Bio Break and the Year That Was

This is as good a picture as any to encapsulate this year

2009 was a big year for MMORPGs, even if you can’t pinpoint a single game that defined the entire year.  There was certainly more than enough going on to fill up a solid year of discussion, and if you want a brief recap of the year’s hottest MMO stories, I suggest you read this two-part article.

I began this year primarily playing WAR and writing for WAAAGH!, but neither would last for long.  Bio Break quickly became my blog o’ choice, as I wanted to branch out into discussing the MMORPG world at large, and I’m certainly glad I did so.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a year where I’ve played so many MMOs, met so many terrific people online or had so much fun as this one, and for me personally, 2009 was the year that gave me permission to stop being a monogamous gamer and go where the gaming was good.

So I wanted to end 2009 by going through my year in gaming and blogging.

iPhone Games

In June, my brother-in-law gave me his old iPhone 3G (he’d upgraded to the new model) and I discovered the sheer joy of this techno-Swiss army knife.

Although the app store is simply loaded with games, I’ve found myself to be a bit picky in what I want from the platform — it has to be quick to pick up and put down, work well with the interface (I really wish the device had a physical D-pad), and be worth my time.  This boils my game list down to the following:

  • Dungeon Hunter – A generic but wonderfully-done Diablo clone
  • Desert Chronicles – A tower defense/RPG hybrid that I still play months after downloading
  • Peggle – Because… it’s Peggle
  • Bloons TD – I love Bloons, but its reliance on cannons over all else has dampened my enthusiasm of this title
  • Civilization Revolutions – Civ in a pocket format
  • Skee-Ball – Dude, it’s SKEE-BALL
  • Star Hogs – I loved me some Scorched Earth back in the day

Single-Player PC Games

As I’ve long since moved away from console gaming, so am I starting to drift far away from single-player computer titles.  Even though many of them are fun, there’s something about the persistence and connectivity of MMOs that makes me miss them when they’re not there.

I spent a chunk of the year deep in BioWare’s domain — KOTOR, Mass Effect and Dragon Age all commanded weeks of my time, and were well worth it.  Dragon Age wasn’t quite the be-all, end-all gritty fantasy experience I’d hoped for, but it was excellent, and I hope to go back and finish it some day.

Torchlight… I’m still divided on this.  It’s a decent diversion, but it never really hooked me, and I was a bit turned off by its FATE 2.0-ness.  I do need to go back and give it more of a fair shake, tho.

Games I have on deck that I’ve yet to try — Majesty 2, Borderlands, Tropico 3.

MMORPGs

I’ve probably annoyed a few of my readers by MMO hopping, particularly when I’ve left a game that they care about for one they did not.  In my defense, I’m not suffering from gamer ADD or WoW tourism syndrome or whatnot — I just had the urge this year to explore, to play new and old titles that seemed fun and appealing, and I wanted to get as broad of a base of experience for writing about MMOs in general.  I don’t see 2010 as being any different, to be honest.

So what are the titles I’ve dipped my toes in — or dove deep into — this year?

  • Warhammer Online – I began the year in WAR, but even back in January I knew that my time in the game was coming to an end.  It simply did not have what I was looking for in a MMO, and it never felt quite right.  I think that WAR is one of the biggest disappointments in my gaming career, because I had such high hopes for it, and because it really had so much promise and potential.
  • City of Heroes – Yes, I actually played CoH a bit earlier this year, partially because I was looking forward to Champions, and partially because I just missed the simplicity of the combat/missions grind.  Fun and amusing, it wasn’t to be for very long.
  • World of Warcraft – I played a month of Wrath then canceled my account, to what I publically declared to be the last time.  Which it wasn’t, so egg on my face.  Due to a great guild, the dungeon finder tool and a more laid-back approach to the game, I’ve found myself in Azeroth once more.
  • Lord of the Rings Online – 2009 was the year that I gave LOTRO its second big chance, and ironically, it ended up just like the first.  I had a great time, enjoyed the Captain class, found a terrific guild, and simply burned out somewhere in the middle of North Downs.  I like the game, but the setting and feel of it just isn’t *me*, which is one of those personal things that can never be resolved on Turbine’s end.  Speaking of Turbine…
  • Dungeons and Dragons Online – I hadn’t planned to play this, period, except for the announcement of the free to play version that got me thinking about DDO again.  And once back in the game, I found that there’s a lot to love and admire about this quirky, unique MMO.  While I’m not in it at the moment, I won’t hesitate to recommend it, especially since it costs you nothing for a good chunk of the content.
  • Free Realms and Wizard101 – Both of these I played and tried to get my wife into; both of these were too “kiddy” in tone for a long-term stay.
  • Champions Online – Had high expectations for this following City of Heroes, which were not met.  CO is an odd bird to me — I will stand by my statement that it’s a fun game with great combat, but it’s also shallow as all get out, far too linear and suffered a plague of embarrassing snafu’s in the first month.
  • Fallen Earth – Need I go into much detail here?  Hooked me after a great deal of positive word-of-mouth testimonies, and I agree with them all — this is a rough-and-tumble MMO that earns its stripes with a fantastic setting, deep gameplay and rewarding crafting.
  • Guild Wars – I had a copy of this sitting around, and I was determined to really get back into this game.  Unfortunately, my time restrictions forced my attention elsewhere, and my general feeling was that I’d rather start fresh with GW2 than plow through the first.

En Kankluzion

With no huge WoW-like breakout hit in 2009 (or 2008 for that matter), it’s easy to casually dismiss this year as so-so for MMO gaming.  Except that that does disservice to huge breakout hits like Free Realms, the growing success of EVE Online and Wizard 101, the more-than-adaquate subscriber base of Aion and Champions, and the thriving indie titles such as Darkfall and Fallen Earth.  It was a year that many spent eagerly anticipating titles that are still yet to come (TOR, Cataclysm, GW2, Star Trek), a year in which we saw many projects canceled and MMOs close, a year plagued with layoffs and debate and controversy, but it never was one thing.

2009 was never boring.

Syp on Massively Speaking

Yesterday I had the pleasure of recording a fun quick podcast with the folks over at Massively, which you can listen to (if you can stand the grating tone of my voice) over here on Massively Speaking!

We had a great time discussing 2009 in review, as well as our thoughts and predictions for the new year.  Another prediction?  MMOs will dispense corn dogs straight to your home via the iCorn iDog attachment!

$5 Bucks Gets You A MMO… Or A Cup Of Coffee

Several sites and blogs have reported on this incredible end-of-the-year sale over at Steam, a sale which includes a huge amount of MMORPGs (and other titles) being handed out at incredibly reduced prices.  This sale runs through January 3rd, so if you didn’t get a good present under the Christmas tree this year, there’s no reason you shouldn’t shell out a few bucks to treat yourself to something fun in the new year!

The best deals here are MMOs going for the low, low price of $5, including:

  • EVE Online: Dominion
  • Vanguard
  • Pirates of the Burning Sea
  • EverQuest II: The Shadow Odyssey
  • EverQuest II: Starter Pack
  • Lineage

If there’s nothing in that list to float your boat, they’re also offering Champions Online for $10, the whole Star Wars Galaxies package for $10, City of Heroes Architect Edition for $10, Age of Conan for $13, and (my personal favorite) Fallen Earth for $25.

Personally, I’m really tempted to pick up EQ2 — $5 for the starter pack would get me the game and a month’s worth of play time to satisfy my curiosity of this title.  Even if I don’t play it, hey, it was just $5.

Direct2Drive is also offering a number of sales, but nothing as insane.  They do have Warhammer for $20, which I didn’t see pop up on Steam.

I Don’t Wanna Grow Up, I’m A Toys ‘R Us Kid

Rabbit over at Gamers With Jobs posted an interesting Christmas-themed essay today concerning his growing discomfort/horror of being a responsible grown-up and parent at the cost of his own gaming time and fun.  That as kids grow up, parents must give up some of their own time and interests in order to support their kids’ activities and interests.

As a father of one speedy-crawling 8-month-old boy (who thinks the word “No!” is really, really funny) and a little girl who’s a few months away from joining us on the outside, this essay caught my attention in a personal way.  I understand just how much growing responsibilities and additional family members can demand more time from you, and how (as Rabbit put it) there’s this feeling of a “box” that’s closing in.

The thing is, as much as I appreciate Rabbit’s honesty and his apparent effort in raising his kids, the mindset that your kids/family are leeching away the fun out of your life and the only enjoyment you can have is to live vicariously through them is somewhat askew.  People have been telling me that my life has been over for the past five years — first when I got married, then when #1 came along, and now with the second on the way.  They always say it in that mock-horror-but-not-really-mock tone, watching my reaction to see if I’m going to grimace or shriek loudly.

Yeah, life has become different, but it’s not over.  I didn’t stop being a gamer when I got married, I simply had to reprioritize, compromise and balance my activities.  Same with my kids.  Sure, my available gaming time will continue to decrease over the next couple decades, but I sincerely doubt that it will vanish, or that my life will only be an extension of my kids.

I look to my friend Bob — 4 kids, a full-time pastor, and… a gamer.  He games when he can, and it’s a great source of stress-relief and downtime for him.  I look at my brother Jared — 4 kids and all, and he still engages in multiple hobbies, from woodworking to guitar playing to reading.  They certainly don’t have the free time they once did, but they wouldn’t say they’re “boxed” in either.

I have no idea if my kids will be gamers or athletes or musicians or whatever, and I’m not going to push them in one direction or the other.  But for the record, my son absolutely loves to sit on his dad’s lap and watch the moving pictures as I play a MMO.

And then he tries to eat my mouse.

Cannibalizing Alts

On a recent podcast of The Instance, a listener sent in a really fascinating question concerning a hypothetical feature for WoW (but, really, it could apply to any MMO).

The feature is paraphrased as such: what if the game would let you destroy an alt in order to let you transfer some of the levels/XP of the destroyed alt to another one of your characters?  Personally, I’m thinking of a 1:2 ratio with XP — for every 2 XP the offed alt had accumulated, you could transfer 1 XP over to the character of your choice.

The principle behind this is that many of us end up with several alts who just take up space.  We ended up not liking the class, not wanting to invest time into too many characters, what have you.  But there’s a bit of player’s regret that’s happened — you’ve spent a good chunk of time on that character that’s now useless.  So why not be allowed to transfer at least a portion of that spent time in the form of XP into a character that you will play?

For example, maybe I have a few alts I don’t play, but I really want to start a new guy of class X.  I’m dreading the slow trudge up to the higher levels, so I sacrifice those alts and give my new main a good boost up in levels.  Bam.  I’m not cheating, per se, because I’ve already invested the time — and if I could go back and tell myself that I wouldn’t play those alts, perhaps I would have played class X from the beginning.

Now for obvious reasons, this is a feature we’d never ever see in a MMO, because it removes a portion of the time sink that devs love, since it keeps you subbed and playing.  Playing a character 1-100 will net them more money than playing a character from 45-100.

But I can’t help but look at all the many, many, many alts that I’ve generated over my MMO career, and wish that I could use their efforts for something useful.