Torchwood… dang it, TorchLIGHT. Why do I keep doing that?

Vanquisher_GofG-218x300No matter.  Just came to my attention that we should all be following the development of Torchlight at Runic Games’ site — this title looks very, very promising.  Particularly the recently-announced class, the Vanquisher:

“At E3 this Summer, we hinted around at our 3rd class. “She’s female,” is all we could confirm. Then little leaks came out – She’ll be a mixed-range class. Guns and bows. Badass babe stuff. You’ve been waiting … and we’ve been waiting to show you.

Girls of Gaming was her official debut, and what better way for a fine and classy young avatar to meet her public than with a smoking gun and a smirk on page 4. We also revealed that the third class –who you now know as The Vanquisher—had a backstory rooted in the overall world, even beyond the boomtown of Torchlight. She travels to  Torchlight in disguise as a fellow treasure and adventure seeker. Secretly, however, she is a member of the elite and deadly guards of the world’s capital city, sent to investigate the mysterious and violent disturbances surrounding the boomtown’s Ember mines.

She has a nasty road of corrupted Ember and death ahead of her, but our girl is up to the task. Please meet the long-awaited Vanquisher.”

Quote of the Day

“The appeal of an MMO isn’t about features. If it was, EQ2 would be the biggest MMO, contested only by LotRO, and WoW would be a second-stringer. It’s about the overall package, of which the features list is one element, feel and atmosphere is another, and the overall sense of fun is the third.”

~ Ardwulf

There’s This Dungeon, See, And A Dragon…

3773254971_bc05e3a19bDDO’s servers are down today, as the old DDO is put to pasture and the new DDO Unlimited is ushered into the room.  I haven’t been in DDO for about a week now, mostly because I’ve been waiting for the new patch and busy with life elsewhere — but don’t take that as a lack of excitement, because DDO Unlimited might be the sleeper hit of the year.

Whether Unlimited’s re-launch works the way Turbine hopes is clearly too soon to tell, but they haven’t been hurting for publicity since the announcement a couple months back.  It’s a game that’s consistently been the underdog ever since its 2005 launch, bleeding the initial swarm of lookie-lou’s into a small, 4-server community that’s seen precious little advertisement from Atari and pretty infrequent updates from Turbine (DDO Unlimited brings with it a content patch that players have been waiting for over 9 months).  It doesn’t easily fit into many MMO molds, and is even shunned by various D&D lovers who loathe the Eberron setting or the compromises it had to make to be transformed into a MMO.

Free to play Unlimited carries with it a lot of nervous anticipation — current players still have no idea if their community is going to be bombarded and possibly ripped apart from a huge influx of mouth-breathing (this means something when every group uses voice chat) nitwits, or if their community will grow beyond their wildest dreams and give Turbine more motivation to further developing the game.

So here’s to Unlimited, may its future be considerably brighter than its past.

Check out these hugely hefty release notes!

Mind Yer Manners

As a corollary to the last post, I just wanted to add — make sure to really thank people in game when they go out of their way to help you out.  None of this abbreviated “ty” nonsense — a properly spelled “thank you” is the bare minimum acceptable for this reponse.  If they made your day or obviously went to a lot of personal trouble to give you a hand, then I think it’s appropriate to express gratitude through a note or by telling them why you appreciated what they did (“Thank you for the help taming this pet, I’m really going to love leveling him!”).

Or perhaps do the whole “pay it forward” thing — help someone else the way you were helped, and as a result, make the entire game a better place to be.

Helping Others vs. Helping Yourself

aynrandtotsI know we always like to come off as perfect people, but I hope that I’m honest enough to share the not-so-great parts about me from time to time.  And I’ll be honest in this: sometimes I just don’t want to help you out in game, because it does nothing for me.

Ack!  How horrible is that?  How selfish, self-centered… pretty much the opposite of everything I strive to be in my daily life.  It’s almost as if I started drinking a tall glass of Ayn Rand in the morning or something.  And really, in games I don’t tend to be like that either — if a friend asks for a helping hand, or if a stranger needs a tip or a quick assist on a mission, sure, I have no problem with that.  Part of MMOs is being tied into the social scene, and you give as well as take.

But every once in a while, well, there comes a time that someone asks for help and my brain does a quick calculation — how much time will it take to do that?  If they’re asking for a two-hour dungeon run, well, that is an askance worth pondering.

Because if MMOs have done anything well, they’ve taught us to be greedy little self-seekers — to be always striving to make our own character better and stronger and richer.  There’s nothing for our character to be gained in helping out, usually, so that little voice nags at you in disapproval for “wasting” that time.  Yes, it sounds awful, but I think a lot of us have this little internal drama playing out on occasion.  The more we help others, the less we’re spending on progressing our own character — kind of pushing someone up while keeping us standing still.  Sometimes we don’t have enough time to do both, and I’ve had evenings where I agree to assist someone only to have it turn into a lengthy slog through content (in which we don’t succeed, sometimes) that eats up all my playing time for that evening.  It’s nice to help, sure, but I leave the keyboard feeling as if I haven’t accomplished anything, and that can be frustrating.

I rarely ever say “no” for a direct plea for help, but I’m not always as altruistic as others I know by logging on and instantly asking if someone needs a hand, because more often than not, there’s always someone who will gladly pounce on that offer and eat up whatever free time you had.  It’s a struggle to deny the pull of the game, which rewards me for selfish behavior instead of selfless — why don’t more games have systems that encourage you to help others, especially if MMOs are these great social places?

No profound conclusion here, just a little insight into something that I’ve always felt.  If you find me in game and honestly do need help, I won’t mind, nor will I resent you for it — I just wanted to be open that there are these opposing forces at play inside me.

Star Wars: The DOOM Song

doomsongMMO players are well-known for many idiosyncrasies, and one of their more famous traits is in pronouncing DOOM (always spelled with all caps) in any upcoming title for reasons that are clearly apparent to them but perhaps not to most sane folks.

It’s no secret that Star Wars: The Old Republic is one of the most anticipated MMOs in years, and we’re only going to see the fervor increase as the due date approaches.  But with great hype comes great grumpiness, as Uncle Ben once told me, and we’re already seeing the early notes of the DOOM song being warmed up on stage. It’s a great song, and chances are you know the beat – “Yeah this game looks to be pretty popularrrr… but this one thing is going to siiiiiiink it! DOOM!”  It gives people something to fixate on and give them cause to be generally pessimistic toward the game.

Lately I’ve been hearing/reading one of three commonly repeated DOOM beats in relation to TOR, all of which I find a tad premature since our actual knowledge of the game is fairly limited as of now. I’m going to tackle these three debated factors, but I want to make it clear: I’m not taking the opposite stance and saying any of these are wrong. They may be proven right in the long run.  I’m merely playing devil’s advocate because it’s simply too soon to know the truth behind any of these, and it’s kind of dumb to be pounding the DOOM tune out when the gaps between what we know could fit a Death Star. Or Two.

1. The “Single Player MMO” Hypothesis

By far, this is the one I’m hearing the most: “TOR is a single-player RPG masquerading as a MMO”, usually followed by a wistful “Why didn’t they just make a single-player KOTOR 3 instead?”  It irks me because it’s been repeated enough to make it almost sound like a fact, instead of the baseless speculation of what BioWare’s shown us vs. not.

Most MMO companies, when starting to talk up their upcoming title, jump out of the gate with their unique selling point.  Their big strength that sets them apart from the pack.  For WAR, it was RvR; for Champions, it was mix-and-match powers; for WoW, it was the accessibility to the casual crowd; for DDO, it was the GM narration and unique dungeons; and so on.  They don’t spend a lot of time talking about what they share in common with everyone else, because that’s a ho-hum mark against them in the PR department.  So in this case, BioWare leapt out with their “fourth pillar” of storytelling, which was aimed at each player’s individual experience.  They spent so much time talking about this that the perception grew that we’ll all just be going through these stories by our lonesome, never grouping, just waving to other players as we pass like ships in the night.

Yet BioWare isn’t stupid nor ignorant of what makes a MMO a MMO.  They haven’t gone into a lot of detail, but they have indicated that there’s a lot of “massively multiplaying” going on — parties of multiple player characters, characters sharing a non-instanced part of the world, PvP, the economy and so on.  Now, you may personally wish they had made KOTOR 3, but I’m all for this grand effort, because my character won’t “end” with the last part of my story, but have potential to continue in future chapters.

2. The “Too Much Talk/Story” Complaint

BioWare’s next big selling point was to announce that they are doing something that no other MMO has ever done before — fully voice every character, including your own — and to show off a couple examples of the cinematic dialogue you’ll be experiencing in their stories.  For some of us, the response is a properly awed “oh wow COOL” as we consider the logistics behind voicing all of this, in multiple genders and in multiple languages.  But no gift is too good as to be rejected by others, who see this as a potential black mark on the game.  “Too talky!  Me just want action!  I don’t read quest text now, why am I going to listen to them jabber later?”

To be fair, this is a personal preference issue, which will be resolved when people see whether or not what BioWare does works for them.  You may hate voiceovers in games.  You may wish to skip it all, and to eschew the story.  I’m sure BioWare will let you do that, somehow, but my feeling is that they’re making the game they want to make with the features that allow them to tell great stories like they’ve been doing for years.  If you don’t like it, nobody’s forcing you to partake.  But I’ve always loved being rewarded with conversations and cut scenes and scripted events when I’ve put in the effort to progress through a story, and this looks so much up my alley that I can’t applaud it loudly enough.  Sure, maybe it will be TOO much chatter.  Maybe I will hate the slower pace of storytelling.  But from what I’ve liked about BioWare’s single-player titles, I doubt it.

3. The “You’ll Ruin My Conversation” Scenario

This is more of a smaller nitpick that’s coupled with a lack of clear understanding how these things will work.  After all, nobody’s really done multiplayer conversations with NPCs in MMOs before, and from what we’ve seen, the game rolls a dice or something when you’re in a party to see which player is allowed to respond to the NPCs.  The reasonable follow-through to that feature is that folks are worried that their party mates might make a wrong choice for their quest, or mess things up, or take the conversation in a direction that’s undesirable.

And, yes, it is reasonable to worry about this, but not to assume that it will be pure DOOM and BioWare isn’t aware of the potential problems with it.  Hold on to that concern, if you have it, but keep it in check until we hear more about it, and see how it plays out.

Update: On a recent Darth Hater podcast, they reported that BioWare’s said that if it is your quest, you can allow or forbid your friends from controlling the conversation, so that you can direct it the way you want.

To summarize: all three of these topics are not proven fact, nor should be treated as such.  They indeed might be, but we need to be a lot closer to the game’s launch to be able to judge this for ourselves, and until that point, keep speculation and assumption in separate rooms.

Guild Wars: Back Into The Breach

nightfallThis is, undoubtably, going to be one of the weirdest weeks of MMO gaming in my life.  On Tuesday, Turbine’s bringing the DDO servers back up with the new Unlimited content for us subscribers (non-subscribers can get their free-to-play fix on the 9th), including the new store and higher level cap.  I’m definitely looking forward to playing the new class — Favored Soul — and buying bright pink hair, just because.

Then, if all things progress according to plan and Amazon ships my package on time, I’ll be jumping into Champions by Wednesday or Thursday.  It’s a bit agonizing watching a lot of my fellow bloggers and friends in the head start already, but it’s just a few more days.  And oh, the characters I have created for that game!  Just you wait.

But perhaps the oddest inclusion into this already-packed week is my decision on Friday to revisit Guild Wars.  It’s not that I have gobs of free time just sitting around these days — I’m on the cusp of returning to fall classes and youth groups, in addition to caring for my pregnant wife and 4-month-old Human Newbie (rank 4 sucking on fingers skill).  But I am becoming a great fan of MMO diversity, especially when I don’t have to pay for more than one subscription at a time, and between DDO’s F2P nature, Champions being prepaid for 7 months, and Guild Wars’ never-have-to-pay setup, I don’t feel guilty in spreading the love.

But why Guild Wars?  Astute readers might remember that I briefly toyed with the idea of going back into GW earlier this summer — I’ve had a copy of Nightfall on my computer for a while now — but never could get enough energy/interest to do so.  I played GW for a couple months after launch, but that was it for me.  So why now?  Two reasons: one, I’m pretty psyched about Guild Wars 2 after the recent release of new info, and two, the folks on Massively Speaking did a recent show just bubbling over with enthusiasm for GW.  My heart is only so stony, people — there is a warm center that can be reached with enough effort.  For people like me who are excited about  GW2, the fact that you can save up accomplishments, titles and other things in GW to be able to “pass on” to your character in the sequel is an additional incentive to play.

So on my computer it went.  Now, Guild Wars gets attacked for a lot of things, which to me can mostly be summed up as “It’s not quite like all the other MMOs I play”.  You can’t jump.  It’s highly instanced (a phrase that’s a dirty word, for some reason, to some bloggers).  It’s lacking things like mounts and an auction house that other MMOs have as a matter of course.  It caps leveling at 20 and focuses mostly on skill acquisition thereafter.  It’s really an oddball of a MMO, almost moreso now than when ArenaNet launched it back in 2005.  And yet, with the company crossing the 6 million units sold mark back in April, you can’t deny that it hasn’t been somewhat of a mega-success.

Right now, for me, the biggest attraction of GW is its incredibly casual nature.  The game is as silky-smooth to both run and enter/exit as ever, and I’ve found myself logging in for little spurts of time over the weekend.  Do a quest here, explore a bit there, work on a title, etc.  I laughed hard when I saw that all of the stuff I had in my storage vault from 2005 was still there, patiently waiting as pretty as you please.

I’ve always applauded Guild Wars’ approach to character customization, and it’s still a big selling point for me.  I can retool my character’s attribute points and swap skills freely, as long as I’m in a town — but I can only have eight skills at a time, making it a bit of a challenge to decide whether to focus on a specific build or have a bunch of general skills for any situation that might come up.  My new character is Dawnbreak Wild, a ranger just because I heard that GW’s pets got buffed and I wanted to see if that was true.  Dawnbreak went and tamed a bright pink flamingo (what is it with me and pink?) and has enjoyed the featherbeak’s companionship ever since.

I found a guild pretty quickly — just a small one, but friendly and helpful, which is a boon.  It’s pretty neat that any additional characters I make will automatically be invited into the guild without any action needed.  More games need that, I think, especially for us altoholics.

Guild Wars certainly won’t be my main MMO, but it’s looking as if it might be part of my gaming lineup for a while to come now.  I’m going to devote myself to getting Dawnbreak through the campaign and see what the end game looks like.

It’s gonna be a good week, all in all.

/AFK – August 30

borderlands_fullWelcome to another /AFK, the Sunday feature where I go to church and you can check up on whatever posts interested me most in the past week:

BONUS: Battle Squirrels!

When Is It Too Late To Begin A MMO?

White_Rabbit_by_kyohtOne of the reasons that I’m an early adopter of MMOs is that there’s just something hardwired into me that I need to be there at the beginning.  I absolutely hate feeling “behind” in MMOs, and no, I’m not talking about leveling so much as coming late to the party and having to absorb a pants-ton (pants is my new word of the day, thanks Britishies!) of info and patch updates and whatnot that everyone else knows as common knowledge.

The truth is that the longer a MMO lives, the more complex and overburdened with information it becomes.  This isn’t a problem to the vets of the game, because they’ve been absorbing and adapting to this over the course of months and years as it’s been slowly updated.  But for a newbie to come to a game three years after launch?  It’s like an info waterfall, smashing you down and making you feel helpless.  Where do you begin?  How do you avoid feeling and looking like a total noob?

Not to mention that there’s that nagging feeling that the game might be past its prime, that its “best years” are behind it before you even set foot in it.  The initial rush of the crowd, the huge growth of the first year or so, that’s all settled down.  The community is established.  People know people, but you are a stranger.  And how long will the game continue?  How many more expansions lie in its future?  You have no idea, but you know that it’s a lot less for you than it was for folks at launch.

What about the social situation?  Even if you find a great guild, or join the game to be with your friends, they’re all going to be level infinity while you’re still a dirt-grubbing peasant.  It might be months and months before you’re high enough to do anything meaningful with them.

These are just thoughts that run through my head whenever I consider jumping into an older MMO.  If a game is more than a year old, I usually can come up with more reasons why not to try it than to jump in.  I need to feel as though I can actually play with my friends and guildies, instead of just having access to a chat channel with them in it.  I consider the learning curve and see if it’s just too much to absorb.  I wonder if it might just be better to wait for the next game from that company, or better yet, the sequel, and then get in on the ground floor for that.

For example, after seeing the recent trailer for Guild Wars 2 and reading up on it, I’m pretty excited about it, and have even considered giving GW another try.  But I remember what happened earlier this summer when I attempted to do exactly that — I stalled out before I even left the newbie zone, because I had doubts as to whether or not what I was doing would end up being fun, since everyone else was probably all maxed out and doing high level stuff.  Now, I see GW2 and go, why bother with the first one when I know I’ll be dipping into the second?  But the opposing voice in my head tells me that I had a lot of fun with GW when it first launched, and it’d be a shame not to at least give it a try now and then, especially since its free.  What will I have to learn, though?  What’s changed?

I’m not trying to come to any sort of conclusion here — I just wanted to share what bounces around in my head when it comes to stuff like this.