The real world isn’t ready for a true ARG MMORPG

Over the past month, I’ve been an outside observer (with connections) of the whole Pokémon Go phenomenon. I’ve talked to players, I’ve explained it to the ignorant, I’ve read a lot of pieces on it, and I’ve tried to shield my kids from knowing about it because they are completely Pokémon crazy right now and I do not have the time to be dragged all over creation to find Squirtlechumon with my phone. I love them unconditionally, but expressions of that love should have sane, defined limits.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking of how Niantic (among others) has used the real world as its MMO setting, overlaying the game on top of reality to make an… I don’t know… augmented reality? I should trademark that. And there are obviously advantages to doing that: The real world is quite literally everywhere, it gets people outside and exploring, it turns the mundane into the magical, and I have plenty of opportunities to mess with kids who aren’t watching while biking and looking at their phones at the same time. This game I call “Pokémon Go Fish!”

But if we can be frank for a minute, there are also some pretty severe drawbacks to co-opting the real world to be a backdrop for your fancy digital game. Let’s start with the element of physical danger, which is the dangling bait of every Pokémon Go clickbait story. Sure, Niantic puts that little warning on the screen and sure, most players are totally fine, but tragedy is bound to happen when you encourage people to go wandering about in unfamiliar territory without often looking around them.

Then we have to mention the rising chorus of voices of various institutions and locations that would much rather not have gamers running about their property. It’s hard to know where to draw the line on this; as long as a person isn’t trespassing it isn’t a crime, but some places you don’t want people playing games or making noise. Locally, there’s a Michigan couple suing Niantic for putting tons of Pokémon in a park right by their home, often prompting players to run over their lawn and make noise at all hours of the night. That would bug me too.

From a game design standpoint, if this sort of technology is to be used in future, perhaps more fully fleshed-out MMOs (and I would certainly be interested in seeing that happen), probably the biggest issue is that the landscape and buildings haven’t been made by the developers (obviously) but are just being used by them. You’re dealing with a wild and woolly world that’s been designed by forces outside of the development studio, and so the solution is to make the best with what’s already there.

So instead of shaping the world to fit the game, it becomes the other way around, and that can result in an awkward and (oddly enough) unnatural game. In the digital space, the sky is the limit for what devs want to dream up and design. In ARGs, you have to make the best of the foundation that’s already been laid. It’s not ideal.

Plus, if designers are making a game for the entire globe, then they have to deal with population density, the sheer size of the world, dangerous locations, and whatnot. There’s just no way that you can hand-craft all of that, so the solution is to either crowdsource it or make procedural generation software so that a computer can take a stab at placing everything.

Maybe a more traditional MMORPG could work in an ARG setting if players were given the keys to create their own kingdoms and dungeons, although I can envision a new set of dangerous possibilities arising from that and the lawsuits that would follow. Is this dungeon I’m about to explore the basement of a real serial killer who’s found the laziest way ever to collect his victims? Are companies manipulating the game to draw in customers and increase foot traffic?

It’s not a future I envisioned, but it seems to be one barreling our way right now. And I don’t think that solutions for making these games work on a wide scale and in greater depth than throwing balls at imaginary critters will require.

The Secret World: Touring Kingsmouth while dead

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I was inspired by Massively OP’s MJ’s piece on how The Secret World adds a bit extra for folks who take the time to explore the world while dead (anima form). It’s something that I’ve pointed out from time to time, but I can’t recall ever simply roaming around an entire zone in that form to see if there are any easter eggs that I hadn’t seen before. So why not now?

With a quick and painless suicide /reset, I took my Templar back to Kingsmouth and started prowling the spirit realm. I didn’t find any really new revelations, but after a half-hour of nothing but anima tourism, I did make a few observations about this alternate reality.k2

1. Living persons, zombies, creatures, and even most spirits are missing in the anima world.

You’ll see evidence of them, like campfires and blood, but unless a person or zombie has become a corpse, they’re invisible to you (and vice-versa). Really thought there’d be more ghosts, especially in this town.

2. However, you can see birds everywhere.

Birds (maybe just ravens?) are present in the anima world. I guess they can cross over? In Kingsmouth, there are the helpful birds (white ravens) and the evil birds (the black ravens or crows that become the revenants). I got a bit of a chill when I saw a trio of black birds perched above Norma’s house, looking down at her bonfire.

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3. There is one person you can find.

The only human-like person in the anima world in this zone is the guy in the prison cell, who looks surprisingly normal, like he’s alive. Just, y’know, hanging out in the spirit world and staring into a corner like he’s from the Blair Witch Project.

4. It makes for great photographs.

The black-and-white filter, the grainy overlay, and the absence of atmospheric interference make for some terrific screenshot opportunities, especially if you want to get cross-town shots.

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5. There is some color.

If you get really close to objects, they go from black-and-white to color. Try the Bingo cola machines and you’ll see.

6. There isn’t a lot of non-quest-related easter eggs to be found.

I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t find more than the well-known anima bits from certain quests and the bridge.

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7. The covered bridge is still super-creepy.

I think it’s that one spirit who just prowls around underneath the hanging corpses that does it. And I can’t figure out why the corpses only show in anima form — they’re dead and gone, so are they hanging spirits? I guess so.

8. You can move super-fast in anima form.

It’s a great way to quickly scout a zone without any interference from the local mobs. You can see lore pick-ups very clearly, too.

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9. What’s up with Madame Roget’s raven?

Is it a bad bird or a good one or completely neutral? Just kind of off-putting how it’s hanging out between both worlds right above her head.

10. Go first-person or go home.

If you do this kind of tour, do yourself a favor and zoom in so that you’re looking at things through first-person perspective and then turn off the UI. It’s calm and eerie and free from distractions. Kind of like getting to fly through a zone with developer cheat codes.

Retro Reprise Episode 1 – Duck Tales

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Is your life a duck blur? Then you’re going to need a strong dose of the Duck Tales to get you through it! Woo-ooo!

Welcome to Retro Reprise, a brand-new half-hour podcast showcasing classic video game music from the ’80s and ’90s. For the maiden episode, we look at one of the NES’ best soundtracks: Duck Tales. From the moon to the mines of Africa, this soundtrack was rocking it back in 1989 — and it still does today, considering all of the covers created by budding musicians on YouTube.

Episode 1: Duck Tales show notes (show page, direct download)

  • Intro (feat. “Main Theme” and “Launchpad Copter”)
  • “The Moon”
  • “Himalayas”
  • “Transylvania”
  • “The Amazon”
  • “African Mines”
  • “Niagara Falls”
  • Duck Tales Remastered
  • Outro (feat. “Game Over”)

World of Warcraft: Frequent flyer perks

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One of the things that the current World of Warcraft invasion events communicate very well is an almost cinematic sense of scope. It may be pretty choreographed, but it’s well-done even so. Just flying into a region and seeing the skies darken, the Legion spaceships firing down, and then approaching an invasion area — dropping down into it from flight to see the onrush of demons and the clash of noise is pretty intense stuff.

I also love the sight of dozens of players simultaneously taking off and heading in the same direction for battle. Reminds me of some of the movies of D-Day where you see all of those planes heading to the fight. That may not be scripted (just directed), but it’s pretty incredible to witness.

I really could do without the cheesy boss one-shot kills, though. Especially since you lose your chance for XP on that boss if you’re dead when he or she dies.

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Other than losing out on boss XP, Blizzard finally seemed to get the XP tuning right with a series of hotfixes this past week. Once you were properly getting experience for tagging mobs, then it made fighting once again a lot more compelling (at least for us pre-100s). I started actively participating as much as I could, chasing down bosses as much as I could for their sweet, sweet XP bounty.

I didn’t even fight, but rather healed my way through most of this. AoE healing enabled me to “tag” most of the mobs in the area that others were fighting — and I got to help people out as a bonus. I guess the helping thing should’ve been primary, but here we are.

I also got really good at zipping around the world to these six invasions. Four were right off flight paths while two required a bit of zone traversal. I was never so happy to be a Druid, since I could teleport across the world with the Moonglade port. No waiting for boats for me!

As a result, my levels started skyrocketing. I think when invasions first started, I was around 59 or so. When Blizzard finally got the XP adjustment right, I had risen to 82 (and a bulk of that doing AFK). The last 18 levels or so came over the weekend, since I made a game out of seeing if I could ding 100 by Sunday night. As it is written, so it was done. Now I have five 100s on Dalaran, although my Shammy is definitely in mothballs and I’m probably going to stuff the Druid to the back of the Legion queue. At least she’s there for healing, which is what I wanted with her in the first place.

On top of leveling a character to 100, the invasions were lucrative in other areas. I got a full set of armor and weapons for my Druid, with any leftover pieces sold for a good chunk of gold. A couple of thousand Nethershards later, and I was able to buy anything I desired from the event vendor.

So now what? Now we have a week or so to go before Legion and I’m plumb out of immediate goals for the game. I could farm more gold, especially now that WoW token prices are dropping (they’ve gone down on our server from 44K to 36K since the garrison nerf). Or push a little harder to get my Warlock’s herbalism skill maxed out if I want to speed up the garrison-farming process. But I think it might be best if I backed off for a week, played some other games, and recharged for the Legion release.

Quest for Glory III: Thief! Thief!

(This is part of my journey going checking out Quest for Glory III: Wages of War. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is to go from a text-based Sierra title to a mouse-controlled one. Maybe it’s laziness talking, but I love being able to control my character and his interactions with just the mouse.

Now that I’ve arrived in Tarna, it’s time to start feeling out the area and seeing where I’m needed. Gonna be a lot of liontaur talk, I can already tell.

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“And you’d BETTER appreciate that beauty, because all of us can attack and devour you at a moment’s notice.”

Rakeesh mentions the war that I’m presumably here to stop, between two groups called the Simbani and the (ahem) Leopardmen. The Liontaur have typically been reclusive, but now they’re starting to establish relationships with humans — although some in the community are spoiling for a fight anyway. Rakeesh and Kreesha mention that their daughter was part of a delegation sent to talk to the Leopardmen, a delegation that was ambushed and only one human survived. That really stinks for them.

Kreesha tells me that I’m free to explore the city and that they’ve reserved a room in the inn for me. I’m also welcome back in their house anytime…

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Liontaur sex! Yeahhhh I don’t need to talk in on that. I will knock, believe you me. (Sierra gets a point for making me laugh here.)

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I wander outside through the bazaar and almost immediately stumble upon a thief making away with… money, I guess? I want to point out that the guy back there is selling giraffe fur. Do not alert CyberPETA, or there will be protests back in 1991.

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The thief is caught and he and I (as a witness) are brought to the Hall of Judgement to hear the ruling. He is guilty, of course, and his sentence is to, y’know, leave — but leave without honor! Oh noes, not his honor! He says, “Big deal,” and I got a snort out of that.

I understand what the game is doing here — it’s introducing the culture of the liontaurs, which is more or less like Star Trek’s Klingons. Lots of powerful and proud warriors who are unduly concerned with the concept of honor. They’re going to be a hoot to mess with.

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The king wants to meet with us after the judgment, and Rakeesh and I amble up there to talk to his majesty. The king, not to mince words, is an incredible jerk. Very proud, very stuffy, very pro-war, and very anti-Rakeesh. Practically everything I say he twists as an example of how Rakeesh is weak and needs a human to defend him. For his part, Rakeesh keeps his cool:

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But revenge can be fun sometimes, right? Right Rakeesh? Don’t tell me that paladins have taken a vow of revenge celibacy, because I am going to lose it right here if that’s the case. Half of what I do as a character comes from revenge!

Now that we’re free from politics, it’s time to do our Quest for Glory tradition, which is to exchange money and buy a ton of stuff. Looking at my inventory, I have a few items from the previous game (such as that Katta sapphire pin) as well as a new suit of armor, a sword, and a magic shield.

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And as you might expect, Sanford and Son have taken up residence in Tarna as a couple of junk dealers. Nothing like a sitcom reference from 1972 to liven up a game made in the ’90s and played in 2016! (If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s about a snarky father and son who run a junkyard together.)

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The theme music for the sitcom plays too. I don’t think that you can even classify this as a parody or satire — it’s just out-and-out Sanford and Son. Maybe copyright laws worked differently back in 1991.