Friday, September 30, 2011

Broken Social Scene

 No not this although that would break pretty much anyone's social scene, I should think...

Stargrace was talking about how socializing has changed in MMOs. It's a topic that comes up often nowadays, usually around the campfire in the rosy glow of nostalgia.

Are you sure that's nostalgia ?
I get less and less social in MMOs as time goes on. I started off mostly soloing, back in Everquest nearly a dozen years ago. After a while I began grouping and developed a friends list but it was only when I moved to DAoC when it launched that I started joining guilds. From then, going back to EQ, then to EQ2 my MMO experience was mostly social, in guilds, groups, chat channels and so on.

By the time I went to Vanguard the social side had already started to decline and for the last four years or so my interest has been mainly in soloing and duoing with Mrs Bhagpuss. We keep saying we're going to join guilds, get to know people and do more group stuff but we never really do.

EQ2 housing, now with added PvP.

Most of the things we like doing , like decorating houses, crafting, harvesting and questing are better done alone anyway. While talking in chat channels, in my case. I really do talk a lot in chat.

That said, we now have a very nice, very small guild in EQ2. Mrs Bhagpuss and I created it for ourselves when EQ2X started but we soon had a couple of people join and though they didn't stick with EQ2X for long it was quite jolly while it lasted. Pretty soon Mrs Bhagpuss met a couple more people through her interests in housing and it wasn't too long before they joined our guild.

A little later they brought some people along with them and everyone who's joined has been a real pleasure to chat to and play alongside. They looked after the guild while Mrs Bhagpuss and I went to Rift and now our guild is Level 30.

Yeah, yeah...just show me the bank space.

It's fun to log in and see what other people are doing and occasionally get together and do something without anyone feeling there's any kind of agenda or plan.

The way MMOs are developing I think socializing will be an option not a requirement. Public quests, open grouping, open raiding, solo dungeons, mercenaries, henchmen, companions, no-one will need any kind of formal arrangement or conversation with another human being just to get stuff done in an MMO. And that's fine. 

There must be someone here who likes model railways and Rammstein.  

None of that is going to replace actually talking to people because you have things you want to say to each other, though. Nor doing stuff in game together because you like each others' company. Nothing's going to change that.

Is it?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Playing It Down

Psychochild has a post up that I found an interesting read. 

Scruffy, poster-child for low-level gameplay
My introduction to RPGs was AD&D 2nd Edition and I came to it relatively late, already a year or two out of university. A lot of my attitudes to MMOs derive from the three or four years in the mid 1980s when I played tabletop RPGs every Sunday afternoon. I think that's where I first developed a strong disinterest, even dislike, of high-level gameplay.
There were about five to eight of us at any given session, all in our early-mid 20s and I can clearly remember the increasing dissatisfaction of the group as the levels of our characters rose. Somewhere around level seven most of us were beginning to struggle to empathize with their increasingly baroque lives. I know I was, anyway. I retired my half-elf ranger at level 8 and rerolled a dwarf cleric, who didn't make it even that far. From then on our group played a series of  different RPGs, never getting much above low level and I think we were all a lot more comfortable with that.

Kill it? I'm getting a crick in the neck just looking at it!

The problem for me at least, was that I found the plots we were involved with and the opponents we were facing increasingly hard to care about. Help a village deal with bandit attacks on outlying farms? Fine! Investigate some ruins seen from the highway? Why not? Hire on to protect a merchant caravan? Good honest work. Travel to another plane to fight demons or demi-gods? Give me a break!

Newt or dragon? You decide.

Ever since then I've very strongly preferred low-level gameplay. In my first few months of Everquest I decided I would never kill a dragon, putting that down as a line in the sand between my characters and silliness. I managed to keep that rule for many years, although I broke it eventually. 

The attritional drip drip drip of high-level content in all MMOs got to me in the end. I've seen my share of gods and demons and defeated quite a few. Call it immersion fatigue. Still, though, I spend much more of my time clearing bandit camps and skinning animals. I imagine it'll always be that way. I hope so, anyway.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Screenshots Or It Didn't Happen : Rift

I wish I'd taken more screenshots in the Rift beta. Actually, I wish I'd taken notes. It seems such a long time ago now, although it's not even a year since that first beta weekend.

Notes? Do I look like a secretary?
I have a very rational and deep mistrust of memory so I'm always aware that what I think happened may not have happened the way I remember. It may not have happened at all. So, keeping that in mind...

Something SynCaine said in a discussion over at Hardcore Casual recently started me thinking about how Rift has changed since those early days. I still think it's an excellent MMO. I'm subbed for another six months and looking forward to patch 1.5 with its promise of AAs (alright, PAs if you must but it just doesn't sound right) and solo/duo instances. All the same I have this nagging feeling that good as Rift is, it isn't quite the game I remember.

Got to get the blood off somehow

Well, what do you expect?  It was all new then, wasn't it? Fresh, exciting, unexplored, different. Naturally it doesn't still have that zing. How could it?

Is that all it is? The inevitable ennui of familiarity? I'm not sure. If only I'd taken those notes. Hmm but wait, here's something...

" What’s really interesting is the way the planar invaders pour out and take over the countryside.
I particularly liked the way they interact with each other and with the local population. They have their own agenda that carries on with no player involvement and I found it fascinating.
One of the best moments I had was watching a Life rift open on a beach and establish itself, clearing all the wildlife I’d just been questing on (while I stood in the surf, watching). They put up an idol, established a foothold and began worshiping it. I crept out and began to pick off the surviving whelks for my quest and then a Fire Rift opened further along the beach. The creatures from the plane of fire poured out and surged over the Life foothold. There was a short but spectacular battle, which Life lost. Fire established its own 
foothold. "

 I said that here in December 2010. When did I last see anything like that happen in Rift? Not in a long time. I'm not sure I ever saw it after launch, although the first month or so was so manic no planar invaders lived long enough to fight anything much. 

Ok I think we got it going. Who's got the steaks?

In beta I'm sure I remember the roads being unsafe most of the time. Didn't I often have to jump into the bushes to avoid a posse of goblins with mushrooms growing out of their heads barreling down the road towards me? Wasn't it actually safer to travel across country than use the roads at all? Didn't rifts from opposing planes spawn within sight of each other and show more interest in fighting amongst themselves than fighting us? Didn't our quest camps and outposts get overrun and stay that way until we did something to get them back? 

That's how I remember it. That's how I liked it. I wish it was like that now. And I'm not alone. But it seems those days are gone forever, if indeed they ever existed. Here's Scott Hartsman, quoted from a recent Massively interview:  

"He added that the devs are creating mechanics for what happens after a zone is taken over, so that it's seen as an opportunity rather than an inconvenience".

Oh dear.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

I Can See Your House From Here!

Virtual worlds allow us to do many things we'll never really do. Fight with dragons. Conjure demons. Swim lakes in full plate armor. Close to the top of most of our lists is flying.

Immersion? We don't need no steenkin' immersion!

Really, who wouldn't want to be able to fly? We dream about it all the time. Although in my dreams of flying I'm not usually sitting on a reindeer.

The problem is, our virtual worlds are also games. Allowing players to move with complete freedom in any direction isn't always a great idea. Why would you fight your way through a heavily defended  pass if you could just fly over the mountain and wave? In the jargon it risks trivializing content.

  In MMOs that have flying hardwired into the milieu it's not an issue. You couldn't really have a superhero game without flying.

Wallet? Check! Keys? Check! Jetpack? ...

 It's when flying gets bolted on to a game that's managed without it for years that the trouble can really start. I was very apprehensive about the introduction of flying to EQ2. I didn't really think it would work. Well I was wrong.

Evaporation? Wash your mouth out!
Not only does flying work wonderfully well in EQ2, in all but the oldest zones it works seamlessly. All those desert mountain peaks, islands in the sky and vast plains seem to have been made for free flight all along. I suppose it really shouldn't come as such a shock. We've been cadging lifts from NPC flight-masters for years, after all. EQ2 had griffon flights even in beta. The real surprise is that it's taken so long.

No fair! I wasn't ready!!
The way that new freedom of movement for our characters has been introduced is exemplary. If I was skeptical about flying I was positively scornful of the proposed Leapers and Gliders. Ludicrous! Ridiculous! Laughable! But they really work. It's a great progression, from a ground mount to one that makes prodigious jumps to hang-gliding on the back of a giant flying lizard. Culminating in the glory that is true free flight.

The different mounts don't even supersede each other. There are places easier to reach with a leap upwards than by flying around and down. The ground mounts are much faster on land than the flying ones. It actually makes some kind of sense!

I'm not saying I'm sold on flying in every virtual world. We don't have it in Rift yet and I'm not sure what it would add there. But I'm much more sanguine now about the prospect that all MMOs will inevitably go airborne in the end.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Simple Pleasures

Ah, the simple things in life. When I finally got the motor running on this thing a few weeks ago I was really hoping to get something up here more than once a week. Little and often, that was the plan.

What could be better, then, than an occasional series on the little things I often do when I'm playing MMOs? A series I could throw together in a few minutes instead of the usual two or three hours. Well, lots of things probably, but that's what I came up with in an idle moment, so here we go.

Simple Pleasure No 1.  -  Getting creatures to fall down in a pile.

Where d'you think you're going, bigfoot?

I never really got into quad-kiting in Everquest. It always took me longer to round up four rhinos up than it took to kill them one at a time. And four really doesn't make an impressive pile, anyway. Although, four rhinos....

As time went on and fights got easier, or we got tougher, other possibilities revealed themselves. Like running round and round a cave bouncing off every creature in it to rile them up and make them chase you, then stopping suddenly and hitting them with a big hammer. Or charging into a great camp full of monsters and spinning around and around until even the elderly goblin hiding in the tent at the back couldn't pretend nothing was happening.

I began to develop a soft spot for classes that could put out a lot of point-blank area-of-effect damage, preferably open aes that hit anything in range for added chaos. And all while taking a considerable pounding from extremely angry monsters who object to being slashed by whirling axes or singed by pocket volcanoes.

Plate-wearing berserkers or fire-throwing mages with powerful minions fit the bill nicely. The Vanguard Dread Knight, the EQ2 Berserker, the Elementalist/Pyromancer build in Rift all come to mind but most MMOs have someone who more or less gets the job done.

Hmmm. Pulling to the right a little...

Only after a while just killing the monsters isn't enough. It all starts to be about how they fall. If you're doing 360 degree damage you want to see a perfect circle. If it's it's front-facing you want the bodies in a line. And so a new art-form was born.

It's harder than you'd imagine, too. There's always that one orc that arrives late to the slaughter or the bandit that dies in midair on a knock-back. Even in death they're out to spoil your day.

As you can see, I have a long way to go before I perfect the art of Feng Shu-ae.

Where's my I Ching?

Luckily there's never a shortage of subjects for my art.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Can't Judge a Book

Sometimes even Bo gets it wrong. Every novel has an author. There's the name on the spine. Movies have credits that seem to last longer than the film. Even journalists get a byline. Most of us pay at least some attention to who wrote, directed or performed what we read and watch. It helps us decide how to spend our time and money in the future.

I've done a lot of questing this week. Last weekend was double everything in EQ2 and I popped in to visit and ended up staying. I bought the Destiny of Velious expansion pack and asked the Othmirs to let me ride their giant turtle to the land of ice and snow.

We're going to need a bigger tureen!
I'm playing on EQ2X's Freeport server and my highest character there is a level 80 berserker. There is pretty much nothing you can do in Velious until your level hits 85, so after I'd looked around the docks and chatted to some more Othmirs I was stumped for a moment.

Then I remembered my Berserker was also a level 82 weaponsmith. And I recalled reading that there's a whole line of crafting quests in Velious that leads to you getting your very own flying griffin mount. And it's much, much faster to raise your crafting level in EQ2 than your adventure level. With double xp and full vitality it took me no time to make 85 and begin making myself useful to the Far Seas Supply Division and sundry indigenous othmir, coldain and snowfang gnolls.

Oh Ruffin, if only the other gnolls were as clever as you!

The quests came thick and fast and were a joy both to do and to read. The prose was crisp and clean, the dialog sharp and witty, the plots were amusing and engaging, the tasks were interesting and absorbing. Mrs Bhagpuss and I spent most of Sunday and Monday doing the entire flying mount quest-line, and the pack pony quest-line.  The whole experience was exemplary. Everything that's good about questing was here and there was little or nothing of the old nonsense that's given MMO questing such bad press of late.

With my young griffin trailing along behind, still growing to the size needed to carry the weight of a ratonga in full plate armor, I returned somewhat reluctantly to Paineel and the previous expansion to resume the long, slow journey to level 85 in adventuring. And trust me, on a silver account with the xp/aaxp pegged at 50/50 it really is a plod.

By last night I was halfway through 84th, my griffin was ready to fly and I really wanted a break from the perpetual yellow palette  of Odus. It occurred to me that I'd not yet done the newish beastlord prequel questline, so I took the spires back to The Commonlands and picked up the starter quest.

Does the marketing department know about this?

What a contrast. Everything I'd enjoyed about the griffin and pony quests, all vanished. Instead I plowed through speech after speech of overblown, overwritten, pompous twaddle. Terrible leaden prose, complete absence of any form of wit, elan, spark or interest. An incomprehensible "plot" utterly devoid of amusement or entertainment. Utter rubbish, in fact. The only saving grace of this horrible farrago of amateurish drivel was that it was soon over.

Don't know. Don't care.

Now I understand that people have different tastes. Some people probably like this sort of thing. I also understand that you can't have your best people on every part of every project all the time. I've read enough Gerry Conway fill-ins, after all. No, the problem with quests in MMOs is you have no way of knowing before you begin whether the new line was written by the person who wrote that great quest you did last week, the one that had you laughing so hard you snorted coffee all over your keyboard, or by the twerp who wrote that numbingly tedious, po-faced saga you ended up tabbing through the month before.

Credits. Let's have credits. I want to know who to follow and who to avoid. Whose work to look forward to and whose to dread. Mrs Bhagpuss had a great idea. Let's have an in-game review system for quests, like the new Housing Leaderboard. I'd give five stars to those Velious craft quests and half a star to the beastlord one. And really it doesn't deserve half.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Again! Again!

You can take a position on repetition. The Fall dig it. The Black Ghosts don't.

I vacillate. There's good repetition and bad repetition, after all. I would have been pretty confident in putting MMO daily quests into the "bad" basket. Until Rift.

I first came across daily quests during my brief stay in WoW. I pretty much hated them on sight. I didn't do them, I didn't want to do them and I wished they didn't exist. I like repeatable quests well enough, those quests you can do over and over as and when you feel like it, usually to raise some pocket change or get some unlikely secret society of three-foot high talking hedgehogs to trust you enough that they'll open the back of their gaudily-painted caravan and sell you some ethnic handcrafts of their people. But the point of those repeatable quests is you can do them whenever you like, so you never feel you have to do them NOW!

Daily quests demand. They threaten and whine. If you don't do me today you missed out! If you skip me this evening your a bad person! How lazy you are! Don't you have any application? As soon as I ran into these things in WoW I was convinced I would never have any truck with them. Ever.

For the last week and a half, every evening, I've been logging in eight characters on three servers in Rift and running round throwing firebombs,

Hey! This is a built-up area you maniac!

feeding pot-plants,

And that's a civic amenity!

zapping citizens

Ok now you went too far. That's assault!And you did it to me yesterday. And the day before that! If only there was a guard around...

and generally behaving like a highly suggestible four-year old with OCD. What's more, I'm enjoying it. I even look forward to it.

So, why do Rift's dailies work for me when WoW's didn't? Three reasons. Brevity, variety and lucky bags.

  • Most dailies in Rift take just a minute or two. You rarely have to travel far or search hard or do anything difficult. They're "why not?" quests. 
  •  They aren't the same every time. Sometimes the task varies, sometimes the result, sometimes both.
  • You can get a bag! With stuff in! And it's stuff that you might want! It's like a free Kinder Egg every day.

Marty got the sweet stuff. Oh yes he do!

These things are well designed. They are fun to do. They are good repetition. And now it's almost mid-day and my dailies will have reset. So I'm off to do them again. And again. And again.

Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide