behind every tree plotting to kill you.

Here’s to radical design changes.

Link! (via Kotaku)

Richard Bartle on MMO Game Design

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

There is an interesting interview up with Richard Bartle, one of the folks behind MUD, a virtual world programmed way back in 1978. Running on code carved onto great sheets of stone and running on some steam-powered contraption, no doubt. MUD has had quite the influence on modern MMORPGs. There is an interview with Mr. Bartle here that details some of his views on how far the genre has come in the last 29 years and how much they’ve stayed the same.

“However, when all is said and done, reality is far more detailed than virtuality can ever be. There are some forms of social interaction you can’t get any other way. Reality always wins in the end. A kiss in a virtual world or a kiss over the phone is never going to be the same as a kiss in real life.”

The interview is certainly worth a read even if you’re only marginally interested in virtual worlds.

Guardian Unlimited via DevBump)

Europeans get cheap starter pack for Final Fantasy XI, I finally get to use a ‘£’ in a post

Thursday, July 19th, 2007

It’s bee quite some time since I quit playing Final Fantasy XI. I actually quite liked the game, but the pacing of the game was ponderously slow and if you didn’t have a group of at least 5 friends then you had troubles making it to the next town without getting savagely beaten to death by rabbits and silkworms. If you did have a balanced group then the game was quite fun, even standing in one place slaughtering fish was entertaining if your group worked well together.

I thought that the barrier to entry for this game was fairly low, since you can get the game and 3 expansions for $20, but apparently it gets lower. Eurogamer is reporting that folks will be able to get a ‘starter pack’ version of the game (just the main game with no expansions) and a free month of gameplay for £5.99 (or about $12.27 in American money, or about the equivalent of a one month subscription to the game). I wasn’t able to determine if it was coming out stateside or not.

Is this a desperate attempt to increase a stagnating userbase or ingenious plan to draw attention to the new expansion pack?

Time will tell!

Link! (Eurogamer)

9 Dragons

Monday, July 16th, 2007

A while back, Acclaim folded as a game company. The Acclaim name was bought by one of the guys from Activision, turned into Acclaim Games, and began pumping out MMORPG’s. Wikipedia’s article is somewhat lacking, but will give you a basic understanding of the situation.

I got an invite from one of my friends to try out one of their RPGs, 9 Dragons. It’s a game based on Kung-Fu. You travel the land, join a Kung-Fu clan, and beat things up. Seemed like a reasonable premise for a game.

More details inside.

Acclaim’s MMORPGs are the kind that are free to download, and free to play. The catch being that to generate money to cover bandwidth and development costs ads are injected into the game and you have ability to spend some of your real-world money to purchase things in game, such as extra abilities, exclusive outfits, and exclusive items.

The ads that you see are a nearly full-screen picture ad on each loading screen and a smallish one that will pop up in the center of the screen toward the top. It doesn’t obscure your view too much, but it certainly takes your focus for a second when it pops up. It’s worth noting that of the ads I saw, two of them were for the game I was playing, and the others were for Acclaim itself.

The download for the game is relatively small for a Massively Multiplayer game, weighing in at just under 800MB. After downloading and mucking through the obnoxious installer, I tried to start the game, only to find out that the desktop shortcut it installed would open up a new tab in Firefox. Doing a little digging, I was able to find out that the game inexplicably uses Internet Explorer to launch. Since I use Firefox as my primary browser, I had to follow these directions to make the shortcut on my desktop point to the actual game.

Once I was able to actually start the game, I ran through the fairly limited character creation process, created my character, and was told that the name ‘basscomm’ could not be used. The game apparently found a dirty word lurking in my handle. I’m not surprised, Uniracers invalidated my handle for the same reason. So, I chose a new name, ‘Food’, only to get the message that ‘This character has already been created’. Turns out that the message really meant that the name had been taken. I eventually settled on ‘Bland’, picked my starting area and started the game.

Immediately upon dropping into the game world, I had the option of doing a tutorial quest. This optional quest promised to show me the basics of the game, with a paltry reward at the end. I accepted and was spirited away to a field where someone behind me was needing some assistance.

It was here that I became acclimated to the controls. I’ve grown accustomed to the standard WASD controls or even the arrow keys to move around. In this game, you left-click on the ground where you want to move to, and hold the right mouse button and move the mouse to move the camera. Since you also use the left mouse button to talk to people and generally interact with the world, you need to make sure you click directly on the person that you wish to speak with otherwise you run right past them and have to fight with the camera to get back.

The tutorial quest is an escort quest, before you can do anything, you get to watch some instructions running through the basics of inventory management, enemy engagement, using skills, etc. I found it odd that instead of using in-game graphics, the person doing the motions in the tutorial was a small looping movie with a missing frame. I only knew that the frame was missing because he would turn into a large red block for a split second every time the video would loop.

After learning how to ready myself for battle, I started escorting my way up a hill and was attacked by three bandits. I was then introduced to the two modes you character can exist in, Peace Mode and Battle Mode. In Peace Mode you cannot attack anyone, and in Battle Mode you can. Why you would ever not want to be in Battle Mode is beyond me. The bandits appeared behind me, so I ended up wrestling with the camera while simultaneously trying to frantically click on the enemies that were surrounding me. It didn’t help that you can’t press ‘Tab’ on the keyboard to select an enemy, that button is to go in and out of Peace Mode. So what happened was that I was running around in circles, not attacking because I was not in Battle Mode.

I eventually managed to take down the assailants and it crashed to desktop. No worries, I thought, I’ll just log back in and finish off the quest. Turns out that my progress was not saved, so I had to start the quest over, and I got to watch the tutorial videos again. Then my game crashed again. I went through this process a couple of more times before I restarted my computer. I never could figure out what was wrong.

After restarting, the game was much more stable. I was able to finish the tutorial quest, gained a skill that allowed me to regain my health, and entered the game world proper. To the game’s credit it looks reasonably good. Until you start interacting with things. Throughout the village I started in there were these pots that kept spawning on the ground. A couple of whacks with my stick cracked them open so I could get the gold piece that lay inside, but the animation of the broken pieces was almost comically bad. Chunks would fly up and then land on the ground, but had no inertia. It looked like they landed on flypaper.

I puttered around for a while killing livestock while I explored the town, getting stuck as my guy couldn’t figure out how to walk around anything. You can’t jump, so if there’s a couple of pebbles in the way, they’re suddenly an impasse.

Around the village there are folks that sell skills, I bought one, and then learned that you have go to some training ground to train in the skills you’ve purchased. I never was able to find the training ground, and so was never able to use my awesome fist skill. I was, however, able to load it into my quickbar. Four times, in fact. I noticed at this point that my ‘regain health’ skill (meditation) was gone, and that I couldn’t figure out how to remove the worthless skills from my quickbar.

I eventually found a quest giver who gave my my first real quest, killing the foxes that were harassing his chickens. Sounds easy enough, the foxes just kind of stand around the town and aren’t aggressive in the slightest, even when I’m bludgeoning them with a quarterstaff. While killing foxes, one of them decided to walk away from me, directly up to and then through the wall of a house. Cunning.

I finished my quest, turned in my ‘fox skin’, sold my ‘fox hair’, and was offered another quest. I accepted, logged off, uninstalled the game, deleted the uninstaller, and burned down my computer.

I don’t really think there was ever any danger of me getting addicted to it, even it is free.

Moral responsibility in addictive game design

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007

There is an interesting article over at exploring whether or not MMORPG game makers are wasting their time making their games in the same way that their players are playing them.

“The crux of the question is whether or not playing WoW is more or less a waste of your life than creating original games intended to produce the same kind of enjoyment. In this age of digital property, virtual experience, how does one set of bits have value relative to another? How is it that Shane is wasting his life while I am an artist or a game designer or whatever? Why is sitting around making games and digital art different than raids on Molten Core?”

I’ve been on both sides of this coin, and I’m going to have to say that development ‘Crunch Time’ is certainly more stressful than any raid, it can easily eclipse the amount of time that a hardcore MMO player might spend in an average week in game, and may just as detrimental to your health. Though you are getting paid to Crunch instead of paying to play your MMO, so I suppose Crunch may be slightly less so.

Link! (via DevBump)