Switching it up

My wife’s big gift to me this past Christmas was really a gift to our entire family, as we finally made the jump to the Nintendo Switch as our console of choice. This was a bigger change-up than you might realize, as the previous console we had was the Gamecube. Nothing like leapfrogging over a couple of generations to the semi-newest one.

For us, we like Nintendo because of its focus on family-friendly group games, so the Gamecube actually was amazing for a long time. My kids never got tired of Smash Bros or Mario Kart Double Dash, and I think that we picked up something like 25 other titles over the years. Just good bonding time as we played together rather than apart.

That’s why the Switch sold us. We wanted the latest generation of games while still retaining that four-player fun. I got the basic console, an extra pair of joycons, Mario Kart 8, Sonic Racing, and some other fighting game that I don’t think we’ll ever touch. It’s pretty funny to me how much better the graphics are after having been used to the CRT-attuned Gamecube, but I’m also gratified that the gameplay is tight and engaging — at least for Mario Kart, which is where our family seems happiest.

The Switch is nice, but it’s not bowling me over with its features or presentation. It’s remarkably finicky with controller setup and frustratingly difficult to set up parental controls. I also literally growled when I realized that the eShop didn’t sell NES or SNES games like the virtual console did; you have to subscribe to a monthly service and I am so not doing that.

So it’s probably going to be a once-in-a-while gaming console for us, just like how the Gamecube was. We’ll pick up a few games and every now and then take it out to play as a family. The fact that we could easily bring it on a trip or to a different room has appeal, I suppose, but I’m somewhat terrified of the kids scratching it up.

The only two other titles that I’m keeping an eye on for future purchases are Super Smash Bros Ultimate — the kiddos are begging me for this one — and Mario Maker 2. For now, though, I think Mario Kart has more than enough to offer us for a half-hour of intense (yet innocent) smack talk and reckless driving.

12 MMORPGs I want to play in 2020

A whole gaming year spread out before one feels almost decadent, especially considering all of the choices that are out there. In evaluating what potential MMORPGs I would like to either revisit or play once they launch, I realized that there are at least 11 titles that might see some serious action from me this year (in addition to LOTRO, but that should almost go without saying on this blog).

Here are the MMORPGs I’d like to play in 2020:

  1. Project Gorgon: I’m starting to get concerned that we may never see an actual launch to this, or at least a launch soon enough to capitalize on what interest is out there for this unique MMO. It might be a good thing to just pull the trigger now and dig into it instead of briefly visiting it now and then with the intention of really playing once it releases.
  2. Torchlight Frontiers: Oh yes, this is a must-play whenever it comes out, even if it ends up being a here-and-there side game. The housing, contract, and pets all have my attention, as does the colorful atmosphere. I haven’t been let down by a Torchlight game yet.
  3. Phantasy Star Online 2: I don’t know much about this game, but I totally missed out on PSO1, so I’ll definitely give this a shot when it comes out this spring.
  4. Neverwinter: Very high up on my must-revisit list — I’m kind of jonesing for a Cryptic experience (if you couldn’t tell from this list) and I haven’t put in any serious Neverwinter time for a couple of years now.
  5. Path of Exile: Always gets lauded in Massively OP’s end year awards, and its huge expansion is a good excuse to have some clicky fun.
  6. AdventureQuest 3D: Last time I played this, AQ3D was in a rather streamlined beta; I think it’s time to give it another serious go. Perhaps on mobile?
  7. Elder Scrolls Online: This one has been nudging me more and more in recent months, especially considering that I’ve been logging on each day faithfully to get the rewards. I would like to finish up Elsweyr and go on more adventures. It’s a pretty fun game to blog about.
  8. Guild Wars 2: Weak story aside, GW2 has so much of what I love in MMOs, and if it doesn’t implode or something this year, I should be spending a month or two back in it.
  9. City of Heroes: I’m glad this one came back, because it’s a good MMO to return to for a month every year or so — at least for me. Might do some Champions while I’m at it.
  10. New World: This one is more curiosity than anything else, just to see what Amazon does with an MMO. If I can have some PvE fun in a Colonization-era world, it could be very interesting.
  11. World of Warcraft: With the new expansion on its way, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that I’ll be returning to Azeroth at some point. But I’m in no rush to do so right now.
  12. RIFT: If Gamigo would show signs of actually developing for this MMO, I’d be back in a heartbeat. I miss RIFT.

Epic Games Store wins loyalty through gobs of free games

Ever since coming onto the scene in December 2018, the Epic Games Store has pursued an aggressive strategy in pulling players away from Steam and into its neck of the woods. Exclusive titles have helped (even though they’ve proven controversial), but for me, the thing that got me to install the virtual platform and check in on it regularly is Epic’s tendency to hand out free games.

For the first few months, we were getting a new free game every week. Then it went to a freebie-every-other-week schedule, which was fine. But all that got left in the dust when Epic broke out its “12 Days of Free Games” promotion this past Christmas season.

For nearly two glorious weeks, the store delivered a free game into players’ libraries every single day. We got Into the Breach, TowerFall Ascension, Superhot, Little Inferno, Ape Out, Celeste, Totally Accurate Battle Simulator, Faster Than Light, Hyper Light Drifter, Shadow Tactics, The Talos Principle, Hello Neighbor, and Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair. That’s amazing. Seriously. Lots of great games on that list, with a few of them plucked right from my wishlist.

In fact, my Epic library is up to 59 titles, out of which I have only purchased three games. The rest are free. Yes, I’m fully aware that it’s a blatant ploy for my loyalty and partial dependency on this platform (although, thank goodness for GOG Galaxy these days!), but you know what? It works.

I don’t know how Epic can eat the losses of giving away so many games. They’re digital, so there’s no technical cost there, but what about compensation to the studios? Do they get paid for every free copy of their games delivered?

In any case, it’s given me another pool of games into which I can dip now and then. We had some fun over the break with the battle simulator and Into the Breach. It’ll be interesting to see how long the freebie train goes, but as long as it is, I’ll be riding it.

Bio Break 2019 Wrap-up: Massively Overpowered

For my final post of this “look back at gaming, blogging, and podcasting in 2019” week here at Bio Break, I wanted to share what I’ve been up to over at Massively Overpowered. Counting both the old and new sites, I’ve been writing for Massively for a full decade now. This was the first full year where I scaled back on news writing due to my main job taking up more time, although I was still pretty active in special projects elsewhere.

I did write the occasional news post as well as the weekly MOP Up column, which gathered up smaller news stories that we either didn’t have time to write or weren’t worth a full post on their own.

I also clocked another full year of doing the Massively OP Podcast with my co-host and editor Bree, which means that I’ve done something like 500 to 600 of these shows to date. Which is so very weird if I think about it for too long. Probably the highlight of the podcasting year was when we did a special City of Heroes secret server exposé show that helped get the game revived for real. In a very small way, I played a part in reviving an MMORPG, and that does make me happy.

So let’s talk columns now. I traded duties on two columns with MOP’s Eliot: Perfect Ten (a top 10 list) and Into the Super-verse (a superhero MMO column). On my own I handled Jukebox Heroes (MMO music reviewed), One Shots (community game screenshots), LOTRO Legendarium (the Lord of the Rings Online column), and Global Chat (curated MMO blogger quotes).

Pieces I’m particularly satisfied with from 2019 include the following:

Special shout-out to my excellent colleagues at Massively OP, who genuinely care about these games and the effort to get our readers the best and most entertaining information. Our staff got a lot bigger this year and I’m proud to be a part of this team.

Bio Break 2019 Wrap-up: MMO gaming

One of the nice things about doing the gaming goals post at the start of each month is that it makes it easy to look back over an entire year and see the journey I’ve taken in various games. MMORPGs remained a constant in my gaming diet — and looking over 2019, I played quite a few of them! Some got only a session or two, while others remained constant for many months.

I feel like I got a lot accomplished in them as well. I had fun, for starters, and had great experiences with other people. But I also chewed through some big updates and expansions, leveled up characters, and hit satisfying milestones.

So let’s look at the games, going from most played to least. The one MMO I played from January through December was Lord of the Rings Online, which makes sense because (a) I really like the game and (b) I cover it in my column. Leveling through the progression server and bringing my main through the Vales of Anduin and Minas Morgul gave me a lot to do.

Second to LOTRO in frequency was Dungeons and Dragons Online, although I may have played this less if we look at total time in-game. Most of this was group runs with some side solo adventures. I ended up taking a break from DDO this fall as I wasn’t feeling it as strong and didn’t want to make playing a chore rather than a joy.

Elder Scrolls Online popped up a couple of times this year: first at the start, when I finished up Morrowind, and then in June, when I went through part of Elsweyr. Final Fantasy XIV was even more spotty than that, but I am surprised to see that I logged four months in that game during the last 12. I’m taking another break from it, but at least I beat the core of Heavensward.

City of Heroes is another game I should talk about, seeing as how it came back from the dead and all. This was a summer renaissance for me, giving me several sessions of grouping fun and nostalgia-fueled memories. I also wrapped up Fallen Empire in SWTOR but couldn’t make much headway in Eternal Throne before losing interest.

World of Warcraft was mostly absent from my gaming calendar until this past summer, when I returned mostly thanks to the excitement around WoW Classic. Classic only proved engrossing for a month or so, but I got four months in the regular game before the whole #BoycottBlizzard convinced me that I didn’t want to be supporting this title for now.

Those were the big ones, but I had a lot of smaller experiences and sessions. Fallout 76 was engrossing for a couple of months, Torchlight Frontiers’ alpha this past spring made me anticipate the release more than ever, and Chronicles of Spellborn’s emulator gave me a weird chance to go back and experience this title. I dipped into the MUD Starborn, very niche fantasy title Eldevin, DC Universe Online, the pre-alpha Fractured, and a few sessions in ArcheAge Unchained.

Finally, I made sure to log back in to Fallen Earth to say farewell to one of my most favorite MMORPGs before it went offline in October.

I’d say, all in all, it was a really good year of gaming. There are a few of my “old faithful” titles that I didn’t see this year, namely Star Trek Online, Neverwinter, and Guild Wars 2, so those might be due for a personal revival.

Marie’s Room delivers a small but tantalizing tale

With most of my December gaming projects finished and some days off ahead, I wanted to poke at some smaller games to fill out the days. First up was Marie’s Room, a free walking simulator that contains no save games, as it’s designed to be played start to finish in one short (~30 minutes) session.

I came because I’ve really missed a good walking simulator tale this year, and despite its short length, Marie’s Room had good reviews. I’ll take short and sweet. Even short and bittersweet.

A woman returns to the room of her childhood friend after something happened to damage their relationship in the past. Filling out the story — literally, on the pages of a journal — means carefully combing through the room, uncovering a very small handful of clues, and learning about these two girls.

It’s not a super deep game, which wasn’t really possible for this game’s length, but I’d say that if you’re in the mood for a thoughtful short story experience, it’s perfect. I learned a lot about these two characters in that time, at least the details that mattered, and gradually came to understand some of the key events and decisions that they made in their high school years.

I wouldn’t say that there’s a shocking twist, but at the start I thought that the narrative was going to go one way when it ended up juking in a different direction. The soft, sad voice of the unseen narrator made me think of Edith Finch and wishing that I got to go on a longer journey with her.

But hey, a free 30 minute game that made an impact is a sort of rare treasure these days. I’m not here to spoil it, because I think it deserves a recommendation and a playthrough if you like this sort of game.

What do MMORPGs need to do in 2020?

It’s really starting to sink in that we are not only in the final days of this year, but of this decade as well. For me, the concept of decade identity got lost when we moved out of the 1990s, but still, the passage of 10 years is significant. We were in a different place in 2010 as a world and culture, and I certainly would not have anticipated being where I am at today.

But instead of looking back, today I want to look ahead. When we turn the calendar page to January 1st, 2020, a full new year of gaming developments will lie ahead. 2019 was so-so when it came to MMORPGs — we had some great expansions and the return of City of Heroes, but we also didn’t see much in the way of new launches. We need new blood to mix in with the old, because these aging titles are being asked to bear more and more of the responsibility for carrying the genre while the next generation is in development.

So here’s what I want to see happen with MMOs in 2020 — and what I think needs to happen:

New games need to get out there and launch

I’m not advocating launching titles half-baked and before they are ready, but seriously, we have had some games in development for five, six, seven years now. We’ve paid into Kickstarters back in 2012, 2013, 2014 that still haven’t seen the light of day. And the community is HUNGRY for a major launch (heck, just look at how exciting WoW Classic’s launch proved to be). I’m willing to be patient and wait, but out of all of the crop of upcoming titles, we have to be close to a few big-name ones ready to pull the trigger.

Older titles have to come up with reasons to keep us engaged

I think a lot of players are more than willing to come back to games provided that there is something genuinely exciting to see and do. Whether that’s a revolutionary expansion, a new type of server, player created content, new systems, better business models, or what have you, these studios can’t sit idle and ride out that long tail. A new year means a chance to set a vision for that year and stir up the playerbase for a great journey ahead.

Dead games should be revived

If City of Heroes and various emulators showed us anything last year, it’s that there is a big community out there that is more than eager to jump back into deceased MMOs if someone revives them. Emulators are more than glad to try to keep things alive, but companies would be smart to do that officially and help preserve these titles while making some easy revenue.

Also, Fallen Earth needs to come back in its upgraded form.

Developers should be more communicative

Some studios overdo this, sure, but the ones that are too silent and sporadic with communication — SSG and ArenaNet are two that immediately leap to mind — there needs to be more consistent and frequent talk from the devs to the playerbase. Bad things happen when players are kept in the dark too long.