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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

Violence

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Thursday December 20 2007 at 10:35AM
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I know I already posted this week but I came across a pen and paper role playing game that sums up all that is wrong with gamers in general within the following introduction. This particular game was originally a joke that was distributed in an unmarked, brown paper bag during Gencon. This was an under the table sort of thing since Gencon would never allow something like this to be distributed on their convention floor. If you're interested in the rest, you can pick up the whole text here.

While the following introduction speaks mostly about pen and paper RPGs, a lot of what is said can be applied to video games as well. As you're reading this, think about the discussions you hear in regards to Age of Conan or Grand Theft Auto. Take a look at this Crackdown Co-Op video and tell me that this isn't dead on the money.

Enjoy....

Welcome to Violence™
You Degraded Turd


After many years of laboring in the vineyards of game
design, holding aloft the Platonic ideal of what the Ars
Ludorum can achieve, and working for the time when
game design shall achieve its place among the pantheon
of Muses—that fabled 21st-century day when games
shall be universally acknowledged as the premier form
of the age, as the 20th century acknowledged film and
the 19th century the novel—I have come to an unutterably
grim and depressing realization.


You puerile adolescent- and post-adolescent scum
don’t give a tinker’s cuss. Berg was right, when he told
me, lo these many years ago, that there’s no point in trying
to write a good set of rules because you idiots can’t
tell the difference between a good set and a bad set anyway.
Actually, one is better off writing a bad set of rules,
because it will take you lot longer to figure out that the
game itself is an unutterable gobbler.


Dunnigan had the industry dead to rights when he said
that games that sold were always about NATO, Nukes, or
Nazis. Or rather, he was wrong only because he was talking
about wargaming; the basic sensibility remains.


Games are about violence. Oh, not Go, say, or Bridge,
but the kind of games that fly in the dog’s vomit we gaily
call the Gaming Industry. From D&D® to Mortal Kombat®
to Quake® to Metal Gear Solid®; from the electronically roaring
arcade to the blaring TV speakers of the console
gamer, from the tabletops of FRP to the snow-draped
forests of paint-ball, from the hooligan-crowded stadiums
of English football to the smash-ups of NASCAR racing,
from the PKers of online gaming to the hyperkinetic
spasms of real-time strategy, it’s what really cleans your
clock, isn’t it? What gets your blood moving? What elicits
voyeuristic glee? The spray of blood, the intestines spilling
spaghetti-like onto the ground, the coarse death-rattle
of your foes.


You’re all a bunch of perverted little Attilas, without
the guts to pull a knife or shoot down that son of a bitch
across the hall in reality. And so you get your jollies
through ‘interaction,’ the simulation of what you long to
do but haven’t the cojones.


Am I right? Or am I right? Enough with this high-falutin’
crap about playing a role or telling a story. Enough with
the demands of strategy, the pitting of mind-to-mind, the
modelling of reality. There’s no future in that, is there?
No, let’s get down in the muck and wallow with the
pigs. Away, sweet Muse; what profits me your inspiration?
I see it clearly now; the route to success lies through the
charnel house. Henceforth, I listen to other voices.


Here, vile reader, you shall find what you desire. Violence
of the most degraded kind. Suppurating wounds,
whimpering innocents pleading vainly for mercy, torture
and rapine and cannibalism. Reality in its rawest and most
repulsive form. Here, you will find the tools you need to
sate your blood lust....


Are you nauseated yet?


As Yoda says... You will be.

Permutations of Portablility

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Sunday December 16 2007 at 4:52PM
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So a couple of weeks ago I posted about my problems with PC gaming on the go. I don't figure this problem will persist over the next five years or so since everyone seems to be jumping on the "mobile / wireless" bandwagon. I just keep seeing more and more laptops around me and I don't see that trend ending anytime soon. Especially with Cell phone companies offering wireless broadband for the same price as Cable and DSL.

Related but separate, cell phone gaming and portable consoles have grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. The highest selling console on the planet right now is the DS and it's closest Competitor in the handheld market, the PSP, is already making plans to be integrated into a cell phone design. Of course, if Nintendo does this first with the DS, it won't surprise anyone since cell phone functionality has been rumored since the launch of the Gameboy Advance. Did I mention that the iPhone plays games now? No realy.... it plays games!

In the mainstream video gaming world, this looked at as something of an amusing oddity. Kinda like a woman with three breasts. It's fun and worth mentioning, but not really to be taken seriously. I find this attitude strange considering that about 40% of video gaming revenue comes from handhelds.

Here at MMORPG we care even less about portable gaming, be it on a laptop or otherwise. I mean really, an MMORPG? on the DS? Pffffffttttt! Whatever.....

That hasn't stopped people from playing MMORPGs on their laptops over wireless broadband, nor has it stopped handheld game developers from flirting with MMORPG concepts. Even Cell phone developers are taking a stab at integrating some of the elements of MMORPGs into their games.

Before I get into all of that however, I want to talk about how going portable morphs traditional gaming into something outside of what gamers are normally used to. Some of these things are old phenomenon that are making a comeback due to portable technology, and some of them are entirely new. Most of these things have made me take a different look at games as social media and the alleged importance of online gaming.

The most obvious thing that portable gaming brings to the table is visibility. Playing on a laptop or handheld console is an inherently public action. We've all seen the lame "Dude, get your own" commercials for the PSP, and that isn't too far off the mark with portable games. You're usually playing these games while waiting for something in public. This means that those who didn't bring something to occupy themselves with like a book, paper, people watching, ect. will wind up "shoulder surfing" people with games, books, and papers. I may not always get an audience when I play my DS in public, but I'm not surprised when someone does watch.

I want you to let the public aspect sink in for a second. Those of us that grew up with the arcades won't find this all that odd. Those of you that cut teeth on the Playstation one will probably be terrified. Last year I talked with a Gamestop employee, who I estimated to be about 20... maybe 22, that claimed he was so embarrassed to be a gamer that he tried to keep his friends and family from finding out that he still played video games.

Back when video games were in the cabinet, everyone played them and they were placed just about everywhere. The grocery store, the bar, the local Burger Trench.... they were everywhere and people aged eight to eighty two played them. Somewhere about the time that the arcades all got turned into Chucky Cheeses, adult video gaming became a badge of social retardation and 40 year old virginity. Portability is changing everything back the way it was.

The shoulder surfing aspect leads us to the next throwback that portable gaming gives us: The pick up game. When I see another DS owner  in "the wild" I usually shoulder surf or ask what they're playing. This normally leads to a discussion of what games each person has on them and a negotiation for a pick up game. The cool thing about the DS is that many games only require you to have one cartridge among several players. So I can set up a four player game of Mario Kart, Metroid Prime: Hunters, Advanced Wars DS, or whatever even if the other person doesn't actually own the game. This is also possible with laptops, but would require each person to have a copy of the game. Combine this with zero lag and games that play out in under five minutes and you practically have the arcade experience in your pocket. Well.... except for the punks plunking quarters on the glass for the next play that is.

The downside of pick up gaming is that it shares one of the most crippling problems of online gaming. Cheating may not be common either online or in portable games, but it's still present and very much a threat. With traditional console and arcade games, this wasn't a big deal since everyone was playing on the same machine. This also wasn't a major deal with offline LAN parties since the promoters would police the floor and bounce cheaters on a moments notice. You were deterred from cheating due to the fact that it took you several hours to break down your computer, load it in car, unload it, set it up, and connect it to the LAN. Why risk being thrown out and having your rig smashed up in the process? With pick up games over wireless peer to peer networks, these defenses just aren't in place.

Syphon Filter: Combat Ops just came out on the PSP this November. It already has hacks available for it. While I haven't heard of this kind of thing happening on the DS, it's definitely a possibility on the PSP and laptop games. The only defense is to just stop playing, beat up the asshole cheating, or both. This strikes me as something that will generally only happen online, but the nature of portable gaming combines both the best and the worst of live and online gaming.

I guess that's really what defines portable gaming, it uses the natural social networking of real life and compliments that with the internet. This is almost in direct opposition to how mainstream online gaming works. Over the last ten years, the industry has expected us to stay inside and meet all of our gaming friends online. Meeting other gamers in the real world has become problematic at best. There are no arcades anymore, most of the people you see hanging out in places like Gamestop either resemble the comic book guy from the Simpsons or aren't old enough to shave yet, and it's not like you can tell who is and isn't a gamer just by looking at them. But if they're holding a DS, PSP, or you see them playing on a laptop, you not only know that said person is a gamer, but you know what kind of a gamer they are! This leads to an interesting question about MMORPGs: How does this affect MMORPGs both in design and definition?

The first problem is definition. We generally agree that an MMORPG is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. That means that Massive numbers of people can play at once and it's online. The line gets blurred quite a bit when we begin referring to games like Guild Wars and Phantasy Star Online as MMORPGs. Those two games are largely instanced and have party caps of between four and eight players. With Guild Wars, the maximum number of players in an instance is 24 with a max number of players at town hubs reaching a 150 maximum. Because of this, there has been some debate as to whether these two games qualify to be called MMORPGs.

Some extremists have suggested that including any instanced areas eliminates a game from getting the label of MMORPG. Likewise, there have been many that have stated that a game has to be able to host 3,000 players at once to be called an MMORPG. Everyone generally agrees that the game has to be online. But these differences in definition open the door to more social portable games that only use the internet to compliment real world social networking.

the first example is going to be Monster Hunter Freedom 2. This game is completely offline, but it comes from a short lineage of online RPGs. Like Phantasy Star Online, you are limited to a party of four players and a static world. The game is more open ended than PSO so there are over a thousand multiplayer quests alone, not to mention the number of solo missions. You're character also retains items and stats regardless of whether you play solo or multiplayer.

Let's expand now the concepts of this game a bit. Let's throw in the ability to download new quests, weapons, monsters, and areas periodically for a monthly subscription. Now let's add the ability to add player characters to a friends list and the ability to connect with those people online if you wanted? Is it an MMORPG or no? The only real difference is that you're meeting people in the real world rather than in some game lobby or massive server.

over the next year or so, there will be a handful of games that will work kind of like this sans the updates and monthly fees. Dragon Quest IX, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates, even Sega is planning on releasing a spin off of Phantasy Star Universe on the PSP. With the success of MHF2 in Japan and it's rabid fanbase here in the US, expect to see more games like this with some of the features I just mentioned. As icing on the cake, Pokemon Diamond & Pearl features online trading that's similar to an auction house.

Now some people would claim that the game world isn't persistent in the aforementioned games. That is, the game doesn't happen on a server that's turned on 24/7 whether the player is logged on or not. I personally don't see why this is a big deal in largely static games like WoW or EQ2, but let's look at the whole concept of the persistent world anyway. More specifically, let's look at how you can have a persistent world without a world server or even an internet connection.

I submit to you... Animal Crossing! Yes, I realize that it's just a horribly kid friendly knock off of The Sims, but it has a few features that bring into question the standard definition of a persistent world. To begin with, each player has their own randomly generated town. If I go to someone else's town, not only will it have a different layout, but it also has different items and NPCs that I may not have in the town that was generated on my system. Going back to Monster Hunter, if we were to apply this idea it would mean that each player represents just another part of the game world to explore. With the exchange of friend codes or gate keys, you could revisit that players area whenever they're online to explore or trade. There's no central server, but there is persistence.

This idea of offline persistence linked to online play adds some even more interesting angles to game design. As an example, Metroid Prime Hunters allows you to scan for other players in you vicinity while the DS is in sleep mode. Any players that are found are placed into a rivals list and you get to see if they are online and can challenge them which is much faster than having Nintendo Wi-Fi search for random players. If we were to take our hypothetical mobile RPG and add this scan feature with faction based PVP, you could actually achieve a greater level of persistence than most modern MMORPGs.

Imagine playing online with a friend when suddenly four enemies log on and begin raiding your town. If you fail, your town can be burned to the ground with all the NPCs killed. As far as I know, there isn't a single MMORPG that I've ever heard of that allows for this kind of thing. Yet it's way more than possible in an offline portable game.

In the end, MMORPGs are social games and social spaces. The question is whether or not the definition of these games can be expanded to include games that operate over real life social networks or are confined to maladjusted shut-ins over the interweb. I personally like to think that these games can be more than a substitution for real life relationships and act as a catalyst for greater social interaction in flesh and blood world around us. Imagine how many MMORPG players you come into contact with every day and don't even realize it.

Controller Rant

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Wednesday December 12 2007 at 3:53PM
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The one thing that I think hurts the growth of PC gaming the most, is a lack of gamepad support. I know the PC snobs are going to jump on that statement and poo poo about how totally superior the Keyboard and mouse set up is, but they can really just go fuck themselves. If you want a more reasonable reply, try playing a racing or fighting game with the keyboard and mouse. There is a reason why the PC market is confined to FPS, RTS, MMORPG and knock-off Tycoon games.....

But it's not just the fact that the keyboard and mouse are confining to just a handful of genres. The issue is also the fact that a keyboard and mouse just aren't as intuitive as a controller. Come to think of it, not everybody gets the two stick, sixteen button gamepad either. At any rate, most gamers are more familiar and comfortable with a controller than the keyboard and mouse. On top of that, the keyboard and mouse is overkill in most situations.

Let me take you back for a minute. It's the early '90s. The top games on the PC are Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior, etc. I was playing these games with a Gravis Gamepad. The Gravis was a 2-axis analog controller like all PC joysticks at the time, but it had four buttons and was laid out like an SNES controller without the shoulder buttons. This pad was so popular that laptop manufacturers began packing it in with their computers. The point I'm trying to make here is that while PC gamers could play Doom with the keyboard, most preferred to play it with a controller that they were already familiar with. The same thing applies today. Especially with games that are made both for PCs and consoles.

 

Can anyone tell me why Knights of The Old Republic, a game produced originally for the XBox, doesn't have gamepad support? What about Jade Empire? Why not Call of Duty 4? COD4 won't even let me map the controls to my gamepad and I know that all of the functions can be mapped to a 360 contoller since it was also released on the 360!! I can understand wanting to use the keyboard and mouse for online multiplayer since you need to be able to turn on a dime, but single player? When the single player game was designed for an audience that's using controllers? WTF??!!

The games that I've found that do allow me to map to a controller don't even specify that it's possible. I discovered that I can map the controls to BF2142 to my gamepad, but it's not like there's a radio button labeled "enable joystick." There also aren't any sliders to adjust the sensitivity of the analog sticks. Given, this is an online game for serious catasses, but this isn't an uncommon situation. Very few of the single player FPS games that I own allow me to map to a controller. Even those games where I know damn good and well I can map everything to the controller.

Of those games that do allow me to map to a controller, none of them have a default controller setup. How hard is it to have a an option for the gamer to use a controller and provide a default setup? Especially for games that were made for both PCs and consoles.

Now I realize that there are some third party programs that allow you to map keyboard and mouse functions to a gamepad, but that's beside the point. If a game can be played with a controller, it should have a hassle free way to set up for the controller. I shouldn't have to wonder if the game will just automatically map a gamepad function to a keyboard or mouse control slot. It should also allow me to adjust the sensitivity of the sticks.

Bringing this back to MMORPGs, I've played CoH with a controller and had no problems. Xfire allows you to use a controller to play WoW and I'm pretty sure that It wouldn't be too hard to set up Guild Wars for a 4-axis, sixteen button controller considering that you only need eight buttons for skill slots, one stick to move, one stick to move the camera, and a button to lock onto targets with. you could actually reduce the number of buttons used through the use of skill highlighting with left and right on the D-Pad or macroing the skill cycle sequence to one button. This is all assuming that I was able to get into the options tab in GW which I can't anymore for some unknown reason.

Finally, consider for a moment that most households have a computer right now yet only a small number of computer owners use their machines to play games. If computer manufactures began packaging their machines with this:

And game developers started supporting Gampads right out of the box, how many people do you suppose would start using their machine for gaming? At the very least it might give developers the wherewithall to try genres outside of the FPS, RTS, and MMORPG trinity.

A Problem of Portability

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Thursday December 6 2007 at 4:48PM
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So recently I've been eyeballing the PSP. I can buy a used one for about $130 and the games released for it over the last six months or so haven't sucked quite as hard as previously. Sad truth, my most recent console conundrum was whether to buy the PSP or the XBox 360. Relax, I haven't bought either one..... yet.

In all honesty, I'm probably not going to buy and XBox 360 since I can just upgrade my PC for about half the price. Still, I've noticed a growing number of laptops being toted around and the town I'm in has had a rather acute outbreak of WiFi hotspots. You'd be hard pressed to find a coffee house or bar around here that didn't offer WIFI. Hell, even one of the local laundrymats offers it. This has made me turn my attention to laptops which is kind of the subject of this blog.

The biggest problem with laptops is price. The computer that I'm using now I built about a year ago on a budget of about $500. After I grab some more memory and a mid-range video card, I'll have sank about $600 into it. Of course, that's not counting the $200, widescreen LCD monitor with the DVI and HD connectors that I bought to replace the old monitor. That brings us to about $800 total. A laptop for that price will have half the hard drive space and about half the CPU speed that I have now. Given, the laptop would have a Dual Core processor and this machine has an AMD, but the bottom line is that I'm paying the same amount for less power a year after my desktop was built. This means that I wouldn't be able to play many of the PC games that my current machine can handle.

Now there are dedicated gaming laptops, but they're rare and you probably won't find one for under $1500. At that price, it would never leave my house. In fact, it probably wouldn't even get turned on. It would have a whole room of the house to itself where I'd just look at it and polish it with a diaper....

<ahem> Back on topic.... The next problem with laptops is the fact that if one thing breaks on it, the whole thing is a brick. If something goes wrong with my desktop I can isolate the problem and replace any component that is faulty for very little cash by myself. If something goes wrong with my laptop, I have to send it to a shop where sweaty tech geeks will fix it, steal all my porn, pirated movies and mp3s, recover all those deleted photos of me in drunken sexually compromising positions at the company New Year's Eve party, and that really raunchy homemade sex tape that me and the wife made but were later disgusted by, then charge me more than I initially paid for the machine in question.

I know that I'll have this machine for a couple years more, but the next computer is definitely going to be a laptop. That just seems to be the way that the world is moving. If they don't create cell phone that can do all the things my PC does, that is.

 

 

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