Am I missing out by not having a collection?

Time and money. Money and time.

Two things I’m often very short on these days and work against the idea of harboring a collection. But it hasn’t stopped me from being wistful that, as a geek, I don’t really have a collection. I kind of wish I did. I have collected things to varying degrees over the years but not seriously and not extensively. I have some SNES games, but not really a collection. Star Wars Legos. MMO memorabilia. I tried vinyl collecting for a hot month last year. But not really having time to commit to cultivating a collection and the funds to support it keep killing it.

I feel like I’m maybe not as interesting or fulfilled without one, sometimes. I have a friend whose “thing” is collecting PEZ. He’s been doing it for decades now and has an amazing collection. He’s even got a tattoo. Everyone knows that’s his collection and supports him in that.

Lately I’ve been feeling a pang of envy when I watch YouTube videos of fans that have these amazing collections of various things (usually video games). I’m not envious of what they own, but that they have a thing. It makes me wish that I had collected cool art or had been more serious about accumulating a game collection back when I had a lot more time and spare income for it. Now I don’t know if it can ever really happen. The console game market seems a lot more pricey and rare now that people have been more aggressively collecting through ebay and craigslist, and I don’t even know where I’d start. Plus, with the re-releases like the SNES Classic, I wonder at the purpose of even having such a collection.

But I still kind of want one.

Another issue I have with collection is where to put one. I don’t have a lot of space in our house that is actually just mine. We have four kids and a smallish house, so my space is pretty much a desk and a bookshelf. We’ve talked about carving out part of a room as a den, but I’d feel selfish when the kids are already bouncing off the wall for lack of space. A physical collection of items would require a lot of shelf space no matter what it is, and that’s why I asked family members to stop getting Star Wars Legos for me. I just had no more space for them (and wasn’t super-interested in amassing a great amount of them).

Probably the one thing I do collect a lot of and organize is music, particularly video game music. This is not a boast, but I genuinely think that I probably have one of the largest MMORPG music collections out there right now. I’d be very interested to meet someone who has more (and peruse his or her library!). It’s satisfying to collect and organize and possess a wide range of something you like.

Maybe this ties into another part of my nature, that I get really excited about things I see that are cool and feel compulsion to do/collect/enjoy/practice that too. But really, we only have so much time and money to go around, and one has to make choices.

Perhaps one day I’ll focus on a collection and really go for it. I am going to set up my SNES again for my kids to enjoy soon, and there are several games that I would love to own with it. But I doubt I’ll ever be able to afford seriously collecting for it. Maybe a little at a time, see where that gets me.

Do you collect? How’d you get into it and why do you do it?

6 ways to get my interest in your upcoming MMO

Do you have an upcoming MMORPG that you’re making? Gee, that’s swell, mister! But before I hop on board that express hype train, you’re going to have to fulfill some requirements for me. Yeah, kind of like quest objectives. If you want to stir up my interest and raise reputation with my faction, here are six ways to make that happen:

1. For the love of all that’s holy, have a hook.

Original ideas and design is extremely difficult, and it’s OK if most of your game shares similarities with other MMOs out there. But PLEASE have at least ONE core concept that is interesting and serves to set you apart. We call this the “hook,” and it’s what lures players in to your product above all others. There are so many upcoming games that think that by putting “open PvP fantasy sandbox” on their resume, they’re somehow making themselves this unique, desirable snowflake when in actuality they’re just another Q-tip in the jar.

2. Put some effort into your art style.

Greys and browns with clunky 2001-era models don’t really do it for me when it comes to art. I’m no visuals snob, but it really does help if you look somewhat attractive. If you don’t have the funds to pull off a stunning, photo-realistic world, then go colorful and stylized. Do something to avoid looking drab and dull.

3. Post regular development and design posts.

In covering MMOs over the years, I’ve ceased to be amazed how some of them seem to be handled by marketing monkeys. And not the good kind of monkeys; the ones that think that “minimum effort” and “occasional flurry of activity” is all that’s needed to avoid a pink slip. If you’ve got a game coming out, then post something at least once a week to fuel community excitement and keep your project from looking dead in the water — even if the reality is anything but.

4. Don’t let players buy their way to success before the game even starts.

It’s a disturbing trend with early access and crowdfunding these games how some MMOs — and I’m sure you can think of a few specific names — are so eager to grab any free money they can that they start making design compromises by selling advancement and serious advantages before the game even comes out. It might make the people who just dropped $300 feel like they’re on top of the world, but you know what? It repels a lot of others who might have played but think, “Why should I now? That guy is already king of a realm and owns a titanic space-carrier, and the game hasn’t even launched.” This is particularly troublesome in competitive (PvP) environments.

I’ll make it simpler for you: If you can’t start us all off on a fair and level playing field, then I probably don’t want to try it.

5. Demonstrate competence, confidence, and vision.

This is kind of a lump-all category, but sometimes when I’m reading posts, tweets, and watching dev videos, I can tell when a team just isn’t quite all together. Maybe there’s an exec who is spouting crazy all over Twitter at the dead hours of the night and can’t be muzzled by anyone. Perhaps we only ever hear from the same one person over and over again, as if the studio is afraid to let anyone else off their leash. Occasionally you see games where everything keeps changing again and again and again, as if the devs are responding too heavily to community feedback and trying to appease everyone. Maybe the team projects a juvenile and slovenly look. And once in a while we see newer studios that obviously don’t understand how things work and how to talk to both fans and media.

I’m not saying don’t be outspoken — please speak out! I’m not saying don’t have a sense of humor — you’re going to need it! But watch yourselves, control your message, have confidence, show humility, and create the game you want to create.

6. Don’t have elves.

Better yet, have elves but kill them all in some global pandemic in the first scene, leaving the remnants of the world’s races to rejoice and live happily ever after.

Try-It Tuesday: Missile Cards

Every so often, I break out of my gaming routine to try something new and different. These turn into my Try-It Tuesday sessions, and they are a mixed bag indeed!

It’s been a while since I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a new mobile game, and happily this happened last week. I saw some strong buzz for a Steam game that just launched on iOS, and I splurged on the $3 price to pick it up.

So the game is called Missile Cards, if you couldn’t make out the tiny font in the graphic up there, and the best way to describe it is “Missile Command: The Card Game.” You know Missile Command? That really old arcade game that taught John Connor the futility of humanity’s future before the T-1000 tried to shoot him in the face? It’s a bizarre concept that really works well, and it’s well and gotten me hooked.

Missile Cards puts you in charge of defending a planet under bombardment from comets, nukes, and other terrible threats. If you can eliminate all of the threats without dying, then you win the game, but chances are you’re going to lose, and maybe lose quickly if you end up drawing bad cards.

During each turn of the round-based game, you can (generally) perform just one action as a conveyor belt brings cards across the screen. Threat cards get played automatically and put a Bad Thing on the heads-up display, such as a comet crashing down on one of your sub-bases or your main base. But you can prep weapons to attack (these need two or three turns to ready), charge up weapons faster with batteries, prep tractor beams (which suck in currency from destroyed threats that can be spent on permanent upgrades), and play other helpful cards. Your sub-bases can only take one hit before being destroyed (and if they’re hit again, game over) and your main base has hit points that absorb a certain amount of damage. The lower a threat falls on the screen, the more points it’s worth when destroyed… and that’s pretty much the gist of it.

The simple design and flow of play hides a lot of strategy, particularly as you’re trying to plan out three or four moves ahead of time. The conveyor belt doesn’t stop pushing cards across, and you want to grab and use helpful cards before they get tossed back into the deck, but you also need to eliminate threats. Some games are pretty much over at the start, but by thinking ahead, using the bare minimum response needed to destroy threats (each threat has a hit point count), and sometimes sacrificing sub-bases, you can have a fighting chance.

I love that each game is only about five minutes long and lets you make progress on missions (think achievements) and currency collection so that even a failure helps you out in the long run. There are different stages with more difficult challenges, but you don’t have to progress until you’re ready. I also really dig a simplified deck building mechanic at play that allows you to buy special cards and equip whichever ones you think are the most beneficial.

Anyway, a fun and addictive little game that I recommend to you… and I think will stay on my phone for a long time to come.

Death to MMORPG side quests!

I am not one to badmouth the MMO quest system. It really was one of those features that put World of Warcraft on the map, and I’ve enjoyed it ever since. I greatly enjoy both the stories and feeling of accomplishment at ticking off tasks (and getting rewards and XP bumps is not half bad either). But here is a question that I’ve been pondering lately: is it high time that we kill side quests once and for all?

While I can certainly defend main story quests — such as zone/planet-wide chains or a personal story arc that goes through most of the game — side missions lack positive qualities that make them desirable. Let’s call them for what they really are: busy work. Side quests are small tasks that offer no real story, no significant reward, and only serve to pad out your quest log and allow dev teams to be able to boast ridiculously high quest tallies for patches and expansions (“200 new quests! Of which only 15 are memorable in any way!”).

I don’t hate side quests, but they certainly do serve as distractions. Too many of these tasks can help me to forget the big stories that I’m presumably following. I’d much rather go through a single story start to end without having my attention yanked elsewhere, which is why I try to do all other quests in a region first and then devote a day or two to just going through the larger story.

Let’s think about it. If your favorite MMO one day yanked all of its side quests, leaving only factional, zone, dungeon, and overarching story arcs intact, would it really suffer for it? Would you bemoan their loss? Players are forever asking to be able to just play through the main storylines without all of these diversions down rabbit trails, so why not give it to them? Just increase XP for the main quests and work on providing other forms of much more meaningful content that can serve as a focus for players’ time.

Devs may not like that; they may see side quests as needed material to battle the ravenous player horde that devours content far faster than can be made. Side quests might be seen as a necessary evil, a sticky patch that slows the sprinting population from reaching the finish line too soon.

But really, it’s an old and outdated design that needs to die. Side quests aren’t content that we enjoy, need, or demand, and even what minimal resources used to create them would be better spent elsewhere. Agree? Disagree? Let me know!

Picking a third summer MMORPG to play

If you couldn’t tell already, I’ve had a very strange month, gaming-wise. I’ll have a wrap-up tomorrow to go more into depth, but the short of it is that I’ve struggled with cementing my gaming lineup for this summer and have instead been wandering all over the place. More than usual, I mean.

It’s been weird and interesting and personally revelatory, but the end result is that I’ve realized that three is sort of the magic number for me when it comes to online games. It’s just enough for variety (I really can’t be a one-MMO guy, just never could) and an interesting rotation (hitting each game at least twice a week) without being too scattered and making me feel overwhelmed with too many “projects” and goals spread across a half-dozen or more titles.

So three. And the first two are not in doubt. LOTRO, because I love it, I’m still having fun in it, the expansion is coming out this fall, and I cover it for MOP. And Secret World Legends, despite the do-over. There’s plenty in those two games to keep me going for a while and my interest in both is high. But the question is, which game gets the third spot to help me settle down and cruise through the rest of summer?

There are a few games I tried this past month that I liked but for various reasons I don’t think are contenders. FFXIV, while nice, doesn’t have its hooks in me the way it seems to for others. DDO was really neat to return to and a blast from the past, but it’s not the future. So that leaves me with three options that I’m mulling over, and since I’m mulling, I might as well be writing. It’s one of the main reasons why we blog, right?

Here are the contenders:

Guild Wars 2

  • Pros: Really love the combat. Pretty. I dig my Engineer and have invested a fair bit of time into her (almost through season 2). Would… sort of like to see the expansion and season 3. Can be relaxing just to do zone clears. Expansion later this year might make me regret not being ready for it.
  • Cons: Loot is boring, story is boring, expansion is vertical jungle (and that’s like they designed it to be a turn-off to me personally). Haven’t found a really good, sticky guild. Tired of buttflaps and trenchcoats. Don’t want to grind ascended or legendaries.

World of Warcraft

  • Pros: Been fiddling about with a new resto Shaman as a healer, kind of like that idea. Could just level casually with no rush to endgame. Have flying unlocked in Broken Isles. Argus could be really cool. Always liked the game and am part of a great guild. Fun dungeons that offer a satisfying experience for healers.
  • Cons: Was really burned out around April and May. The endgame doesn’t seem as compelling as it did early in Legion. No housing. Sometimes feels overwhelming with too much to do. Subscription.

Elder Scrolls Online

  • Pros: Brand-new to me. Morrowind is a great starting place for a newbie and a hit of retro nostalgia. Warden is a perfect class for me. Housing! Lots of places to explore, nice single-player RPG feeling mixed in with the MMO. Voice acting decent so far. Visually stunning. Buy-to-play (and I just dropped $40 on it, so I feel like I should get my money’s worth).
  • Cons: Elder Scrolls games haven’t always been as strong with me as other franchises (I’m not a fanboy, in other words). Combat is not that thrilling. Default UI is frustrating. Doesn’t control like other MMOs.

Putting it down, I think I can rule out GW2. It was getting to be more of a chore than fun the last few times I played it. But I am really, really torn between WoW and ESO. The familiar, proven game vs. the unfamiliar, brand-new content. Both popular, both have a future. I think I could be happy with either, but I do need to choose. Three is focus, four is messy (again, at least for me). I’m going to set a deadline for this weekend and go from there through the rest of this summer.

Is Super NES Classic a dream come true?

Coming back to town after a four-day trip, I was excited to see that Nintendo finally announced the much-expected Super NES Classic console for this fall. After the runaway success of the NES Classic (we won’t go into grousing about the shortages and why I still do not have one), it made total sense.

So here’s the rundown: $80, 21 games, longer controller cords, coming September 29. It’s $20 more than the NES Classic and has five fewer titles, but it’s SNES, so it kind of balances out a bit. Naturally, I’m insanely pleased and excited, as the SNES is my all-time favorite console (one that I own in many formats, including a handheld version). And the big surprise announcement of StarFox 2 as a pack-in, a game that had never been released, is definitely thrilling.

Let’s look at the lineup:

  • Contra III: The Alien Wars
  • Donkey Kong Country
  • EarthBound
  • Final Fantasy III
  • F-ZERO
  • Kirby Super Star
  • Kirby’s Dream Course
  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Mega Man X
  • Secret of Mana
  • Star Fox
  • Star Fox 2
  • Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
  • Super Castlevania IV
  • Super Ghouls ’n Ghosts
  • Super Mario Kart
  • Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
  • Super Mario World
  • Super Metroid
  • Super Punch-Out!!
  • Yoshi’s Island

OK, so let me put this out there: This is a great selection. They definitely chose well for the most part, getting in a lot of classics and genres. Street Fighter 2 is one of the best fighting games on the system, Contra 3 is always a crowd pleaser, Mario Kart is a classic, Super Castlevania is one of my all-time favorites, and so on. The only ones I’m a little iffy on are EarthBound (I know it’s a cult hit but I have never been truly into it) and the two Kirby games. Think we could have taken those down to one Kirby game and something else.

My only gipe is that this list is missing two of the absolute best games for the system: Chrono Trigger and Zombies Ate My Neighbors. (There’s also no sports games other than Punch-Out, which is weird.) Squaresoft is well-represented, as are RPGs, but no Chrono Trigger? That’s such a glaring omission that it boggles the mind. I’d rather have substituted it for Earthbound or Secret of Mana. Or heck, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. That’s kind of a dud too.

Still, I’m thrilled that Super Mario RPG, Super Metroid, Star Fox, and the rest are here. My only hope is that, unlike last year, I’ll actually be able to get my hands on one of these consoles. A pre-order system would be ideal, I think.

The SNES had so many incredible games that I could easily see a follow-up console with just as many great titles. I hope Nintendo will do that in 2018 instead of, say, N64 Classic.

ESO: Welcome to elf hell, population me

It’s not an Elder Scrolls game if you don’t start out as some sort of soon-to-be-freed prisoner!

My search for summer entertainment continues, and I thought it was only fair to give Elder Scrolls Online a real shot, especially considering the whole Morrowind release. Morrowind is, to date, the only Elder Scrolls game I’ve played for any great length of time. It was so expansive and weird back in the day, and I wouldn’t mind a hit of that nostalgia.

So I bought the Morrowind expansion and rolled up a new Nord Warden, because if I’m going to play this game, I’m going to have pets, and that’s all there is to it. I rather enjoyed the tutorial, which features a breakout (of sorts) of slaves on a small island. One thing I noticed right off is that there are other players everywhere. Everywhere. I really thought it would have been more instanced, but nope, it’s like playing an MMO back in the day where they weren’t afraid to show you someone else’s face.

Some people learn the hard truth about how elves let you down from first-hand experience. Poor sucker. He should’ve known.

And yeah, I’m aware of the irony that I’m playing an expansion where it’s like Dark Elf Hell, with those pointy-eared jerks everywhere, but I guess that’s a theme. FFXIV: Heavensward was awash in snooty elves too. Why do I play fantasy again?

“Hey! That island? The one that looks like it’s 90% erupting volcano? Let’s swim toward it!”

It took me a little while to get my “game legs,” but all in all it wasn’t too bad. I started stealing like the klepto that the Elder Scrolls games condition us all to be and started down the path of animal mastery.

Nothing like waking up from a long sleep while wearing armor and a shield strapped to one’s back. That’s going to leave a few bruises.

Wow, that’s a very familiar sight indeed! Morrowind the expansion is apparently a prequel to Morrowind the game, so everything’s kind of stepped back in time a bit but not too much that ZeniMax couldn’t capitalize on the nostalgia factor. For me, I just took my time, slowly explored, and got used to the systems. I like that this starting village was a lot smaller than the one I got thrown into when I played the last time. I don’t want to be overwhelmed at the start.

How do you make elves even more attractive? Give them bloodshot eyes and a condescending attitude!

I actually enjoyed the dialogue and careful pacing of the story. At least there wasn’t ten quests off the bat to do, but just one that allowed me to focus on what’s going on and start to comprehend the lore of the land. We did a brief dungeon crawl — by “we” I mean “me and a dozen other players who were all scrambling all over the place which made it feel a lot less dangerous and more like a Black Friday sale at Walmart.”

The ghost effect was really cool. You don’t often see skeleton ghosts in MMOs, for some reason.

Hey! It’s the giant flea taxis! I remember those!

Sure, I didn’t make a huge amount of progress that first night, but the music, the story, and the experience was pretty involving and left me quite entertained. I’m not fully sold on the combat or armor design, but so far it’s going a lot better than expected.