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Gaming To Hell In A Handbasket

The trials, tribulations and musings of an MMO veteran trying to find the next holy grail.

Author: Strayfe

Your Corporate Sponsored Gaming Experience

Posted by Strayfe Wednesday March 19 2014 at 10:48PM
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We all want to feel like our opinions matter. 

We all want others to take us seriously; to consider our thoughts, feelings, ambitions, likes and dislikes, whether in the context of simple interpersonal relationships or on the larger, grander scale, such as when we leave feedback with a company about a product, or write a letter to our politicians.  It's human nature to want to be valued and that desire is healthy and reasonable.

When it comes to gaming, the sad, sorry fact of the matter is, we (as individuals) no longer matter.

We are not customers or consumers, we are statistics.

We are not characters, opinions, personalities or people.  We are metrics.  To game developers, we exist solely as an actuarial algorithm, and our desires serve to move the pie chart one thousandth of one percent in a predetermined direction, based on specific, carefully constructed criteria.

We are wallets, to be studied, poked, prodded and surveyed to cull from us the best methods by which we can be exploited.

All of the forum rants, the impassioned blog posts, the scathing (or cheering) reviews, the time invested, the heartfelt friendships and relationships, the progression of the genre as a vehicle for storytelling, interaction and positive potential.  None of this matters anymore.

Welcome to your corporate sponsored gaming experience...

... brought to you by us, the players.

 

We Are To Blame

We did this to ourselves, I realized today, as I perused the forums for my soon-to-be-expired World of Warcraft account.  I watched the typical forum arguments, the intensifying, eternal back and forth between opposing viewpoints, to be found in any place where human beings of disparate types, thoughts and goals congregate.  I saw a sentence, repeated again, that I have seen a lot lately in discussions about gaming integrity, monetization and MMORPGs:

"The company is a business trying to make a profit," said one poster, as a rebuttal in an argument regarding Blizzard's recent offering of max level characters in their World of Warcraft cash shop.

The way this statement is constantly brought up and the context in which it's used shows me two things:

1) Many, many players are surprisingly adamant about defending gaming big business at their own expense; and

2) There is an increasing number of players who seem to believe that many of the questionable monetization and capitalization practices of major developers are acceptable and expected.  Simply par for the course.

But it wasn't always this way.

Many years ago, when you purchased a video game, for better or worse, you purchased a finished product.  There were no expansions and there were certainly no add-ons or downloadable content.  The idea of buying a game, and then having the developer charge you even more to access features, characters, areas, or other aspects of the game, on top of the cost of the game itself, would have been anathema.  It would have been met with an outcry loud enough to drown out a nuclear explosion, and the company who tried it would have been burned at the stake as a witch.

If you made a successful game, you were rewarded with players purchasing your game and giving it a solid review.  If you did well, you might even earn the capital to create a sequel or another game.  In this way, brand loyalty was created between companies who wanted to and did make good games, while the excited players showed their support for developers by paying for products they had grown to love.

It was a win-win for everyone involved.

Fast forward to today.  You can hardly purchase a Triple A game anymore that does not have one or more of the following available for additional money: DLC, microtransactions for outfits or gear, expansions, side quests, collector's editions, the list goes on.

We created this culture ourselves.  We perpetuate it on a daily basis because as a whole, as the sum and substance of our parts, as a statistical entity, we don't care.

We simply don't care anymore. 

"The company is a business trying to make a profit," has become a catch-all, absolute defense for many, many gamers.  Charge them $10 for a hat? "Oh well, the company is a business trying to make a profit, so it's fine."  Charge them $60 for a max level character? "Oh well, the company is a business trying to make a profit, it's expected."  Raise expansion prices?  Create artificial paywalls and boring content and then sell a way to bypass it in your cash shop?  "Well, you know, the company is a business trying to make a profit, so I can understand it."

Not only do the major gaming companies nickel and dime us at every opportunity, but we now defend them for doing it against anyone else who speaks up.

 

So What Happened? How Did We Get This Way?

In short, the gaming industry grew.  And grew.  And grew.  It grew until it had assimilated, statistically, almost everyone with a vague interest in gaming and gaming culture.  Then it couldn't grow anymore on the backs of gamers.

"The company is a business trying to make a profit," turned into "The company is a business trying to make a profit by any means necessary."

So as an industry, if you have already acquired all of your potential playerbase in one demographic, what do you do if you're a company trying to make a profit?  You target all demographics.

You stop making games for gamers, and you make games for people who hate games.

If you are a pizza restaurant, and your research and metrics indicate that 25,000 people in your immediate area regularly consume pizza, but you want 100,000 customers, you need to start appealing to people who don't eat pizza.  There is no other alternative for expansion.  You start offering things other than pizza.  You start changing the ingredients of your pizza to seem like it isn't pizza, but something more popular than pizza.

And thus the 'casual' movement was born.  Those who didn't have time to game were targeted, and games were stripped of depth, meaningful content, 'grind' and community to appeal to them, slowly, of course, but sure as I'm writing this, it happened.  New revenue models and monetization types, many pulled from venues other than gaming, were experimented with and eventually implemented.

And again, the industry expanded, at an absolutely alarming rate.  Exponentially even. 

But it was no longer the same. 

Casual gamers don't like gaming.  It is not their primary interest.  It is something they do that is fun for a short time, to pass the time, and then they do something else.  Revenue generation had to evolve to support that type of gamer, and suddenly, it no longer made financial sense to charge a box price and a subscription for MMORPGs, because the casual gamers they were targeting never had any intention of sticking around for months anyway.  That's not their modus operandi.  They have far more important things to do.

But since "the company is a business trying to make a profit," the company had to find a way to get money from these players.  Because there are so very many casual gamers, the camaraderie and closeness in the gaming community, the relationship between good products, consumers and developers fractured and then disappeared entirely.  When revenues, profits and losses are measured in the billions instead of the millions, there is no possible way for any one person to matter anymore.  When one person ceases to matter, it is the statistics, the majority, the masses who do matter, and we 'gamers' become one of them.  The same in force and effect as the increasingly more and more casual audience the companies try to attract.

Casual gamers, brought into mainstream gaming in recent years, don't know anything about the way games used to be.  All they know is Zynga charging them for crops in Farmville, Candy Crush charging them by the game (or however they monetize, I don't play that nonsense).  They 'play' and are inundated with a countless, nameless, endless and faceless sea of mobile, simple 'games' designed to be devoured in intervals of minutes rather than hours and monetized piecemeal in much the same way.

So when they gradually find their way to Triple A titles, to MMORPGs, to the games that we gamers try to hold onto with all of our might, we become outnumbered, outgunned and outclassed. 

The new generation of casual gamers expects to pay piecemeal for every single little thing. 

They don't remember a time when all the things they now voluntarily open their wallet for were offered for free with a smile from the developers and a sincere hope that we would enjoy their game enough to recommend it to a friend and to buy their next game.

They will defend the developers, because that is what they have done in every game they have picked up.  They have paid for that dungeon, that hat, that downloadable character, that new level, that side quest.  When a new game releases, they open their wallets and look expectantly toward the developer to find out how else they can use their wallets to improve their gaming experience because they simply don't know anything else.

 

Conclusion

So you tell me, everyone.  Let's say you are a business trying to make a profit by any means necessary.  You have a small group of people criticizing every decision you make, complaining endlessly and to the nth degree about the most minor of details, and saying it's "for the good of the game."

Then you have the faceless masses, who outnumber that small group by orders of magnitude.  They open their wallets and throw money at you for the game, then they open their wallets again and happily look to you without a single complaint, simply wondering what other things are available for them to buy from you.  They defend you against the small group of complainers.  They don't cause trouble, because they are not emotionally invested enough in the game to care about its success or failure.  They simply want something new and exciting to throw money at.

Which of the two do you cater to?

When you answer that question, you will find out why the 'gamer' is now just another cog in the wheel.  An irrelevant 1% in the very industry they launched.  A footnote and an afterthought, whose sole purpose is to carry the flags of history, nostalgia and better times, through a world that couldn't possibly care less.

I am part of the 1%, and I welcome you to your corporate sponsored gaming experience.  There is no escape.  There are no safe havens.  There is no hope on the horizon.  We sit on the rocking chairs of electronic entertainment and listen to the dirge and death knell, gleaning what we can from what is left, until our worlds are nothing but a fading memory.

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Gaming

Posted by Strayfe Friday January 25 2013 at 9:59PM
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It's been a year and some months since my last post. 

Someone who I've come to respect and enjoy a great deal in a very short amount of time suggested that I pick this blog back up again, dust it off and play ball for awhile.  She called me a brilliant writer.  I think I laughed for ten minutes.  Not at her mind you, but at the idea that in this day and age, a tightly focused rant on a niche of a niche can be seen by some as literary mastery.

But that's just about where things stand in the brave new world of 2013, isn't it?

In many respects, technology and society have advanced to the point where gaming as an interest, and its fringes such as blogs, machinima, faqs, reviews and related things, have become more and more accepted in the mainstream.  Blogging for this site, and in general, if you know what you're doing, can carry a definite journalistic credibility in the event you do go searching for any job that involves creative thought, articulation or the fading ability to string words together to form a coherent sentence.

I'll give you a few seconds to stop laughing... actually, I'd better make that a few minutes.  Put your serious face back on, because I'm serious.  Dead serious.  As serious as Vin Diesel frowning at a picture of Chuck Norris' frowning face.

I've used a couple posts on this blog as writing samples when applying for various jobs in the past, and I've had people remark on that before, but I never really gave it much thought beyond that.  I've never been one to scream too loudly about my interests to those outside my immediate circle, especially in an era where your boss probably does his own background check by googling your name and browsing wantonly through your facebook page.

I don't have a facebook and I won't be getting one, but that's a story for another time.

So, inspired to write for the first time in a while, where do I turn for a topic?  The answer: Inward, as I have been a lot lately. 

Long story short, I've had some twisting and turning personal circumstances.  It's been a harrowing journey wrought with many hairpin curves, and I've had to respawn a couple times because I wiped the raid by standing in the fire.  Nerd analogy points +5.  At the end of the day, I've discovered a few things about myself that I probably always knew somewhere deep down, but that are more and more apparent with each passing day that I focus on them.  The main point, and the focus of this post is simply this:

MMORPGs are responsible for the vast majority of my social growth and development, as well as being solely responsible for teaching and instilling the skills and values that ultimately allowed me to be successful in the workplace.  In short, I owe my life and success in most areas to being a gamer.

But while the more mundane nuances of the expansion of the internet and virtual worlds as a social medium continue to be accepted, the profound, deeper aspects and implications of that same paradigm shift are ignored, derided,  or brazenly legislated against.  The internet and gaming are now valid interests in the minds of the masses, but a statement that these things have affected you in a positive manner might still be seen as weird.  Look at the paragraph before this one.  Read it again.  Have you drawn some conclusions about me in your head?

Like it or not, there is a stigma created when you admit that virtual interaction has been an influential, empowering part of your life.  The usual stereotypes of being the size of a small cruise ship, subsisting on McDonalds and Kool-Aid and owning a flat, smack dab in the middle of mom's basement come to mind.  Those things are just that, however: stereotypes.

It never ceases to amaze me that we admit that gaming is mainstream, but still cling to the idea that, in order to be a gamer, one must be male, unhealthy and unsuccessful.  We have evolved in the consideration of the medium as valid, but without regarding the broader implications.  Namely, if something is 'mainstream', there will be people of all types interested in it.

Yes, that includes cute girls.  Yeah, I said it.  What are you going to do about it?

"Blah blah Strayfe, blah blah, Rule 37, monkey bag.  Donkey schnookums reefer magnet."

That sentence makes about as much sense as the antiquated views perpetuated by the media, trolls, and yes, the hub of what is supposed to be the most 'open minded' and 'freedom loving' group on the internet, Anonymous and 4chan itself.

We are quick to condemn video games for wanton depictions and glorifications (their words, not mine) of violence and sex.  We are quick to see and believe that being a gamer means you're poor, overweight, and socially inept.  And we are far too quick to dismiss the internet as being something "not real".

What many choose to ignore are the positive facets that anonymity and free expression can bring to a person.  MMORPGs can be an engine to teach social and leadership skills, promote friendship and cooperation and yes, even meet that special someone if we're lucky enough and the stars align.

So, with that said, I have two friendships that started online.  They have lasted for 12 years now, and I have watched my friends grow up, marry and have families of their own.  That is no less real of a friendship.

Gaming and the internet taught me how to write, how to speak my mind, how to retrieve information I need, how to problem solve and any number of critical thinking skills.  It also taught me to type 120wpm and gave me the computer knowledge and interests necessary to perform any day to day tasks at my job with ease and double as the tech support guru for my boss and anyone he knows.  All of these things added up once resulted in my first job as a legal assistant more than 9 years ago.  I am now a successful Paralegal, and soon I will have enough hours training to take the California Bar Exam and become an attorney.

I've had relationships that I consider to be successful in that they helped me understand myself better, whether or not they ended up being the one for me.  Two of them started online.  Soon, a third might as well.  If it happens, I won't think any less of it.

My ultimate point is simply this: find out what being a gamer means to you and embrace it.  We don't need to hold the stigma over our own heads.  We have plenty of clueless bottom feeders to do that for us.

Ladies and Gentlemen, roll out and crack some virtual skulls.  Just learn something along the way.

 

Audio Files: MMO Music Top 10

Posted by Strayfe Friday May 20 2011 at 12:19PM
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If there's one thing that almost everyone on this planet can agree with, it's that we love music.  Not the same music, mind you, but nearly everyone has a song, or a group, or a vocalist, or a musician whom they can listen to for hours and hours on end, happy as can be.

There's a reason for this.  Music is the universal language.

Most of humanity is able to pull the intended emotion from a song, even if its sung in a different language, or even if the words and lyrics themselves are nonsense.  Certain instruments, passages and keys convey certain feelings in nearly everyone who hears them.  There have been studies done as to why this is the case and scientific links between the golden ratio (natural math, look it up, quite interesting) and music that all point to one thing - music is very closely tied to who we are as a species.

That being said, I have a question for you guys.  Why are most MMO soundtracks one or more of the following: A) ignored or nonexistant, B) full of generic 15-30 second loops, C) completely devoid of even the slightest memorable piece, D) full of out of place amateur orchestra pieces or E) sound like they were composed with one or two instruments by one guy, in one day, with a gun to his/her head.

I'm really tired of booting up every new MMO, only to hear the same stock-standard music everywhere I go.  With music so important to us as a culture, why don't companies put more effort into the auditory experience of their customers? 

My answer?  I honestly don't know.  It seems to be accepted practice to include some mandatory, period-appropriate instrument in most zones of most games, even if you only hear it for a few seconds, but there is no heart, no effort put into most of it.

Fortunately though, that's not always the case.  Today, I will set out my top 10 MMOs with the best music/ambience/overall audio experience, as well as a couple of my favorite tracks for the benefit of those who may not have played.  Of course, your opinion may be different, but that's why this is my blog and not yours.  Feel free to start your own!  Community is always encouraged.

#10 - Dungeon Fighter Online

Samples - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrvfOnN30Ts and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5y49LEVFpk

Come on now.  If the music in this game doesn't get you pumped up to kick some major ass, nothing will.  Perfect for a 2D beat-em-up.  The only reason DFO isn't higher is because the instrument and sample quality are fairly low and the game seems to suffer slightly from "30 second loop syndrome".

#9 - Lord of the Rings Online

Samples - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3dPApPyIGs and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYfBuV_twio&feature=related

Turbine did a good job with LOTRO, no doubt about it.  Like Dungeon Fighter Online, the game does contain a lot of "30 second loop syndrome", but the pieces are all very well done, fit their situations perfectly, and add a real sense of immersion to the game.  Plus, lets not forget the ability to compose your own music using the LOTRO music system.

#8 - Fantasy Earth Zero

Samples - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwoCdplw3Xk and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdFFDdfo2Fs and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqNbVSQppFI

Sadly, the game is no more.  Useless company, GamepotUSA, shut it down far too soon.  An amazing game concept ruined by a terrible host and some latency problems that they absolutely refused to address or fix.  I still wish a competent host would pick this one up again.  The soundtrack is a large part of that too.  Composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto (Final Fantasy Tactics/Final Fantasy XII), the music has everything you'd expect from a veteran composer of a series notorious for its incredible music. 

The pieces are orchestral or piano based, depending on the circumstances and fit the game extremely well, whether it be lazily beating on monsters in a field, or in the midst of a hard-fought, contested pvp war with another nation.

#7 - World of Warcraft

Samples - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nu00ywIcW8M and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXhx40DcU6Y and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_jJtySnwpA

WoW is really hit and miss for music.  On the one hand you have some incredible orchestral pieces like the above, Lament of the Highborne, some of the trailer music and a good portion of the dungeon music.  On the other hand, you have a pretty much endless supply of boring, uninspired, 20-30 second loops that rear their head once every few minutes and then fade into obscurity.  The problem with Blizzard's music is that they aren't able to compose in anything but SUPER EPIC ULTRA 300 PIECE ORCHESTRA STYLE, and a lot of areas suffer for that because they just aren't suited for it.

That being said, there is still a lot to love about WoW's soundtrack, and Blizzard clearly puts more effort into it than the vast majority of other companies out there.

#6 - S4 League

Samples - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRf9b8hplpo and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaMdEzMGXLk and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RmUYZ5caM70

To be honest, I didn't know what to do with S4 League on this list.  Personally, I love the soundtrack.  I think it's the best OST for an MMO shooter ever, but it's a bit on the obscure side.  Many of the songs are vocal techno/trance, and there's also a song that wouldn't be out of place in an episode of Power Rangers.  In short, it's quirky but incredibly effective.  Too quirky to put any higher than this though, and if you aren't a fan of, or at least tolerant of electronic music, you won't enjoy the game at all because the music is a large part of it.

#5 - Mabinogi

Samples - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIOIN0VwMug and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TM71lyQijBQ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_X97N65dTWM

Ah, Mabinogi, I really wanted to love this game.  I wish it had a bigger and more active community, because there really is a lot to love here, not the least of which is the incredibly awesome and old-school RPG sounding soundtrack.  Everything from the turn-of-the-millenium synth that serves as the base for most of the tracks to the wide variety of themes compliments the cel-shaded anime graphics well, and serves to pull you into a celtic-inspired fantasy world as seen through eastern eyes.

From a purely technical standpoint, the music isn't all that complicated or grandiose, but listen to the samples and you'll find just a few of the songs in a memorable and extremely catchy soundtrack that handles the game very, very well.  In addition, this is another game where you can compose your own music and, in my opinion, the system works even better than that used in Lord of the Rings.

What more can you ask for?

#4 - Eve Online

Samples - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3zohj9NKXE and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7zI5r6LxVE and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_J4H3o2om7c and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BemazRFEsrA

When I first started playing Eve Online, I had literally zero expectations for the music.  There's no sound in space, after all, and I sort of expected that to be reflected in the game, but I was quite pleasantly surprised by Eve's music.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is how you do ambience properly.  Strings and slow, building synths dominate the game.  90% of the time I didn't even realize that any music was playing until, all of a sudden, I would pause to do something and notice it in the background.  I would immediately think to myself, hey this is awesome.

But the game doesn't stop at ambient, which also surprised me.  I remember the first time the first sample above played when I entered an acceleration gate, I thought something had popped up in my browser window.  When I realized it hadn't, I quickly wondered how badly I was about to be screwed.  That's the kind of emotion you want music to convey, the perfect background, the "Oh shit." moment.  Jon Hallur Haraldsson is to be commended for his job on a soundtrack that could easily have been nonexistant or dreadfully repetitive and annoying.

#3 - Atlantica Online

Samples - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXR8jdNUYbo and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c21tz1-nf1o and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6N7La3CiK4 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8OuPrTr-UL0

Another game that does an incredible job of mixing styles and instruments and setting the mood all through the game.  Atlantica was the first free to play game I ever played, and one of the reasons I stuck around as long as I did was for the music.  Being turn based, Atlantica could have suffered from repetition, but it avoided this by having a different track for every outdoor area, every dungeon, six different battle themes, and nearly a dozen different town themes.

The music does have an orchestral leaning, but the variety of instruments used, sample quality, and numerous styles (find me another MMO that has a Western-style shootout song in it used well) make it one of the most appealing soundtracks you could ever hope to find in a game.  I could easily see this soundtrack being composed for a popular single player game and getting rave reviews and a cult following.  Highly recommended... too bad the cash shop ruined the game.

#2 - Sword 2 (Granado Espada/Sword of the New World)

Samples - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_L-fDedv_k and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9ZRkNIrUm0 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1PtV7dwNuA& and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIu9VUZIy7c&

Sword of the New World, an average game with the distinction of being literally the only MMO I've ever KEPT playing simply for the music.  Surprisingly, with a high quality score like this, the game is free to play.  There is not a single bad track in this game and it has everything from eastern influences, metal, techno, violins, waltzes, piano pieces, and sometimes all of the above in the same song.  Composed by the same team responsible for Ragnarok Online, the instruments and synths are all extremely high quality.  This and the #1 might as well be 1a and 1b.  Yes, that's how much trouble I had ordering them, and I never thought I'd say that when the following game is involved:

#1 - Final Fantasy XI

Samples - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p84MwUCJtNo and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHGUmnrkYi8 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zq87fRPXwLg and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvSoMqccyyM and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TsLkGEDwLLc and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6Q3GMCPJQM

This shouldn't surprise anyone.  Although Squaresoft is gone and Square-Enix fades progressively more with each release, over the years they have employed countless top of the line composers (Nobuo Uematsu, Hitoshi Sakimoto, Yasunori Mitsuda and now Naoshi Mizuda) and are responsible for hours upon hours of my favorite game music ever.  FFXI is no exception, and when you consider that the game itself is responsible for stealing 4 years of my life, longer than any other MMO, you can imagine the memories that go with the music in this game.

Perhaps you might say that nostalgia colors my view, but I don't think so.  The game has quite possibly the most tracks of any MMO OST ever, and there's not a bad one in the bunch.  From the atmospheric, to the mysterious, to the edge of your seat battles, FFXI represents the pinnacle and standard for music in an MMO.  I have gone to zones and fought battles again and again simply to hear the music in that particular area, even though I've had nothing to do in it.  Composed mainly by Naoshi Mizuta with Nobuo Uematsu coming out of 'retirement' to handle a few tracks, there is very little to find fault with in this soundtrack.

The only flaw would be the occasional zone without music, but SE has said that this was done intentionally in many cases to add to the mood in the game.  When you go through a game listening to beautiful music, only to run into a zone that doesn't have any, you wonder why, what's special about this area that makes it silent.

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And there you have it.  Maybe you're a music lover and have found a new game to try, maybe you've found a new track to listen to, or maybe just a new perspective on MMOs.  Whatever the case, music should be a prominent part of any triple A title released, and not an afterthought the developers feel like they can half-ass.

TERA, Fantasy & Censorship

Posted by Strayfe Sunday May 8 2011 at 8:17PM
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I think I may have shown up a bit late to the party on this one, but as somebody famous once said:

"Better late and opinionated than early and silent."

Okay, so that was me who said that, and no, I'm not really famous, I just needed a good lead-in to the article.  Journalistic license and all that, you understand, right?

 

TERA Online, the next generation Triple A action-MMO from En Masse Entertainment has come under fire recently from its own potential playerbase.  The reason?  The looming threat of 'westernizing' the Elin race.  For those unfamiliar with Elins, I give you the following screenshots and videos:


Videos:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgPBIGWqQEo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xf6zpXAK990

 

AW MAH GADZ - SAEV DA CHILDRINZ

Scroll up to my introduction and you'll notice I put 'westernization' in quotes.  Having looked at these screenshots and those two videos, can you guess why, ladies and gentlemen?  Of course you can!  You're warm blooded Americans!  You're fine upstanding European citizens!  I bet the first thing every one of you thought is:

"Oh my god, somebody should censor this!  These are little girls wearing overly-sexualized clothes and their very existence in the realm of entertainment mediums is a shining beacon for pedophiles everywhere.  Also, I will be taking a trip to Middle Earth later, who wants to join me?  What?!  What do you mean Rivendell isn't real?!  HOGWASH AND POPPYCOCK!"

Sure, I'm laying it on a bit thick, but that's what I do.  TERA Online intends to censor the Elin to some capacity for western audiences, confirmed in a rather old interview which can be found here.

Naturally, as with many similar issues of censorship, the backlash was immediate and resounding.

Over here is a (now locked) TWO HUNDRED page thread on the official TERA forums, followed here by another 170-plus (at the time of this blog) page thread on the same subject.  There have also been rumors that Elins were originally going to be excluded from TERA's western release for their ... ah... obscene... depictions of... ah... skin or... something obscene ... or...

No, I can't even finish that sentence.  The absurdity of the whole situation is simply overwhelming.  Elins, as cute and child-like in appearance as they are (open for debate... I've never seen a child with hips like that), ARE NOT CHILDREN.  They are an imaginary race of humanoid females who are a part of an imaginary fantasy world where other fantastic things exist.  You know... those things that make up the Fantasy MMO genre?  Magic, epic swordfights, talking animals, medieval kingdoms?  All those things that don't exist in real life?

Fantasy is used as escapism.  Those of us who play MMORPGs enjoy the idea of working to advance another persona, whether it be by the stats, gear and numbers, or through character development as a roleplayer.  We do not walk through every game we play with a hawk eye, attempting to draw or create parallels to real life in every pixel.

I can't throw a fireball at someone I don't like.  I can't grab a giant, glowing blue axe from my closet and wander into Canada to start some cross-country PvP.  If I go to Compton, there won't be anyone on the street corner with a giant exclamation point floating over their head, begging for every passer-by to complete some vacuous and mundane task to earn reputation with the local thug-guild and a few benjamins for their new dubs.

So why is this all okay?  Why is it okay to have fantasy races that summon demons and the undead?  Human sacrifices, blood and gore, and all these other fantastic elements?  Obviously these vaguely promote some sort of slightly undesirable behavior and should be censored accordingly as well, right?

Of course not.

There are people, mostly the religious type, who have been trying to censor these things for years.  Listen to most of them for even a moment, talking about how World of Warcraft is satanic, and the average person will take them for what they are, an utter nutjob.

Poke through either of those TERA threads, however, and you'll find a rather sizable group of people who believe that the way Elin are portrayed somehow promotes and glorifies pedophilia, that anyone who enjoys looking at the Elins as presently constituted are pedophiles or have pedophilic tendencies, and even that the race should be removed entirely due to societal bias on adolescent sexuality.

The problem with this entire line of reasoning is simple.  It's not real.  Elins are created using 3D modeling and compositing.  They are part of the lore of a fantasy world which exists only as a block of data on a series of servers.  They are not Human children.  They are scantily clad because, in all cases of fantasy, sex sells.  We want escapism.  We want to be muscle-bound, perfect badasses, beautiful, exotic women, or mischievous nature spirits (the lore behind Elins).  We do not want to be Dave and Kate, the slightly overweight, out of shape accountant and his dorky secretary.  We have real life for that.

I'm not sure about anyone else in the world, but I learned to distinguish fantasy from reality when I was about three or four  years old.  It's one of the first lessons I believe any child should learn.  Entertainment, gaming and television in all of its forms gives us as a society an outlet to explore feelings, ideas and thoughts in a controlled, safe environment that would not be acceptable in real life.  It gives all of us an avenue to confront and handle situations or components thereof that may get us in real trouble if followed to their logical conclusion in reality.  THIS IS HEALTHY.  IT IS NOT A BAD THING.

Pedophilia IS a terrible thing.  Sexually utilizing a child for your own perverse pleasure is about the lowest thing someone can possibly do.  I'm right there with the rest of you when I say, string em up, cut their dick off, hang em upside down and leave em to rot.  I would be unequivocally naive though, if I were to suggest that it could be eliminated entirely.  People will always break the law, any law.  There have been studies done as to why, and I won't get into those, but it's going to happen.

Society as a whole has lost the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality.  A lesson that should be taught and instilled in any child from an extremely young age has either been ignored or coopted to suit the insular views of the parent.   Should I infer then, that the average person has the emotional and social development of a three year old?  I could, and from a logic standpoint, I wouldn't have a difficult time proving it, but unfortunately, things aren't that simple.

Censorship always comes down to one argument.  It's the same one that all pro-censor groups use as their ultima ratio.

"We should censor X and Y because it's a bad influence.  Children who see X and Y on television/movies/in games may turn around and do/say/become X and Y in real life."

Let me offer you an anecdote.  My first summer out of high school, I was 19 years old, and I had the opportunity to take some volunteer work for a non-profit company engaged in caring for and rehabilitating developmentally and learning disabled adults.  During my second week of the two-month long program, I was assigned to work with a man who we'll simply call Jim.  For all of his faults, Jim wasn't a bad guy as far as developmentally disabled people go.  I didn't have hardly any problems with him until one day.

We were doing arts and crafts, as I recall, something to do with colored stencils (those things that have the shapes, stars, circles and what not that you trace and color in).  Things were going great until I showed him the next step in the project which involved a couple of stencils in the shape of triangles.

The man went completely and totally apeshit, flipped over the table and started attacking and literally going berserk on anything within range, including me.  I wasn't exactly small or a wimp at the time, but I felt like I was getting pummeled by the fucking hulk.  It ended up taking about a dozen people to restrain him and prevent him from tearing the place apart.  When things had finally calmed down, and I was explaining what had happened to set him off, I mentioned the word 'triangle' again, not realizing the problem, and Jim went completely apeshit yet again.

Turns out, the shape of a triangle or the word 'triangle' triggered some strange thought process in his head, causing him to go into berserk mode. 

Should I go on a crusade for the rest of my life against triangles?  Should I call up every television network and demand that any instance of a triangle, or the word triangle should be censored because it might make someone lose their mind and kill?  Of course not.

Do you understand the slippery slope you run into when you demand that everything be censored, simply on the POTENTIAL for a problem?  It's wrong. 

There are people out there who will find different things offensive.  Personally, I find most celebrities to be pathetic, horrible role models whose very existence degrades the Human race.  Should I call for their censorship?  Of course not.  I may not like them, but they are a part of society.  If I go and kill somebody and claim that Britney Spears made me do it, should Britney be banned from all media?

If someone plays TERA and sees an Elin, then goes out and molests a child believing that they look like one, the problem lies with the individual being a fucking lunatic and not on the game for containing fantastic content that serves as an escape for millions of normal people who have no problem with them.

If I find Elins to be hot, alluring, cute and awesome, does that somehow make me a pedophile?  Despite the fact that I would go to my own grave before harming a child in real life?

Society - Take some personal responsibility and quit ranting, raving and carrying on about these mysterious 'potential scenarios' and strange, bizarre leaps of logic. 

Let fantasy be what it's meant to be, a healthy escape for people disenchanted with the daily grind of dealing with the exact types of people trying to censor it.

Rift: Planes of Azeroth

Posted by Strayfe Wednesday March 2 2011 at 7:36AM
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I never intended to write this blog. 

I had come to terms with the $50 I spent on Rift in a fit of peer pressure.  I had come to terms with the knowledge that, yes, there are people who are playing Rift right now, and they are happy as pigs wallowing in a vat of feces.

I had come to terms with my buyer's remorse, and another divet on my "Lost faith in the industry." wall.

Then I opened up a certain website today.  It's called mmorpg.com, and happily splayed across my screen in epic sized, proprietary font were these words;

"Rift: We're not in Azeroth anymore."

I lost it.  I've been going through some stress at my job recently, and seeing that, after I had spent most of last night playing the game in a state of utter disbelief brought my mind crashing into an abyss from which I still have not recovered. 

I sat there, and I stared at the ad, and I cackled like a raving lunatic.  I snickered, giggled, sputtered, laughed, hooted, hollared, and made so much noise, that my cat looked as though she might leap into a box and mail herself to Australia to get the hell away from me.

Ladies and Gentlemen, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Trion Worlds has done everything but drop down and lick between the toes of Blizzard Entertainment.  I have been a part of this community for several years, and I have seen many, many new releases pointed at and ridiculed for being "another WoW clone."

If Warhammer and Aion are WoW clones, then Rift is a genetically engineered creature, carved painstakingly one sub-atomic particle at a time from the very quarks and quantum-makeup of World of Warcraft.

When I tell you that everything is copied, I mean, quite literally, everything.

Keybinds, interface options, UI, movement, camera controls, chat, chat options, combat text, the macro system, the macro commands themselves, action verbs, cast bars, audio options, display settings, the colors of gear and items, the crafting professions, battlegrounds and pvp, the questing system, quest tracking, the maps, waypointing, node tracking, hotbars, icon locking, training, tutorials and tips... the list goes on...

Everything is... exactly... exactly... exactly... exactly THE SAME.

Not slightly the same.  Not similar.  Not reminiscent of. 

A complete and utter duplicate.  A 100% accurate laser-copy.

If I didn't have my bank statement to look at with the -$49.99 for the purchase of Rift: Planes of Telara and NOT World of Warcraft staring me directly in the face, I would have thought I had gone mad.

I still think I might be mad.  Did this game actually take years to make?  Did someone sit around a table at a production meeting and actually hash out the design for this game as their own idea?  Did the design document consist of a series of covert black-ops missions into Blizzard headquarters to steal their code?  To steal the brains from Chris Metzen and Jeff Kaplan themselves?

I am appalled.  I am so utterly baffled that it's difficult for me to put into words how utterly baffled I am.

I can't believe that the executive producer of this game, Scott Hartsman, could have worked on my all-time favorite virtual world, Gemstone III.  Could someone who helped shape one of the most innovative games ever released also be responsible for the most derivative swill I have ever seen? 

Apparently, the answer is yes.  The sole reason I bought Rift, was because of the background of the developers and lead designers of Trion Worlds.

Bad show, guys.  Bad, bad show.

The Sky is Falling

Posted by Strayfe Wednesday September 29 2010 at 7:30PM
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Today I am not only the Devil's Advocate, I'm his best friend.  Today, I prove that there are people out there who are not fooled by endless hype and shiny press releases.

Those who have read any of my previous blogs know one thing about me.  I am quick and ruthless with my criticism.  If something pisses me off while I'm gaming, I don't hesitate to call a spade a spade, then whip out a spade and beat it more thoroughly than a dead horse in a Thai meat factory.

Time is precious.  When I offer mine to a company by choosing to play their product, I expect a certain level of satisfaction, or else I simply disengage and find a more worthy recipient of my attention.  As the days go by, and I become older (22 now... joy...) and more jaded, I find that I'm becoming more and more picky.  I no longer have the inclination to grit my teeth and sit through hours of mind-numbing shit to get to the mediocre part of a game.  It's no wonder then, that I also find myself unable to stick with a game for very long.

... and by very long, I mean more than a day, or even a couple hours.

Sadly, most games ARE that bad.  They're so bad that I wonder on a daily basis what the hell happened to the gaming industry.  I wonder what sorts of things people look at and say, "Hey, this is a good game, I think I will keep playing it."  I wonder what sorts of things other people look at and say, "BOOOO, this is a terrible game, why would anyone play it?!"  I wonder if somewhere along the way wires were crossed and people lost the ability to distinguish quality from gimmicks; depth from tedium; content from a boring, pointless grind.

I know the answer of course, but it still bothers me to see so many people salivating over certain games that are pulling the wool over everyone's eyes with the cloth of "innovation".

People are drooling over Guild Wars 2 because of "Dynamic Events" and "Personal Stories."  I look at the available information about these systems, and all I see is "Public Quest Chains" and "Single Player Instances."  Meh.

What else are we cheering about?  The graphics?  The combat?  TERA is better on both counts.  And even if you give Guild Wars the nod in the graphics department, there are games with far better out there.  Namely FInal Fantasy XIV.

"But Strayfe, it's ArenaNet.  Surely they won't put out anything bad!  Look at how great Guild Wars 1 was!"

... What?

The original Guild Wars was successful for three reasons.  #1 - It has no subscription fee.  #2 - It has no subscription fee.  #3 - It takes absolutely no effort to get to max level... hell, you can even START a character at max level.  Talk about taking all the fun out of advancement.  If you want to play a game where everyone is on equal footing, starts at the same level and is skill-based, play an FPS.  To top that off, the game is entirely instanced and has a horrible community.

What has ArenaNet done to garner this much faith from gamers?  If it were Blizzard? Definitely.  Mythic?  Probably.  But a company with only one mediocre game that is not even an MMORPG?  I'm not following the logic.  Read this article and tell me it doesn't make you sick:  http://www.guildwars2.com/en/the-game/combat/healing-death/

Don't care to read that much?  Let me give you some highlights. 

Extremely minimal death penalty, all classes can heal, all classes can raise from level 1.

Challenge Rating: -3.9 billion

Game Rating: -Infinity

Can someone please explain to me why people want to play a game that has NO CHALLENGE?  NO RISK?   If you don't stand to lose anything by dying, there is no incentive to avoid it.  Killing anything simply becomes a matter of bashing your face against it until it falls over.  I can't possibly think of anything more boring.

All classes can heal and raise?  Really?  What is the point of making everyone self sufficient in an MMO?  There's only one.  To discourage grouping.  I'm glad we have that all sorted out.  Guild Wars 2 doesn't want you to group with other people.  An MMORPG should foster dependency on other players, not discourage it.  This line of reasoning is unfathomable to me.

Moving on...

People are drooling over Star Wars: The Old Republic, because it's going to be an MMO with a story and also because it's made by BioWare.  Sure, games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect had deep, involving storylines, but lets face it, neither game had particularly impressive gameplay.

I'm also amused by this little tidbit of information:

"Unlike traditional MMOs, classes in the Old Republic are not limited to the typical archetypes (healer, tank, melee dps, ranged etc...). Bioware has stated that each class will support on-the-fly customization that will allow any class to fill any role within a party, eliminating the need to spam channels in search of a specific class needed to fill a role within a group, which can delay or outright stop parties from completing group quests. While each class in The Old Republic will still favor a certain play style (be it ranged, melee, or otherwise), customization combined with companion characters will make for having a class be able to tackle many different situations, with or without the support of other player characters, and without requiring specific other classes in order to move forward."

Let me translate this from Pre-Release Hypespeak into something everyone can understand.

"Unlike good games, classes in the Old Republic mean absolutely nothing.  Bioware has stated that everyone will be like everyone else so that casuals don't have to wait to do their one instance a day.  While each class in The Old Republic will have a different name (be it Smuggler, Jedi or otherwise), lack of customization, combined with a poor man's pet system will make for everyone being able to do anything.  Screw individuality.  Screw grouping.  Who needs anyone else, this is a single player game."

That aside, if you're making an MMORPG, your goal should be a world rich with lore and background, NOT a linear story.  Nobody wants to be led around by the nose in a genre that has always been about making your OWN story.  If you want a story, play a single player game.  Read a book.  Don't suffer through $50 and another $15 a month for a piecemeal approximation of a single player game, developed by a company whose expertise only includes single player games and whose only gameplay innovation is cover mechanics for combat.

Cover-based combat got old after Gears of War.  I guess BioWare is a bit late to the party.

Anyways, I fully expect buries and comments disagreeing with me.  My motto has always been Nemo Me Impune Lacessit.  It means, "Nobody Provokes Me Unpunished".  I think that motto would be better suited to MMO bandwagons.

The sky is falling, like it did with Darkfall last year.  I have dared, once again, to insult everyone's babies.  But before you put fingers to keyboards and prepare a verbal salvo that would flay the skin from a drunken sailor, consider this:

I was right about Darkfall.

Hi, I'm Playing Vindictus!

Posted by Strayfe Saturday September 18 2010 at 8:04PM
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Hi, I'm Playing Vindictus.

Download game, install game, wait.  Patch game.  Patch complete.

Start game.  Game crash.  Adjust useless graphics setting.  Start game.  Game crash.

Post on official forums.  Get laughed at.  Post on unofficial forums.  Get fix.  Start game.  Look, a prologue.

Watch prologue.  Continue watching prologue.  CONTINUE WATCHING PROLOGUE.  Prologue makes no sense.  Looks decent though.

Combat tutorial.  Press S, press S, press S, press S, press S, press S, press S.  Things die.  Looks decent.  Press W, pick up mob.  Press D, slam mob.  Silly grin.

FIVE ROOMS LATER

Combat tutorial still going.  Tieve more interesting than game.  Oh look, a boss.  It's big.  Press S, press S, press S, press S, press S, press S, press S, press S, press S, press S, press S, press S, press S.

It's dead.

More prologue.  Prologue over.

Disconnected from server.  Blink blink blink.  Swear.  Rage.

Reconnect.  Prologue starts.  Skip prologue.  Disconnected from server.  Blink blink blink.  Swear.  Rage.

Reconnect.  Prologue starts.  Skip prologue.  Character creation.  Toggle toggle toggle.  Most options missing.  Random graphical lag.  Why is this happening?  New graphics card.  Sound lag too.  Stupid Nexon.  Toggle toggle toggle.

Done!

Play game?

Disconnected from server.  Blink blink blink.  Not amused.  F bombs.  Swear.  Rage.

Reconnect.  East server down.  Funny.  Not really.  Check forums.  Many complaints.  East server down.  Ho hum.

Connect to West server.  Prologue starts... again.  Grit teeth.  Skip prologue.  Character creation.  Toggle toggle toggle.  Forgot what I made.  Too many options.  Just kidding.

Done!

Play game?

Disconnected from server.  SCREAM.  KICK PUPPY.  WAKE NEIGHBORS.

Reconnect.  Prologue starts... AGAIN.  Clench fists.  Skip prologue.  Character creation.  Toggle toggle toggle.  Close eyes.  Flip coin.  Pray to various Gods.

Play game?

Success!  I'm in!

Cut scene, cut scene, cut scene.  Blank stare.  Move around.  Explore town.  Too many people.  Lots of complaining.  Get quest.  Look for "boat".  Find boat.  Woohoo, time to play!

Dungeon start.  Press S, press S, press S, press S, press S, press W, press D, press S, press S, press S... ... ... press S ... .. ... press W ... ... ... press D ... ... ... press S.  Don't I have any skills?  No.  Press S ... ... ... press W ... ... ... press D ... ... ...

TEN MINUTES LATER

Press S ... press W ... ... ... press D.  Jolt self awake.  Oh a boss.  Press S, press S, press S ...

FIVE MINUTES LATER

Press S ... press W ... ... ... press D.  Oh a new button.  Press A.  Press S, press S, press S.  Boss dead.  That was dull.  Looks good though.  Nothing happens.

Wait.  Wait.  Wait.

Nothing happens.  Lag?

Wait.  Blank stare.  Lag?

Wait.  Wait.  Wait.  Annoyed face.  Twiddle thumbs.  Finally, a results screen.

Dungeon finished.  Hallelujah!!!!!!

Back in town.  Turn in quest.  Another cut scene.  ANOTHER cut scene.  Dialogue.  Cut scene, cut scene.  Dialogue.  Bland, uninteresting, uninspired talking heads.  Dialogue.   Cut scene.  Got a quest.

Go back into the same dungeon.  Sigh.

Go to docks.  Disconnected from server.

Jesus christ.  Jesus christ.  Why?  Really?  How?  Stupid Nexon.

Reconnect.  West server down.  Pause.  Picked wrong server?

Reconnect.  West server down.  Blink blink blink.

Connect to East server.  Server down.  Deep sigh.

Close game. 

Start > Control Panel > Programs and Features > Vindictus > Uninstall

 

Hi, I'm Not Playing Vindictus

 

 

FFXIV: Another Casual Gaming Casualty

Posted by Strayfe Thursday August 26 2010 at 10:33AM
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What happened to Square-Enix?

There was a time when I purchased anything made by Squaresoft or Square-Enix, sight unseen, without reading reviews, without doing any research whatsoever because I had that much faith in them to make something I would enjoy playing.  There were a couple bombs in the list of games I played (I'm looking at you FFX-2), but for the most part they never let me down.

Nowadays, I find myself disillusioned by the vast majority of their releases.  The magic simply isn't there anymore.  Some people might assume that it's because I'm older and more jaded, sporting higher expectations and the inability to play games for what they are, but the thing is... I still find magic in other titles, just not ones released by Square-Enix.

So what does this have to do with FFXIV?

It was to illustrate my history as a fanboy of Square and the FF series in general.  You see, this is the set-up before the big fall, the point of this entire blog post.

I am no longer a Square-Enix fanboy, or even a fan in general.  I cancelled my pre-order of FFXIV with the announcement of the 'fatigue' system.  Square-Enix has decided to don the lemming suit and follow the casual gaming crew right off the metaphorical cliff.

If I could use a number to express my disgust at the entire 'casual' movement, it would create a singularity that would require quantum mathematics to state clearly.  I can't escape it anymore, it's like a disease that has finally spread to a loved one.  It hurts in a way, but it's better to pull the plug and remember them fondly, than sit there and watch them degenerate into a vapid husk of what they once were.

Reports on this 'fatigue' system state limits on experience gain.  Essentially, the information we have now is that you only gain 100% experience for EIGHT HOURS A WEEK, before you see a dropoff and eventually no matter how many mobs you kill, items you craft, or quests you complete, you gain diddly caca nothing.  Why is this?  So welfare gamers raised on Farmville and Yahoo! Games can keep up with veteran players who live and breathe FInal Fantasy.

Now, of course, there's the usual caveat that the game isn't released yet, and what little information we have on the fatigue system might be poorly translated or inaccurate.  That isn't the point at all.  The point is, Square-Enix is now on the casual bandwagon.  By even introducing this system in the first place, no matter how it works, they acknowledge that their target demographic no longer includes me, and I hear them loud and clear.

I could go on a further rant about why gaming is the only victim of this 'I should be able to' mentality.  When do our other hobbies become casual?  Can I casually play basketball?  Can I find a gym somewhere that will automatically allow me to keep up with NBA players?  Boy I hope so, I'd love to make the kind of money they do.

Can I casually play the piano?  Is there a piano somewhere that will allow me to play as good as Mozart without practicing more than a half hour a day?  Boy I hope so, I'd love to put out a few CDs and make some money.

Can I casually watch television?  There must be a television that can allow me to watch a show for only 5 minutes and suddenly know as much as the fans of the show that have been watching for years.  I hope so, I can't be bothered to actually follow a show.

I deserve it, because I don't have the time to pursue a hobby.  I shouldn't have to put forth any effort.   Everyone should simply hand me my entertainment on a silver platter and then, while they're at it, kiss my feet while erecting an altar in my honor.

Am I the only one who sees how ridiculous this all is?  Is everybody else stuck in some alternate dimension where laziness is extolled as not only a virtue, but a right?

WHAT HAPPENED TO PRACTICING, COMPETING AND PUTTING IN EFFORT TO BECOME GOOD AT YOUR CHOSEN HOBBY?!

Casuals happened.  Money grubbing happened.

When you mix the two, you're guaranteed a special concoction of mindless, dull crap, manufactured on opposite day, where effort and dedication is Satan incarnate, and the holy grail of laziness and ineptitude stands as a shining beacon to a group of people who should never have been allowed to influence the industry.

R.I.P. Final Fantasy XIV: 2005-2010

I Am Annoyed... So Annoyed...

Posted by Strayfe Wednesday August 4 2010 at 4:38PM
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Annoyed enough to break a hiatus that has lasted nearly a year.

Annoyed enough to sit down and actually crank out a blog post because I am so disgusted by the current state of things, that shutting up seems like an invalid option.

To my right, I see big name companies with successful AAA titles lifting up their skirts and treading into the murky bogs of Free-to-Play crapola.  To my left, I see a cavalcade of clueless developers throwing themselves at Facebook and Twitter in a desperate attempt to gobble up money like pac-man on a level with no ghosts.

Straight ahead, looking to the future, the games that are supposed to save us all... the next-gen Triple A titles... the big names...?

Guild Bores 2, the sequel to the most overrated game of all time, and yet another Star Wars MMO being developed by Bioware, masters of single player games with 50,000 books worth of dialogue and gameplay that's about as fun as counting the hairs on your head while standing in a room full of mirrors.

The former is abandoning its roots in exclusively instanced drivel and intends to copy every MMO released in the past five years.  The latter features an outdated cover mechanic borrowed from turn-of-the-millenium FPS failures, the same UI we've seen in every MMO since 1998 and is yet another Star Wars game.  A franchise that's been beaten to death, ressurrected and then beaten to death so many times that I hesitate to call it 'Intellectual' Property anymore.

What are these two games supposed to save us from?  Quality?  Expectations?

Didn't everyone learn not to get their hopes up after Warhammer and Age of Conan?  All you heard for months, and even years before these games were released is how they were going to be the best game ever created, topple all currently successful worlds, and throw the market into complete upheaval.

It happened again with Aion. 

Now a couple years later, everyone simply shrugs their shoulders and fully expects these two games to buck the trend, smiling, nodding and agreeing with all the positive press that's being spewed all over like water from a malfunctioning fire hydrant.

A year from now?  Two more flops released, and another couple million people with a box (or a digital download) of a game they will never touch again, while the presently vocal minority sit smugly holding up signs that say "I told you so... again."

tldr version: Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic: flops in the making.  Buy not; or at the very least, wait til a couple months after release when it's apparent exactly how derivative they are.

 

Moving along in reverse order, I want to touch on the mindless obsession everyone in the business of game development seems to be having with social networking.

Mind you, this isn't simply an issue with one, a couple, or even a dozen developers.  This is everyone from small companies, with their pre-requisitve facecrook and twatter pages and contests promising $10 giveaways for their free-to-play game if 1000 people "like" it, to the behemoth itself, Blizzard, who intended to drop the RL Namehammer on the entirety of their forums until the noise of a collective "WTF?!" from their community momentarily forced the dollar signs out of their brains.

We know about Blizzard's deal with Facecrook.  It's hardly difficult for anyone with even three brain cells to put two and two together and make four here.

So why is all this happening?  Why does anything else on this planet happen?  Money.

Everyone out there wants a slice of that sweet Facebook pie.  They want to learn from the masters of herding mindless sheep.  They too want 61.6 million people (FarmVille's most recent numbers) with self-esteem and self-affirmation issues - who feel the need to notify the entire planet every time they have a cup of coffee - as subscribers to their game.

And it's no small wonder.  Ever played FarmVille?  

I borrowed a friend's Facebook account out of sheer morbid curiosity at what could possibly entice 6 times the people of WoW and 60 times the people of any other subscription MMO.

The answer?  Because it's self-affirming.

FarmVille is so unbelievably fucking simple and easy that it is utterly IMPOSSIBLE to suck, or fail at it.  It requires no thought, minimal planning and is easily navigated by blind, bedridden siamese twin amputees.  Consequently, anyone can hop on, shit out some strawberries, make some virtual cash and feel like they have achieved something worthwhile.  Then they post it to their Facebook page, and textually scream at their 378 friends, 4 of which they actually know: "HEY GUYS, I ACHIEVED SOMETHING.  I FEEL GOOD ABOUT MYSELF, LOOK AT THIS AND LOOK AT ME!"

So, here's the kicker: if something so simple, so easy and so mindless that it could have been coded by two college students, can draw such profit and numbers, where is the incentive to EVER develop immersive games with awesome graphics, a learning curve and tons of depth and content?

Very simply, there is none.  Everyone knows it, and that is why real gamers who grew up playing difficult but fun NES games, who compete in modern FPS games, and who generally ask for more from their time spent in virtual worlds, are so disgusted by FarmVille and what it represents.

It is acquiescence to the lowest common denominator for the benefit of making money. 

In other words, the companies we love, who have made the games we love are selling out.

Seeing every game and company, including some of our favorites, down on their knees, crawling pathetically over to and fellating Zynga and Mark Zuckerberg is really becoming tiresome.  For some of us, who have a bit more invested in our games, it's sickening.  It's like watching a beloved pet slowly being eaten alive by an ugly, vicious python, and there's not a god damn thing you can do about it, except to pick a forum or venue and mash your fingers on the keyboard until you feel like you've made your point, or at least vented some frustration.

Finally, there's this business of the Pied Piper of Microtransactions.  Thank you Turbine.  No, really, thank you.  We could all use another game, hell, several more actually, where the only way to succeed is to pay.  Please ruin one of the only positive aspects of LotRO, the community, by opening the floodgates to every game-hopping 13 year old in the world.  Oh, and there really isn't enough of these types of games on the market right now, SOE.  Why don't you make EQ2 even more irrelevant than it already is?

Seriously, why?  While it's patently obvious what the intent is with all the Facebook integration, I fail to see where any benefit comes from taking games that are already successful and boarding them onto the Free-to-Play failboat.

Let me point out the problem with the F2P model.  It's not microtransactions in and of themselves.  Lets do a little comparison.

Player A is an immature and/or foreign, and/or young, and/or otherwise objectionable player who hops from free game to free game at a whim.  He doesn't spend anything in the cash shop, probably plays for a couple weeks to a month at most and is generally a constant asshole.  He leaves when he gets bored, or when he finds something better.

Player B is the standard free-to-play gamer.  He is genuinely looking for something new and interesting, and knows that many of the subscription games are similar and derivative.  Perhaps he's young, but not immature, or poor and can't afford the subscription.  For whatever reason, he doesn't use the cash shop, but he is also a generally good guy who plays the game as best as he can without cash items.

Player C is either a  standard subscription gamer or a veteran free-to-play gamer.  Whatever their background, they can generally afford to and are willing to spend a reasonable sum of money in the cash shop, say $20 a month for some benefits.  Say... some extra bag space, maybe a pet or a mount if they really like the game.  They're regular players who enjoy playing, and are willing to go the extra mile for a little extra fun.

Player D, whatever else he may be, is made of money.  He dual wields paypal accounts and has an epic set of armor fashioned entirely from credit cards.  He has memorized his bank account numbers, and sends in a check once a week just in case there's a worldwide financial crash and none of his other payment methods go through.  He will spend whatever it takes to gain any advantage in any area in the game, no matter how large or small it may be.  $1,000 is nothing to this guy, $5,000 is an acceptable investment and if he really likes the game, $10k before you can blink an eye.  This person will sit atop his massive mound of cash shop items, and systematically remind every single person who passes by that he is far superior to them in every way imaginable.

So lets do a little bit of analysis, shall we?

 

For starters, obviously Player B gets the short end of the stick here.  He may enjoy the game, but he is required to suffer through the limitation of being a freebie.  A annoys him, as A does everyone.  B will make friends with other Bs and possibly with a couple Cs until he runs into a D.  B resents D for multiple reasons, his success in the game being based solely on money, his arrogance, the amount of time he dedicates to the game, whatever the reason.

B gets discouraged.  Between his limitations as a freebie, the As fouling up the community and the Ds controlling all the content and rankings through their use of the cash shop, B begins to look for other games.  Gradually the Ds piss him off to the point where he begins to consider the cash shop the entire problem with the game, and now he dislikes Cs as much as Ds, simply because they both use the cash shop.

 

Player A doesn't care one way or the other about B, C or D.  He knows he'll be gone in a month anyway.  This game is terrible and the only reason he's playing it is because he's trying to kill time until "Insert Game In Development" comes out.  He will let everyone know exactly how bad he thinks the game is until then, and really serves only to annoy the others.

 

Player C, in theory, is a good customer for the gaming company.  Someone who legitimately likes the game, puts money into the item shop, causes no trouble and has fun with his friends, no matter who they are.  As time goes on and C hits 'endgame' , he runs into an increasing number of Ds.  He makes a post on the forums, upset that the game is becoming "pay to win", and at the amount of unfair advantages that D has.  Unfortuantely, even though C still likes the game and believes it has potential, he is now high enough where the only content he can progress in is flooded by Ds.  Frustrated, C again complains on the forums that the Ds (and the cash shop) are ruining the game, but his post and general feelings are ignored because...

 

Player D controls the game.  You know it, I know it, the developers know it.  Everyone will try to deny it, but the proof is in the pudding. 

In order to have a successful free to play game with microtransactions you need two things, people who play it, and people who spend money on the cash shop.  Nobody is going to spend money on a game that has no community and thus little reason to play it, and the game can have a million players, but if nobody has to use the cash shop to enjoy the game to its fullest, the game makes no money and it shuts down.

 

Unfortunately, both the requirements to run a successful free to play game with microtransactions are met by Players D and A.  Like it or not, the game hoppers DO make up the majority of the F2P market.  Websites such as OnRPG are evidence of that.

What do B and C bring to the table?

B brings absolutely nothing.  Sure he adds to the community, but he doesn't spend any money on the item shop, and he frequently joins C in complaining about D and A.  In effect, B is the most trouble with the least reward.

C does spend a small amount (comparatively) on the item shop.  But this amount of money, as little as it is in the vast scheme of things gives C a sense of entitlement (and perhaps rightfully so) in believing his concerns as a customer are being heard.  Unfortunately, resolving C's concerns would require alienating D.

D controls the game.  You hate it, I hate it, we all hate it.  Doesn't make it any less true.  The developers are not going to do a single thing to jeopardize losing multiple Ds.  Taking away advantages that a D has paid for is probably one of the most controversial things you can do, and believe me when I tell you, Ds have big mouths and will rant and rave to every other D if it even looks like that advantage they shelled out five grand for is going to be eliminated or even reduced.

 

Conversely, Bs and Cs make for the best community in a game.  And we wonder why the vast majority of F2P games seem to have such a disconnect in the people department.

They aren't made for people.  They're made for money.

We'll see how current LotRO and EQ2 subscribers feel when their respective F2P versions are released, and they become Player C, helpless as Player D and Player A come into their home and kick them to the curb.

 

I am annoyed, yes, and for good reason.  Any lover of quality, immersive games should be.

 

 

 

 

 

MMO Pet Peeves - Part 1

Posted by Strayfe Tuesday September 15 2009 at 5:30PM
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As time goes by, I have discovered two things about my love-hate relationship with MMORPGs.  It is NOT easy to find and discuss things I like about a game, and it is EXTREMELY easy to write a couple paragraphs disparaging even the most marginal of a game's flaws.

Whereas I used to think that it was developers' faults for releasing these games with X number of annoying glitches, bugs masquerading as features, obtuse game systems and poorly thought out or carbon-copy gameplay, I have come to realize that the problem rests equally with me.

The first MMO I played was a text MUD called Gemstone III.  For those who don't know, the original Gemstone was released back in 1990 by Simutronics, creators of the Hero Engine, which was supposed to be used by the billion-times-postponed Hero's Journey, and was instead optioned for use by Bioware for SWToR.  

Some people may say "it's not an MMO if it doesn't have graphics", but I can assure you that it had all the trappings and polish, and FAR more complexity than most triple A games released today.  At it's peak, it boasted 2000-2500 concurrent users on during special events, and some weekends, making it about as populous as the standard MMO server of today.

I played that game for 12+ hours a day, for nearly 3 years.  I lived, breathed, ate and slept that game, and I was so hopelessly addicted that it caused me to drop out of high school.  I've tried to go back and play a few times, and what do I see now?  A hopelessly flawed shell of a game that has devolved into a grindfest that makes Maple Story look tame, lacking the community and live events that once were its biggest selling point.

So that begged me to ask the question... has the game changed, or have I changed?  Well, it's a little of both, of course.  There are things that never used to bother me about MMORPGs that have become deal breakers, grating annoyances, and continual sources of frustration in nearly every MMO I pick up and try to play these days.  Some of them are as old as Gemstone, others came later on, when I played a graphical MMO for the first time (EQ), and still others developed over time, until they became the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

Let me take this moment to go over some of these now.

Chat Filters

One of the most draconian features of many newer MMOs, particularly asian F2P imports, is the tendency toward fostering a sesame street environment.  Hacking off a goblin's head and embarking on a quest to rescue a maiden boasting a gigantic set of 16x AA breasts from a demonic ritual is well within the bounds of good taste.  As I've learned, however, many of these same games have a moratorium on language, and in many cases, this ban extends to words that even religious zealots don't censor.

Chat filters, particularly ones in games like Lunia and Perfect World, which are designed to censor words like "ass" and "tit" cause far more problems than they help to alleviate.  I am not even remotely amused when I try to type the words class or pass and end up with "cl***" and "p***", nevermind actual classes (excuse me, I mean cl***es)) like assassin (excuse me, I mean ******in).

Do you see why this is a problem?  You aren't helping out your community by censoring words like class and title, both of which are prominent terminologies in most MMO games.  No matter how much you try to cater toward the 0.1% of the gamer population that is actually offended by these words, somebody is going to find a way around your chat filter.  All you're succeeding in doing is making yourself look like an archconservative douchebag who believes that all the world's problems would be solved, if only people didn't cuss.

Go ahead, log into Perfect World International if you have it, and try to type "grasshopper".  Then you can spend the next 10-15 minutes laughing your ass off as you try to figure out exactly what an "asshopper" is.

The Playtime Police

This is another trend that seems to be fairly recent.  In this case, however, some games are affected in far more than just aesthetic ways.  The Playtime Police is that message that appears on your screen every X amount of minutes (Aion), or on the loading screens (WoW/Lunia), or on the log-in screen (PWI/FFXI), or in any other obvious area, informing you that you've been playing the game for too long, or that you shouldn't be playing the game for a long time, or that you're an irresponsible, addicted douchebag who needs to go out and get a job, friends and a hobby that isn't online.

Look, Mr. Gamedev, whoever you are, I'm not in rehab.  When I was younger, I did have problems with game addiction, but I have long since resolved them, and at the time, no ridiculous message on a splash screen would have stopped me from playing until my eyes fell out.

By posting these reminders, the only thing you're succeeding at, is informing the world that the average gamer is so maladjusted and worthless that they need their game to slap them in the face with the textual equivalent of "hey moron, get up and go outside!".

That would be bad enough, but still other games take their policing of your playtime to even higher extremes by including game mechanics that actually PREVENT you from playing to your maximum potential (or at all) after a certain point.

Atlantica has the stamina system, reducing how much XP and items you earn from mobs after a certain number of battles.  The newly released Dungeon Fighter Online (which I've been looking forward to) turns out to have a "fatigue system".  After completing so many dungeon rooms, you are prevented FLAT OUT from entering anymore dungeons.

I work.  I have friends, I go out and meet people.  Occasionally, I have a day where I just want to stay inside and play an MMO.  I don't want to be prevented from doing so by obsolete game mechanics designed to address problems that are not the responsibility of the game developers.

Combined with the chat filter, I call these two the "Big Brother Tandem", representing an effort by game developers to insinuate themselves into your personal life.  On behalf of myself and other hardcore gamers, "GTFO OF MY AFFAIRS!"

Channels

This is one of those things that has recently begun to annoy me.  At some point, it wasn't enough for game developers to separate game worlds into servers.  They then decided that each server had to be broken down into channels, separate instances of the same game world within a single server,which you can switch to or from at will, ostensibly to avoid overcrowding and lag in populated main cities and other areas of the game.

The flaws in this approach are twofold, #1 it fractures server communities into smaller, sometimes indistinguishable parts, and #2 it doesn't address the problem that it's supposed to relieve, it addresses the symptom.

Crowded main cities/areas are caused by poor planning in the design process.  If there is one single area in your game that lends itself to being populated by half the server (whether afk or not) at any given time, obviously you are going to have issues with lag and slowdown.  The way to address this is not by separating the server into channels, effectively chopping the population even further in the areas that are NOT part of Lagfest City, it's by giving players options or a reason to be at places OTHER than Lagfest City.  Put auction house access in more places, skill trainers in more places, discounts for setting up personal shops in other places... if players feel like every integral part of the game community is in one small area, that is obviously where they're going to congregate.

On top of that, channels themselves defeat the entire purpose for their own existence.  Obviously, players looking for other players are not going to go to the unpopulated channels to get AWAY from lag, they're going to go to the populated ones to sell their items, talk to their friends, and find groups for whatever it is they're looking to do at any given time.  Thus the old saying, the rich get richer and the crowded get crowdeder... or something... you get the idea.

All told, these flaws make channels one of the most ridiculous and counterproductive aspects of MMORPGs today.

Maps

I may take some flak for this one, but I think one of the biggest detriments to community interaction in MMOs today is the ability to simply stare at a map and autopilot your way from NPC to NPC and from place to place.  These days, quests and points of interest are all marked on the map and minimap with giant glowing neon signs that say "FUCKING GO HERE NOW!" 

Rather than staring at your fellow players, or the sights around you, you know.. becoming IMMERSED in the game, I've seen far too many examples of people who have their map open at all times, taking up half their screen while they Point A to Point B their way through the game, taking each destination as though it were simply the next stop on a predetermined cruise route.  Here's some food for thought, how about an MMO that mirrors the old days of mapping and exploring?  Make maps that are not ENTIRELY accurate.  Maybe that big city is a few screens west of where it says on the map.  Maybe the map is missing a few key locations...

Make exploring WORTHWHILE.  One of the funnest aspects of single player RPGs was discovering hidden areas and secrets containing better than average gear for your level.  There is no reason that an MMO can't contain some hidden areas that are off the beaten track, not marked on a map, not generally known to anyone who just happens to be taking the cruiseline down the road.  Have multiple maps for the same areas.  Obviously, someone who lives in Area X is going to have a better map of Area X than someone who lives in Area Y across the ocean.  Make exploration and puzzle solving part of MMOs, make players use their brains once in awhile instead of leading them around by the umbilical cord.

 

Part two to follow later.