Friday, May 30, 2008

MMO Musings

Saying that I have tried a lot of MMOs is like saying that the ex Governor of New York likes hookers -- in that it is true. At least one specific hooker anyway. I have been thinking about what drew me the most to the particular MMOs that I tried. Was it the universe the game was set in or the game mechanics that the MMO offered? Also, did I overlook some glaring faults in game mechanics because I was so enamored of the game universe?

My first MMO was Ultima Online. Back then there were grand ideas of what an MMO could be. There was talk of persistent worlds that the player would shape and create. There were grand discussions about good versus evil and PvP warfare. Ultimately (pun intended) I was drawn to that game because it was set in Britannia which was one of my favorite gaming settings up to that point. I had no expectations about game mechanics because the genre was just being invented. Fast forward a few years and the next MMO to catch my eye was Everquest. I had grown weary of the isometric graphics of UO and the game mechanics that allowed for PvP gankers and for other players to steal your hard earned items. Call me a care bear if you will, I don't much care. There was no lore associated with EQ that I could identify with. It was being invented out of whole cloth for the purposes of the game. I had no expectations of what the universe was going to be like. The game mechanics were much different than UO however, and I looked forward to the changes. I played both games for about three years each being pretty much equally addicted.

It was at that point that a new kid on the block called Dark Age of Camelot was being touted. The game had similar mechanics to EQ, but was set in Medieval England which is of particular interest to me. The game appeared to be the Holy Grail (pun intended again) of MMOs in my book. It had game mechanics that I had grown used to and was set in a game universe that was right up my alley. I played DAOC for four years or so mainly because I loved the universe so much and really only left it due to most of my friends moving on to other games (mostly World of Warcraft) and from being tired of the genre in general. Nothing changed about the game or the universe, but I had gotten about as much out of the game as I figured I could. I hesitantly moved to the WoW universe again more for the change of pace, and promised enhanced game mechanics. The WoW universe was something I could live with or without. I only lasted a couple of years in WoW, reaching the level cap and had some stints with City of Heroes. In the "tween" years I had flirtations with many and varied other MMOs.

What kept me coming back for more and trying all of the different MMOs was the initial promises that were made that the player was going to be living in an alternate world and effecting the shape of it. As it turns out that promise has never been kept. The genre has stilted and been distilled to an essence by Blizzard and now WoW is what most people think of when the MMO genre is mentioned. Looking back at my time in MMOs I realize that what most attracted me to the games was the game universe. The game mechanic never REALLY changes. Sure, publishers tout new and "unique" ideas, but it all boils down to the same thing in the end. It all became evident to me when I played Age of Conan. AoC was touted as being really different due to its unique combat system. The jury is out on that one, but from my limited experience it is like all of the other innovations promised in MMOs. It is a bit different at first, but in the end you are doing the same things you did in any other MMO. However, I am a huge fan of the Conan universe.

So to finish up what has turned out to be a long rambling post, I think what initially draws me the most to MMOs is the game universe they are set in and marginally the game mechanic. I have lasted the longest in MMOs where I was really into the game universe. I tried many others for the sake of a promised different gameplay mechanic. I suspect that is why my friend Rikathos played CoH for so long. The game was no different than any other MMO, but he is enamored with the superhero world. That isn't even a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with these games. I was gullible enough in the beginning to buy into the over selling of the genre and expected more than was realistic. These days I haunt MMOs whose worlds intrigue me and stay only as long as I am enjoying exploring them. I no longer try and level four or five characters to max level. It is all about experiencing the world to me. That is why I am continuing with LOTRO and why I will cave in and try AoC. In order to keep this from being like an abusive relationship, I meter my time and make sure that I don't burn myself out. If someone makes a Hockey MMO I may be doomed.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gamefly I CAN quit you.

I canceled my Gamefly membership because of low availability and long turn around times so I had to send the one game I had left back to them. I sent it back on Tuesday and I got an email today saying they received it. That is a record for them. It is at least five days quicker than they ever acknowledged receiving anything else I ever sent them. I am so glad I dumped them.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Penny Arcade Adventures

Episode one of the Penny Arcade Adventures entitled: On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness has finally been released and I got a chance to play a bit of it. For those of you who don't know, Penny Arcade is a web comic that has new comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The comic is mostly about gaming with a few other things thrown in on occasion. It was created by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik. Jerry does the writing and Mike does the art work. They are both very talented in what they do and have a razor sharp wit when discussing games and the gaming community. I guess one day they must have decided to put their money where their mouth's are, so-to-speak and make a game. I am sure the long title was Jerry's idea. I will refer to it as PAA:ORSPD from now on for brevity's sake.

The game itself is a mix of genres, but predominately an RPG/Adventure game. They say you should write about what you know. I guess the same holds true for making video games. Those two genres seem to be favorites of the two gentleman at Penny Arcade. PAA:ORSPD starts off in the town of New Arcadia in the 1920s. You are outside of your house when a giant Fruit Fucker comes by and demolishes it. The rest of the adventure is about you getting revenge and meeting up with Gabe and Tycho the alter egos of Mike and Jerry in Penny Arcade. If you are a fan of the comic and their humor you are in for a treat. The game has one of the funniest support characters I have ever seen. I won't spoil it for you.

I haven't finished PAA:ORSPD yet so I can't give a full review, but I will give you some of my impressions. First of all, the character creation is nice and you can make many different types of character looks. There are no stats to distribute or classes of any nature, but the look of your avatar can be wildly different from someone else's. Moving around the screen is done by pointing and clicking where you want to go and there is a nice map system to get around quickly. Combat is much like many console RPGs with the addition of some mini-games to use special moves. So far I have run into monsters like the aforementioned Fruit Fuckers, Mimes (they are really funny), and Hobos. The combat itself varies a bit depending upon which system you purchased the game on. The PC version is a bit more RTS-like and the Xbox 360 is akin to most console RPGs as you can imagine it would be.

PAA:ORSPD has a really great Penny Arcade vibe to it and is really funny. So far it's a nice break from the kinds of games I have been playing. I don't know how long it will take me to finish it (perhaps this one will be the first one I finish since I made The Pledge). I have heard it takes about six hours to complete. It's the first in an episodic series so if you like it, you can rest assured that there is more on the way. I initially purchased it for the PC, but having heard that the Xbox 360 version is more like a console RPG, I tried the demo out. I ended up buying it on the 360 too and I will play the series there. I wish I had known that there was a difference in play between the two. Oh well, I consider the twenty bucks spent a good way of supporting Mike and Jerry and a small amount of thanks for their great comic which I have read religiously (by lighting candles and everything) for a few years now. There are demos for both the PC version and for the Xbox 360. If you are a fan at all of the series, I suggest you check it out. A small bonus: the demo includes the support character I was talking about. Oh and one small tip... Don't forget the block button if you play it. You can save yourself a lot of frustration that way.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Pledge (Do you finish every game you buy?)

Just glancing over at my shelf that contains my console games I have over 50 games. Some of them are sports games so I can't really count them as the sort of game one would finish. However, I would consider completing at least one season in a sports game to "count" as a game being finished. So including the sports games I would say I have finished exactly one of them. That would be Oblivion for the Xbox 360. Looking over at my PC collection reveals another ratio of finished to owned games that is rather sad. I should say that I don't trade in games for the most part. I stopped doing that some time back. I imagine the ratio would be a great deal worse if I still had the games I traded in over the years.

Am I spoiled? Maybe. Games aren't like movies and books in the sense that one fully expects to complete them when they are purchased. I do expect to enjoy them and if I don't like a game, I don't hesitate to return it. This works for console games for the most part, but not PC games. Stores refuse to take back PC games for fear of piracy. I don't blame them, but it makes me be a bit more discerning when purchasing a PC game. That might be part of the problem the PC gaming industry is facing lately. At the very worst, if I don't like a console game, I can trade it in if I am not able to return it for some reason.

In the past there may have been good reasons for people to not have finished a game. For one, it may be that the game was just too difficult to finish. I am thinking about Ghouls and Ghosts or games of its type. It could also be that a player gets to a certain point in a game and realizes that they just don't like it anymore, that it has become repetitive or too difficult to put in the time to finish. I remember playing some Lucasarts adventure games that had some parts that I thought were just impossible to solve. It turned out that with concerted effort and perseverance I was able to complete them. I can't think of any movie or book that I purchased that was too difficult to finish. Some of them I didn't like so I stopped reading them. These days video games have gotten a good deal easier. Their are pros and cons to this phenomenon. Players for the most part no longer have to worry about screwing themselves over so badly that they can't finish the game and need to restart. However, there can sometimes be so much hand holding that it makes your choices irrelevant or uninteresting.

There is no good excuse to not finishing a game these days. They are designed to be finished. High scores as a measure of skill are gone and games have many levels of difficulty so that they can be played all the way through at various difficulty levels. I guess the bottom line is that I have no excuse for not finishing the majority of the games I own. I purchased them in the first place because they have something about them that I like. I have played them enough to know that I don't want to return them. With that in mind I have made a pledge to myself. Over the summer, I am going to dedicate my game playing time to finishing games. I want to raise the ratio of completed to owned games by a big margin. I'll report back with my progress and give some thoughts about whether playing all the way through these games was worth it.