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Casual Thoughts from a Semi-Retired Philosopher

I play MMOs as an alternative to TV. Sometimes it even turns into quality time with the wife and daughter. Most of the time it's a distraction from doing something productive or meaningful.

Author: Hluill

It's not you, it's me

Posted by Hluill Thursday September 23 2010 at 3:24PM
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I recently rerolled my barbarian paladin into a dwarven guardian.  It concerned personas.  Without delving too far into my sometimes creative thinking, let me say that Kven is a character that exists in other places.  In those other places, he's an armored dwarf with a shield.  I enjoy the challenge of transplanting characters into MMOs.  EQ2, with its appearence system is especially good for it.  And I discovered that I enjoy playing a guardian.

So, with my paladin becoming a guardian, I needed a new paladin.  I am not a HUGE fan of the class, but they are fun to play.  And I had another persona that I wanted to roll up and try to realize.  I had just spent all that time in New Tunaria so I saw a place for a Tolkien-esque elf.  I won't bore into his backstory here.

But suffice to say that he has one.

He comes to life in the Faydark Newbie-area and zips through the quests.  I am ashamed to admit that trying to decide what he should wear slowed him down the most.  By level ten I sent him to Erollisi because they have tons of quests for toons in their teens and I wanted the Alternate-Advancement points.  AAs are cool because they give lowbies MORE buttons to push and they can individualize the avatars a bit.

So I am grinding my paladin away, earning levels and AAs, and zipping through the quest content.  And somebody asks me if I want to team up.

Huh.  Why am I hesitant?  Because he spoke in "Common Tongue" (one of the most idiotic and immature gaming conventions ever invented) but was still trying to RP?  Well, far be it for me to come across as an RP snob.  My high elf switched to common tongue and grouped for a couple of hours.  I had a lot of fun.  I enjoyed my partner's style of roleplaying. 

But I have to admit that I was peeved too.  I am no longer zipping through all the quests and levels and advancement points.  I have to take the time to chat, to communicate and to take the time to do it in character. 

My fondest memories of playing MMOs center on these activities.  And now I am bothered by them.

I couldn't help but think as we rolled through mobs, slaughtering everything, a half-dozen at a time, that there was no advantage for us to be grouped.  There was no challenging content.  In fact, duoing paladins made the content quite boring.  Body pull a handful of mobs, kill them, heal as needed, rinse, repeat.

It seems that MMOs have developed their solo-friendly mechanics to the point where grouping is a liability and a nuisance.  And my in-game social-skills have degenerated to an embarrassment.  And that's the really tragic part of all this.

As a cure I am going to group because grouping is fun.  I am going to be social because being social is fun.  More importantly, I am going to be friendly, because being friendly is not only fun, but good for the enviroment.

A Forum Response

Posted by Hluill Tuesday September 21 2010 at 11:24AM
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On a forum buried here in MMORPG.com, a poster brought up the idea of "replayability" and ways to improve it in MMOs. This got me pondering and a wall of text ensued.

While I agree with the OP, I am not sure if "replayability" is the best choice of words. For me, "replaying" an MMO infers rolling an alt. I want the game to continuously challenge and interest me as I play my main. I played for years on the Firiona Vie server on old EQ where one was allowed only one character. One of the carrots for this was the harsh level-grind and the other was the epic endgame content, that was accessable prior to level max.

Another, vastly more enthralling reason for me to continue to log in was to play with friends. We would camp and grind and chat together for hours everyday. The exp and plat grind was moronic, but we had fun as we roleplayed and bandaged each other. I spent hours just listening to shouts for buffs in the Plane of Knowledge, or taking part in language-spamming because there was no "common" language.

I am not a fan of "forced" grouping, but MMOs need have a sense of community to create retention. I am not sure how a gaming company can design this. I am not sure that having "group-only" carrots creates friendships. And I would hypothesize that MMOs that are easily accessible to the "masses", while finacially successful, inspire less successful friendships.

I repeatedly reference "real" life whenever I ponder a better MMO. I know this is a fruitless and ignorant exercise, but it does make me question some of the ingrained mechanics of MMOs and wonder if there is not a "better" way. Using the model of reality we see that carrots do exist but are myriad. We could reference Maslow's Hierarchy Needs. While I am by no means well versed in them, a major to point to be learned by that is that baser needs have to be met before higher needs can be satisfied.

Forgive my tangent, but I see it as just another example of how MMO designers ignore basic tenents of reality. These games seem more centered around instant gratification for a mass market. I would like to see them focus on making mundane, commonplace chores more fun and meaningful.

In all the MMOs that I have played combat is central feature. But the event has been reduced to meerly another grind. In MMOs, most combat is simply a math problem of comparing levels and ability to out damage each other. MMOs have made the math a bit more complex with the "tank-healer-dps" mechanic, but it's still just a math problem. Because I am old and slow and usually have poor internet connection, I am not a fan of "twitch" games. But does the combat have to be "twitch" based in order to give something as dramatic as a fight to the death meaning and excitement?

And, I must admit, that most of the real-world combat I have experienced has relied on surprise and superior firepower. But at some point somebody has to "take the hill", "enter the room", "plant the flag", "mop up" or "secure the objective". All of these activities involve tremendous risk, even if we "nuked 'em from orbit". The real stress of combat for me isn't the fight itself, which is handled by adrenaline and training and dumb luck, but the continuous prospect of the fight. The stress of combat is that huge, looming possibility that at anytime there will be this flash of blood and steel that will kill me, or, worse still, one of my buddies.

This is one factor that is quite absent in MMOs. At some point, most MMO advesaries become trivial. At some point my character is barely even damaged by mobs, and the ones that can hit her can't do enough damage anyway. I have spent hours grinding mobs for experience and reputation and never saw the health bar drop out of the green. Combat in MMOs is not a challenge.

I would relate this back to Maslow by explaining that my character's need to survive has been met with levels and gear so easily that I feel no drive to fullfil it. I no longer feel motivated to log in to satisfy that need. Whether it's rats or demons, killing ten of them in hand-to-hand has no meaning.

New Tunaria, same as the old tunaria...

Posted by Hluill Tuesday September 14 2010 at 10:33AM
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I have been playing EQ2 for way too long.  It is a huge, souless, cobbled-together world.  It's definitely designed by a committee of really bright-minded individuals -- no sarcasm intended.

In fairness, though, it is a lot of fun.  My girl and her daughter and I have formed a little guild.  We have spent many a Saturday all plugged in, chatting and killing and grinding.  We are slowly grinding our guild's way to thirtieth level.  So now, anything that has a reputation point associated with it is pursued like a bright-eyed squirrel.

Hence my berserker was in New Tunaria, finishing up a Signature Quest.  I made a couple of mistakes.  First, I didn't spend anytime looking at spoilers, so I had no idea where I needed to go or what I needed to find.  Second, I had chronoed my berserker to seventy-fifth level.  The quest was seventieth, so I thought it would be fun, but not TOO hard.

Huh.

I love the way quests are written -- sarcasm intended.  I guess now that we have have quest helpers and spoilers and such we don't need quests to be well written.  The quest giver told me to get a shield from one of the paladins in Felwithe, which is now New Tunaria and populated with elitest, aggressive, 'pure' elves.  There are no paladins in New Tunaria and none of the elves there carry shields. 

But I ain't gonna spoil the quest for you.

While learning this, I realized how huge -- freakin' huge -- the zone is.  New Tunaria is a fully realized town, with shops and temples and palaces and towers and bridges.  I realized that the character-select screen's background is from a bridge in New Tunaria.  The whole zone is designed beautifully and some interesting things happen when night falls.  I enjoyed exploring it.

So, I couldn't help but think: where has this zone been?  Why aren't more people here?  How many people actually enjoy this zone? 

Earlier I had said that I had chronoed my bersker down to seventy-fifth level.  What I need to point out is that most of the zone was grey to her.  Admittedly, this made it easier to explore: if she had been a few levels lower she would have had to fight dozens of heroic mobs to get anywhere.

Again: So, if she had been the right level she wouldn't have seen most of the zone, but  would have been forced to spend a heck of a lot more time there.  But, the "right level" window ain't but ten or so levels long. 

Am I the only one that sees a problem with this picture?  Developers design these worlds that are only experienced by miniscule amounts of their customers.  Customers  are paying for a product of which they can only use fraction.

I have been playing level-driven games for decades now.  I understand the advantages of the mechanic.  I also know that there are other options, better options.  I would like options that keep places like New Tunaria fun and interesting.