Thursday, October 20, 2011

Messing my brain in free to play

Human brain craves for novelty. It thrives on new things, learning new skills, seeing new things. This is why a new MMO is so interesting and this is also why there is a honeymoon after the launch before you can really say anything about the actual game.

But what comes of the brain which is succumbed to repetition and same mechanics for a prolonged period of time? Lazy and confined, like an animal in a zoo, which has been confined to a too small cage. If set free, it will continue the compulsive behavior without even understanding that the cage has been removed.

I've been going through MMOs which have turned from subscription based to free to play, and I can say that I'm pretty much full of the whole genre. I had confined my brain in WoW for too long to even recognize the lack of freedom the game is built with. The jump to EVE was obviously too big a paradigm change, because the freedom and solitude was too much to endure.

Now as I have grown both as gamer, MMO player and human being, I have viewed the games I have tried from quite a different perspective than earlier. Over the last few weeks I have meddled with Rift (ok, I have a sub in there), City of Heroes, Champions Online, Guild Wars and Fallen Earth, last of which came to me as a surprise that it had went F2P.

And boy are they different and strange learning experiences!

First of all, I have learned that I'm more into eye candy than I wanted to believe. City of Heroes, despite the upgrades to the starting story and all, is clunky and the graphics are appalling to me. It underlines the problem I have had with Lotro for example by having the character graphics at different depth or shade than the surrounding area. I would have expected that this 'graphic novel' style would have suited to a superhero game, but it just makes the character look like a sticky note on a report: an added feature. This is where WoW still excels the rest of the AAA games: the graphics are seamlessly in the same style and depth and belong together.

Champions was the next and change from CoH to Champions was like reinventing the superhero MMO! The graphics work like in a cartoon, the over exaggerated hues just bring out the graphic novel style stories and the starter zone flows like a cartoon: from one scene to another. But there is something lacking in the heart of the game, which comes apparent later on. Something I just cannot put my finger on, but it's not calling me to go any further.

Including GW, none of these have even tried to change the MMO in any particular way. Champions has been closest with some pretty nifty ways it handles the skill use and provides just enough choice in the character development to make the character feel own without overwhelming the player. A huge plus is also the fact that I have played Hero Games' pen and paper superhero game, so the basic concepts are very familiar to me... :D

Enter Fallen Earth.

I could rant, but the honeymoon has only begun. I can see some shortcomings in the system, but I regret that this game was not developed by a daring big studio. But then again, it would have never been this rough gem it is. The mere concept of shooter kind of MMO pushed me away when the game launched, where as it should have been the point to really go and try it. The basic "Aftermath"-type postapocalyptic MMO should have been one of the genres I should have tried right away (been a sucker for this genre since the first try of Gamma World way back when).

The game is in the right direction to be honest. Spinks just asked about how we are coping with the coming winter in MMOs and I responded that the MMOs have to evolve for the new spring to come. Fallen Earth has done that in a way I can see evolving the genre. It has a quest driven storyline in it. It has sandbox freedom which enables you to develop your character in a meaningful way even by crafting (guess who is progressing this way... ) and it has graphics which are not too clunky. And the economy, fully player driven, so almost everything above basic materials and guides have to be manufactured by someone.

What strikes me the most is the discussion and questions in the [Help] channel. It really shows how far we have gone from the adventure games of old where you really had to think and do and explore to even get along. These players wouldn't stand a chance playing any of the first four Ultima series' games! And still Fallen Earth is being gentle with players by showing resource nodes, merchants, enemies and all in the minimap and having the NPC telling you whatever you need to know to survive.

The best part of FE for me is the fact that I can pop in for a few minutes to start crafting, do some gathering or scavenging and log off, knowing that everything I just did progresses my character in a meaningful way. And while logging off in a town you can be sure that you have basic resources near by, you can get into the 'chores' right away.

Like I said, I'm still in the blissful honeymoon stage with the game, but my brain is really enjoying the novelty, the new thinking it has to come up with and the possibilities this game might hold in the future.

But today it's Three Dunces/Stooges again in WoW. I can live with that.

If not taking into account SWTOR and GW2, what game is satisfying your brain's craving for novelty?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fool me around, dear

Level cap killed my fun in WoW. Several times over, especially the most recent 'grind rep till you really drop dead and quit' Firelands stunt.

Like I've said time and again, I like levelling up. I like the stories, sometimes even the feeling of being the hero of the day. But when I hit the cap, I really feel that this was it: the stories are told, there is nothing more to go for - especially storywise.

Raiding is no story. Raiding is a passtime for those who play the MMO to win. It's the cornerstone of competitive edge in the genre. Forget the RPG part of MMO's alltogether, as that has been forgotten way back when.

I had a lengthy post written in my head about all this, but the frustration got the better of it. I had clever statements in the lines of comparing the new MMO character's growth - or evolution - to the full blown hero and how that doesn't come anywhere near the concept of Universal Hero which Joseph Conrad coined and George Lucas (among others) later utilized succesfully. There is no such evolution of character in MMO's because everyone is as much a hero as the next player character!

I had also clever reasoning why raiding per se is outdated and faulty design, as it came to be from game mechanics present in Everquest. You had this huge, next-to-unbeatable monster for which you needed really huge amounts of people to beat. The mechanics stated that no single character could have ever fallen those monsters. It was part of the game. Then came the instanced dungeons and raids and it was taken as a norm that the 'final' monsters reside in instanced 'dungeons' with their ever breeding minions.

And the game was over for the heroic evolution on the player character.

Why? Because everything started to evolve around the gear required by game design to fell the beast. No amount of character development was needed, only hitting the cap and gearing up.

Take the quest system to it and you can easily see the current state of levelling: the speediest method wins by far. In Rift, which I currently play most, you get the 'veteran reward potion' which grants you 100% more experience for 2 hours. Clever way to give the players the choice either to level up fast or to take the scenic route. In WoW the 1-60 content has been watered down so much that when you earlier had trouble with world elites of your own level, you can now take down one 2-3 levels higher without breaking a sweat. And you level up the questing zones so fast that you cannot even complete the quest chains in one area without the quests in that chain going grey. 

In short, the story of a young farmer's helper growing into a world saving hero is not there. It cannot be unless the structure of the games is either changed or... we just move back to the single player games.

Bring back the world bosses, which are not contained in the instanced containment fields. Different ways to gain recognition, prestige and power.

And please, please... stop calling 'reputation quests' content. I mean, if you can show me one heroic fiction story in which the hero must do simple, menial tasks time and again to gain favour or influence only to be able to purchase that one shiny piece of gear for his next challenge, then I may accept this. Otherwise it's really just the game developers deliberately wasting the players time because they just couldn't come up with any better.

Content should be something that entices you, lures you deeper into the story or game, makes you feel emotions and grants eventually the sense of accomplishment. The best quest chains do that time and again, even if you know them by heart already.

Senseless reputation grind doesn't. Except for the feeling of accomplishment, which is usually described as being a relief.

How many times you have to be fooled before you see the vanity of it all and say that it's enough?

(Discussion in my Google+ )