The family that games together…

One of our more frequent and recent family pastimes has involved getting out a video game console from 2001 — eight years before my eldest was born — hooking up multiple controllers, and racing or battling it out.

It’s become a once-or-twice a week event in our house that after all homework, dinner, chores, and bedtime preparation is done that we take out the Gamecube and load up one of three titles: Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart Double Dash, or LEGO Star Wars Trilogy. All benefit from multiplayer, allowing two to four people to jump in at the same time. If we have more players than controllers, we operate on the “winner keeps playing, loser gives it up” principle.

There’s a lot I love about these times beyond just doing something together as a family, and I think that a huge part of it is how social it becomes. We aren’t playing in separate, isolated ways, spread out throughout the house with tablets and the like. We’re just all bunched together, enjoying the same game, and our conversation keeps buzzing around it.

And since the kids are young, there isn’t a lot of smack talk involved. It’s actually pretty funny in a cute way how they keep encouraging each other or making up new goals. For example, in Mario Kart they are more concerned about finding each other on the track and staying together, so there’s a lot of backtracking and shouted commands, much to the consternation of the floating cloud guy with his U-turn sign.

Even those not currently playing have figured out ways to get in on the fun, mostly by becoming sports commentators who state the obvious. “HE JUST WENT INTO LAP THREE! HE NEEDS TO SPEED UP!” and “KIRBY JUST HIT JIGGLYPUFF! GET THE POKEBALL, DAD! GET IT! WHY DIDN’T YOU GET IT?”

Dad don’t need no pok√©ball to win, son. He’s got skills.

I don’t think I have any deep point to make with this post, perhaps other than to say that there’s still some life in those older consoles. The Gamecube seems amazingly suited to four-player fun, and I am glad I don’t have to keep hunting down batteries for wiimotes.

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Syp’s 10 most wanted MMOs

Miss the days of feeling torn between all of the hype of major upcoming MMORPGs? Me too, kind of, but that doesn’t mean that I’m left wanting in the anticipation department, either. To round out this week, I want to draft up a list of 10 upcoming MMOs that I’m honestly excited about.

1. Project Gorgon

I’ve been slavering over this one for a couple of years now, at least, waiting for it to at least get to a point where it looks more persistent and full-featured. Rumor was that Steam early access and an official launch was supposed to happen this year, but I’m not holding my breath. Still can’t wait to get back to it after a few really immersive sessions in alpha.

2. Sea of Thieves

MMO-lite though it may be, I can’t wait for next year to get here already so that I can play this pirate sim. It looks gorgeous and word from testing is that it’s fun beyond belief, and that’s the sort of thing I could go for. Little worried about finding groups and teaming with people who will have a relaxed rather than tense attitude, but we’ll deal with that when it comes.

3. RuneScape and Villagers and Heroes on iPad

Both of these games have announced an iOS version for later this year, and both are easy candidates for late-night MMO gaming. The fact that both of these games will benefit from years of development and expansion and that I haven’t extensively played either make them ripe for plucking. The only question is, which one?

4. Dual Universe

Design a ship, sail the cosmos, do all sorts of sandboxy things. Have no idea how this will end up, but it seems more relaxed than the whole Star Citizen scene, which is why I’m leaning toward it. Now if these devs could recruit that guy doing Ascent and combine efforts…

5. Worlds Adrift

I am taking a shine to this art style and the adventure/exploration angle. Plus, grappling hooks as you swing about floating islands!

6. Ashes of Creation

There are a few red flags from this project, but these folks are going big and I admire the enthusiasm and ambition. Plus, it really does look like a cool MMO, with housing and a shifting world and a variety of playstyles to boot.

7. Amazon’s New World

Haven’t really heard much about this game past its original announcement, but dang if I’m not deeply curious how Amazon’s going to be handling an MMO. Speaking of which, I’m even more curious what John Smedley’s Amazon studio is working on as well!

8. Wild West Online

I’m about half-excited, half-cautious about this project. A western-themed MMO is a great idea and one that we’ve been needing for a while now, but all of this seems to have just come upon us quickly and without much knowledge of the studio or its designers. Still, we’ll be seeing what they can do by the end of this year, and you can bet that I’ll be there on day one.

9. Shroud of the Avatar

Can they shore up this game before launch? Lot of mixed word-of-mouth on this one, but I will be back in it when it gets the official “go” from Lord British.

10. Lost Ark

Drop-dead gorgeous graphics married with a Diablo action-RPG and elevated to an MMO. Sure, I’ll take a swing at that!

Honorable mentions:

  • Legends of Aria: Glad they’re expanding into an actual MMORPG’s shoes, but I am always wary of PvP gankbox worlds
  • Star Citizen: We’ll see. We’ll see.
  • Chronicles of Elyria: Again, a LOT of red flags, but also a LOT of ambition. I’m going to reserve hype and judgment until/if it comes out.
  • Crowfall: PvP is really not my thing, but I might give this a shot just for its housing and art design.
  • Any of the superhero MMOs: None look to be the frontrunner of the indie superhero scene, so I guess we’ll just see which one emerges triumphant in the end. Would love another City of Heroes-type game to play, though.
  • Peria Chronicles: Haven’t heard anything for a while about this import, but those cel-shaded graphics are gorgeous and it seems to be taking a lot of cues from EverQuest Next’s world design.

This week in Blizzard PR-speak…

From an explanation of why Blizzard is nerfing a handful of basic Hearthstone cards in patch. Just wanted to point it out, because that sentence stopped me cold in my tracks, and I had to re-read it a few times in awe of the chutzpah on display here.

Yes, Blizzard. Yes. “Less fun.” Not, “we don’t actually want you USING all of those basic cards that you paid virtually nothing for, we want to nerf them into the ground so that you’ll feel compelled to buy all our latest cards!”

Less fun. Please. That’s about the most insulting sentence I’ve seen spewed by PR at players in a while.

What I’ve spent on MMORPGs this year

It being the end of August and all, I thought about doing a little inventory of what money I’ve actually spent on MMOs this year. I think I’m actually up over last year, because I know that I didn’t spend very much in online games at all. Most of my gaming purchases still are for new GOG or Steam titles that I want to play on the side, but very few of these are MMOs. So what have I been dropping my allowance on? Let’s tally it up.

World of Warcraft: $25

As far as I can recall, the only thing that I’ve spent money on in this game this year was a single race change, to transform my human Warlock into a gnome. I’ve been coasting on WoW tokens for my subscription, but now that the market has shot way, way up, I’ll probably have to spend real money after this month to play. If I do.

Elder Scrolls Online: $40

This would be for the Morrowind expansion, which I enjoyed all of about five days. As with all ESO purchases to date, I suffer from the buyer’s remorse.

Final Fantasy XIV: $9

This would be for a single month of subscription when I came back to see if I was on board with the whole new expansion train. I was not. I do appreciate how cheap the monthly sub is for this game versus other titles, however. I don’t feel as pressured that I HAVE to be playing because of it.

Guild Wars 2: $70

This is a rough estimate of some gem purchases plus picking up the Heart of Thorns expansion at a discount. I was having a lot of fun for a while there and didn’t regret what I purchased with the gems, although the expansion is still sitting around unused.

Lord of the Rings Online: $47

Mordor expansion ($40) plus one small bundle of currency so that I could get a milestone reduction skill for my new Hunter while I was low on points.

SWTOR: $10

This is a charitable guess. I’m reasonably sure I bought a pack of credits so that I could redo the look on one of my characters, but it was much earlier this year and I have a hard enough time remembering what happened last week.

Total: $201

That seems like a pretty large lump sum of money to me, although it was spread over nine months. As I said, this is more than I’d usually be spending, considering that $180 would cover a year’s subscription in WoW. I don’t regret the LOTRO purchases in particular, but the other ones were much more trivial than useful.

How much have you spent this year in MMOs and on what?

10 of the strangest planned features for Chronicles of Elyria

If you haven’t heard about Chronicles of Elyria, what you need to know is that this was an out-of-the-blue Kickstarter success a couple of years ago that made some ambitious claims (reinventing MMOs, etc.) and came away with $1.36M and a loyal cadre of followers. It’s being made by a fairly inexperienced team that’s hired on a few vets and has been keeping my eyebrows high from how much they want to do over the next two years. They’re not only building an MMO with apparently every feature under the sun, but they’re also constructing THREE other prologue experiences (a single-player game, a visual MUD, and a web game) to lead into it.

I’m not super-on board with this game. It’s PvP, it seems like there’s no way they can pull this off, and they’re doing some rather hinky things with letting people pay more money for status and to position themselves advantageously prior to launch. That said, I’ll try to keep an open mind if and when it comes out.

But what I wanted to do today was to look at Elyria’s recent state of the game post in which the team listed its *condensed* feature set and pick out some of the strangest, oddest, or most inexplicable to share with you.

1. Animal Reproduction

I like to imagine that there’s a guy at this studio who starts every meeting by slamming his hands down on the table and booming, “OK team, where are we on animal reproduction?” And then they talk about squirrels doing it for a half an hour.

2. Contract Clauses, Conjunctions, Remuneration, Rights, Responsibilities and Signatures

You have to have a four-year law degree to play Chronicles of Elyria.

3. Soulmates

D’AWWWWWWW. My only problem here is picking just one! I’m also wondering if this is connected to the feature labeled “Procreation Requirements.”

Chronicles of Elyria is deeply concerned about sex.

4. Squatting

Also, pooping.

5. Acid Rain

I’m all for various types of weather effects, but how do you pull this off without turning the rain green or making it melt your clothes and/or skin? I’m not saying that wouldn’t be awesome, but it would be fairly extreme.

6. Gossip

Can an MMORPG be a high school teenage girl?

7. Pet Survival

Your guess is as good as mine what this refers to, but either it’s a timer that says how long your faithful dog will last in your house while you’re off adventuring before starving to death, or it’s a new survival minigame in which you harvest resources and build a dog house to fight off cat invaders.

8. Revolution

The revolt will be gamified! At its highest level, it will allow players to depose developers and install one of their own.

9. Spouse and Child Locking

I’ve stared at this one for a good three minutes and I am at a loss. It doesn’t sound comfortable or caring, that’s for sure.¬†There’s also one for “child contracts” and that sounds downright illegal. Probably has to do with “orphanages” a little later on.

10. Puddles

I’ll take back all my sarcasm here if I can make a big splash in a puddle by running and jumping into the middle of one. Bonus points if I can soak passers-by.

MMOs have a “features hoarding” problem

Over the past few years, I’ve struggled with the question of why MMORPGs aren’t as easy to pick up and put down as other video games.

I know, I know, the answer seems obvious and lengthy and worthy of a #geekworldproblems hashtag, but stick with me. It probably also seems laughable coming from me, since I have this reputation of playing every MMO under the sun (which is not remotely true — it’s mostly appearances). But let me lay out what I’m feeling and see if I can’t drum up some sympathy.

So take your average video game — PC, console, mobile, what have you. One you’ve never played before. You have a few obstacles to really getting into it and enjoying it, namely price (if there is one), installation difficulties (if any), and an acclimation period in which you learn how the game functions and what it offers. Some games get you in and playing really quickly, some take a lot longer. But on the whole, there’s less mental stress and difficulty just grabbing some random title from Steam and giving it a whirl.

MMOs, to me, seem like there’s a lot of added barriers between you grabbing a game and getting into the fun. A lot of it has to do with the nature of the games — that they are much larger in terms of potential time investment, that they don’t “deliver the goods” right out of the gate, that they have the added complexity that comes in a multiplayer environment, and they come loaded with just about every feature under the planet.

In fact, MMOs seem to hoard features like the apocalypse is coming and they’ll never see a feature again. Bullet points out the wazoo. Simple concepts — armor, weapon, skills, stats — made infinitely more complex by intertwining them in systems that are dreamed up by a clever dev for this game alone. There is usually a level of commonality when you go into an MMO of control schemes and features that you recognize, but every game seems to revel in doing something really weird and different and unwieldy.

When you’re really into an MMO, its features hoarding isn’t that much of an issue. You’re used to it all; it’s all second nature. Adding another feature, why, it’s a delightful day. A present. It’s not going to overload you, because you’ve marinated in the game for a while and can see how it fits.

But take it from the perspective of a player who goes, “Hm, this looks interesting,” and then downloads an MMO to play. There is simply so much to absorb in those first few hours, while the player (me) has to mentally judge if this is a game worthy of continued play (because there is no game over and time investment is important), if the fun is coming quickly enough, if I’m playing it right, what all of these menu options do, where I should go, what I should be saving, what I should be selling, how do I find a guild, and so on. MMOs just aren’t casual fare. If you’re picking one to really get into, then you can acclimate and enjoy gradually. But if you’re flitting around, looking for a different experience one evening, then it can be mentally exhausting to get into a new (or one you haven’t played in a while) title.

Coming back? It can be even worse than a fresh start, as we’ve all mentioned many times before. You have to remember so, so much, and adapt to any changes and new features that the hoarding MMO has accumulated. The more time that passes between visits, the harder it is.

I’m often amazed that MOP’s MJ can play so many different MMOs, far more than I, during any given week. I try to figure out if YouTubers such as HiveLeader feel that mental drag from constantly picking up and putting down games. I just can’t log into an MMO and have a good time if I know that there’s little chance I’ll be sticking with it.

Thinking about all of this took me down a road where I mused over MMOs designed to be more pick-up-and-put-down casual. Your action-MMOs, like Marvel Heroes and Path of Exile. Trove, definitely. Probably anything Cryptic does. Wizard101. Maybe I should be playing more of those? There’s nothing wrong with any of them, although they’re not immune to feature creep.

I used to think of Guild Wars 2 as one of the most delightfully casual MMORPGs out there, a relaxing and not overbearing game. Just come and play and don’t worry too much about high-level stuff. But now it’s become this thing with difficult zones and jumping everywhere and raids and fractals and people freaking out about legendary weapons, and that pushes me away. I’m waiting to see if the expansion announcement will be a siren’s call of sorts to get me back, but right now I’m not feeling it.

Well, thanks for reading my wall of crazy anyway!

Playing tourist in World of Warcraft’s Dalaran

As I’ve been leveling up my Shaman through dungeons alone (at least for now), I’ve had a small chunk of free time between dungeon runs to keep myself amused. Some of that time’s been taken up with repairs and auctioning, but otherwise I’ve taken to exploring around. I asked a guildie to port me over to the Broken Isles Dalaran, as I much preferred that as a home base than Org. And while I was there, why not explore every crevasse and take many, many screenshots?

So here are a few of the pictures I’ve taken from around Dalaran that have amused me. For such a small town, there are so many nooks and crannies, and the attention to detail is pretty astounding.

For starters, the above room with the blue stained glass windows. I’d love to be reading books in a room like that.

The aquarium in the pet shop made me, once again, really wish for housing in this game. This sort of thing should be in my own living room. Also, is that a real Gnome scuba diving? I think it is!

While there’s the option to make one’s home at the factional inns, I liked the one right in the middle of the town instead. It had much more of a coffeeshop atmosphere, complete with chalkboard, espresso machine, and various characters lazing about.

This guy amused me, wearing 400 pounds of plate armor and sipping some coffee while eating snacks. You can change into something more comfortable if you’re just enjoying brunch, you know.

The toy shop really charms me. It’s got this childlike, old school feel to it, like something you’d see in the 1950s. Does Azeroth have a space program? Other than the space goats, that is.

The art gallery is probably my favorite locale. It doesn’t have a “purpose” per se, but I really dig these little bits of art, including some cubist Tauren thing. Again, why can’t I have a home of my own to hang stuff like this up in it? Reminds me so much of WildStar.

Some of the art looked at much more closely. It’s obvious that some designer had the presence of mind to pull together all of the little paintings that were created for various places in the game and hang them up in one room.

It’s worth slipping between buildings and exploring around the base of the wall. You find oddities like this weird little… shrine, I guess? It defies easy explanation. There’s this passed out critter here lying in a puddle of its own leavings (complete with flies), surrounded by alchemy stuff, a bong, a birthday cake, donuts, and a picture of some guy. Your guess is as good as mine.

A Goblin calendar in the barber shop. Weirdly, it’s the numbers and symbols here that fascinate me the most. Some look like actual numbers, some not. And what’s so important to have circled on that Sunday?

I liked the look of this undead guy in his apothecary with his beamused human assistant standing nearby. I’d like to read a book about their adventures and capers together, I think.