Cat people in MMOs

I am not a cat person. If you have to place me in a category, whatever is opposite of “cat person” is where you should assign my fate. Cats have never fascinated me or drawn drooling “awwws” from my lips or inspired me to write poems about them and claim that one is my spirit guide. And that’s fine, the world has room for diversity and I’m generally live-and-let-live with cats, even if I don’t understand their popularity.

And they are popular, especially in MMOs, where playable cat-people are far more likely to be an option than, say, a playable dog-person (oddly, World of Warcraft is one of the very rare games that has the latter without the former, Druid forms aside). And despite what you might think, not all cat-people are alike. Some are the basic “slap a cat head on a human body, add a tail, and call it a day” model (such as Star Trek Online’s Caitians and SWTOR’s Cathar). Other than giving your person a feline slant, you really aren’t going out on a limb with those kinds of picks.

FFXIVs Miqo’te are a textbook example of trying to make an animal-themed race that is as non-offensive to our eyes as possible. They’re… cute. They’re designed to be as cute and barely cat-like as possible, with slightly different hairlines, teeny tiny pointed canines, and widdle pointy ears. They’re the option for players who are tired of humans but also still want to be a human with only minor cosmetic differences.

Guild Wars 2, for better and for worse, went whole cat hog with its Charr. Technically it’s supposed to be more of a beast character, an amalgrim of various animals, but if we’re honest, that mix is about 90% cat and 10% “assorted.” The designers definitely tried for something different than a svelte human with fur, giving the Charr a larger frame with a distinctive hunch, backward knee joints, and long claws and snouts. When you play a Charr — probably to admire how well this race’s helmets fit — you have no illusions that you’re a hulking brute of a cat. You’re a tiger monster amid a sea of soft bellies.

I also have been contemplating Elder Scrolls Online’s Khajiit. Visually, there’s an astounding range of looks that capture many types of cats instead of just one basic template. I don’t often see “lion” cat-people in MMOs, but I do here — and not just lions, but tigers, pumas, and other predatory felines.

Maybe for some, cat-people are an expression of how much they love the look of their own pets, and maybe for others, these races harken to this fantasy of being a stealthy, quick, and ferocious apex predator. At least we’re not seeing the same-old, same-old boilerplate variants between games as we do, say, Elves.

10 upcoming MMOs I am anticipating

Every once in a while I like to take stock of what’s on the way for MMORPGs and do a gut check — what am I excited about? What am I anticipating? I’ll be honest by saying that there’s little that has me visibly vibrating with joy the way that I used to for some of the old AAA-budget titles, but I am quietly thrilled at the thought of getting to play the following titles. So here are the top 10 MMOs (titles confirmed, not rumored, to be in development) that I’m looking forward to playing — some day.

  1. Project Gorgon: Sure, I can play it now (and might well do so soon), but I have been craving the stability of a full-fledged release without any hint of a wipe after that. It’s shaping up well and has so much potential for hundreds of hours of fun in it.
  2. Torchlight Frontiers: After playing the alpha, I am reasonably confident that this will be a relaxing, 30-minutes-a-day MMO with a lot of replayability and features that are up my alley (such as cosmetics and housing). I just hope that the monetization scheme doesn’t fly off the rails as PWE is wont to do at points.
  3. Dual Universe: I definitely have a craving for a good PvE space sim that is going unfulfilled these days, and DU seems like the most promising of the bunch that will launch in my lifetime. I hope it builds up solid word-of-mouth over time, because I don’t think it’s going to be a day one smash hit.
  4. Ashes of Creation: Depending on the day and communication from the studio, I can either be excited or worried about this title. It’s a mixture of both, but I’m still holding onto hope that this will be an MMO that caters to all types — including my carebear homebuddy self.
  5. City of Titans/Valiance Online/Ship of Heroes: Still going to lump all three of these upcoming superhero MMOs together until one pulls away from the pack and looks like a frontrunner. Just would love a great superhero experience right now and am glad that at least there are several of them to give us the best odds of a solid launch.
  6. Pantheon: So yeah, I’ve been coming around on this title. Used to cast shade at it, now I’m kind of impressed as to the hard work and possibilities of this title. Hope we see it sooner rather than later, to be honest.
  7. Dreadlands: New title for this kind of list, but I think that there’s a lot of potential in a post-apoc MMO-ish title in which you get to control a group that’s exploring the wasteland. It’s definitely a setting that appeals strongly to me.
  8. Star Citizen: Sure, I’ll give it a whirl. Might have to do it in an alpha state, since who knows when this will release. But some people seem to be having a lot of fun with what’s there, and I’m willing to look past the crazy community and overambitious studio to try it out.
  9. Fractured: Been quietly cheering on this very-indie MMO, especially as it will offer a pure PvE experience for those who want it. Not as keen about the isometric viewpoint, but oh well. Can’t have everything.
  10. Peria Chronicles: I continue to hope that this game will head to the west sooner or later, and if it does, I’ll be first in line to try it.

6 reasons why video game crafting pushes me away

I’m not going to get up here on my shaky soapbox and claim that I’ve been a lifelong crafter in online games. That’s simply not the truth. I’ve existed somewhere in the vicinity of it with a fairly amiable tolerance for its presence. If people liked to craft and got something out of it, great. If it helped the in-game economy, even better. And if I could profit off of it by hoovering up gathering mats to sell to desperate crafters, that was just ducky.

Probably my most extensive bouts of MMO crafting came as I powered up Engineering in World of Warcraft back in the Burning Crusade era and pretty much my entire run with Fallen Earth. In almost every MMO before or since — and now with survival crafting games — I always vow to get into crafting when it launches and then fall away pretty quick.

So why does video game crafting push me away? The more I think about it, the more I’m annoyed that this system that’s all about creation and personal effort is designed to be as unfriendly as possible. Here are six reasons that I don’t feel any attraction to crafting, even in games that push it on me as a core feature:

1. It’s a money and time sink. Most games simply ask too much of a player to invest both time and in-game currency into leveling up these systems, and I usually have a much better use for both of those limited resources elsewhere. If you’re looking to make money, often engaging in crafting is a long game where the promise of profits is a ways off.

2. It’s not that engaging. Some MMOs have made a lot of effort to gamify and otherwise make their crafting systems interesting, but for the most part it’s a list of ingredients that are dumped into a recipe, some time is involved, and out pops a thing. It’s about as visually exciting as reading an IBM computer manual from 1979.

3. Most of the junk you craft isn’t useful for anything. Lots of crafted stuff doesn’t have any personal use, and with the market often flooded with low- and mid-tier supplies, it’s not like you’re going to hawk it off to others very easy. So crafters just hang in there for specializations and top-tier products, and I have no patience for that.

4. You can often get far better gear by questing and dungeon diving. So why am I spending all of this time and money and effort to make lesser versions of things? And if the gear was good, why wouldn’t I simply take the money, buy it from another player, and save myself the time and effort?

5. I get fatigued from more complex recipe requirements. I’m all on board for the first couple tiers of crafted things, but when we get to the realm of making things to make things to make things to finally make the real thing that you want to make, I’ve flipped the table and walked away. Some people thrill on spreadsheets and keeping track of all of that, but not me.

6. It’s an annoying hurdle for creators. Sometimes you just want to build without having to spend hours of gathering and crafting first. I love putting together housing plots, but in MMOs where you either need to buy decor off of the cash shop or spend gobs of time making it, I have this significant barrier between me and the activity that I genuinely want to do. Crafting is often just used as gating for content and activities, and that sincerely peeves me.

Just my take, but if I have to see another survival crafting MMO this month that challenges me to be an industrial McGuyver, I might upchuck.

My feelings on the “MMO Big Five”

I’ve noticed that among the larger MMO community these days — mostly on Reddit — that there’s this tiering of MMORPGs, especially when it comes to labeling the “Big Four” or “Big Five” titles that seem to be getting most of the discussion and play. I don’t necessarily agree that these titles are the most popular or successful, just that there’s this perception that they are so. For example, RuneScape may well be doing better than at least two other MMOs on this list, but it doesn’t get that much respect among the wider community.

In any case, I thought it’d be a fun exercise to go through the Big Five, such as they were, and give my current thoughts and attitudes toward each.

(1) Elder Scrolls Online

Let’s start with the one title on this list I’m actually playing. ESO had a rocky start but really started to turn things around with the One Tamriel update, console launch, housing, and expansions. Aside from the lackluster action combat and class design, there’s so much to see and do in this world that I keep getting impressed all over again every night. I like being able to play at the pace I want following whichever quest lines I want, and for the most part, I’m content just to wander around taking screenshots. Also, I want to be a Necromancer SO BAD.

(2) World of Warcraft

I won’t lie: I think about going back every now and then. But Battle for Azeroth ended up being such a bland disappointment that I have a hard time mustering enthusiasm for the current expansion and endgame. Maybe one of these days I’ll reroll — perhaps on a fresh server — and there’s always the outside possibility that WoW Classic will get a post or two from me this summer. Now a WoW Progression Server? That’d be totally up my alley!

(3) Final Fantasy XIV

Aside from being slightly irked that fans consider this a game which can Do No Wrong (even when it clearly stumbles from time to time as all MMOs do), FFXIV earns my admiration at an arm’s length. You’ve seen me try and go back a few times, and while there are some nice parts, the slooooow pace of the story, the character models, and the reheated content delivery system leaves me feeling agnostic toward it. However, I am glad its community is getting a lot of fun with its upcoming expansion, so you all go and enjoy that.

(4) Guild Wars 2

Out of all these games, the subscription-free GW2 is the easiest to jump into without worrying about much of a time commitment aside from churning through the boring and needlessly difficult episodes. I still love the world exploration, the class design, the visuals, and the character options (including wardrobe!). However, I’m starting to get a little more than worried that this game may not have as strong of a future, what with ArenaNet’s rocky 2018, its very slow pace of content, and the lack of communication from the devs.

(5) Star Wars: The Old Republic

SWTOR is the title that may or may not belong on this list depending on who you ask, but it still has a pretty high profile. It’s still trying to recover from the damaged caused by the Eternal Throne expansions, and I think a lot of former fans — myself included — are in a holding pattern until we see what BioWare really wants to do with this. If a solid-looking expansion is announced for 2019 or something that’ll inject some excitement back into this game, I’ll probably be back.

Why is jumping into a new MMO harder than a non-MMO?

Here’s a situation that I’ve been wrestling with for a while now, which is the question of why jumping into an MMO that I’ve never played seems about ten times more prohibitive and intimidating than picking up a single-player or limited multiplayer title. For me.

And that’s always, always struck me as strange, seeing as how MMORPGs are my preferred game genre. I love them. Once I get hooked on one, then it becomes a good prospect to return to after absences. But MMOs I haven’t played much or at all have a difficult time getting into that exclusive club.

Strange enough, while I was making dinner the other night, the solution to this popped into my head. I had assumed that it was primarily the barrier to learning a new MMO — the annoyances of setting up an account and figuring out the different systems. That’s still a valid obstacle, but single-player games contain some of that learning curve too.

No, I think the answer has in what I look to get out of gaming.

You see, with non-MMOs, I’m always in them for the moment-to-moment experience. They’re fun games in what they offer me right in the here and now, whether that be the joy of arcade action, the narrative of an unfolding story, the relaxing thrill of the build, or what have you. That’s generally easy to pop in and play, because the game isn’t asking much of me beyond my immediate attention. Without the social component and with a generally more focused nature, these non-MMOs are strings-free experiences. They don’t ask of me more than a small slice of my attention.

That’s not how MMOs are at all. Above and beyond the learning curve of these games looms a massive mental obstacle that has everything to do with its social, massively multiplayer structure. These games ask of a long commitment from me, because it takes time to learn, navigate, and progress through them. They promise social connections and other features that could establish roots and “stickiness.” What I want to get out of these games is character permanence, real relationships, and long-term investment. MMOs are made for us to dive deep into them, not to dip in and out.

That presents a huge problem when I’m either sampling an MMO or contemplating trying one out. My mind is doing all of these checks before I even get to the loading screen. For starters, does the MMO look like it’ll actually last for years to come or is it on death’s door? Is it the type of MMO that might appeal to me? Is it user friendly? And if I actually end up liking this game, do I have the time to really commit to it?

In the case of that last one, if the answer is “no,” then the immediate follow-up is “then why bother trying it?” Am I going to torture myself with a game that I’d do best to just ignore lest it try to suck up my attention and precious limited game time?

I’ve found that it’s all but impossible to get a handle on an MMO with just an evening or two’s worth of playtime. You need to commit to a week or so to really get the shape of it, and that’s a lot more to ask than a flirtation with an offline title that doesn’t care how often you log in. Sampling or trying out an MMO ends up being frustrating because mentally I haven’t decided on it, and so I’m not really doing all I can to learn it and get the most from it. I’ll avoid other people, I’ll just rush to go fight things, and I’ll walk away unimpressed. For the most part.

Obviously, some MMOs have made it through this mental gauntlet of mine to be viable candidates, but as of late I’ve wanted to explore some of the lower-tier games and kept getting held back from really getting into them. Maybe that’s also why I haven’t been fully immersed into Project Gorgon’s world either, despite professing my love for many of its mechanics.

I’d like to try out more MMOs. I probably need to develop some patience and commit to a testing schedule, but so far this year that hasn’t happened that much. Any other MMO fans find it hard to try out new games? For the same or different reasons?

Playing MMOs with a timer ticking down

While this will make me sound really stodgy, I generally order my day by half-hour and hour blocks. Until I’m off work in the late afternoon, I’m always thinking ahead of what I want to be doing next and how much time I want to allocate to each task. Get up and start exercising for 30 minutes, then a half-hour to dress and make breakfast, then a half-hour to get a few things written, that sort of thing.

One tool that I’ve used — not always, but on occasion — is a countdown timer. This is mainly when I have tasks that are too big to do in one day or when I have a lot of things that need to get done and have go dedicate only a portion of time to each. So I’ll put a timer on for, say, 45 minutes and see how much of a task I can get done before moving on at the end of that.

Out of curiosity, I started doing this for when I play games at night. Oh, I’ve timed my gaming sessions before, but I’ve never had an active countdown timer sitting on my desk ticking off the minutes remaining. Initially I thought that this might make gameplay more stressful — I want to unwind after the day, not feel like I’m pressured or under the gun — but in actuality, it’s freed me up to enjoy my sessions more.

That sounds weird, I know. But for me, it really works. Gaming with a timer results in satisfying and more focused sessions, and I’m not stressed out in the least by it.

I think that part of my problem in trying to juggle more than one game in an evening is that I never knew how long I should be playing each one. I’d be thinking about the next one I wanted to squeeze in, which would make me cut short my first game session or feel guilty about playing it when there were others to do. Instead, now I take the gaming time I have that evening (say, two or three hours) and divvy it up between the titles I want to play. I set a timer and then go, making it a fun meta-game to see just how much I can do before the time is up.

The timer not only subtly challenges me to do more in the time I’m given, it keeps me in games longer as well. I think I pressure myself to log out earlier when I do just one or two quests and then lose focus and start puttering around. Knowing that I’m committed to playing a game for the next 45 minutes removes that constant evaluation of whether or not I want to call it a night for this title.

Ack… I don’t think there’s any way to make this sound helpful or non-nutty, but I’m telling you, I’ve been doing it for over a month now and find that I’m blasting through more MMO and solo game content while freeing myself up for more pre-bed reading. I don’t think that I’ll ever want to push more than three games a night with this, but two or three seems to be a really nice spot for play. Thought I’d share that with you, is all.

When MMOs won’t let you start over

The other night I logged back into Warframe to give it another try, and when I did I bumped into an odd issue: I couldn’t start over.

I’m the type of MMO player that if I’m unfamiliar with a game or haven’t been in it for a while, I like to start from scratch. I want to go back through the early levels or tutorials, I want to bond with a freshly made avatar. And usually, that’s not an issue at all. Most MMOs want you to create a stable of characters as a way to keep you in and playing as much as possible, but this isn’t the case universally.

In this case, Digital Extremes made Warframe as a game where you’ll only really need one character, because you can collect all of the suits and swap between the classes as you go along. And since you don’t have any facial visuals or other significant choice to make at the start, rerolling isn’t seen as needed.

Except that people like myself and others would still appreciate that. I looked up how or if this was possible, and I got a touch annoyed at responses by others along the line of “Why would you want to? You don’t need to!” Even if that was the case, why not give us that option? The only way I can figure out how to make this happen is either to create a brand-new account or petition support. And for someone who’s basically asking the game to woo him, this is something that gives me an excuse to walk away.

I bumped into this in RuneScape a while back as well. There I see this as an even more serious issue, since you DO have the gender and visual choices, and when I came back to the game I didn’t necessarily want to be the goofy dude I created the last time around. Sandbox or no, would it really have been that difficult for this feature-rich MMO to let you, y’know, reroll?

Apparently not:

No support for these reasons:
1) Hackers
2) Regret
3) It’s just as easy to make a new account

This feels so weird and alien to me — and a good reminder that some of these MMOs live in a bubble apart from the wider genre at times. A feature that’s standard across the board (including in other sandboxes) is negated here for… reasons.

I experience a mixture of frustration and annoyance at this attitude from both the studio and the players who defend this omission. I’m a big boy, give me the option to reroll if I want to. You may not see a reason for it, but I may have very valid motivations for doing so. At the very least, it would have been more welcoming and less off-putting for this one player who is now not playing your game. Is that a good reason enough?