Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Sky is Wobbling! Run for Your Hitpoints!

Mere days ago, I posted my first entry on this blog in months, more-or-less welcoming myself back to EQ2 after a hiatus. It has very much felt good to be back.

Tuesday's news about Station Cash came as a bit of a shock to the system...

You see, there was a time - back when Station Exchange started up - that I vowed to quit my beloved EQ2 cold turkey if Real-Money Trading (RMT) ever came to my server. I'm pretty sure I posted that on the official forums, but darned if I can't find it now. Oh well, I still know I said it, and I will stick to my word.

BUT, Mr. Smedley makes a good point that Station Cash isn't the same as RMT. A lot of folks are up-in-arms, cancelling accounts, etc. over Station Cash, but much like the Legends of Norrath furor, I think they're overreacting just a wee bit.

That doesn't mean I'm thrilled about Station Cash, mind you, but let's examine the goods and bads, shall we?

I read plenty of posts on the forums, looked at screenshots, and so on, but I wanted to reserve judgement on what Station Cash had to offer until I logged in and took a peek.

A peek is about all that was required. There's not much to see!!

What I did see were two appearance-only outfits, a few house pets, a couple non-house, appearance-only adventuring pets, and potions. Lots of potions.

You know, it was really more underwhelming than offensive. Still, SOE is asking for real money in exchange for specific in-game items, and that can be a cause for concern.

In RMT, the "T" is for "Trading." That's not generally an action performed between developer and player. Those are called "Fees," and RMFs are still the only kind of fees I know of that make sense in this environment. Oh, I suppose I could send Smedley a fine goat in exchange for a few months of game time, but I don't think he'd appreciate the mess in his office.

Trading is between people - RMT IS EQ2's LiveGamer Servers (nee Station Exchange), where players sell virtual items to each other for real cash.

This isn't RMT.

Smed called it "Microtransactions," and I suppose it is, in a sense, but usually when you play a game that offers microtransactions, it's doing so in lieu of a regular fee to play the core game. "You want to get the neatest stuff? NOW you pay us."

I think I'd actually play an EQ2-like game that was funded by microtransactions. I know that there'd be people who blow hundreds of dollars at a time so they can be more uber than me while I spend $10 or less a month, but that's not a whole lot different than the time investment that raiders use to be uber now. Time is money, so I've always been told.

I don't feel put-out by microtransactions enterting EQ2, but it feels somewhat useless. Since they are charging a monthly fee AND have an established path-to-uber, they would be fools to let you buy useful stuff for real money. So instead it's nothing but fluff.

Yes, I said NOTHING but fluff. Even those achievement potions. At best, I think those potions COULD be useful at level 80, when all your adventure exp turns into small amounts of achievement. Prior to that, completing quests or finding exploration points are too long of a process to make it worth spending up to $10 for a temporary boost. It isn't that an extra achievement point or two isn't useful, it's just uneccesary and not worth the cost.

I have no doubt that SOE plans to vastly increase the selection of fluff over time, but for now it's just an unimpressive effort. You don't want a product launch that starts with a whimper, folks!

If there was something REALLLLLY cool (not the current armor sets), I would consider coughing up a little cash for it. I love my beer-mug helm from a previous live event, for instance, but I'd pay money for an appearance-helmet that looks like a red baseball cap with a Pizza Hut logo on it!

(well, I might be bothered by the anachronism of that, but a cloak with a picture of Lucan holding a pepperoni pizza on it? I'm SO THERE)

I did notice that there were 150 Station Credits stored in my wallet upon first login. I hope that's not just a launch gimmick. Since we ARE paying that monthly subscription fee, I think Station Cash could be a bigger success if we got about that many credits a month just for being an active subscriber, and then could spend real cash for more credits if we wanted to get our goodies faster.

I'd also recommend that, instead of straining the depths of creativity for so many MORE toys, SOE should consider taking a robust selection from the Legends of Norrath loot cards and making them available through this alternative means.

About the TIMING of Station Cash: It seems to have leapt out of nowhere at the player base. What in the world was that about??

It is possible that certain focus-groups of players knew about Station Cash in advance. We have no idea what sort of feedback they gave, but frankly, they shouldn't have had to say, "We don't think it's a good idea to spring this on the playerbase so suddenly!" SOE should have known better.

Honestly, whether its the itchiness of people who love EQ2 but hate SOE for various reasons (some childish, some not, though if your reasons are sound you shouldn't be supporting their product), the tendency of gamers to be skittish about change, or the simple fact the internet has the power to turn molehills into Mount Dooms, SOE SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER.

Ease us into the idea, devs. Tell us what you're planning, get feedback on the notion of fluff for cash, find out what people think of putting exp potions into the mix, etc. etc. You don't even have to phrase it at a question, "What do you think of us adding in microtransactions?" Just tell us, "We're working on a project to add a small number of non-game-changing microtransactions to EQ and EQ2," and watch the feedback. Did I mention you should have known better?

Also, tell us what the plans are for the future of such a project. How often to you hope to add new fluff? Will you ever consider going free-to-play with some non-fluff? Are non-fluff items on the table at ALL?

Don't tell us that now, after that launch, because now everyone feels stunned and won't believe you. Tell us this BEFORE the launch.

Y'all really biffed the communcation on this one.

But Station Cash, at least in its current form, is not a threat to the integrity of the game. I, for one, don't feel the need to break up my happy little home and quit the game forever to make a moral stand.


I'll be watching closely. Smed, Froech, please don't disappoint me.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Becoming a Functional Crackhead

Forgive me, Karana, for I have strayed; it has been 9 months since my last EQ2-post.

Fact is, I went a long time without playing it at all. I even cancelled my subscription, which is something that I hadn't ever done since EQ2 went live. Cancelling was a strange feeling, but it had to be done - new baby, new house, slightly longer commute, lots of unpacking and housework to do.

I spent some time playing LotRO, too, I must admit. Some of my rl friends were playing and invited me to come along. Since I was unable to get many of them to check EQ2 out, I tried to be a good friend and joined them on their turf for a while.

There was a distinct advantage to being in a tiny guild of nothing but 6 people who know each other: No pressure to do X task by Y date, nor to be on for hours and hours every night! That helped a lot in terms of playing a little while my real life revved up, but LotRO - while very well done - doesn't have as good of a game system as EQ2, and my attention started to wane.

Now, I've written about my guild many times here, and even one lengthy article in the last issue of EQuinox Magazine. "No pressure" was supposed to be my EQ2 guild's mantra, and yet I felt the need to get away. What went wrong??

What I found was a large disconnect between what people acknowledge reading, and what they decide on their own. My guild very clearly communicated the notion - both from recruiters and from our [now defunct] website - that the only thing we were hardcore about was being casual, and had no intentions of changing that.

I was all for occasional coordinated events, don't get me wrong, but whether it was natural for the size we had grown to, or just a handful of discontented individuals in the crowd, pressure started to mount to do more more more bigger better faster RAWR. It didn't work. If I do my research, I can lead a successful raid with the best of them, but my heart won't be in it and I think that shows.

It wasn't the mounting pressure that made me cancel, exactly, it really was the real-life flurry of activity, but with that flurry on the visible horizon, I had to decide what I was going to do with this guild during a time when I would be heavily inactive at best. At the same as my life heated up, the same happened for nearly my entire officer corps. We were running rudderless.

I decided to turn leadership over to someone else, someone to pick a new leadership circle and carry on the vision of our wonderful online family. I was a little surprised at how hard it was to find someone who would take the job. In an attempt to summarize, here's how it went down:

1) I gave leadership to a guy I know and trust and - for someone I've never met in person - I consider a great friend. For various reasons that I considered to be generally unfair to him, quite a few guild members disagreed with my decision. Some left the guild, some made his life difficult. He stepped down (and out, actually) for what he saw as the good of the guild.

2) I then gave leadership to a motivated up-and-comer who I didn't know as well, but had been in the guild for a long time and was very supportive of the atmosphere I'd always tried to nourish. It was shortly after this transition that my cancellation took effect. I don't know if I'll ever know the full story of what happened, but there was a shocking amount of drama and the guild fragmented 8 ways from Sunday. That leader has since retired.

Near the end of SOE's Living Legacy promotion, I decided to poke my head in and see how the guild was doing. When I logged in, I was greeted by virtual tumbleweeds and a whole lot of dust. There were maybe 1 or 2 people on during peak hours, but for as much as I love their dedication to the guild, I don't know why they stayed.

At first, this made me very sad...a guild that once boasted over 200 accounts with 80+ being regularly active (being a casual guild, we had a fair number of members who only logged in once in a long whole) was now down to 75 accounts with 2 or 3 active. That sucked!

I feel differently now, though. Coming back to a tiny guild turned out to be exactly what I needed! I'm hooked again, but able to be the extremely-casual player I used to be. I must be some sort of magnet, too, because a few inactive faces have popped back out of the woodwork since I returned.

Now my guild feels like it should; like it once did - a smaller group of people who just like to relax and have fun! We've already gotten a few new recruits, but I plan to be careful not to grow too fast or too large.

It was a huge step backward in some ways, but a tremendous relief in others. I'm now able to help administrate a guild again without feeling like it's a 2nd job that I just don't have time for. I can login for just an hour or two, and not even have to be there EVERY night, and people are OK with that. I can have my crack and smoke it, too - gaming life is right where I need it to be.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

3 Days and 40 Frickin' Dollars

The last few months, I've been referring to my computer as "the worst computer I've ever owned."

About a year-and-a-half ago, I ordered a new computer from Using that particular site as my purchase-point was off of the recommendation of a friend, and that same friend helped me pick out a selection of parts that would work properly together. I am, as I always say, not a "hardware guy." I can read through a pre-packaged computer's stats and look for the important bits, but picking what processor to go with what motherboard is a whole different ball of wax.

So I picked out a bunch of parts, paid $75 to have Mwave assemble and test the machine, and they sent it on over. Man, it was sweeeeeet. I went from playing EQ2 on the absolute minimum settings to being able to run comfortably on medium, or even on high if I wanted to push it for screenshots (mostly I kept my settings lower than I had to so as to not overwork my hardware, in theory making the computer last longer).

I've owned a number of computers in my life, going all the way back to my Laser 128 EX (Apple II compatible), which never once gave me hardware trouble. I don't think I've ever had a computer that showed signs of distress before its second birthday, and I'll even include my wife's computers in that list (she's had 3 since I met her, but never got rid of one because it stopped working).

This computer lasted a whopping 7.5 months before trouble hit. One day, the computer wouldn't turn on. After a little experimentation, I found that if I flipped the switch on the back of the power supply, waited a few seconds, and then flipped it back on, the computer would allow me to turn it on again.

Within a couple weeks, however, this problem degraded - requiring longer rest periods when switched off - eventually reaching a point where that trick no longer worked. I had contacted Mwave before the computer absolutely died, and got information on where to send it for repair. By having them assemble the machine, it came with a 1 year warranty. Hooray?

I had my computer boxed up and sent it to the Mwave service center for about $40, between packaging and shipping.

About 3 weeks later, I was told that after extensive testing of various parts, my computer's failure to turn on was due to a bad video card.

Yes, I said video card.

Even with my limited hardware knowledge, this sounded really strange. When I told my more hardware-savvy friends of problem, we all agreed it was either a bad power supply or a broken motherboard. This solution puzzled them, too.

I was wary when the computer arrived back at my house, but I hooked everything up and was pleasantly surprised to find it was fully operational. I guess, somehow, the video card was SO broken, that it was keeping my entire computer from working!

Little did I know, at the time, that the particular model of video card I had purchased was rife with bad memory chips that caused severe artifacting issues. My original card was seemingly one of the few that didn't have that particular problem. My new one did.

At first, the artifacting was too minor to be a hassle. Once in a while I'd log into EQ2 and my cloak would be doing strange things, but the next time I zoned it would be back to normal.

Later, I started getting stuck pixels on my monitor. It was my first LCD monitor, and I knew this was a risk, so I took it to Best Buy and had them look it over, but they couldn't find anything wrong with it. I didn't realize that the stuck pixels were from my video card.

When a friend gifted me a copy of Lord of the Rings Online, the artifacting became slightly more-pronounced. I found odd white bars occasionally sitting on my screen, but refreshing the display by toggling between full-screen and windowed mode would make it go away.

It turns out that EQ2 isn't coded to rely much on video cards, and a newer engine like LotRO is. I might have noticed the bad video card much sooner otherwise.

The problems got worse and worse until I couldn't ignore it anymore. Limbs would veer off in random directions, the landscape would display in a seizure-inducing, flickering checkerboard pattern, and in time, the display-toggle/refresh trick stopped working.

I tried reformatting the entire PC, updating drivers, and so on, but nothing made it better. I started researching the artifacting issue and that's when I became aware that my particular video card was known to be a troublemaker.

...And then...
...In the midst all the other bad news...
...The power problem returned!

The exact same goddamn issue reared its ugly head again! Well, this was too much, so I contacted Mwave and informed them of both of current problems.

Their response? Since my computer was now more than 1 year old, it was no longer covered under warranty, and I had to deal with it all on my own.

Fuck. That.

Firstly, they gave me a bad video card only a few months ago, and they won't support it. Secondly, the original problem I had was clearly never fixed properly DURING the warranty period, and now they won't show some integrity and do the job right!

I was pisssssssed. Hell, I still am.

I entered a process with Gigabyte (the video card manufacturer) that - all told between emails and actual service - took nearly 3 months. They let me send the video card back, couldn't repair it, and sent me a new one, thankfully of a different model.

Not-too-surprisingly, when I did the work myself, replacing the video card did NOT solve the power problem! I can almost hear you gasping in surprise.

But, a couple days after installing the new video card, I started getting messages that the video card performance was being downscaled due to a lack of power.

I went to, bought a new CoolerMaster ATX power supply for $40 (after rebate), waited 3 business days for shipping, and then fumbled my way through a successful power supply switch-out (it looked a lot scarier than it really was).

Guess what the results were? Anyone? Bueller?

1) My computer turns on and off reliably every time!
2) My video card works wonderfully!

I can't believe that I could have saved myself almost a year of headaches just by buying a new power supply. Had I spent $40 on the new power supply THEN, I would have held onto the original, working video card, not suffered two stints of extended downtime (which played no small part in the slow death of my awesome EQ2 guild), AND saved a goodly chunk of money on shipping costs to Mwave and Gigabyte!

I hate you, Mwave. I hate you as much as any gamer can hate a hardware supplier.

In case it wasn't clear, I won't be ordering from you assclowns ever again!!!!

Monday, July 21, 2008

if(house && kid+=1 >= 2) money == 0

Well...gosh. It's only been 5 months since my last post?

You see, right after my last post, life started getting BUSY. Good things in real life, not-so-good for gaming. Obviously, real life is more important, so let's start there!

Good Thing #1: I is now a homeowner!

For the first time in my life, I own real estate...for as much as anyone with a mortgage "owns" anything, that is. Stalkers beware, my house looks a helluva lot like every other house in the neighborhood, so I feel safe in saying that I'm now a resident of Rancho Santa Margarita, CA, living in this house:

I wish my lawn looked like the picture above. Both front and back yards have a number of dead-spots, but it'll come together in time. I have a lot to learn about yardwork! My younger days involved tons of lawnmowing for my dad, but that's about as far as I ever went.

The previous owners were also nice enough to leave 8 metric shittons of trash behind, but a dumpster, a maid, and a carpet cleaner later, the house is quite comfortable :)

The new layout has also shrunken my living room, but more than doubled the size of the master bedroom, making it the best place to house the computers. All I need is a mini-fridge and I could go a week or two at a time without leaving my bedroom!

Good Thing #2: Jonathan Dorian Schuster

Of course, the above doesn't apply when you have kids to take care of. And yes, I said kids - as in more than one! I think I mentioned here at least once before that my wife was preggers, and on July 11th, my son found his escape route and joined the rest of the family.

The above picture is posted because it's super-cute; the outfit "joke" won't make any sense unless you work at my company. Was a nice gift from them, in any case :)

Bad Thing #1: Death of a Computer

Mid-pregnancy and mid-house-hunt isn't a great time for one's computer to take a great big shit.

Trying to get it fixed by the responsible parties has been an utter nightmare. I'll be writing all about it when the saga is finally over, but for now just know that I haven't had a decent gaming machine for many months.

Bad Thing #2: Death of a Guild

Well, no point in paying for games I can't play, right? My EQ2 account expired recently. I had decided I needed to cancel months ago, but I was on a 3-month sub that had just come due, so my account has been quietly bleeding to death.

I'll admit that the death of Circle of Shadows was set in motion before this. In preparing for all the real-life good things to come, I began to distance myself and attempted to find someone to take up the mantle of guild leader.

This...didn't go well.

Perhaps I'll expand on this in the future, but for now suffice to say that my once-great, 150+ member, top casual guild of Permafrost is now a ghost town. I'm none-too happy about it, but there's really nothing I can do about it anymore. And if I ever do get back online, I highly doubt I'll have the time or energy to try to rebuild.

I've found myself resorting to the "casual game" world, since they tend not to have robust video hardware requirements. I'll definitely be writing about my travels through this sometimes-frightful land in posts to come!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Where a Guild Can Be a Guild!

6 months ago, I attended the most recent SOE Fan Faire in Las Vegas. One of the most exciting things to come out of that event was news of Guild Halls - REAL guild housing.

At the time of the announcement, we were told that Guild Halls were 9-12 months out from being released, because work on them had JUST begun.

That means we're 3-6 months out from actually seeing them in all their splendor. With fingers crossed on the nearer end of that range, I think it's time to really ponder what Guild Halls should be and do, as well as what they shouldn't.

I think one of the most important questions to decide is: WHO gets to build a Guild Hall? It seems to me that the answer certainly shouldn't be "everybody." In this day and age, after the nerf on Status Item turn-ins and the subsequent de-valuing of the lower-tier trinkets, the early levels of a fledgling guild are easier than ever. I expect if I started a new guild today, I could reach level 10 in under 1 platinum, while saving all my precious Heritage Quests for later levels.

The SOE Dev Team needs to not only come up with a huge, enticing list of features to be offered with Guild Halls, but they also need to space the perks out from minimum-purchase level through GL80. Because of this, I think a fair minimum level for Guild Halls would be GL30. Prior and up to GL30, other housing options become available, so it would seem natural for GL30 to be the jumping-off point for the most basic of Guild Halls.

Furthermore, let's talk about guild SIZE in relation to housing. I'm hardly one to take any sort of elitist stance regarding the breadth of guild rosters; if a guild of 6 is tight-knit enough to maximize their members' enjoyment of Norrath, I say kudos to them! What has always bothered me about the guild system in EQ2, however, is the lack of cleanup. Guilds of less than 6 members not only exist, but are actually quite common. All-too-often have I seen someone in Qeynos Harbor or East Freeport shouting out requests (sometimes even with promises of payment) to have people help him form his own, personal guild, with no intention of keeping the other 5 founders on the roster.

I can understand SOE being hesitant to delete undersized guilds due to possible customer service issues regarding loss of status contributions and guild banks. I don't totally agree (deletion after X days/months under size?), but I do understand.

Guild Halls are to be extra-special, though, and I've already seen some on the official forums chatting about how they need to solo their me-only guild up some more levels to make sure they have access to good perks. That's just really really really annoying. Really. If your roster can't keep the intended minimum of 6 accounts (maybe even active accounts?), then you shouldn't have access to Guild Halls. If your roster falls below that minimum at a later point, you should temporarily lose access to your Hall. I really can't fathom the idea of Qeynos or Freeport allowing single citizens to build personal fortresses. Really.

Ok I've said my peace about guild sizes. Let's move on to what key features the Guild Halls should offer.

Here's the thing...

SOE doesn't want the major cities to become "ghost towns." SOE wants the cities to be vibrant centers of commerce and socialization.

The problem is that they aren't this NOW, haven't been for ...ever, and probably never will be.

Does anyone consider "clusters of people standing at broker NPCs" to be either a center of commerce OR social? I don't. The only common sources of player interaction in any of the city zones are either special holiday events or asking for teleports. As it stands, if someone is moving around a city being non-AFK, they're probably A) On their way to their house, B) Tradeskilling, C) Turning in collections, D) Grabbing writs, E) Shopping at the broker or F) On their way out of the city.

None of those are social activities. None.

The social aspect of tradeskilling that came in with the epics has been best served in non-aligned zones like Teren's Grasp. Since Kunark, even writs become a non-City activity for the large, high-level player base, because they can be grabbed at Kylong Plains docks.

The only thing lost by giving the Guild Halls city-like amenities is the APPEARANCE that the cities of Norrath aren't ghost-towns. That may be important for new players, but there'll always be SOME people in the cities. If you want to make the cities seem more social from a newbie perspective, start by remaking them into Kunarkian super-zones. That way newbies can easily chat with each other via ooc and shout, as well as have a chance(!) to interact with non-newbies that happen to be in the cities for various business purposes.

Hm. Little tangent there. Back to the point, what should Guild Houses offer?
  • Broker. This is one of the key things missing from houses now, which in turn have prevented me (and others) from being able to make my own guild housing. People don't come to guild houses if they can't take care of their most important business items there.
  • Banker. See Broker.
  • Access to House Vault. This CAN be done in makeshift guild housing now via the Friend access level, but it's a bear to manage due to the lack of a guildwide setting.
  • Tradeskill Fuel Vendor. This also should provide a good place to sell junk loot. Tradeskill trainers should remain city-bound.
  • Bind point. Binding to guild houses should be done via a separate skill or item than the Call Of <> skills. You do still want people going to the cities sometimes, after all, but you also want Guild Halls to provide a real social outlet. If you want to make it more interesting, make Guild Hall Recall Shards into a craftable item, where the recipe itself is a available on the Guild Hall Fuel Vendor (above), and the main ingredient for the Shard is a no-zone item pulled from a Guild Hall purchased fixture. Make the Shard poof if you deguild.
  • Harbormaster/Boats. At the Fan Faire, it was stated that Guild Halls would likely reside on the shores of Antonica and Freeport, near the cities proper (in the case of Freeport, this is the only option). There should be some backyard area of the halls, for outdoorsy decorating, and with that it would also be nice to have a personal guild dock. For a price, of course, and probably a more expensive price than what's available in the cities (volume pricing), there should be a set of dock bells to locations around Norrath. Perhaps high level guilds could also purchase personal boats to Faydwer and Kunark, which would be a really nice touch (and a great money sink!)
  • Artisan involvement in customizing. I admit bias a Carpenter, but frankly I don't think I'd want the job of doing all or even half or a third of building and decorating a full Guild Hall. Carpenters should certainly be involved (a project leader?), but the recent crafting epic quests and resultant Artisan Raids really have me salivating. Divide portions of Guild Hall construction amongst the 3 crafting classes (brainstorming): Outfitters can plan the aesthetics of room layouts and structure, and Craftsmen can handle the masonry. Scholars can work on anything mystical in nature such as bind points and portals, and maybe social aspects like the hiring of NPC employees.
  • Purchase pooling. More for Status Points than money, but useful for both, Guild Halls need an expanded version of the escrow accounts currently available for individual housing. Members should be able to contribute their currently-underused status points to the Guild Hall for both rent and item/perk purchase, as needed.

Guild Level should influence purchase entry-points of these various features, as well as maximum Guild Hall size and the unlocking of heraldry-like visual customizations.

No Guild Hall should include trainers of any sort, in my opinion, writ-givers, collectors, or key world objects like Druid Rings. Teleports to new areas should be handled with care, lest we wind up with an EQ1 Plane of Knowledge style of transport that sucks all purpose of exploration out of the world.

Ok, that's it for now. If I think of anything else later, I'll be sure to add on!

Monday, February 4, 2008

We're only going to score 17 points?

There's a great many reasons I haven't had time to write in nearly two months. The distractions of this year's NFL awfulness was only a minor part of that, but a part nonetheless. Football isn't a game I play, but it's a game I watch as much as possible!

For my part, my team is the Philadelphia Eagles, and I actually do owe that to being a gamer. I grew up in Wisconsin but HATE HATE HATE the Green Bay Packers (hate), so I didn't watch much football. Playing Sega Genesis at my friend's house, however, I fell in (guy-)love with one Mr. Randall Cunningham while using his digial representation in the Madden Football '93 video game. I've been an avid football watcher and Eagles fan ever since.

This season kinda sucked for us Eagles fans. Last season was full of drama, but it was drama that led to a playoff berth. This season...not so much. The only drama this year was the Patriots and their trek for "perfection."

A lot has been made of the cheating controversy from early this season, even though, as many have pointed out, what was done was only barely breaking rules compared to what other (all?) teams videotape from different locales. HOWEVER - cheating is still cheating, and the murmurs around the league are that this piddly crap Bill Belichick got caught for is only a scratch on the surface. I, for one, totally believe that. When you do "whatever it takes" to get another tick in the win column, there's probably a whole helluva lot you aren't getting caught at.

For the last three weeks (leading up to the Green Bay game - did I mention I hate the Packers?), I've been rooting for the Giants. Sometime within the next week or two, this will wear off and I will go back to hating them in favor of my division-rival Eagles, but for now....well, for now, life is pretty sweet.

That game last night was AMAZING. Mouth-breathing man-child Eli Manning put together just enough brilliant plays (most notably THIS ONE) to outscore the Patriots, but the game MVP really should have been a shared award to the Giants' defensive line. I've never seen Tom Brady get hit so much, and it was beautiful!!!

Why would I take such delight in Brady's downfall? I really didn't care much about Brady before this game. At worst, throughout most of the season I had a sneaking suspicion that most of his success was due to his offensive line, and that he wouldn't be such a hotshot under pressure. That proved correct once the Eagles' own Jim Johnson showed the whole NFL the way with his awesome blitzing schemes. Still, my dislike of the Patriots was all about Belichick...until...

THIS HAPPENED. When asked his prediction for the game, Plaxico Burress responded, "23-17." Tom Brady hears this and is shocked and offended. "We're only going to score 17 points?" a surprised Brady said Wednesday. "OK. Is Plax playing defense? I wish he had said 45-42 and gave us a little credit for scoring more points."

That's enough for me - he needed to go down. I'm happy to find that the forces of Karma agreed with me. And wowie-wow-wow, down he went.

As for other Patriots...

Some of them I feel at least a little bad for. They played hard all season, and lost the big game. I'm sure most of them are perfectly decent people undeserving of my scorn.

Some of them already won 1 to 3 Superbowls in recent seasons, so I hardly care if a non-Eagles team wins repeated championships.

But I'd like to call out a couple special friends:

1) Randy Moss. With the Vikings my 2nd-favorite team, I used to cheer for you. A lot. Then you went to Oakland and blah blah whatever. But that's actually the problem, isn't it? No matter what else went on during your time there, commentators all over the place had you figured for a has-been. You stopped caring - you stopped trying. We all thought you had lost your spark that made you a great receiver. Suddenly you show up in New England and you have all your speed and skill back that you were missing the last couple years. Randy Moss, you give up when things aren't going your way. You quit on your old team. You deserve no titles; no rings.

2) Junior Seau. You never won the big game in your long career, and despite have received all sorts of other fame and accolades, you just couldn't let it go. You "retired" from football, only to hop right back in when a seeming sure-thing offered you a chance. Sorry if it sounds cruel, but to me that's not deserving of fame. Not that you can't still throw a good tackle, but hopping onto the bandwagon when you were otherwise ready to retire is kinda pathetic.

That's about it, really. All the rest of my hate is for Big Billy Belichick. I was actually afraid for Tom Coughlin for a few minutes there. When Belichick stormed across the field to meet him, I was sure that he had a shiv tucked away in the front pocket of his hoodie and was about to stick Coughlin like a pig. I guess he figured that was a bad idea with the cameras watching. I pity whomever was the first person or otherwise punchable object he saw when he got into the locker room.

What a night. A "perfect" season turns into meaningless overhype in the last two minutes of one of the most intense football games I've ever watched. Of course, a lot of that intensity was due to the overhype, but what I feel is important is that the overhyped team lost, and their rat-bastard coach finally got the comeuppance he deserved. I do love me some justice.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Fantasy - The Only Frontier?

Over on Moorgard's blog, he wrote a short piece in response to an initial question here. Why are most MMORPGs based in the Fantasy genre?

I don't want to sound jaded or take anything away from the creativity of world designers, but I think Fantasy is the predominant MMORPG genre for a very simple reason: It's EASY.

Let's say for a moment that we decided to make an MMORPG out of a modern-day realistic genre. What types of characters can we offer a player? We have combat, stealth, charisma, and intelligence-based skills in our real world.

Combat in a modern setting is fairly similar to any other genre, even if the weapons aren't always the same. Guns would probably be the weapons of choice for most "adventurers" based on a combination of range and lethality, but more archaic modes of fighting still exist and can be used and identified with.

Stealth wouldn't change too much. Technology can make stealth less viable, but so can magic "detection" spells, racial vision traits, and the like.

Charisma in a realistic world could mean anything from a supermodel using looks to influence NPCs to a diplomat or clergyman invoking a silver tongue. This can all be viable if developers put some effort into it (one of EverQuest 2's flaws, in my opinion, is the utter lack of Charisma. Diplomacy is one of the few things Vanguard got right!)

Intelligence offers a lot of possibilities for careers to roleplay, but not as many in-the-moment systemic options. If a fighter gets shot, a realistic medic can't charge into the middle of a firefight and fix up the wound on an active combatant. A chemist could whip up any number of concoctions to solve a variety of problems, but chemistry takes time and often non-portable equipment. Same goes for, say, Engineers.

The suspension of disbelief inherent in a Fantasy genre where we're told "magic exists" makes it all so much easier. Even when it's not something a PC himself can do, you can always end a plot-line in a manner such as, "With Blud'Spirt the Demon Lord out of the way, Sparklefart the Sage was freed and cast his Spell of Temporal Bridge-Shifting, thus instantly summoning the Ancient Span of Prince Fulbar out of the past, which in turn enabled the Swamp Elf army to cross the Chasm of Shadowy Rainbows."

Drawing up blueprints, hiring a team of contractors, and overseeing the erection of a large bridge just doesn't "pop" in the same way.

Now of course, I'm just talking about a modern, realistic genre here. SOE's upcoming The Agency looks to be set in a semi-realistic environment, but it's a hybrid RPG/Shooter. That's a big difference from a straight-up RPG.

I have played tabletop RPGs in my day that were "realistic" in their genre and rules. They never quite stuck with me, and based on the big-name tabletop games I can think of off of the top of my head, the less-fantastical RPGs never did too well with anyone else, either.

If I'm going to play an RPG, would I really want to play a technical trainer whose height of adventure is braving the wilds of Southern California traffic every day? That's not an RPG - that's a Sim. MMOSIM was tried once, and it didn't work too well.

What if I played an RPG where I was a soldier in Vietnam? There's plenty of grim and grisly plot to keep things interesting, but come on, I learned about that stuff in school. Gaming isn't homework!

We don't play RPGs to do "normal" stuff. We play RPGs to have experiences well beyond the bounds of what could be accomplished in normal life. As such, ANY successful MMORPG that emerges on the market is going to be "fantastic" in nature.

Look at the genres we have seen thusfar. Swords & sorcery "fantasy," science fiction, and superhero. Those are the big MMORPG players. Are any of them REALLY different?
Sci-fi like Star Wars or Star Trek hide behind technobabble to recreate the same basic things that magic objects accomplish in a Fantasy world.

Superhero powers are almost identical to magic in effect, but with different backstories.
Alien races and/or mutants in either of the above are little different than the humanoid races and horrible monsters that we have in an EverQuest.

ANY game (all MMORPGs that I know of) where you can die and re-spawn is purely fantasy. Even sci-fi cloning doesn't make sense if you have retention from after the time you dropped off your DNA.

So fine, basically all MMORPGs can be boiled down to "Fantasy" if we argue things a certain way. But that's not what the original question was. Clearly, the intent of the original question was regarding Swords & Sorcery Fantasy as opposed to other storytelling milieus.

I'm going to stick with my "it's easy" explanation:
  • Origins - Earth's history contains hundreds of creation myths that already have a D&D feel to them (or, more to the point, D&D borrows from ancient creation myths). Making a new story about how a group of gods created the races as their children yadda yadda isn't really new at all. That doesn't make it uninteresting, but it does make it easier than coming up with something totally original.
  • Magic vs. Technobabble - People expect gadgets to come with some means of explaining how they work. Magic just IS. We wiggle our fingers a certain way and fire shoots from our fingertips. Sometimes there's code words involved, or even reagents, but apart from potion recipes, magic rarely has to explain that Part A was glued to Part B and infused with Radioactive Substance Q to produce Effect XX. Magic tends to measure will or intent in ways technology can't.
  • MUDcestors - The graphical MMORPGs of today were born from the text MUDs of yesterday. The text MUDs were designed by (heroic) nerds who wanted to bring their tabletop D&D games to life. D&D was born from the legacy of Tolkien.

What else needs to be said? RPGs have evolved to offer a wide variety of choices over the years, but High Fantasy is where it started. It's been bred into us. We gamers know and comprehend the ins-and-outs of wizards and warriors, mazes and monsters, and all-powerful rings better than anything else.

Game designers are artists. They want to take the visions in their heads and bring them to spectacular life. Most of those visions, thanks to how we grew up, are of talismans and dragons. If that's your passion, then that's the sort of game you'll be best at making.

From a business standpoint, games also need money. EverQuest was huge while Earth & Beyond sucked the pipe. Tell a publisher or venture capitalist that you're going to improve upon the EverQuest formula and out comes the blank check! Now World of Warcraft has the throne, and companies want a piece of THAT fantasy pie instead.

So far, games like City of Heroes and EVE Online haven't been able to achieve a high enough profit margin to spawn many competitors. After debacles like Auto Assault, really unique MMOs are going to be hard to secure funding for. That's what has led us to the market we have today, and I don't think it's going to change significantly in the near future.

...for the record, I'm not necessarily happy about that. I love high fantasy, but I do want to see new things as well!!