I had a few different people tell me that my last post seemed more dire than I meant it to. It’s not like I need to flee the state because I’ve committed murder or anything; my wife just got a job offer elsewhere, and it’s pretty likely she’s going to take it, but we only have the week to make the decision. Big news, potential big change, and not necessarily all good (for me, at any rate), but not dire, either.
I love being an adult; I’m constantly mystified by people who look back at their childhood with fondness and say things wistfully like “That was the best time of my life…” I didn’t like childhood and love being an adult, and I constantly sent that message out to my students in NYC, that things got better.
But that doesn’t mean being an adult doesn’t have its hiccups. While the rest of the country’s housing market was crashing and then recovering, where I lived was mostly untouched, which would be a great thing except that last year, the two big plants in my town laid off a lot of people. Right now my city has double the national rate of unemployment, and as a result, in the last year housing prices went down a fair share. As a result, if (more and more likely when) my wife and I move, we’re probably going to be taking a bath on the house. We’ll be lucky to get our investment back, and will only hopefully not have to pay out of pocket.
That alone might seem limiting, but my wife’s just not happy here. She has little faith in her institution and less in her peers. She’s had people consistently move behind her back to hurt her department to empower their own, and she’s tired of it. I’ve told her it could be like that anywhere, but the abstract and theoretical possibility of betrayal doesn’t mean much when it’s like that right here, right now.
Of course, this means I’ll have to be getting another job, after having just finally secured one 18 months ago. It is what it is; my wife’s happiness is far more important to me than anything else, so if we have to move penniless and I have to work part time again, I’ll do it.
I’m mostly putting all this “real life” stuff out there to let you know that the blog may be more spotty over the next few weeks; our aim is to get our house “list ready” by the end of the month. After that, I have a conference at which I’m presenting, too, so that will be out of the way and things will start to calm down. Until then, though, all bets are off; if I can find time to write, I will. If I can’t, I may miss updates with little or no warning. I’m sure you understand.
I don’t have much in the way of game news; I simply haven’t played that much since Monday. I’ll get back to the more “fun” stuff in the future, though, hopefully as soon as Friday. I’ve got one cooking on how modern MMOs create discomfort in old-school gamers by perilously balancing experimentation and efficiency. More on that another day.
Stubborn (and not wanted for murder)
Things are crazy here. I don’t want to go into too much details, but my wife and I may be moving, and we only have a week to get all the information we need to make the decision. So we have to get our realtor to evaluate our house and I have to be starting to look for jobs and seeing the status of my unused teaching credentials. Negotiations must be made on both sides. And so forth.
So it’s been a whirlwind of a weekend and will continue to be a stressful week.
Of course, all of that means I should make sure I put time aside to play. I was pretty good this weekend; I wrapped up the campaign I was playing in NWN with my NWN buddy. The strongest emotion I could really feel was awe; the scope of such a large project is just amazing to me. The author created an enormous amount of content from a simple tool set, and regardless of any specific complaints I may have had, that alone was impressive. It was a lot of fun, and while there were some problems and whining on my part, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. If you’re looking for a good old fashioned role playing experience, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel; check out NWN user generated content, which my NWN buddy would be happy to filter for you.
I played a fair share of Kingdoms of Amalur, too. It’s still grabbing my attention when I get around to playing it (which is only when I don’t have others to play with). The sheer amount of things to do is a little overwhelming (but only a little), but section by section I’m making progress. I had my second legitimate “boss fight” against a spider queen, and the fight was pretty tough; she summoned – I’m not exaggerating here – probably 30 adds, a mixture of ranged and melee. I used my “daily” cooldown to quickly burst her down, but once the cooldown was used up, the fight got pretty hairy. It was a lot of fun.
Additionally, I started Far Cry 3 with my “recovering from being” blind buddy. The first night we couldn’t get Uplay to work, and doing a little research, I learned that Uplay is a complete piece of garbage that sometimes just doesn’t work. The next night, we tried again - not having changed anything - and it worked. Hooray. The first co-op board was a lot of fun and a fair challenge; to quote my buddy, “The firefights sure are intense.” We failed several times, but were always able to figure out what went wrong and try it again. Then we hit the second board and failed on the first challenge probably ten times in a row. You have to defend a train against wave after wave of enemies. We kept getting one-shotted by surprise melee mobs that seemed to be spawning almost on top of us. In one of the final attempts, we finally got to the “boss,” a heavily armored ranged fellow, and I popped him twice in the face with my sniper rifle, but then, when I went to heal the damage I’d been consistently taking while aiming to get those two great shots, the heal just didn’t go off. Repeatedly. Then I died. I was frustrated enough to just call it. From all reports from my buddy, the single player is a lot of fun, a “poor man’s Fallout: New Vegas.” I’m not sure why it’s a “poor man’s” anything, but it means he likes it well enough.
I played some live PvP LoL games, too, and came out 50/50. I’m happy with that, and since the loss was 100% not my fault, I can be satisfied with my play. I Taric’d the win and Teemo’d the loss. Both were very difficult match ups on my lane, so it was a good challenge regardless of the outcome.
Now I’m going to post this without editing because I’m so busy due to the local craziness. I’m sure I’ll regret having done so later. Nope. Nevermind. I couldn’t do it. I edited.
Stubborn (and too busy to think of a clever addendum)
I’m a voracious reader. I admit to having low periods of reading where I may only do a book a month, but during my peaks (summers, often), I can easily put away two or three big books a week (I read the first three books of the Wheel of Time series in about 8 days last summer). I’m an English teacher, literacy proponent in the community, and volunteer at the library, so why don’t I bother to read quest text?
It wasn’t always like this. I used to pour over every single quest in WoW. It became a problem because my buddy, who was leveling his second character then (in BC by the time I got to max level), had read all the quests (he had the Loremaster achievement before it was an achievement) and wanted me to hurry up. I didn’t, though, making him frustratingly wait as I read and then double checked for details (as this was back when you needed to actually know where to go, which might be on another continent).
Nowadays, I can’t be bothered. Pick up the quest, scan it for relevant words (if there are any), note the quest tracker direction, and head off. That’s how I play MMOs now, and I have no doubt I’m missing out occasionally on some good stuff.
It’s really come to my attention playing Neverwinter Nights with my other buddy (heretoforth referred to as my NWN buddy, or my young buddy, or my math buddy). There have been multiple occasions where he’s had to point out that the information I’m seeking is in the quest journal right under my nose. I’ll wander around a while aimlessly, and he’ll eventually clue in that I’m lost, and he’ll prompt me with, “Did you read the quest in the journal?”
Well, shoot. The thing is, I used to read all the quest text. I remember when I originally played NWN, there were other circumstances where the relevant info was there in your journal, and after once being lost and by chance checking it and successfully finding my answer, I was very diligent about reading the journal every time the game “pinged” that there was an update.
So what’s changed? I wholeheartedly admit it might just be me. Studies show that as you get older, your brain becomes better at holistic tasks but worse at details, which is why we believe wisdom comes with age but still laugh when grandpappy can’t find the glasses on his head. Alternatively, I might have seen enough “game” text to bore an horse to death (cows are far harder to bore to death. Think about it) and simply have had my fill. Still. I don’t really think that’s it. Like with most things, I think there must be an aspect to training about it, otherwise I don’t understand how I can love so much to read in one aspect of life but not bother to in another.
And really, why bother to read the quests? There’s markers pointing the way, trackers telling you the relevant tasks, and tags on the monsters verifying you’re killing the right ones. Everything you need is right at your fingertips, so why stop playing to actually talk to the NPC?
Of course, this kind of slope can be a slippery one. When convenience trumps manners, we often end up with what we see in LFD and LFR: people treated like disposable commodities. Then again, maybe I’m just making those connections because it serves my preconceived outlook on such things.
So I don’t know. I suspect MMOs are making us less detail oriented, making us read and see less. Below was the first screen in Shadowgate, an old point and click adventure for the NES. This was the very first part of the game. You had to figure out to click the skull above the door to reveal a key. There were no instructions on doing that. There were no hints. You just had to be detail oriented and figure it out.
That one wasn’t even that tough. Here’s another screen from Maniac Mansion, another point and click for the NES. Here, there’s was one loose brick out of that entire background that you had to “push” to progress. Had to push, not could “pull” or could “turn on” or just click for a piece of bonus gear or buff. Had to push. I don’t know if the modern gamer would be patient enough to figure out what was going on, since there were no real hints on how to move forward. I was perpetually stuck here, forever. I never beat the game.
So yeah, maybe it is me. But I don’t really think so. I think we’re being trained to consume more, faster, and I think that it’s making us less detail oriented, less able to appreciate the hard work the designers are putting in. That’s why sites like Postcards from Azeroth (in the blogroll) are so amazing; they make us look at things we’ve seen a hundred times with fresh eyes, to actually look instead of checking the mob tags, watching the tracker go up, and running back to turn in the quest for some new crappy boots.
Stubborn (and less detail oriented than he used to be)
So, I haven’t logged in to actually play Neverwinter in about a week now. I’ve gotten ready to, but something else better comes along each time. That culminated with the sale on Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, so now there’s always a better option, or at least until I suck the last drop of sweet nectar that game has to offer.
I think one “problem” with Neverwinter is that you’re so powerful so early. Like in The Secret World and Guild Wars 2, you get virtually all the abilities you’re going to be using throughout the whole game pretty early on. Unlike WoW, who rightly or wrongly withholds some good powers until the end (rightly from a novelty point of view, wrongly from a training point of view), Neverwinter, TSW, and GW2 allow you to find your “best” build before you’re halfway through the game. That means that, unless you’re prone to a lot of experimentation, the second half’s just going to be a whole lot of the same.
Regardless, that’s not what this post is about. What this post is about are the two microgames within Neverwinter that I’m still engaging in, even though I don’t know if I’m going to go back to the macrogame. I’m still leveling my professions dutifully through the web browser (speaking of, I need to go set up my next set of tasks… okay, back), and I’m still logging in each day to invoke my deities to get those bonuses.
I’m not sure whether that’s a sad story of operant conditioning (which it may very well be), or if it’s a more profound statement of the successes of Neverwinter. That I’m still engaged in the crafting system when I’m not enthralled with the game itself says something about that crafting system, something of which other games should take note (all that just to avoid ending with “note of”). Glitch was the same way (and I assume EVE would be, too, since they have similar time-based systems, though Neverwinter’s allows companions to do the work, like Star Wars: The Old Republic). Also, since it’s browser based, I can keep up with it when I’m not at my primary gaming computer.
Each of those elements – having multiple minions to do multiple crafting tasks, making the tasks time-oriented, and allowing for remote access – I think really make Neverwinter’s crafting system one of the best out there.
Now I just have to figure out if I really feel that way or if I’ve just been trained well.
Stubborn (and crafty)
Okay, I promise I won’t spend more than these three sentences griping about the weather here: What the hell? There’s ice on the roads with snow on top and everyone’s acting like it’s not a huge deal! It’s incredibly dangerous!
Okay. So I talked a while ago about how I thought that WoW was being pigheaded for not allowing user generated content into the game. I was corrected a few times by people who rightly and smartly pointed out that all the add-ons were user generated content, and that often the most popular became built into the game. Yes, very true. I bring that up because today I wanted to revisit that discussion but point out that when I talk about user generated content, I specifically mean playable content, not all the amazing add-ons that people have generated.
I wanted to bring this up for a few reasons. We’ve all talked about “WoW Killers” for years (and I’ve chimed in that there won’t be one, since WoW appeared at a very specific time and place that made it far more likely to be successful in terms of money and time, that WoW will survive until it decides internally not to). But perhaps that conversation misses some of the point; instead of talking about “WoW Killer” games, what about games that have lasted a very long time despite the fact that they’ve become outdated and largely forgotten?
Some of these games have a very loyal fanbase that’s often been given the power to tinker with the game, which of course adds to the allure. Nothing gets buy-in from people like a little feeling of ownership. Nethack is one such game. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s an ascii-based rogue-like game (one of the most well known until the recent resurgence) that’s incredibly tough. People still play it all over the world, which is evidenced by the many forum posts about it in various languages. Let it sink in that it’s ascii based; for those of you too young, and there may be a few that still bother to read things like blog posts instead of just watch videos (and kudos to you for that), ascii was a graphics set based only on using letters and symbols. The Nethack link above has an image if you want to see what it looks like.
Recently, I’ve been spending a fair share of time playing Neverwinter Nights, as I’ve mentioned a few times (but not enough for my NWN buddy, who points out every time I don’t bring it up but should have, which there’s been a few). NWN is an old-school RPG based on 3.0 D&D rules released back in 2002. I played it back in 2002; I likely bought it at release and played straight through it that summer; I’d just graduated from college (now you know how old I am) and was sitting pretty with a job near where I already lived and a girlfriend (who’s now my wife) who also liked playing RPGs, so I didn’t have much else to focus on.
I played its sequel, various other RPG games, then MMOs, and eventually it faded from my consciousness as a quality game from the early days of 3d graphics.
Why, then, revisit it more than a decade later? Because of user generated content. Of course, I had an external impetus – my NWN buddy – but if it hadn’t recaptured me, I could easily have walked away. However, it did; I wasn’t being asked to replay the same old content I’d played before, but instead to play through another – a, I suspect, longer – campaign developed by a user instead of by the design team.
I might have been a bit skeptical about UGC except I’ve played a lot of really good user generated content in Star Trek Online and in Neverwinter, both of which have a solid rating system and an “approval” process for making supported missions that can even reward you with legitimate items and in-game currency. I also played through several enjoyable UGCs in Shadowrun Returns, so I’d been properly primed to expect quality products from users, and for the most part, that’s what I got in NWN, too.
The UGC campaign has been enjoyable, with a lot of good consistency in characters and locations. Rather than spanning hundreds of “boards” throughout the world, the creator smartly set it mostly in a single country, reusing boards for multiple purposes. Rather than that feeling like cheating, though, the creator smartly reworked each instance of the board to make it feel changed and different, succeeding at creating consistency without repetition. The characters have mostly been enjoyable, though of course a few stereotypes have snuck in, but to be fair, they almost always do in high fantasy. The story, too, has been enjoyable, with lots of side diversions, interesting NPC factions, and lots of good chance for role play, though of course there’s limitations to what can be done in any CRPG (too often I gripe how I’d never say any of the speech options I’m given, but there’s rarely been consequences for them).
So as WoW ages into its (very likely) last expansion, I hope we get an option to prolong the life of the game through allowing for User Generated Content. There’s a lot of die-hard fans out there who’d love nothing more than to turn their fan-fiction or other wild ideas into a little dungeon that players could then explore. I know I’ve had ideas like that myself in the past, though they’re a bit outdated now.
Now that Neverwinter’s pretty solidly established that UGC is doable in a quality and supported way, would you like to see UGC in WoW? What ideas do you have?
Stubborn (and wishing I had more of a computer background so I could make UGC instead of just staring confusedly at the toolset)
Just that, really. That’s what’s on my mind. It’s snowing. Again. This winter has, without any close second, been the worst I’ve experienced, and it’s not even February yet.
Okay. Enough griping about the weather. Far more importantly, I’ve started playing a new game that’s kept my attention for the five or so hours I played it yesterday.
You may remember the kerfuffle over 38 Studios’ shutdown due to mismanagement. They had planned to develop an MMO off of the sales of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, their standalone single-player RPG, but the sales were wildly overestimated and fell far short of what they needed to continue. As a result, the company had to shut down and a lot of good people lost their jobs.
Also as a result, I believe that Rhode Island, who had funded 38 Studios through a new business loan, became the proprietor of KoA:R. I expected that we’d never see a sale afterwards, since RI was going to want to make as much money back on the game. Consequently, even though I’d been quite interested in it when it was first released but not willing to pay sixty bucks for it (I know, it’s partially my fault that 38 Studios failed, but I blame Steam for lowering my cost expectations), I mentally wrote it off as one that slipped through the cracks.
Instead, Steam has put KoA:R on sale this weekend for 75% off, a mere six dolalrs. I went ahead and bought the DLC, as well, even though I usually refuse to, because I wanted to help out Rhode Island and all.
So far, it’s been a steal. There’s a ton of character optimization in it as well as the opportunity to generalize or specialize as you see fit. It’s got a basic skill system similar to Dragon Age where each level you can increase a single skill like alchemy, persuasion, or stealth. The game includes a crafting system, as well, though I haven’t played with it yet. The game play is mostly like Oblivion, with a close-behind camera and action-oriented combat. Lastly, it’s been following a decent story (that I believe was partially done by R.A. Salvatore) and has an absolute ton of quests. I’ve only done the tutorial area and the first town, and I’m four to five hours into the game. When you’re reaching your “Ed Value” (1 dollar per hour of enjoyment) after one play session, that’s pretty good.
In summray, it really seems like a nice old-school single-player RPG on par with Skyrim but with slightly worse graphics. It’s more cartoony than photorealistic (like Skyrim), but I enjoy the divergence from photorealism to get some more fantasy art styles and silly creatures like the wooden boggarts or surprisingly ferocious pixies who apparently don’t want their magic well fumbled with.
So at the moment, I’ve found a new game to play. Hooray! Hopefully it sticks. With my wife out of town this weekend and it snowing again, I expect I’ll log quite a few hours over the next few days.
Stubborn (Sneaky Bow/Daggers Rogue)
Rowan’s right, of course, but I hate myself for it. I really don’t know what it is that has made me so blasé recently. Of course, this isn’t the first time. I am, perhaps ironically, getting tired of writing about being tired of such a wonderful variety of games. I look at what I’ve been playing, and the concepts, the art, the execution – they’re all beautiful, ingenious, and engaging.
Except, you know, they aren’t. Not to me, recently, at any rate.
I mentioned before that I bought my wife a copy of the game Brothers. Everyone was raving about it. She liked Zelda as a kid, enjoys deep, emotional stories, and doesn’t like a lot of violence, so I thought Brothers would be perfect. It wasn’t. It was the opposite of perfect. I sort of feel the same about my game choices for myself.
Somehow, I’m just not recently in tune with gaming. I can’t seem to get engaged with any game. Seriously, look at this list of just my “favorites” in my Steam library. This is completely unaltered or edited:
Far Cry 3
Legend of Dungeon
Orcs Must Die! 2
To the Moon
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Shouldn’t that be enough? I mean there’s some real gems there. On top of that, I’ve got WoW, Neverwinter, M:tGO, The Secret World, Guild Wars 2, and the Wildstar beta all updated and ready to play. Surely at least one of those should grab me?
Instead, I find myself watching a lot of T.V. I’m not a huge fan of T.V., mind you, but it’s just what I’ve been doing. I’m not tired or anything that’d make we want to lay around, I’ve just been watching it preferentially over playing any of those games.
So I don’t know. Maybe it is just the winter doldrums, but I’m just not being grabbed by much at the moment. Anyone else feeling the same? Or have some secret awesomesauce to offer?
Stubborn (and blasé)