My wife and I have played a lot of games together. It’s one of the many ways we enjoy spending time together, and it also can work as a cooldown period if we’ve had an argument. Just last night, in fact, we disagreed about whether a player in my pen and paper D&D session had monopolized the time for stuff related solely to his character, and when the argument was getting to the point of not really being an exchange of ideas any more, we stopped and played a League of Legends. We even ended up laning together, and while perhaps I didn’t call warnings as much of verbally strategize as much, we still rocked our lane and won.
However, her schedule has been changing; she gets more and more busy and has less and less free time, which she then splits between more and more activities. This isn’t a complaint, mind you; she impresses me with her width of dedication, but the unhappy (for me) result is less time to play together.
Some days we only have enough time for one LoL match. Others, though, by happenstance, we have time for much more, and for the most part, I don’t like playing a lot of LoL back to back. As a result, we like to have a backup game in reserve, something we don’t play a lot, but can jump into quickly and make lasting progress, something like an MMO, usually (though it’s been Dungeon Defenders and Trine and other games in the past). We’ve mostly played WoW (from start to finish over multiple expansions), but also The Secret World (from start to finish), Lord of the Rings (start to the end of Moria), and most recently Guild Wars 2 (only to about level 30).
When one game runs its course, though, we sometimes have a hard time deciding what to do next. I always try to find something that appeals to her, but historically I’ve got a bad record at it (She hated Brothers: “Why can’t I understand the language? What’s the point? ” and she didn’t like the “puzzle-y” aspect to it.) We’ve also tried Command and Conquer, (which bored her), and Fallen Earth (which she hated the climbing in so much that she wouldn’t play the rest of the game). When those attempts fail, I ask her what she wants in a game. This is the list from the most recent of these discussions:
1) Less tactical movement (more WoWish and less Guild Wars 2ish)
2) A good crafting system (more Neverwinter or Fallen Earth, less WoW)
3) A companion system (like SWtoR or Neverwinter)
4) Decent graphics (she didn’t like FE for that reason, too)
5) standard controls (part of why she hated Brothers was that it used the gamepad)
6) No forced soloing (shame on TSW)
7) No Guns (she refuses to play FPS games, but might have done Portal 2)
We discussed the various options out there, including both returning to older games or looking for newer ones. In the end, with all the options out there, she decided on returning to GW2, despite the fact that it met few of the requirements. It drove me a little nuts, honestly, because after we worked so hard on getting that list down, it doesn’t meet several of the requirements, but frankly, it’s likely no game really does.
It certainly leads to questioning what your “must haves” or “must not haves” in video games are. Lore, for example, is wonderful, and what people do with it constantly impresses me, but I just don’t know how crucial it really is to my wife and I. In TSW, I collected all the lore, but only as a scavenger hunt kind of activity, not because I cared to read all of it. In fact, the buzzing thing, while nifty, was rather irritating to deal with in text form.
So what are your “must haves” or “must not haves?”
Stubborn (a must have, I hope)
I read two very interesting posts yesterday. The primary post, by Belghast of Tales of the Aggronaut, discussed why his experiences led him to believe that our group of blogs was not a community. The second post, by Rowan Blaze of I Have Touched the Sky, responded to Bel’s with skepticism but acknowledgement of important points. I left a comment to Bel on his website, but the topic stayed with me afterwards and, like all great blog posts do, really got me thinking, so I thought I’d take today to further develop my ideas on the topic.
As with many debates, the true core of this is semantic. What Bel means by community and what I mean when I use the same word are inherently different. That’s what makes some debates so frustrating: two people talking past one another not realizing they’re really talking about two different things. It’s also what can make debates so rewarding, when you and another person find a way to expand the understanding of the other by sharing your personal connotations of words. As an English professor, I love watching this sort of thing (and, of course, taking part in it as well).
To the point, I absolutely do think our loose collection of blogs is a community, and I think labeling it as such is important. By labeling it, we remind ourselves that even when we disagree, there is a commonality that we share. It gives us some ownership not only of our own blogs, but in all the blogs out there with which we identify. That ownership isn’t meant to imply any creative control, just that we feel motivated to participate in, cultivate, and defend one another (even if defend = disagree, which is absolutely can).
Bel notes that the “one anothers” in our community are often strangers with whom we’ve decided to identify based solely on pixels through a screen. Of course, there’s legitimacy to that argument. The ability of the Internet to replicate a form of dissociative identity disorder is startling, so it’s no wonder that our ties to people we only know through pixels might be thinner or more fragile. However, while of course there’s millions of years of evolution, mirror neurons, public personas, and fear of shame that may change our face-to-face behavior, in the end, we only know our “real world” friends though the masks that they put on, as well. Sure, over a long enough period of time, those masks may vanish and one may learn the true nature of his or her friends (for better or worse), the fact that you can never be that sure didn’t inhibit the relationship in its early stages.
The same can be true of our digital relationships. In a brief and enjoyable Twitter exchange, Bel said (I have no idea how to display just his tweet, so bear with me),
I responded that that sort of reaching out was precisely why I think labeling it a community was so important. If you’re just writing in a room of strangers, why bother? But when those other writers are part of your community, well. Now we have a reason to build.
Belghast’s post is exactly spot-on in every example he provides. We’ve all felt the “chill” of suddenly being alienated from people we’d considered friends when we leave a particular group, and it can take time to grow into whatever new group we’ve joined. In that meantime, though, isolation can set in. I’ve seen a lot of other bloggers talk about this upon quitting their blog or taking a break from games. We’re all likely guilty of such an accidental shunning as well.
It’s never been intentional, of course. With so many blogs out there in our community, when someone steps out, it’s far too easy to slowly (or even quickly at times) forget about them. I’ve gone back and looked at my “hidden” links (because I never delete a link in case the blog comes back), and here’s just a small list of people I’ve lost touch with who were “good blogging buddies” in my past:
Runz from Runzwithfire
Jamin from Shattered Beginnings
Nube of Lonely Pally
Rhii of Oh My Kurenai!
Issy of Jaceandco
…and plenty of others. Some of those people were my top commentators for a time, and I’ve allowed them to just… fade away.
And that’s the dark side, the somber side of communities. They’re as easy to leave as they are to join (if they’re harder to leave, they’re probably cults), and often, making the choice to leave ends your time with the community members.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that great friendships can’t form that outlast whatever community brought them together. I have friends in guilds that I quit long ago, and I do keep in touch with some people I met through my blog who aren’t around as much any more (Krel, for example. How are you?). Those rare opportunities are part of what makes having a community so important; that “reaching out” to which Bel alludes happens because of the commonality, in spite of the fact that we all know how ephemeral our membership may be.
So however you may think about community, or however you may want to label our little group of blogs, remember that the words don’t matter, the intentions do. Feeling that group membership, knowing that you’re a part of something, and the enjoyment you get out of it while you’re there should always be leveraged against the knowledge that it’s only for a time. For right now.
Stubborn (for now)
I’ve written about factions before. To be frank, not a terrible lot has changed since then, except more examples of the same points. Still, as more and more games continue to come out that use factions to clumsily create a vague sense of narrative tension, I’m constantly reminded of why I’m sick and tired of factions.
The most recent example for me has been Wildstar. Since they’ve announced their factions via videos on the website, I assume I can talk in general about them without breaking the NDA. In Wildstar, you have the “Exiles” and the “Dominion.” Both factions are fighting over control of the planetary setting. What bothers me is that for AAA MMOs, I don’t think there’s ever been as clearly a “good guy” faction and a “bad guy” faction. The Exiles are just trying to survive, to resettle after their planets have been destroyed, whereas the Dominion wants to crush the Exiles and take the planet’s resources for its own use.
Even in Star Wars, there were decisions by the Republic that weren’t perhaps the most just, and at times the “light side” solutions were stupid or naive (or even too brutal). In WoW, the Alliance and the Horde both have many nuanced shades of gray, as does Star Trek Online, where each “empire” is fighting for dominance of its political ideal, and Rift, where one faction believes in using the bad stuff to fight the bad stuff and the other thinks using the bad stuff is a bad idea. It makes me think that anyone who knowingly chooses the “bad guys” must be sociopathic; why would you choose to dominate, oppress, and murder everyone else? (Of course, I don’t really think that those players are bad people, but it does confuse me.)
In all of these cases, the factions primarily seem to exist to provide three basic elements: a reason for PvP, a background story for the setting, and a secondary experience with playthrough. What drives me nuts is that there’s plenty of other ways to handle each of these, if they need to be handled at all.
PvP can take place for any variety of reasons, such as tactical war games, resource squabbles, or vendettas. You do not need factions to explain any of those. Outbreaks of violence happen for all sorts of reasons; factions are just convenient ways to avoid coming up with better stories.
Nor do you need factions for a world’s background, and in fact there’s virtually never simply two factions involved. Creating bi-factional backgrounds only leads to strained suspension of disbelief; instead, why not have multiple factions, some of which are allied, some of which are enemies, and some of which are neutral. Fallen Earth did this well; there were 6 factions you could associate with later in the game. Doing quests for one gave you a lot of rep for that one faction, a little rep for a couple others, and negative rep for others. This “Faction Wheel” became a major element in later gameplay, as players tried to find ways to get everything from all of the factions. That sort of more complex gameplay better illustrates how things work in the real world, rather than just a bifurcated political environment where you’re either all for or all against one group of people.
Lastly, you certainly don’t need factions to support multiple playthroughs. In fact, you don’t need multiple playthroughs at all; look at how Guild Wars 2 has handled it; each race gets a separate starting area, and you can, should you choose, try to finish the entire world map on a single character or experience the zones separately on different characters. Early on I plotted two completely separate leveling paths so I could play the game differently with my buddy and my wife. Yet, no factions were necessary.
Admittedly, some games do well with factions. Of all the games I’ve named (and some I haven’t), I think WoW probably does the most, story-wise, with them. To be fair, they’ve had a LOT more time than almost everyone else to develop that story, but at least the factionalization makes sense in WoW. And yet, there’s plenty of characters who don’t see the reason for the factions (or didn’t until their city got blown up), so even within the story there’s admissions that the faction system is weak. Why couldn’t an orc prove himself to Varian through a series of tests and be allowed to defect? Why didn’t Van Cleef side with the Horde instead of trying to build his own army? Why didn’t we all work together in Icecrown or Dragon Soul to stop the potential planet-ending disaster? Not only did we not work together, we actually attacked the other faction. You’d think that if you failed you’d want there to be another line of defense against the end of the world! That’s precisely the sort of strain factions put on suspension of disbelief.
I just think the standard two (or even three) faction solution is lazy. There’s so much more nuance in the world that it makes no real sense to force an early alignment on a player. If you must have factions in a game, then WoW’s Pandaren solution makes the most sense to me; let players experience the culture of both, then decide which they feel the most affinity for.
Or just do away with factions all together.
Stubborn (and a consensus builder, not a faction-maker)
I mentioned last time that I’d had a surprise gift of a Wildstar beta key. I played a lot more over the weekend, getting into the second “zone,” and I’ve formulated some early opinions on the game. I’m happy to share those opinions, but please keep in mind that I have to withhold a lot of the specifics because the NDA’s still up.
My first character I made essentially in error. I didn’t realize what all the options were, and what I created, while okay, wasn’t really that interesting for me. As a result, my first play session was a bit disappointing and off-putting. After that first play session, in fact, I’d almost decided not to bother giving it another try. There was nothing inherently wrong with the gameplay, mind you; it just wasn’t doing much for me. In fact, it reminded me a little of my Star Wars experience (though SWtoR had some specific issues that upset me); it was a solid game but didn’t add enough to keep my attention.
However, a couple days later, with my wife gone and having played quite a bit of my other games, I felt a little guilty that this gifted beta key was getting rusty, so I loaded up the client. Lo and behold! A patch. Well, okay. I’ll go look at some of the stuff on the main site in the meantime.
And that’s when I started getting interested. You see, at this point, Wildstar’s greatest success is its media. The video “flicks” that the media team have crafted seem perfectly suited to people of my sensibilities. There’s a bit of gallow’s humor, some slap-stick, well designed characters, good writing, and excellent voice acting. It’s the media that’s getting me interested in the game, which, of course, is their plan. I ended up watching every video they released during the time the patch downloaded, and I’m not a huge Internet video watcher; hell, I didn’t know what Honey Badger was until I saw the pet in Neverwinter and did some research.
Not only are the “flicks” well crafted, but their dev diaries are professional cuts of media, as well. They’ve found a good spokesperson to narrate them in an informative and entertaining manner, and they’ve designed a very well crafted slogan: “Remember, the devs are listening.” That, of course makes the viewer feel like an integral part of the game design; my opinion matters. People who feel like they’ve contributed to a project become more emotionally attached, it’s more theirs, so this sort of loyalty-building is undoubtedly going to help drive up sales. I mean it quite honestly when I say that their PR team should be given a big, fat raise.
Now I in no way want to fault a company for doing a good job selling its product. They’ve done a stellar job (pun intended); I went from being quite blasé about the game to being far more interested. The videos also clued me in to the mistake I’d made in my first character creation, so when the patch completed, I started up a new character who was more my style and loaded in. The new character has been a lot more fun, so I have hope for the game now.
Beyond that, I want to leave it to everyone to form their own opinions of the game. Star Wars has a huge, loyal following, no matter how I may feel about it, and I wish the same for Wildstar. Whether or not I end up playing at launch or after, I don’t know. I’m sure I’ll keep hopping in every few days in the beta, but beyond that, I can’t be sure. More on that as I get further in and, eventually, when the NDA lifts.
Stubborn (and not normally a mediavore)
I’ve had a busy last few days, having just started the semester here while trying to pilot a new developmental course with essentially zero support. In fact, it may be an overall negative amount of support, since some of the other professors are pushing back against it while most other offices are just not doing anything particularly helpful. My only ally in a school of, let’s say, 200 personnel is the Registrar, who’s a great ally to have, but not enough against the tide of resistance and incompetence. I had 10 of 10 seats filled on the Friday before classes, but only 5 of those 10 on Monday. I’ve been scrambling since to figure out why as well as re-fill those seats. I think I got up to 8 today, so I’m in “safe” territory, but it was still an unpleasant shock.
Along those bad news lines, one of the students in my 101 class I had for developmental English last semester and really liked. He was a solid student, but also a young man who had doubts and troubles but was determined to overcome them. He didn’t show up for the first two days of class, so I decided to call him to see what’s up, since he had mentioned considering dropping out last semester, a decision I talked him out of. He answered right away, and we had a good conversation, but privately, I was reeling, because he’d decided to join the navy and was in the car on his way to basic. He’d signed up for four years, and while I have to respect his decision, I feel like there was a lot more he could have done. That’s not to say our armed forces aren’t doing something grand and worthwhile, but he was really a very smart kid from a rough background who hadn’t had good opportunities, and I’m afraid in the Navy he may be injured physically or psychologically.
It is what it is.
More bad news came on the same day, as I found out that Dorchester County, South Carolina, from which I moved away in the year 2000, has been harassing my mother about me not showing up for jury summons. Apparently she’s had to call them repeatedly to tell them I don’t live there any more, but nothing seems to be able to change their records to indicate I don’t live there. I finally got a fax number for them today and wrote them a very nasty letter (by my standards, which is to say polite but terse) and sent them a copy of my current Driver’s License so they’d lay off.
On brighter news, my wife’s back, finally, after being gone two weeks. YAY!
Also, I’ve been having a lot of fun playing Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter, and it’s interesting to see some of the weird overlaps, like Nashers, Lord Neverember, some of the architecture and zones, and so forth.
Disappointingly, the WoW servers going down on Wednesday cost me my flex raid. It’s odd, but something that only occupies 3 hours of my week really affected me by being cancelled. Perhaps because I’ve been so isolated at home without my wife, not getting to socialize with a group of friends bummed me out. I did get to play some NWN with one of them, so that was a fine remedy, but missing the rambunctious ruckus of a raid kind of made my week feel incomplete.
Lastly, in surprising news, I found myself in possession of a beta key for Wildstar. It was a gift from an old blog friend, so I’m excited to get started in that. I’m only a little way in right now, so I’ll reserve judgment until I see more, but expect to hear more about it as the NDAs go down.
Have a great weekend!
Stubborn (and not living in Dorchester County for MORE THAN A DECADE)
Most games nowadays that have combat have some form of in-combat healing, such as a potion or medpack. Thanks to my recent bgame dilettante-ism, I’ve found myself in a lot of different styles of combat with different potion paradigms. It got me wondering how potion use hinted at design decisions. I’ve recently encountered three specific forms of potion use in different games, and I thought I’d use those to pretend to plumb the depths of the designer’s minds.
“Uh-Oh” potion use:
In this type of design, potions are only used to help a player survive when he or she has made a mistake. For example, if you accidentally pull two or three groups in some MMOs, not using a potion would be a death sentence. Usually in these games potions aren’t ultra-plentiful, so they become a kind of resource against which you balance your caution when pulling. If you mispull too much, you’ll end up potionless and dead, but if you’re usually pretty careful, the potions will see you through mistakes. I’d guess these designers wanted the game to be challenging without every mistake being lethal. They allowed a kind of “reflex save” against mispulls; if you can get to the potion in time, you’ll be okay. Additionally, they emphasize resource management as part of the game, with potions just being another resource to keep an eye on.
“Rotational” potion use:
In these types of games, you’re expected to keep potions rolling any time you’re in combat. These games emphasize potion use almost as part of a rotation, and as a result the potions often have a cooldown of some kind. You often see this kind of gameplay in the tougher end of ARPGs like Diablo or, particularly, Van Helsing. Not managing your potions properly even on a normal pull can be fatal, and as a result, potions are often plentiful. In Van Helsing, towards the end, I had over 200 potions saved up, never having bought one. I suspect the designers here wanted the added challenge in harder difficulties of making the player not only manage their attack rotation but a sort of “defensive rotation” as well. This reveals a desire for complexity without complication, adding an accepted mechanic to the “necessary” elements of game play.
“Cooperative” potion use
In these games, people cannot use potions (or medpacks, or bandages, or blood bags) on themselves, but must rely on other players to help them. In these games, players often take on different roles, with one person acting as a healer while the others may be tanks or dps. Team Fortress 2 has a role like this, as do some ARPGs (and of course all MMOs, though self-healing is an option in both). DayZ operates this way, not allowing players to use adrenaline shots on themselves when they’re unconscious (for obvious reason) or blood packs when they’re weak. This suggests a design decision that forces players to cooperate to survive. Of course, DayZ is a haven for sociopaths and mass murderers, so it may be that the intended design is overwritten by the unintended design (see Rust Interviews for good examples of DayZ-style gameplay). Still, it’s a nice thought, that one would have to rely on another instead of drinking a magical healing potion.
Those are the three variations of potion use I’ve come across. Some games are clearly a mixture of them, but I think I’ve hit the main three. Are there any other potion paradigms out there I’ve missed? Do my analyses of design intentions make sense? Let me know.
Stubborn (and drinking a caffeine potion)
It was an interesting weekend, if a little lonely (my wife is still away). My Saturday was mostly spent at a volunteer activity I’ll be doing once a month until they no longer want me. The public library has a “Friends of the Library” board I’ve just joined, and every second Saturday of a month, they have a huge used book sale. I spent several hours there helping straighten and stock shelves, direct customers, and help people out with their purchases. Since I worked at Barnes & Noble for several years when I was younger, it was all second nature to me. Like riding a bike, it all came back. Luckily, I’m just a volunteer, so the “customers” are a lot more friendly and polite than they have been in the past when I was an “employee,” so overall the experience was very enjoyable.
Sunday I spent playing Neverwinter – almost all day. I plowed past where my previous character had ended. I’m still really enjoying the game; the dungeons are challenging without being too difficult for free-to-play strangers. I like the solo experience, particularly the companion options. I like the leveling, so far both with the pace and challenge. I don’t have too much to complain about, really.
In fact, my only complaint is with a voluntary activity (so the response “just don’t do it” is perfectly fair and reasonable). Since I last played, the game added an outside browser game that would help you level up your companions. In it, you “explore” various locales and experience various “challenges” that are settled with essentially random die rolls. You all know how I feel about random outcomes, and it applies to this as well. Some of the challenges require that you roll the equivalent of a 6 on five of six dice. You don’t have to roll them all at once, but any time you miss completely, you lose a die. The probability of that is, of course, rather small, and I don’t like wasting my time rolling dice to see if I get lucky. So I don’t; it’s voluntary, after all.
So far, I’ve enjoyed everything else. I don’t feel like it pushes any kind of payment plan, nor that leveling is too hard without some kind of experience boost (like in Allods). The characters are diverse and have enough divergent opportunities, and the stories have been largely entertaining. So if you’re itching for a new game to try out, give Neverwinter a try. I can personally guarantee at least the first 30 levels are entertaining.
Stubborn (and back to work)