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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

The Guild Dynamic

Posted by Strayfe Tuesday March 31 2009 at 4:43PM
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One of the most frequently asked, and yet unaddressed questions that I find on MMO forums involves how to go about creating and running a guild.  The responses do a rather thorough job of outlining the basics, such as how to establish a guild and with whom, how to manage the guild menus, and perhaps some advice on recruiting, however, I have yet to see anyone go into detail about the personal aspects of leadership.

Most of what I'm going to tell you in this article is culled from 3 years worth of experience in leading a guild (linkshell) in FFXI, and countless years of acting as an officer or co-leader in most MMOs and games I've been a part of.

Let me tell you where most guild leaders go wrong from the get-go.  They don't realize they're leading a group of people who play a game.  Who wants to log into a game and feel as though they've just stepped into a nazi internment camp?  I simply shake my head in disgust when I look at guild websites, or forums, and I see pages and pages of rules, policies and procedures, like the guild is some sort of government agency.  I can tell you from experience, it's no fun to spend your time in game tiptoeing over broken glass, worrying about getting kicked out for dropping an F bomb, or missing a raid.

To me, every guild can function on three simple rules.  1) Listen to your leader and officers; 2) Respect other members of the guild; and 3) Use common sense. You don't need article 51b, delineating the circumstances in which it is okay to drop your pants and moon another guild member during an instance, or equally ridiculous things such as that.  If you issue too many rules, you are essentially designating yourself a babysitter, and you will spend all of your time monitoring guild members and checking everything they say against your expansive list of irrelevant rules.  You will sit in your chair pissed off, and your guild members will resent you for being big brother/sister.

Conversely, by limiting the effective rules, you are empowering your guild members by making them responsible for their own actions, while still giving them the freedom to joke around with each other.  The guild that plays together, stays together and all that.  The old saying is very true in this case.  If you make too much of an effort to censor your members, you will create tension so thick that you can stick it with a fork.  Eventually, when it becomes too much, your members will leave in droves to join a guild where they can be themselves without worrying about repercussions.

Please note that this doesn't mean you simply let people say and do whatever they want.  The way you control what lines are crossed, and who gets offended is twofold, watch who you recruit, and make absolutely sure that you keep yourself open to discussing problems in the guild.

For the former, there are certain types of people who are undesirable for recruitment purposes.  These types can all be classified into one master type, however.  The extremes.  You do not want to recruit anyone who is too much of anything.  Too combative, too sensitive, too quiet, too casual, too hardcore.  You want people who fall in the middle, because the various extremes will clash with each other and create problems that can't be solved short of picking sides, and as a leader, the worst possible thing you can do in a disagreement is choose sides.

The #1 job of a guild leader is that of peacekeeper.  You need to make sure that you cultivate an atmosphere conducive to communication and openness, both in public and in private.  Members who feel that they can't talk to you about problems they're having with the guild will talk to their friends, or other members of the guild.  In both cases, this can cause problems, because it leaves members to freely speculate and build themselves up to a frenzy over something that may not even be an issue in the first place.

Just as an example, there may be somebody who has been in the guild for awhile and has not yet received any raid loot.  The guild leader knows this, and they also know that this member has been steadily making their way up the list.  In our example, lets say that this member is up next on the list, but he doesn't know it.  In his last raid, he again didn't receive any loot and he's frustrated and pissed off, feeling that all the work he's put into the guild is for nothing.

There are two different ways this can go.  If the member feels as though he can speak freely with the leader, he will send a tell.  At this point, the leader can tell him that he's been doing an awesome job with the guild, his time and effort is appreciated, and he is next on the list for raid loot.  Problem averted.

Conversely, if this same member has been led to believe for any reason that the guild leader is aloof, unreachable, impossible to talk to, or downright rude, he will instead focus his anger and frustration in tells with other guild members who he believes share his plight.  People naturally flock to those in similar situations.  These members will then have a pow-wow in tells, and they will dredge up various conspiracy theories as to why people are not receiving raid loot that they feel they're due.  Eventually, these two will whisper two more, and those two will talk amongst themselves and with friends, until you've got a whole clique of people crying guild favoritism and working themselves up to a mass exodus the next time someone so much as squeaks "injustice."  Suddenly, a molehill becomes Mt. Everest, and at this point, when things have escalated this far, there is simply no reasonable way to resolve the situation.

That is simply one thing you need to look out for.

More important than cultivating your image as a guild leader, is keeping track of your members.  There are certain individuals among every guild who I like to refer to as "key members".  In a guild, these are the ones who have the potential to be your biggest allies or your worst enemies.  They are usually sociable, maintain friends and contacts in other guilds whom they speak to frequently, they may bring 1 or more people to the guild with them when they join, they speak up during guild events and raids to offer opinions and advice, and generally speaking, they are very vocal about anything and everything.

In guilds, much as in life, the ones who talk a lot are the ones who receive the most attention.  Many times these people will use their influence with other members of the guild to leverage guild policies and decisions in their favor.  When responding to these people, you need to be absolutely sure to tread lightly and with tact, or you may illict a furor from which your guild can't recover.  These are the members who are popular.  When they leave a guild in anger, they will take 10 people with them.  Those 10 all have friends, and their friends will leave with them.  And their friends.  And their friends.  In one drama-filled afternoon, a simple misunderstanding can reduce your guild membership by half before you can even blink your eyes.

I have witnessed so many guilds disband because of this exact scenario.  Because the leader did not keep track of who these ringleaders were.  The best way to head off a situation such as this, is not to let the ringleader recruit other guild members for their exodus.  In order to effectuate any sort of change in guild policies that this person desires, they have to build a network of other guild members who feel similarly (or who can be easily convinced).  If they can't do that, their tactic will fail, because they lack the unified voice required to put pressure on you.  Make sure you constantly gauge the moods and interactions in your guild.  Watch silently without saying anything.  Do people argue a lot?  Are there complaints about trivial matters?  Have people been leaving due to lack of assistance with their quests/instances/what-have-you?

To be a good leader, you have to know exactly how every member feels about each other and about the guild in general.  You need to know if there are people who have problems with each other (and not place them in the same groups during raids), you need to know who your package deals are, and your couples (both the ones who met online in the guild, and the ones who know each other in real life).  Offending one will mean you automatically offend the other(s).  

Large groups of friends who join your guild may become miffed at one or two other members of your guild and attempt to start a civil war, or use their unified voice as leverage in a "it's either him or me" ultimatum.  This happens so often that I can see it coming a mile away.  When one of these people sends me a tell, I know right after that first, tentative, "Hey are you there?", what's going to happen.  Who the problem is, why they're a problem, who started it, and what needs to be done about it.  I have learned, however, that if I intervene and play my hand too early, these people can then fold their cards and pretend there's no issue when there is.

This brings me to another mistake that MANY guilds make.  How often have you been having a heated discussion with another member/officer/someone in the guild, and the leader or another officer offers this gem; "Take it to tells."  In other words, don't talk where everybody can hear you.  This is a mistake on so many levels, and it frustrates me to no end when people try to discourage others from venting their issues.  Things that are a problem for one person may be a problem for multiple people.  It's far better to allow the guild as a whole to iron out their problems, then to, again, facilitate that environment where everyone is talking in tells, behind everyone else's back, drawing their own conclusions, forming their political alliances and electing "key members" and ringleaders who can later cause problems in large groups.

Another type of member that you need to watch out for, and curtail as quick as possible is the sensitive gamer.  This is usually an older, religious type, who is offended by every single earthly thing that is said in guild chat, from the vulgar to the benign, and will not hesitate to lord their "maturity" over the rest of the guild.  Here's a little tip, those who are truly mature are not easily offended. 

A guild is most closely compared to a sports team.  The team functions well when everyone gets along, when everyone can joke and tease each other good-naturedly without worrying about who is mortified by the word, "asshole".  When recruiting, I like to spend a good amount of time talking to a potential member as if I were a typical member of my guild.  I warn them that there is cussing, light-hearted teasing, sexual innuendo, deep discussions and opinionated people of all ages, genders, religions, sexual preferences, creeds and persuasions.  I tell them that if they are easily offended or have thin skin, then we're probably not the guild for them.  It is better to head off the sensitive types before they join, because they can disrupt the dynamic of your guild and keep other members from being themselves.  Again, a dangerous situation in the works, depending on who gets offended.

Balancing the membership of a guild is a difficult task, and one that I don't envy anyone now that I've experienced it.  There is something to be said, however, for the feeling that you get when something you've built from the ground up succeeds at difficult content.  Over time, you are going to develop and see core friendships develop between others and extend to other games.  In a way, as the leader, you are partly responsible for giving these people a positive environment to interact with each other in.  When guild leadership really becomes rewarding is when you've been leading a guild long term, and have watched some of your original members grow up from the people they were when they joined.  Perhaps it's a bit egotistical of me, but I enjoy the fact that I have had a hand in helping members to unwind from their lives.

If you keep tabs on what's going on within your guild, make sure that you recruit people who are familiar with and conducive to the type of environment you're striving for, and do your best to head off drama, personally, before it reaches the Mt. Everest level, you will have a guild that will last a long time, a loyal following, and maybe even some lifelong friends.






An Extended Stay In A Perfect World - Full Review

Posted by Strayfe Wednesday March 25 2009 at 5:51PM
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Some of you may recall my mini-review of Perfect World as part of my 2008 Retrospective post.  In it, I commented on the violation of the natural order of things when various anthropomorphic animal creatures with varying degrees of furry fetishes act out their penultimate fantasies for the general public.

What I neglected to do in that little article was mention anything substantive about the game.  So, now that I've managed to wade through the swarms of deviants, obtain level 40, and experience some of the content that Perfect World has to offer, I feel that I am now more qualified to touch on the subject.

Perfect World is a romp through an anime-inspired WoW-Clone, with brilliant character customization, well above-average graphics, and gameplay that varies widely between "tolerable" and "about as fun as watching paint dry on growing grass."

This game takes to heart the idea that immersion is about presentation and customization.  From the get-go, character creation will make you realize that you will NEVER run into a clone of yourself in the world.  There are dozens of sliders for changing every aspect of your character, from cheekbone depth, jawline curvature, nose size... the tilt of your eyes, the much maligned chest size slider, or as I call it, the tit control, character height, girth, skin color, eye color, you name it, you can change it.

Of particular note are the color palette customizatons, which, unlike most games, do not force you to choose between a pre-selected set of colors.  You get an actual color palette with no limitations.  Want a red-skinned, pink-haired fat girl with pitch black eyes?  You can do that.  And people do.

Unfortunately, after you've been ooooh'ed and ahhhh'ed by the character customization, and you're ready to be shocked and amazed by the quality of a free game, Perfect World yanks the carpet from underneath your feet, and your meticulously crafted avatar proceeds to fall right on his or her virtual ass.

The UI is a standard EQ/WoW/LotRO copycat, with the user friendliness scaled back to -53  (yes, I stole a joke from zero punctuation, Yahtzee is my fucking hero.  Got a problem?).  Movement is either WSAD or click-to-move, however, changing the camera angle is clunky and unresponsive and there is no convenient auto-run function, unless you want to open up your map and alt-click a spot on it, at which point you run in a straight line through every bloody mob within a ten mile radius, before colliding with a tree, a mountainside, a pair of copulating furries, or all of the above.

Graduating from movement to combat doesn't really improve things much.  You have your standard array of MMOish abilities, auto attack, damaging skills, slowing skills, heals and buffs if you picked a wizard or cleric.  There aren't really any surprises in the combat department.  If you've played any western subscription MMO released in the past 10 years, you'll know what to expect.

Moving on to the advancement system.  There is a handy feature called "Find Quest", which does exactly that.  It gives you the coordinates and the name of the next guy who wants you to kill 30 or 40 nearby creatures.  This is actually a useful feature, and, along with the quest arrows which will point you in the right direction, is one of the two ways you will navigate the game.

Yes, there is a minimap.  The minimap is the size of a thimble, and trying to find something on it is like trying to distinguish a proton from a neutron using the naked eye.  Even assuming you're just trying to use it to get a general sense of where you are, the thing is about as intuitive as a treasure map written in hieroglyphics by a 4-year old caveman, and marked upside down with 4 directions that all say north.

Questing is, in and of itself a problem as well.  Generally, in other MMOs, if you want to do a quest, by god, you can do a quest.  In Perfect World, there are many times when you actually RUN OUT of quests  for your level.  It's these particular times when the gameplay takes a nosedive toward watching paint dry, as you're faced with grinding more than a drunk sorority girl on a Saturday night.  Coupled with the genre-standard, done-it-all-before combat, you may be forced to imbibe several energy drinks to stay awake while you level.

When you do eventually level, you're given five stat points to distribute between the four primary stats in the game, strength, dexterity, vitality and magic.  Like Diablo, this was originally designed to give you an opportunity to customize your character further, however, UNlike Diablo, if you make even one mistake with your points, you are going to be as useful as an ice cube in Iceland, negating the entire point of having a customizable stat system. 

Actually, no.  I'm wrong about that, lets back up here a moment.  The customizable stat system does have a point - to nerf newbies, and the 80% of the playerbase who doesn't read the forums into abject unviability, with only two methods of recourse: 1) Scream incessantly at everyone you run across to help you with every single quest, because you're an incompetent failure who neglected to utilize the ONLY viable build for your class; or 2) Use cash shop items to redistribute your points into the ONLY viable build for your class.

Most people who aren't anti-social psychopaths are going to quit the game.  But those who don't, are going to choose option 2, and that's where we come to the cash shop.

If there were ever a free game in love with it's cash shop, Perfect World is it.  This game is rife with money grabs, and to be honest I'm not really surprised, considering the original game was made in China, home of the gold farming ni hao.  There is such a variety of I-Win buttons in the cash shop, that even those players who WANT to use it are going to be overwhelmed.

Highlights include charms which automatically replenish your HP to full every time you drop below 50%, making you nigh invulnerable against anything that can't one-shot you, charms which replenish your MP to full every time you drop below 50%, making it so you never need to rest or meditate,  Scrolls which give you 50% additional XP bonus for an hour, which is essentially a free ticket to leveling 50% faster than anyone else, the aforementioned stat reset items, teleport stones which allow you to travel to any city you've previously visited, stones which allow you to add additional sockets to equipment, which can then be filled with gems to make your gear substantially stronger, stones which give you a 100% chance to refine your item successfully (I'll cover refining later).  Mounts which travel WAYYYY fast.  Two pets for Venomancers (the equivalent of a WoW hunter) which cost upwards of $100 and make them essentially demigods.  The list goes on.

But that's just for males.

Perfect World takes it one step further by including what has been dubbed "fashion" in the cash shop, to draw money from female gamers as well.  Players can purchase a variety of skimpy or interesting outfits from the cash shop, which can be worn as an alternative to your generic looking armor.  What this means is, you can wear, for example, a bikini swimsuit, yet still retain all your stats as if you were dressed in full battle regalia. 

It doesn't stop there.

When you buy your fashion from the cash shop, it comes in a random color.  Naturally, females (and some males) have a desire to make their clothes match.  Buying a dress which ends up being orange, and then getting shoes which end up being puke green naturally result in the need to make them both into something a bit more pleasing to the eye.  Enter dye jobs.  Each piece of fashion can be dyed by using a specific number of pigments which can be bought, again, from the cash shop.  If you think that sounds a bit too easy, well... you were right.  Perfect World makes cash grabs out of their cash grabs by only selling random pigments.  Often times, this can result in players purchasing $15-20 worth of pigments simply to get their bloody dress the right color.

It doesn't stop there.

Most games have a general chat, or a trade channel, or a place where you can get ahold of multiple players for whatever purpose, be it selling your wares, asking a question, advertising your guild, or what have you.  In Perfect World, this is called World Chat, and if you want to use it, you had better be prepared to make a trip... you guessed it... to the cash shop.

Speaking on world chat requires a consumable item called a teleacoustic.  Each and every time you type something in world chat, whether it be an ad for your guild, or something as benign as a "Hello everyone", you consume one of these items.  The going rate?  10¢ each.  10 cents to ask for help with a quest, 10 cents to advertise your guild.  10 cents to sell an item.  It may not seem like much, but it can add up quickly.

Other cash shop items include inventory and bank space upgrades, crafting materials, fireworks, flying mounts, and various pieces of fluff.

Oh wait, it doesn't stop there.

Perfect World includes a built-in goldselling system, whereby in-game coins can be exchanged for gold, and vice-versa by any willing players, using an Ebay-esque interface.  Say Player1 wants to buy 10 gold, and he's willing to pay 100k coins per gold.  He simply makes a trip over to the auctioneer, and puts up a request to buy 10 gold at 100k per gold.  A few minutes later, Player2 realizes he's bought too much gold, and would rather just trade the rest for coins.  He goes to the auctioneer and puts up a gold auction.  He's willing to sell 10 gold at 100k per gold.  Voila, the transaction is automatically made, and both players can then head to the closest auctioneer to withdraw their respective currencies.

Having said that, you would think that the abiltiy to purchase cash shop currency with in-game coins would be a blessing, right?  Not exactly.  Making money, along with many other aspects of Perfect World, is HARD, time consuming, and often times relies on exorbitant amounts of luck.

Not withstanding the lousy interface, shortly after you begin the game, the difficulty curve moves from humorously, stupidly easy to "bend over and grab your ankles" hard, and stays there for the foreseeable future.  The penalty for death is an experience loss, ranging from 2-5% of your level if you get raised, to 10+% for returning to town.  This may not seem like much, but coupled with the difficulty of leveling, if you aren't skilled, or you haven't bought the I-Win charm from the cash shop, you may find yourself going backwards in XP instead of forward, your patience slowly evaporating into a florid desire to end all life.

Money is difficult to come by, and money sinks are plentiful and unrelenting.  Repairs are significantly more expensive than in most games, skills cost exorbitant amounts of money, equipment that isn't a complete joke REALLY costs a lot of money, and in many cases, mob drops sell for a piddling sum.

Crafting is profitable in that you can farm your own materials and make your own equipment, which will help to defer the hit to your wallet somewhat, however, if you're looking to actually make coin off of it, you need to be lucky enough to craft 3 star (the best possible of a particular item) gear with good stats, and then peddle it to the cash shop junkies.

I guess since I mentioned 3 star gear, I should talk about the equipment system.  For a game that trumpets customization as its main draw, there is sadly a rather glaring lack of variety in the equipment types, unless, of course, you monger the cash shop.  There is one main set of crafted/dropped gear for each level range and each class.  Wizards and Clerics use arcane sets (generally), Archers and Venomancers use light armor, while Barbarians and Blademasters use heavy armor.  Each piece of gear can have a randomly generated rating from 1-3 stars with higher stars having higher base stats, along with a set of randomly generated stat bonuses a-la Diablo.  Armor and weapons can also come with additional sockets for enhancing the item with gems, up to 4 for armor, and 2 for weapons.

Thus, the best craftable items are 3 star items with 4 desirable stat bonuses and 2/4 sockets.  However, the odds of getting a 3 star are something like 1-3%, so don't expect it to happen very often.

Additional gear can also be obtained as quest rewards, from amassing a certain level of reputation (which you get from completing quests, killing certain mobs, and accomplishing certain things in game), or from dungeons.

The best gear comes from molds, which drop off of dungeon bosses and allow you to craft, for an obscene amount of materials and money, legendary gear that is substantially better than gear of the same level.

Dungeons in Perfect World are called FBs.  I don't know what FB means, but I've been informed that it's chinese for something or other.  I choose to believe that it means FUBAR, because, unless you have high level help, that's exactly what you're going to be when you come up against the dungeon boss.  Assuming that you have a full group of level appropriate players, all of them need to be extremely well geared and extremely skilled, and make absolutely no mistakes whatsoever in order to defeat the bosses, which have an obscene amount of HP, and can frequently 2-3 shot tanks.  The first of these dungeons takes place at level 19.

Now that may sound like a complaint, but it actually isn't.  In my last article, I lamented the fact that there was no beginning-middle game in games released these days.  Perfect World gets extra points for including difficult dungeons early on, to acclimate players to the advanced nuances of their class.  It isn't Perfect World's fault that players simply bypass the challenge of these dungeons by recruiting the highest levels they can find to plow through the content for them.

Oh wait... wait, yes it is.

Perfect World obviates their good design decision by including another, poor decision to counteract it.  For each FB (dungeon) there is a quest tab that can be acquired one time per character, called a "Call to Duty".  Using this tab near the boss of the dungeon will give every member of the user's party a quest which, when completed (by killing the boss) awards experience points.  Now, remember how I said earlier that, at times, you run out of quests and have to spend time grinding?  Consider that, and then consider that the higher level you are, the more often that's the case.  Now give every single character a key to free experience points for people of any level, every 10 levels.

What do you get?

A cavalcade of high level dungeon whores, pimping themselves and their guilds out to every level 19, 29, 39, etc... with a sense of entitlement and a Call to Duty tab.  Ultimately, these lower levels don't ever learn how to play the game, since the difficult content is mercenaried off to the highest bidder.  So, here we can see that PvE fails to deliver a challenge or a sense of accomplishment, leaving it's distant but ever-present cousin, PvP to try and pick up the slack.

In Perfect World, PvP is an acronym for Purse vs Purse.  As in, the one with the biggest wins.  Being competitive in PvP requires a substantial investment in the cash shop, a clone build, a giant ego, and enough teleacoustics to inform the entire server every time you've killed somebody.

Your options for pvp are open PK, which, on a PvE server, is available only to people above level 30 who are flagged for PvP and outside of designated safe zones; duels, which act like duels in every single other MMO ever released, and have absolutely no purpose other than comparing e-peen, and territory wars (abbreviated TW), which is a giant battle between guilds over a particular territory, where the winner is the one whose members have spent the most in the cash shop.

In open PK, once you flag your character, your name turns white and you're flagged for ten hours.  Yes, ten hours.   At this point you have a small chance to drop some gear if you're killed.  For every character you kill, that chance goes up, and the color of your name turns progressively redder, until your avatar's name is a nice blood color.  At this point, if you are killed by another player, you drop your loot, your life savings, your bank, your alts, your account information, your credit card and social security numbers, and your girlfriend's pants.  The concept of penalizing a player for succeeding in PvP is completely alien to me.  A skilled player who kills multiple others, and manages to get themselves into the red, can be jumped by 3-4 players who just turned white nearby, killed before he can blink, and stripped of everything that makes him who he is, making open pvp a spectacular risk, with minimal rewards.

Having not participated in TW, due to the fact that I'm not made of wallets and gold bullion, I can't comment on the specifics, but it's my understanding that it functions similar to keep sieging in contemporary MMOs, with objectives that need to be captured and defended.

All in all, unless you're prepared to shell out some or all of your hard-earned cash, PvP is an afterthought in this game, and hardly worth the splatter of your blood on the world geometry.

Based on the tone of this review so far, I know what you're probably thinking.

"Jesus christ, Strayfe... if the game sucks that bad, how did you stomach 40 levels?"

The answer is a simple one, but it's one that will most likely elude a majority of players.  The community.

If you can get past (or don't mind) the initial shock of witnessing scantily clad women engaged in relations with their animal-headed counterparts, what you have is a community that is above-average as far as maturity goes.  The 10¢ per world chat has the beneficial side-effect of limiting spam.  What's more, gold farmers and gold selling are COMPLETELY non-existant, as in... I haven't even seen a peep anywhere from anyone about RMT.  Other MMOs should write to Perfect World and request permission to use whatever system they have in place to obstruct the farmers.

Players are friendly and helpful and many of the baddest apples are maligned and blacklisted.  For those who pay attention to such things, the ratio of male/female gamers is as close to dead even as any MMO I've played, most likely due to the combination of character customization and cash shop fashion.  Guilds seem to laugh and joke with each other, congratulate each other on victories in TW and accomplishments, wish each other well, and hold events and such.

GM events are plentiful and vary widely.  Thus far I've participated in several mob invasions, a game of simon says, and something called Avatar Mix-N-Match, which required interested people to form groups with specific requirements and locate a GM using hints provided.  For example, the GM might ask for a group of 4, with 4 different classes, two females and two males, and at least one person below level 10.

Beyond that, I'm fortunate enough to have found a guild I mesh well with.  Having a group of people to laugh and joke with while you pound out those levels makes it far more bearable than stewing in your own bile, as you search for Blacksmith Wang (yes this is a real NPC). 

All in all the game is not terrible.  If you have some spare money and don't mind participating in the cash shop a bit, you could probably find a really enjoyable experience in Perfect World.  Or, conversely, if you have no desire to be competitive, enjoy character customization and are in no hurry to level, you might also enjoy this game, as the visuals and immersion are well above-average for a free-to-play.

For my purposes, the game ranks a 6/10.  You can bump that up to an 8/10 if you don't mind using the cash shop.  Perfect World is a game that falls to the side of one extreme or another.  Play an hour a day if you're super-casual, or blow hundreds of dollars and grind it like your life depended on it.  In both cases, there is something here for you.  If you fall somewhere in the middle, however, unless the prospect of a decent community is enough to hold your interest, or you aren't yet sick of MMO-standard combat and questing, you might be better off to look elsewhere.

"Endgame" Killed The Game

Posted by Strayfe Wednesday March 18 2009 at 2:35PM
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You know those shiny, bright-eyed optimists who always tell you, "It's not the destination that matters, it's the journey"?  Apparently they were all abducted by aliens and forced to eat their own shoes during the 11th hour of MMO production, because mentioning this concept to a developer, or expecting something similar will get you tarred, feathered, and left to stew among the lower denizens of purgatory, faster than you can say, "Time vs. Reward."

Game developers have taken to forcing their players on scavenger hunts for fun, with MMOs reduced to nothing more than a checklist of things that must be completed before playing the game has a point or a purpose.  Oh, how I used to loathe my friend, who happily informed me, as the drool dripped down his chin, "The game starts at 70!", referring to that awful genre-pigeonhole, World of That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named.

I put up with it, for some god-awful reason, as I chugged down the gaming equivalent of an asparagus milkshake, under the assumption that I would be receiving a billion bloody dollars for my patience.  The thing is, when I finally finished it, and I got the unquestionable right and privilege to actually begin playing the game, I found that the billion dollars was more like $100,000, and some of it was missing... and a bit more of it was counterfeit.  Yeah, it's nice to have some extra money, but ultimately eating that asparagus milkshake was just so awful, that I stared at my paltry 75k in disdain.

Let me return from the land of metaphors for a second.  I touched on it briefly in another article,  but it seems to me that developers are so focused on "Endgame", that they forget to make the game itself.  Why is it a pre-requisite that you suffer through hours upon hours of mind-numbing clone-quests, pointless vapid grinds, and uninteresting crap, before you actually make it to the GAME part of the game?

Using WoW as an example, would it have been so hard to make a couple raid instances for level 50?  Or 40?  Or 30?  With, perhaps, some items that could serve as status symbols for rewards?  Mount decorations, maybe?  Titles?  Honor points?  Hell, anything that might serve to break up the quest grind.  It would even serve as a primer for the more difficult raid content toward the end, giving players some experience and some idea of what they can expect when their toon is actually worth a damn.

But no, the game remains the most top-heavy title out there, and ironically, the most popular, with people seemingly willing to ignore the drudgery for the promise of a pot of gold under the rainbow.

Most gamers don't know it, but when they ask whether or a not a game is a grind, what they're really asking is "Does playing this game have a purpose before X level?"  More often than not, the answer is no.  I cringe to think that, perhaps I might be asking too much to expect a GAME to be FUN from level 1.  That's the sad, sorry state of affairs the industry is in, where I boot up that mega-title for the first time, and expect to be completely bored and uninterested for the foreseeable future, until I reach that magic number (usually the level cap) when the game is MEANT to be playable.  *cough* *cough* *choke* Blah.

Off in the distance, I hear fanboys, devs and proponents of this type of gameplay, with dollar signs for eyes, and spiderwebs for brains.  They're saying in one unified voice, "This is a business!  Endgame exists to keep the game going when you've been playing it for a year or more, to keep you paying them so they can improve the game and the content!" 

I facepalm as I consider that statement, as it's delivered for the 52nd time, in the 11th different way. 

Developers, gamers, there are *gasp* OTHER options for holding peoples' interest long term.  Customization is the best route to doing this.  If a player feels like they have room to adapt, to try new things, to try multiple things at once, they will be far more inclined to play long term, than if they are taken by the hand and led from quest hub to quest hub, with no more interaction than opening up the ignore menu to squelch Qouhesuofhu and his wow7gold spam.

Here's a thought.  Why not make a game bottom-middle heavy?  Encourage players to go through the low-mid level content multiple times, in different ways, with different rewards.  

WoW players have done the same quests so many times, that they know the game by heart, and have written GUIDES to leveling that they can sell for money.  If your game is so easy and dull that it can be figured out, and guides can be written for it detailing the best ORDER to do the quests in, and which ones to skip, there's a serious problem.

Content should be dynamic throughout the game.  There should be multiple options for progressing at any given time, multiple quest hubs with varying and different rewards, which each have strengths and weaknesses in different parts of the game.  Give players choices, and they will replay that content to see what they missed the first time around.  Give them multiple choices, and they will replay it again and again.

In this day and age, with all the ideas floating around for MMOs, I simply can't fathom why devs continue to repeatedly create the same game. 

And yet... ironically, those devs and companies with new and innovative ideas have implemented them so poorly in many cases, that many potential players have retreated from the concept of dynamic gameplay, into their little own little worlds, where MMO crossing guards hold their hands while they cross the street, and sandbox games are the stuff of hushed whispers after they've gone to bed.

Wanting to buy one GAME.  No END required.



Strayfe vs. Roleplayers

Posted by Strayfe Wednesday March 11 2009 at 1:56PM
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For this article, I shalt refrain from language most vulgar, as I don the ephemeral visage of a roleplayer of yore.  Yonder miscreant, take heed and accept thy doom, a Strayfe draws near, thy fate is sealed oh hellish beast of a thousand fathoms.

Know thee well my loquacity.  My excessive verbiage shall rend thee asunder 'fore my blade shines in the morning sunlight, and yea, now that I have announced my presence and my purpose, I may finally swing at thee, foul foe!  En garde!

Surgeon General's Warning: Excessive use of the preceding actions may result in unintended side effects, including lexicosis, hyperelitism, misanthropic tendencies, virtual copulation, anti-social behavior, inappropriate accenting of common words, dysphoria, dysfunction, and possibly dysentery.  Consult thine physician before thou undertakest the mighty quest before thee, hero of ages!


Ah, yes.  Roleplayers.  You're walking along, minding your own business, chopping up an orc or two, when Kalanthias Orkkesbane strides purposefully into your field of view.

"I, Kalanthias Orkkesbane, son of Pururuvias Orkkesbane, son of Naldev Orkkesbane, son of Genen Orkkesbane, son of Thomm Orkkesbane, shall strike a blow for all free peoples of our fair world... get thee hence, rank orc, taste the steel of my well-tempered blade, son of a motherless... BLAAAARK!"

You watch in amusement as Kalanthias' tirade is interrupted by the orc in question.  Mob AI is apparently not impressed by his ability to recite his ancestry.  The orc chops off his head in mid-"thou art".  Nearby players are probably questioning his sanity, attempting to keep a straight face, or simply succumbing to the primal need to laugh themselves silly at... whatever the hell just transpired.

Congratulations, you have met a roleplayer. 

If you stick around for a few moments, perhaps Kalanthias will return to duplicate his earlier antics, and then spend a solid hour informing you of your status as a lower life form, because you elect not to speak in olde english, or provide a dissertation on the sexual practices of the mothers of every monster you come into contact with before you attempt to kill it.

It should be apparent from the above that I do not roleplay.  Roleplayers are often quick to point out that the reason for that is due to some failing on my part, rather than a simple choice.  I'm here to tell you the reason why roleplayers don't get along with non-roleplayers, why servers are generally segregated to preserve the peace, and why I, personally don't roleplay.

Here's a hint... it's not because I can't.  Snuggle up to your pillows and blankets everyone, it's story time.

Once upon a time, whether out of a need for change, or simple curiosity, Strayfe decided to try roleplaying.  The game in question was World of Warcraft.  Rife with plenty of "RP" servers, and a solid population to work with, he figured it would be difficult, but not wholly impossible to find an acceptable community for that purpose.

Now here's the thing... when Strayfe does something, he likes to do it properly.  He familiarized himself with the concept of roleplaying, and, as he had written fiction in high school, it didn't seem like too much of a stretch to step into and actively control a fictional character in real time.

So from the mind of madness, Strayfe's character, Jairon Blayliss was born, complete with backstory, goals, motivations, likes and dislikes.  Strayfe was prepared to guide Jairon through the storm of his faux-life, when, stepping into the the server for the first time, he was confronted with a male Human and a female Night Elf, "making love" in broken english, in the middle of the grass.  Not to be deterred that easily, Strayfe attempted to handle the situation as if he were Jairon, the sarcastic, slightly mad Warlock he had created.

Stepping up to the pair of unlikely lovers, Jairon immediately informed them that they had all the decency and half the attraction of a pair of deformed animals, and should vacate the area immediately.  Perhaps the two were deaf, or so absorbed in their escapades that they didn't or couldn't notice, but they did not respond.  Annoyed by their indignance, Jairon planted a firm kick in the male's back, hoping to jar him from his reverie.  To his astonishment, however, Jairon found that the man was numb as well as deaf, as again, there was no response.

Chalking it up to incompetence on the part of two players, Strayfe pretended the two didn't exist and guided Jairon down the path to Goldshire to further his ambitions.

A summary of the things Strayfe, and his extension, Jairon, saw over the next few hours include:


1) Sexual encounters between every conceivable race combination, occasionally involving threesomes, and in one case, a foursome, right in public, where any passersby could witness them; 2) Sexual encounters consisting of shapeshifting Druids using their animal forms and tails in... creative ways, again, right in public; 3) Sexual encounters involving mounts and/or hunter pets as additional partners; 4) Druids using vines in creative ways; 5) Magically enhanced genitalia, magically created sex toys and sex organs, girls with male parts, males becoming pregnant, males and females becoming pregnant with animal and/or demon, and/or werewolf, and/or dragon babies; 6) Succubi and Demons, imps, voidwalkers disseminating into gas and wafting up various orifices, BDSM, half-demons, half-werewolves, dragon-shapeshifters and every conceivable sexual deviation, combination and fringe fetish ever contemplated, all being acted out in real time, in public, by any number of people.


1) Bar fights, consisting of a series of poorly thought-out actions with little to no justification, breaking out at a rate of about 2 per minute, and ending with one or the other participants invariably coughing out the line, "-teleports behind Otherguy and slits his throat, letting his limp body fall to the ground dead-", only for Otherguy to ignore that and counter with something similar; 2) People roleplaying with mobs that they're killing, poorly; 3) People with text macros that activate every single time they use a particular ability, causing spam the likes of which hasn't been seen in modern days; 4) Naked individuals named "Leeeeeetsaucehax" or similar, dancing on elevated surfaces and mocking the "roleplayers" for "roleplaying" on a "roleplaying" server.; 5) 100,000,000 people going OOC to argue about what is or is not OOC, ad nauseam;

The Kicker:

All the above-mentioned archetypes ranting incessantly about how their method of roleplaying is superior to everybody else's, and that those who choose not to roleplay according to their preferred method are noobs, and should leave the server.


And they lived not-so-happily ever after.  The End... of the story that is, not the article.


Let me put things in perspective a bit.  The above is not an exaggeration in the slightest.  Granted, I'm no prude, and if you want to pretend to be a 14-year-old Night Elf girl who gets screwed by a kodo in gory detail, and has half-Elf ,half-kodo babies delivered through C-section, that's your business.  But from reading guides on roleplaying, and from what I know about the practice personally, I was not aware that the only engines for interaction were progressively more deviant sexual practices and poorly choreographed bar fights.  If I wanted that, I'd watch HBO after hours.

To make matters worse, when I have encountered roleplayers casually, they tend to thumb their nose at me, as if I were some sort of crap they just stepped in and tracked into the house.  Apparently, I'm supposed to be impressed by their writing ability, defer to their wit and charm, and possibly engage them in some sort of ancient sexual ritual that has been passed down from times long forgotten. 

While I am perfectly content to let bygones be bygones, and I concede that you are allowed to spend your $15/month how you see fit, if you get in my virutal face, and start thee'ing and thou'ing at me, expecting me to return the favor, I am going to roleplay Tybalt and you are going to roleplay Mercutio, and we'll make an evening out of it.  For the benefit of the masses, that means I am going to stab you, and you are going to die.

I think, perhaps, roleplayers need to begin taking stock of the image they're given by their kith and kin.  Like all things, there are exceptions to the rule, but nobody wants to wade through the rough to find the diamond.  If they happen to stumble upon it, great, congratulations, they just won the lottery, but it's certainly not something you go around expecting to find.

The point of this article is simple.  A roleplayer is a gaming archetype, just like a powergamer, a griefer, a casual gamer, you name it.  Roleplayers are not inherently better than anyone else.  They are not more mature (though they will all swear up and down that they are).  They're nothing special.  They're just like the rest of us.  The ones who cause problems are the ones who feel a sense of entitlement for what they do, as if their actions and choices in the game mean more, because they're spewed in a silly accent, or acted out between furious bouts of virtual sex, and unfortunately, this type of roleplayer just happens to be the most common.




MMOWHY?!: A Veteran's Look Back

Posted by Strayfe Tuesday March 10 2009 at 4:44PM
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I can't hear you, Darkfall community. 

I have my fingers in my ears, pointedly ignoring every last obtuse argument originating from your camp of masochists.

"Playing such a great game like Darkfall is a privilege!  The scramble to get a copy makes sure that only hardcore players get in." (actual quote, *cough* *cough* *MMMRP*) <--- WTF.

Excuse Aventurine, they say, because they are an independent company.  Spread out and inform the masses that being this small, low budget company, entitles you to "release" a steaming pile of excrement, and then wall off the excrement so the inexplicable few that want to buy the damn thing can't get to it.

Call it revolutionary.  Call it a privilege.  Call it solid, diamond-encrused gold, sheathed in platinum. 

I call it inaccessible, poorly run garbage.  Take your pick.

Nevertheless, I didn't start up this post intending to rant about Darkfall again.  There are plenty of people with the intelligence to see that unmitigated disaster for what it is.  They just tend to be far less vocal than the "GRRBLAHGHHGHA PVP FULL LOOT HUUUUUUU" crowd, who continue to buy Tasos' steaming piles of... and there I go again... okay, calm down Strayfe, it's just a game... a terrible, terrible game, run by a terrible, terrible company... but still just a game.


What I would like to do in this particular blog is switch speeds a little bit.  I have been accused of being an impossible to please, negative, unforgiving critic, with standards so high that you'd need to ascend the Burj Dubai and stand on a chair to reach them.  The thing is, it hasn't always been that way.

I believe, perhaps, that I am finally outgrowing video games.

There, I said it.  Is it true?  ... well, I can't decide for sure.

It's a sign of something, however, when you own a copy of every major P2P MMO released in the last 3-4 years, and can't log into one for more than about an hour without wanting to take a long walk off a short cliff just to end the wretched pain.  I can't tell if it's me, or if these games are simply THAT bad, too similar to one another, too entrenched in the burnout factor, or something else entirely.

I've been cycling through F2P games recently, flipping through them like pages of a magazine... only all of them are ads, and so you keep flipping, hoping to find that one article that will hold your interest.  At times, I simply log out of whatever fictional world I happen to be in at the time, and stare at my desktop as if I could will a decent game into existence from the land of dreams. 

With this blog, I take a look at what I have played, how long I played it, why I quit, and what keeps me from going back or playing it again.  Perhaps the community can help to shed a light on my inability to stick with a game... and perhaps they will simply tell me that I have ADD.

Final Fantasy XI

How Long? - 3 years, give or take a couple months.

Why I Quit? - For those unfamiliar with this game, after a certain point, the time investment needed to upgrade your character any further becomes astronomical.  We're not talking days, or even weeks here, we're talking months of semi-hardcore play.  The game still has a solid community, but Square-Enix has taken it in the absolute wrong direction with recent expansions, and have basically run the game into the ground.  The Treasures of Aht Urhgan expansion is one of the big reasons I quit, due to the fact that it essentially turned the game into a shell of its former self, effectively ditching the story/mission-based gameplay, and solid, easily accessible endgame content, in favor of dull, mind-numbing grinds for various things, including XP, merits, assault points, gil, you name it.

Why Don't I Go Back? - The game no longer contains most of the reasons I played it.  It's a different game, with a different community.  Everyone is firmly entrenched in their respective grinds for various things.  There is nothing new to entice me to play it again, and I feel as though it would simply be a "been there, done that." type of an endeavor, only missing all the reasons that I was there in the first place.


World of Warcraft

How Long? - 3 years, with a couple breaks in the middle.

Why I Quit? - This is something of a mixed answer.  I don't really object to the game itself.  It's not incredibly fun, but it's not dull either.  My main gripe with this game is the fact that, every time Blizzard releases an expansion, all the work you have previously put into the game becomes 100% obsolete.  This sort of move just reeks of a cash grab, and leaves me with a rather bitter taste in my mouth.  Replacing epics with greens once when Burning Crusade was released... that was bad enough.  I recovered, I dealt with it, grinded out another ten levels to get to 70.  Raided in Burning Crusade for a little bit, had halfway decent gear and pvp gear.  Wrath of the Lich King reared its ugly head, and the prospect of losing everything I had worked for... AGAIN... and grinding out ANOTHER ten levels, only to do the exact SAME thing again... doesn't appeal to me.

Why Don't I Go Back? - Short Answer: Wrath of the Lich King... Long Answer: The repetitive gear treadmill associated with every single content expansion, whether free or paid, always necessitating a reset of all effort and time spent on the game.  To put it succinctly, the game is a waste of time and effort because it lacks any sense of achievement, knowing that in a year or so, your character is going to be garbage again when the next expansion comes out, and the level cap is 90.


Vanguard: Saga of Heroes

How Long? - About 3-4 months

Why I Quit? - I had been having a lot of fun with this game when I was playing it.  Then one day, I logged in and I realized that nothing was going to change for the remainder of the game.  I was doing the same things at level 20 that I was doing at level 10, the same things at level 30 that I was doing at 20.  The difficulty curve never changed, there were no new features to look forward to except progressively harder monsters, progressively more powerful skills, and progressively longer levels.  At the same time, the luster of crafting and diplomacy, which I had originally found fun and engaging wore off entirely and Vanguard ceased to be anything other than a very nice looking grind.

Why Don't I Go Back? - This is one of the games I occasionally think about resubscribing to when I get bored of whatever I'm playing.  Then I stop and think to myself how empty and dull the world seemed, how little purpose is served by crafting when you have nobody to craft for, engaging in diplomacy when there's.. ultimately no point, and grinding to max level to... what?  Raid?  I can do that in World of Warcraft, and have more fun.  Yes, the game is beautiful.  Yes, I would walk around in wonder and be absolutely awed, and for the first month I was back, I'd swear that I was having the time of my life.  Deep in the back of my  mind, however, I realize that nothing has changed, and I would quickly become disinterested due to the lack of interaction or meaningful goals.


Lord of the Rings Online

How Long? - 6 months, with a break in the middle.

Why I Quit? - See Vanguard, only omit any mention of crafting (which I didn't try in LOTRO) and diplomacy (which doesn't exist, and has no counterpart system in LOTRO).  To this section, you can add the lack of character customization.  LOTRO admittedly has a lot going for it.  What originally drew me to the game was the storyline, since I, being a Tolkien fan, was curious to see how an MMO could play through and still work around the trilogy.  Again though, LOTRO has some of the same fundamental problems as Vanguard.  It's a beautiful world, it has a decent community, but ultimately you play for the same reason that you play World of warcraft, raiding.  If I wanted a game that only contained raiding, I'd play World of Warcraft.  I'm used to it.  I have friends there.  This is another game that was not fun to level in.  You'd think one day MMO developers would realize that a game should be fun all the way through, not ONLY at max level.

Why Don't I Go Back? - Turbine is now parroting WoW's raise-the-level-cap-make-you-useless-grind-ten-levels expansion model with Mines of Moria.  I couldn't even struggle through the monotony of 50 levels, and now they're telling me to get 60?  Sure, the main storyline quest might be engaging, but ultimately, a game has to be fun.  LOTRO can be fun at TIMES, but it's essentially a better looking World of Warcraft.  If I wanted to resub to WoW, that's exactly what I'd do.


Everquest II

How Long? - Not long... a couple weeks, maybe.

Why I Quit? - See the Vanguard and LOTRO reviews, and omit any mention of fun, positive attributes, or... really anything to draw me into the game.  I recall being so mind-numbingly bored while playing this that I couldn't even force myself through the first ten levels.  It was a slow-moving, clunky version of WoW, with worse graphics than LOTRO and Vanguard, slow response times, dull-looking characters, and a completely non-existent community.  Antonia Bayle was recommended to me as the most populated server.  I think I ran into two or three people the entire time I was playing.

Why Don't I Go Back? - Because I value my sanity.  I accept that I may have had some awful luck with this game, and it's possible that underneath the dull beginning is the greatest game ever created, but somehow I doubt it.  Everquest was always about raiding, and again, as I have said before, if I want to raid, I will play WoW.


Age of Conan

How Long? - One week.

Why I Quit? - "a clock interrupt was not received from a secondary processor within the allotted time, your computer will now cease to function for the remainder of the day."  I couldn't stay logged in for more than a few minutes at a time.  I think I experienced 3-4 different blue-screen errors.  For comparison, I have never had another game cause a BSOD on my computer, ever.  What I did see when I was logged in LOOKED good, but I recall the combat being clunky, and several instances of becoming stuck in the world geometry.

Why Don't I Go Back? - To be honest, this is a game I'd like to give another chance.  Hopefully, nearly a year later, most of the bugs have been worked out, and content added.  I say hopefully, because most developers never recover from buggy launches.  See: Vanguard, and the soon-to-be Darkfall.


Warhammer Online

How Long? - 3 months

Why I Quit? - This one is a bit different.  Warhammer was marketed everywhere as being a PvP-centered game, with the tagline, "War is Everywhere".  Unfortunately, Mythic failed to deliver on that promise, in that war was only in scenarios and small parts of whatever tier the highest leveled players happened to be on at any given time.  There is so much squandered potential in this game.  PvP and siege battles were actually quite fun, but there was absolutely no incentive for anyone to defend their keeps.  Defenders received no reward from defending, other than a minute renown bonus, while attackers had the potential for experience, massive renown gains, and a chance at epic loot.  Basically, this encouraged a giant game of musical keeps, where players avoid fighting with each other and go around behind the other faction, snatching up their keeps when nobody is around.

Nothing like a PvP game that encourages you NOT to PvP.  In addition, the community on my server was waning.  Toward the end of my time there, right after I got max level, some of the bigger destruction guilds on the server moved to another, more active server, leaving mine a wasteland.

The game also suffered/suffers from lag issues and poor performance, even on high-end computers.  WIth the graphics quality in Warhammer (well below that of Vanguard, LOTRO and Age of Conan), I should not be getting less than 10 FPS with a Quad Core Q6800 Extreme @3.2ghz, 4GB of RAM and SLI'd Geforce 8800GTXs, under any circumstances.


Free Games - Atlantica Online, Mabinogi, Perfect World, ROSE Online

Four of, supposedly, the higher quality free games.

Atlantica Online

This game was fun, really fun for awhile.  I enjoyed the game immensely for about 2-3 months.  Until I got level 95, and the biggest grind I have EVER experienced set in.  The turn-based system is quite unique, and the different mercenaries allow for many different strategies, which, unfortunately, have been poked and prodded by the meta-gamers, until there's more or less only 2 or 3 viable lineups for pvp.  PvE is fun at first, but it quickly becomes redundant, and what passes for raids in end-game are three dungeons whose sole existence is to facilitate the acquiring of 3 separate mercenaries, all of which have been recently nerfed into a pile of goo.  I still play this to PvP every now and then, but I won't be leveling anymore.  The time invested vs. reward is just too unbalanced now.


For more on this game, see my recent full review.  I still play this, though it's losing its charm.  The difficulty is getting to be bothersome, and the community, what little there is, is awesome and helpful, and surprisingly mature for a game with cartoonish anime graphics.  The problem is, you can go an entire day without ever needing to see, talk to, or interact with another person.  I play MMORPGs partly for the social factor.  If I wanted a single player game, I'd just fire up my PS3.

Perfect World

Hands down, far and away, the best character customization of any MMO, subscription-based or free to play.  Yes, that includes CoX, which my friend has, and which I've played a few times.  You can make your character look, literally, however you want it to.  Unfortunately, this is the only aspect of this game done properly.  The rest of the game degenerates into a carbon copy of WoW with awful controls, and a grind that puts Vanguard's and LOTRO's to shame.  I still log in occasionally, but I'm more addicted to the character creation than the game itself, as none of my characters have even made it past level 20, and I don't expect they will.

ROSE Online

ROSE was a tremendous joke.  The characters looked like half-naked little children, slapping little plants with Q-tips.  I couldn't force myself to struggle through more than a few hours of that mess, and wouldn't touch it again with a ten foot pole.  Harsh?  Yes, but that's my middle name.


There it is, then.  A look at what I've played, what I'm still playing, and possibly what I might play in the future.  Yes, perhaps my standards are too high, but then again... perhaps they're just right, and MMO companies are falling a bit short of their goals recently.  Or maybe a bit of both.

Who knows?





Target: Darkfall Online; Aventurine - Locked On, Ready... Aim... FIRE!

Posted by Strayfe Thursday March 5 2009 at 12:46PM
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Direct hit!

Fanboys scatter in all directions, hooting, hollaring and galumphing like a cavalcade of circus elephants, prodded along by circus clowns with sharp objects.

Strayfe is not nice.  Me no pull punches, me no kiss ass, oh community whose eyes are tainted by glasses of a rose color.

Let's face it.  Let's call a spade a spade.  Let's take things for what they are, shall we?

Darkfall Online is inarguably the worst MMO launch in the history of gaming.

I am sorry, Aventurine.  You do -not- call yourself a business, set a release date, and then release a game that wouldn't pass for an in-house Alpha test, much less a final release version.

... and then charge people to play it.

... and then, inexplicably, refuse to allow more than a hundred people to buy your Alpha per day, because your server cluster is an IBM ThinkPad which communicates with the rest of the world via smoke signals blown by a $4.99 desktop fan.

... and then ban people from your forums for pointing out that your game is an Alpha, running on an IBM ThinkPad which communicates with the rest of the world via smoke signals blown by a $4.99 desktop fan.

... and then shut down the forums entirely because your website runs off of a Texas Instruments graphing calculator, which communicates with the rest of the world via smoke signals blown by an old grandma with emphysema.

... and then leave your public relations to a guy with all the charisma and half the common sense of a table leg... who, incidentally, communicates with the rest of the world via lies, bullshit, and grunting noises which roughly translate to "money... GIMME... moneymoneygimmemoney"...

Nevertheless, despite the endless, ENDLESS problems with the release, humanity has disproven natural selection once again by offering up a set of people who seem to be willing to ignore the vast amount of issues inherent in Aventurine and the game itself.  These people continue to trumpet the virtues of Darkfall, determinedly ignoring all of the symptoms of failure, which have done everything but steal their lunch money and bang their mothers.

I am going to pause now for all the brilliant individuals to offer up their own versions of, "GAHUHHH STRAYFE I BET U HAVENT PLAYED THE GAME YET... U CANT SAY NUTHIN HAW HAW HOOGABOOGA"


Right then.  I have not played the game, yet.  Let me tell you something, however, which should be pretty obvious to anyone with brains consisting of anything other than dark matter.  Darkfall Online could be the greatest game ever released.  It could do my dishes for me, single-handedly improve my sex life, spew billions of dollars out of my CD-RW drive, and make me as famous as Paris Hilton, Barack Obama and the guy from Frazier mixed together in a blender and ground out into a fine fame-paste for mass consumption.

There's just one tiny little problem.


All of you who are in the game, bravely taking it in the tailpipe while Aventurine brings the servers down every 30 seconds for "maintenance"?  The joke is on you guys.

I will admit that I was once interested in Darkfall Online.  The features presented were new, innovative, and I am always ready for full loot pvp that's not based in space.  I am still interested in the game itself, but for one minor detail.  Aventurine.

Aventurine is no business.  It's a loose conglomeration of halfwit Jezebels, randomly compiled from the bowels of business college dropouts, and collected in one place for an experiment in just how god-awful a game could be run and still garner interest.

Intelligent gamers... just say no to Aventurine.  MMO companies need to pay the price for their follies, mistakes, and unmitigated disasters.


Mabinogi: Part 2 - From Point A to Point B... Alone

Posted by Strayfe Tuesday March 3 2009 at 1:37PM
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Continuing with my review of Mabinogi...


Last night I had the opportunity to play for an extended period of time.  During this interlude I discovered a couple more things about the game.  Some of these things were good, some were not so good, and some were downright hilariously stupid.

Leading off in this section, I'd like to talk a bit about interaction in the game, both with NPCs and other players.

Each NPC has a menu of various things you can discuss with them, including rumors, personal stories, school and training, skills, and other "keywords" which you pick up along the way.  During the course of your questing and adventures, talking to certain people about certain things may give you a new keyword, which is essentially a new topic of conversation which you can then go around and bug other NPCs about.  As you'll quickly find out, Mabinogi thrives on running from NPC to NPC, chatting it up until you stumble upon someone who tells you something that isn't completely useless.

Wading through the mundane to get to the meat of the matter, however, is as much a source of frustration as anything else in the game.  While the translation in Mabinogi is well above-average for an asian free-to-play game, many NPCs you will chat with say some absurd crap that is entertaining, if nothing else.

I recall one conversation with a lady in a grocery store.  I clicked on her and selected "Personal Story", and I got a lecture about something or other, including this gem:  "Are you implying that this is a grocery store?!"

No, woman, I don't need to imply that.  It says, "Grocery Store" right above your head, it's not my fault you can't read the text above your own head.

Anyway, this is a common thread in the game.  Finding the right NPCs to talk to in the right order may yield you new skills, new books to advance your skills, or perhaps some information that will help you on down the line.

There's one other problem, however.  In Mabinogi, NPCs are shallow, greedy bastards.

Many NPCs will not cough up their most valuable information unless you're 'friends' with them.  Making friends involves capitalism at its finest, requiring you to go purchase gifts from other NPCs, and drag them halfway across the bloody town to give to the offending NPC.

Here's an example.  In the town, Dunbarton, I ran into someone who told me that Aeira at the Library would give me a book on music theory if I made friends with her.  Since I think playing instruments is one of the most interesting features in the game, I naturally jumped at the opportunity.  I went to Aeira, did a couple part time jobs, yakked it up with her, figured I'd give her a gift or two.

Well, it took 7 Poetry Anthologies and 3 Rubix Cubes worth of gifts before this girl would befriend me and cough up her book.  For the uninitiated, that's about 1500 gold worth of gifts, or what was, at the time, about a third of my money.

One could argue that the NPC befriending system brings depth and life to the game.  I would agree if doing so did not involve spending money, which is as scarce as if Mabinogi were affected by the current economic crisis.

A big portion of the money issue derives from the fact that there seems to be absolutely no community, whatsoever.  A quick googling notified me that there is no auction house in Mabinogi and no centralized area to trade with other players.  Economic stimulation is provided in this game through personal shops, which can be opened by players who purchase permits. 

Here's the problem with this approach to economics.  Merchant permits cost money, and apparently allow you to open up the shop for 24 hours.  There is no economic reference point for a new player to use, and thus no way to find out what players will buy and what is in demand, what you should price your items at, or even where you should set up your shop.  For new players then, there is a high chance that the money you spend on a merchant permit will be wasted due to Mabinogi's economic learning curve.

And I'm sure someone will read this and think to themselves, "Well why the hell don't you just ask somebody else?"  Ah ha, the joke is on you, anonymous reader, for I did ask, and plenty of times. 

It was about as effective as a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest.

My sole nod to positive interaction in this game was a guy who randomly opened a trade window with me and gave me a two-handed sword on my first day.  Other than him, I have talked to exactly TWO people the entire time I have played the game.  The first was a naked giant female, who seemed to be having trouble with the same quest that I was (Fuck you, 16-toothed snowman!), despite her glaring lack of clothes, we managed to work through and figure out the quest together. 

The second person who spoke to me was some sort of an Elf riding an ostrich.  Said mounted Elf decided to call me a n00b because I was using a two-handed sword instead of two short swords to slay white wolves south of Tir Chonaill.  Yes, thank you Mr. Twatface, but the sword was a gift and last I heard, this was a sandbox game, and it's MY choice what weapon I want to use.  Go crash your ostrich into a pit.

So then, that's the big problem with the community.  It doesn't exist.  There's no general chat, no tabs for finding guilds, and seemingly no way to communicate with players other than walking up to them and initiating a conversation, hoping they will reply with something other than "STFU n00b".  Granted that's a bit of an exaggeration.  Most people are either named Qfdsfds, and only too happy to tell me about the latest slash of their gold prices, and the cheapest powerleveling anywhere, or else they tend to ignore me completely, as if I were a rather unpleasant relative that they wished would just go away.  Either way, the end result is the same.  Mabinogi is essentially a really complicated single player game which requires an internet connection.

An internet connection and LOTS of free time.  As with most sandbox games, to succeed at all requires abandoning any semblance of a real life.  Admittedly, the game is not a grind, so it does earn points for that, however it quickly loses them again by omitting any sort of a way to speed up travel.  Unless you want to cough up money at the item mall, you are going to be relegated to walking... SLOWLY... across the world map.  Now, I admit that I am far from knowing everything about the game, so I concede that later on, I may get something that makes me run faster, a non item mall mount, a teleporter or some other cool thing, but I'm not there yet, and it's mind numbingly frustrating to trot your slow ass between towns.

So essentially, let me offer you a breakdown of Mabinogi, for the benefit of those who like things wrapped up in a neat little synopsis. 

Mabinogi is a free-to-play sandbox game from Nexon, creators of MapleStory.  Combat is hard as hell, money is impossible to make, the skill system is limited by the leveling system, the leveling system is limited by the fact that you will die so much that you'll spend most of your time in negative experience points, there's no community and nobody to talk to, no easy way to travel and no surefire way to improve your character.  Equipment costs too much and offers little additional benefit, crafting is fun but the items themselves are worse than useless, inventory management is a pain in the ass, customization requires a lot of money, which is again, impossible to obtain.  Traveling takes forever, movement is unintuitive, the camera frequently gets stuck in world geometry, and the sound effects are terrible.


And yet... despite all of this, I find myself wanting to continue playing.  When I stop and try to figure out why, the reason eludes me.  Perhaps it's because the game is different, or because I like a challenge, but even with all the flaws, I'm having fun.  Yes, I wish there was a community with some people to talk to, a reason to group with others occasionally, a decent and reliable way to continue gaining AP, better ways to travel... etc... but in this day and age, I can admire a game that tries to be something other than WoW.  It's unforgiving to the player, which is refreshing, but admittedly takes some getting used to. 

Yes, I'm level 26 and dying to the same mobs that killed me at level 5, and no.. I can't figure out why.  I've played through endgame in lots of other MMOs, have a lot of console gaming and FPS experience, but this game simply kicks my ass.

If you're interested in a unique twist on the sandbox genre, and don't mind a game that is HARD, you could do a lot worse than Mabinogi.  The game has many charming aspects, is translated well, involves more than just the standard kill and fed-ex quests and requires a lot of effort.  If it were possible to find a guild or a few friends to explore some of the other content in the game, and perhaps keep each other from dying every .2 seconds, this game might actually shine.  It's close.  It really wants to be a good game, but it's being held back by a few things that will probably never be tweaked.

My final score for Mabinogi is 7/10.  If I were reviewing the game neutrally, it would probably be closer to 6/10, but I'm giving it an extra point for doing something different than WoW and for managing to captivate my interest, despite all of its flaws.  Don't ask me how, it's an intangible thing, like that plain girl next door who really isn't a model, but is attractive nonetheless, try as you might you probably won't ever figure out why.




Mabinogi: Part 1 - Truly Ah... Er... Unique

Posted by Strayfe Monday March 2 2009 at 6:26PM
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Every once in a great while, I get a wild hair and decide to bang my head against a wall... hard.

I'm talking, of course, about playing a free-to-play MMO.  Disgusted with Darkfall's release, I decided to broaden my horizons by checking out one of those Korean cartoon-graphics games which I steadfastly swore to myself never to set foot in.

Enter, Mabinogi, a game from Nexon, creators of a certain 2D cash cow named MapleStory.

This is a game that will make you stare blankly at your monitor, your eyes glazed over in confusion as you try to figure out what the hell is going on at any given time.

Character creation is amusing in that you can choose between an adolescent, a pre-teen, or a child, automatically vaulting this game into the realm of pedophilia, since, as is the case with most MMOs, one of the first things anyone does is strip their character naked and pine for attention like an overzealous whore on a crowded street corner.

Following the customization of my jailbait, which is semi-involved, though not as much apparently as it could be if I mongered the item mall, I was thrust into a poorly substantiated introduction/training sequence.

In this particular tutorial, which also begged to explain the reason for my sorry existence, a giggly schoolgirl who exists outside of time and space flirted with me, before sending me to the realm of mortals, whereupon I was assailed by a montage of isometric instructional videos which took up 3/4ths of the screen.  These were presented by a young boy with a tin can for a head, and a sword imbued with a half-naked child fairy gifted to me by said young boy.

At this point, I was so confused that someone trying to convince me that the sky was green might have had a reasonable chance of doing so.

The game uses a hybrid skill/level based system which tries very hard to be intuitive and make sense, before ultimately failing.  The game is essentially based on level and your age, as the amount of AP (Ability Points, required for advancing your skills past each "rank") does not go up unless you level, age, or complete certain quests.

What this means is this: You can grind a skill until the cows come home, but if you don't have enough AP to advance it from F rank to E rank (from leveling, aging or doing certain quests), it's not going to become any more powerful, ultimately defeating the purpose of a skill-based system.

Moving on to the game itself.

Mabinogi is a true sandbox.  You're free to pretty much do whatever you feel like.  Passing the various gold farmers, gold spammers and naked children nearby, I made my way into the first town, where I was greeted with a myriad of options.  This IS an area where the game shines.

You can take on standard kill X of Y quests, fetch quests, part time jobs which may require you to farm wheat, collect wool from sheep, eggs from hens, deliver clothes, craft clothes, cook meals and other mundane, but nevertheless useful tasks.

Or you can neglect to take the quests, and go about leveling your skills of choice on your own.  Shear your own wool from the sheep, turn it into thread and then into clothes with the tailoring skill, play music using the instrument skill, cook your own meals, fish, etc... there is never a lack of options, ever.  In fact, if you aren't used to sandbox games, you will probably be overwhelmed by the number of things there is to do.

At some point, however, you will need to kill things, and when that time comes, you had better come prepared with lube and a whole lot of patience, because combat in this game is ruthless and unforgiving.

Blink your eyes while you're fighting, and you die.  Make a mistake while you're fighting, you die.  Move one step too late, you die.  One step too early?  You die.  Die?  You die.  Die, die, die my darling, zippadee doodah DIE NOW!

You may think I'm exaggerating... I'm not.  Mabinogi is the first game I've played where I have actually died in the first 5 levels of the game.  By the time I hit level 10, I had died probably a dozen times, and I was feeling decidedly like a pile of garbage strewn across the floor of a low-rent trailer.

Basically, the problem is this:  Combat unfolds in real time and relies on something of a rock/paper/scissors format.  You've got several options available to you depending on your skills, but the main three are Attack, Smash and Defend.  Attack beats smash, defend beats attack, smash beats defend.  You also have an ability which allows you to see which of the three your opponent is about to use, allowing you to prepare the appropriate defense, IF you are fast enough.

There is also ranged combat and magic later on, both of which I have found require even more precise timing than the melee combat, and do markedly less damage.  At least in my experience.

Anyway, the problem with the combat is, if you are even one step too late, the mob will hit you.  Weak mobs (which are rare), will do close to half your life bar with one hit.  Strong mobs (which are common), will wipe you out if you make even one mistake.  Hard enough for you?  Not even close.  More often than not, the ability that allows you to see the enemy's next move will not activate, forcing you to guess what it's about to do.  If you guess wrong... well, you die.

So, with all the emphasis on combat difficulty, the death penalties must be light or non-existant, right?  BZZT.  Wrong again, Charlie.  Death in this game is a frustrating affair. 

When you bite the dust, you have a couple options for what you want to do.  You can wait for another player to come along and raise you, which benefits them not at all, and thus it never happens.  Obviously this method doesn't work.  You can summon the giggly schoolgirl from the beginning of the game to raise you with minimal penalties, a maximum of three times (recharging at 1 per game day, or every 36 minutes), which you will use up in a hurry.  You can raise at the last town you visited, which eats up a bit of your experience and generally leaves you a long, LONG way from whatever you were doing, and injured (which I will get to later). 

Sadly, the worst option, and usually the one you will be using the most;  You can raise on the spot with 1 HP, badly injured, and take a rather massive hit to your experience points.  Being as you will be in the middle of mobs with 1 HP, naturally using this option requires you to die several times and lose nearly a level of XP before you can escape the maddening mob trap, and amble far enough away to heal yourself.

Which brings me to injuries.  In case it wasn't bad enough that the mobs can pretty much kill you in one hit, if by some miracle you manage to survive, some mobs can inflict injuries on you, essentially reducing your max HP by an amount dependent on the mob, which armor you're wearing, the phase of the moon, what you had for breakfast, and lord knows what else.  This "injury" status lasts until you go back to town and visit the healer, or use the first aid skill in conjunction with bandages a number of times to heal yourself.  If you elect not to do this, your injuries will pretty much mean that, whereas you might have been lucky enough to come out of a fight with 1-2 HP before, now you are dead... again..

This necessitates carrying mass quanitites of bandages on your person at all times, bandages which take up inventory slots.  Inventory slots which are at a massive premium.

Inventory is practically its own little mini-game.  Borrowing the only concept from Diablo that absolutely sucked, you have a grid which represents your inventory, and each item you're carrying takes up a different amount of spaces in it.  Fine, right?  Well, no, not exactly.

You've got stamina potions, mana potions, health potions, food, scrolls, quest items, crafting items, dropped items, equipment of various types, books (which I will get to later), firewood, wool, sketch pads, instruments, tools for crafting, musical scores (if you do music), ammunitions, various weapons, scrolls, berries, branches, doodads, thingamabobs and so many miscellaneous items of dubious usefulness that your inventory could pass for a block sale in a neighborhood full of underaged packrats suffering from OCD.  And the space you have to carry this ensemble of things is extremely, EXTREMELY limited to begin with, and further limited for some interminable reason by Nexon's obtuse game design ideas.

Case in point: Remember the sword imbued with a half-naked child fairy from earlier?  Well, it's not that great, and chances are, you will find something better pretty early on.  Now, in other MMOs, getting rid of the thing would be a simple matter.  Maybe find an auction house, a vendor, or if worse came to worse, just drop the stupid thing, right?  Nuh uh.  Nexon sez, "Can't do that, Johnson."

For whatever ridiculous reason, this utterly useless tutorial sword gets to sit in your inventory for a million years, forever taking up 3 inventory slots, and necessitating furious bouts of impure language whenever you hit a situation where you only need one more slot to pick up that item that just dropped (which happens a lot)

Did I mention that GOLD takes up INVENTORY slots?  Yes, indeed.  Borrowing Diablo's worst game mechanics seems to be part and parcel for Nexon.  This is less of an issue, however, for two reasons: 1) There's a bank for storing money and; 2) Gold is damn hard to come by.

Theoretically the bank also stores items for you, but for some reason, they won't accept musical scores, certain books and that god-AWFUL tutorial sword from hell.

Anyway, I believe I've ranted enough on the inventory thing.  Suffice it to say, you're going to be doing a lot of juggling in the few slots you have, so prepare yourself for it.

I will now offer a bit of insight on books.  Nexon has a book for everything.  Rather than going the tutorial route and simply opening up another isometric video which takes up 3/4ths of my screen, after said intrusion, Nexon begins to explain things to you through books in game.  Each one of these books takes up two god damn inventory slots, sells for nothing, and comes loaded with pages of lore and unfocused ranting sandwiching 1 or 2 useful points.  This is an exercise in tedium, often requiring you to read through 15-20 pages of refuse in order to glean the 1 or 2 useful things the book is designed to teach you in the first place.  Once you're finished, the only manner of disposing of the blasted thing is to drop it where you stand, creating the odd side-effect of walking through town, only to find that the ground looks like a landfill for the Public Library system.  This is further exacerbated by the fact that some books are NOT refuse.  There are some skills that can only be advanced further, not through using them, but through reading the appropriate book.  Thus if you ever decided that you could simply ignore books.... well, think again, as you might miss something you need.

Rounding out Part 1 of this review is the aesthetic component. 

The graphics are an anime-inspired affair, rife with cel shading, vivid colors and personality.  Where I expected to be merely tolerating the graphics, I find that they fit well with what the game is trying to convey.  

The animations are well done, and realistically depict what they are meant to in many cases, however, there are some amusing unintended side effects.  For example, position yourself properly when shearing wool, and you will find your young avatar bending over the sheep for the duration of the action, with a sheep in this thought bubble, only to finish with a... um... hip thrusting... motion... when he finishes.  I quickly scanned my list of skills to see whether or not my bestiality level had risen, but alas, the jury is still out on that one.

There is quite a lot of room to customize your character's appearance.  Different colored robes, garments and outfits, hairstyles, many of which are probably available only through the item mall, some people had pets, still others had mounts.  Other than the robes which seemed to be prevalent in the starting area, I didn't see too many people who looked the same, and it's clear that Nexon gave players ample room to explore their individuality through their avatars.  After all, a sandbox game is silly when it's nothing but clones.  The UI works well for the most part.  One of my biggest gripes is having to reprogram your ability hotkeys every time you log out, but as there are not all that many abilities to worry about (at least not yet), it's tolerable.

Sound-wise, the game is a mixed bag.  While the music is excellent, and probably some of the best I've heard in an MMO, the sounds are bland, uninspiring, generic or simply non-existant.

Part Two to follow soon.