Videos: Quest design and F2P approaches

I’m catching up on watching Extra Credits and really liked the following two videos:

Quest Design II: This one continued the discussion of good quest design using both The Secret World and Lord of the Rings Online as positive examples.  It really summed up well why investigation quests are so brilliant and engrossing in TSW.

Doing free to play wrong: Two things I strongly agree with here.  1. Make a good game first and worry about monetizing it later.  2. Present options that make us happy to spend our money on them, not forced to do so or trying to get around paying for them.

On deck and happy about it

fishingAs with any major MMO launch, there’s a good portion of people out there playing Elder Scrolls Online and seeminly enjoying it.  And I’m happy for them, but I am not part of that crowd.  Even when you don’t have a grudge against a new game, the fact that you’re not playing it can make you feel a bit left out of the experience and conversation.  That’s what leads one to spending $60 on Final Fantasy XIV and playing it for two days.  Not that this comes from personal experience.

But it’s certainly not a terrible time to be a non-ESO MMO player.  I’m actually really excited about several big drops that are happening in the next few weeks.  It makes sense that all of this is happening now, since it’s spring and many MMOs have finally started to churn out the next major releases following the lull of the holidays and winter.

This week we’ll be getting a new mission pack in The Secret World and CAN YOU TELL THAT I AM THRILLED?  Because I am.  Thrilled.  Seriously, it’s been since last July since we’ve had any new missions in TSW (and I’m not counting the scenarios here).  Even though Funcom’s punting Tokyo until next month, as least we’ll be getting four new investigation missions to tide us over.  Man I’ve been so hungry for new content in this game.  I can’t think of another MMO where “new quests” is such a major selling point.

Then there’s the double header of Guild Wars 2′s April Feature Pack and LOTRO’s Update 13 coming out on April 14th and 15th.  I’m going to be in anguish that week trying to play one while wanting to also be in the other.  That’s a good problem to have.

Hearthstone might come out on tablet this month too and I think we’re on the verge of getting The Wolf Among Us episode 3.  My plate is incredibly full, and that’s not including Trove and Landmark which I need to be playing but, really, what time?

The right to bear arms in an MMO

photon0I’ll start with an aside thought: No MMOs nor the characters inside of them seem at all concerned that the entire player population is running around armed and freely shooting anything other than the townsfolk.  No weapons regulations, no hunting licenses, no sideways looks as one slams down a staff and summons hellspawn right across from the cheese shop.

Anyway, last night I was canoodling about in Guild Wars 2 (which, oddly enough, has become my haunt as of late as I wait for TSW’s Tokyo and LOTRO’s Update 13), trying to get myself to stick with one alt and failing miserably.  I like the idea of the Necromancer for her pets, but her weapons are so limited and lackluster and not that fun to use.  The Ranger is tons of fun, but I often lament that she  really needs the option to use a rifle in addition to bows/axes for ranged damage.  The Thief’s dual pistols are great fun to use, but I worry that it won’t be enough to carry my interest through the entire game.  It probably all circles back to the fact that the Engineer is such a perfect class for me that any alts will seem subpar in comparison.  Maybe I should just level  another Engie and how silly is that.

It made me think of how much I enjoy having a character that uses guns in games.  We don’t always get that, because most fantasy titles haven’t developed that technology despite creating architectural wonders and having potions that revive the dead.  But gunpowder and lead in a barrel?  Impossible!

The MMOs that have had them, I’m all over classes that use them.  My Hunter in WoW loved her rifle and refused to use a dirty bow, ever.  Even though the rifle wasn’t that great of a weapon in Warhammer, my Engineer stubbornly used it most of the time.  Star Trek Online had better guns than the show did, including those heavy assult machine gun things, and that actually made me like ground combat.  And with WildStar coming up, I have a decent selection of three gun/pistol/ray doohickey-using classes.  Man, I still haven’t decided on a class yet.  Trying to convince myself to do Medic as my first and leave the Engineer until later.

Why are guns in MMOs fun?  For me, it’s the combination of  getting your blows in before the enemy closes the gap, the strong visceral nature of the look and sounds, and the ease of combat that doesn’t require a lot of movement or the need to constantly stay in close range.  It accesses a part of me that’s existed from childhood, the part who is giddy to go running around saying “pew pew!” at the bad guys.  Something about using guns makes us feel cool, even if we’re dorks sprinting through laser tag with glowy lights on our chest.

Archery doesn’t have that same feel for me, even though it’s always been quite popular in RPGs and MMOs and among the Hunger Games devotees.  A whispy, quiet arrow can’t compare to the KA-POW! and smoke and flame of a rifle.  Plus, it’s harder to come up with a large variety of good-looking bows as it is to create awesome gun designs.

So give me my right to bear arms and get outta the way.  That boar is looking at me funny-like.

Thoughts on The Walking Dead Season Two: A House Divided

clemLet me tell you, there are few things that fill my heart with dread like the menu screen of these Walking Dead games.  They’re just so still and eerie, yet slightly animated and desolate.  Every time I come back to this game I have a bit of a hard time hitting the play button, even though the actual experience of going through Telltale’s adventure series isn’t that frightening.

Last night I wrapped up the second chapter in season two, A House Divided.  Clem’s new group starts out on the run away from a nasty guy named Carver, and it’s during this run that they bump into a new group that has an old surprise for our young protagonist.  For a minute it seems as though there might be happiness in store for everyone — a reunion, new friends, a safe place with electricity and food — but these games never let good things go for very long.

Knowing more about how these games (really, interactive graphic novels) work, I’m fretting less and less the choices and dialogue picks that I make, and just going with whatever pleases me and fits with what I think Clem would do.  Clem is more loyal to her old friend because the new group hasn’t given her much of a reason to trust (especially in light of throwing her in the shed in chapter one without medical attention).  Clem is blunt and honest.  And when everything goes down and the situation gets bad, Clem favors direct action and fighting even in the face of long odds.

Most of the big five choices take place in the last few minutes of this chapter, and even though my desire to lash out against this threat got the group hurt more in the end, I was OK with that.  It was the right thing to do.

What I love about these games and also SWTOR was the emphasis on choice, even if it was cosmetic 90% of the time.  If a game can get me to think about why my character is doing something and give me agency to control his or her path, then I naturally get more involved and invested.  The fact that the Walking Dead games will trundle on to the end no matter what decisions you make, overriding your free will with a sort of grim predestination, is food for thought and another article.  At least TWD covers it up well and delivers an authentic feeling of being in the midst of what’s going on and that I’m not just being swept along without a say in things.

I did get a bit frustrated at some of the artificial contrivances that this game would create so that people would end up in danger.  Walkers coming out of the woods?  Why, let’s just stand around shooting as they surround us instead of running for safety!  Dangerous bridge ahead with walkers?  Let’s split up!

Probably the most aggravating moment was when Clem goes to the top of a ski lift and sees pursuers in the valley below.  She then goes inside their lit safe house on top of a hill — that has a glowing Christmas tree, no less — and the game doesn’t let me scream to everyone to shut off the lights and barracade the doors.  Nope, we just talk and talk and then people get killed.

The comics, the TV show, and this game really make me wonder if people would be this terrible to each other during a zombie apocalypse.  In my experience, an external threat would have much more of a bonding effect on a group of people, because when you’re in danger of being eaten alive by ghouls, petty disagreements and daily issues tend to take a secondary seat.

As always, I do wish there were more points to explore freely and actually solve puzzles, but that doesn’t seem to be the goals of the creators.  At least it’s pretty gripping and got me through a couple of weeks of exercise as I slowly went through the chapter.


personalityWhile eating great quantities of popcorn, I’ve been observing the 2014 MMO season heating up and how gamers have been taking sides (because we must take a side, of course!) and gravitating to particular titles.

We have many reasons for being attracted to games, including the IPs, the feature set, the development studio, whether it has enough new ideas, where our friends are going, and so on.  Yet one reason that I haven’t heard talked about but think is equally influential is the game’s personality.

All games have a personality, and like any personality, it may or may not mesh with your own.  When two personalities click, it’s magic; when they grate, there’s this primal revulsion that flings two forces away from each other.  Your distaste for a game might not be anything concerning its feature set, but just that it has a game personality that you don’t want to spend two minutes in the room with.

Tetris’ personality was colorful, orderly, Russian, and manic.  Asteroids’ personality was bleak, minimalistic, and fluid.  Super Mario Bros.’ personality was childish, whimsical, and fidgety.  (Or at least how I see them.)

I see MMOs as having personalities above and beyond what we bring to the game, and these personalities are prominently on display during the build up to launch.  Developers (and marketers) have to specifically choose the image, tone, and message that the game is conveying, such as:

  • Is the game silly or serious?
  • Are the game’s visuals stylized or realistic?
  • Does the game break the fourth wall?
  • What worldview does the game hold?
  • Is the game family-friendly or adult-only raw?
  • Is the game inclusive or exclusive?
  • Is it introspective or extroverted?
  • Is the game grim or hopeful?
  • Does the game seek to create a challenging atmosphere or a welcoming one?
  • Does the game need the player to save it or is the player an intruding invader?
  • Are there deliberate connections between parts of the game and real-world analogs?
  • Which dominant emotions does this game project?
  • What does the game’s tagline say about its goals with the gamer?

Or, perhaps try this: Pick an MMO then look at this chart and select a few personality traits that best encapsulate that title:

personality3I bet you could even subject games to personality tests or spectrums, like the D&D alignment chart or Myers-Briggs or what have you.

So I can totally understand why an MMO might rub you the wrong way for reasons above and beyond how it handles.  I can see, for example, why WildStar’s personality is a huge attractor to some folks (like myself) but strongly repellant to others.  Or why the grimdark all-inclusive conspiracy setting of TSW can fluctuate between anathema and ecstacy among gamers.  Some games have a stronger — and more divisive — personality while others play it safer with a blander approach.

When a personality attracts or repulses us, it evokes a strong emotional reaction that could explain why we get so nuts about our games and sometimes can’t seem to have a rational discussion about them.  We feel it, in our gut, and can’t understand why others don’t have the same reaction.

I think it’s the personality peeking through.  It’s not a “right” or “wrong” issue, just something to be mindful of when we look at our own biases and try to understand why others view a game in a different way.

Good gaming day yesterday

gamingmouseJust a quick post to say that I really had a good gaming day yesterday!  We were homebound due to a snowstorm, so I was able to get my Ranger in Guild Wars 2 up to level 80 and then outfit her with a fresh set of exotic gear from the trading post (I spent around 15g and perhaps made 24g from selling mats).  The funny thing is, she hasn’t even finished clearing out the level 30 zones!

Then my new gaming mouse came in the mail to replace the old Naga that I fried with the awesome powers of static electricity.

There was the excitement of the WildStar pre-orders/launch date to coast off of, plus some extra time in LOTRO and Walking Dead Season Two.  All in all, good day.

Why I haven’t given dollar one to Kickstarter

kickstarterOnce in a while when I’m talking with fellow gamers, the subject of whatever recent trendy Kickstarter games and MMOs comes up, usually with a comparitive list of which games people have given what to.  Sometimes the “confessions” admit to staggering amounts — in the hundreds or even thousands to an idea of a game.  A hope of a game.  A promise of a game.

I find it a little amusing that in an age where we bristle at mobile games that dare to charge us more than 99 cents, we’re also seeing gamers dump multiple times the amount of money of a brand-new AAA game on these projects.  I’m sure there’s an essay about perceived value in there, but that’s not my goal today.

When we have these conversations, I have to admit that I’ve never bought into any of these campaigns.  The closest I’ve gotten was to pony up a few bucks for Starbound and Trove, but those both were heavy into development at the time and weren’t doing an official campaign of any sort.

So why haven’t I spent money on Kickstarter?  It’s not as though I find all of the prospects boring.  On the contrary, I am excited by many of them, including Wasteland 2, Shroud of the Avatar, Star Citizen, that Double Fine adventure game, the Veronica Mars movie, and so on.  There are some good ideas out there that I do want to see succeed.  But if they do, it’s not going to be on my dollar.

Being realistic, Kickstarter is an investment platform that is promising to deliver a product instead of a financial return on investment.  We collectively chip into the pot to get a game that we want and that might not get made through normal publisher/investment routes.  We stick it to the publishers and feel good about it.

But it still is an investment.  I stand to gain but also to lose.  An early lesson I learned was the Star Command campaign, which promised a really awesome FTL-like Star Trek parody but ended up delivering only on part of the game.  Seeing the fans crushed at having been promised one thing, spending money for it, and being given an inferior product was an object lesson that I didn’t want to go through personally.  We’re still watching how many of these MMO Kickstarters are shaping up, and I can tell you that there will be tears from those who won’t get the game that the devs talked up while passing around the hat.  I can only imagine the nerdrage from gamers who have personally funded development of a disappointing title.

I’m also somewhat of a frugal guy.  Yes, I do impulsive purchases here and there, but I don’t generally pay money for a promise of an idea that’s years off.  If it comes out and it looks good, then I’ll buy it.  I don’t really go for pre-orders much either, other than the occasional MMO collector’s edition.  If the community wants to fund a game that I can experience for a nominal cost when/if it comes out, then I stand to benefit without much risk on my behalf.

I don’t see the appeal of risking my money, anyway.  Other than getting a game made, the primary motivating factors are to get into the early testing (meh) or being showered with various digital rewards.  Most of those rewards operate under delayed deployment too, so it’s an investment twice over.

Really, there’s so much to play right now that could be taking my money that I’m not tempted by Kickstarter.  If a game’s going to fund, it’ll fund with or without my $20, I’m sure.

Parkour in RIFT

Mostly my gaming weekend was taken up with Guild Wars 2 and RIFT, just for a change of pace, and while I’ll talk more about GW2′s living story tomorrow, I wanted to at least mention what I’m doing in RIFT.

Because I know I have a weakness for alts and sometimes that weakness actually works against me in returning to a game (so many choices, can’t settle down, give in to despair, quit), I’ve decided that if I’m going to play RIFT, I’m going to see my highest-level character — my cleric — through to the end.  It’s been a long while since I abandoned her in the death zones of Storm Legion at level 56, but everything came back to me quite quickly.

Last night I had a great deal of fun doing two things in the game.  First, I created a new build that’s a healthy blend of Druid and Justicar.  It’s seriously one of the toughest and most flexible builds I’ve made for her, because survivability is dang high, plus she can pull out the greater faerie seer and blast single or multiple targets like crazy.  Plus there’s a pull so I don’t have to run up to an enemy to melee — the enemy now comes to me.  Felt like I was grappling them in, good times.

The other thing was that I spent a lot of time just randomly exploring.  The artifacts in RIFT are a great excuse to go off-roading, because you get rewarded more with finding them the more you go off the beaten path.  I turned up six or seven during my parkour adventures diving off buildings, running through thickets, and climbing peaks and overhangs.

I’m keeping it light and fancy-free in the game, but there’s hope that RIFT won’t disappear from my gaming diet, especially with 2.7′s new souls coming up.

Poll results: What y’all are playing

I just realized that I never did a follow-up post to the recent poll I put out regarding MMOs and MOBAs that you’ve been playing.  We had 468 votes (participants could vote for as many games as they liked).  So here’s the top ten, according to you:

  1. World of Warcraft (52 votes)
  2. Lord of the Rings Online (41 votes)
  3. [tie] Guild Wars 2 (39 votes)
  4. [tie] The Secret World (39 votes)
  5. The Elder Scrolls Online (36 votes)
  6. SWTOR (25 votes)
  7. RIFT (23 votes)
  8. Neverwinter (21 votes)
  9. [tie] Final Fantasy XIV (16 votes)
  10. [tie] WildStar (16 votes)

That’s a pretty solid top ten, no huge surprises.  The top 20 went on to include EVE, League of Legends, World of Tanks, Landmark, Star Trek Online, Marvel Heroes, TERA, Trove, DCUO, and Defiance/EverQuest II/MechWarrior Online/PlanetSide 2 (all of those tied for 20th).