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An Ongoing Tribute to my own lameness.....

General random thoughts about gaming, both within and outside of the MMO genre.

Author: Jimmy_Scythe

Autopilot

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Sunday May 25 2008 at 2:41AM
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I personally have never used bots, macroing or multiboxing, but while playing MMORPGs I'm normally on autopilot. The game is more like a graphical theme thrown over a yahoo chatroom. Why? Because I don't have to give my full attention to what's happening on the screen. Every now and again I may have to click over to a different mob and initiate attack or spam a skill button, but I'm more entertained by the conversations in the chat box than the life and death struggle my character is having with "large radioactive undead rat" #3475. When conversation in game, mostly spent discussing banal internet drivel rather than situations arising from gameplay, is more entertaining than the game itself then there's a problem.

MMORPGs are boring. Not a constructive statement but it'll serve as a sketchy thesis. After endless hours of playing MMORPGs, I can't think of a more repetitive and monotonous way to pass the time. Yes, other genres have you doing the same things over and over again. The difference is that other genres require either a physical or strategic component that creates variation. Let's expand on that.

Tetris has both physical and strategic components. The strategic component comes from five different shaped blocks that fall from the top of the screen and you have to fit them together like a puzzle. When you fill a whole row, that section of the well is emptied, giving you more room. The strategic element of the game is complemented by the fact that you can see the next block that's going to fall after the current one lands. The physical component is introduced by the speed at which the blocks fall increasing over time. So you're repeating the same action over and over again, but the pieces vary and the speed ramps up with every block dropped into the well. This means that you have to pay full attention to what you're doing or the well fills to the top and you lose.

An MMORPG has neither a physical nor strategic component. You see a mob, you click on a mob, you wait for awhile and the mob dies. In rare cases, you my decide to press a few hotkeys for abilities or health / mana pots, but the pace is consistent and doesn't require any level of dexterity. Strategy is also a non-factor since you are always grossly overpowering your enemies. If an enemy is too difficult for you to defeat, you just go one-hit easy mobs until you level up a couple of times, and / or get enough money for better gear, and then go back to kill your original target. If you're already at the level cap you go and get more players to take down the big baddy you're trying to farm.

All the gameplay in MMORPGs is divided between combat and crafting, both of which have all the interactivity of a slot machine. Okay that wasn't fair, combat and crafting have slightly more interactivity than a slot machine since you're allowed to stack the odds in your favor before doing anything. In the case of crafting, you simply have to wait for success since you have nothing to lose but time.

This lack of involvement is then compounded by an experience system that's designed to monopolize your time. You get a quest to collect five wolf tails, go kill wolves until five of them drop "wolf tail" items and go back to the quest vendor for a reward of some kind. Twenty levels later: You get a quest to collect fifty giant space hamster teeth, go kill giant space hamsters until fifty of them drop "giant space hamster teeth" items and go back to the quest vendor for a reward of some kind. The difficulty is the same. The fights are exactly the same. The only difference is the number snipes you have to hunt and the amount of time you need to invest in order to upgrade your character's stats and gear. A time investment that increases exponentially with each level I might add.

What's that? You say that your character gains new abilities and the monsters become harder to fight? Bullshit. Killing the generic level 1 wumpus is just as easy as killing the generic level 60 wumpus. Don't believe me? Go search for "bots" with the title of any given MMORPG. If that's a little too unsavory for you, search for "macros" with the title of any given MMORPG.

Keep in mind that these macros and bots were not made by hardcore or professional programmers. These were hacked together by everyday people that played these games enough to know the content by rote. You can tell me about how a person that bought a level 60 character with all epic gear doesn't know how to play that build, but you can't tell me that it takes the hundreds of hours that you spend grinding to the end cap and acquiring epic gear in order to learn how to play.

None of this is really new. Most of these problems go all the way back to the MUDs of old. Like modern MMORPGs, MUds had macros, bots, and multiplayers. Many of the more common macros were eventually made into MUD features in the same way that early MMORPG macros have become standard UI. The most glaring example in MUDs is the 'wimpy' setting. With this command, you can set the number of hitpoints at which your character will flee from combat. So if HP dips lower than say... 30% then your character runs away to safety. With macroing, you can set it up so that the character will automatically quaff health pots at certain HP levels. The fact that many players, to this day, feel the need to automate a considerable amount of the gameplay is a pretty good indication that there is a serious flaw in the game design.

Botting and macroing also served a different role altogether. Macroing and botting made it easy for one player to control a whole party of characters instead of just one. Multiplaying, Multiboxing in MMORPG terms, is frowned upon but not despised to the same degree as botting or RMT. Those that object to multiplay / boxing are under the impression that the practice is largely to give the multiplayer's main an unfair advantage in regards to progression. I subscribe to a different school of thought that believes multiplayers are just trying to make the game interesting. Managing an entire party singlehandedly is more difficult, by an order of magnitude, than managing one character. Even so, the fact that players have to go to this kind of extreme just to make the game interesting is another red flag that MMORPGs are lackluster games.

You know, looking back on all my previous entries, I notice that very few of them focus on MMORPGs entirely. I guess part of that has to do with the fact that I don't play MMORPGs that often. Another part is the fact that I see more potential in the genre than actual results. But the number one reason why I haven't written about MMORPGs is that I just don't like them very much.

I've wrestled with the why of that last statement for quite some time now. I played pen and paper RPGs. I like single player RPgs. I like multiplayer RPGs such as Diablo 2 and Neverwinter Nights. I even enjoy Rogue-likes, and it takes a special kind of nerd to truely appreciate that sub-genre of RPG. Ultimately, it all boils down to MMORPGs not requiring the same level of involvement that the previously mentioned styles of RPG require. Hell, even without bots or macros, many MMORPG players admit to doing other things while they play.

Could you honestly do the dishes or cook while playing KOTOR? How about Dragon Quest VIII? Baldur's Gate? Of course you couldn't. You would have to pause the game or wait for your turn during combat or something. A good game engages you the entire time you're playing. MMORPGs, by and large, are not good games.



Burning The Candle at Both Ends

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Sunday May 18 2008 at 2:47PM
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So today I'm going to tie together some ideas that I've been kicking around in these blogs. Not all of them, but many. As a disclaimer, I won't be doing anything with immersion or realism. I will however be talking about player interaction, which is the main selling point of the MMORPG genre.

Those of you that have hung out on the forums here know that I prefer multiplayer offline games to anything online. I would much rather have a LAN party with a few other people than be online with 63 retarded dickheads. I realize that game developers feel differently and that's mainly due to the fact that all 64 dickheads, myself included, had to buy a copy of the game just to play online. LAN games can get away with [illegal] copies of the game due to the fact that they are very pointedly OFFLINE!! Yes, piracy is bad but so is playing big brother with your customers. Remember when Command & Conquer came with two CDs so that  you could give one to your friend? Remember when Diablo would allow you to do a LAN install on a friends computer so that you could play the game together? Yeah, so do I...

Console games have also suffered this trend. Not only does every asshat playing a given Xbox Live game have to own the game, but they have to own the console and have an active subscription to Xbox live. When Socom came out for the PS2, I was totally pissed that there wasn't a four player, split-screen co-op mode. Two sequels later with a third in production and this feature still isn't even being considered for the series. There are some exceptions. Tribes: Aerial Assault for the PS2 had a split screen mode that let two players go online from the same machine and I'm pretty sure that Halo 3 lets four players onto Xbox live from the same machine.

It's really strange that living room multplayer has died out. Some of my fondest gaming memories are from split screen games of Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. I actually talked the wife into playing Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance with me one night and we ended up playing through the whole damn thing. And BG: DA required both players to be on the same screen at all times. The GameCube version of Phantasy Star Online had an offline, four player split screen mode. It can be done, but it's more profitable to sell one game per player than allow people to interact with each other face to face.

So what does this have to do with MMORPGs? More than you might initially assume. MMORPGs mean that each player has to have a computer, the game, all the expansions of the game, and a subscription to the game. Yes, you can lug your monolithic electric abacus over to your friends house, hook everybody up to the same router and party live, but that's one huge pain in the ass. On top of that, everyone has their nose buried in their own monitor so the experience is roughly the same as playing with voice over IP. WiFi and portable solutions take some of the pain out of setting up, but the "gaming laptop" remains a mythical creature and portable consoles like the DS and PSP fall into the same traps of their online console cousins. Although to be fair, the DS has a large library of games that can be played by four players using only one cartridge.

With the inevitable migration of MMORPGs to consoles, there's the possibility of getting the best of both worlds. With all your character information stored on the game server, all you really need is a user name and password to play. Yes, you'll still need to pay the subscription fee, but now you can play in the same room as the rest of your party. Mix this with my entries about static parties and it all starts to fall into place.

You could technically do this with a PC, but it would require either KVM switches or the use of gamepads, neither of which are very likely when it comes to PC gamers. Yes, a PC gamer may spend assloads on a 54" wide screen monitor, but he / she wants all that visual real estate to him / herself. Nevermind the advantages of being able to know what your teammates are doing at a glance. Although, some FPS games are starting to employ online split screen just for that advantage.

I'm willing to bet that some of you are about to mention that you normally party with more than three other people. With consoles, this isn't as much of an issue since you just connect them with an ethernet cable and use two TVs side by side. Eight players, one room and full situational awareness. As a side note, if you need more than eight people for your everyday or static party PvE then you're probably playing the game poorly.

What about Raiding? Well... If you think about it, this actually simplifies raiding quit a bit. A 64 man raid turns into a 16 squad raid. You could go a step further and have eight live teams of eight players each. That's considerably easier to manage than trying to herd 64 cats toward your raid goal. Believe it or not, players that are in the same room together can coordinate their actions much more effectively than players over voice chat. I know because me and a few friends have dominated public CSS servers when we were LAN partied. Placing the monitors next to each other in such a way that we could all just look over and see where the other player was at helped considerably. BTW, this little bit of organizational advice works for PvP as well.

The money from MMORPGs has always come from the subscriptions. The box sales may provide an initial cash boost, but the long term money is in the number of subscribers. With an option to allow multiple players to access the game from one machine, everyone can get what they want. Developers can get their subscriptions and gamers can get a few evenings a week with their friends. Besides, we already know that most MMORPG fans won't play this way. The pain of actual human contact is almost too much to bear for most of them as it is.

 

Realism... O RLY?

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Thursday May 8 2008 at 3:34PM
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Before we begin I just want you to know that I'm not going to retread the tired argument that MMORPGs are mostly fantasy games that have little in common with reality and just stick to criticizing the broader idea of realism in games. There's a small vocal minority that seems to think that games should be closer to real-life who are also impossible to please. Even if you created a peripheral that administered location accurate, mild lacerations every time their avatar was struck with a sword, it still wouldn't be "real" enough for them. Beware of these asshats because it was people just like them that killed the flight sim genre.

Most of us don't want reality in our games. We're perfectly happy with the gleefully over the top antics of Counter-Strike and the arbitrarily unrealistic play mechanics of Battlefield 2. We'd rather that the proceedings look authentic than play authentic. We love CoD4, even though we can heal from any wound in about five seconds flat, because the atmosphere feels the way we imagine a real battle would feel. We totally dig Rainbow Six Vegas for its nod to Tom Clancy authenticity even as it allows us to stand ten feet away from an enemy firing an Ak-47 and live. You see, most of us don't really want the glacial pace that results from the absolute realism of something like ArmA. We want to be HEROES who can absorb bullets like so many titanium sponges while charging forward launching flaming, exploding chainsaws out of our sniper cannons of doom!

Hell, even America's Army cuts so much slack with reality that you can employ suicidal tactics and win. If you want to play something more realistic there are things like paintball, airsoft, and the Society For Creative Anachronisms. You just can't get more real than doing something in real life. Not that I think you should join the military and do it for real that is...

And that brings me to another point about realism. You can't have it without fear. Let's take a couple of real world examples. Here's some short footage of a skirmish in Fallujah. Not exactly the same as a round of Counter-Strike is it? Here's some more CQB in a single house over in Iraq. Notice that not only is it extremely slow paced, but the soldiers actually give a damn. You simply cannot achieve that kind of tension in any simulation.

I know that some of you probably had a hard time watching that last video, but I did have a reason. The point being that even if we add a small amount of pain, nothing short of the possibility of death will make a player act in a way other than completely suicidal and unrealistic. And seriously, we don't want the experience that those soldiers were having. We don't want the experience that the pikemen at the Battle of Hastings had. We don't even want the experience that Gladiators in Rome had. We want diverting childhood power fantasies that take us as far away from reality as we can get.

 

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