Random Junk: V1 Issue 2

It seems I've been in a multiplayer mood of late, so that's what this issue's going to concentrate on.
 
Not too long ago I received a PM of encouragement regarding that old article (still one of my more popular ones) about my proposal for an MMO based in the world of Dune.  I remember thinking that I wanted to make damn sure that it wasn't just a theme pasted over old gameplay, that the game mechanics took some sort of step forward.  My informal design has moved on quite a ways from this, in part about reading what some MMO designers have learned in the intervening time and have implemented, and in part through private discussions I've had with MMO aficionados. 
 
Despite the design ideas, I think what people responded to WAS the theme (and to the company behind the game, which is sort of like a celebrity appearance if that company has a good reputation, like old Blizzard), which makes me realize that that is probably a major draw for people.
 

STAR WARS

 
Bioware's Star Wars: The Old Republic reminds me a bit of that.  I could write a book about how I feel about Star Wars, but I'll say that until recently, the franchise was sort of split into Old Movies and Everything Else, so despite my initial interest in what they might do, I sorta stopped caring early on.  Recently, though, I watched something that made me look at the prequels in a new light, so I found myself gazing at the Star Wars MMO's homepage for a while, soaking up the slowly loading, javascript-laden data.  
 
There are people already willing to torpedo the project it seems, and not just disgruntled employees.  I think the main complaint is the cost of the project itself, which to me is a bit obscene for a game.  I don't think all the voice acting would really contribute to that cost, but I'm not sure what else there could be.  The game's design itself seems to add a spaceship-flying minigame with minions and several classes that have branching skill trees.  You also get dialog options, but as to what impact those options have on the game, I have no idea.   
 
One thing that bugs me though is that they seem hell-bent on catering to the people who want to do a Boba Fett or Han Solo redux, sort of the same sickness that gives you a thousand people with adamantium-style claws in superhero games.  They do this by having two spellcaster classes (jedi/sith) and two nuts-and-bolts classes (the ones that sound interesting to me).  At no time can you really hop out of these classes into other ones, which in itself is fine because it keeps people focused on their roles, but it also seems like a recipe for boring development.  Despite my dialog choices, I'm incapable of playing a good bounty hunter?  Or an evil smuggler?  Strikes me as a bit weird, since those people would lie outside of the law.  Even Han Solo was potentially a bit of a bastard--  that part of what made the character interesting.
 

OTHER MMO STUFF I'VE BEEN KEEPING TRACK OF


The work on Guild Wars 2 has been more interesting to me because the monsters you fight seem to make more contextual sense, like they're tied into the world you're exploring rather than just standing around staring at the grass until some hero comes along to lop their head off and take their spleens. 
 
Old EVE still interests me, and would probably be one of the games I'd like to try out if we had a decent computer, a bit of disposable income, and a willingness to immerse myself in a single hobby for a long time.  One of their latest updates redoes the avatar system, making them all look a lot less weird.  There are other updates, but I haven't read too closely since a lot of them seem a bit insidery to me.
 
That's the problem I have with a lot of MMOs.  I realize it's inevitable that spending enough time in such a place eventually tilts your worldview a bit and you start using weird buzzwords like you were in some sort of cult.  It took me the longest time to even understand basic MMO phrases, many of which have seeped into gaming in general (making it sound mildly more stupid, in my opinion). Usually the games I did participate in I tended not to spend too much time on (a month of Everquest, a little while longer on Anarchy Online, a while with Dofus, a great deal of Puzzle Pirates), and for the most part I wasn't really required to to have fun with them.  Everquest especially gave me a nice reward just for exploring the lands, even though I was eventually run down like a dog by some high-level "mobs" as you kids say. 
 
Another game that I looked at briefly was Trion's Rift. But after looking at the webpage I couldn't figure out what the game does differently, so I put it on the back burner until someone tells me what it brings to the table.  Even if I don't play most of these games, I'm still fascinated by online gaming.
 
An addendum regarding World of Warcraft:  I actually think that this expansion, that'll destroy or change a lot of the world, makes the game less interesting to me than it used to be.  Not that I've even spent a second playing it, but I still imagined myself at least trying it out should we get a better computer.  I guess I'm one of those explorer types, because that's what I wanted to do, just dive in and see things.  Now that all those things are going away or getting altered, I'm not sure it's as interesting to me anymore.  Maybe because it feels one step removed from a beginner now, with references to things that will be altered.  Rather than adding a layer, I feel like I'll be late to the party.  Hell, I AM late to that particular party I guess, but I still wanted to see it with my own eyes.  There are, though, actual attempts to map and codify everything in the game before it changes.  I'm happy to see any game that receives that kind of devotion from its players, even if what they're doing is basically scrambling to take pictures of everything as it currently is before it's gone.
 

TRES DEAD


But...  I've actually been PLAYING an MMO this week, and I thought I'd share with you a bit of my experience.  The game's called die2nite.  It's one of those free to play, but you get more out of it if you pay micropayments, sort of game.  In it you play a citizen of a small town of up to 40 people that's in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.  It's browser-based, and menu and forum driven, which is pretty much my level of non system-chugging involvement, but it's highly effective at what it does, though its effectiveness is insidious.  It wasn't until a few nights after I started that I realized that the designers had basically every town up to bicker like people who were in a zombie apocalypse.  The kinds of arguments we got into, about water, food, wasting resources, theft, voting--  all of these things felt like they were ripped straight from the script of a zombie movie.  
 
The game starts you out in a random town, where you are thrown in with a bunch of other strangers.  You're told of basic tasks you can accomplish, and you find that, with the action points you're given, you can contribute to construction projects, exit the town and explore the wasteland for salvage, and be a greedy bastard and hoard everything, building up your home from a tiny cot to a fortress.  The only thing stopping it from being a free-for-all is the ability to vote to shun an offender, which reduces their ability to contribute, but allows them to start setting up a town rebellion.  You can also have offenders executed by vote, though I'm happy to say we never went that far.
 
The objects out there are anywhere from nigh-worthless home decorations to absolutely indispensable tools, weapons, and resources.  The main system here is of control points.  Humans have 2 control points, and a zombie has 1.  So, as long as you have an equal or greater amount of control points in a sector you explore, you're free to do what you want.  If you have less, though, you're stuck, and either have to be rescued, fight your way our, or flee (which will likely result in wounds and death).  This requires teamwork and coordination, something a bunch of faceless players sometimes find a bit difficult to do. 
 
Huge arguments and voting sabotage erupted yesterday when we tried to coordinate building enough defenses to withstand a huge increase in potential zombies for the attack that night.  See, the game matches you up with players who share your general time zone, and when it's midnight, there's a huge influx of zombies.  If you lack the defensive points to repel them, you get overrun by the difference, and some people die.  We were in serious danger of doing that, with our dwindling resources and difference of opinion as to what we should upgrade.
 
There's definitely a humorous bent to a lot of the item descriptions, and the art isn't as severe as would make a little kid freak out (like I freaked out when I saw the creepy monster design in Return of the Living Dead).  But the battles against the rebelliousness in human nature are very real, and very educational if nothing else.  There are several stages to the gameplay too, which might keep me coming back, since when you first start a town there's the inevitable misunderstandings by new players and cynical positioning by veterans, with some people trying to take control and other people griping only after everything's been decided.  If you're disgusted with the group you can run outside and die so you can start somewhere else (which a few people did, some inexplicably, others because our punishments were probably a bit harsher than they should have been).
 
If you would have asked me earlier if I liked the game I would have said it was so-so, but right now it's the social aspect, the forum stuff, that has sold me on this game.  Well, sold me figuratively.  I'm playing for free. 
 

AFTER DEATH

 
My other major project of late has been playing my first multiplayer match of Solium Infernum.  As I talked about earlier, I had playtested the game, but only in single player.  The AI is much improved from the initial release, but it's something else entirely to play against living human beings.  It's actually quite gratifying to pull off a plan when you know there are intelligent beings reacting to every little clue you give them, rather than just responding with a series of behavioral modifiers.  Since SI is a super random game, it's hard to take bad results too personally, but since I'm doing pretty well right now, my ego won't let me get away without feeling a bit happy.  Still, I'm pretty sure that game is DESIGNED to make being the leader an unenviable experience, so I'm not sure how long I'll be able to hold on to power.  I might post or link to my impressions of the individual turns once the game is concluded, but that'll be months down the road most likely.
 

ELSE


In other personal gaming I've played the hell out of Tyrian 2000, which I noted last issue.  It's a shooter with a lot of options and some interesting weapons configurations.  You get money to spend on upgrades by destroying ships and picking up objects that drop from some exploding enemies.  You get your requisite boss ships, and there are secrets, wildly different locations, and upgraded enemy behavior modes that keep things fresh even when you think you've seen everything before.  It's pretty fun, although a bit frustrating at times when I don't have enough warning that something's going to ZOMG blast me.  
 
Other than that I spent a few minutes getting loot in Might and Magic 2 (I feel like I'm never going to find an electric axe), but this all has been more gaming than I've done in a while.  We've also been playing a lot of Spelunky, which includes the requisite swearing :)
 
So, anyone want to share their MMO experiences, past, present, or potential?  Or do you want to talk about how you're never going to bother?
 
I'll leave you tonight with a really cool video that shows composer Suzanne Ciani contributing her sound design to one of my favorite pinball games when I was a kid (well, it was alluring at least) called Xenon.
10 Comments
10 Comments
Posted by ahoodedfigure
It seems I've been in a multiplayer mood of late, so that's what this issue's going to concentrate on.
 
Not too long ago I received a PM of encouragement regarding that old article (still one of my more popular ones) about my proposal for an MMO based in the world of Dune.  I remember thinking that I wanted to make damn sure that it wasn't just a theme pasted over old gameplay, that the game mechanics took some sort of step forward.  My informal design has moved on quite a ways from this, in part about reading what some MMO designers have learned in the intervening time and have implemented, and in part through private discussions I've had with MMO aficionados. 
 
Despite the design ideas, I think what people responded to WAS the theme (and to the company behind the game, which is sort of like a celebrity appearance if that company has a good reputation, like old Blizzard), which makes me realize that that is probably a major draw for people.
 

STAR WARS

 
Bioware's Star Wars: The Old Republic reminds me a bit of that.  I could write a book about how I feel about Star Wars, but I'll say that until recently, the franchise was sort of split into Old Movies and Everything Else, so despite my initial interest in what they might do, I sorta stopped caring early on.  Recently, though, I watched something that made me look at the prequels in a new light, so I found myself gazing at the Star Wars MMO's homepage for a while, soaking up the slowly loading, javascript-laden data.  
 
There are people already willing to torpedo the project it seems, and not just disgruntled employees.  I think the main complaint is the cost of the project itself, which to me is a bit obscene for a game.  I don't think all the voice acting would really contribute to that cost, but I'm not sure what else there could be.  The game's design itself seems to add a spaceship-flying minigame with minions and several classes that have branching skill trees.  You also get dialog options, but as to what impact those options have on the game, I have no idea.   
 
One thing that bugs me though is that they seem hell-bent on catering to the people who want to do a Boba Fett or Han Solo redux, sort of the same sickness that gives you a thousand people with adamantium-style claws in superhero games.  They do this by having two spellcaster classes (jedi/sith) and two nuts-and-bolts classes (the ones that sound interesting to me).  At no time can you really hop out of these classes into other ones, which in itself is fine because it keeps people focused on their roles, but it also seems like a recipe for boring development.  Despite my dialog choices, I'm incapable of playing a good bounty hunter?  Or an evil smuggler?  Strikes me as a bit weird, since those people would lie outside of the law.  Even Han Solo was potentially a bit of a bastard--  that part of what made the character interesting.
 

OTHER MMO STUFF I'VE BEEN KEEPING TRACK OF


The work on Guild Wars 2 has been more interesting to me because the monsters you fight seem to make more contextual sense, like they're tied into the world you're exploring rather than just standing around staring at the grass until some hero comes along to lop their head off and take their spleens. 
 
Old EVE still interests me, and would probably be one of the games I'd like to try out if we had a decent computer, a bit of disposable income, and a willingness to immerse myself in a single hobby for a long time.  One of their latest updates redoes the avatar system, making them all look a lot less weird.  There are other updates, but I haven't read too closely since a lot of them seem a bit insidery to me.
 
That's the problem I have with a lot of MMOs.  I realize it's inevitable that spending enough time in such a place eventually tilts your worldview a bit and you start using weird buzzwords like you were in some sort of cult.  It took me the longest time to even understand basic MMO phrases, many of which have seeped into gaming in general (making it sound mildly more stupid, in my opinion). Usually the games I did participate in I tended not to spend too much time on (a month of Everquest, a little while longer on Anarchy Online, a while with Dofus, a great deal of Puzzle Pirates), and for the most part I wasn't really required to to have fun with them.  Everquest especially gave me a nice reward just for exploring the lands, even though I was eventually run down like a dog by some high-level "mobs" as you kids say. 
 
Another game that I looked at briefly was Trion's Rift. But after looking at the webpage I couldn't figure out what the game does differently, so I put it on the back burner until someone tells me what it brings to the table.  Even if I don't play most of these games, I'm still fascinated by online gaming.
 
An addendum regarding World of Warcraft:  I actually think that this expansion, that'll destroy or change a lot of the world, makes the game less interesting to me than it used to be.  Not that I've even spent a second playing it, but I still imagined myself at least trying it out should we get a better computer.  I guess I'm one of those explorer types, because that's what I wanted to do, just dive in and see things.  Now that all those things are going away or getting altered, I'm not sure it's as interesting to me anymore.  Maybe because it feels one step removed from a beginner now, with references to things that will be altered.  Rather than adding a layer, I feel like I'll be late to the party.  Hell, I AM late to that particular party I guess, but I still wanted to see it with my own eyes.  There are, though, actual attempts to map and codify everything in the game before it changes.  I'm happy to see any game that receives that kind of devotion from its players, even if what they're doing is basically scrambling to take pictures of everything as it currently is before it's gone.
 

TRES DEAD


But...  I've actually been PLAYING an MMO this week, and I thought I'd share with you a bit of my experience.  The game's called die2nite.  It's one of those free to play, but you get more out of it if you pay micropayments, sort of game.  In it you play a citizen of a small town of up to 40 people that's in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.  It's browser-based, and menu and forum driven, which is pretty much my level of non system-chugging involvement, but it's highly effective at what it does, though its effectiveness is insidious.  It wasn't until a few nights after I started that I realized that the designers had basically every town up to bicker like people who were in a zombie apocalypse.  The kinds of arguments we got into, about water, food, wasting resources, theft, voting--  all of these things felt like they were ripped straight from the script of a zombie movie.  
 
The game starts you out in a random town, where you are thrown in with a bunch of other strangers.  You're told of basic tasks you can accomplish, and you find that, with the action points you're given, you can contribute to construction projects, exit the town and explore the wasteland for salvage, and be a greedy bastard and hoard everything, building up your home from a tiny cot to a fortress.  The only thing stopping it from being a free-for-all is the ability to vote to shun an offender, which reduces their ability to contribute, but allows them to start setting up a town rebellion.  You can also have offenders executed by vote, though I'm happy to say we never went that far.
 
The objects out there are anywhere from nigh-worthless home decorations to absolutely indispensable tools, weapons, and resources.  The main system here is of control points.  Humans have 2 control points, and a zombie has 1.  So, as long as you have an equal or greater amount of control points in a sector you explore, you're free to do what you want.  If you have less, though, you're stuck, and either have to be rescued, fight your way our, or flee (which will likely result in wounds and death).  This requires teamwork and coordination, something a bunch of faceless players sometimes find a bit difficult to do. 
 
Huge arguments and voting sabotage erupted yesterday when we tried to coordinate building enough defenses to withstand a huge increase in potential zombies for the attack that night.  See, the game matches you up with players who share your general time zone, and when it's midnight, there's a huge influx of zombies.  If you lack the defensive points to repel them, you get overrun by the difference, and some people die.  We were in serious danger of doing that, with our dwindling resources and difference of opinion as to what we should upgrade.
 
There's definitely a humorous bent to a lot of the item descriptions, and the art isn't as severe as would make a little kid freak out (like I freaked out when I saw the creepy monster design in Return of the Living Dead).  But the battles against the rebelliousness in human nature are very real, and very educational if nothing else.  There are several stages to the gameplay too, which might keep me coming back, since when you first start a town there's the inevitable misunderstandings by new players and cynical positioning by veterans, with some people trying to take control and other people griping only after everything's been decided.  If you're disgusted with the group you can run outside and die so you can start somewhere else (which a few people did, some inexplicably, others because our punishments were probably a bit harsher than they should have been).
 
If you would have asked me earlier if I liked the game I would have said it was so-so, but right now it's the social aspect, the forum stuff, that has sold me on this game.  Well, sold me figuratively.  I'm playing for free. 
 

AFTER DEATH

 
My other major project of late has been playing my first multiplayer match of Solium Infernum.  As I talked about earlier, I had playtested the game, but only in single player.  The AI is much improved from the initial release, but it's something else entirely to play against living human beings.  It's actually quite gratifying to pull off a plan when you know there are intelligent beings reacting to every little clue you give them, rather than just responding with a series of behavioral modifiers.  Since SI is a super random game, it's hard to take bad results too personally, but since I'm doing pretty well right now, my ego won't let me get away without feeling a bit happy.  Still, I'm pretty sure that game is DESIGNED to make being the leader an unenviable experience, so I'm not sure how long I'll be able to hold on to power.  I might post or link to my impressions of the individual turns once the game is concluded, but that'll be months down the road most likely.
 

ELSE


In other personal gaming I've played the hell out of Tyrian 2000, which I noted last issue.  It's a shooter with a lot of options and some interesting weapons configurations.  You get money to spend on upgrades by destroying ships and picking up objects that drop from some exploding enemies.  You get your requisite boss ships, and there are secrets, wildly different locations, and upgraded enemy behavior modes that keep things fresh even when you think you've seen everything before.  It's pretty fun, although a bit frustrating at times when I don't have enough warning that something's going to ZOMG blast me.  
 
Other than that I spent a few minutes getting loot in Might and Magic 2 (I feel like I'm never going to find an electric axe), but this all has been more gaming than I've done in a while.  We've also been playing a lot of Spelunky, which includes the requisite swearing :)
 
So, anyone want to share their MMO experiences, past, present, or potential?  Or do you want to talk about how you're never going to bother?
 
I'll leave you tonight with a really cool video that shows composer Suzanne Ciani contributing her sound design to one of my favorite pinball games when I was a kid (well, it was alluring at least) called Xenon.
Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw

I played Lord of the Rings Online for about six or seven months (off and on), but between work and my personal life, I wasn't able to really justify the cost since I'd only play a few hours a week.  Now that it's free to play, I'd love to play it again, but I've had to move since then, and my ISP's speed would render the game unplayable. 
 
That being said, I'm really looking forward to seeing how The Old Republic turns out.  I'd love to get in on the ground floor, but I doubt my Internet will be up to snuff by then.

Moderator
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Sparky_Buzzsaw:  When we played Everquest, it was on the computer I'm currently using, which is outdated to the point of not even having DirectX 9.  We used the older graphics models, and before this upgrade my S.O. had to face walls when navigating places to fight lag.  So, yeah, we're not exactly set up to handle any major MMO release until we upgrade (which always sounds like a euphemism to me.  Buy a new expensive piece of wheezing hardware is what I mean). Since that's unlikely, I pretty much "like to watch," as it were.
 
While the designer and fantasy game lover in me is floored by Guild Wars 2...  I really want to see what they'll do with Star Wars.  The problem I have with Old Republic, though, is the problem I have with Star Wars properties in general.  There's this air of sameyness to everything.  They call it the expanded universe, but it feels downright claustrophobic to me, with the same tropes getting massaged over and over again.  The real test for me would be if I lost myself enough in the universe that I didn't feel I was playing some fan-service version of a Star Wars game, but rather a living entity in its own right.  It's all academic really, but that's how I feel.
Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw
@ahoodedfigure:
That's certainly justified, and now that you mention it, I can totally see how that would be a problem.  That's why I'm entranced with IP's like Mass Effect, because the developers still have the unique opportunity to create a vast universe and have it still feel fresh.  I definitely wouldn't mind a Mass Effect MMO at some point, so long as they expand beyond what has been shown in the games.
Moderator
Edited by Fripplebubby

Just a heads up, the link named "die2nite" actually goes to this page.  
 
Edit: Also, if you give me your "die2nite" nickname, i'll put you as the person who recommended me. 

Posted by ahoodedfigure
@Sparky_Buzzsaw: Yeah, I was thinking about Mass Effect when I wrote that.  Both are Bioware but Mass Effect feels new, feels like its own beast and has the potential to surprise us.  Star Wars, especially as a prequel, doesn't, unless it's capable of breaking away from the rather staid path it's been on.
 
You hear what was behind that teaser they were sending out?  Some were saying that it was a revival of their first game, Shattered Steel or whatever it was called.
 
@Fripplebubby: Thanks for the heads up on that!
Posted by owl_of_minerva

I tried World of Warcraft and found it really objectionable, a pretty shallow, grindy experience that offered no hooks for the soloing player. It sounds like something that only reaches critical life-destroying potential if you play with friends or in a guild. Although even if i found it to be mechanically complex and interesting, which I certainly didn't, I wouldn't have allowed myself to play it anyway. I prefer playing a variety of games rather than just grinding away at one. The cynicism of its structure is just off-putting to me (reward schemes, dailies, taking forever to grind up to top levels so you can get the best stuff, etc.).

Posted by ahoodedfigure
@owl_of_minerva:  That's something I've not thought about recently, but their social engineering techniques do make be a bit queasy. 
 
I expect some level of repetition or grind just because to give away all your assets too early is to squander the thing that keeps players coming back. I wonder if other games manage to make this content to time ratio better.  Minecraft, even though it's completely different, manages some of that just by virtue of it having a small (originally single) staff, and a modular system that made it easier to code without worrying about across-the-board consistency.  But in a way, Minecraft is a more personal game, since you need never play it with others and the worlds are generated through procedure rather than being some crafted, persistent place for everyone in every case.  
 
Eventually one runs out of things to do in most any game, I suppose.  Now I'm wondering if some MMO games manage to make a more humane version of this formula that's less manipulative.
Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw
@ahoodedfigure:
I have only heard the rumors that have been flying around Giant Bomb.  My guess is something Mass Effect related, but I wouldn't count out an original IP or a revitilization of something like Shattered Steel.  I may get vocal about my frustrations on all Bioware games feeling the same structurally, but truth be told, it's a great structure.  I'm looking forward to seeing what they're announcing.
Moderator
Edited by ahoodedfigure
@Sparky_Buzzsaw said:

" @ahoodedfigure: I have only heard the rumors that have been flying around Giant Bomb.  My guess is something Mass Effect related, but I wouldn't count out an original IP or a revitilization of something like Shattered Steel.  I may get vocal about my frustrations on all Bioware games feeling the same structurally, but truth be told, it's a great structure.  I'm looking forward to seeing what they're announcing. "

I think they know what they're doing, but at the same time it only makes me appreciate deviation from that old formula all the more.  
 
I guess we'll find out what it is.  Best not to get too excited about something that might as well not exist for all of us on the bottom rung (the consumers).