Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Overactive Imagination

Yesterday Shannon told me she had "badish" news. Turns out she needs a new chair. Nothings wrong with the old one, it's just not good for her back. This only rates as "badish" due to well... money.

"So what?" you may ask. I agree, it's a little detail. However, at the time Shannon took forever to tell me this "badish" news. There were tangents and then quibbles over how bad it really was. I didn't care, I just wanted to know. My mind was coming up with all the horrible scenarios it could. Is it really not bad or is it in fact a whole lot worse than advertised?

Not knowing is the worst thing. When you know what a problem is there at least exists the possibility of planning for it, facing it or running away like a little girl.

Not knowing in an MMO context is also powerful. I didn't know much of Cryptics plans for Star Trek bar that it was Cryptic and my mind ran away with the possibilities. It was also proven right (sadly) in many of them. I don't know a whole lot about The Secret World beyond that I want it and again, my mind is dancing with what may be.

However recently I've noticed fewer games doing that to me, at least in an online context. C&C 4? I'm thrilled. WoW Cataclysm? Meh. Despite what it could mean for the genre. Sword of the Stars 2? Woo! Allods? I haven't a clue what that's all about. Am I getting crankier and more insular as I get older? Am I more concerned about solo or casual experiences where I can do my own thing despite all the friends and connections I've made through MMOs?

Or is it simply there's not enough wonder in the genre at the moment? Of course everyone's taste is different. What has me fascinated by The Secret World may not work for someone else and they'll instead be salivating over FF14. When I first saw online games, they were mysterious things to me. Ireland was way behind the times as far as online connectivity went. These persistent worlds where anything could happen seemed like a little slice of gaming nirvana, Christmas and my birthday all in one package that I'd get every day.
Now though when people are looking at games it seems to either be "This is <X Game> with features lifted from <Y & Z with some poorly done -i>"  or "This is <A Studio>'s 2nd/3rd/4th/5th MMO with <overdone or rather rubbish signature trademark>".

Right now The Secret World is giving me what Warhammer gave me, what Warhammer 40k will give me and what my other games did. It is giving my mind something to run away with. To imagine the vistas that lay before me, even if the reality is somewhat lacking in the end. I will always treasure the run up to Warhammer for the excitement of the time and the bloggers I met.

It may turn out that The Secret World suffers, or has a bad launch (seriously Funcom, prove people wrong this time), or is simply crap. Either way for now I'm 16 again, seeing those unspoiled unknown worlds laid before me and happy with what may be.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Games are Competitions.

A little under 13 months ago I paid a visit to my old Primary school (that's Elementary for most of you). I needed my Confirmation certificate from the Church parish and they share links. During the visit, Shannon and I wandered through the yard and into the school so I could show her where I was educated as a wee boy. On the way back out and over to the Church we were surrounded by boys from 4-12 years old.
Kids were screaming happily, some were chasing one another, others were playing marbles; more still were playing games that I couldn't begin to guess at. It was chaos, but it was happy chaos.
Shannon, as far as I recall, asked me how anyone makes any sense out of the games and what was going on. The only answer I could give was that it makes sense to the kids at the time.

They knew if they were racing and against whom. They knew whatever the latest iterations of schoolyard marbles rules were. They knew the rules of this chasing game, that hide and seek game and of all the other games that were lost on me, having grown up and no longer being the sort of person to play in a schoolyard and the type of person who thought a half hour was an eternity in which to have fun.

That's not entirely true though if I play MMOs. They are the playground I long for when I am working. Not to the exclusion of life of course, but while the schoolyard was a small slice of Heaven when you were in classes, MMOs are my escapism from work.

Why the personal anecdote? Well Seph and I, you may know him or just recognise the name from the previous post, occasionally take part in that great past time of all MMO players. Armchair developer. We toss around ideas and of course, ideal game designs that may or may not ever see the light of day. In doing so I've begun to think about combat and competition.

Take Star Trek for a moment, it appears to be and is reported as having precious little but combat and FedEx missions (with the occasional memory game in lieu of diplomacy). Even so, it launched properly yesterday and likely by the end of the week we'll see it reported that someone has reached the skill/level cap. There'll be those that complain that the Rear Admiral blew through content and lessened the game for themselves by rushing. There'll be those who take any utterance from the cap as gold and proclaim that there are either greener pastures or desolate wastelands awaiting everyone if they get past the next arbitrary level. In the end though, one thing is apparent. He wasn't playing the same game as you. Oh, you may both be in Star Trek, but he was racing while you're playing chasing with Klingons or marbles with supply missions. If the game doesn't lend itself to a schoolyard though, we've a problem.

Most "games" are about competition. Who is the fastest, the strongest, the richest, the most skilled, the most adorned or adored? Healthy competition is good, but of course there will always be cheaters or those who suffer a lack of ability in certain areas. Competition can equate to combat, but it has to be combat in all areas. Financial, physical, social. Sandbox worlds do call back to our childhood where you could race in the yard today and chase or be chased tomorrow. Where the game was what you felt like doing and took pleasure from, even if no one else in the screaming mob was necessarily playing the same game with you or at all. The games we play need to promote the competition in all its forms and be flexible in the rule set.

Further to this, I think GMs should get more chances to interact. If not them, then there should be more dedicated community teams. Someone needs to police the schoolyard and it always falls to volunteer parents where I am. They keep an eye and solve the disputes. The cheating, the fighting, the scraped knee from a fall; all these fall under their remit. GMs should walk amongst us as giants and have a chance to see the community live instead of just deal with our broken moments.

Finally though, we all learn to play our games as children. Maybe some of you now prefer a more cerebral approach to entertainment. Others will enjoy the mindless grind or chaotic nonsensical battle. No matter how you prefer to be entertained, you want to be entertained. The competitions that our games inspire should be nurtured and promoted. When I played Planetside, I played an Infiltration Armour character. I didn't play to win the war for the Vanu every day. I didn't even necessarily follow the flow of the battle most times. I played for the heart pounding excitement of being chased by a Dark lighting MAX and for the thrill of sneaking past fortified placed. I loved to test myself and play with others. No matter the flaws or virtues of the game, I will always love it for that one simple fact.

Winning didn't matter, the rules were my own and sometimes I was the only one playing my game in that massive world at war. What did matter was I got to go to the yard and I got to play.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Morning Snark

I promise I'll blog properly later, but here's some morning snark from my friend Seph, intially about Star Trek Online, finishing with Cryptic.

Seph: snrk
  God, that's going to be a trainwreck of epic proportions.
Ardy: Like you wouldnt believe.
  Never did get your take on the Cryptic Kitchen sink link
Seph: A change of that magnitude is like ED 2.0.
And seriously, an expansion pack ALREADY?
Ardy: No no, a single zone
Seph: That you have to pay for.
Ardy: That you have to buy, even if you're a lifetimer. In the 37-40 band where they've a huge lack of content (Lemuria is 34-40 and the kitchen sink patch was supposed to fix the lag, made the high level content even less accessible)
Seph: ...
Do... do they have brains? Common sense? Trains of thought? Because I'm sure that a platoon of dead babies would make better business choices than this, at this rate.
  Yes. Dead babies.
Ardy: They have the unholy fusion of Bill Roper and Jack Emmert.
Ardy: XD
Seph: THAN, TOO.
Ardy: So blogging this

Seph:  But, uhhh... yeah.
Not all that smart of a move, really.
From a strictly-business perspective?  I get it.  From a game developer perspective, they're seemingly taking every bad PR move they can.
I honestly have heard very little good press about CO in some time.