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The Regular, Everyday, Normal Guy

The guy who enjoys computer games but is not hardcore, plays music but not for money, works for a living but isn't rich, reads books but not very often, likes the gym but isn't there enough, and likes the ladies but can't find the right one.

Author: jhazard

Reviews 101

Posted by jhazard Friday October 23 2009 at 11:09AM
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Game reviews are very important, just like reviews of any other product.  It's an essential part of the commercial system, which I normally take part in.  What's the point, though?  Let's look at Aion again, while it's still fresh in our minds.  Person A will read a review about Aion, agree, and hate the game. Person B will read the same review, agree, and love the game. So where do reviews get us? Nowhere. I waited a full month before getting into Aion, reading the forums, reading previews and reviews, trying to get a feel for what it was like. In the end there was no real option but to try it out.

Getting back to why I think reviews are important, I should qualify the statement: reviews that review relevant material are important.  If you read this line in a review, be wary: "I think the grind in this game is awful."  What this reviewer is saying is that 1) there is a grind (which there is in every game) and 2) he or she didn't like it.  Neither of those two statements have any relevance to you, because your preferences and tastes will invariably differ from those of the dubious reviewer.  A review should focus primarily on what the game actually involves, and what you actually experienced in it.  The truly unbiased reviewer will allow people to draw their own conclusions about how they think or feel regarding those faithfully reported experiences.

Another point I want to make is that anybody who sees the negativity on these forums and is discouraged from trying Aion should remember the words of my old statistics professor: the people that make their opinions known are usually the ones that are the angriest. He was saying this to defend himself from mean comments on his RateMyProfessor.com profile, making the point that you can't get a statistically accurate feel for one's actual performance from these voluntary media. Nobody is going to go rant on RateMyProfessor.com unless they are really pissed off. Likewise, nobody is going to trash a video game on an internet forum unless they have had a particularly negative experience. You're not getting an objective feel for the game. The only way to do that is to play it yourself.

Aion: Not the Sharpest God in the Drawer

Posted by jhazard Thursday October 22 2009 at 9:37AM
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As a quick-hit for my initial thoughts on Aion, what's up with Aion himself?  Not the most reliable god by any stretch... he totally screwed things up out there.  It reminds me of when a government notices a pest problem, then introduces a species of animal or plant to combat the pest (look up Cane Toads).  Next thing you know, the new species has become the pest and now we need a newer species to fight the new pests.   Things get out of control fast.  You'd expect, however, for somebody purporting to be a god to not be such a screw-up.   With that, I'll comment on some of the concerns about Aion the game that are floating around out there. 

"Quests are repetitive and there's too much grinding!"  If those are the biggest gripes about the game then I'd say things are going well.   Find something in the game that is worth more than just hitting the level cap.  Join a guild, work on crafting, etc.

"There's no endgame!  I've nothing to do now that I am at max level!" Ultimately the endgame of Aion is PvP, not raiding or questing or storyline of any kind. This should be obvious from the core game mechanics, pitting one faction against another in an eternal power struggle. Love it or leave it, I suppose.

"The flight is too limited!" The flight system is working great. People enjoy the flying and are having a good time with it, enough that they want more of it... that's great, easy update in the future content additions. 

"Character customization is lame, everybody looks the same!" I am not sure why anybody would think this, it's simply not the case. Sure, when everybody is wearing the same armor their armor will look the same, but the potential for creating very diverse-looking characters in Aion is definitely there.

"The game is too buggy!"  First of all, all games have bugs.  With the amazing diversity of hardware out there running this game, I am sure many people have performance and stabilty issues.  This is something that's going to have to be handled by the software development team stateside, and the jury is still out on whether or not they will adequately address the situations that are out there regarding some of the nastier bugs.  Give them some time on this.

"There's too many kinah-farmers and people botting their characters!" This is one real problem which is endemic to NCSoft games.  It will not go away. NCSoft has never truly cracked down on the farmers in any game they've done, and I don't expect them to change things up for Aion. If you cruise some of these money-selling websites it almost seems as if NCSoft has sponsored some of these groups... and that wouldn't shock me at all.  Also, read about how many bots and farmers there are in Korean Aion over a year after release... it'll chill your bones.

Grinding the Gears of my Mind

Posted by jhazard Wednesday October 21 2009 at 10:53AM
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I feel as though it is time to have my say on the overuse of the terms "grind" and "hardcore" in today's MMORPG community. We'll start with the "G word", which gets misused quite a bit. It therefore behooves us to establish a proper definition of grind and grinding before we continue. Grinding as a verb is properly defined as killing the same mobs for hours and hours, solo or grouped, with the express purpose of gaining XP. The same activity is farming if you're looking for materials, coin, or drops. Grind as a noun makes reference to the overall necessity of "grinding" in order to gain levels and be successful in a given MMO game.

All MMO games have grind, and these days if a game's grind is intense enough anyone who plays it refers to themselves as "hardcore". I do not concur. If you decide you want to play a game that has an exponential increase in XP requirement per level in later levels, then you are simply doing what you need to do to gain levels. What's so "hardcore" about that? I "ground" (?) my way to level 60 in Lineage II (back when the level cap was 70) but never thought to myself, "Wow, I am awesome at this grinding stuff... I must be hardcore!" It took months and months and months to gain the last 10 or so levels in L2, and when you'd die you'd lose 10% of your XP bar (days of work just gone). But still, all I was doing was playing normally within the parameters of the game.

This brings us to our definition of "hardcore". I define hardcore as a willingness to expend any resource and make any sacrifice in order to achieve a goal, accepting any and all risks that may be involved. You don't gain respect just by playing the game; what separates the wheat from the chaff is how the game is played. A great example from my Lineage II experience is Articula. Articula was a guild leader whose main character was a level-capped nuker. Many folks in Lineage II like to call themselves "Hardcore PvPers" due to the fact that you are more or less required to engage in PvP if you want to participate in the endgame.

The vast majority of these people are not hardcore PvPers but are rather unwilling to accept risks and endure setbacks in order to attain PvP success in any meaningful way. What made Articula truly hardcore? He was willing to expend 90% of his maxed-out XP bar (maybe a full month of grinding) in a failed castle siege attempt, where almost everybody else lost 10% then stopped fighting.  He was willing to do anything necessary to contribute to the success of the siege, while a majority of supposed hardcore PvPers hung around in groups at the edge of the grass and hoped things turned out well.

I'd like to get back for a moment to grinding, and why people make such a big deal out of it in North America. The fact is that a really intense grind is not the problem with games lately. The root problem is this frothy-mouthed, rabid, almost psychotic race for max level and gear that people engage in these days. Not that I'm against gaining levels - obviously you want to be successful and levels are the only way to do that in an MMO. But it seems that the moment your character sets foot in the game world, there's this atmosphere that unless you have max levels and gear right now you're a failure at the game. Whatever time interjects itself between now and your attainment of max levels and gear is simply spent in a frantic effort to get there. It's interesting how the "I want it now" mentality rears its ugly head no matter what it is we as a collective group of people do.

Why is getting the best stuff and having the most things RIGHT NOW so important? And furthermore, why do you really think a game like World of Warcraft is so popular? One big reason is that to a certain extent it shamelessly indulges this instant-gratification fetish that the North American gamer is afflicted by. The reason grind isn't an issue in Korea is because they invest so much personal time and energy into their guilds and alliances that the attainment of levels is subservient to whatever goals the guilds and alliances have set for their members. On this side of the world we're individualists. I think that as MMO gamers we'd do well to consider thinking less about ourselves and more about the welfare of our guilds and alliances. Make an effort to contribute to something greater than just your own personal achievements.

Let There Be Drama

Posted by jhazard Tuesday October 13 2009 at 1:32PM
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I begin today by saying that I'm a laid-back type of guy. It takes a lot to get me angry and I generally prefer to de-escalate tense situations rather than fan the flames of unrest. That's just my style, and I wouldn't thrust it upon anybody as the only option in an MMO setting. Some folks seem to enjoy flying off the handle in fits of vein-popping rage at the slightest provocation. I don't have a problem with this. I believe such people have a vital role to play in the life of a decent MMO game.

There must be drama to make the game truly interesting. And I don't mean fabricated drama in which a game developer tells you via a brief character introduction "You belong to this race, that means you dislike members of that other race". We all know that as soon as your little elf's feet touch the ground, storyline gets cast aside and you're just another hamster on the grindwheel, hoping to level up and find a good alliance that will aid you in your quest for gear.

I mean drama of the real variety. We've all witnessed situations (in games with appropriate PvP systems) in which "evil" players on a server band together in an attempt to consolidate their screwing-people-over-and-being-jerks efforts, meanwhile the server's good, respectable, decent folk congeal into their own motley crew and the stage is set for epic conflict. This classic antithesis fuels in-game tensions to the boiling point, and inevitably a fan-site forum becomes the favorite place to trade long-winded vitriolic posts aimed at destroying the morale of the enemy.

I personally think this is great. 99% of the time I find myself landing on "decent people" side of things, but that's mostly because the "competitive jerk" section is an average of 20 levels and 50 hours of playtime per week beyond me. At any rate, this type of tension is good for the community because it causes people to invest in the game emotionally. Sure, some folks might not be able to handle the pressure and will move on to greener pastures. Less people to kill the vibe, says I. Many MMO players have fantastic drama-queen capability when things don't go their way, and the cracked-mouth-drooling rage-outs on the forums only add to the most entertaining MMO gaming aspect of all.

Back into the Swing of Things with Lord of the Rings

Posted by jhazard Saturday October 10 2009 at 10:46AM
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So lately I've gotten bitten by the MMO bug again.  This is something that just happens to me from time to time.  My first MMO was Lineage 2, which I started about a week before Closed Beta ended.  I think I got hooked on the first day of Open Beta (which began with a character wipe).  The intensity of jostling with hundreds of Level 1 characters for frogs and wolves, the excitement of what was to come... such elements cannot be matched in any other kind of game.  Ever since then I've been itching to match the amount of fun, excitement, and pure adrenaline that battling in L2 gave me.  It's like cocaine, only legal.

All that being said, my first foray back into the world of MMOs has been Lord of the Rings Online.  I'm now one solid week into it and I've been very impressed by the game world, quests, and storyline.  But here's the deal.  That's all stuff that doesn't even require talking to another player; what's the point?  What am I working towards with all these quests and storylines?  One might say that the goal is simply to "stop and smell the roses" as it were.  But the truth is if I wanted a Lord of the Rings storyline, I'd just read the Lord of the Rings books (again).

So what's missing? Meaningful PvP and territorial conflict.  I know, I know... everybody has a gripe about any given MMO.  The hardcore LOTRO fans will respond by saying, "Hey, there's PvMP!"  Yes, but it has no impact on the actual game world.  LotRO Fan then counters with, "Well LotRO is about PvE and exploration and cool stories and things like that, if you want PvP stop crying and go elsewhere".  Well my friend, that may be my destiny but I want to give LotRO a chance, you see.  I want to like it because it's really a well-made game with some cool classes.

Give me something to fight for.  Something to boast about when I've won it along with my guild compadres.  I don't want to kill the same boss mob that 100,000 other players have killed and then pretend I've accomplished something.  I want to have control of a city or a territorial region which I can defend from some other band of hooligans that is trying to take it from me.  That's the kind of thing I'm talking about. 

"Hey noob", chimes in the now-very irritated LotRO fan, "that sounds like Guild Wars.  So why don't you stop pissing on LotRO for not being something it never wanted to be in the first place."  An excellent point.  But what if you were successful at combining something like LotRO and Guild Wars into one game?  That would be pretty amazing, methinks.

An Entirely Normal Perspective

Posted by jhazard Friday March 6 2009 at 12:51PM
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Here's the deal, folks.  I enjoy computer games.  I also enjoy a vast array of other pursuits in life, computer games being only one of them.  As a result, I bring with me a wide variety of life experiences into computer games which I will see to outline for you here.  Whenever I feel like it.

This often is problematic with the MMORPG genre.  The successful MMO players are the ones that simply shut out the real world and devote themselves to the game world.  I do not necessarily have a problem with this; people that complain about "geeks" and "nerds" and how they are missing out on life clearly haven't been hardcore into MMOs before.  The nature of our world is changing, and the internet isn't going anywhere.  Just the other night, I spent time with no fewer than 4 different online communities that I had made friends in over the past 6 years.  These are real relationships, real experiences, real fun, real emotion, real drama, real everything (almost). 

The problem comes in when you can't be as successful as you'd like to be in an MMO because of your real world responsibilities.  Work.  Girlfriend.  Wife. Kids. Friends. Band. School. Health. All these things take your time from the game (as they should).  That leaves people like me in the position of always playing second fiddle in most MMOs, a position I have come to accept whole-heartedly.  If I didn't have any desire to go out with buddies, work on a relationship with a lovely lady, keep in touch with my family, hold down a good job, etc. then I would be more than willing to put lots of time and effort into a good MMO.  My circumstances just aren't conducive to hardcore gaming, and sometimes that's a bummer.

My goal with this blog is to take my perspective as a casual gamer and apply it to my various experiences over the years in MMOs.  Hopefully it's worth the read.

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