Monday, January 31, 2022

My Game Of Rest And Relaxation

Something commenter Angry Onions said, last time I posted about Chimeraland, started me thinking. "Most monsters aren't aggressive." It's true. They're not. Is that why I felt more immediately comfortable there than in many other unfamiliar games?

It certainly does help, when you're trying to learn the ropes, if everything around isn't trying to rip your head off. I'd say no more than ten or fifteen per cent of all the creatures I've seen exhibit what we used to call "Kill on Sight" behavior back in the days of EverQuest. It's a piece of jargon you don't hear so much any more, although the concept and the mechanics still operate in most mmorpgs. 

Back then, "conning" mobs to see whether they were KoS was an absolutely crucial survival skill, because "kill on sight" had nothing to do with how you felt about the mob - it was what the mob was going to do you the minute it got the chance. The variation in attitude displayed by different creatures was immense, all signaled by a codified array of colors and phrases, from red at the extreme end of danger through yellow, warning you not to get too close, to safe, cool, neutral greens and blues.

Most games had their own versions. I guess they still do but I'm struggling to remember what they might be. I play Guild Wars 2 every day but I couldn't tell you, without logging in to check or going to the wiki to look it up, whether there's some particular message or indicator to tell you how a given monster or NPC is likely to react if you get close.

Yeah, I don't care what the rules say. I'm not going anywhere near that.

The thing people tend to remember these days isn't so much how aggressively mobs behave as how many of them there are, how closely they're packed together and whether they have a lot of extremely irritating crowd control abilities designed to stop you just barrelling past them at speed. 

If you'd tried that in EQ or Dark Age of Camelot, unless you were a bard or a skald you'd have come to a very bad end but in just about every mmorpg I've played for years, putting your head down and charging has been the recommended approach to crossing open country. Developers seem to have preferred to deter such a disrespectful approach to their work either by making zones that require a lot of z-axis work to navigate or by packing the mobs so close together that something's bound to tag you eventually, no matter how you zig and zag.

There are a number of reasons why I don't like GW2's last expansion, Path of Fire but the extreme combination of shoulder-to-shoulder mobs with crazily over-tuned crowd control abilities and hideously uneven, fractured landscapes comes right at the top. There are even great stretches of land where just being there is a death sentence as unavoidable environmental effects place huge dots and snares on you the moment you arrive.

Twister! And it's coming this way!

By contrast, in Chimeraland, only this morning I managed to get sucked into the air by one of the tornadoes I mentioned a few posts back. I'd been curious to find out what would happen if one passed right over the top of me and now I can tell you: you go up, you come down. It's exhilarating and it doesn't hurt at all. Next time, I'll be sure to get my fancy umbrella out so I can float down like Mary Poppins.

On the other hand, don't try strolling through the inexplicable wildfires that occasionally break out. I have yet to work out how they start but the one time I found myself caught up in the flames what happened was exactly what you'd expect. I burned to death. 

What game function either the tornadoes or the fire represent is opaque to me as yet although, again as I've mentioned before, Chimeraland does have a well-developed environmental system in which these extreme events could well play some part. 

In the case of PoF the inhospitable terrain was obviously intended to make the expansion's core feature, mounts, seem both attractive and essential. Since I loathed GW2's mounts from the get-go and just because I wanted to prove I could, I did all of Path of Fire's storyline without using mounts at all, other than the few key plot points where progress specifically demanded it. 

Red sky at night, shepherd's cottage on fire.

In retrospect, that may have contributed to my immense dislike of the whole expansion but subsequent forays into the various zones with no such self-imposed restraints have done little or nothing to change my mind. The entire region is a seething hellscape of frustration and misery thanks to the kind of design choices I've been describing.

At the other extreme lie the numerous mmorpgs I've tried in years not long past, where at least in the early levels mobs cluster just as densely but wait passively to be culled. We've all seen those killing fields, where scores of innocuous rabbit-like animals hop inanely across brightly-colored meadows, no purpose in their non-existent minds other than to feed the insatiable maw of the quest journal.

Chimeraland, while it shares the same lack of immediate threat, doesn't feel at all like that, not least because gameplay isn't quest-driven. If you want to slaughter harmless animals, no-one's going to stop you but no-one's asking you to do it, either.

Nor does it feel much like EverQuest or Path of Fire. There are plenty of mobs everywhere you go but the world is so immense they're never crowded together, even when there are quite a lot of them on screen at once. As Angry Onions suggests, the majority of them don't really care about you, one way or the other so there's no need for any EQ-style "conning" to check whether it's safe to pass.

When a mob does have designs on your blood, however,  you'll know about it. All aggressive mobs are flagged with a burning red eye like the mark of Sauron

Mostly it's the obvious ones - big cats, bears, spiders and the rest of the apex predator elite - and it's also mainly the regular-sized beasts that glare at you intimidatingly. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the design in this regard is the way the many giant, grand and noble beasts, some quite literally the size of several houses, meander peaceably across the landscape, showing no hostile intent towards anybody. 

At first I gave them all a very wide berth indeed but now I treat them like so many grazing cattle - at least until someone's foolish enough to provoke one into anger, at which point I get the hell away. Once riled, anyone's a target. Open AEs don't discriminate.

Even when mobs are flagged as aggressive, you have to get pretty close to get their attention. The warning eye is visible much farther afield than the creature's aggro range. I'm not entirely sure whether, as there so often is in mmorpgs, there's a level factor involved. I seem to recall that my character got attacked more often when she was younger but it may just be that I had less of an idea what I was doing then.

Doesn't look like much, I know, but it was one of the toughest things I've fought.
Not that I have such a great idea of what I'm doing now. After what must be a couple of dozen hours or more, I still don't have much of a plan. The point is, it doesn't seem to matter. Chimeraland is a genuine sandbox, a genre I'm not used to enjoying quite this much. I put a good portion of that down to the unintimidating nature of the world itself.

It's not that there's no threat. Floradyne has died plenty of times and not always from poking her nose  somewhere it shouldn't have been, either. The hunting totems can be a real challenge and the guardians that spawned to protect a rare tree she was trying to chop down gave her the fight of her life.

By and large, though, challenge arises as a direct result of something you've done, not just because you happen to be there. If I'm working on my house and all I want to do is mine green ore for pale jade, there's every chance I'll be left to get on with it without having to stop every two minutes to defend myself from some marauding monster.

If you want to see me skip I'm going to need to see some coin.
All of which gives me a much greater sense of self-determination than I'm used to in modern mmorpgs. I can pretty much do as I like without fear of interruption. It's relaxing and absorbing and about the nearest thing I can compare the feeling to is playing Landmark. Chimeraland, though, is orders of magnitude more polished, finished and complete than Landmark ever was, even at the end when Daybreak washed their hands of it and called it "launched".  

The one thing that really ought to be shaking up this cosy, comfortable world is the supposed open PvP. Most descriptions of the game mention it and there's an in-game notification when you ding level 15 but so far I have seen absolutely no indication that it happens. While most of the translations in the game are solid, the sections I've read on PvP are at the very least ambiguous and I'm wondering whether the non-consensual part is actually limited to the one PvP continent.

Having to look over my shoulder every time another player passes by would certainly put an end to the pervading sense of carefree fun but the longer I go without anything happening, the less I think about it. I'll deal with it when it happens, if it ever does.

Until then I'm going to keep on skipping through the flowers. Literally. I set Floradyne's mood to "Happy" and now she skips everywhere like a fairy princess. Somehow, it just seems like the right thing to do.


  1. This. So much this.

    The biggest reason that I quit GW2 long, long ago was the inability to simply wander the countryside peacefully. Even at level, and long before Path of Fire, you didn't wander the countryside — you fought your way through the hostile mobs that were packed side-by-side in every free space. I found it tedious and painful, and as an Explorer to the core it was enough to put me off the game. Sounds like it's gotten worse, although I don't really understand how that is possible.

    Chimeraland sounds awesome. I really wish there was a good way for me to play on my Linux box. To be fair, I haven't really tried hard, but unfortunately the game's anonymity (as you've noted) means that there isn't a well-known path to get it working there. Every so often I think about getting together some kind of kludgey "real Windows™" setup to play something, but it's such a nightmare to integrate into my existing life that I just can't bring myself to do it. tl/dr; If you know of a way to get Chimeraland running on GeForce Now I'd love to hear it.

    Thanks as always for your most excellent blog.

    1. You're very welcome! I took a look at the minimum/recommended specs for Cimeraland the other day, after Xyzzysqrl mentioned having real problems getting it to run. I'm squarely in the middle between minimum and recommended and it runs very smoothly, even though I only have 8GB ram and apparently it needs 16GB because everything does these days.

      Unsurprisingly, it's not on GeForce Now and there doesn't seem to be any way to add it. The best thing for the game would be a Steam launch, which would be a huge boost for its presence outside those five territories and which would also make it playable on GeForce Now, since you can add any Steam game to the streaming platform. Maybe it will happen I hope so because, yes, it is a very good game, considerably better than a bunch of mmo(rpg)s that have had much more publicity fairly recently.


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