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

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

Author: Jimmy_Scythe

Shock Value and Value Shock

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Monday March 31 2008 at 12:24AM
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Now that you're completely confused, let me explain exactly what this entry is about....

Shockwave... yeah...

Yes, the flashier little brother of Macromedia Flash. You know... that thing that makes advergames for web sites... That allows artists with no programming skills to crank out match three games by the truckloads in hopes that one will get published, thus placing said artist on the road that PopCap built. Seriously, there are bazillions of flash games littering the interwebs.

Not that there aren't some impressive things being done with Flash. Dofus was made with Flash. The upcoming Project: Rhapsody and Lila Dreams are also being developed with Flash. Clearly, there's something shifting on the indie side of the fence.

The draw of Flash is two fold. The most obvious reason is because it's basically "drag and drop" game development of the Clickteam variety. This approach clears up many of the hardware issues that can plague even the simplest stand alone download. Secondly, Flash takes care of the distribution problem that many indie devs have. Instead of making a game demo and then a game proper, and implementing CD-Keys, they can just control access to the content on their web site. Goodbye Piracy.

The down side is that making multiplayer flash games requires you to jump through some serious flaming hoops. Usually this is done with some uber Satanic XML code that hooks up to a Java server. Likewise, most multiplayer games in Flash are turn based. Although I have seen some real-time stuff that I don't have links to right now.

With all the Flash stuff going on, like N, I had almost forgotten about Shockwave completely. Then I came across Quake 3 Forever. It's not exactly the Quake 3 that I remember and love, but it's pretty freakin' close for a game that plays in my web browser. Curious, I pressed on and discovered another much better browser FPS called Phosphor. Not satisfied, I went looking for other types of games and found a Tron'd out platform game called Grid Lock and a visually impressive... something called Nanoquest. Given, these games aren't Crysis by a longshot, but having graphics that are somewhere between a Nintendo 64 and a Sega Dreamcast in a browser game mind blowing!



The sad part is that no one has made a browser MMORPG that graphically blasts Runescape straight to hell. Seriously, Runscape was an alright game but it made my eyes bleed.

I rest my case...

When you look at games like these, it's hard to dismiss things like Metaplace. You find yourself not laughing so hard about microtransactions and multiple streams of revenue. You begin to see a much larger market of working stiffs and internet addicts entering the gaming hobby by playing browser games made by some guy in his mom's attic or else created by big faceless advertisers trying to sell Life Savers with an ATV racing game.

I gotta admit, I like the idea of playing games off my browser and not having to install them. Someone in indie gaming land must have heard me because Garage Games has launched a web page called Instant Action. Apparently, the developers of Torque struck some kind of bargain with the forces of darkness and now have the ability to launch Torque and Torque Shader Engine games from a web browser without actually installing them on your computer first. Imagine playing games that looked like this:

From your browser!!

Methinks the PC gaming industry is about to change. Drastically over the next ten years or so...


Immersion is a lie.

Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Thursday March 13 2008 at 11:11AM
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And no, the title isn't just a clever play on words.

I'm constantly reading about people who dislike this or that game feature because it "breaks immersion." There's this idea that we can suspend disbelief in a game the same way we do with movies, plays and books. Unfortunately, the very nature of games works against the common elements of narrative that these other media rely entirely upon.

Before I pull out the big guns of academic theory, let's fire a few shots into a fish barrel. Below is a screenshot of a typical MMORPG.

Notice the HUD. You've got the minimap, the toolbar, the player status, the status of all the people in your party, a small inventory screen, the window.....

Here's a game screencap from a completely different genre.

A little less busy, but you're still obviously looking through a display at the game world. Finally we'll look at Oblivion.

The Elder Scrolls series has always had the least intrusive user interface. Even so, you'd still have to play the game first person to become "immersed" in the game world and story. I don't know about you, but I have a hard time connecting with a character who only shows the back of his / her head all the time.

With an RPG, this is compounded by the many screens and menus you'll have to navigate: Inventory screen, character screen, quest log, etc. Let's also not forget the constant emphasis on numbers to help re-enforce your awareness that you're playing a game. Even in more actiony games like Fable, you're told the damage of a given weapon and have a general indicator of how fast it is.

Even without HUDs or numbers however, games are going to fail to immerse players. This has to do with the fact that playing a game requires you to cut through the fictional abstractions in order to learn the underlining mechanics. In short, the actual gameplay will always outshine story and setting.

In Ralph Koster's "A Theory of Fun," he actually comes right out and says "Games are puzzles -they are about cognition, and learning to analyze patterns." This is the main reason why so many genre games come out and barely make a dent in the market. They lean too heavily on genre conventions and end up feeling like a reskin of every other game in the genre. MMORPGs seem to be immune to this since the fan base thereof dislikes anything that strays too far from the formula. Thus WoW feels a lot like EQ which felt a lot like DikuMUD. Then again, this is why most gamers have written off MMORPGs as crap.

Ultimately though, you can have the best artwork and story in the world, a HUDless user interface, replace stats with words ranging from "pitiful" to "godlike," and the natural process of puzzle solving would deconstruct all that shit down to its basic patterns thus destroying "immersion" bringing the player back to the realization that they're only playing a game.

Personally, I think it's totally stupid to try to tell a story through a game. Unless it's a storytelling game, like a Red Tape War where each player is trying to write the others into a corner. Stories are their own thing and they work because we approach them as stories at the outset. Because we have no control over the characters, storytellers are free to make meaningful character that we can become emotionally attached to.

Trying to accomplish the same thing in a game is like putting a pig in a prom dress and taking it for a night on the town. It's just plain wrong.



Posted by Jimmy_Scythe Sunday March 2 2008 at 2:28PM
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Now before you start screaming bloody murder, firing up torches and shouldering pitchforks, I'm not talking about making a game around permadeath. I'm not talking about FFA PvP, which is a completely seperate subject. I'm not talking about forcing anyone to play permadeath. I'm talking about permadeath in and of itself.

People tend to get irrationally excited whenever the term permadeath gets brought up. If you're  a permadeath player and you mention this in the forum, you'll immediately get flamed, lectured on how it'll never work, called on to explain your heresy, and so on and so forth. Ultimately, it boils down to a question of values in regards to the games we play. Do you value the journey, or the destination.

Most permadeath players have been there and back again. They've got a character, or more, to the level cap and end game. They've seen the raids and battlegrounds. They're intimately familiar with the entire skill tree and gear progression of one or more character classes. To put it bluntly, they're bored and they want the game to be challenging again.

Unlike single player games, you can't just up the difficulty level for more challenge in an MMORPG. There's always speed running, but that's really just a recap of what they did the first, second, third, or possibly more times through. You're basically confined to permadeath, or finding a new game.

The "normal" MMORPG gamer is more about just getting to the level cap as quickly as possible. They don't like setbacks of any kind. They don't want to waste any time that they spend playing. Although, if you don't want to waste time then why would you be playing a game? They also don't want to see their progress lost to lag or disconnects.

And that's all fine. No one is asking the "normal" player to change. No one is really asking the games to change either. In fact, no one is asking for anything. Theres a pretty good chance that you've met or played with a permadeath player and didn't even know it. Why? Because it's a choice that doesn't require the direct intervention of anyone else.

Not that I would object to a permadeath server or a checkbox on the character creation screen labeled "auto-delete on death." But those things are hardly required. I can always just delete my character when it's his/her time.

I really don't understand why other people care. The name gets freed up on deletion. It helps the economy since all of the character's money and gear gets deleted with them. And it's not like anyone is being forced to play permadeath.

Maybe they just don't like the idea of people making up their own rules...