Guild Wars: Happy 4th Birthday!

180px-dead-gwenGuild Wars is one of those games I continuously kick myself over, saying “Why oh why didn’t you play that MORE?”

And I really don’t have a good answer, just a few weak ones.

Four years ago, Guild Wars launched after the typical flurry of hype that “new” and “groundbreaking” MMOs enjoy.  Guild Wars promised many deviations from the typical MMO setup, including:

  • No subscription fees — you just purchase the product once and can play as long as you like (and as long as the servers are still functioning)
  • An End Level Cap of 20 — which you’d reach fairly quickly, leaving most everyone at the “end game” before long
  • Being Able To Mix And Match Classes — between a primary and secondary class, with abilities to use skills from both
  • Collectible Skills — creating the feeling of CCGs in a MMO
  • Only Being Able To Slot 8 Skills/Buffs At One Time — putting an emphasis on smart builds vs. levels/gear
  • Phasing/Instancing — in which they promised that the world would change around you
  • And, of course, huge amounts of PvP between individuals and guilds

GW worked for a lot of people, who undoubtably got their money’s worth from their one-time purchase.  It’s hard to explain, but the end result felt something alien to the MMO field — in both good and bad ways.  In theory I loved a lot about GW’s setup, and spent quite a bit of time mucking about in the beginning stages, but it just never hooked me.  Perhaps it was the inability to jump and the invisible walls (both of which make you feel constricted).  Perhaps the less-than-thrilling acquisition of loot and leveling.  And probably the isolated feeling of instances and a horrible chat interface contributed to it all.

But there’s a lot to love in it, and I even bought Nightfall a year back and promised myself some time to play it (I never did).  There’s no doubt that GW is a beautiful and innovative game for what it is, but I really feel as though there’s too much time that’s gone by to get into it without feeling very behind the times.  Plus, with Guild Wars 2 in the murky future, part of me asks why I should even bother with the older product with something new and shinier on its way.

Maybe I’ll get back into it this summer, give it another go, try to juice up a bit of excitement for GW2… but probably not.  In any case, congrats to the GW team for four excellent years of being more on the money with promises than off, and I truly hope your next game rocks hard!

MMO Firsts: A Meme

firsts(Every time I see the word “meme”, I always think of little kids raising their hands in school and going “me!me!me!”  Am I alone on this?)

Because it’s my first official day back to work since my son was born, I’m going to go a bit easy on myself and do a complete fluff piece — while at the same time challenging other blogs and commentators to pick it up and answer it themselves.  This meme/survey is themed around “MMO Firsts”: first big memories for you in online role-playing games.

First MMO Played?

Anarchy Online

First Character Class/Role Played?

Adventurer/Hybrid

First MMO Subscribed For More Than A Consecutive Year?

City of Heroes

First MMO You Fell In Love With?

City of Heroes

First Guild You Really Felt Attached To?

Either Redeemed in LOTRO or Time Well Wasted in WoW… kind of a tie there.

First Character/Game You Leveled To End Cap?

Syp, my WoW warlock, who hit both 60 and 70 as personal firsts.

First “Wow” Moment In A MMO?

Either picking up the flight superpower in CoH or seeing the edge of Shadowlands in AO

First MMO You Burned Out On?

World of Warcraft, for sure… and several times after that.

First MMO You Followed Avidly Prior To Launch?

WoW, which I was tracking more than a year before its release.

First Time You Felt Truly Noobish In A MMO?

Having absolutely no idea where to put my points in my character in Anarchy Online and completely gimping him because of it.

First MMO You Went Alt-Crazy In?

City of Heroes.  Duh!

Champions Online: Name Squatting

squatThe latest “Ask Cryptic” had an incredibly eyebrow-raising answer to the question of unique names in the game:

Rejoice, the days of name-squatting are over! In Champions Online, character names are unique to a single player’s account. Everyone can now be “Odysseus.” Each account can only have one “Odysseus,” though. If Champions Online can’t figure out the precise character you’re referring to, you specify the player who owns the character. This is done by appending the player’s  handle (also call an @name or public name) to it. For example, “Odysseus@poz,” “Odysseus@Simmons,” and “Odysseus@Homer.”

As far as I know, no other major MMO lets you duplicate character names (although, nerds of the world, please prove me wrong!).  Off the cuff, my pros and cons:

PRO: No player has to worry that their name will ever be taken, even if they start up the game six years after launch.  Since superheroes in particular have a special bond with names, to throw wide the doors to every player is a big gesture.

CON: Duplicate names decrease the value of a unique name.  You roll “Darkfire” and then see ten other Darkfires in the starting zone alone.  If you ever come up with a truly awesome name, it is fully open for name theft (homage?) by anyone who sees you.  It won’t be as easy to keep characters sorted out in the game, even with their “@” thing.  Characters with bad reputations might ruin it for the rest of the ones with similar names.  And speaking of similar names, there will be a billion “Docs” and “Batmans” running rampant.

I… feel that this is a good thing.  Maybe?  It’s definitely interesting.  Cryptic could probably make a mint down the road by offering a RMT deal where you can pay a limited fee to protect your name and claim ownership to it.  At the very least, they should let you see how many other characters have that name before creating your character.  What do you think?

Star Wars: Light Side For Life, Dawg

homer-devil-angel-shouldersWhile reading the final part of John Walkers’ “Bastard of the Old Republic” series, I wondered how BioWare was going to translate its infamous Light/Dark side meter into their MMO.  It’s 2009, after all, not 2003 — one-or-the-other personalities are so passe.

You’re probably familiar with KOTOR, but if not, a brief recap of that system: as you played through the campaign, decisions and dialogue choices would shift your force meter from light side to neutral to dark side.  It was pretty innovative at the time, and BioWare’s gone nuts with it ever since: Jade Empire, KOTOR 2 (not BioWare, but still their baby), Mass Effect — all feature this “Devil or Angel” system.  In KOTOR, it had a minor impact on the story as you played through — opening up some options, closing others, and affecting dialogue that others had with you — until the very end, when a major choice would make your path irreversible.  Yet as has been noted, for all its innovation, this system was grossly black-and-white.  You either were the saintliest of saints or Jack the Ripper, with the biggest sin of being neither somewhere between.

There wasn’t room for nuance, for more character development in the personality department than pure evil or pure good.  And that’s not the way the world works, is it?  Dungeons & Dragons even knew that, back in the day, with their oddly acute alignment system, which had two axis instead of one: good/neutral/evil, lawful/neutral/evil.  So if BioWare’s serious about refining their system for a MMO, how might they do it?

The first thing is that they will do it.  From the official FAQ:

Yes, during character selection you will align with the Republic or the Sith Empire. In addition, throughout the game you will also be faced with many decisions which can change your path down the Light or Dark side of the Force.

This means that while TOR is a two-faction game, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all Republic players will be “good” or all Sith “bad” — your choices will swing you up and down on the Force rating.  So far, that stinks of KOTOR’s simplicity, but it is intriguing that a MMO could have a faction where players sit opposed to each other inside of it — good Sithians vs. bad Sithians.

We haven’t heard anything more about that, but here’s sincerely hoping that (a) the system will allow for more complexity and nuance than the same ol’ Light Side/Dark Side switcharoo, and (b) that your stance in the Force will have a meaningful impact on your game — and no, I don’t care if it closes me off from content or ticks people off because of it.  I’m tired of game devs pussyfooting around trying not to offend everybody, and by doing so, create homogenized gameplay that doesn’t react to your choices, decisions and actions differently than others.

It’d be great if there was at least a second axis to this system, or if BioWare would truly reward (in terms of story and content) folks who carefully tred the neutral side of the Force.  I’d love to see them go even further, and have Force rankings broken down into attribute subsections, such as Greed vs. Generosity, Hate vs. Love, Mercy vs. Vengance, and so on.  Even the very worst of people have good qualities, and the very best a few bad quirks, so why not step it up in video games and reflect more than a single dimension of personality?

Gaming With Kids

star-wars-parker-bros-video-game-adOne of the great joys of being part of a family guild is that people understand what it’s like to be a gamer who has the greater priorities of a family (wife, hubby, kids) in mind.  Folks are more patient when you have to go /afk in the middle of a huge quest chain because Bobby can’t wait another moment for dinner, or because your wife needs five minutes of your undivided attention and love.  There isn’t as much eye-rolling when the discussion rolls around to babies (as I’ve experienced as of late), and everyone contributes to making the guild as socially safe and protected as possible, knowing that any one of our children might log on and see what’s going on in guild chat that night.

It’s the MMO equivilent of getting a minivan, I think — that is, seeking out family guilds to join.  Not all parents-slash-married folks do, of course, and plenty of single players are attracted to family guild environments and join anyway.   But it’s the next step for me, one I’ve been leaning toward ever since I got married back in 2005.

A bit of Syp history, if you’re bored.  After college I spent about seven years living as a complete bachelor, enjoying what I thought was the ultimate freedom: to come home to my apartment after work and have absolutely no demands on my time other than what I put on it.  I could game from 5pm to 5am if I chose.  Weekends and days off were marathon gaming sessions.  I did the grind with the best of them, rode to the top of the leveling curve in any guild I joined, and poured myself into officer and GM roles on occasion.  I thought it was great, but I was also lonely and looking.  Even online games can’t fulfill all needs — just a spare few.

Then I got married, and it was an adjustment.  A great one, to be sure, but an adjustment all the same.  Suddenly I found myself at war on the inside — half of me excited to be spending my life with a wonderful woman and eager to see what every day with her would be like; the other half resentful of having to give up “bachelor privileges”.  My time wasn’t always my own, then.  Unless I wanted to sabotage my marriage, I couldn’t just come home and game nonstop, and  ultimately, I didn’t want to.  I forcibly shoved gaming time down in my list of priorities, gained a more balanced life, and grew happier for it.  I was sensitive to my computer/gaming time interfering in our relationship, and for her part, my wife almost never nagged me about it, and sometimes would gift me with blocks of time to play games without any demands of my time.

I had it figured out, I thought.  And then a week ago came another adjustment.  Just as welcome, just as loved, and just as shocking.  Even when you’re ready for it and want it, change is a hard thing, harder for some people than others.  You go from having a reliable routine to a taped-together mishmash of possibilities, none of which offers you these huge chunks of gaming time that you vaguely remember from “back in the day”.  This past week, a combination of exhaustion, company and diaper changes kept me outside of gaming except for two half-hour segments, of which I was grateful.  I don’t resent my son for this adjustment, of course — if I did, man, would I be a sorry example for him.  But I won’t lie and say that things are business as usual and I can now juggle three balls with the same ease as two.  It takes time.

There’s no great point to this article other than a randomized collection of thoughts from the past week.  I’m sincerely glad I wasn’t head over heels for any one game when my wife gave birth; I’m a little proud of the fact that I’m okay now with walking away from all games for extended periods of time if need be; and I’m okay with still gaming and blogging, provided that I keep my priorities straight.  Gaming helps a lot with my stress level, and I love the friendships, two things I’d definitely miss if it went away for good.

It’s comforting to me to see that older, more baby-infested households have managed to balance kids and family and work and games together in a package that somehow works.  That the median age for video gamers these days is (I believe) 37.  That family guilds understand and accomodate according to needs.  Maybe it’s terribly uncool or whatever, but Syp will never be a bleeding-edge raider, or a cutthroat PvPer, but just a guy who games on the side.

Sunday Segue

78478249JS003_BEST_BUY_PROFSo this afternoon we went to Best Buy to buy a universal remote for our DVD player after — and this is true — brand-new batteries leaked and melted the old remote overnight.  Being frugal, I snag the cheapest remote available — a $9.99 unit from RCA.

Go to the counter.  Teenage employee rings it up.

“Do you want the 3-tiered protection plan for the remote?” she asks.

I blink.  Pause.  Then, out of curiosity: “How much does it cost?”

“$12.99,” she says with a perfectly straight face.

I chew my lip.  God bless corporate America for its amusement value.  I don’t know where to start, so I made a list.  “First of all, it’s a ten-buck remote.  Who gets a plan for ten bucks worth of anything?  And second, why would I spend $13 for a plan when I could buy a second remote and still have $2.99 left over for Whoppers?”

“So no?”

“Um… nope.  But thanks.”

/AFK – April 26

Syp gets an early start to the week
Syp gets an early start to the week

I’m getting pretty good at changing diapers and swaddling, so if anyone out there needs that… just keep it in mind.  In the meanwhile, here’s this week’s /AFK — various posts and articles that caught my attention, and should catch yours!

Alts + Semi-Permadeath = Interesting Idea?

bactaPermadeath in MMORPGs is a topic as old as the genre, and as well-tread, well-beaten as you might imagine.  For those joining the party late, permadeath is a game ruleset where you have but one life, and when your character dies, that’s it.  It’s wiped, everything you accomplish is gone, and you have to reroll.  Obviously, it’s not a ruleset that has a lot of life these days, as no major MMO that I know features it — it’s sort of a third rail feature.  Even if they did bring it in, what happens when lag kills somebody?  Will the entire server consist of 99.9% folks in their first twenty levels?  How long would people play and die and reroll before simply giving up?

Proponents of permadeath love the appeal (and role-playing value) of putting supreme importance on staying alive.  In an age where almost every MMO has minimal, if any, penalties for death, this is the motherlode of all punishments.  You actually care, a lot, about your character’s safety.  The world becomes a lot more dangerous.  You take far less risks, perhaps group a lot more.

Yet unless a MMO was made specifically with permadeath in mind, it simply doesn’t work to shoehorn them in with current titles.  These games are made for a very long haul of character development, and that is completely negated by “one strike and you’re out” rules.  But let’s consider the concept of permadeath — and see if there’s a way it could be retooled for an interesting ruleset.

Permadeath embodies limited resources: you have but one life, and that makes it incredibly precious to you.  It also feels more “real” in a game universe where the rules often are silly if brought into a real-world context because of game mechanics.

So an idea I’ve been tooling around with is to still capture the concept of limited resources and a more real feeling, and tying that into a way to get players to experience more of the game in a way that developers would applaud:

  1. Start with semi-permadeath (or we can just call it a very heavy death penalty) in the form of a terribly long resurrection timer.  You die, and your character won’t be available to play for days, perhaps weeks.  This could be easily explained as a character recouperating from their wounds at home.
  2. Rez timers would be quick for lower levels (say, 1 hour at level 5) and much longer at higher levels (say, 1 week at level 60).
  3. Allow players to create enough alts to satisfy their cravings — at least one per class — and let them switch between characters as others are down.
  4. Include a system that will allow you to swap in an alt for a character who died in the middle of (say) an instance run, but give the player the option to send won loot back to the original character or not.
  5. Include ways for your alts to successfully reduce the rez timers on downed characters — special quests, items, etc.
  6. Focus on ways for all of your characters to support each other, kind of a family or close-knit band of travelers who are working to the success of the whole group instead of individuals.
  7. If all of a player’s created characters have died and are on a timer, include a “miracle resurrection” feature that will ensure at least one character is made playable (perhaps at random).

It’s just an idea I’m tinkering with… I’m sure there’s a lot to dislike about it, and it probably wouldn’t have widespread appeal, but I think it holds potential to change how we play and value our characters.

Star Wars: Ord Mantell

rebelmissiontoordmantellSo how ’bout that Ord Mantell, ladies and gents?

In lou of the more desired playable classes, BioWare is rolling out its galaxy of planets, one by one, for fans to salivate over.  Even though the game is set well before the time period of the films, it’s still the same galaxy — and places don’t change as much as you might expect.

Ord Mantell is a smuggler planet with a bit of a public relations problem, as it’s smack in the middle of a civil war.  It kind of strikes me as a Casablanca, a war-torn port where good guys, bad guys and criminal elements clash.  I like how the writing team has focused on telling the stories of the “little guy” on this planet — I think that will resonate well.

BioWare’s spilling the goods on this playable area, including:

Have I mentioned how much I can’t wait for this game to get here already?  Everything they release is just smooth as butter.