Saturday, July 11, 2015

Down On The Farm: Dragon Nest:Oracle and Villagers and Heroes

It's been a while since I last logged into Dragon Nest: Oracle. I wouldn't have mentioned it only the game welcomed me back with a hug and a back-slap and a "Where have you been?". The fatted calf was looking nervous.

There was even talk of a "Welcome Home" gift but when I logged my only character in it turned out she didn't qualify. I missed the explanation if there was one. It was late and anyway I just wanted to race around shooting cute, bouncing greebles (not an actual monster) with a BFG.

I was ready to let the whole thing slide but the game wouldn't let it drop. I was still getting anxious reminders to claim my non-existent gift before it vanished when I logged out an hour later. If it hadn't been for that, though, Dora wouldn't have been ferreting around in her various inventory tabs and then she might not have found her other present.

Umm...excuse me, Miss, but could you tell me where I am?

In DN:O, like many F2P MMOs from both East and West, you get regular care packages as you level. They tend to come in advance, a kind of gamer-carrot hung out to encourage you to keep making progress. And to keep logging in, of course, although you get a separate reward just for doing that as well.

Oh yes, I remember.
The level-up packs come every eight levels. Why eight? I have no idea. Perhaps the developers are all spiders. Who cares? It's Free Stuff!

What's more, in DN:O it's good free stuff and that really is a motivator. Inside her gift-wrapped Level 24 box Dora found a full set of costume clothing. That was a surprise. I hadn't even noticed we had a costume tab.

There was this log-in message, though, so maybe it's new:

After lot of work, we are pleased to announce the release of 252 fashions sets.

Next week : wings and other accesories

It must be next week already because there was a set of wings in the box as well. And a ten-slot Inventory expander. And a 10-slot bank vault expander. Oh, DN:O, you know me so well...although 252 fashion sets and I just have one? Don't set the bar too high, now, will you?

I'm not quite sure about this new ensemble. Do these tiny wings go with my ENORMOUS GUN???

Anyway, it was a great start. Dora slipped into her new outfit, fitted her wings and took a look around. Being as how it had been a while she wasn't quite sure where she was. It looked like a much bigger city than she remembered.

Ah yes, it's all starting to come back. Last time out she fixed that airship and flew to Saint Haven. Wherever that is. Which is how last night we ended up growing pear trees and catching fish and making Red Beard Salad and not shooting anything at all.

No, you don't look creepy at all. I'm totally fine with you breaking down my molecular structure and re-assembling me half a mile away. What could possibly go wrong?

It's a long story. I'll try to keep it brief. Dora was lost in the big city so, when she spotted the Transfer Wizard right across the square, she naturally went and had a word with her. The name Old Man Mori came up in association with a Farm, which caught Dora's attention and on a whim she asked the Wizard to send her there and that's how we found out about farming and fishing and cooking, none of which I knew existed in DN:O.

Crafting, that I knew. I'd already found the rather terrifying crafting interface and made a decision to stay well clear of it, at least for now. What Old Man Mori had to teach seemed a lot more user-friendly although, as it turns out, a lot more labor-intensive.

 I have wings, you know. I can turn around if you want to see them. Oh, and stop calling me "Young Man". Although I admit it must be hard to tell in this get up.

Unlike Villagers and Heroes you don't get your own house and garden in DN:O. As far as I know, that is, but then take that with a barrel of salt. I didn't know we had a costume tab, remember? Anyway, whether or not there is personal housing somewhere down the line, Dora doesn't have any. She has to use the Public Plots.

There's a whole article waiting to be written about V&H and DN:O's various takes on collective farming, communitarianism and political theory. One day I might even get around to writing it. For now, I was struck by the co-incidence of coming across such superficially similar systems in the two games as well as by how they differ in detail and execution. It's beginning to dawn on me that Estate Management has become an MMO thing almost without anyone noticing.

It's like having an allotment. Only without the shed.

I guess I like it, if only on the same uncommitted, dabbling level I like most things in MMOs. Like almost everything else the genre has to offer I sometimes feel that to take any of it terribly seriously would require far more commitment in time and effort than could possibly be commensurate either with the in-game reward or any objective assessment of sanity. Then again, if you're having fun, your having fun, so why question it too closely?

Best. Achievement. Ever.

Thus far my fun in all the MMOs that allow you to plant seeds and tend crops and raise livestock is limited to the odd drop-in when I'm passing the old homestead. To do more looks like a lot of commitment and responsibility and no-one wants that, obviously. I do tend to like the process, though.

Take planting crops. It has all the attractions of actual gardening without any of the hassle. It doesn't make your back ache, you don't get scratches all up your arms, earwigs don't fall on your head, the neighbors don't come round to remind you of the by-laws on bonfires and best of all you can actually see the plants growing. I can certainly understand the attraction.

Is that thing...throbbing?

It felt weirdly satisfying, watching the plants grow on the public plot in Public Farm Area 2. The Red Beard seeds produce something that look like a large cabbage. Like most things in DN:O it moves a little even when at rest. The pulsing is slightly sinister. As you water it the growth bar moves up while the water bar goes down. If the growth completes before the water runs out there's a POP and the plant has a growth spurt.

If the bars finish their race the other way round your plant dies. I think there's a mini-game here but I haven't worked out how to play it. Yet. Fishing has a mini-game is a lot easier to understand. You just have to use the left mouse button to keep progress in an optimal position to speed things up. It's basic but fun.

It's not often you find yourself trying to stay in the red.

For farming mini-games, so far I like my sheep in V&H best. I used to love the Pet Training mini-game in Free Realms, as I may have mentioned about a thousand times before, and feeding apples to my sheep before playing her a tune on my lute is the nearest thing I've found to it since FR closed up shop. (No-one working on a Free Realms emulator? I guess not.)

I wax and wane on crafting and gathering mini-games. They can be relaxing and entertaining, when that's what you're in the mood for, but they can be an irritating waste of time when all you want to do is get something gathered or crafted for a reason. Ideally I'd like them on a toggle but then Ideally I'd like everything on a toggle and I know that can't happen. If I had to choose I think I'd take the mini-game approach over the WoW or GW2 style of click-to-make.

Oh... ah... diddly diddly diddly diddly diddly diddly diddly diddly...hang on, this isn't a flute..

It's the wealth of options on how to spend your time, all these amusements away from the main rides, that make me believe I could be happy spending a lot more time in either of these games, be they sandparks or themeboxes or whatever the next buzzword happens to be. You think they're going to be little distractions but pretty soon you begin to realize there's depth and breadth you hadn't expected.

Having been rightly taken to task in the comments last time for making unsubstantiated, sweeping generalizations about FFXIV I'm wary of drawing any conclusions from such limited exposure and experience but thus far neither Dragon Nest: Oracle nor Villagers and Heroes has let me down when it comes to either content or execution. Bugs excepted, of course.

More good things around the next corner? I hope so. On we potter. Half the fun is in the discovery. Maybe a lot more than half. And a lack of commitment doesn't mean a lack of interest. No need to panic if I haven't logged in for week or three. I'll keep coming back. You don't have to give me a present every time.

Oh, wait, you didn't, did you?

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