Syp’s spring MMO dance card

As I mentioned last week in my gaming goals post, I’ve started to realize just how much is happening this spring with MMOs. It’s certainly caused me to change some previous plans I had for these months as I’m shuffling around games that I want to play — or at least try. As of right now, here are the online titles that are vying for a spot on my dance card this season in order of when they’re coming out:

Wild Buster, Antaria Online, Broke Protocol

All of these are early access titles that I picked up either for dirt cheap at a Steam sale or for free. Figured that I would give them a look sooner or later, so they’re occupying that “whenever I have time” spot.

Closers Online (launches February 6)

This is one of those action MMO imports with fixed characters that I usually ignore, but I miiiight want to give this a shot. I love the cel shaded graphics and the modern setting, so at least my curiosity is piqued.

Tale of Toast (early access February 23)

I have a soft spot for very indie MMOs, especially ones with an interesting look or style. Tale of Toast meets these standards, although its “hardcore” nature will probably keep it from being more than an idle look and a once-off blog post.

Villagers and Heroes mobile (releases on iOS February 26)

Still awaiting a good, dependable, and accessible mobile MMO, and I have high hopes for this one. I like what V&H does as a game, and as a mobile title it might just hit the spot for those off-hours.

Project Gorgon (early access in February or March)

I feel like I’ve been waiting to properly play this game for years now, and I’ve long said that once it hits early access (and lowers its chance for massive world changes), I’d start for good. Well, it should be happening fairly soon!

Sea of Thieves (launches March 20)

I do have some mild reservations about the PvP angle and the depth (or lack thereof) for this pirate title, but I am insanely excited about it even so. Can’t wait to join up with a crew and go treasure hunting on the open sea!

Shroud of the Avatar (launches March 27)

I once had hopes for this game, but right now it isn’t looking all that great for Garriott’s Ultima Online follow-up. Low population and a general dissatisfied word-of-mouth experience outside of the rabidly loyal. Still, I paid for it and promised that I would come back to see the launch version when it happened. We’ll see if it’s turned around enough!

RIFT Prime (spring 2018)

Depending on whether or not Trion will allow us to keep the characters from the new Prime server, I’ll be there with bells on day one. Really warming up to the idea of returning to this great MMO, especially with a new angle and challenge. Starting over is always fun.

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Vowing to read MMO quest text

If I’ve heard it once over the course of my blogging career, I’ve heard it a thousand times: “This time around, I vow to read the quest text! I’m going to read it all and really soak up the lore and story of the game!”

It’s like some sort of new year’s resolution to lose weight that you just know the person is going to break within a few weeks. With MMO quest text, we have a hard time just reading it in most games. Have a hard time reading it, I should have said, without skipping past it and clicking “accept” on the quest button.

Is this on us or the games? I think there is blame in both courts.

MMO quest text has been around pretty much since the early days of the genre and was solidified when the World of Warcraft questing model took preeminence over the genre. It was a quick and easy way for a developer to initiate a quest, give us a briefing on the background and motivation, and send us on our merry way. We were mean to read and absorb these as part of our adventures, as evidenced in how WoW used to gradually reveal the quest text as if the NPC was speaking it. That quickly changed to showing the full box instantly and allowing us to accept as fast our our clicking finger could manage.

Why don’t we read quest text anymore? Or at least, why do we have difficulty sticking to resolutions to do so? Five big reasons come to mind, although there are probably more:

  1. So much of the quest text is irrelevant to knowing how to accomplish the mission. We know that the screen will now show us where to go and what simplified objectives to do. If it happens to be more complicated than that, sure, we can always go back and scan through the quest text or look up a walkthrough.
  2. Since we’ll only be interacting with this NPC a handful of times at most, we don’t have any vested interest in getting to know them, their struggles, and building a relationship with them. They’re disposable, and that’s how we treat the quests that they issue.
  3. While some writers honestly do put in great effort in giving us funny and interesting mini-stories, so many of these quest text boxes are a whole bunch of boring nonsense. It’s yet more justification of why we should go on a rampage against Group X, as if we need any reason other than “rewards.”
  4. If the quest text is small or awkward to read. LOTRO and EVE Online are two examples that come to mind.
  5. We get in the habit of wanting to progress as fast as possible and so have conditioned ourselves to stop absorbing the lore and details of the world in the interest of speed. To get back into the habit of reading quest text, we have to discipline ourselves to break that cycle.

I’ve made this vow many times to varying success. Some games I’m simply more interested in following along with the quest story. There are a few things that MMO devs can do to engage us deeper into the quest story, such as relying more on cutscene introductions (expensive but definitely more interesting), having us choose dialogue paths with the NPC (EQ2, DDO, Shroud of the Avatar), allow us to make choices at the onset of quests, and having the quests be part of an arc that counters the “disposable” aspect. But a lot of it is on us to actually see the quest text again instead of having it be invisible right in front of our eyes.

Generally, yes, I do enjoy reading quest text. I even screenshot a lot of it when it’s particularly interesting or humorous — and you’d be surprised how often this comes up now.  It’s something that I’m vowing to do more in my games this year, but old habits die hard.

8 more PC games I want to play in 2018

The other day I listed six games that I was looking forward to playing in 2018, but since then I realized that I had been overlooking quite a few promising titles. So why not another list? Here are some more PC games that I’m hoping to dig into this year:

1. Age of Empires IV

Oh HECK YES. The Age of Empires series is one of my hands-down favorite RTS series, and I seriously cannot wait to see what they come up with for the fourth installment. Release! Release NOW.

2. Sunless Skies

I absolutely love the Fallen London/Sunless Seas universe and agree that it’s one of the best-written worlds in the industry. So yes, I do want to play this airship-themed spin-off, as long as I get more tales.

3. Surviving Mars

The Tropico team is bringing a colony builder to Mars. Love them sim builders! I’m not fully sold on the graphics of this one, but Mars is an interesting locale.

4. Vampyr

The Life is Strange team has been working on this vampire-themed title. Don’t really care for vamps, but I love LiS and will try it based on the strength of this studio alone. Speaking of, Life is Strange 2 is also in development.

5. Railway Empire

I have a particular fondness for train sims, especially ones that let you build up your own company and lines, and this title might just satisfy my dark, steam-billowing urges.

6. We Happy Few

I don’t even know what this is clearly about, but it looks like it’s parts alternative history and BioShock and dystopian civilization. Sure, sign me up!

7. Dauntless

Giant monster slaying in co-op isn’t normally my thing, but I do like the aesthetics of this title and the ex-MMO developers behind it.

8. State of Decay 2

I always felt like I should have spent more time in the first game, because I really did like that blend of survival horror. Making it more co-op and larger seems like a good move.

6 non-MMO games I enjoyed in 2017

Outside of MMORPGs, this was an odd year for my gaming. I had a lot less spare time this year, and while titles continued to pile out, only occasionally was I able to dip into a new game for Try-It Tuesday. Also, some games that I was anticipating — particularly Torment, Galaxy of Pen and Paper, and and Dreamfall Chapters — ended up being less-than-satisfying.

But when I look back on the year, here are the six non-MMOs that I ended up enjoying the most:

1. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2

For those keeping track at home, KOTOR 2 was pretty much the main retro game experience that I covered (Duke Nukem 3D and a handful of “try once and discard” titles were the only other ones). And even that wasn’t a regular event, as I could only cobble together enough gaming time since April for about 10 sessions. It’s just how my schedule is right now, and I’m afraid it doesn’t look like it’s going to change soon.

Anyway, I was pleased to get further into KOTOR 2 than I ever did before, taking my Dark Jedi-who-only-uses-a-blaster into this surprisingly story-rich title. While there’s some pressure on myself to move on to other games, I would like to see it through to the end. Someday.

2. West of Loathing

This single-player RPG set in the same universe as the multiplayer Kingdom of Loathing was a hilarious treat from start to end. Clever, funny, and fun, West of Loathing delivered this graphically minimalistic experience that was nevertheless deep and oh-so-satisfying. It tweaked RPG conventions (and western genre ones, too) left and right while teaching me how important it is to check every spittoon no matter how much grief the game gives you.

3. The Sims 4

I had previously missed out on the fourth installment of the Sims franchise, and when I found it on sale, I decided why not. I get Sims cravings every now and then, and for a few weeks I had a great time setting up houses and fiddling about with my virtual people. It was a great title for playing with my kids by my side, I found, especially when they got to voice input on my choices.

4. Hearthstone

There were a LOT of old mobile favorites that kept coming up on my phone — Fallout Shelter, Crazy Kings, Clash Royale chief among them — but Hearthstone was a pleasant surprise in my mobile gaming time when I finally went back to it after years away. The new expansion and general Blizzcon excitement prompted me, and I discovered a game that was still pretty accessible and engaging in short spurts. It still stinks when you go up against people with super-expensive decks, but I give as good as I get.

5. Divinity Original Sin 2

While I’m still scratching at the surface of this critically acclaimed RPG, I can definitely say that it’s among the greats from this year. After all, it lets me talk to animals and wear a bucket as a helmet, so that’s a sign of quality! I know I have a long way to go with this anything-goes RPG, and part of me is tempted to reroll and get a better start, but I like the idea of actions having consequences. It’s like the best modern Baldur’s Gate II I’ve played.

6. Love You to Bits

Speaking of mobile, I finally finished Love You to Bits, an incredibly creative adventure game in which your little space guy is trying to reassemble his robot love, one piece at a time. Each level has a unique theme, unique challenges, and tons of secrets to unlock. My favorites had to be the time loop one and the poltergeist level, and I was very impressed by the non-verbal environmental storytelling going on.

Honorable mention: SNES Classic

Tossing in an honorable mention for grabbing an SNES Classic this fall, which gives me great pleasure to play with my kids and remember some of my favorite games of the past. Of course, this now means I’ll have to play FFVI as it was originally published, since I’ve never beaten it. Please, Santa, give me more gaming time!

70 or so games you played — and recommended — in 2017

One of the things that I love best about the end of the year — the post-Christmas, pre-New Year week in particular — is to sit down and read through all of those year-in-review lists. Best movies. Best books. Best TV shows. Best everything. I have a few of my own in the works, but a week ago I thought I’d toss out to Twitter the question of what was the best game you played this year and would recommend? They didn’t have to be 2017 releases, just titles that really stood out in your gaming year.

So here you go: 70 or so games that a bunch of people who follow me for some reason played, loved, and wanted to share with you. If you’re looking for gaming ideas for the holidays, I assume you could do far worse!

  • Rimworld (Ranni, Wilhelm)
  • Nier Automata and Assassin’s Creed Origins (Petterm)
  • Ori and the Blind Forest (Tanek_09)
  • Elder Scrolls Online (Scorpique)
  • Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (Jaedia)
  • Stardew Valley (Wolfyseyes)
  • Slime Rancher (Vexia_adventure)
  • ARK, Skyrim, Pirate101, Wizard101, Aporia Beyond the Valley (Chrissyztweet)
  • Super Mario Odyssey (Sassiej89)
  • Lord of the Rings Online, Secret World Legends, World of Warcraft (Stsa7375)
  • Destiny 2, WoW: Legion, Breath of the Wild, Brave Exvius, Star Wars Force Arena, and Titanfall Assault, Titanfall 2 (Hawkinson88)
  • Hollow Knight (Hidden_Wings)
  • Skyrim, Stardew Valley, Shadow of Mordor, Diablo III, Fallout Shelter, Civilization 6, Pokemon Go, Contest of Champions (Capnhoppy)
  • Dust: An Elysian Tale, Fire Emblem Heroes, Summoners War, Dirt 3 Showdown, Endless Legend, Brickscape, Layton Mystery Journey, HAWK Freedom Squad, Star Realms, Mekorama, Final Fantasy Tactics, Elder Scrolls Legends, Final Fantasy Record Keeper (TishToshTesh)
  • Dungeons and Dragons Online, Secret World Legends (DDOCentral)
  • Hearthstone (Rwfrk)
  • Guild Wars 2, WoW (Tacomagamefan)
  • Horizon: Zero Dawn (Badpanda)
  • Guild Wars 2, NieR Automata, Don’t Starve Together, and ABZÛ (SGMSoultamer)
  • Divinity Original Sin 2, Guild Wars 2, FFXIV, Mass Effect Andromeda (Dolvic_)
  • Lotro, Diablo III, The Witcher expansions, Grim Dawn, WoW, Pokémon Go, Van Helsing, Guardians of Ember (RatStewCruz)
  • Zelda Breath of the Wild (Scuzzman)
  • X-Com 2, Nier Automata, Pony Island, Outlast, Transistor (MMOBro)
  • Overcooked (Teviko604)

Please stop telling me to enjoy my kids while they’re young (a plea)

“Enjoy them now while they’re young — it goes by so fast!”

As the father of four kids — ages 2-8, inside the “cute zone” — this is a phrase that is said to me nearly every day, especially if I have one of my kids in tow. It’s almost always said in a kind, well-meaning tone from a person who is looking to connect with my fatherhood in some way and pass down some advice from the perspective, perhaps, of an older parent who wonders how time went by so fast for them and missing having those little kids at home.

I hear it a lot. A lot. And it’s probably in my top five most-disliked comments. I won’t say “hate,” because I understand it comes from a good place, but… I am not a fan of that statement. I wish people could understand why, but I’m not going to get upset at them in turn. Instead, I usually take the vantage point of a youth pastor who has worked with kids across a large age range and respond, “You know, there’s something great and something terrible at every age, isn’t there? Always something to appreciate no matter how old they get.” It’s a perspective-type answer.

But here is why I — and I assume many parents of younger kids — really, really ha… dislike this phrase.

First of all, WE KNOW. I mean, don’t you think we know this? Kids grow and develop at an astronomical rate in the first few years of their life. They go from being a large pooping potato that can’t hold up their own heads to intelligent, personable small people who have figured out how to manipulate with winsome smiles and strategic temper tantrums. And all this within a year or two.

We know it goes by fast. We see it every day. If we don’t remember, then Facebook is right there with “Here’s a picture of you and your tyke from four years ago to make you feel bad that time has progressed.” Thanks, Facebook.

Second, it sounds kind of condescending. Well-meaning, I know, but that’s how it sounds — like we are missing something as parents and could be doing something better. I was only appreciating my kids at 90%, I could go another 10% to get maximum memories!

Finally, it seriously — and I want everyone to hear this — stresses parents out. Every parent I’ve talked to about this phrase feels utterly stressed out by it. We love our kids immensely and yet when they’re young, they consume us. They consume our time, our energy, our worry, our efforts. And now we have to be concerned 24/7 that they only have a little time to be young and cute and cuddly before they apparently turn into hideous grouchy ogres who hate us. Or something.

What can I do with this statement, this advice that I’m given? I already hug my kids, play with them, talk with them, pray with them, do fun things with them, give them individual attention, take pictures and videos of them, encourage them, provide experiences for them. But I need my life too, as a person and as a husband. My kids aren’t my idols and they aren’t the centerpiece of my life. I can’t give everything I am to them and not fail as a husband and as a person. I trust that I’m teaching them what I need to, that I’m giving them the love that they need, and that I’m there for them so that they know it. We have our funny jokes, our silly traditions, and our routines. We spend every Friday night doing a sleepover together in the living room, every Saturday morning making pancakes, every Sunday morning going to church, every Wednesday enjoying a family game night.

I enjoy my kids. I cherish them. A part of me inside weeps when I think about how I used to get all three on one leg when I was sitting or how they used to doddle around like drunken aliens. I realize time has gone by and it rips me, but I can’t do anything about it. I can’t hear this advice and somehow stop time. I can’t enjoy my kids any more and not cause issues elsewhere in my life. So as well intentioned as it is to say this, it’s utterly useless to me.

What I can do is to be the best parent I can be today. To hug them when they first come downstairs, to see them off to school, to chase my two year old as a giant monster, to ask them how their day was, to read with them, to ask them about their interests, to take them shopping with me, to show them how to do all sorts of little things, to build them up and discipline when needed, to provide for them and be the adult they need, and to spout all of the corny dad jokes that I’ve been stocking up for decades.

My goal isn’t to see my kids stay little and cuddly forever. My goal is to see them grow up to be compassionate, intelligent, loving, sacrificing, wise men and women who love the Lord and will be wonderful parents of their own some day. I will enjoy seeing that as much, if not more, than I enjoy being the tickle monster today. I just have to be OK with the change that comes with parenting and be content and thankful for the great things that their age, whatever it is, is providing right now.