Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sci-Fi MMOs and Star Trek

There has been a lot of talk about what form the Star Trek MMO might take over the last few weeks. I noticed it as a topic on Elder Game, Ancient Gaming Noob and West Karana at least. I planned to discuss what form I would like to see a Star Trek MMO take and as a set up I wanted to expand on my earlier comments on sci-fi. Well my expanding got quite.....expansive so I'll leave the Star Trek specific discussion for a later post.

I'll be raising some questions about sci-fi and MMOs. I will not be attempting to answer them.

What kind of issues could sci-fi in an MMO be used to address:

  1. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank: The New Deal, the Marshall Plan, and the Keynesian economics they were based on were a product of the tension between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Large corporations and governments were forced to strike a compromise with labor because of the threat of radicalization. Without the Soviet counterweight, laissez-faire capitalism has reigned as envisioned by economists like Milton Friedman. This counter-revolution has been spearheaded by Chicago School insiders in the IMF and the World Bank with their refusal to grant debt relief and new loans unless countries lower perceived trade barriers. Take Star Trek as an example here, what has happened with the end of Klingon-Federation conflict? What social bargains forged in the light of that conflict have been eroded? Who has taken advantage? What is a good metaphor for this kind of situation?
  2. Group Think: Many people are concerned that things like Youtube, wikipedia, and Myspace will lead to group think instead of independently driven opinions. In a future setting the availability of this outlets and the number of people participating in them will have increased exponentially. Did these kinds of sites lead to group think? Was this a good or bad thing? If it was a good thing what were its benefits? If it was bad were controls placed on it? Is there an interesting metaphor for this in science fiction?
  3. Illegal Immigration: We are not the only country dealing with this issue. Right now there are thousands of Palestinians crossing the border into Egypt on TV. What kind of metaphor can a science fiction MMO draw up for this? This could easily tie into the first topic.
  4. Virtual Property: The very idea and nature of MMOs should be up for discussion in a science fiction MMO. Surely things like replicators can be used in a way to look into the issues surrounding ownership of virtual property. Is there a good metaphor for gold selling? Could we have a virtual economy existing inside the virtual economy of an MMO? What would the implications of a capitalist virtual economy existing inside of a socialist real economy be?
  5. Terrorism: What causes people to resort to terrorism? Is it anomie? Do expectations placed on the individual by society exceed their ability to accomplish them by legitimate means? Are they out of reach even by illegitimate means? What does a person do when faced with this? Or are some people just evil, a bad seed? Will it always be impossible to stop people from engaging in terrorism because there is some kind of spiritual or genetic flaw? Is it possible in an MMO to construct economies/situations in which players find themselves resorting to terrorism? Perhaps even suicidal terrorism in an MMO with permanent death? Will other players see them as a hero?
Another question is, can a participatory metaphor even work on an MMO scale? Can a participatory metaphor work well at all? If we cannot have a good meaningful interactive form of metaphor can games ever truly be art?
If we are going to have science fiction MMOs lets actually use them to explore issues the way that good written sci-fi has done. Fantasy works well for fulfilling hero/achievement myths, it is silly to re-skin them with spaceships and say we have something different. Science fiction is not just cool gadgets it is speculative fiction, it is asking "What if...?". It is also a special kind of mirror that allows us to examine our own flaws while pretending to examine our children's.
If you are not going to explore what could be, or reveal what is then pass the broadsword and give me another adolescent male power fantasy. It is OK they are fun...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Rambo

OK, I had some serious problems with this movie. I am far from a feminist but this movie seriously hurt my single X chromosome. It also hurt my high school English Lit background on many levels.

First, I consider Rambo to be a very interesting character. Especially in David Morrell's book First Blood. Rambo is kind of a modern day Frankenstein, he is a monster that the Army has created out of the pieces of a man. Eventually the Army looses control and his father/creator Col. Trautman must venture to the cold north to destroy him. I think that the story, whether intentional or not, raised some very good questions about the training of soldiers and how to handle their reintroduction into society. I enjoyed the first movie although I hate that they changed the ending so that Trautman did not kill Rambo. I thought there were many interesting things that could be done with the Rambo character. None of them were done in this movie.

There was really no reason for this movie to have any violence at all actually. I really enjoyed the first part of the last Rocky movie and was disappointed when they had him fight. It was a better movie with just Rocky walking around Philly being old. There could have been a good movie here about Rambo coping with getting older and the demons from his past. This is not that movie.

I am going to take the Rambo movie seriously here and I know many people will object to that. People will say that the Rambo films are not meant to be taken seriously, that they are just fun action movies. I completely disagree. Every Rambo film has attempted to make some kind of point about the country we live in and the things we do. The first film raised real questions about military training, and psychological treatment for veterans, questions we still have not found a good answer to. The second movie was an attempt to draw attention to the PoW situation and what our responsibilities were to soldiers left behind. The third, and least subtle, movie was a plea for us to help the Afghani "freedom fighters" (it also raises questions about shooting helicopters down with arrows). The last movie again features a religious group fighting for their lives and freedom in a war torn country. Rambo wants to be taken seriously, and that is what I am going to do.

The script was obviously written by a 12 year old boy in 1956 on his way home from seeing The Searchers. The movie, at its heart, is the stereotypical American captivity narrative that we all learned about in high school English (thank you Mrs. Mortimer). White Christians (trust me they go out of their way to establish this) are kidnapped by dark savages and drug off to the jungle to be....well they never really bother to explain why the raven headed beasts don't just rape and kill them on the spot.

There are a bunch of captured white people but only two are important, the tenderfoot, pacifist doctor and the strong willed but seemingly unskilled blond chick. In the early parts of the film I still had hope for it. The doctor was kind of an useless ass and the girl was the one to convince Rambo to take them upriver when they would not go. I was braced for a Heart of Darkness style trippy boat ride. That's not what I got either. After Rambo drops them off, it quickly turns into a rescue mission.

Rambo here is the Ethan Edwards/Daniel Boone figure except he has neither Boone's cool hat or Ethan's internal conflict. He has a machete and a bow and arrow (thankfully non-explosive). I am not sure whether I am happy that Rambo is Ethan Edwards lite. On one hand some kind of internal conflict and question raising would have been good. On the other hand the only advancement this movie has over The Searchers is that it does not seriously raise the question of whether a white woman should be killed if she is "spoiled" by not white people (the movie The Searchers only kind of asked this question, but the book it was based on certainly asked it).

The pacifist doctor eventually gets to "redeem" himself by abandoning his core values and brutally braining a man with a rock. The woman, who starts strong, becomes weaker and weaker as the movie goes on. When the Christian missionary doctors are tending to the villagers she is shown to be suitable only for bandage wrapping, and staring at wounded people while the men do the work. Later while tenderfoot doc is crushing a man's head during the final battle blondie is cowering beneath a big strong man covering her ears. She shows none of the strong will she had in the earliest scenes. She does not have to give up her pacifist convictions to be strong. There were plenty of wounded soldiers (all men) they could have been bravely tended too under fire.

Rambo wants to be taken seriously but when you do it all comes undone. The movie harkens back to one of the earliest forms of American literature in which the shame of having the home violated is redeemed by the violent, silent male rescuing the woman from the dark savages. The first movie raised questions and was a stronger movie for it. The second movie raised some questions but also preached a bunch and was weaker. The third movie was all preaching and now is a joke. This movie does not even preach clearly. Are we supposed to embrace another religious group in a third world revolutionary struggle? Or are you just pointing out that the situation in Burma is bad?

There was a lot of missed opportunities for a good movie here. We are dealing again with soldiers coming home with mental scars. Many of whom are middle aged this time around. There was a powerful story about an interesting character that could have been told. Instead we get a movie that is like its main character, an old, empty shell jacked up on steroids.

Interesting characterization and plot is thrown away...but if you are interested there is a 30 minute blood orgy.

Moving

Well due to some drama I have moved my focus from the Fear the Boot guild on Ursin to the Pig and Whistle Society on Kirin Tor. At first I was worried because this is an alliance side guild so I would have to leave poor Fansy behind at 46. Luckily I found an old 41 human priest Waevan that I could transfer over and pick up right about where I was leaving off with Fansy. I'll be playing with many of the same people too.

Picking up a character that you have not touched in a year or so at level 40+ is a little rough. I found the best thing was to just completely clear all my hot buttons out and go back through my abilities and reorganize. This allowed me to relearn what everything did.

I was concerned at first because I was Holy spec (I had been leveling only in dungeons with the toon) but it seems I can kill pretty well and hardly ever get hit so I guess I'll stick with it.

The new guild seems to be pretty good size (over 300 characters), we'll see how many are active and if I can get groups on a regular basis.

I did get to do the cool quest line that ends in the sea monster attack on Theramore. This was a lot of fun, I suggest anyone in the right level range grab it. It starts with "This Old Lighthouse". I'll post screenshots when I get home.

Managed to get from 0% at 41 to halfway through 43. Good weekend.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Nothing happening

I haven't really had much chance to play recently, which is why I haven't been blogging. I have been pretty busy at work too so I haven't been keeping up with the MMO blogs like I usually do so I haven't had much to comment on.

I have been playing the EQ pen and paper RPG with my Friday night group. It has been a lot of fun and we have a new player who seems like he will fit in really well with our group.

Personally I have been pretty busy studying for my second round of the LSAT and the Patent Bar Exam.

I have some stuff I want to say about the Star Trek MMO, I know it has been floating around the last week or so as a discussion point. Here is what I had to say about Star Trek in general on the Fear the Boot forums:

Since they are going back to the original I hope they plan to push the boundaries out as far as the original did. This is why I am excited about J.J. Abrams being in charge. The original really pushed the envelope out where women and race were concerned (for the time) and I hope to see that upped here. J. J. is known for pretty strong and competent female characters (Kate, Sidney) and actually using minorities' culture to round out their characters (Sun), so I hope we will see that really pushed.

The Treks since then have just gone with everyone is just a different colored version of the same basic guy, which when compared to a lot of other sci-fi is admirable. It would be nice to see females and minorities be equally as capable but explore the cultural and psychological diversity of character it brings (this has been done on Lost a lot more than on almost any other sci fi).

There is no reason Sulu cannot be a competent helmsman and still be culturally Japanese, that would be far more interesting. Likewise there is no reason that a woman can't kick butt but still maintain her feminine elements. Kaylee on Firefly was an expert mechanic and and still a woman character, Zoe could kill everybody in the room but was not reduced to a big boobed version of Rambo.

Like it or not Firefly presented a cast more diverse personality wise than a Star Trek crew and no one was even an alien. Firefly's humans had more differences than Star Treks aliens do. It was goofy, campy and over the top but it was better characters than we usually get in space.

TOS was great sci fi TV when it came out in the 1960s. It would have been good 1950s written sci-fi by comparison. Frankly the Star Trek series have not really raised the bar when compared to what written sci-fi has done in the meantime. Maybe it has climbed up to the level of mid-1960s written sci-fi.

I hope that by returning to original series they are planning to do this. There were far less forehead variations in TOS but still good crew diversity. He will have to waste less time explaining strange alien cultures and can instead just explore the very interesting ones we already have on board. Plus since J.J. is involved there is a good chance of Greg Grunberg and that makes me happy.

Further in the conversation I expanded on it with this:

I know what Star Trek is currently about, I am saying it is time to bump it up a notch. We don't have to use caricatures for many of those issues anymore. Sci-fi could get away with dealing with issues that other forms of entertainment could not because it could use aliens as stand ins for humans. The problem is, Star Trek is still using aliens as stand ins for issues that the rest of entertainment has long since addressed with real people in realistic settings.

In the 1960s the only way you could have a Russian and an American working together like that was in the far future in space. That is not true anymore, and hasn't been in a long time.

Star Trek needs to have more realistic human behavior. Instead of idealized humans dealing with their race and gender issue through conflicts with aliens we can have humans dealing with those same issues amongst themselves now. It is OK we can talk about race and gender using real humans in TV and movies now.

They can still use the aliens to deal with issues that people would be uncomfortable with presented in a realistic setting. Things like the reasons someone becomes a terrorist for example.

Sci-fi is at its strongest when it uses its ability to abstract difficult issues so people can examine them without real world emotional attachments. Once people become more comfortable discussing those issue they need to be moved into the realistic section of the setting so that the characters can become more 3D and able to tackle tougher issues.

I am not arguing that aliens should not be symbols for our issues in Star Trek. I am arguing that aliens should not be symbols for the same issues they were in the 1960s. Everyone else has moved on and Star Trek has been left behind, and it shows. People are smart they have been looking for something else.

I love Star Trek and want to see it succeed. Star Trek is about the future, always in motion the future is. By holding it slave to 40 years of continuity we hamper its ability to address current issues in a meaningful way. The future is not what it used to be, by claiming it is all Star Trek can express in a meaningful way is denial.

Keith Curtis, frequent FtB poster, all around nice guy, and talented artist pointed out that a Russian and an American worked together on The Man From UNCLE before Star Trek. I'll be hitting on these sci-fi commenting on real life themes through metaphor when I talk about the MMO and how it could be used to comment on MMOs themselves.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Reply to Elder Game's 2D is the state of the art

Good post on Elder Game

I found the missions in FFXI to be very enjoyable and they told a pretty good story. There was plenty of NPC rivalries and political intrigue to witness. One of the main problems with FFXI was that these were not actually integrated into the gameplay experience. You would grind for a few weeks, be able to do a mission and get part of the story, and then grind another few weeks before you saw another part. Now I do not like the current direction of MMOs (lots of solo questing) and prefer hanging out in a group with down time to chat, but there should be a way to integrate strong FFXI like sories into a good social environment.

One good quest that comes to mind is an early dwarf/gnome quest in WoW. you have to recover a box of ammunition and deliver it to some guys down the road from Ironforge. After you deliver it they go through this long skit where they are doing target practice with lots of lines thrown in from movies. It is a pretty funny quest and I always enjoy doing it.

Elder Game said:

Now take it a tiny step further. Give each town something memorable. What if this town…

  • Is full of mimes
  • Is having a feud with the town across the river
  • Is full of aristocrats who despise common adventurers… but need their help
  • Has a strictly-enforced dress code
  • Has a very unusual religious belief
  • Has just been terribly conned by a snake-oil salesman


One thing that came to mind when I read this was that I would really enjoy a quest line based on the events in The Music Man. If you are not familiar with the movie, a shyster comes to town and convinces the town they need a band for the kids because they are all being turned to evil by the pool hall. They get him to be their band director even though he has no real ability to teach the students to play their instruments. If the player was given a quest line where they slowly uncovered that the town was being duped and even got to choose whether to reveal it or cash in on it that would be a lot of fun. If the text and events were well written the whole chain could be nothing but fed-ex quests and still be a blast.

Movies

Even though my wife has lived in this country since she was 12, she has seen very few of our movies. While I have managed to get her caught up a bit over the last 5 years (she has seen all the Star Wars movies and even gone to an ECW wrestling event) there are still many basic staples that she has never seen. My family and I started a full on effort with this Christmas to get her up to speed. Over the past few weeks we have watched:

Raiders of the Lost Ark
Steel Magnolias
The Mummy
The Mummy Returns
The Scorpion King
Ghost Busters
Ghost Busters 2
Jurassic Park
Kundun
The Birdcage

She really likes the comedy and action adventure type movies (not to big on the Academy Award winners unless they deal with Asia) so we have the following to look forward to:

The other two Indiana Jones films
The other two Jurassic Park movies (bleh)
Big Trouble in Little China
Uncle Buck
Dirty Dancing (thanks mom, I'll remember this when you least expect it)
The Alien movies

Iowa

I wanted to post on this earlier but I used up so much time messing around with my computer that I never got around to it.

This will not be a political blog and I have no interest in starting any arguments etc.

In the Iowa primary one of the whitest states in the country went for an African American for the Democratic primary. Although she wound up finishing third, his chief rival leading up to the vote was a woman.

The Republicans in that state gave a resounding "No" to negative campaigning and voted for Mike Huckabee. Some are claiming it is his evangelical beliefs that won the state for him but the second place finisher there was a Mormon so I think there is more to it than that.

It has been a rough few years for America, the long war in Iraq, contested elections, dirty politics and Katrina have worn on our national unity.

I have to say that I have waited my entire life for a day like this, and I had pretty much given up hope on it ever happening in my lifetime (and I am only 29). I never thought it could happen this close in time to everything else that has been going on.

Good work guys.

Fansy Update

Well this weekend was pretty much a bust but I managed to make up for it some at the end.

Things started to go south Friday night. After my weekly RPG game (Everquest the RPG this week) I went to log in to WoW while the wife and I watched some movies. My brand new laptop (Vista) could find my network but not connect to the internet. Now it had been working fine for the last few weeks and I didn't change anything but it just quit. I wound up working on it for about 12 hours on Saturday on the phone with tech support several times (can't complain about Xotic PC's tech support). We tried just about everything including some pretty serious registry diving before finally we decided I needed to reinstall Vista. What a mess, what a waste of a day. Way to go Microsoft.

When I finally got up and going things improved though. I met a pretty cool guy in Stranglethorn who wanted to head up to the Swamp of Sorrows. We got ganked a couple of times on the way but had a good time doing some quests out by the shore. I really hadn't been planning on going up there, and the drop rate on the croc and crab quests are stupid but I had a good time. It is so rare that you randomly meet someone cool in an MMO and hang out anymore. Reminds me of the good old days.

I finished extra strong on Monday night, I dinged 45 and with the help of my guildmate Tosh I got my Whirlwind Axe.

I managed to get to level 15 on Birgette (EQ2) and work on the Werewolf Lore quest, I also had a chance to talk with some of my guild mates. It was a random invite guild but there seems to be some pretty cool people to talk to in it.

Daigo vs Justin

Still awesome

Friday, January 4, 2008

10 things I would like to see in a raid centered game

Eventually someone is going to make a niche raiding game. I am pretty sure there would be a decent audience for one. Here are 10 things that I would like to see in a raid only game.

  1. No Level grind: There is no reason to even have levels. There would be no way to ensure that there would always be enough people in any level range to conduct raids to level with. Since single player and small group tactics bear almost no resemblance to what happens in a raid there in no reason to even have them.
  2. Strong guild support: Competition between guilds will be central to the game whether you plan it to be or not. There should be many ways to measure guilds against each other. Metrics like progression, wipe versus win ration, kill speed, first kills, rare drops etc. can be used so that guild with different play styles have chances to gain points. The merits of speed and skill should both be recognized (the two aren't always in the same place). There should be good, flashy rewards for guild achievement. These can take the form of cooler, bigger guild houses, faster mounts, cool outfits etc. The guild interface should be very moddable. There should be several DKP type systems available from the start as well as the ability to code your own. Everything should be able to be tracked in game.
  3. There needs to be a good way to funnel the new players into raids. When new players log in they should immediately be presented with a very basic raid like event. This could take a form similar to WAR's zone wide quests. Here they would be in a pick-up raid where the whole zone is working towards the same goal. They would not be forced to pick up complicated raid mechanics from the start, instead they would be working on communicating who was going for which goals. This experience should be ratcheted up over time requiring more and more co-ordination between the players. Newbies should also be put into newbie guild upon entering the game. Since their are no levels this whole experience would be skippable if someone already had a guild they were planning on joining with friends.
  4. There should be some kind of switchable job system like in FFXI. No player should have to sit a raid out because they don't have the "right" class. No guild should have to skip raiding one night because not enough of class x showed up.
  5. All advancement should be drop based. Better and new skills can be gained from scrolls. Access to new jobs can be gained from raid quests. Better weapons and armor improve your stats. It is possible there could be a crafting component if there was demand for it and a fun mechanic could be developed. None of the items should be "soulbound". Who cares if people get twinked? You want them raiding with their friends as soon as possible. If a guild wants to help someone out to increase their ranks let them. You might want to eliminate gold too. As long as there are plenty of drops the community can work the economy out themselves. I have a feeling it will be based on the greenback no matter what you do anyway.
  6. There should be collision detection during combat. This eliminates the need for cheesy aggro mechanics and allows for more interesting strategies.
  7. The game needs to launch with good voice support. It needs to have multiple channels that can be filtered and organized.
  8. For the most part the raid zones should be instanced. There should be some sort of persistent world between them. There could be some competitive raids in the persistent world.
  9. There is no reason not to have a strong story that players can effect. There could even be branch points based on what the first guild (or the majority of guilds) does when it gets there. There could be some raids that only a select few ever get to see, like the Sleeper in EQ1. The guilds and players who make a difference should be included in the history.
  10. There should only be one server. It is going to be niche game and most of it will be instanced. Everyone should be living the same story.

My Favorite Blogs and Podcasts

Here are the gaming related Blogs and Podcasts that I really enjoy:

1) Without a doubt my favorite spot on the web is www.feartheboot.com. They have a great podcast that focuses on pen and paper RPGs, they give really good advice and cover a lot of interesting topics. What really causes the show to gel is the interplay between the hosts, their personalities work well together and the show is fun to listen to even for people who are not into pen and paper gaming. On top of the show they have a great forum community with lots of fun stuff, good ideas, and good advice flying around. The FtB forums are set to my homepage.

2) The second place I hit when I fire up my browser is www.westkarana.com. I first noticed this blog a few weeks back when she had a post about making an offline single player version of Everquest. I started reading her other posts and really enjoyed her gaming stories and the kinds of ideas she presented. It steadily made the way up my must visit list.

3) I also really enjoy a few of the podcasts over at Virgin Worlds. The ones I like the most are Voyages of Vanguard and The Online Gamer's Anthology.

Voyages of Vanguard covers Troy's journeys in the MMO Vanguard. The show is pretty interesting even though I only dabble in Vanguard. He also has a blog.

The Online Gamer's Anthology is a kind of history of gaming podcast. They have done episodes on things like Meridian 59 and Zork. I really have fun listening to this show as it is very well done.

4) I also have a number of blogs on my bookmark list that I make sure I hit every day:
The Elder Game
Kill Ten Rats
MMOG Nation
The Ancient Gaming Noob

5) Another blog site I hit up a few time a day is Game Set Watch.
There are two columns in particular that I really enjoy @Play, which is about roguelikes, and Game Mag Weaseling, which covers the gaming magazines and really got me started reading the British mags (I find them to be much better than the U.S. ones, especially Retro Gamer).

6)I get most of my video game news from www.1up.com.
I stay pretty loyal to this site because for years I enjoyed their excellent OPM publication. I was sad to see it go but there is still plenty to keep my coming to the site. By plenty I mean: Scott Sharkey, Jeremy Parish and James Mielke. All three are involved in the on again off again Retronauts podcast (which I love) and write some pretty funny and interesting stuff. I used to really enjoy Mielke's FFXI blog but have not seen it in a long time.

7) I try and keep up with the Dungeons and Dragons podcast. Usually I would not be that interested in a podcast produced by a company that produces the product it is on but I really enjoy Mike Mearle's game design work like Iron Heroes.

Minmei's singing hurts leveling

I didn't get a whole lot accomplished last night because on Thursdays I watch Robotech with my friends. It turns out that Minmei singing "My Boyfriend is a Pilot" just doesn't get me in the mood for leveling. I try to play while I am watching but I never get much done.

I managed to finish a few quests with Fansy.

I gained a level with Birget my EQ2 Bruiser.

I got to level 7 with Waevan my hardcore Mythos character. I also managed to take down a boss, it was a close call too.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

It was a long war, fortunately no one was hurt

It is hard sometimes to believe that Azeroth has been subjected to savage war after savage war. As I wander the streets of Stormwind I don't see amputees and crippled veterans begging for money, living in hovels. I see school children gaily running through the streets stealing each others' dolls.

Where are the people whose lives were forever changed by these wars. Sure there are some ruined cities and a few quest givers mourn the loss of a son, or husband. There are a few abandoned homes, the body of Mankirk's wife, and a burned out inn but really it looks more like the results of some sporadic raiding not a dimension spanning epic conflict for the very survival of the world.

Where are the camps full of refugees? Where are the mass graves? Where are the wounded veterans, one eyed children, and ravaged battlefields?

Goldshire wouldn't be some fairy tale village nestled in the woods outside the big city it would be a large camp of displaced people hoping to have access to the protection of the city walls. They would be awaiting the next big invasion. It would be overcrowded, food would have to be shipped in. The people would have had no choice but to rape the surrounding land for every ounce of timber or food it could provide. There would be constant tension between the people living in the city and the unfortunates in the rat's warren outside the walls.

The effects of war don't just fade away as soon as the last corpse vanishes from the ground to respawn. A large battle changes the ground it is fought on. A war taxes a country of its wealth and its young.

If you walk around Saigon or even a smaller village in Viet Nam you can make no mistake that the country has been through a war, even though it was 30 years ago. There are wounded people, there are still displaced people, there are even still buildings constructed from U.S. Army Quonset huts. There is practically no sign of this anywhere in WoW. All is a cartoony wonderland.

I am being hard on WoW here only because it is the most visible example. Every MMO is all cause and no effect where almost everything is concerned. However WoW started with the premise that the wars featured in the RTSs had been fought. There is practically no sign that they ever happened.

Predictions part 2

Age of Conan: Like WAR this one looks good on paper, however it is much more risky in a lot of ways. I am not talking about the mature content here, I am talking about launch quality. Players are not as tolerant of a poor launch as they once were. Vanguard proved that. Vanguard launch, as bad as it was, would have been considered about average a few years ago. There is no way that MMO players will have any tolerance for an Anarchy Online style launch from Funcom. I don't worry about WAR on this one, the makers of DAoC know what they are doing when it comes to launches.
I think if AoC can launch well it will be in good shape to be a decent second tier MMO. The Conan license will be helpful, it is not super popular anymore but I bet a larger number of people in the general public know who Conan is than Thrall. A game centered on PvP game play is needed if for no other reason than to shut up the crybabies from UO.

Lineage II: This is a love it or leave it kind of game. I have to be upfront in saying that I like Lineage II. It has some horrible problems with botters and gold farmers, and frankly it may be too late to fix those. However, for me Lineage II is one of the best implementations of PvP yet. Being an mass axe murderer should have consequences. L2 has continued to put out good content and revise the gameplay to keep up with the changing times. It is a lot like EQ2 in this respect. It did not have the best start but there has been a lot of effort made to improve it, and it shows.

I see L2 continuing to have good, free expansions with engaging PvP goals. It will keep the faithful happy, draw people like me back from time to time, and bring in the odd new player. The main thing I hope to see here are the lessons that will be applied to L3. I hope to hear an announcement of L3 this year, if they go with what they learned it could be the breakthrough Korean MMO for the West.

Final Fantasy XI: Like L2 this one is different things to different people. To some it is a cutesy, Hello Kitty Hell with a soul crushing grind and nap like downtime. To others it is a beautiful, fully realized world where you actually talk with and get to know your party members. I fall into the second category, I am fully aware of her warts but the good outweighs that bad for me in FFXI.

Like L2 I think FFXI will continue to do what it does best, fulfill the initial promise of the game. The strong free updates will continue as well as the less frequent expansion packs. They will continue to build the game outward instead of adding more levels. New jobs and alternate advancement opportunities will continue. There has also been rumors of player made dungeons, if true this would be great.

Mythos: Note to game companies: If you are going to try to sell a game at the same time you start your beta for your free to play game you should make sure that the for pay game is the better game. Flagship really dropped the ball on this one. Even in beta Mythos is twice as fun as Hellgate: London. I expect this to continue as they put out more content. Maybe you should let these guys run your other game too.

Asian Free to Play: While still lagging behind the quality curve these games are improving. The graphics are starting to become acceptable, and there are even some gameplay innovations to be found (Sword of the New World, the games where you can fly etc.). I expect these to continue on their guild centered, castle siege, PvP path for the time being. They will get better at it though. I expect that in the next few years we may see a F2P game that can give L2 a run for its money in terms of quality (not community).

Predictions part 2

Age of Conan: Like WAR this one looks good on paper, however it is much more risky in a lot of ways. I am not talking about the mature content here, I am talking about launch quality. Players are not as tolerant of a poor launch as they once were. Vanguard proved that. Vanguard launch, as bad as it was, would have been considered about average a few years ago. There is no way that MMO players will have any tolerance for an Anarchy Online style launch from Funcom. I don't worry about WAR on this one, the makers of DAoC know what they are doing when it comes to launches.
I think if AoC can launch well it will be in good shape to be a decent second tier MMO. The Conan license will be helpful, it is not super popular anymore but I bet a larger number of people in the general public know who Conan is than Thrall. A game centered on PvP game play is needed if for no other reason than to shut up the crybabies from UO.

Lineage II: This is a love it or leave it kind of game. I have to be upfront in saying that I like Lineage II. It has some horrible problems with botters and gold farmers, and frankly it may be too late to fix those. However, for me Lineage II is one of the best implementations of PvP yet. Being an mass axe murderer should have consequences. L2 has continued to put out good content and revise the gameplay to keep up with the changing times. It is a lot like EQ2 in this respect. It did not have the best start but there has been a lot of effort made to improve it, and it shows.

I see L2 continuing to have good, free expansions with engaging PvP goals. It will keep the faithful happy, draw people like me back from time to time, and bring in the odd new player. The main thing I hope to see here are the lessons that will be applied to L3. I hope to hear an announcement of L3 this year, if they go with what they learned it could be the breakthrough Korean MMO for the West.

Final Fantasy XI: Like L2 this one is different things to different people. To some it is a cutesy, Hello Kitty Hell with a soul crushing grind and nap like downtime. To others it is a beautiful, fully realized world where you actually talk with and get to know your party members. I fall into the second category, I am fully aware of her warts but the good outweighs that bad for me in FFXI.

Like L2 I think FFXI will continue to do what it does best, fulfill the initial promise of the game. The strong free updates will continue as well as the less frequent expansion packs. They will continue to build the game outward instead of adding more levels. New jobs and alternate advancement opportunities will continue. There has also been rumors of player made dungeons, if true this would be great.

Mythos: Note to game companies: If you are going to try to sell a game at the same time you start your beta for your free to play game you should make sure that the for pay game is the better game. Flagship really dropped the ball on this one. Even in beta Mythos is twice as fun as Hellgate: London. I expect this to continue as they put out more content. Maybe you should let these guys run your other game too.

Asian Free to Play: While still lagging behind the quality curve these games are improving. The graphics are starting to become acceptable, and there are even some gameplay innovations to be found (Sword of the New World, the games where you can fly etc.). I expect these to continue on their guild centered, castle siege, PvP path for the time being. They will get better at it though. I expect that in the next few years we may see a F2P game that can give L2 a run for its money in terms of quality (not community).

A good day for Time's nerd blog

Two good posts up on the Time Nerd World blog.

Video game violence police blotter

Playing with his 3 year old

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Predictions part 1

It seems like everyone is making their predictions for 2008 so I guess I will to. So here we go with Part 1:

MMOs

EQ1:
Not much will change here with regards to the core game, SOE knows which side its bread is buttered on and there is greasy fat all over the raiders. The next expansion will be mostly aimed at the high end player and quite frankly I cannot disagree with this anymore. Many years ago when I played this game regularly I did not like that so much attention was given to raiding and I still think that it was a mistake to do it. However the outcome of them catering to raiders early on is that raiders make up the backbone of their game and catering to them now only makes sense.

However there could be some really interesting things coming up for those of us who just love the world and want to hang out in it. SOE has been softening on the idea of alternate rule-set servers over the last few months. Many people are holding out hope for a Classic server (I admit this would bring me back for a while..maybe a long while) and I think they might finally get it. It will be interesting to see what other ideas SOE can come up with for server rule sets.

EQ2: I already talked about this one a bit so I'll make this quick. I think EQ2 will continue to become more and more polished, I agree with some other people who have stated that the next expansion will be some kind of PoP type thing, finally I think that before 2008 passes SOE will introduce something really new to the game.

WoW: This will be a turning point for WoW and I have no idea which way it will go. They are staring down the barrel of a difficult choice: Do they cater to the l33t kiddies and continue to focus on high end content like they have for most of the games run? Or, do they take the plunge and follow up on patch 2.3 with even more goodies thrown to the casual players that make up most of their subscriber base?

It is a tough choice. EQ1 went with the raiders and it has paid off, the game is still around and doing pretty well considering its age and the amount MMOs have changed. If you go with the raiders you will alienate the casual base eventually (or at least make it almost impossible to ever get caught up with the rest of the players) and they will leave. The trick is they may leave anyway. Do they have the same attachment to the game as someone who plays for thousands of hours? They might, or they might jump ship to the next good casual friendly MMO. The raiders will stay if you keep them happy, they will still be there buying your Xpacs and pwning your bosses 10 years from now.

I don't think that the expansion pack will be coming out anytime soon, it will probably be towards the end of 2008 (or even 2009, it is Blizzard after all). The problem is I think they will have to make this decision long before the expansion drops. If they string the casuals along for months and months with nothing to do they will jump ship to one of the big MMOs coming in the next year. If you don't keep the raid juice flowing the raiders will leave whole guilds at a time for greener pastures. They will be making this decision in their patches.

I hope they take the plunge, I like what they did with the last patch and I think if they start introducing whole new paths through the game they can hold on to a lot of people through alts alone. I would like to see them make raids more casual friendly too. I think someone is going to get smart and make a MMO where you don't even grind to a level cap, you just start raiding from the get go. In fact I have been planning to write something on this in its own post.

Vanguard: I have never wanted to like a game so much. There are so many great things about it. YOU NEED TO GET IT WORKING PROPERLY! It still has serious performance and bug issues, and it also has a population problem. They have, at best, a few months to clean this up and "relaunch".

Warhammer: This is "The One". If any game is going to take on WoW in the near future this is the only one with much of a chance. If this one can't make a dent we will probably have to wait until Bioware's MMO launches. It has a lot of hype, an experienced team, a strong IP, and on paper it looks pretty good. One of the things that excites me the most is that you will actually be able to block enemy movement with your body. Collision detection can give a shot in the arm to stale MMO combat. I am so excited about the possibilities of collision detection and combat that I will be writing a post on it soon. I think they can do it. I think that Warhammer will draw in a significant number of subscribers and become the second biggest MMO in America.

Next up: AoC, L2, FFXI, the freebies and more...

Highlander

Fansy has been running through the high 30s low 40s quests in Dustwallow over the holiday weekend. I managed to sew up all the green quests in that zone and moved back to Arathi to tackle the quests that had turned green for that area. I dinged 43 and managed to gather up the seals I need for my 40 weapon quest. I also managed to pass the annoying First Aid quest on the first try (it took me many, many tries on my Alliance priest). The First Aid quest is much easier for the Horde though. In fact I managed to get my camera situated in a good overhead view that made it almost trivial.

I also managed to build back up to 50 gold rather quick by reselling leather on the AH. I was initially nervous when I started doing this but it has turned out to be a really easy and dependable way to make cash.

I am actually surprised at the changes from the 2.3 patch (the ones that brought me back to the game). I expected the patch to just make it easier and quicker to blast through that super boring range from the late 30s to the early 50s, the range that made me swear I would not ever level another toon again. While the patch certainly has made those levels go faster it has done something else too, it has made them fun. In fact I would say that this is the most fun I have ever had playing WoW. Not only are the quests plentiful, well paced, and rewarding but everything just seems tied together story-wise in a way that WoW always seemed to lack to me. I feel like I am out exploring and working in several zones and things interconnect. Before it always felt like you were in zone A in this range and never thought of it once you left for zone B.

I only wish I wasn't on a PvP server. WoW world PvP is without a doubt the most ill conceived PvP system in a long, long time. In fact it is so bad that I will dedicate a future post on just how royally they screwed up when designing it.

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