Maybe we are trying to do too much.

January 28, 2010

Maybe developers should stop trying to create worlds, and just focus on cities.  MMO worlds are diffused, with little to none of the richness that makes an actual world. Look at your starting city-it’s just a collection of buildings you can’t enter designed to fulfill basic functions like selling, buying, and character management. Chances are though it’s not much more than that, it’s not a livable one.

Because of the huge scope of the world, you cant introduce things to make an area feel real. Have you ever noticed you rarely see children in an MMO, or schools? You don’t see carts or caravans, or true markets-not just empty quadrangles with stalls. People are sparse and functional, their only worth being their gameplay purpose.  Is it any wonder people find them boring?

Maybe rather than try and continually add content and tack on new play experiences, more focus should be made on limiting and making rich the actual world people exist in. Once the world is set, then you can change elements and have meaningful change, not just addition. So much of the experience is abstract and bloodless compared to real life. Perhaps limiting the world might make it richer, and escaping design to force play might encourage it.


Underrated games: Megaman Legends 2

January 28, 2010

One of my main concepts of what makes a videogame is a story that players interact with. However so many games treat story as just something to bookend their action sequences and levels. However, Megaman Legends 2 is a game where they put  focus on the story itself, and they managed to create something amazing: a game that feels like an anime series.

The story itself is a departure from the Megaman canon. Megaman and Roll are treasure hunters that explore ruins and defeat reaverbots. This time though, they are ensnared in a wealthy explorers plan to visit a place called Forbidden Island. It sounds cliche, but it goes from there into dealing with awakening something that threatens the entire world, and has a very personal tie to both Megaman and Roll.

What’s amazing about it is the time and care spent telling the story. For a PSone game, this game has some amazing cel-shaded graphics. Not only that, they manage to convey expression and emotion incredibly well. This clip is from a boss battle between Megaman and Tron Bonne, one of three pirates, and just watching her react and express emotion is a joy to me.

The gameplay is long, and filled with  cutscenes, and has some great moments. One boss is a gigantic robotic dinosaur, and you can see the influence from their Dino Crisis series. It plays well, but has a story that honestly rivals many RPG’s. This is spoilerific, but this is the penultimate cutscene explaining most of the game’s story (at 15+ minutes!)

It’s sad that this series has fallen into obscurity. It is probably one of the better action-rpgs around, and all of the characters are memorable, from pirates Tron, Teisen, and Bon Bonne, to even Sera, the main villainess. I’d love to see a next-gen sequel, or even a wiimake.

Robotron and Forums.

January 28, 2010

I’ve dusted off my original Xbox, and started playing it again. One of the games I play on it is a compilation of Midway’s greatest Arcade hits, with games like Spy Hunter, 720, Joust, and Tapper. The game I play the most of is Robotron, the classic twin stick arcade shooter. I play it for different reasons than most though. I play it to train myself to shut up.

I’m one of those gamers who deals with frustration by a constant stream of consciousness rant as I play. That’s part of the reason why my writing in comments and here is so often low quality. Robotron is HARD. It is much harder than most of the games today, simply because it throws so much visual chaos on the screen, and uses simple but effective AI to control the critters in a relentless push to kill you dead. So while I play it, I make a resolution not to say a single word, and not quit and restart the game.

The reason why I mention this is because that forums for a game population have the same general purpose and activity as my reaction to Robotron: venting to deal with frustration. We use forums to communicate with others, and to release frustration. This is why there is so much of a negative bent to many. Others react to our frustrations in the same way a parent might react to a kid in my situation. They tell them to shut up.

The silence experiment is interesting. It doesn’t lesson frustration but intensifies it, actually. It doesn’t increase my skill, and really doesn’t add much except silence. That silence cuts down on the noise generated solely by frustration-the instictual “It’s not fair dammit” all games evoke in a player.  However there is a crucial difference. In Robotron, the game is static, and no matter how much I vent, nothing changes. In an MMO venting may cause change, often unwanted.

This may be an argument to dump official forums. By depriving people of the ability to vent, you cut down the noise and any change that noise may bring. However sometimes that frustration may lead to real feedback, if it persists beyond the initial adrenaline-fueled rant. It’s difficult to deal with, both personally (players need to STFU and enjoy the game or leave) and corporately (players need to STFU to avoid making changes to the game or scaring people away.)

I’m still only on wave 11 on Robotron though.

The forgotten console MMO: Phantasy Star Online Episode 3: CARD Revolution

January 27, 2010

Console games don’t have that long of a history to begin with, but even among them, one game is never mentioned. In 2003, Sega released a sequel to its popular Phantasy Star Online series for the Gamecube. It was called PSO Episode 3: Card Revolution, and it was a radical departure from the series, and another console first: the first online card battling game.

PSO Episode 3 Game box art.

The gameplay was unique. There were two sides to the conflict: The Hero side, and the Arkz side. The Hero side used cards to equip weapons and defensive items and defeat the Arkz command character. The Arkz used cards containing classic PSO monsters and tried to defeat the Hero character, by destroying his damage and reducing his HP to 0. They both moved and set items based on random dice rolls, on a grid of varying size and configuration. It’s a suprisingly deep system, and a lot of fun to play. A story mode was includes, as well as online head-to-head action. However it wasn’t what most people expected.

Unfortunately I never got to play the online version. It came out when I was in the middle of a move, and had sworn off MMOs to get used to my new location. It’s defunct now, the servers offlining in 2007. You may be able to find it quite cheaply used, and it is fun even in its offline mode. It’s filled with nice little touches, like your friends list from PSO transferring over, and free cards given based on what saves form other Sega games are on your memory card. If you haven’t, I recommend picking it up and keeping it as a piece of online console history.

Game as work, or Game as relaxation?

January 27, 2010

It’s the fundamental conflict between gamers. You have two kinds.

1. The gamer who engages the MMO fully, researching builds, tracking DPS, understanding the game’s prevailling culture and meeting it’s demands.

2. The gamer who engages the MMO casually, exploring, not delving deeply into mechanics, but instead doing less rewarding or meaningful content at his own pace.

Gamer #1 is engaging the game as Work. This is not to say he is drudging or grinding, but the purpose of work is to achieve an end goal and receive reward or adulation. Work is task-oriented and involves conforming the individual to an outside system in order to get those rewards. In MMOs that system is a hybrid of both the game mechanics and the player community.

Gamer #2 is engaging the game as Relaxation. Relaxation is centered around the individual and isn’t goal-oriented. If anything, the purpose is to forget pre-existing goals and reach a flow state similar to Buddhist mindlessness. Ironically, while you submit to an outside system when you work, you retain yourself and your goals and ego. In relaxation the goal is to forget those.

These two gamers are the archetypes of the two sides of conflict in designing. Things that aid the relaxer are often meaningless to the worker, because they don’t aid in reaching goals, reward, or adulation. Things that aid the worker often disrupt the zen needed for a relaxer to lose himself in the game. When the two clash over limited resources, it’s quite a conflict.

While people mayplace themselves in between these two extremes, most identify with one side or the other. Which side do you see yourself as?

EVE online-why I quit.

January 24, 2010

I’m just going to run down a list rather than do a fancy preface paragraph.

1. No PvE. None. Virtually every mission in EvE is kill braindead ships or mine or move stuff. It’s sole point is to give you ISK to PvP. This is how bad it is: missions are duplicated exactly across all 4 EvE nations. You can be Amarr, change races to Gallente, and get the exact same mission with the exact same text, exact same reward, and same NPCs. It’s not even challenging, people boast about running PvE content afk, or macroing it.

Harvesting is the same. Mining involves clicking on an asteroid, activating lasers, and moving ore to a can every minute or so. There is little to no activities otherwise, and it’s all braindead. There is no PvE aspect to really play.

2. No lore. There’s nothing really in game to tell you about the nation you are fighting for, except bare minimums. I’ve seen more roleplaying in Champions online, a linear themepark, than in EvE. Even FFXI had more RP and more of a coherent storyline.

3. It’s not a sandbox. There is only one type of real gameplay with any results in it-PvP. Marketing , harvesting, and crafting are pointless in themselves as all they do is give ISK, and fund PvP actions. It’s impossible to play the game except in PvP mode, because even if you don’t others can and will PvP you unless you cripple your experience by staying out of player corps. There isn’t enough meat besided the openworld PvP experience. This would be ok except for…

4. The PvP sucks. There is no balancing mechanism at all. You can get ganked by as many and as powerful ships as anyone wants to. In my time playing:

-One destroyer, a ship barely above frigate class, got ganked by three battleship-using pirates.

-One frigate, in RvB, got killed by a Tech 3 cruiser from a hundred + KM away, to the point where it would be impossible to respond.

That’s just a couple. The PvP simply isn’t fun. It’s too reliant on player stats (and dont let people lie to you, having all level 5 skills and being able to equip tech 2 stuff is a huge difference, as well as shipping up to higher ship classes) too reliant on large fleets all coordinating fire on single targets, and has no point.

5. PvP has no real point. Even the big alliances, what are they doing? Just PvPing for the sake of PvPing. There’s no meta-purpose to the PvP itself except collecting stats and killmails. The big allaince versus alliance crap is just a game of halo versus clans-driving people in or out of space does nothing but remove targets.

6. Community sucks. They want to play the game one way, and call anyone who doesn’t a carebear. Then they wonder why lowsec is empty and people don’t want to PvP. They don’t make room for anyone who doesn’t agree with what they say or play the way they want, and they love to gank on the helpless-the lates “player-driven” event was ganking unarmed mining barges.

I started playing to give the game a chance. Playing it only reinforced my belief that it is one of the most overhyped, underwhelming, content-free experiences in the MMO sphere. CCP cannot design an actual compelling game, so what they do is put a half-empty shell, encourage players to go blow each other up in it, and call it content. If this is sandbox, I’m glad Ultima Online died and hope it stays long dead.

Edit: You want to know what I did half of the time playing EvE? Using the ingame browser to surf the web while my FC took an hour to get a fleet up, or I half-afk’d a mission or salvaging. EvE is the only game where I felt so unengaged that I did that. That’s how boring it got, that I wound up surfing the web most of the time, and the “Action” took minutes.


January 24, 2010

I know in the previous posts I mentioned I was quitting CO.  The reverse happened. I quit EvE.

I’ll do a “exit interview” post after this explaining why in more detail, and what caused me to do so after I reflected on it. I resubbed to CO because I realized I would miss people there, and I miss none in EvE really. Next post for more info.