Friday, June 17, 2022

You Might Think This Is Funny...

This is still supposed to be an mmorpg blog, although you'd barely know it these days. The traditional kind of content Inventory Full used to feature has dropped right off. Now it's all single-player games, TV shows and music. I guess it's hardly surprising, given I'm barely playing any mmos right now. 

I'm still playing a little EverQuest II every day but that's about it. I think I've logged into Guild Wars 2 maybe twice in the last three or four weeks. If I'm honest, that's been on the cards for a while. For a few years now, just about the only thing keeping me going with GW2 has been its honored position as the only mmorpg Mrs Bhagpuss plays any more. Now she barely plays, I don't either. 

That makes it sound as though either or both of us might be done with the genre and the hobby but I don't believe we are. It's more a combination of getting the puppy, some glorious summer weather and a general lack of anything very exciting going on in the mmorpg scene right now. 

It's some contrast to this time last year, when new mmorpgs seemed to be popping up faster than I could download them and there was excitement everywhere over fresh content, expansions and controversy. No doubt those times will come again, which will at least give me plenty to write about, but they'll have
to come when the weather's less enticing and the dog's old enough to be trusted where we can't see her for extended periods.

That'll just be me, though. As for Mrs Bhagpuss, I think she might be out for the duration, at least until and unless Pantheon ever comes up with an affordable, playable option. I was going to say "ever launches" but let's not get ahead of ourselves. I'll settle for an alpha or beta buy-in package that costs less than a hundred dollars. 

We may be backsliding but the genre itself seems to be in a better place than it has been for years. World of Warcraft is facing the greatest crisis of its lifetime and it's almost certainly no co-incidence its main competitors are prospering. Final Fantasy XIV, Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2 and a few more have done very well, not picking up Blizzard's scraps so much as snatching the food from their table and running off with it.

It's long been postulated that WoW's success wrecked the prospects for the genre, raising commercial expectations to an unsustainable degree, setting restrictive paramaters for what an mmorpg could be and generally sucking all the air out of the room, as a 500lb gorilla will. It's taken a long time but maybe now we're finally beginning to get a picture of what the hobby would have looked like had WoW been the modest success that was the best everyone, even Blizzard, imagined it was capable of back in 2004.

All of this makes for a somewhat abstracted introduction to the next demo on the Next Fest list, the unattractively-named Genfanad. The name's a contraction of Generic Fantasy Adventure, which should be enough to tell you it's meant to be funny but also that it probably isn't.

I don't have a great deal of time for genre parodies of any kind but fantasy parodies are the worst. They tend to be self-indulgent, cliqueish affairs, full of smug in-jokes and obvious puns. Some of the best-known examples that I've tried - the Simon the Sorceror series comes painfully to mind - have done nothing to convince me the whole concept is anything other than A Bad Idea.

On learning that Genfanad was not only a parody mmorpg but also a Kickstarted one, I wished I'd thought twice before including it in the half-dozen I chose for this series of previews. I'd probably still have picked it anyway. It is, after all, an mmorpg and I'd feel I was being derelict in my duty by avoiding it. Also, as I suggested at the start, I could do with all the help I can get in keeping this blog on the mmorpg rails.

It was with very little enthusiasm indeed that I hit Play on Genfanad this morning, for more reasons than my dislike of the premise. Today is the hottest day of the year so far, something I realise would cause snorts of ironic amusement from readers in other parts of the world, should I be foolish enough to quote the thermometer. 

It's hot enough to make it uncomfortable for me to sit at the PC, anyway. My study is in the front of the house, which gets the full glare of the sun from sunrise until early evening and it's the second-hottest room in the house. Fortunately, I've recently revived my old Splashtop installation and refreshed the account on my ancient laptop, meaning I can, theoretically, play any game anywhere in the house.

For reasons not entirely clear, I played Genfanad sitting on a hard chair in the kitchen, laptop resting on a wooden chopping board placed across my thighs to protect me from the inevitable overheating. The dog, suffering considerably more than I from the heat, lay flat out on the wooden floor, a fan pointed straight at her. All the doors were open but there was no breeze.

In those less than ideal conditions I played Genfanad with attention and enjoyment for a whole hour, the time it took me to work through the lengthy and comprehensive tutorial that forms the first part of the demo. I only stopped because a) I was getting cramp and b) the dog was starting to wake up.

I'd read that Genfanad was at heart a Runescape parody. I have played Runescape but only for a few hours so I'm very much not in a position to comment but of course I'm going to anyway. It didn't remind me of Runescape all that much at all. It reminded me more of several, mostly-forgotten, isometric mmorpgs I played back when getting to play any mmorpg without having to pony up a sub was a chance not to be missed. All of them looked pretty much like this.

Spoiler! (As you'll see when you read on.)
The screenshots tell the story. It's all angled, overhead views of buildings whose roofs disappear when you enter them. Movement is point-and-click, NPC conversation happens in the chat box (and also overhead, in a hard-to-read point size.). Crafting, combat and spell casting involve selecting targets, items and objects then right-clicking to get a menu so you can do something with them.

I'm not sure how early a build this is. The release date for the game on Steam is "2022" so not all that early, you'd think. It plays robustly in the tutorial, although the parodic nature of the project makes it hard to be certain what's genuinely unfinished and what's a joke. 

For example, there's a whole bit about how there's no fishing because it hasn't been Kickstarted yet, which is clearly intended to be amusing but may also be true. I was less sure about the various objects I examined that returned, instead of a description, a data string ending in "TBD", which I took to mean "To Be Done". If that's a joke, it's a very dry one.

What surprised me most about Genfanad wasn't how enjoyable it was to play. I already know how immediately absorbing the very early stages of an mmorpg can be. As the developers put it on the Steam store page, "We know that what you really want is a generic fantasy world, filled with exciting tasks like chopping wood, blacksmithing, and fishing (when we get around to developing it). ", which is so close to the truth as to be embarrassing both to them and us.

Oh, goodie! Achievements!

What I wasn't expecting was that the whole thing would feel so immediately cozy and comfortable. I'm probably more than averagely sensitive to fonts and UI elements, by which I don't so much mean bad ones put me off as good ones pull me in. I found the basic elements of Genfanad, the way it looks, warm and welcoming, very much not always the case in projects of this sort.

It's notable how everything in the UI, from the fixed elements to the windows that pop up are rounded at the edges. They look as though they've been hand-carved from wood by skilled artisans, then sanded off so no toddlers hurt themselves running into the sharp corners. The text is clear and easy to read, the font unfussy yet characterful. Everything presents in warm, earth tones, rich browns, ripe yellows, giving a feeling of fullness that's somehow satisfying and comforting.

It's a game that invites you to settle down and take your time, which is just as well because it took me five minutes to get out of the first, locked, room. I'm still not sure how I managed it. 

The entire cell consists of a bed, a mirror, a door and a window. Nothing else. Examining the door tells you there must be a key somewhere but I was damned if I could find it. I was reduced to googling the answer, which is not something you want to be doing in the first location of a demo and even less so when Google has no more idea than you.

In the end I cracked and started to ask for help in general chat. Before I finished typing the first word a huge window popped up, offering me a range of appearance changes for my character. I was so surprised I closed the window without thinking, whereupon a mesage appeared in chat telling me I'd found a key on top of the mirror.

With that key I was able to open the door and begin the tutorial, during the course of which everything went extremely smoothly. I'm more than willing to belive my key issues were a result of my own incompetence but even so I think it might be worth making whatever it is you're meant to do to get out of that first location just a little more obvious. 

About time someone remembered whittling!

The tutorial mainly covers gathering and crafting and does so in a moderately entertaining way. The mechanics as they're revealed are refreshingly simple and easy to follow and the NPC dialog is a lot less irritating than humorous NPC dialog can too often be in games that purport to ignore the fourth wall. 

In fact, if the Steam page didn't hammer it home so determinedly, I'm not sure I'd have pegged Genfanad as a parody. It seems no more fourth-wall-breaking or meta or even humorous than AdventureQuest 3D or Project: Gorgon, to name a couple of mmorpgs that don't take themselves too seriously. 

I like both of those games and somewhat to my surprise, I think I like this one, too. I'm certainly going to play some more of it, while the demo lasts. I believe at least the first part of the newbie hunting and questing area is included. I'll try and have a look at that and, if it's interesting enough, report back.

Not putting it on the wishlist yet, but I did opt in to the newsletter so I can keep an eye on how it develops. One to watch, if not wish for, then.


  1. It has been quite a long time since we were getting multiple big budget releases in the MMO space a year. If you restrict to definition to DIKU/ EQ descendants/ WoWalikes I doubt we will ever go back there. Heck, New World was the first really big one in how long?

    It's not to worrying to me personally because I am still working my way through things from around or before 2014. Guild Wars (the original) is my latest crusty obsession. New to me is often still pretty exciting.

    On MMO parodies, I feel like the light ribbing that the genre gets in games like Project Gorgon works pretty well. The one you are playing also sounds like I would enjoy it. However the only MMO that has ever worked for me as a full on wall-to-wall parody is Kingdom of Loathing. Though, obviously, it's not so much a parody of the genre as a really funny game that happens to be an MMO.

    1. I feel it's a weird take to go for self-parody in an mmorpg because no matter how much irony and self-aware meta humor you ladle over it, it's still the same set of tropes and behaviors underneath. Genfanad leans hard into that by telling you up front the mechanics are going to be exactly the same as the ones they're taking the mickey out of but I have to wonder how deep that can go. If the game's a success and lasts for a few years, will the exigencies of running a live service game trump the desire to undercut everything in the game with satire, sarcasm and irony? In the end, won't there still be the same issues with keeping people fed with content?

      They do actually have a plan for that in as much as they intend to throttle content so you can't just burn through it at your own pace but that seems to be almost predicated on the game not breaking out. It's an interesting project, anyway. I'm glad Next Fest introoduced me to it.

    2. That is a really interesting quandary. If they are a big enough hit to do expansions do they parody past expansions that fell on their faces? There is certainly a lot to mock there in the case of some games, but I am not sure that wildly under delivering, launching with bugs that break the game, or massive and utterly pointless class updates could be done in a way that it would come across as funny :-)

  2. I've always enjoyed your explorations into other genres. MMO's many of which I have loved are not what they were 10 years ago. Plus I go in cycles myself and play an MMO for a while then move back to single player games or forego games altogether and get into a reading phase. Mrs. Steveaux doesn't play video games at all so it's just me and my brother whenever I play MMO's. I've never had your dedication to a individual MMO aside from my first MMO Star Wars Galaxies which I played from launch until 2 years in.
    What I'm saying is I'm glad this isn't just an MMO blog. Our music tastes differ a lot but I still try to look at what you are suggesting. Cheers Steveaux

    1. Thanks! I'm happy to have expanded the range over the last few years. I'm still not entirely sure it wouldn't be better to have two or three blogs for different topics, as several people on the blog roll do, but overall I think I'd rather have everything in one place, even if it does feel more than a little chaotic at times.

      I'm absolutely certain there will be times ahead when I'll get drawn deeply into a new (or an old) mmorpg again and want to write about little else but it's good not to have to focus on the genre if nothing's really grabbing my attention, which it isn't right at the moment.


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide