I miss anticipating big MMOs


While I would argue vigorously against those who would say that MMOs are dead or dying, I won’t deny that the industry is in a different place right now than it was even three years ago.

I mean, it really wasn’t that long ago that we had some big budget power-hitters heading our way — games like WildStar, SWTOR, GW2, ESO, and the like. There have always been smaller games in the works, but those big, full-featured, mostly traditional (if with a twist) MMOs had our attention.

And now that they’ve come out, there’s been little changing of the guard. There simply aren’t many major traditional MMOs coming. Instead, the industry’s shifted to the crowdfunded titles, the sandbox MMOs, and the quasi-MMOs (like Star Citizen). It’s not bad in the least that these games are being made — I for one am celebrating that we seem to be past the era of the WoW clone and are seeing developers free to make the games they want to instead of trying to ape a very specific formula.

I think there’s a lot of excitement to be found in the promise of games like Crowfall, Shroud of the Avatar, and Camelot Unchained. I’m bowled over that extremely small development teams are able to pull off ridiculously full-featured indie titles like Ascent and Project Gorgon. And it’s not as if the existing crop of MMOs are all going to suddenly stop coming out with updates, expansions, and events.

But still… it would be cool if tomorrow there were two or three really big projects announced. I don’t know where from — only Cryptic and Daybreak have unannounced projects that I know about. There’s EverQuest Next, but saying that you’re looking forward to that game is like claiming a deep belief in the chocolatey power of the Easter Bunny. I deeply hope that game is being made and will be released but… yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Any of you miss the big upcoming games, the big hype, the big press, and the big anticipation? What would you love to wake up and find out is being made? For me, I wouldn’t mind a Fallout Online, although that’ll probably never happen.

Living in an internet-free household

No_WifiIt was not the best weekend in the Syp household. After taking the kids to a bounce house place on Saturday morning, I came home, did some chores, and settled in for a little gaming. At 3:00 p.m. our internet went out, the third time in the past month (fourth if you factor in a power outage last weekend). And it didn’t come back up, even after troubleshooting over the phone and endlessly resetting the modem. The best they could do was to send someone out Monday afternoon, they said.

Well that just put a damper on the past two days.

I know, I know, first world problems and all that, but when the internet goes out, it really changes up your schedule and creates some significant headaches. I had some games I needed to play for columns, I had pieces to write, and I really wanted to attend the pre-F2P launch party that was going on on my WildStar server on Sunday night.

Today I feel frazzled because of this outage, knocked out of my established routine. I had to wait until going to work to write this, and I’m trying to plan my day around a five-hour window that the internet guy is supposed to show up. There’s a podcast to do later, not to mention a three-gig WildStar patch to download.

That’s not to say that I was sitting in a corner, rocking myself while keening out loud because I felt completely lost without my precious internet. I always have things to do and that need to be done, and I’ll never begrudge spending a little more time with my family. We all unwrapped a DVD we’d been saving, Plans: Fire & Rescue, and my kids absolutely loved it. After everyone went to bed, I chewed through a novel and then caught up on my sleep.

I’m all for taking breaks from the constant online connectivity, I just would rather do it as part of a plan than my crappy modem deciding to take a sabbatical in the middle of a weekend.

On the plus side, I did get some time in with Devilian’s alpha and should be back up for WildStar’s Reloaded patch tomorrow, so I’m not going to spend any more time whining about it. So I’m sorry there isn’t any exciting gaming tale to share today!

6 MMOs I wish I had time to be playing

Right now I’m in a pretty good MMO gaming groove, focused down on two games for the most part: WildStar and SWTOR. Each gets about an hour of playtime a day from me, with a smattering of Marvel Heroes here and there.

And that’s perfect for me right now. I want to focus on those titles with the upcoming major content updates, not to mention that I’m genuinely enjoying both. Trimming down to two MMOs is definitely less stressful as well, which is something I want to keep in mind for when baby #4 arrives here around November. No sense overloading!

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t think about playing other games, sometimes wistfully so. You can’t read all of the blogs I do and write about MMO news without peering over the fence at other games. So here are six titles that I have no time to play — but I still think about now and then.

The Secret World: Now that Tokyo’s over, I feel the urgency to progress through TSW at a standstill. Sure, I could continue with my lowbie playthrough series (and I might at some point), but right now I’m OK taking a break to return whenever a new zone or missions arise. No, Funcom, a new dungeon isn’t enough to get me to come back.

Trove: Weirdly enough, I feel deeply regretful that I’m not playing Trove. I see that community having a rip-roaring good time and know that in a world where I had another 10 hours to my day, I could be dropping a third of that time into this game happily.

RIFT: Speaking of Trion, RIFT will always be an “MMO home” that I’ll at least know I’m welcome to come back to at any time. Lots to love about that game, and after doing a dev tour yesterday, I wish that I still had the fire to be playing it. I’ve made a promise to myself that if I ever do come back, it will be on a character that will only do instant adventures and dungeons.

Project Gorgon: This one will take some explanation. I didn’t suddenly lose my newfound interest in this game. On the contrary, I really, really want to be playing it, but I don’t want to get too deep and then have to start over (either from a wipe, some major changes, or — in my case — the addition of a new race that I’d want to play). I will come back, it will happen, it’s just a matter of time and development progress.

World of Warcraft: Sometimes it hits me, how long I’ve been away from this game. It’s for the best, I know — I was burned out and I wanted to see the wider world of MMOs. And I’m glad, not just professionally but personally. But every now and then I’ll hear some WoW music that will drudge up memories or have a small freak-out that I’ve missed out on some five years of the game’s life and want to go back. Never say never!

Star Trek Online: Those space battles were something else, weren’t they? And I loved how I never felt insanely far behind the power/gear curve. I haven’t even seen the Delta Rising expansion, it’s been a while.

Thoughts on Telltale Games’ Walking Dead Season 2


While the full game has been out for over a year, I only finished up Season 2 of Telltale’s Walking Dead last night (mostly because I’ve been doing it in short spurts while exercise biking). I wanted to wait until I was all done before writing down some thoughts on the season, so here goes.

Season Two transfers the role of the protagonist from Lee (who died at the end of Season One) to Clementine, now a bit older but still very much a kid. This was a risky move that didn’t quite pay off as the designers intended. While I applaud having the player take on the role of a smaller, weaker person in the midst of a zombie-ridden apocalypse, ultimately it is frustrating (she can’t do everything that the adults can) and contrived (why are the adults listening to her this much?). Plus, Clem’s personality isn’t as fleshed out and interesting as Lee’s was.

Likewise, the second season didn’t quite pay off as the writers probably hoped. While Season One was a gripping tale with moments of off-kilter beats and questionable developments, Season Two is a wildly inconsistent ride with a few genuinely poignant moments.

I think what aggravates me the most in the Walking Dead series as a whole is that the characters themselves can’t seem to stop being high-drama idiots who keep fighting and undercutting each other and perpetuating all sorts of horrors on each other now that civilization has collapsed. I won’t deny that a zombie apocalypse would be stressful, but this season couldn’t stop making everyone either a yelling maniac with poor decision skills or dead.

This is especially weird considering that a big theme of both games is the necessity of the group for survival in this new landscape. I guess if you had people get along all of the time and find a good spot to hunker down and live well, that wouldn’t make for an interesting story. However, the opposite is also off-putting. Clementine spends most of the game being buffeted around by different groups (and reforming groups), none of which provide stability or security. She’d have been much better off just footing it into the wild by herself.

I also agree with reviewers who note that the high point of the season — the arrival and showdown at Carver’s hardware store fortress — comes way too soon, leaving the remainder of the game to meander and introduce pointless conflict after pointless conflict.

The story is doubly important here because that’s all the game has. There’s even less puzzle-solving than the already anemic Season One, so mostly it’s just prodding the screen to progress, participating in the occasional quick-time event, and making choices (dialogue and action).

Fortunately, the story did keep me interested for the most part. Carver was a strong threat and the game did well at making you loathe him completely. The return of Kenny was at first joyful and then increasingly regretful, as the man is even more unhinged than he was following the deaths of his wife and son in the previous season. There are a few great new characters here, particularly Luke and Jane, each of whom bring another slice of story into the end of the world as we knew it.

Telltale did make more of an effort to present choices that had meaningful consequences, but the story could only branch so much, and still many decisions — such as efforts to save characters — played out the same no matter what you did. The illusion versus the reality of choice is very much in effect here. If you can buy into the feeling of having agency in these games, then immersion slips over you. But if you get jolted out of it — as I was in the final episode — then it’s just another game of you vs. developer, where the developer always wins no matter how much you try to control your destiny.

I hear they’re making a third season, which I’d love to see. Hopefully Jane would be the protagonist, or a much older Clementine. So now I’ll be turning to Telltale’s Borderlands game, which I’ve heard good things about.

6 of my MMO gaming pet peeves


Pam over at Cannot Be Tamed has a video list up of her five gaming pet peeves, which got me thinking of my own little frustrations with MMOs these days. Instead of making a general list, I am drawing one specific peeve from each game that I’ve played in the past year.

(1) WildStar: The user interface breaks constantly

I get that WildStar is a very mod-friendly game, but as I don’t use mods, I would expect the default UI to be pretty stable. No can do, friends. At least once per session, I get an error popup that says that some element or another of the UI has broken — nameplates, costumes, what have you — requiring me to reload the UI. It’s small, it’s fixable, but it DRIVES ME CRAZY. I have never, ever seen this in any MMO. Why does it break like this? Why can’t Carbine create a stable default UI? This is so, so stupid I can’t even.

(2) Guild Wars 2: No mounts

Yeah, I know some people have quaffed the ArenaNet kool-aid on this principle, but honestly — it’s dumb. Waypoints or no, you need mounts, Guild Wars 2. You show them in cutscenes, you have a couple of cosmetic mounts, you have a world with freaking airships, but horses? Ground transportation? The wheel? These are so unknown and scary to Tyria as to be subject of mockery.

(3) Star Wars: The Old Republic: Bad hand gestures

The “necessity” to automate a lot of the dialogue interactions with NPCs resulted in characters performing the same hand gestures that don’t always fit in with what they’re saying. It makes me miss how The Secret World would hand-craft every mission cutscene. Why are you making little circles with your hands while talking about intergalactic politics? Stop it. Put your hands in your pockets.

(4) Final Fantasy XIV: The map

The map in this game is an abomination of Satan.

(5) The Secret World: The chat and emote system

I’ve talked of this before, but TSW makes using emotes and switching chat channels take one keystroke more than most MMOs. It’s awkward and weird and I’ve always felt like I was struggling with the chat window in this game.

(6) RIFT: Generic races

I’ve had a long-standing pet peeve with the racial choices in this game, which can really be boiled down to: human, more human, big human, elf #1, elf #2, and dwarf. The generic, lackluster racial choices stand in stark contrast to the sheer array of choice that goes on with class builds, and that’s always felt like a missed opportunity to me.

6 MMO zones too depressing to play


Not every MMO zone can be a winner. It’s got to be terrifically tough for designers to attempt to come up with yet another variation on a fantasy landscape with a twist, and I can’t completely blame them for sometimes dipping into the well of stock biomes (then again, Trove has candyland, so it’s not like we have to depend on that well).

I’m deeply affected by my environment, both in real life and in games. A downer zone will make it a trudge to progress through, sucking my interest from the game faster than I can click the button to log out. With that in mind, here are six MMO zones that I feel are too depressing to play.

(1) Old Desolace (World of Warcraft)

I know Desolace got a makeover in Cataclysm, which might have been the smartest thing that expansion did, because boy did I hate this place back in the old days. It was a grey, barren landscape with a heavy sky, the occasional boneyard, and not much else. There’s a good reason that it earned the nickname “Depressolace.”

(2) Angmar (LOTRO)

I know it was important to establish Angmar as an “evil” place, but the devs did such a good job doing that that they created a land where oppressiveness permeated every second of play. The sky was ugly, the trees twisted and stripped of foliage, the cities ugly slabs of stone, and the soundtrack kept pumping out a whine that grated.

(3) Galeras (WildStar)

At first glance, Galeras might not seem as bad as these other places; it’s got some good patches of greenery and trees. But out of all of the zones I’ve played in WildStar, it’s by far the one that I resent the most. It’s ugly with its color scheme, its war-torn lands, that canyon strip in the middle, and it just goes on and on and on forever.

(4) Ziost (SWTOR)

The newest planet in SWTOR, Ziost is certainly a powerful setpiece that shows the tremendous power and lunacy of the emperor. But after a certain even occurs that transforms the planet, Ziost becomes a trudge through blowing ash that quickly loses all appeal. I couldn’t even stomach doing one set of dailies there, particularly after the lush forest of Yavin-4.

(5) The City of the Sun God (TSW)

There’s a lot of sun in this “city,” but it’s the wrong kind of sun — harsh, evil, looming. Call me weird, but I’d rather the gloomy forests of Transylvania to this place, which is by far my least favorite in The Secret World. Maybe it’s the lack of any sort of human outpost or settlement, maybe it’s the annoying navigation of the map, but I think more than anything it’s just a dead place that doesn’t want to be disturbed.

(6) Faultline (City of Heroes)

An earthquake-ravaged area is actually an inspired idea, but the execution of it in Faultline was anything but enjoyable to explore and fight in. It was especially annoying if you didn’t have flight or teleportation, because some of the gaps and crevices were too huge for super-jump and super-running. More than that, I found the blocky buildings that you couldn’t explore tilting at all angles off-putting and not worth fighting over.

The six stages of returning to a retired MMO character

One always gets into trouble on holidays. I shouldn’t have been left alone with a computer during Labor Day, because idle hands tend to resurrect long-mothballed characters. In this case, it was going back to my SWTOR Smuggler who has been in storage for many, many months.

Of course, going back to a character you used to play is quite a bit different than starting up a new one, and there is a period of readjustment that must take place. So what are the six stages of coming back to a formerly retired toon?

(1) Feeling completely, utterly lost (and yet sensing the familiar)

There’s nothing quite like that feeling of logging onto a character you used to know intimately — and feeling hopelessly lost. What are these skills? What questline was I on? Why am I dirt broke?

Seeing those filled hotbars can trigger a moment of panic — it’s like jumping into the deep end of a pool instead of easing yourself into the shallows. Those skill icons are mocking me like a test I didn’t study for.

(2) Taking stock of inventory

The next thing I did was to look at my (mostly empty) inventory to see what I had going for me. In this case, not much. I did have a few hundred commendations, a handful of pieces of adaptive gear, and a whopping 1,000 credits to my name. Seriously, why is this character so broke? Did I go on a spending spree? Mail all of it to an alt?

(3) Reacquaint myself with my skill rotation

I have to trust old me that he knew what he was doing by setting up the hotbar as such, so while it’s tempting to strip everything off and respec, instead I take the time to read through the talent tree and the tooltips. It starts to come back to me, and I know that after a few fights, finger muscle memory will kick in.

(4) Come up with new goals

Since it’s been a while that I’ve played this character, she doesn’t even have a costume equipped — just ugly quest reward armor. Finding a better look is one of my top priorities, although a chest piece that doesn’t clip through my Smuggler’s long red hair will be a challenge.

Earning more money is quite important. Being broke is a terrible feeling in an MMO.

Finally, I stripped my quest log of everything but my class quest. The last time I played this character, I was free-to-play and she was painstakingly going through Alderaan. Now I’m subbed and have the 12x thing going for me, so she can advance to the fast lane and just do the class story for a while.

(5) Get back to a guild

It’s a funny story. You might recall that when I first rolled up this Smuggler, I did so on a PvP server to be with my multi-game guild Remnants of Hope. I then got tired of being ganked and transferred over to Ebon Hawk. Well, in my absence, my guild also transferred to this server, so when I came back yesterday I was able to join back up with them. Of course, I don’t remember any of them and they don’t remember me, but it’s nice to have a home nevertheless.

(6) Get pumped about playing this character all over again

Returning to an old character has a similar effect of starting a new one — there’s a feeling of freshness and excitement. Yet it’s different in that I’m not starting from scratch but have a chance at getting this character to cap before the expansion.

Playing a few hours with her last night reminded me how much I liked the snarkiness of the Smuggler, hated Corso Riggs, and enjoyed an outing on the Republic side of things. Plus, I got to wrap up the Skavak storyline, which was a nice payoff that has been months in the making.