Presenting the 2009 Flushies!

Hey, if one of the perks of writing a blog is that you can arbitrarily create an award show with precisely one judge who hands out shinies from above, then you’d be a fool not to take advantage of that, right?  Right?  So I now present to you the 2009 Flushies, Bio Break’s first annual award show to whatever I remembered of the year previous.

Also, there are toilets.  We have a theme to uphold.

Sleeper Hit of the Year – Fallen Earth

If you told me back at the beginning of 2009 that I’d be playing this unheard-of MMO — and more than just playing it, raving about it and loving it to pieces — I would have smacked you silly with a smelly fish.  Yes, I keep smelly fish around just for that purpose.  But in one of the most delightful surprises of my MMO career, Fallen Earth slammed through my monitor and knocked me breathless.  Whether it be the post-apocalyptic setting, the bizarre sense of humor, the awesome dev team or the sum of its parts, I’m still recovering.

Innovation of the Year – LOTRO’s Skirmish System

Although I was only with LOTRO for a few months this year, I enjoyed my stay (but curse that North Downs duldrum!) and am continually rooting for this solid title.  Their mini-expansion, Siege of Mirkwood, unleashed a brand-new feature that’s already having other games lusting after it — the Skirmish system.  A fast-paced customizable instance experience, skirmishes let you hop into a quick battle either solo, in a small group or in a raid, and give you a companion character to equip and train for these encounters.

Flash in the Pan Award – [tie] Aion and Champions Online

While their settings, history or gameplay couldn’t be more different, both Aion and Champions shared a couple of eerie similarities.  Both released in September after roaring amounts of anticipation, both were praised for their looks and accessible gameplay, and both were dropped from the public consciousness (as well as several subscriber’s budgets) by mid-October or so.  Once the honeymoon ended, judgment hit these two titles hard, and both were found lacking of substance and long-term interest.

Fall From Grace Award – Warhammer Online

As much as Fallen Earth brought a smile to my face, the saga of Warhammer Online saddened my heart.  By January 2009, WAR was still fun and we were holding out for future greatness — greatness that never seemed to come.  2009 hit WAR hard, with layoffs after layoffs at Mythic, subscriber defections, and a much-hyped Land of the Dead “expansion” that didn’t do much to reverse WAR’s fortune.  Although they hit a couple of right notes with the unlimited trial and the Mac version, WAR’s fallen on hard times indeed.

Biggest Blog Spat – Soloers vs. Groupers

When you write or read blogs long enough, you see recurring themes that never quite get satisfied and/or agreed upon pop up over and over again.  Out of these percolating topics, the biggest blog spat I saw in 2009 was the intense debate between MMO soloers (i.e. those who prefer to spend most, but not always all, of their time in game soloing and appreciate titles that accomidate that) and MMO groupers (i.e. those who feel that multiplayer games should always favor, encourage and design for grouping).  My personal bit on this topic was here, but passions flared bright and hot for a good two-week period before all calmed down and we started jawing about why you might play a character of the opposite gender instead.

Renovation of the Year – Dungeons & Dragons Eberron Unlimited

Seriously, who thought we would not only be talking about DDO at great lengths this year, but actually praising a game that most expected to be on the way out the door?  Not me, that’s for sure —  but DDO’s renovation as “Eberron Unlimited” has injected a huge amount of new interest in the title, and proved that a MMO can switch from subscriber to F2P and make it work.

Trend of the Year – Free-to-Play/Freemium

Microtransactions, MMO stores, Turbine Points, Cryptic Points, Free-to-Play, Freemium and more were all the rage around the virtual water coolers this year, as several titles started exploring F2P options, giving players an unprecedented amount of variety and depth for no money down.  And the good news for both sides is that this is trending well for companies with making money (if they hook you, your wallet will come) and for players on a tight budget.

Most Improved Award – World of Warcraft

It wasn’t the best of years for WoW — the China syndrome hurt Blizzard in the pocketbooks — but the MMO-that-could showed that it wasn’t afraid of reinventing itself with the upcoming Cataclysm, nor of continually expanding the game to make it more accessible and attractive to a broad field of players, with features such as their acclaimed Dungeon Finder tool.  My history with this title might be contentious, but only because there’s still some love there, and I have to give credit where credit’s due.

Biggest Surprise – Torchlight

As action RPG fans continue to wait for the decade-in-development Diablo III, Runic Games quietly came along and stole the show with a casual Diablo clone that took their classic FATE and did it ten times better.  Bloggers and gamers almost everywhere were loving on this title, which is a good sign as they prep to transform it into a MMO of some kind in the next couple years.

Biggest Disappointment – No Guild Wars 2 Until 2011

In 2009, the silence surrounding Guild Wars 2 finally broke, as trailers and first details about this much-anticipated title poured out of ArenaNet.  But almost as soon as fans were whipped into a frenzy, the bombshell dropped — we wouldn’t be seeing this title until 2011… at the earliest.  Suddenly, 2010 became a barren wasteland of a year for many souls.

Best Hype – Star Wars: The Old Republic

Hype’s almost a dirty word for many MMO gamers, but around here, it is what it is — an acceptible and traditional part of being a fan of this genre, and even enjoyable as you anticipate a (hopefully) good game coming down the pike.  Hands-down, Star Wars: The Old Republic dominated the hype-o-meter this year, continually resurfacing to announce new features and classes, and dethroning temporary hype kings such as WoW, Champions and Star Trek Online.  TOR’s hype is a creature that’s grown beyond BioWare’s machinations — the community for this game is absolutely huge, with multiple podcasts, blogs and sites salivating over this MMO.

Most Impressive Numbers – EVE Online Tops 300K Subs

Hitting 300,000 subscribers in a MMO is a respectable number, for sure.  Hitting it after six years of constant growth is, well, almost unheard of.  So kudos to CCP, showing us how to launch and grow a small MMO into a veritable giant empire in a shade over a half decade!

In Memorandum – Matrix Online, Dungeon Runners, Tabula Rasa, Shadowbane

It wasn’t the happiest of years for all gaming communities.  Small and “niche” as they were, these MMOs received their pink slips and went into that final death spiral — some leaving too soon, some lasting far beyond what was expected.  In any case, a toast to the fallen and to players who miss their virtual homes.

One Year of Free-To-Play Fun

In an exercise designed to satiate a whiff of whimsy, I wanted to plot out an entire year of MMORPG gaming, where each month a player would hypothetically play a different title for free, paying $0 for their year’s experience.   What would I recommend starting with December?  Hang on to my every word, faithful readers, and let’s see:

December 2009 – For the Yuletide season, I’m going to recommend an old favorite of mine, Dungeon Runners, a sort-of snarky Diablo clone that enjoyed exaggerating and mocking RPG conventions while feeding your desire for mayhem and loot frenzy.  Since the title is being shut down on January 1, 2010 (with a nuclear explosion, as a matter of fact), this is the absolute last month to play it, and perhaps the best — they’re really jacking up the loot drops and XP rewards for DR’s final weeks.

January 2010 – Why not use the first month of the new decade to reconnect with a MMO of yore?  Anarchy Online has been running free-to-play for a couple years now (although with certain limitations if you don’t subscribe).  It may not have the glitz and glamour of more modern MMOs, but it’s one of the only “old school” titles that let people tromp around for nothing!

February 2010 – Assuming that Chronicles of Spellborn is still in “redevelopment”, or whatever that means, you can play this recent title for absolutely nothing — and that includes the full game!  Of course, there’s the very real chance that some day they might pull the plug or wipe the servers, but it’s a small price to pay for free fun.

March 2010 – Get your Harry Potter on by signing up for Wizard101, the acclaimed title that mixes together turn-based combat and bright wizardy venues.  They have an unlimited free trial that certainly gives you a nice big chunk of the early game, which took my wife and I a few weeks to run through earlier this year.

April 2010Warhammer Online’s “endless trial” is next up for your gaming pleasure — the full Tier 1 experience, with 24 classes, PvE and PvP is yours for the taking.  If you’re willing to roll up a few alts, then this will more than meet a full month’s worth of fun.

May 2010 – Ever since switching to its hybrid free-to-play/microtransactions/subscription model, Dungeons & Dragons Online has earned the title of the best free MMO you can get your grubby mitts on.  It comes highly recommended from myself, and the free content is quite expansive, certainly more than a month’s worth.

June 2010 – Cute little Asian MMOs that are funded entirely through microtransactions might not be your thing (and they certainly aren’t mine), but Maple Story is one of the best and most beloved if it is.  So enlarge your eyes to 500% of their normal size, color your hair bright blue, and embrace 2D zaniness.

July 2010 – An Adventurer Is You!  Or so proclaims the folks over at the long-running Kingdom of Loathing, one of the wittiest browser-based MMOs in the world.  There’s no catch on the cost (players who want to support the game can purchase special items in the shop), and the wordy game has enraptured many a soul — including mine.

August 2010 – We’ll assume that by next August, Allods Online will have left beta and gone into full launch, in which case you might already have heard the siren’s call to play it.  It’s been getting excellent press so far, and for a free to play title, why not give it a whirl in the dog days of summer?

September 2010 – Many a MMORPG player has cut their teeth on Runescape, the free to play browser MMO that showed how far the limits of Java could go.  It might not be the most polished or good-looking title, but it’s had a number of overhauls and revamps, and hey — it’s light on the wallet.

October 2010 – Speaking of runes, Runes of Magic bowled a lot of people over in 2009 as both a decent WoW clone and an excellent free to play title.  They’ve already released their first expansion (also free), and you could certainly do a lot worse than give this a try, particularly if you are a current or former WoWhead.

November 2010Sword of the New World is one of those odd little MMO cult hits that you know, intellectually, are better than the rest of the pack, but may have yet to ever give it a whirl.  So why not, in this last month of our hypothetical experiment, do just that?

6 MMORPG Mascots

leet

1. Anarchy Online’s Leets

Anarchy Online’s a “serious” scifi MMO with serious high-tech soldiers running all over the place, proving how awesomely buff they are by subjugating an entire planet.  Among them frolics the Leets, little groundhog-looking things that exist for no other reason than to subtlely mock the “elite” or “1337” players that feel as if they’re all that.  Dude, you might as well give up — these little guys are already leet!

They come in different varieities: Leets, Eleets, Leetas, Soleets, Phear Leets, Supa Leets, Santa Leets, Wereleets, Godzillaleets, Frankenleets and Draculeets.

murky2

2. World of Warcraft’s Murlocs

Across WoW’s two worlds and four continents, there is a truly mind-boggling array of creatures, beasts and beings, but none are so infamous as the beloved and (often) beheaded Murlocs.  “People fish” is how their character creation process went, and if you can get used to toothy fish walking around, that’s only the start of their oddity.  Most of the Murlocs’ fame come from their insane aggro radius and their unique gurgle war cry, the latter of which is often imitated by fans and people choking to death.

For their part, Blizzard has embraced the cult of the Murloc, giving these fish men even more personality and culture in the most recent expansion pack, as well as handing out two non-combat varieties of murloc pets: a baby murloc and a space marine murloc.

150px-Gwen_(Prophecies)

3. Guild Wars’ Gwen

Like several MMO mascots, Gwen wasn’t created to be one, but for some reason players had such a strong connection to babysitting this 10-year-old in the prologue of the original game that it soon elevated her to the figurehead of the game.  As a child, she is playful and talkative, skipping around you as you go about your business.  Although she was assumed dead in the post-searing Ascalon part of the game, fan enthusiasm for the character prompted Arenanet to bring her back in an expansion pack — both as an adult character, and as inspiration for the expansion pack’s name: Guild Wars Eye of the North.

180px-Chatty

4. Free Realms’ Chatdy

So I guess by the time Free Realms came out, SOE was hard-pressed to think of a mascot animal that hadn’t already been used to promote various products ten times over.  Thus, the rare blue-mohawked flying squirrel applied for the position and was accepted without a moment’s hesitation.

I’m not that familiar with Free Realms’ expansive lore, so I’ll just assume that Chatdy also burrows into the skin of /AFK players, lays his eggs, and watches with glee as small flying squirrels burst of their chests a week later.

karl

5. Dungeon Runners’ Karl

German demons might be a dime a dozen, but players of Dungeon Runners were partial to Karl, whose ever-present head sat at the bottom of your screen and got obscenely excited when you leveled up.  While his throne was briefly supplanted by the popular Bling Gnome, Karl will be the once and future king of our hearts.

cohimage

6. City of Heroes’ Statesman

Although it’s tempting to call a flagrant ego foul on this one, admit the truth: if you had created your very own superhero MMORPG, wouldn’t it be irresistable to Mary Sue yourself into the role of the lead character?  So let’s not blame Cryptic’s Jack Emmert for doing something we probably all would do.

Statesman even prompted a lawsuit by Marvel Comics, who found the character a bit too like Captain America for their liking.  Actually doesn’t Betsy Ross own the copyright to red, white and blue with stars?