The soundtrack to my slaughter

Unlike many people I encounter, I can’t listen to music and work or study.  The auditory input is too stimulating and distracting, so I either do my projects in quiet or perhaps with simulated nature sounds playing (Rainy Mood does wonders for soothing headaches and stress).

However, playing games is a completely different thing in this regard.  MMOs seem to require a separate level of attention than work or writing does for me, freeing up more brain space to be entertained.  In this, I love to have music playing or a TV show going on in the background, as it aids in the whole relaxation/enjoyment process.

So what do I listen to?  Over the years I’ve accumulated gigs and gigs of music, separated into thematic folders.  For MMOs, I most always choose my soundtracks folder or video games music folder, since both of those features MP3s without words (I can listen to sung songs only for so long, for whatever reason).  It’s kind of cool to have a soundtrack to a completely different game playing while you’re in an MMO, since it can change the mood considerably.  Running a dungeon with tracks from Two Steps from Hell thumping can be a much more epic experience, and I don’t mind grinding to happy tracks from Super Mario Bros. from time to time.

Techno/dance/electronica sometimes gets played, but only for short durations as these can give me a headache after an hour or so (there’s only so many thudding synthetic beats you can listen to before your brain starts to bleed a little).

And yes, sometimes I do engage the music of my MMO, usually if I’m trying to get really immersed into the journey or what have you.  This generally lasts until I hit a track that just grates, which is 80% of the Star Trek Online score, 20% of LOTRO’s, or never for Fallen Earth and Guild Wars.

Out of curiosity, what do you listen to while you play?

Quote of the Day

“Here’s a simple truth, though. The market’s only followed the money. The average person does not get more time to game as they get older. As husbands and wives, careers, kids, bills, and mortgages enter the picture, gaming time tends to slide until it either disappears  or the classification on your gamer card changes entirely. MMOs are becoming more casual because, you guessed it, we’re becoming more casual.”

~ Game By Night

Guild Wars 2 and making bank

Last night in guild chat, one of our friends who wasn’t really following Guild Wars 2 closely asked about the microtransaction details.  As in, how much, how often, how annoying, etc.?  We didn’t have a lot to report; ArenaNet hasn’t done a “How We’re Going to Plunder Your Wallet Week” yet, and is most likely still trying to figure all the details out before releasing any to the public.  The same public, after all, that completely freaked out when the company let it slip that people might have to pay money to equip armor cosmetically.  I can’t blame them for holding back the business model as long as possible so that players won’t have all this spare time with no GW2 to play in which to complain.

But the truth is that, yes, Guild Wars 2 is going to have to fund itself in some way other than just box sales, and players need to accept that.  The game is considerably more substantial in scope and design than Guild Wars 1, not to mention mostly taking place in a persistent world rather than isolated (and therefore cheaper to run) instances and lobbies.  I was actually kind of surprised that ArenaNet confirmed that GW2 would be playable indefinitely after the game was purchased without a subscription, but if they can pull that off, it puts the game in a very good position against its competitors next year.

The company has to make bank somehow, which really only leaves a few avenues open: microtransactions, engaging in RMT while skimming off the top of player transactions, and pumping out content/expansion packs that can be sold to players.  Let’s not forget that Guild Wars 1 already has a cash shop on the website — it’s not the best shop in the world, but it’s pretty much the only way that ArenaNet makes any money off its long-term players considering that it hasn’t put out a new box product since, what, 2007?

Apart from the cosmetically inclined transmutation stones, ArenaNet also floated the possibility that it would sell additional dungeons, kind of a la Dungeons & Dragons Online.  Again, lots of freaked out players who feel as though they’re owed all future content for free without paying any sort of sub.  However, ANet came back and gave a reasoned response as to why charging for additional content works out in the favor of players:

“The thing I would say [about not having a subscription fee] is that we actually have the continued support development model that encourages us to make cooler things than anyone else… If we have to sell you additional content like microtransaction content or anything like that, we have to give you something that you’re going to want to buy. We have to earn your money.”

Still, this is a sore point among otherwise excited Guild Wars 2 fans, and I can sort of see why.  When you’re really excited about something, the last thing you want is for a late announcement to come along that will dampen, change, or potentially ruin that experience for you.  Just as it’s probably prudent that ArenaNet not talk about its business model until close to launch, players would much prefer to know all the nitty-gritty details now and adjust expectations accordingly.

Honestly, I don’t think it’ll be a big deal.  The core game, after all, will be playable for free indefinitely once purchased, and that’s got VALUE stamped all over it as if it was on sale at Wal-Mart.  If it’s a good game, and all indications is that it will be, players should want to support the company in some way so that they, y’know, have funds to continue running the game and developing for it.  As a current Guild Wars 1 player who has used the cash shop, I can say that the options there are far from game breaking or shortcuts — mostly account options, cosmetic outfits, and bundled packs.  ArenaNet could have really microtransactioned the heck out of GW in so many ways, but restrained itself from doing so.  Seriously, if there was an option to fill up your Hall of Monuments for $30, I’d be tempted beyond belief.  But nothing doing; I have to earn it the hard way.

So we’ll wait and see, but I for one am not worried.  ArenaNet not only has a lot of internal experience with creating attractive business models, but a whole industry of examples of what to do and not to do when it comes to microtransactions.

Also, Netflix is being a tool.

"It's the best idea since New Coke!"

Step One: Apologize for bad communication while side-stepping the real issue, which is the massive price increase on your service.

Step Two: Split your service into two different, non-integrated websites and give customers two payments to track each month, thus boosting customer inconvenience.  For a bonus, give one of the two services a snigger-worthy name like “Qwikster”.

Step Three: Deny that it’s inconvenient and act as though you’ve done everyone a favor.

It’s simply breathtaking how out of touch this guy is being.  Tune in to the comments section, which is slowly roasting him alive.  I’ve been a Netflix customer since 2001, but that’s probably going to change soon, unless they stop with this madness.

Pardon my nostalgic dust…

It’s been a busy week in regards to SNES collecting, especially after I got all hot and bothered about it.  I’ve actually managed to double my collection in the space of a week, and enjoyed a quick session or two before bed each night.

Nostalgia is a funny thing, because sometimes the  nostalgic event in question is actually as good as it was, and sometimes it’s not.  I don’t buy into blanket statements that go to the extreme either way, particularly in light of video games.  Some games I enjoyed when I was younger are, in fact, just as good today as they ever were.  Some are complete crap today.

With the SNES, I find that I have to be a lot more patient than I am now as a gamer, something I didn’t have to “work on” back in the day because it was just how it was.  For example, passwords.  Many SNES games I have don’t have a battery save, but either require you to beat the game in one go or to write down passwords once you get to various checkpoints.  It’s practically barbaric!  But that’s how it was done, and there’s no use whining about it when pen and paper is just as plentiful as it was.

So anyway, my collection.  From a pair of retro gaming outlets, I picked up just a handful of titles: Mickey’s Quest, Wing Commander, Blackthorne (one of Blizzard’s first titles!), The Lion King, and a couple others I can’t remember.  However, the jackpot was when I put out the word that I was buying these games back up, and a friend of mine sold me his system plus a dozen games in one fell swoop.  Amazingly enough, he had several titles on my wishlist, including Secret of Mana, Wanderers from Ys III, Mega Man X, Gradius III, UN Squadron, Yoshi’s Island, and Turtles IV.  Huh, looking back at that list, it’s kind of apparent that video game sequels are not just a modern plague!

The extra console is a bonus, since mine is really faulty at this point (it won’t recognize games 4 times out of 5).  I’ve set up my retro station in a different room in the house than where we normally watch TV, which I think will eventually work well when the kids are older and lost all their cuteness value and we want to exile them away from our eyes.  Just kidding, offspring!  It’s strange for me to play the SNES now, because I really haven’t touched a console for many, many years at this point, and I’m not used to playing a game while sitting back, away from a keyboard.

That’s probably it for my SNES ramblings for now, especially since I’m out of money for the month!

Romance in a galaxy far, far away

There’s lots of buzz about Star Wars: The Old Republic’s romance-with-companions feature lately, and I have to admit that it’s been something I’ve been puzzling over myself.  Romancing NPCs isn’t something MMO players have really had the option to do up to this point.  In fact, looking at our relationships with NPCs in game, they’ve really been pretty tepid, haven’t they?  An NPC will traditionally take one of the following stances toward players, depending on what the player has done for them lately:

  • Thinly veiled mistrust (“You’re not one of us! …but if you go do these quests, maybe you will be!”)
  • Desperation (“Please help me!  I’m flailing my arms about looking for random strangers to assist me and my issues instead of being proactive and perhaps going to the local police station!”)
  • Brief gratitude (“Thank you!  Take your XP and begone with you!  I will never say anything else to you, ever again.”)
  • Overdone flattery (“SYP!  The savior of the seven worlds!  Hail, mighty hero, and well met!”)

In fact, any sort of “relationship” with NPCs is discarded — much like quest text — because it is transitory and goes nowhere.  My interactions with a character in the past almost never have bearing on the future, and there’s nothing I can do — or that they do — to sustain this imaginary friendship.

SWTOR may well change some minds about the importance of player-NPC relationships — romance and otherwise — in regards to becoming immersed with actually roleplaying our characters with non-player characters.  It may be weird to think of inside MMOs, but when you look at the broader field of RPGs, it’s really more the norm.  Most all single-player RPGs I’ve ever gone through involve characters starting, building, sustaining, straining, and nookeying with each other over the course of the game.  In fact, some of the strongest memories I have of RPGs comes from those virtual relationships, because there is a tendency to bond with these NPCs over the course of a long journey.

BioWare’s been famous for doing this, of course, but the company is not alone in it.  From pen-and-paper D&D sessions to Fable to Final Fantasy to Fallout, we’ve come to expect some measure of relationship building in our RPGs.  Just not, really, in MMOs, and I think that’s because somewhere along the line the makers assumed that human-to-human contact was all the relations anyone needed.  While that’s true to a degree, it also cut out one of the founding principles of RPGs, and it’s about high time that it was added back into our games.

Going back to romances in SWTOR.  Typically, I’m not overly concerned with BioWare’s notion of “romance,” since it follows a simplistic and somewhat unrealistic pattern of buttering an NPC up over the course of 5-6 conversations, initiating a first kiss, and then moving right on to the dirty sex, after which is… nothing.  It’s like the Cliffs Notes of romance with all the best parts cut out.  For some folks, working up a romance is nothing more than a cheap thrill to see a character’s undies and to have the knowledge that your guy or gal “did it”.  Some others genuinely enjoy the deeper insight into these NPCs that comes through romance dialogue and perhaps get a smile from an NPC like-liking us.

But when it comes to an MMO that doesn’t have an “end,” it’s going to be very interesting to see how these relationships will endure — or if they can, really.  Most likely, we’ll hit a point where NPC friendships and romances won’t be able to be progressed any further and therefore be stuck in some sort of frozen time limbo until an expansion releases.

For me, one of the weird situations is that I typically play female characters, but have no interest in either romancing a guy or girl NPC with a female character.  I guess my hetero-to-the-core self is completely comfortable piloting about a girl, but not willing to roleplay one as a girl.  And so, I guess romance will be off the table in my future unless I roll a guy on one of my characters — and then, only if the NPCs decide to woo me and bring me chocolates instead of me pursuing them.  Seriously, why can’t NPCs romance us?  I shouldn’t have to do all the heavy lifting!

Blasting off into Star Wars Galaxies sunset

If you weren’t aware, today is the absolutely last day that anyone can sign up for Star Wars Galaxies before SOE locks new registrations and allows the current batch of players to enjoy the game up until its December closure.  SOE also, in probably maybe possibly who-knows NOT a coincidence, released a much-anticipated atmospheric flight patch today, which will probably be the last big game update SWG will ever see.

And, no, I didn’t sign up for the service, but I was thinking about how weird it would be to go into a game knowing it would end at a set point.  All games end, of course, but we operate under the illusion of gaming immortality — that the game will always be there, our characters always be there, and we will always have the option to go back.  In this case, it’s not true; SWG is a “dead MMO walking,” as are all of the characters within.  It changes the rules.  It forces a new perspective.

People who are faced with a real-life death sentence — say a terminal illness — often report just how much it changes the way they live each day.  They appreciate things more, they get out of their routines, they take more risks, and they enjoy stuff we typically take for granted.

I’m certainly not saying that playing a condemned video game is equal to this, but there is a parallel to be seen.  Already we’re seeing players put a lot less into the accumulation of wealth and hoarding in the game, and more into giving stuff away and doing things for the sheer fun of it.  You can’t take anything with you, after all, other than the memories, relationships and screenshots, so those are what becomes the premium currency.  Everything else is the small stuff.

For someone to jump into the game for the first time today with that few month lifespan, it’s got to be totally bizarre.  Progression almost seems pointless unless you simply want to see areas you couldn’t otherwise.  It might be an idea to latch onto a veteran guild and let them sweep you through the ups and downs of the last month.  For some, this might be a good way to take the edge off the wait for The Old Republic — and yes, despite what some people assert, I’m quite certain that some TOR junkies are more than willing to get a different kind of fix from SWG just because it shares the IP.

Anyway, in a very real sense, today is the beginning of the end of SWG as the lights slowly go out, one by one.   The only thing left is to make the best of the time left.

Funkytown and the SNES express

I’ve been in a funk lately.  It’s okay, it happens, and I know well enough that I’ll pull through.  It’s partially just the stress of the summer bleeding over into the fall without any vacation to speak of (it’s terribly hard getting away either as a family with two toddlers or finding someone to watch said toddlers for a long period of time), and it’s partially just a lack of enthusiasm for anything — a malaise that sometimes drifts over my neck of the woods.

Personally, I find it important to have at least one or two things in my life that have me really excited, since it helps pull me through the mundane aspects.  Usually, those are entertainment-related: video games, books, even the anticipation of a movie.  Sometimes it’s a good project, or a trip, or a nighttime excursion in my superhero getup (Syptacular).  But in analysing the malaise, I realized that I’m just not excited about much right now and I’m a little worn around the edges from work.

So I was thinking about what could get me excited, and the notion of a collection came to mind.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve always kind of assumed everyone has a collection of sorts.  A movie collection, a Pez collection, a stamp collection, what have you.  We collect things.  Even my wife, for whatever reasons her estrogen dictates, collects pens.  Like, buckets and buckets of pens.  But I don’t really have a collection of anything specific, and I’ve kind of wanted one for a while now.  The only question is… what?

I thought about latching onto a beloved franchise, say Ghostbusters or Back to the Future, and collecting the crap out of that, but… as much as I love those films, I can’t get worked up to devote the energy it would take to do it justice.  Plus, that could get right expensive.

The answer came during an MMO session, where I was watching some of those retro video game YouTube clips that seem to be all the rage.   I was looking at their shelves and shelves of games and thinking how kinda cool that is — and that made me think, once again, of my beloved SNES.  Way back in the mid 2000s, I delved into eBay for SNES games and accumulated a nice collection, including a pristine copy of Chrono Trigger which I later sold to help with wedding preparations.  Still, I have a tub of games already, but there are so many other games from my teenage years I’d forgotten about.

So I spent an hour last night going through list after list of “best of SNES games” and having numerous flashbacks to time spent in many of them.  I began a wishlist of titles and informed my wife that there was nothing to fear, but I was going to become a rabid collector of all things SNES from now on and we would probably have to sell one of the children to support my habit.  Well, not that extreme.  Still.

And maybe it’s silly — considering I can play those games on emulators and the Wii and even some on my iPhone — but the notion of building up a collection of my favorite childhood games truly got me excited.  When my kids get old enough, I want to show them what games used to be like, and I know that the SNES has lasting entertainment value even today.  And maybe Mario Kart is the spark my marriage needs to recapture 16-bit love.  Again, I kid.

So we’ll see.  I started doing some research on where to buy these games — and probably a new control deck, seeing as my old one is quite decrepit and the controllers borked.  EBay, Amazon, local retailers… it’s hard to know where to start.  Suggestions from any collectors out there?  Anyone want to offload their SNES stuff to a willing buyer?

Update — Here’s the wishlist as I had it last night:

  • Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
  • ActRaiser
  • Super Castlevania IV
  • EarthBound
  • Final Fantasy II
  • Mega Man X
  • Chrono Trigger
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Final Fantasy III
  • Super Metroid
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time
  • Mega Man X2
  • Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen
  • Spider-Man & Venom: Maximum Carnage
  • Mega Man X3
  • Earthworm Jim
  • Shadowrun
  • Super Mario All-Stars
  • Pilotwings
  • Final Fight
  • Mega Man 7
  • Cybernator
  • X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse
  • The Adventures of Batman & Robin
  • Batman Returns
  • Disney’s Aladdin
  • Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf
  • Gradius III
  • F-Zero
  • Super Punch-Out!!
  • UN Squadron
  • Populous
  • Flashback
  • Aladdin
  • Kirby Superstar
  • Lion King
  • DK Country 1-3