Posted in RIFT, Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft

Good vs. Evil, MMO-style

Tobold kicked off a good discussion yesterday about morality in MMOs, especially in the context of giving players choices.  Now, BioWare — his main example — is no stranger to such an approach, having used it in pretty much every game they’ve done.  With KOTOR they put it to a meter with good and bad (or light and dark side) points moving you up and down the scale, a system that they’ve held on to in several subsequent games and also for the upcoming SWTOR.

The quote that caught my eye was when he said, “The other problem is that by clearly attaching good and evil points to decisions, the players are bound to the ideas of morality of the developers.”  It’s a good point, and I want to explore it a bit further.

In general, game companies are not where we should be looking to for our moral compass.  They’re made up of a conglomerate of personalities, belief systems, religions, and philosophies just like most other companies.  The companies don’t want to alienate players of any walk of life, because hey, they’re paying customers and who needs the controversy, so there’s a delicate walk to be maintained when advocating a moral stance — either implicitly or explicitly — in a game.  I’m not saying they shouldn’t, but that there’s some… diplomacy involved.

This is where you get games like WoW and RIFT that have completely opposing factions who are both “good” from different points of view.  They needed factions but didn’t want to portray either as evil, so they doubled-down on being fantasy Boy Scouts.

I actually like that BioWare doesn’t shy away from tricky moral and ethical dilemmas in games, and I agree that sometimes they’re hampered by simplifying it down into “good” and “evil” with no other categories.  However, let’s not do the same to the company, since with games like Mass Effect you don’t pursue a good or evil course, but have the option to be as ruthless or virtuous as you like in achieving your goals.  In essence, you’re still the hero in the games doing the right thing, but the avenue of how you get there is determined by what your morals (or preferences) dictate, not theirs.

I agree that game studios shouldn’t be judging my morals, as in penalizing me for not believing in something they do or for doing something that they dislike.  However, I’m all for having them set up a situation that allows me to exercise my morals and see — as in real life — how it plays out.  Sometimes doing the “right thing” in life doesn’t have an immediate positive response, and sometimes doing something wrong can be beneficial to you.  But having the ability to make that choice according to what YOU (or your character) want or believe instead of being forced to do X in order to complete a quest is a step back in the right direction of roleplay and immersion.

Sometimes, as in real life, the right thing to do can be extremely hard to discern, and require more than seeing if the text is blue or red to indicate good or bad.  Sometimes there are many ways to do something right or wrong, to take big or small steps along a moral path, and I’d be all for games mirroring that complexity.

Ultimately, games are games.  If SWTOR allows me to choose my character’s decisions without constantly hitting me on the nose and saying “BAD gamer!”, then awesome.  Yes, I’m not a big fan of light and dark side gear and powers, since that will have a stronger influence on how people “game” the system than to simply play and choose according to what they or their character would do in that situation, but it’s still more than we usually get, and that’s something.

Plus, wouldn’t it be really cool if BioWare makes these choices and stories so compelling that it tears people away from grinding light/darkside points to do what they want to do?

Posted in Picture of the Day

Picture of the Day

This is what I’m trying to make into my “Star Wars shelf” in my office.  Over the past year or two, people have started giving me Star Wars LEGO sets as presents, which I thought were pretty cool, so I’ve just begun putting them together.  Here we have an AT-ST, a couple Hoth things, the Wampa cave, a snowspeeder, and some CloneWars-era ship.

I still have a couple sets I’ve yet to put together, including Vader’s ship, and I want to get a Star Wars poster and use it for the background.  Work in progress, people, work in progress!

Posted in WildStar

We’re saved! It’s LoneStar! Er, Bravestarr! No, wait, it’s WildStar!

NCsoft’s mystery MMO is a mystery no longer, as it announced that its Carbine Studios is working on WildStar, some sort of scifi/fantasy/cartoon pie-in-the-literal-sky game.

First things first — the cinematic trailer is insanely endearing, really well-done, and pretty funny in parts.  I LOL’d, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.  Yeah, some people bash cinematics as being pointless wastes of resources and not representative of the game proper, but I don’t feel that way.  A good cinematic trailer not only gets me excited, but it shares the spirit of the game with me, and WildStar’s is telling me that bright colors, a sense of humor, and high adventure is where it’s at.  I’m half-won over right there.

While details are still coming in, from what I can ascertain WildStar wants to be all things to all players.  The devs are making noise about how you can not only be a fighter, but choose a path of exploration, science or building if you so prefer.  It’s interesting to me just how many MMO studios are saying stuff like this these days, as if the industry is realizing that it’s fallen into a massive rut and needs to shake things up.  Of course, every dev team thinks they have the answer (an answer that doesn’t court massive risk, of course), and I’m deeply interested to see which of these games will make good on words and phrases like “player choice,” “impact the game world,” and “paprika.”

I’m all happy for more and more players to enter the field and try their hand at crafting a different type of MMO, because the more that do, the more chances we have of a breakout hit that at least reshapes the mold if not shatters it.

Posted in World of Warcraft

The end of the WoW era

Without jumping the gun too much here, I feel that it’s past time we just come out and say it: 2011 is the unofficial end of the WoW era.

Not to say that the game isn’t still rabidly popular, influential or significant, but more and more I’m getting that the general consensus is that it’s ceased to dominate as it once did.  This is not me engaging in some bitter schadenfreude as an ex-player or saying anything as foolhearty as “this game is dying,” but simply putting on virtual paper what I’ve been thinking for some time now.

It’s hard to argue that WoW is riding strong right now, as whatever excitement from Cataclysm has long since worn out, the content updates continue to be developed at a snail’s pace, hundreds of thousands of players have exited the game, and other strong contenders — both current and upcoming — merit more headlines than Blizzard’s golden goose.

If I may indulge in a bit of reading between the lines, one can see Blizzard realizing that it no longer leads the pack but is merely one of the pack — and it’s going to have to adapt and innovate faster to stay relevant instead of expecting everyone to follow in its wake like lackeys.  Other companies are no longer dropping WoW’s name in every second sentence as they once did, but instead are looking elsewhere for ideas to emulate and nurture.

And hey, it had to happen sooner or later.  It’s honestly amazing that World of Warcraft came to define the better part of an entire decade of gaming the way it has, and that’s to its credit.  But there’s also the sense that gamers and developers alike have grown tired of always having WoW hovering over their heads as if this was the be-all, end-all of the industry, which led to a fervent desire to move on and get out of its shadow.  Plus, there’s always the backlash against whatever people see as “too” popular and untouchable, which is human nature that goes well beyond this genre.

Yes, this is a subjective position, but it’s made after a long period of observations in the industry, and I feel comfortable saying it.  And you know what?  This could be the best thing in the world for Blizzard right now.  In my opinion, the company needed to be jolted out of complacency and simply try harder.  It needed to see other MMOs as competition once again instead of pesky bi-planes that it could swat down as it hung off the Empire State Building.  And most of all, it needed to stop taking its customers for granted but instead cherish them, listen to them, and work to provide for their desires.

Just because the WoW era might be over doesn’t mean WoW is, and even after this next year’s worth of releases, it’ll still be alive and strong.  I just hope that as it rejoins the MMO crowd, WoW will forgo an ego about its former position and embrace a new, smarter attitude.  I think we could see great things if it did.

Posted in The Secret World, Warhammer Online

Bobbing along in a sea of news

When I woke up this morning I had no idea it was going to be one of those “news explosions” days, although maybe I should’ve anticipated it considering that Gamescom is kicking off and all.

Anyway.  A half-dozen highly urgent news posts later, and I’m just starting to wrap my head around everything going on — and the implications that follow.  Let’s jump in!

The Secret World announces release window

Launching April 2012 with beta sign-ups starting on August 26th.  I’m seriously geeked about this game and its possibilities — I love the setting, the ideas, and especially the non-leveling, make-your-own-character approach.  It’s awesome that we have a launch date, although man… April seems forever away now.

Honestly, I don’t want to get in on the beta, because this is one of those titles I have *no* intention of spoiling.  So head in the sand I go, but grinning all the way.  Yay TSW!

Warhammer Online goes… MOBA?

Wow, did NOT see this coming.  Instead of going free-to-play or adding that third faction everyone wants, the Mythic team juked and did something unexpected: to make a second game using elements (especially scenarios) of WAR, only this time make it a MOBA (massive online battle arena) instead.  Fixed “heroes”, 6v6v6 battles, free-to-play.

It’s interesting (and Werit’s got all the details), although my general disinterest toward MOBAs extends to this one.  I think it’s a good sign that EA’s not ditching WAR but looking to utilize the assets it already has in order to appeal to a wider playerbase, and we’ve never really seen something like this come out of a major MMO before (to my knowledge).  If they play their cards right, the titles will synergize with each other to boost profits — and, more importantly, long-term survival — all around.

Age of Empires launches today

I’ll admit that I’m a little interested in this free-to-play title, so I’ll have to check it out.

Kingdom of Reckoning to releazzzzzzzz

EA was trying to hype up the Reckoning trailer and release, but my impressions is that that game couldn’t look more fantasy-generic, and the trailer doesn’t do it any favors.

World of Battleships announced

Honestly, Wargaming.net is proving itself an unstoppable monster and we should all just bow to it and give it our fealty lest we be cast into exile once the coming revolution occurs.  Out of the three “World of” titles they have or are working on, this one interests me the most.  Naval gunplay!

Posted in Guild Wars

How grindy will Guild Wars 2 be?

While I’m still dabbling in Guild Wars, putzing my way through Factions (with Prophecies and Nightfall under my belt), I’ve lost the sense of urgency and desire to play more than a handful of times a week.  It’s that Guild Wars hard-to-describe detraction, where you know — in your head — that the game is good and you do like it on some level, but it’s also not always as fun and friendly as you’d like.  And so I’ve revised my plan to get a mere 15 points in the Hall of Monuments and call it a day, probably after I’ve finished the Eye of the North racial missions.

There’s two things that really dishearten me about this game.  The first is that, as I’m focusing on missions almost exclusively, they’re pretty much fail/pass.  These missions can be quite long, and if you’re going for the master’s or bonus, you really can’t slip up.  One mistake, and your party can wipe or you lose the bonus, and you have to start all over.  I’ve left the game for multiple days because of a bad mission and the agonizing thought of having to do it all over again.

The second is that the grind is simply atrocious.  Say what you will about other companies, like Turbine, but someone over at ArenaNet either got engaged to grind during the development process, or the team realized they needed to heavily engage the brakes to slow down player progress lest they run out of game.  Maybe both.  In any case, many titles are simply out of grasp for all but the hardcore, and even the easier ones require weeks if not months of work.

So while I haven’t abandoned Guild Wars, mentally I’ve all but moved on to Guild Wars 2 in the hopes of a much better game that still retains the creative genius and artistry that is ArenaNet’s strong suit.

But then there’s that worry.  The worry that ArenaNet hasn’t lost its love for the grind, that lurking behind the promise that “every level from 1 to 80 will take the same amount of time” lies a horrific grind in sheep’s clothing.  It’s hard to imagine a game where leveling comes quickly and regularly of not having a grind at some point to put the brakes on, unless either the content is so compelling we’ll just do it for its own sake or there are plans to keep pumping out new goals and content at a steady pace.

I also look to the dungeons when I think about potential grind, because we know that ArenaNet has plans for us to repeat these dungeons many, many times in various modes.  Again, it’s not bad in and of itself, unless it becomes a chore as we slog through run #5,601 to level up that title or get an achievement.

Honestly, I have no idea, just a concern — not even a worry.  What do you think: will Guild Wars 2 import Guild Wars 1’s grind?

Posted in Guild Wars

There’s no place like home (instances)

After gushing about Star Wars: The Old Republic’s starships, it’s only fair to take a closer look at Guild Wars 2’s concept of player housing.  It’s amusing and heartening to me to see that both of these high-profile games are not only coming standard with housing, but are taking basic player housing concepts and moving them forward.

Massively’s Jef found a neat video that compiled all of the key points that ArenaNet developers have stated about GW2’s “home instances,” as they’re being called.  The concept here is that instead of getting just a building to decorate, you’ll get a whole neighborhood to call your very own.  As you progress through your story in the game and make choices, the instance will start to change — characters you save can move in next door, merchants can be added, buildings can be demolished, and presumably all sorts of other types of customization will occur.

I love this for two reasons.  One, it’s not just ArenaNet throwing a bone to the player housing community, but instead the studio’s putting what looks like a whole lot of time and effort into making this something special and somewhat different.  The second reason is that it’s going to keep me coming back to this instance to see what’s happening now versus other games where I know my house is static and unchanging.

There’s still a heapload we don’t know about this, but hot diggity dog does it get my imagination racing to contemplate the possibilities.  As with any MMO housing, my fondest hope is that there will be things to actually do there above just sightseeing and decorating.  I’d love to have a good reason to end my gaming sessions “heading home” instead of just logging out in limbo.

Beyond just Guild Wars 2, if this type of housing is widely successful and embraced by the players, it could infect other parts of the industry and help convince developers that player housing can and should be a valuable part of the game instead of something that’s relegated to the backseat.

(So fighting the urge to make a dig at Blizzard here… be good, Syp, be good!)