Sunday, February 17, 2013

It's Only A Thought And Other Cliches: Camelot Unchained & WildStar

My job gives me a lot of holiday, on top of which I only work four days a week. Like Travis McGee  I'm doing my best to take my retirement in installments. Consequently I've been able to spend much of the last ten days playing MMOs. I've also been writing about them, reading about them and, here's the dangerous part, thinking about them.

While I've been taking time off work, Mark Jacobs has been doing just the opposite. He's been on a PR blitz for Camelot Unchained, the spiritual sequel to his landmark MMO of a decade or so back, which he intends to bring to Kickstarter sometime soon and, if he gets the backing and a fair wind, to market sometime around Autumn 2015.

The MMO blogosphere has been ablaze with discussion (well, smouldering slightly at the edges), both on Mark Jacobs' prospects of success and the nature of the game. Probably the best discussion that I've read has been at Keen and Graev, where Mark Jacobs himself has been responding and clarifying.

Apparently we've been here before with Warhammer Online, whose legendary hype train I completely missed in much the same way I mostly missed the first few years of WoW's success. I've written and read about MMOs for as long as I've been playing them, but for most of that time all my writing and reading took place on the forums of MMOs I was playing or websites dedicated to them, so if I wasn't actively following a game I had only the barest knowledge of its existence.

Nowadays I keep myself much better informed, so even though I have no particular plans to play, I'm paying close attention to Camelot Unchained. Another MMO I have a weather eye on, one that I definitely do have plans for, is Carbine's WildStar and there, too, the hype flows fast and free, not least in this typically well-made and witty promo.

This lengthy preamble brings me to my point. All this hype is intended to get the players - us, that is - thinking about these games, so I've been doing just that; thinking about which I might want to play and why.

When I found Everquest in 1999 (and yes, it was a little like finding God...) I was hoping for something akin to a perpetual game of AD&D, with the computer acting as DM and the general population of the entire world standing in as players. I wanted a goodly portion of roleplaying, a hefty dollop of adventure, plenty of wilderness to wander and witty banter all the way. Mostly, that was what I got.

Over the years a little of that has been lost but a lot has been added. The concept of the MMORPG has stretched until it's all out of shape. At the Camelot Unchained end of the forest it's a four yorkshiremen world, uphill both ways, in the snow; down at the WildStar Wonderpark it's "how would you like it, sir?".

Well, I don't know how I'd like it, that's the problem, isn't it? And I'm not likely to know until you give it to me. An unpaid job, doing repetitive tasks in my own time in order to build something to entertain myself with, isn't that what the new shibboleth of "player-driven content" amounts to? That doesn't sound like such a great offer. When I go to the cinema, they don't hand me fifty yards of canvas and a needle and tell me to stitch up a screen before I get to watch the movie.

On the other hand, there's little to match the satisfaction of standing back admiring something you've made for yourself, and I wouldn't be sitting here writing instead of playing if I wasn't at least as interested in creating as consuming.

Yes, thinking about things is a dangerous practice. It rarely leads to contentment. I've had a week of it and I'm more confused than ever. I don't even have a conclusion to this post. I wrote several closing paragraphs and when I read them back I realized I didn't even agree with myself so I had to delete them.

One size doesn't fit all. There's a cliche to end on. Maybe I'll just have to play Camelot Unchained and WildStar and decide which I like best by seeing which I want to play more of, rather than deciding in advance that one will suit me and the other won't. Maybe I'll just have to keep an open mind - another fine cliche worn smooth with justified use. ArcheAge, Neverwinter, Dragon's Prophet (you thought I'd forgotten you, didn't you? Well I haven't!), City of Steam, EQNext... maybe I should even try TESO. Don't close any doors, burn any bridges, leave any stones unturned. Or am I just sitting on the fence?


  1. Trying new things is always a good idea. Sometimes we can get into a rut and convince ourselves that we only like one type of game and not give a chance to any that are outside our preset list of 'stuff we'll like'. But I think sometimes we can be surprised if we give a chance to a game we're not 100% sure about,

    1. Yup! It's really only time that stops me trying everything - and also sticking with things for longer. On paper I should hate Dragon Nest, for example, but I really like it a lot. Never find time to play it, though.

      When I think of all the bands or authors that I love that I came across purely by chance it always points up how random it all is. I found what ended up being one of my favorite novels of the last few years in a bin! Of course I do work in a bookshop...

  2. Why then 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or
    bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.
    Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 239–251

    Neither game actually appeals to me. But someone put me on to RYZOM and as I am without an MMO at the moment I am going to try it out.

    For me the only game on the horizon that seems to be interesting is EQnext, and there is really far too little information to form a judgement on that one.

    1. +1 for quotation skills!

      I have a real soft spot for Ryzom. It's quirky, compelling and the unusual graphic style has lasted exceptionally well. I beta-tested it really enjoyed it and I've played it on and off several times since.

      The reason I never stick with it is that it's really demanding. The world is probably the most hostile PvE setting I've ever come across - just to travel along the road from one town to another used to require the equivalent of a raid force! I also found the lore incredibly confusing.

      Just thinking about it makes me want to give it another try, though.

    2. They retconned the story quite a bit since the Beta; originally the game was going to feature multiple planets and such, but after it did so poorly they basically changed the story so everything could stay on Atys.

  3. A friend of mine is always telling me that we are spoiled and complain too much. He reminds me we used to have to draw this stuff on graph paper for hours and our closest video game representations were "adventure" and "swordquest".

    He also tends to forget this point of view and talk about how video games have ruined the deeply personal experience of gathering around the table. It's easy to end up going back and forth between a point of view and just not know how you feel.

    What's most interesting for me to think about is that TSR never provided us anything beyond a base template. There was a basic set of rules and lore to draw from but the adventure? That was left
    to us. Catering to a group of 5-10 who want x feature sounds a hell of a lot easier that a group of 500,000.

    I have never wanted to tailor a movie to my own whims or have to patch it up to suite me. I also have never had any expectations that a movies might occupy 300+ hours of my time. Making a movie on the other hand, that I could expect.


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