Why is it hard playing new MMOs?

collectionDespite my rather untrue reputation of playing dozens of MMOs all of the time — and somehow writing, working, and helping to raise a family even so — the truth is that I tend to have a couple comfort MMOs that I dive into on a regular basis and then a scattering of other titles that go from one-shot curiosities to every-so-often loads.

But for a while now I’ve been struggling with a frustration over why it’s hard for me to, say, just load up an MMO I haven’t played before (or in a long while, or much at all) and go for it. Because I can’t. I try, I stretch myself, I make vows to expand my boundaries, and then I inevitably go back to the handful of titles that I’ve played for a while yet. It’s frustrating because I know that there’s a lot of good stuff out there that I really haven’t experienced, and I would always like to have a broader base of experience. But there’s a block in there, maybe a few of them, and this post is my effort to try to put a finger on why it’s harder to swap between MMOs than it was playing console games.

I guess for starters there’s the fact that every MMO has its own control scheme and UI setup, and no two are exactly alike. Oh, there are plenty that are similar, but the same? I haven’t seen it. This one game has double-jumping and the other game barely allows your feet to clear the ground. One game allows rebinding your keys while the other doesn’t. One has a less responsive chat window than the other. One has the dorky running animations, one has the combat lag, and one has the instant mount summons. One is tab-target combat and the other is all about twitch action.

Differences are fine, but when you’re bouncing between games, you have to mentally shift between what they are and attempt to get your finger memory to where it needs to be. That’s not a problem when you’re primarily playing one MMO. It starts to stack up when you add more games to the mix. MMOs are too complex sometimes with all of these nuances and features when you’re trying to shift between them.

Speaking of remembering, does anyone else have a good system for keeping track of dozens of logins and passwords? That’s a factor, too.

There’s the financial barrier as well. If it’s a sub-only game, well, I have to make a rather big call as to whether or not I’m going to tack on another bill to my card every month. If it’s F2P, I have to figure out how much I’ll be penalized for playing without paying and see if it’ll cross the threshold of unbearable or not.

When I play more than one MMO during an evening, I notice that it takes me a few minutes of in-game play to make the psychological transition between the previous game and the new. During that time, I’m resenting the new game because my “feel factor” is still on the one I just came from.

Jumping into new MMOs also requires a lot of learning, more so if the game has significantly different systems than other titles. If an MMO has been out for years and years, then you’re playing catch-up with a mountain of combat that vets have long since become accustomed to.

I also have a hard time playing a game in the moment — playing it for its own sake right then and there. If it’s an MMO, I can’t help but think about my future in the game and if I’m going to actually be spending more time here. And if my internal answer is, “I can’t see going the full distance” then my mind starts throwing up roadblocks to letting me enjoy even a partial distance.

This all isn’t a problem that I can see MMO studios wanting to solve, by the way. Studios would vastly prefer that I make their game a permanent home and welcome any obstacles from jumping ship — however temporarily — to other games. There’s always an ongoing effort to establish brand loyalty and get players to plant roots.

Don’t mind me and all of my brain-flotsam today. Just thinking out loud here. Wishing that it was easier to game hop than it is. Maybe realizing that this is just how I’m wired and to enjoy what I enjoy without feeling like I’m being left out of the fun of othe games I’m not playing.

Going forward with gaming plans for 2015

With the standard disclaimer that plans are made to be broken and Syp’s whims are often prone to change depending on the day, here are some of my plans and thoughts about what I’m gaming now and what I’d like to be gaming for the rest of the year.

WildStar

I’m still working my way up to level 50 and the final batch of zones, but at my pace it will take me most of the summer to get there. I anticipate dropping my subscription when free-to-play happens, but not my interest. Still having a great time with this second go-round and there are so many things I want to do with my housing plot.

Marvel Heroes

I have tons of goals in this game but no overarching goal, if that makes sense. Squirrel Girl is the character I’ve chosen to gear out as good as I can get her, but everyone else is just there to enjoy. I picked up Emma Frost last night and am looking forward to trying her out tonight (Big 10 + Midtown Monday = hopefully crazy fast leveling).

The Secret World

Right now my lowbie project is on the backburner (ready to be picked up at any time, of course) while my main character is simply redoing Orochi Tower floors once or twice a week to see if she can catch ’em all eventually. I don’t anticipate massive play time in TSW until the next issue comes out, but it’s nice that it’s still there.

Lord of the Rings Online

Haven’t re-installed this on my new computer. Became so burned out on it that I knew I needed some serious distance, even with the new summer patch coming along soon.

Villagers and Heroes

Would like to dip into this every week or so, to at least get a better feel for it and start crafting my way through it. It’s there as a sample title at least for when my appetite demands it.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

It’s weird — the announcement of the fall’s expansion has me incredibly excited, yet I do not really want to play the game until it lands. I don’t have any goals or levels or solo content left for my Operative and I don’t want to speed-level a new character up. So I’ll wait for Fallen Empire and concentrate on other titles in the meantime.

Skyforge

Yeah, I guess I’ll load this up when it goes live. It was fun enough in a mindless Neverwinter action combat sort of way. Not sure if I’ll be bugged by its apparent narrative weakness or it’s weird character models.

Shroud of the Avatar

After spending a couple of days with it, I felt that it was best to just wait until episode 1 launches this year and then giving it a full go. Active community or no right now, it bugs me to play beta.

Anarchy Online

I really, really need to load the new graphics engine and see what there is to see here. I anticipate a day or two of tourism followed by my usual drop-off in interest, but I owe AO enough to at least see what it’s been doing.

Other games, other possibilities

It’s great to see everyone so thrilled about Final Fantasy XIV’s expansion, but I really don’t ever think I’ll be able to get over my apathy toward the franchise and the style to play it. ArcheAge… well, it’s on my computer whenever I feel like trying it. Neverwinter might be a “come back someday” title, especially since I didn’t get much into playing the warlock class. World of Warcraft always beckons, but just when I think nostalgia is going to get me to sub up, I look at garrisons, blanch, and go do something else.

The summer of cycling

BicycleNearly two months in, and I’m still biking on a regular basis. For me, this is a personal milestone of fitness, the longest run of exercise I’ve done since I was a kid. And I even look forward to it every day, which is not something I was able to say about my stints on the exercise bike and those Wii sports games I did for a bit.

After extensive scouting of the surrounding three or four miles around my home, I’ve figured out two good 45-minute routes that have decent sidewalks and aren’t plagued with sharp hills. This was trickier than I first realized, since so many of the streets in our fairly packed suburban city don’t have sidewalks at all. And because this is Detroit, drivers care not one whit for looking out for cyclists and thus I am not biking on a street if I can help it.

One sign of getting into all of this is that I’ve been gradually buying various accessories — new gym shorts, a new helmet, biking sunglasses (faux-kleys, I call them, since they were $8), and even a small pink MP3 player that I’ve loaded with mostly techno and fast BPM tunes. Yesterday for Father’s Day I was given the go-ahead to pick up a new bike too, a much lighter hybrid one to go along with my heavy-duty mountain bike.

I took the new bike down to one of our nicer parks for a ride last night, which ended up not being as enjoyable as I’d hoped. It was way too muggy, for starters, and trying to get a feel for a new bike while riding an unfamiliar course was stressful.

Sometimes getting out there is hard — I don’t have a lot of energy that day or the first couple of miles really hurts my thighs as I push up hills. But sooner or later I end up in this zone where my mind switches off and I’m just biking and listening to music and feeling like I could go on for a long time.

Weight loss-wise, it’s helped although it hasn’t been a stark transformation. I think I’ve lost around 15 pounds from early May (coupled with getting back to a strict low-carb diet). I feel… tighter, I guess is the word I use. A little more trim. I read that cycling uses a lot more than your leg muscles for a good core workout, so I’ll take it. In any case, I’m not totally embarassed when I see myself biking in store windows.

In other biking news (because you’re so starved for it, I know), I’ve taken the training wheels off my kids’ bikes and am trying to teach them how to ride properly. It’s been challenging. They don’t like to fall and I don’t blame them, so it ends up being a lot of encouragement to try again and me hunched over, running, while I hold their seats.

Dealing with our game gluttony

collectionYesterday Murf touched on a subject that a lot of bloggers have grappled with over the past couple of years: The guilt and struggle of what to do with the truckloads of games that we buy.

Games are cheap, so very, very cheap these days. They’re cable channels five years ago. They’re video rentals twenty years ago. They’re libraries… uh, two thousand years ago? We have access to thousands for free and even more for ridiculously low prices. And because we love good deals and compulsively collecting things, we hit sales from sites like Steam and GOG like a glutton after a two-week fast.

Then our game library fills up with more titles than we can ever handle, particularly with diminishing game time as one ages. So what to do with that? You could stop buying so much, even when it’s a really good deal, unless you’re willing to play it on the spot. You could — as I’ve been doing — committing yourself to playing through the library you purchased. You could sample them. You could engage in the fantasy that you will one day play them, but not today and realistically not ever.

Another option — one that I’m considering — is devoting a session or night per week to getting out of one’s normal gaming routine and simply trying other titles. I think it’s easier to play games that you’re familiar with than figuring out new systems, downloading the files, etc.

I’ve been intentionally slowing down my purchasing habits of both new and older, cheaper games. I’m probably missing out on a few classics, but it’s started to rub me wrong to buy titles that I’ve done nothing with for years. GOG is running its summer sale and despite a few really good deals, I haven’t touched it save for grabbing one free game from the pile. I don’t want to buy Witcher 3 until I actually play and beat 1 and 2, and who knows when that will be?

Plus, there is the economics of it. Money in the pocket is more useful than a couple of bucks saved somewhere in the future. So if I get a game for half-off now (say, $5 instead of $10) but don’t play it until 2017, I’m not really enjoying that discount and getting that extra $5 worth until three years from now.

Maybe we need to be more okay with not paying until we’re ready to play, even if that means paying a few bucks more down the road.

Just chewing on all of this. I don’t know.

Dear developers: Give me a backstory already!

fa1One of the more brilliant aspects of Fallout 3 was the decision to merge the tutorial and character creation process into a sequence in which you got to see your character grow from a toddler to a young adult living in the Vault.

In System Shock 2, a similar decision is made to eschew boring character creation slideshow screens for a more interactive process involving your character going through multiple years of military service, making choices along the way that would shape him.

In Fable, one of the touted aspects was being able to watch your character grow from childhood to adulthood. While, like many of that game’s hyped-but-disappointing features, it was boiled down to a short bit as a kid, at least there was that.

In many other CRPGs, such as Arcanum and the newer Pillars of Eternity, developers allowed players to select a backstory from a menu that not only included a description of one’s upbringing and region, but various advantages and disadvantages that would affect gameplay.

In all of these examples, by the time I entered the game world proper, I felt as though I knew who my character was and became more connected to him or her. The story of their life already began, and I was continuing it.

So why don’t we see that in MMOs? Am I the only one who gets disappointed with the status quo of having a level 1 character pop out of the void with no back history whatsoever, save for what I imagine? With no explanation as to how I got there, what my motivation is, or who I am past my chosen class and face?

To my recollection, only Guild Wars 2 has made any effort to integrate a backstory into the character creation process. And even here, it’s more presented as a series of choose-your-own-adventure decisions that will marginally affect your storyline. Still, I appreciated how by the time the game starts and there’s the introductory cutscene that sums up all of these choices into “my story,” I have become grounded in who my character is.

Even Star Wars: The Old Republic, with it’s much vaunted story pillar, has no story for your character past where he or she first appears. I have no idea how my Smuggler got her ship or got into that racket. I don’t know what my Imperial Agent went through in her spy training. I don’t know why my character gravitated to the Empire or the Republic. I just came into being, ex nihilo, along side all of the other freshly minted clones.

Am I being lazy, asking the developers to do the work that my imagination could supply? No, I don’t think so. These are roleplaying games that involve a long-term journey with a character. I want to be in on the ground floor of who that character is. I’d love to “live” — even in an abbreviated form — his or her childhood and early adulthood. I want to know what sets them onto the path that leads them to become a world-traveling adventurer.

The backstory of the CRPG is being lost — has been lost for a while now — in MMORPGs. It’s time to bring it back.

Building a new PC: Part 3

newcompPart 1, Part 2

Yesterday I got the SATA data cables in the mail, and in short order I hooked up the second and third hard drives. After partitioning them, I assigned the second SSD (~180 GB) to be for MMOs and the standard 1 TB hard drive to be for media (music, photos, TV shows).

It was the moment of truth. I couldn’t leave this thing in my kitchen any longer, and I needed to make the switch. So I said goodbye to my trusty old HP desktop that I’ve had since 2010 (!) and unplugged it carefully. Then I cracked open the case and removed the GeForce graphics card, transferring that over to my new machine.

With all of the pieces in place, I secured the wires, put back on the front and side panels, and brought my surprisingly light tower over to my desk. Everything hooked up well, and I was back in business within minutes.

I saw someone say on Twitter the other day that making the jump to using an SSD is kind of like instantly visiting the future, and I can attest to that feeling. Having a computer that boots up in seconds with programs that are near-instantaneous to start is a beautiful, beautiful thing. I’m already planning on buying a third SSD at some point, these things are so wonderful.

Plus, it’s so nice to have a rig that’s free from all of the bloatware and extra crud that accumulates on a PC after a while, even when you’ve tried to be diligent about cleaning it.

Of course, setting up this PC wasn’t done just because the hardware was in place. I still had a lot to do with the software and files. I used my external hard drive to transfer all of the files I had saved from my old computer. That took about a half-hour, after which I turned my attention to re-downloading a dozen or so must-have programs, including The Secret World, Guild Wars 2, and various tools that I need for Massively OP.

It is pretty cool to look at this machine and think that I had a hand in making it (or at least assembling it). It’s definitely a great birthday present and I look forward to running it through its paces. So far so good!