Nostalgia Lane: Silent Hill

I have loved precisely three consoles in my life: the Atari 2600, the SNES and the original PlayStation.  I got the PS back in 1997 right when Final Fantasy VII came out, a game that made owning the console absolutely necessary.  That PS kept me company through the last couple years of college, and I devoured quite a few of those pixelated grainy masterpieces.  Other than FF7 on the platform, only one other game had such a huge impact on my life.  A little title called Silent Hill.

I first heard about Silent Hill when reading a games magazine and they were raving about its unique (for the time) features — the directional sound coming from wherever the enemies were, for instance, and the fog.  Of course, as we all know, the “fog” and dark of the game came about because of the PlayStation’s limited draw distance, and it became an elegant solution, turning a limitation into one of Silent Hill’s greatest assets: atmosphere.

I’d played a few titles in this infant “survival horror” genre before, such as Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil 2, and like many gamers, found myself simultaneously compelled to play them even though I was freaked out every time I picked them up.  Silent Hill blew those two games out of the water by ratcheting the creepy factor up to a level that would make most horror movies cry in sheer self-loathing.  (Ironically, the Silent Hill movie fell short of the game experience as well.)

It was a pretty bizarre and cool setup: your character, a dad, gets into an accident on a highway because he sees what he thinks is a girl on the road.  When the dad wakes up, his daughter is gone, and he hoofs it into Helltown USA, population 4 humans and 269 monsters.  One of the very first things he experiences is being cornered by demonic children and being hacked to death.

Yup, this was a game that killed you off in the first few minutes, then brought you back for no apparent reason right after.

Even though your character kept bumping into other humans, everyone was completely *off*, as was the setting of the town.  Silent Hill nailed every scary small town vista, with an eerie quiet, ever-present fog, and light snowfall.  You could be attacked at any moment as you searched for clues and gradually started to understand that this town was one seriously messed-up place.

Then, the second masterstroke of genius — as you went to the town’s elementary school, a noise sounded and the world shifted into a terrifying night mode, where everything was rusted, bloody and corrupted.  It made you honestly long for the day mode the longer you were in it, as the developers and artists crafted a world that felt more horrifying than most of my nightmares.  It wasn’t one of those places where Freddy kept chasing you or Jason kept popping out of closets, but where kids voices would float across cut telephone lines and you’d have to battle with things you couldn’t quite see in the shadows.

Nevertheless to say, I became a nervous wreck trying to get through Silent Hill, to the point where I’d have to invite friends over to be in the same room just so that I could get enough courage to play it.  But I couldn’t quit either, and beating that title felt like clawing my way out of video game hell.

I never could get the nerve to play any of the sequels after that, or even anything else in the survival horror genre.  Well, that’s not true, I did Eternal Darkness, but that’s a tale for another day.

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/AFK – Allods of RMT Edition

It’s merely February, but have we seen the biggest MMO story this year in the whole Allods debacle?  Or is this a volcano of nonsense that will settle down and be forgotten before too long?  And who stole my rainbow-striped suspenders?

Adventures in Bizarre Marketing

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Aion: The Magazine!

Anyone have flashbacks to Spaceballs: The Flamethrower?  I know I did.

So Aion now joins WoW in the height of hubris by publishing a magazine dedicated to their game, except that this one is a “digizine” published online.

Question: why should I pay you for an online magazine that you use to talk about your game when pretty much every other MMO studio does so for free on their websites?  What is so captivating, so rare, so exquisite that it justifies actual monetary transactions?

Oh.  Because you get in-game stuff.

So the Aion magazine is — correct me if I’m wrong — RMT disguised in the form of a magazine, which is justified by withholding printed content from their players as some sort of hostage situation?  Bravo, NCSoft.  Bravo.

P.S. – Head over to Mutant Reviewers today to read my review of The Guild seasons 1 & 2!  Do so now, and I’ll toss in an origami hat and a broken white crayon!

Syp Abducted By Nuns

Check me and other bloggers out as we landed on the No Prisoners, No Mercy podcast talking about immersion:

For those of you who can’t wait for the Itunes/Virgin Worlds release of the latest edition of the No Prisoners, No Mercy show…wait no more! Show 54 is available on early release.  You can find this show available here.   There ios also a link under “podcasts” on the right hand side of the page.This week the game development community meets the blogging community in a round table discussion about immersion in video games.  The week we welcome to the show game developer R.W. Harper from Lorewriter.com.  From the blogger community we welcome Saylah from Mystic Worlds, Tipa from West Karana, Syp from Bio Break, and of course, the show hosts Julie Whitefeather and Fran Kosac.

We hope you enjoy listening to the show as much as we did producing it.

DDO: An Underdog Success Story

I read a quote on a MMO blog not too long ago that said something to the effect that “we haven’t seen a MMO success since World of Warcraft”.  I wish I remembered the blog and could quote it accurately, because that sentiment stuck in my craw for days after as being one of the dumbest things I’ve heard in these parts.

We haven’t seen success since then?  I guess that we should cross off Guild Wars, with 6+ million boxes sold and a sequel on the way… or the massive adaption of F2P titles like Runes of Magic, Wizard101 and Free Realms, each sporting a multi-million playerbase… or the enduring triumph of EverQuest 2 and LOTRO as they grow through expansion packs and are beloved up to a half decade after coming out… or EVE Online’s phenomenal rise in subscriptions, year after year.  Heck, I’d be okay calling any MMO that managed to launch and continue to operate a “success”, in that it’s making money and has a dedicated community of players.

Dungeons & Dragons Online has become a success of a different nature, in that it was a perceived “failure” (small playerbase with little hopes of growing) that’s now experiencing a tremendous surge of popularity and love as it’s gone with a F2P/subscription hybrid model.  Massively’s reporting that DDO has accrued one million new players since last September, which includes doubling the number of subscribers.  They’re making money hand over fist, the game continues to suck people in, and all because they readjusted the monetary cost to access the game to something more palatable.

I’m all sorts of happy for DDO.  It’s a great game that dared to do the genre a bit different with a major focus on dungeoneering, and it now seems that they knocked down the major barrier that was getting between players and the title.  If DDO was a movie, it would be a plucky little underdog that few believed in until it finally hit a home run out of the park, got a date with the prom queen, and fought Big Tobacco in court, after which there’d be a rousing slow clap where everyone in the community would stand on their feet and cheer it on.

Star Trek Scrambles To Yellow Alert

CRYPTICCCC!

As we’re hitting the one-month point for STO, which is a significant milestone for every MMO, two questions loom above all.  How many people are sticking around for a second month of a paid subscription, and what is Cryptic doing or promising to convince them to do so?

I think it’s significantly telling that I haven’t read anyone who’s absolutely delighted with the amount of content in the game right now, particularly at the level cap — which several folks have hit without breaking a sweat.  Sure, there’s delight in aspects of what the game has to offer and many voices happy with the space combat, the Star Trek feel and the ownership of a ship, but that doesn’t stretch to blanket the whole package.  It’s merely parts that are clung to instead of embracing it all.

For me, STO became a complete Champions Online redux, with all its highs and lows.  Its combat is solid, graphics attractive, and gameplay aimed right at the casual player.  Yet it was obviously launched too soon, it’s too instanced to give the feeling of a cohesive universe, sector space is an atrocious way to navigate, their microtransactions a PR bruise, and the end game skimpier than spring break on Miami Beach.  Whatever the  reason for shoving it out the door quickly — and then defending the move as saying how brilliant they were for  bring a MMORPG to market in two years — they’re now tasked with both running a live game and scrambling to shore up its weak spots.

Personally?  I don’t hate the game.  It’s fun for what it is.  But what it is is not a $15/month title.  What it is is half-baked, and needs more time in the oven.  I think that, like Champions, players coming to STO a year from now will find a far more mature and fully-fleshed out title — and fewer players than they’d like.

So let’s take a look at what Cryptic is doing, particularly with their new community relations focus, on getting STO to where it needs to be.  They recently sent out a survey to current players — which they incentivized by giving players 240 Cryptic Points for filling out (the cost of the Federation Klingon race) — and Tipa has a terrific response on her blog to this.

You can’t help but read their latest State of the Game post and not hear this as a direct plea for players to stay in the game.  As always, it’s easy to promise the sky in regards to the indefinite future, so with that disclaimer, let’s take a look:

  • They emphasize just how hard they’re working.  This is a plea for sympathy and also reassurance that they’re not sitting on their laurels.  I don’t envy any dev team in the first month of launch, and I can’t blame them for trying to communicate just how it is on their side.
  • They’re continuing to increase server capacity and stability, and shorten queues — all good, all necessary, all fundamentally unforgivable if players can’t play what they’re paying for.
  • The big promises with an indefinite timeline: Respec, Death Penalty, Difficulty Slider, More open auto-fire, Replayable missions, Improving Memory Alpha, Fixing those Commodity missions.  All of these are significant issues that almost every STO player will agree need to be fixed or implemented, and it’s great that at least Cryptic is acknowledging them.  BUT.  I want to take a rolled-up newspaper to the side of their head for making lighting strike twice by messing up the whole “respec” thing two games in a row.  Is there a reason they couldn’t anticipate this?  Or why they neglected to create a death penalty until after the game launched?
  • As has been said, Memory Alpha is a huge joke of a “crafting” system, and man, they need to get that black mark off their record sooner rather than later.  You know it’s bad when you don’t even hear any marketing spin for what they think are its good angles.  It’s the very definition of a half-assed feature put into a game just to have another bullet point on the back of the boox.
  • Raids are on the way, soon.  These aren’t just nice, they’re going to be the lifeblood of every player who hits the level cap and doesn’t want to PvP or reroll an alt.  I just hope they not only deliver, but are compelling enough to handle the burden of being the premiere end game content.
  • Other vaguely-defined future promises: ship interiors, first officers, fleet advancement.  Sounds good, and also sounds like things that should’ve been there on day one.  But that might just be me.

The letter kind of ends on a curious note, with the author separating the audience into those who “get it” and those who don’t.  It’s an interesting tactic to take — sort of emotionally rewarding those who continue to be a proponent of STO while at the same time trying to label those who have withdrawn support as those who just don’t get it.  You’re with us or against us, that sort of thing.  Maybe I’m reading into that a little too much.

He also says “We guessed [that STO would be polarizing and only appeal to some folks] and still we made a conscious decision to not water things down and go ‘mass market’.”

Um… you mean you didn’t go “mass market”?  I guess I’m not sure what that means, then.  As far as I can tell, STO’s combat-centric nature and eschewment of several Star Trek traits that weren’t as easy to sandwich into a MMO meant tells me they were trying to appeal to a wider market than a narrower one.  You made a game where stuff blows up real good and some of the guys have bumpy foreheads, and put stuff like “diplomacy” and “problem solving” and “character relationship building” on the back burner.  I don’t think you could make Star Trek more appealing to the general masses than that.

All in all, I don’t think this letter gives them a free pass, but for those who are looking for a reason why they should stick with STO — or to come back in the near future — there’s a lot of tantalizing concepts here.  We’ll have to see how quickly these ideas can become reality.