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Beau Hindman's MMO Thoughts

My name is Beau Hindman: a freelance writer, developer, artist, drummer and gamer from Austin, Texas. I've been gaming since '99 and writing about them since 2006! This is my blog about ducks. I mean MMORPGs.

Author: beauhindman

Are older persistent online worlds still worth it?

Posted by beauhindman Saturday September 3 2016 at 11:39AM
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I have been really enjoying my time in EverQuest lately. Does that mean that I will become hopelessly addicted to it? No, but it does point to an interesting characteristic of the genre that people often forget to mention: MMORPGs (or, I am trying to say now, persistent online worlds) are the most bang for your buck in all of gaming.

The reason MMOs can last so long and still be fun (like EverQuest, Merdian 59, Gemtsone IV, or even World of Warcraft which is quite ancient by now) is due to the fact that they are updated frequently by developers and changed constantly by players who change the game world just by being there.

In other words, even an MMO/POW that gets no love can still feel different now than when you first visited it, due to its online status and real human playerbase.

Sure, it's a bit of a stretch to say that a playerbase changes an online world as much as a series of patches do, but the point remains that online worlds are so much like real life because they need real people to be an online world, and those real people can be a great source of constant content. For example, I have returned to EverQuest a few times per year ever since I first played it in 2000. Each time, I find some new bit of patch or world content that I did not find before, but on top of that I find a new person to chat with or to ask questions of.

This time around I am playing on my lowbie troll character who is currently in the area of Crescent Reach. I love newbie areas because they can be a great way to learn about how things have changed. For example, I never get into crafting in EverQuest because it was goofy (I thought) but I participated in a quest to craft a banner and it felt great. I decided to try more of it, and then I met a froggie character who wanted me to show him all of the mounts I had collected over the years.

I would have never had this fun if I had ignored an area in a game that I had played countless times over the years. The fact that there were dozens of new characters (whether they were actually new players or not, I do not know) roaming around the newbie zone showed that the game still attracts people. Heck, EverQuest is even on Steam now, and all is right with the world.

Older games like Ryzom, EVE Online, and others are still great games and are definitely worth it, but only if you try something you have not tried before. If you were a raider and expect to go back to EverQuest to find the exact level of fun that you had 10 years ago, don't be surprised if you get bored quickly or find out that you have no time for raiding anymore -- that's why you left in the first place. Keep in mind that these games are incredible because they do not offer only one activity. If you cannot raid, try crafting. If you cannot craft, try roleplaying. If you cannot roleplay, try meeting new people. Honestly... reach out and meet someone new.

Attend a party. Explore a new area. Organize your inventory. Craft a new cloak and give it to a newbie. These are all things that many of forgot to do when we were so busy doing the main activity that we used to do in these old games.

There's a reason I leave my PC loaded up with old games, sometimes as many as 30 or 40. I simply like loading them up, patching them, and seeing what is new. I often find plenty to do, and I am often surprised that I am having fun all over again.


Why MMORPGs should be called POWs

Posted by beauhindman Wednesday August 31 2016 at 1:14PM
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I have thought so much about MMORPGs over the years that I forget many people have no idea what it means. Normally, I just say "You know, games like World of Warcraft," and they are cool with it. They go "Ahhh, yeah, my cousin plays that," and move on.

I have even blogged about this very topic, suggesting different terms that we can use to describe this genre. After thinking on it since then, I still have trouble with MMORPG and the other terms I suggested.

There are several issues with the term MMORPG:

  1. It sounds nerdy. Sure, I don't care what "outsiders" think, but if the first thing you mention to a potential new player is "MMORPG" and then have to explain what it means, you are doing it wrong.
  2. It's outdated. Like MUD, the term has become connected with an older time. Again, that's fine and I do not care if someone thinks the genre is outdated, but it has now been around for 20 years.
  3. You cannot pronounce it. Do not be that guy at the comic shop who goes "Oh, you play morpaguhs? I do to!" You will sound silly.
  4. It is accurate, but too accurate. The term is not streamlined at all, and is even redundant. I can explain below.

For me, I am going to go with P.O.W. when I describe the games I love, or -- better yet -- I will say "Persistent Online Worlds."

Persistent covers online and multiplayer. If a single player game was persistent, you come back to it and things have changed. While it is possible, (look at State of Decay, for example) when you combine persistent with online (the second word) it takes on the ultimate meaning: a world that does not end when the large numbers of players do.

Online is obvious, but also means multiplayer. You can have a single player online game, but why? As soon as you are online, it is for the sake of playing with others. Sure, you can have an online game that features just you and one other player, but that is not massive enough to qualify for a POW, which is where the third word comes in:

World. This means a place that is world-sized, or at least attempting to be. A lobby-based shooter is not a world, it is a series of rooms that aren't even connected beyond the match. World means size, scope, and flavor.

Try it. Next time someone asks you what you like to play, go MMORPGs. If they look at you like you are growing gum out of your eyeballs, say "Persistent Online Worlds," and they will go "Ahhh, cool!"

I am changing it now. I will use the term now. I love MMORPGs, but have always disliked those 6 letters.

If you are reading this after reading my other discussion on a new term for this genre, forget those other suggestions. This is the one.

It's POW now.



So, when was the Classical era of MMORPGs?

Posted by beauhindman Saturday August 20 2016 at 11:36AM
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I wondered out loud on Twitter the other day, trying to figure out when the era of classically-designed MMOs was, or is. Originally, I called it the "golden age" but as a Facebook buddy said, "golden age" implies a judgment of quality, and I should go with "Classical" or something similar. I agree 100%, but it should be noted I tweeted it while out to dinner and was concentrating more on the idea of a time period of "true" MMO design.

That period means the age when MMORPGs were being released frequently, and they were of "true" design, meaning they featured open worlds that persisted while players were offline, and "truly" massive numbers of online players.

This is not to say that all upcoming or more-recently released MMOs are not "true" MMOs, but instead that there was a time -- I was guessing between, say, 1997 and 2012 -- when MMORPGs were not just being mentioned by the rare mainstream website articles, but when entire websites that were dedicated to the genre existed. This was also an era when developers mentioned old-school designs in their pitches, compared to today when many MMO designers mention more "modern" designs like MOBA-like matches or designed-for-solo content.

We still have some MMO websites, of course, and we still have old-school designers, but if you compare most modern-day bloggers, writers, and websites to their older cousins, you would see a group of people who have to mention non-MMOs due to fear of losing hits compared to the older site writers and bloggers who wouldn't even think about mentioning non-MMO content.

The point is that websites, blogs, and fansites reflect the designs of the hobby. Years ago, I knew scores of people who hosted podcasts and blogs. These days it's down to a handful. My guess is that many of them got their start with World of Warcraft and never really tried to learn about much more than the other games that cost major-league money to make. Because the big $$$ MMOs are mostly a thing of the past, these fans thought (wrongly) that the genre was dead, and moved on.

As the sites and blogs stopped, the designers decided to stop with the classic designs. "No one wants that anymore," they thought. "We have to make a MOBA."

This is not meant as a judgment call, by the way, but as a statement of fact.

So, if the era of the massive-world, massive-playerbase MMO is possibly behind us, when did it stop?

Did it stop with Guild Wars 2TERA, or The Secret World, around 2012?

The Elder Scrolls OnlineArcheAge, and Neverwinter are all great and came out in 2013. But, just compare those release numbers to 2010, or 2009, or 2008!

In fact, we will compare a little bit, thanks to my old Massively partner (and current writer dood for MassivelyOPSyp at BioBreak, who has been keeping a nice list of MMO launches on his blog. While the list is missing many titles, it's a great list. We've had (I skip a few years but go to his page and use the FIND function to highlight launches) :

  • 6 launches in 1996
  • 3 in 1997
  • 13 in 2003
  • 13 in 2011
  • 13 in 2013 (the highest amount in recent years)
  • 8 in 2014
  • 8 to launch in 2016

But also, look at closures:

  • 1 in 2002
  • 1 in 2003
  • 1 in 2004
  • 1 in 2006
  • 5 in 2009
  • 8 in 2012
  • 5 in 2016 (so far)

**Syp does mention that he is leaving out "every piddly MMO on the planet or most MUDs/MUSHs/MOOs. I also stuck mostly to MMORPGs (i.e. few MMO sports games, no MOBAs, little limited multiplayer)," which is understandable, but still illustrates how MMO discussions need to become more inclusive.**

Someone posted a comment about games like GemStone IV, the awesome MUD, that has been going for a long, long, time and is still tweaking itself to be more modern like offering a free-to-play, browser-based version. I've covered GemStone IV many times, and it should always be considered in conversations about MMOs. Still, Syp works for a living and doesn't have a bajillion hours to sit around collecting information, and his chart still shows us a pattern.

Perhaps the "Classical" era stopped when MOBAs really and truly caught on, signalling the next "big thing" in multiplayer design? (League of Legends, described as a "MOBA" first, was launched in 2009.)

It's hard to say, but I am attempting to narrow it down in preparation for a book I am writing. Again, I am not meaning to pass judgement on indie and major-label MMOs that have yet to be released, as I have not played those yet, but many of the ones coming up look more to be instanced-based fighting games rather than open world exploration-fests.

This is also not an attempt to declare the end of the older and more-open MMOs that still attract me, games like EverQuestUltima Online, or Ryzom. Many of these games will remain for many more years, and why not? Some MUDs have been open for nearly 30 years, and remain vibrant!

As I have predicted in the past, mobile will take over, and it is showing signs of doing just that. As I used to love to say: "Ask a tween what they play games on, and I'll bet probably 10% say 'A computer.'" Whether we older gamers agree with their tastes doesn't matter; they are the next wave.

I have also predicted that "classic" MMO design will die out as computers go and mobile gaming invade everything, but the recent massive success of Pokemon Go! shows what I mean when I have described a "hybrid" future MMO: an MMO that takes advantage of the sheer number of mobile players, using mobile tech that is portable and powerful.

Imagine playing a Pokemon Go!-style game, but instead of catching monsters, you find treasure, fight enemies, and claim territory in real time, in the real world! MMOs will have had their "classic" period as I have been describing, then will usher in a period of "massive, MASSIVELY" player games as the real world and mobile meets classical design.

I'm excited, but more than that I am happy to get closer to categorizing this wonderful period of design!



Are Social MMOs More Than Chat Rooms?

Posted by beauhindman Monday August 15 2016 at 2:04PM
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As part of a recent research bender, I have been playing through my past history of MMOs. I forgot how much social MMOs had shaped my gaming habits! Before I ever attempted a raid or long-winded questline, I was chatting with other people inside social MMOs, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. In looking at my account histories, I see that There, the social MMO, was my main game for a while before I joined up withSecond Life. Before the pair of those, I played Ultima Online and EverQuest.

If I look back even further, (I started with MMOs in 2000) I can remember the chat rooms of the later 90s. Chat rooms were all the rage then, and I remember my friend telling me how she would stay up all night, pack of smokes and a soda pop at her side, chatting with people. I thought it sounded ridiculous. Not so long after, she hosted a get together and I found myself on her computer (after everyone attempted to go to sleep) chatting with a batch of strangers about who-knows-what. I was so intrigued!

Now that I think about it, the early foundation for my love of MMOs was set, thanks to those 90s chat rooms. It still feels miraculous that I can log into a game and talk with gamers from all over the world. Just last night (at the time of this writing) I loaded There to join a 50s dance party. I ended up chatting, dancing, and finally exploring the landscape to find a giant skating bowl, which I then put to good use.

At its center, every MMORPG is a chat room. Chatting and socializing is the core of the genre; without it you avoid the pure definition of MMORPG. Whether we like it or not, Guild Wars 2 is the same thing as There or any 90s chat room.

So, where are the distinctions between MMOs drawn? Simply put, in the activities. There is not just a chat room, after all, as I illustrated with my reference to skating above. Second LifeHabbo HotelIMVU, and others all offer other things to do while chatting like roleplay, decorating, paintball, art shows, or building. In this way, social MMOs still share a lot in common with standard MMOs. Compare a social MMO’s party hosting to an epic raid in a standard MMO, and you can see that the one true distinguishing characteristic is only in the possible skill level required to participate in the activity.

So, both social and standard MMOs have social aspects and more challenging aspects, but are different in the way they ask players to challenge themselves. It’s not necessarily “easier” to maintain a lovely social presence than it is to host a raid of 10 people on a Friday night, but it draws from a more common, more accessible skillset. Perhaps what draws me to social MMOs is the way they are open to almost anyone. Simply bring your ability to chat and participate in a conversation, and you too can become a social hero!

Some social MMOs literally encourage social-skills-as-game by introducing incentives to hosting parties or helping others. There is a brilliant MMO because it has “levels” to skills like “Renowned Event Host”, “Expert Fashionista”, or “Renowned Socializer” that are earned in different ways. Even basic chat rooms can reward frequent chatters with moderator abilities, special titles, or colored text. On top of that, many chat rooms and social MMOs live over years and years, and their players maintain long, winding backstories for themselves or their “character.” MUDs, which are almost a purely-balanced combination of social game and combat mechanics, often tout some of the oldest MMO player characters in the world. I have read stories of players who have 25-year-old characters and are still going strong! What do you think is more important to these players… their long history in the game world, or their epic gear?

I’d say that a social MMO is as important or effective to a social MMO fan as a combat-based MMO is to someone else. For many, socializing, meeting new people, hanging out, and decoration are closer to an expression of their true selves than they find in a combat MMO. Perhaps that is why many social MMOs are often filled with people who build a duplicate of themselves instead of a character they fantasize of becoming. I almost always name my characters after myself, and I try to make that virtual character literally me, if I am allowed to. In a way, that character is the equivalent of a Facebook or Twitter profile, and serves as a representative of me, instead of a more heroic, muscular, or skilled version of someone else that I simply control. My social MMO characters have my same quirks and shortcomings. When I meet other social MMO fans inside a game like There, I am interested in the person behind the avatar more than the avatar’s in-world skills.

So, are social MMOs more than glorified chat rooms? Yes, of course. Chat itself is more than just chatting, and can lead to roleplay, informational exchange, and anything else that chatters have the imagination for creating. To be literal, social MMOs would be better described as virtual places or worlds, or electronic societies.

Despite what some people seem to think, MMOs are not going anywhere, and it’s very likely that one day we will all play and maybe even work inside a virtual world. Once internet speeds and machines become more robust, and technologies more standard, perhaps everyone can easily log in to a virtual version of themselves to do virtual work that has very real consequences. Just look at how commonplace and integrated Facebook has become… it’s only a matter of time until your online profile becomes an avatar walking around in a glorified chat room.


How primitive graphics can become timeless graphics

Posted by beauhindman Saturday August 6 2016 at 11:11AM
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If you have ever heard of the Uncanny Valley, you know what happens when you play a game that is slightly dated, perhaps by 6 or 7 years, or when you watch a fantastic-looking game trailer that looks realistic, but does not feel realistic.

According to wikipedia:

"In aesthetics the uncanny valley is the hypothesis that human replicas that appear almost but not exactly like real human beings elicits feelings of eeriness and revulsion among some observers."

In other words, amazing graphics can only do so much, for now. When they try too hard they tend to bring you out of your immersion, and into distraction. Some of my favorite MMOs and other games avoid this by using primitive or stylized graphics. Some of my favorites are: Guild Wars 2ThereWorld of WarcraftRyzom,Ultima OnlineWildStarStarbound, or FireFall.

Stylized generally means more cartoony, exaggerated, or enlarged:

Primitive would mean low-bit or representative graphics, like this:

These type of graphics can last longer without aging as poorly as others because they are not trying to mimic anything but the game designer's own ideas and colors. When we play these games, we know they are not real, but we have very real interactions with the items the graphics represent. We can still lose ourselves in these games, even with the non-realistic graphics.

I have played many games that I thought looked amazing at the time, but then played later and laughed at how yucky they look. (Check out Morrowind if you haven't in a while.) Even though I think graphics will continue to be pushed into more and more realistic areas, judging a game only on its graphics is not fair.

Funny fact: I would say that the only really distracting issue that pops up when I am playing an older game (say, There the MMO) is the lack of anti-aliasing, or smoother graphical edges. More than anything, seeing that jagged edge on people or trees will bother more than the fact that the characters and environment look like they were made in the early 2000s (which they were.)

Games with rougher graphics have a sense of charm that is more powerful and less distracting than a game that attempts to look realistic when it is obviously not. Why try to mimic nature, when you can just re-invent a brand new nature, one that features bright-pink trees, massive golden twin suns, or creatures that have never existed before?

The graphics race will continue to be spurred on by the fact that many popular games (like console shooters, for example) have to keep up with the latest trends in graphics, like more realistic lighting or better blood spatter technology, because the game designers have locked themselves into that cycle. When you design a game to look realistic, you have to make each new version more more realistic than the last.

I am glad my tastes tends towards the more primitive. My wallet could not handle it otherwise!


How can we preserve MMORPGs forever?

Posted by beauhindman Friday July 29 2016 at 12:27PM
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If you know what a doomsday prepper is, then you might understand what I am talking about in this blog. If you don't, a prepper is someone who is convinced that the world is going to some kind of end sometime soon, and so they prepare for this apocalypse by hoarding food, medical supplies, and weapons all in the hope that, one glorious dark day, we will look at them and say "You were SO right."

There is more involved to a prepper's feelings, however. If you ask me, they are acting in a way that gives them a sense of control. Sure, it can be a false sense of control, but it makes them feel better to think they have everything accounted for.

I feel the same way (in a healthier fashion) about the memories and stories of my life. They're not exciting -- mostly -- but they are mine, and so I get a sense of control over my fate when I work on this blog or my virtual timeline, which helps to send images, words, sounds, and ideas into the greater universe. Basically, I am preparing for my end-times by cataloging my life. It's a false sense of security (will these words be around in even 1,000 years?) but it is fun to do.

I also think about preserving MMORPGs for the same reason. They are works of art, and need to have a place in the history books beyond a few vague mentions about "virtual worlds." I do not think that MMORPGs are going away any time soon, but I do think that a certain era has passed, an era of innocent exploration into worlds that we an play in, and worlds that are largely based around an aging medium: the desktop PC.

How could we preserve virtual worlds, literally?

Without the aid of the developer of these worlds, this is hard to do. Because an MMORPG depends on a server that is hosted outside of the game, once the server goes offline, much of what the game is, is gone

It's important to catalog the images, sounds, videos, and words about these worlds, so that one day someone can admire them like we now admire old paintings from the days of the Greeks or dramas from 1820. 

Some MMORPGs are being accessed long after their last official servers shut down thanks to illegal (or near illegal) fan-hosted servers, but wouldn't it be awesome if someone like myself could load up a cheap gaming system with, say, 50 MMORPGs, and be able to emulate a server so someone could access those games for many years to come?

Of course, even the machines themselves would break down, but ones and zeros can be transferred to a new machine, over and over, without any loss to the basic information. 

In the meanwhile, I am going to continue to work on my goal of eventually printing out all of my images and words about these games so that we could have a hard copy or two that would not need a battery pack to continue to live.

Maybe the answer to the riddle of MMORPG preservation is based in the oldest of media: the page. 


Is Pokemon Go! an MMORPG?

Posted by beauhindman Friday July 29 2016 at 10:20AM
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Before I begin to attack the question in the title of this blog, I'd like to define what I -- and many others -- think MMORPG stands for. Yes, it stands for "Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game" but I think it's easier to say that it stands for a game that allows players to gather together, potentially with scores or hundreds of other players, in a real-time environment that continues evolving even when the player leaves the game.

This means that I open a game, sign in, and control an online version of myself in a world that plays out in real time, with other players.

Please note that the definition does not speak about the type of device you play on, or what sort of interactions you have with other players.

That would mean that while World of Warcraft is an MMO, instanced-battle-based games are generally not because they lack that massive-world interaction, in real time. Sure, we can get complicated and technical and find that all sorts of games are MMORPGs, but we don't need to; the definition already allows for many different types of games.

Say, for example, the game Tribal Wars 2 by very successful browser and mobile-based developer Innogames: yes, it's in a browser, but that does not disqualify it as an MMO. It has an open world (one giant map) and each player's city counts as that player's "avatar", albeit one that does not move much. It can grow, interact with other players in real time, and the world continues to go on when the player leaves the game.

Players interacting in Tribal Wars 2

Some MMO fans seem to have an issue with Pokemon Go! because it seems much too simple and not MMO-like at all (then again, MMO players remain some of the grumpiest and oldest players in gaming) but they need to stop to consider just how wonderfully MMO it is and should try and encourage new design.

Pokemon Go! happens in real-time, in a real environment (can't be more real than real!) and the players can interact. The world goes on without the player in it.

I have been playing MMORPGs since 2000, and I have noticed just how eager many players are to dismiss a game simply because it is not their idea of fun, or their idea of an MMO. This has led to a funneled approach to development, leaving many MMO developers with limited design options for fear of players leaving the game for more MMO-like pastures. MMORPGs are also very expensive to make, and very expensive to maintain.

Pokemon Go! is an MMO, no doubt, and has shown to be more interactive and more popular that the almost dreadful game Ingress that it is based on. I see the players who grump about how bad it is that players are staring at their cell phones all day (while getting exercise! God forbid!) but I remember that grumpiness has never stopped progress. This is good, because as I have predicted over the years, the MMO will stop being all about many hours-long sessions while sitting behind a PC, and will morph into games that follow anywhere we go, thanks to the pocket computers many of us now have.

What is my preference? Do I prefer a game that is more like World of Warcraft or RIFT, in both scale and execution? Yes, I do. In fact I wish all games were massive worlds where we could interact together in.

But, that does not stop me from enjoying new attempts at re-defining multiplayer gaming. The mobile world has been growing for years, so it's no surprise that if you ask a younger player what they play games on -- PC or a mobile device -- they will look at you and ask:

"What's a PC?"

Pokemon Go! is an MMORPG by all definitions. I can't wait to see what the game attempts to do!


Now THAT was a helluva lot of fun, Firefall

Posted by beauhindman Tuesday December 9 2014 at 4:21PM
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Live events are just not something we see much of anymore. When I first played MMOs (starting in 1999) it seemed as though you would see a GM or developer interacting with players all the time. If not, you at least saw wonderful semi-scripted (and loosely controlled) events that were put on by the game-makers. I remember the “old man” from Ryzom, the visiting king from Ultima… relics of gaming’s past?

I’m not so sure. There are indie titles and MUDs that continue the live event tradition, but so many developers are afraid of angering any player -- at all -- that they would rather go for safe, scripted events that offer everyone an equal chance at a prize or title than risk a live event that is timed, and only able to catch those players who could log in. It all feels like modern childhood events where all players get a standardized “You participated! Good work!” prize. But, instead of something designed to boost the self-esteem of all involved, the more modern MMO live event feels redundant. Why play fair inside a virtual world? Why does everyone get an equal chance at something that might represent a chaotic attack? That’s like two levels of “fair for all.” Great in real life, not so neat in a videogame.

Anyway, I truly enjoy events that seem to alter the world they occur in. Firefall is a great game for live events because the layout of the land is so ripe with potential for hiding, running, jumping, exploring, picking off bad guys… due to the fact that the game relies on height as much as width, if not more. The in-game landscape is populated by massive buildings on stilts, cliffs and other great big things that are perfect for anything from aerial assaults to close quarters mayhem.

Recently, developers Red 5 Studios kicked off a live event and told players to defend massive towers from enemy invasion. Sure, it sounded similar to past live events, but that doesn’t mean this one was any less fun. The idea is that the Chosen, the main baddies in game, have taken over key towers. They have also erected protective fields that can be taken down only if players activate and defend 3 smaller towers that surround the main target. And, oh yeah, there will be dev-controlled “Super Chosen” peppered throughout. I am not sure if I came across one or not; it was pretty nutso in there.

What tended to happen is that players spread out, thinned their numbers and then died a whole bunch until they learned to work together against the waves of enemies. It’s a similar mechanic to the rifts you’ll find in RIFT or arkfalls in Defiance or in other MMOs that feature “drop in” content, but in Firefall it feels more urgent and frenetic. The fact that the game is not only a shooter but also a shooter that relies on vertical spaces makes it so dynamic and much more “realistic.” (That is, if you know what it feels like inside a laser beam fight against monsters.)

I play a sort of medium-ranged sniper fella, so I would usually go straight towards the enemy, use my stealth ability and then suddenly jaunt to the side, finding a nice spot to shoot from. More often than not it would come down to me and a half a dozen other players in a group, and I loved seeing all of us come together almost subconsciously as we learned how to break the enemy’s concentration. Even then, the enemy would break off a few melee character and would send them after me. If I wasn’t careful I would wind up getting hit by some nasty characters because I wouldn’t look up from my scope.

Every character has a sort of “mega power” that can be released every once in a long while, and mine is a bombardment type of deal; I lay down a marker and a few seconds later the area is peppered by deadly incoming bomb thingies. I usually save it for when the enemy became especially tight, then I would hit stealth, run into the middle of them and set the thing off. I got so many achievements for murdering groups of NPCs at once. (As I type this, it occurs to me that I might be able to throw or launch the marker, avoiding direct contact with the enemy. I’ll check that next time I log in.)

We took over all three smaller towers eventually, clipped off the shield from the center target and rushed in. Luckily by then my mega-power had recharged and I blasted the nest of enemies to valhalla. I literally clapped in excitement when we took the objective back from the grody hands of the enemy.

As if that wasn’t enough, a developer named Slippy or Snippy or something similar charged in, taunting players as he went. When I eventually found him, there were dozens of players attempting to kill him. If you were a particularly good player, the GM would taunt you specifically, telling the other players how much they sucked. Finally, we brought him down and then I noticed that I received an achievement for being logged into the event for an hour. I got a cool title, a neato pet and some other stuff. On top of that, I leveled twice and had an inventory filled with deadly shinies.

I was a bit chuffed (but only a bit) when I found out that there would be no special prize or title received for helping to down a dev. The website said something like “Because we will probably not be able to visit every server, there will be no special prize or title for killing a dev.” I understand the reasoning, but I felt a little burned by it. Was it more important to burn those who were left out or burn those who participated?

Still, I didn’t lose any sleep over my lack of special “Dev Killa’” badge. In fact, I have some awesome screenshots and video (although the in-game capture results in some sort of weird video file that I do not know what to do with) to remember the event by. It was incredible fun.

Unfortunately, players seemed to lose interest once they defeated the towers. I logged in the next day and -- although it might have been the time of day -- no one seemed to care. I felt like screaming “But, the enemy! They’re back! C’MON!!” to the entire server, instead I just got myself killed over and over while trying to save humanity.

I know I will not see many true live events in mainstream MMOs for, well, forever. Events like the one in Firefall are not so much live as they are generally scripted activities, but luckily the wonderfully chaotic gameplay of Firefall adds spice to almost any event. Would I like to see more developers log in as a character, even if just to roleplay with players?

Yes, yes I would.

In the meanwhile, I’ll settle for my participation ribbon. And I still had a ton of fun.


MMORPGs that never really captured my attention

Posted by beauhindman Wednesday December 3 2014 at 11:55AM
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Hello again, readers!

This week I’d like to point to a few MMOs that have always sat on my hard drive, but barely get enough attention to register in my mind. I always take a few hours during each week to update all of the titles I currently have sitting in my games folder, and these titles almost always make me raise an eyebrow... and then I continue on to play something else.

It’s not really the game’s fault. I mean, sure, we can blame my lack of attraction on the games because they do not have what it takes to attract my particular self, but they are good games and seem to be perfectly capable of attracting plenty of other people. So, why don’t they work on me? I decided to give each another quick visit to see if I can sum up my gut reactions. I also hope to grow a relationship of more substance with these games, because in the end they really do offer some quality fun. (I'm guessing.)


Guild Wars 2


This will surprise many of you but I didn’t particularly like Guild Wars 2. Don’t like, I guess I should say, because when I log in these days I can only stay in for a half an hour without logging out. I can’t figure it out. I made an adorable character, have made it to level 11 or so, and enjoy running around exploring. I think this one comes down to 2 main issues.


  1. The camera controls are…. spongy. Hard to explain.

  2. The environments and world and UI are all very busy. There’s something about both of them that just make my old gamer eyes uncomfortable.


OK, so those are some very specific, odd reasons. Still, it’s the truth. So the pop-up quests and instant action are a bit tired as well, but when I take a few hours to slow down, allow my eyes to get used to the particularly odd color pallette of the world, I do enjoy the game. Richie Procopio, a fellow writer and friend suggested that at my level and obvious non-real-interest in the game, I should just explore and find some adventure and enjoy the ride. Funny, because I am usually the guy who tells people to do that with MMORPGs, but he was right. After I took some time to learn what my backstory was and to talk to some other players, I had a lot of fun. I even made my way to Lion’s Arch and started exploring there. The game looks amazing, so I will make it a point to log in more.


Star Wars the Old Republic


This is an easy one. The game never interested me because the combat was… so… borrrriingggg. Oh man I was never so disappointed until I logged into SWTOR, worked through a couple cut-scenes, marvelled at the wonderful, stylized graphics only to be told “Go out and grind on some lame mobs.” I almost cried. I left the game and only half-watched my wife play until she grew bored.

The game is good, I think, for those people who travel with others more than I do. My travelling ego rarely stops for too long in one game (although I do make my way back around to many different games, so much so that I have high-levels in several) so I can understand that a game that is good for groups might not be great for me, but I mean… this was Star Wars! I should have been drooling just to play another Star Wars game.

One of the main issues I had with the game was its inability to run smoothly, even on my gaming PC that normally ran all of the latest and greatest games on max or high settings. I simply could not get SWTOR to stop hitching! It reminded me of the old Vanguard days, back when performance was a real, real issue, but this was a modern game from a modern company and on a modern gaming PC. It drove me nuts.

Then I look at some YouTube cut-scene video and it makes me cry. I want to join in on that fun, I want to have a starship and a crew and a companion and make my character slightly evil and wounded and scarred and a bounty hunter who is tiny but feared and…

I’ll try SWTOR again. In fact, I am patching it now. Like I said, I love its looks and its potential. I wonder what I need to do to make it shine?


The Secret World


I can easily tell you what I do not like about The Secret World. It’s not the out-there lore. I like the lore for the most part and I like the strange graphics. I dig the gothy setting and would love to get in on some fun roleplay. I also love the modern setting and quirky references to pop culture. While I am not a huge fan of the Whedon-esque “everyone is a smart-alec” type of dialogue, I do enjoy the fact that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. I also like its supposed connection to The Longest Journey, whatever it is.

What do I not like about The Secret World? The combat. Take away the combat. Leave a game with the mysteries, the socializing, and the setting but delete that noisy, boring and mostly overly-complicated combat stat system. Sure, you can make your character use any weapon and magic and all that stuff, but it’s all so noisy and repetitive and BLECH.

The combat (in my experience, of course) interrupts the fun. I might log in, get a call from some NPC, go meet the NPC, get involved in a cool conversational cut-scene about some dark secret that I have to literally use an in-game browser to solve, get sent on my way and then have to fight batches of baddies using the same action OVER AND OVER AND OVER. It’s as though the game grabs you, sits you down and says"

“Look, this game has some serious lore meat on its bones. It’s good stuff. Well, the sex stuff is cheesy as hell, but the rest is good, gothy fun. You’re going to want to explore that part of the game. I get that. But, see, we needed to put something in this game to give those hardcore burners something to do. We needed to slow them down. So, yeah, go kill a crap-ton of zombies, please? And, oh yeah… use this lame weapon and ability.”


I cried.


There are more games like this out there, odd games that just felt awkward and sluggish and bulky and slow. Games like FFXIV (do not get me started on the epic journey just to install that one!) But, I will try and revisit the ones I listed. Perhaps I will find something I missed? I hope so, because they are all obviously made very well, with love.


Another week in the life of an MMO explorer

Posted by beauhindman Monday November 24 2014 at 12:00AM
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OK, so another week or so has passed us by and, as usual, I spent much of that week working. Working. Working. I have answered so many emails, in-game-messages and PMs about game mechanics, concerns and other MMO-related things that my eyes are blurring. Luckily I can take a break in as many virtual worlds as I have time for. And I do. I spend a ton of time crossing through many different worlds.

Here’s where I (mostly) went and what I felt when I went there.

Star Stable is a horsey MMO. Yes, an MMO that is all about horsies. If you like horsies, you’ll probably like this MMO. As a matter of fact, I consider the horsies in this “kid’s” MMO to be some of the best I have ever played with. You have to take care of them and customize them. If you stop caring for them you are not only a real jerk but the mount will stop performing as well. Turns and jumps won’t work as well, basically. And you’ll still be a jerk.

The MMO is based on a single-player game and you’ll often feel like you are playing in a single-player game while playing Star Stable. That’s not a bad thing, really, because from the beginning you will understand that the point of the game is to play through a very linear storyline. There are side quests and activities like racing or socializing, but the central story is so fun and the characters are so goofy that it’s easy to see how a player burns through all of the content quickly.


I just did a quest that had me find Big Bonnie (who was not particularly large) so I could drag her back to the clock tower that she broke. Well, I found her in a farmer’s silo where she had been living for years (yes, inside a silo) and was surprised to see that her non-stop diet of potatoes and isolation had made her very… interesting. Still, her story was a sad bit of information and I finally snuck her back to the village so she could make up for her past mistakes. Her plan was to hide in a sack so I could take her to her house. She ran into the house and came out…. in a mask of someone else. I love Big Bonnie.

Firefall is one of those MMOs that just sucks me in as soon as I log in. Granted, shooters tend to do this, games like PlanetSide 2 or Defiance, and a lot of that must be due to their instant-on action options. Firefall offers the same open-world, “pop-up” adventure you’ll find in those other two but it keeps everything really, really fresh. For one thing, the developers are working with characters that use jetpacks a lot. That means the game is very vertical. This height gives the game a great chance to open up like I haven’t really seen in an MMO before.

Recently the developers patched the game to include an invasion of the Melded, the in-game usual baddies. Basically there are three towers surrounding a larger tower. Players have to activate each of the smaller towers to lower the shield on the middle tower. Once the shield is lowered, players run in and try to destroy the source of the Melder’s power. Or something like that.

Fighting in Firefall is fun just how it is, but when you add a simple goal -- defend those three towers so you can destroy the one in the middle -- it becomes addictive. I could have easily killed an entire evening with the tower scenario, but my arms really started to hurt after a while. Shooters get me every time!


The great thing is that all of this content is open to anyone. Sure, newer players could be knocked out or might not perform as well as “older” players, but within the time I played that tower (and beat the enemy, by the way) I found several new friends and joined a group of players in a guild (army.) On top of all of this, Firefall is an amazing looking game.

Galaxy on Fire: Alliances is a neat mobile game with amazing, smooth graphics and interesting -- if not a bit unoriginal -- gameplay. The game offers a fantastic tutorial that suddenly becomes a hassle when it drops all of the helpful arrows and directions… and at a point when you actually need them!

Luckily for me I remembered a game with a similar set of mechanics and was able to get through the slower portion of the tutorial, but then the game goes on to ask you to join a group of players (an alliance) in order to progress in the tutorial. I put in several applications with many alliances but all of them had 7 or fewer players. Needless to say, I gave up my search and just kept playing. The game is so well made and it flows so nicely on my 8-inch Galaxy tab that I found myself opening it just to play with the pretty pixels. A battle report that is normally a bland wall of text in other MMORTS’ becomes literally an animated battle in Galaxy on Fire: Alliances. Sure, after you see the animated battle for the fourth time you skip the next one, but it’s a nifty twist.

What Galaxy on Fire: Alliances needs is more players. It might be the server I am on (if that’s even a thing) but the lack of a “world” chat and the empty spaces make for a lonely experience. Still, it’s very well made and lovely to play.

Second Life is still a great game -- er, world -- to play in. If you think the long-running experience is nothing but sex dolls and furries, then you were never exposed to the rest of Second Life. I tend to skip right over those sex-seekers (no one denies they exist, but the tools to avoid them are very easy to use) and go for the good stuff: the art galleries, the poetry readings, the amazing builds, the live music sessions and, yes, the parties. I haven’t really been to a party in Second Life in a long time, but one of my freelance employers was hosting a party and asked us all to go.

I have to say that going to a party in Second Life brought back many late-night memories. My account goes all the way back to 2004, and for many years I would hang out with virtual friends while building stuff or while seeing how bad we could make our avatars look! I look back on those 3 AM sessions and smile; the world of Second Life is still a blast to meet and discuss in.

Of course, this was a party I attended so we ended up attaching old items to our avatars (I found an intertube to go with my bear outfit) and listening to each other on voice chat. Second Life has changed in many ways over the years but at its core it is the same. It’s still just a cool experience that is often tainted in the media by stories of virtual sex. If you’re into that stuff, go for it, but I wish sites would cover the art and creative part of Second Life just as much.

The hightlight of my night in Second Life was hearing one of the players almost choke because she was laughing so hard. The almost choking part was bad, but she was laughing so hard that I couldn’t stop either! Perhaps the party best explains why Second Life is still ongoing and seemingly popular. Socializing, laughing with friends, getting into heated political discussions, building and exploring together; Second Life does all of these wonderfully.

OK. On to another week.