Monday, January 18, 2021

Next Cab On The Rank

One thing about playing mmorpgs that hadn't really occurred to me until recently was just how incredibly self-sustaining a hobby it is. I mean, I knew... I just hadn't been confronted by the evidence in such a personal fashion until now. Of late it's become something I can't easily ignore as I find myself spending more time and money on single-player titles.. 

There's been slippage, for sure. I didn't plan it but there's a lot of it going around. As Syl put it in her comeback post today, "the star of MMO gaming has also waned for me these past years as it has for many". 

Okay, maybe "waned" is a stretch. I'm not convinced I'm even spending less time playing mmorpgs than I was five years ago. I just have more time to play them. I've been at home an awful lot these past two years. Even I can only log so many hours in the same old, familiar games, week in, week out, year after year.

Circumstances certainly don't help. I have been feeling more than the occasional craving for novelty. Not so surprising, given I can't have travelled more than a couple of miles from my front door for the best part of eighteen months. If there was a constant stream of fresh mmorpgs to try I'd most likely have been happy to stick with those but as we know only too well by now, mmos take a hellishly long time to bring to market. Even early access can't get them to us fast enough. 

In common with just about everyone with a blog that used to focus on mmorpgs, of late I've been playing and posting about games in other genres. The newfound desire of gaming platforms to act like pushers in some 1950s exploitation flick, with their "just try a taste - the first one's on me" has had the hoped-for effect. 

Hoped-for by them, that is. What they don't tell you is just how fast you'll burn through these things. After two decades of mmo gaming it's a shock to the system. 

We're not three weeks into the year yet and already I've started and finished five single-player titles (Disco Elysium, three of the five chapters of the Blackwell Chronicles and Along the Edge which I never even got around to posting about) plus a couple of one-act demos. I've also tried several other freebies from Amazon and Epic, including two I'm still playing, Anna's Quest and Darkside Detective.

That's a hell of a lot of games to get through in eighteen days, especially when you consider there have been times when a lot fewer than half that many mmorpgs would have kept me fully occupied for eighteen months.

I'm beginning to see now why I've read so many people complaining about backlogs. Once you realize just how fast you get through this stuff it must be tempting to panic buy. I mean, what if the supply dried up? You need a massive stash just to feel safe.

With mmorpgs you don't have that problem. When you're deep inside one there's always more. The big fear is keeping up, not running out. 

And there are a lot of mmorpgs. In the past I've handled any moments of ennui by just downloading another. I'm still doing it. This morning, after yesterday's post and comments, I re-installed Allods Online. (Geez, that My.Games portal is annoying. I remember now why I uninstalled it last time.)

The thing is, after two decades I feel I've all but exhausted the supply of mmorpgs that interest me. Everything now's about taking a second look. Or a third. Or a tenth.

And doing that doesn't scratch the novelty itch. Not the most appealing metaphor but let's press on. 

The worrying thing is how moreish I'm finding the single-player titles. Finish one, you want to start another. It's chain-gaming and I'm not sure it's healthy.

Last night I began playing Neo Cab. I'm not going to give it the full first impression treatment because I kind of already did that back when I played the demo just over a year ago. I already have a lot to say about it, though. 

I'll get around to posting about it in detail when I'm further in but for now I'll just say it's excellent. Also it plays suprisingly differently than I was expecting. You get out of the car more than I thought you would. I find it quite stressful, but that's something I was expecting. The demo made me sweat.

The question is, how sustainable is single-player gaming as a pastime? For me, that is. For a start, there's the potential cost. One of the best things about playing mostly mmorpgs for twenty years is the money it's saved me. Even allowing for subscriptions, expansions and new games it's been incredibly economical and that's mostly because mmorpgs go on forever.

Single player games don't - at least the ones I enjoy - and that's the real problem here. The kind of single-player games I like don't just end, they end before I'm done with them. A long time before. All of them, pretty much. It's annoying. 

I could replay them but mostly I don't. The plain fact that there's an ending and I've seen it tends to put a cap on the experience. Maybe I could revisit it in a few years but first I have to build up that buffer.

Mmorpgs, as Kaylriene was saying, though, those you can keep on playing even when you're not sure why you're doing it. I can whittle away the afternoon or the evening just doing dailies, sorting inventory, dyeing my armor. It's not exciting but it passes the time. Literally. 

Best of all, there's almost never a point where it feels like you've reached an ending. And that's relaxing. It takes the pressure off. Mmorpgs, the way I play them at least, are relaxing. Sometimes I get so relaxed I fall asleep. Single-player games, they keep me awake. Make me think. Concentrate. Even, in the case of Neo Cab, make me a little scared to log in.

Hmm. That's the question. (Good! I was wondering what it was!). Do I want to feel relaxed and have it cost me next to nothing or would I rather pay money to be stressed? Put that way, it sounds obvious but it's not as easy as a choice as you might think. 

I'm pretty sure if I was working, not sitting around at home under lockdown, I wouldn't even be having this conversation (with myself). When I get home from work or I'm on a day off it's relaxation I'm looking for but after weeks of sitting about at home I find I'm in need of stimulation. Also new things to write about. And I don't mind paying to get them.

I'll probably keep on doing both, then. For now, anyway. 

Later in the year? 

We'll see.


  1. I'm curious to how you would react to something like Minecraft, that has the infinity of an MMO but with maybe some of the novelty you crave? It's worked out that way for me during the pandemic.

    1. Minecraft is a curious case. Of course I've thought about playing it many times. And I've read countless thousands of words about it by people who do play. There are two problems with it from my point of view:

      1) The time factor. As I've mentioned a few times, I used to lose whole evenings "playing" Landmark, when all I had to show for it at the end were some melted bricks. I got so drawn into the micro-mechanics I spent hours just trying (and failing) to understand the tools. And when I had some basic skill I spent much longer using them to build things that objectively weren't very good. It's not a productive use of time and it's far too absorbing. It's a kind of gluttony.

      2. I don't like blocks. I just don't enjoy the look of Minecraft. Or any of the games that look like it. I don't see it as cute or even stylized. It just looks unfinished.

      Put the two together and Minecraft doesn't really work for me as a concept. It's both too dangerously compelling and too unnappealing at the same time. I'd love another Landmark, though, but with far more templates and much better tools, so I could actually make things that looked halfway decent.

    2. At the risk of being one of those pushers... Boundless. What you're looking for is Boundless. UK developer.

      Yes, it has Minecraft-y blocks that may take some getting used to. But it's by far the most Landmark feeling game I've ever encountered.

    3. I read the extensive series of posts you did on it back when you were playing and I took a good look at it then but I also just went and looked at some videos after reading your comment to refresh my memory. I don't think it's for me, somehow, although the gathering and building does indeed look a lot like Landmark.

      It's actually hard to guess what it might look like in game. There are a few images I've seen where it looks relatively naturalistic but in the huge majority of screenshots and videos the colors are garish and clashing and the whole thing looks like melted Minecraft. Or, actually, the game it most reminds me of visually is Trove, a game I never liked. Mostly I found the visuals offputting and if I hadn't read your posts on it I probably would never even have given it a cursory look.

      Even in the subtler scenes, though, the world still looks incredibly alien. One of the big attractions of Landmark was how the forests looked like forests and the seas like sea, not like something from a science-fiction movie. You could build cabins in the mountains and or lakeside villas and imagine you were planning your real-life home.

      Interestingly, I just went and read a bunch of the Steam reviews and there are a ton of comparisons to NMS, Trove and Minecraft so it seems those are the benchmarks. Also a lot of reviewers go out of their way to stress how much of an MMO(rpg) it is, some of them using that as acomplaint, not a compliment.

      I'll keep an eye on it in case it goes on sale. I am intrigued to try it although I really don't think it would be right for me so it would have to be pretty cheap.

  2. When I'm actually buying single-player/co-op focused games nowadays instead of passively harvesting from bundles, I tend to look for:
    A - Large open-world games packed with content and collectables, where there's a ton to do and I will probably rack up 80 hours following the plot and mashing my face into corners looking for secrets.
    B - Short indie games around $5-$10, that'll take about three to six hours to beat but provide a memorable Experience.
    C: Something more expensive but in my Specific Niche of content. Point and click style Wadjet Eye adventures, for example, or grid-based turn-based dungeon crawls in the 1980s Wizardry style, the more retro the better. I'm willing to pay a fair bit for these because so few get made.

    I may have had a point but I have forgotten what it would be.

    1. I find your reviews very helpful, not so much because I'm likely to play the same games but because they give me very precise, experiential detail on why you find the games entertaining or otherwise. Also because they're funny, of course. But it's the "why" games work that's so hard to dig out of most reviews, not the "how" or "if". I'm very interested in the mechanics and the graphics too, but in terms of whether I'm going to like something or not it's more about how it's going to feel to play it and that's something I don't generally get from watching videos.

      And I don't see why you'd need a point in a comment. I rarely have one in a post!


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