Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I've Got a Huge Pipe

Ahhhhh...the joy of new inspiration. Nothing makes a PC gamer's poky bits go all atwitter like a giant pipe and new hardware...and this week I find myself in the possession of both. The new pipe (encrusted with giant purple veins, much like The Swollen Glans, my favorite COH toon ever)...

...is courtesy of Comcast Blast!, and it sings 25Mbps sweet nothings into my ear.

The hardware is courtesy of me. And NewEgg. And Fry's. And Central Computer. Maybe a little Best Buy in desperation. And I can't forget Steve at SFF Store. Oh, and even MotherboardPro (though the Mobo they sent me was defective, they were super awesome). It's an upgrade to a small form factor delight that I built over a year ago using the Silverstone SG01e case. Now it's got all the goodies (Core2Duo E8600, Asus P5E-VM HDMI mobo, Diamond Radeon HD 4870 X2, 4G of Geil RAM, Zalman CNPS 8000 CPU cooler, Western Digital Velociraptor 300G 10K RPM HD, and some other stuff). I'd post pictures of all the components, the build process, and the final package, but that would be gratuitous, no? I don't want to come off as a braggart.

So here I am with the biggest pipe available to the common man (SHUT THE FUCK UP FiOS and U-verse CUSTOMERS) and the most bleeding edge tiny PC I've ever built...but what to do with them?

Inspired by the University of Texas at Austin's MMO history preservation project, I decided that the only logical thing to do was download and install every MMO I've ever put a significant amount of time into. Simultaneously. Except for AutoAssualt, which has the dubious distinction of "fastest MMO plug ever pulled".

And they're all organized nicely on my toolbar, by publisher no less...the full list, in somewhat chronological order:
-Star Wars Galaxies
-Everquest II
-Saga of Ryzom
-EVE Online
-Guild Wars
-City of Heroes/City of Villians
-World of Warcraft
-Dungeons and Dragons Online
-Lord of the Rings Online
-Pirates of the Burning Sea
-Age of Conan
-Warhammer Online

Holy crap. The next question I'm going to have to ask myself once all this shit is downloaded is...what the fuck am I going to do with it? In case you're actually a developer and wondering how this post will help you...I don't know. But do the math on that list for me please. We'll just call it $50x14 (some games were cheaper, but some have expansions). That's $700. Now subscription fees. I'm not going to even speculate on that, because I have a bad habit of forgetting to cancel (YOU LOVE ME FOR IT), but it's a lot. I'm your target. What will my memory of these games be, sometimes years since the last time I played? Isn't that what you develop for...to make an impact on my brain (and my wallet)?

What is their legacy? Stay tuned...

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I Believe The Word I'm Looking For Is WAAAGH!

With the release of Warhammer: Online only a month away, the MMO blogosphere has given itself almost entirely over to that topic. Can WAR dethrone WoW? Will you play Order or Destruction? Just how deeply cut were you cut by the decision to omit key classes and racial capitals at release? With their stock price tanking, game drowning in bugs, and now, a real next-gen competitor arriving, how long will it take Funcom to commit mass-suicide, Jonestown-style? WAAAAGH!

Myself, I'll undoubtedly try WAR. Chief among the reasons is that most of my clan intends to play. I've not seen us all together since SWG, and even then we weren't on the same side. The O.G. Bria group finally meeting up in one game, one guild is too tempting to pass up.

Second reason is that writers need subjects. As a major MMO release, WAR is one. Evidence thus far suggests that this will be a quality title from people who know what they're doing, and I want to see what the hullabaloo is all about.

Plus, it should be interesting to see how my Pentium D and 7800GTX fare. You know, for Science. By interesting, I probably mean pathetic. I'm betting it will be a bit like throwing a housecat into a den of lions, and seeing if he can hang with the pride.

I intend to play at 400x300 resolution, and to keep my rig inside a small refrigerator. I'll also be dialing in the textures to ascii emulation. Hopefully it'll look as good as Ultima III, and I think I should be able to get about 10fps in empty buildings at 3am.

I can live with low-end settings if it means playing with the crew and experiencing the world though. Sure, it'll sting, but I can't build a box for this game.

Still, when I think about what it will be like to play WAR, a shiver of excitement does not run up and down my spine. I don't even come close to walking into a telephone pole, or to babbling excitedly on forums or blogs. Why is this? Simply put, I'm elfed out.

It's the genres, stupid

Here we go again with another cartoony, massively-multiplayer fantasy world. Sure, it looks to be perfectly realized. Not only that, the Warhammer universe is incontrovertibly one of the beloved, Grand Old IPs. It must be cathartic for Games Workshop to finally see this done.

Regardless, the virtual worlds that we play in have fallen into the habit of looking pretty much the same. The progression of MMOs seems akin to the evolution of a species. Progress is glacially slow, and can appear nonexistent unless you glance away for a generation or two. Only then do you notice that short, clublike tails are being phased out in favor of longer appendages, as the species spends more time in the trees.

The back pages of the evolutionary chart are littered with failed projects that branched to nowhere. Auto Assault? Eaten by wolves. Pirates of the Burning Sea? Unexpected meteor shower. Over in Cajamarca, Eve: Online is prospering. In another thousand years, they'll be discovered by Pizarro and his merry tribe. Hopefully they will fare better than the Incas did. I've fatally mixed that metaphor by combining species evolution and the progress of societies, but you get my drift.

Point is, companies make what sells, because MMO development requires a king's ransom. Innovation is not first on their list of priorities; profit is. This is obviously also true for the game industry as a whole, although I'm hardly the first person to write that. Perhaps the 90th.

Tobold, over at the excellent Tobold's MMORPG Blog, has a piece entitled: Follow The Money. Essentially, he argues that the above is true. For our purposes, we might consider the prevalence of sequels and the homogenization of MMO genres as parallels:

There has been a lot of criticism towards the game industry, accusing them of being unoriginal. Sequels, sequels, everywhere. Diablo 3, Starcraft 2, GTA 4, Halo 3, The Sims 3, Far Cry 2, Fallout 3, not to mention the annual versions of various sports games. Why can't game companies be more original? Because game companies are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing, making the games that players want, and the players don't want original games.
So profit is king, and this means that one wants to use proven ideas that have suceeded in the past. Two genres get preferential treatment: fantasy (currently defined as cartoony fantasy), and science fiction. And it appears to really, really help if your title is an IP license.

Since WAR is both a fantasy game and a licensee, it was inevitable. So was Conan, which had the additional appeal of being gritty and somewhat adult-oriented (a previously untapped market). Too bad it sucks.

Science fiction games also hold significant market power, although it pales in comparison to fantasy. The last major sci-fi MMO not to fail utterly was SWG, and it had the advantage of membership in the most commercially sucessful franchise of all time. I exclude Eve from the discussion because it is a niche game. I don't believe that it is considered as a model by major developers. At least that's how it looks from over here.

What about other genres? Forget it. Never with commercial success in the mainstream, and rarely elsewhere. Note that I am not suggesting the failure of these titles is due solely to genre. Shortcomings in design or playability have a lot to do with that. But perhaps the margin for error is slimmer.

Non Sci-Fi & Fantasy MMOs By The Numbers

I was curious about this, so I took a look at MMORPG's impressively exhaustive Gamelist. It contains 223 (I think!) titles, and appears to cover the whole gamut: everything from past games to those that are still in development.

Of the 223 titles in the Gamelist, just 63 are non-fantasy. And of that 63, 39 are sci-fi. This leaves 24 MMOs that are not either sci-fi or fantasy: just about 10%. Ouch.

When I filtered for non sci-fi or fantasy games that are in either development or beta, I came up with four titles. Four. Champions Online, DC Universe, The Agency, and something called Football Superstars. How many sci-fi or fantasy titles share that status? Seventy-five. I'm not certain if I consider Hello Kitty Online a fantasy game, so perhaps we should go ahead and amend that number to seventy-four. Just to be conservative.

What's my ultimate point? I look at the MMO genre as a whole, because the bloody thing fascinates me. I wait for innovation, and am usually rewarded with imitation. If I'm lucky, it will be imitation done well. But the whole thing reminds me of Microsoft versus Apple in the 80s. Take someone else's stuff, and repackage it for commercial gain.

It doesn't have to be this way. Raph Koster has a metaphor that works better than anything I used above:
If I say to you, “do you want chocolate ice cream?” you probably say yes. If I say to you “do you want more chocolate ice cream, this time with sprinkles on top?” you probably still say yes.

If I say “by the way, there’s also this mango sorbetto,” you may or may not try it. But you aren’t going to ask for mango sorbetto without prior knowledge of its existence.

Players know what they want from what they know. And they don’t know what they want from the unknown. For all I know there’s a fantastic dessert eaten only in the Philippines that would rapidly become my favorite dessert ever.
Let us hope that somebody is brave, because I know I would eat what Raph is cooking there.

Til then, see you in New Eden and WAR.

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Monday, August 4, 2008

An Antithesis: The Joy of Griefing

This is a somewhat pro-griefer argument. I thought I'd do an article acting as the antithesis to one of Krib's Five, for the lulz. ;-P

Regardless of whether you love 'em or hate 'em, I submit that griefers are a necessity to our gaming experience. Why? Things would be pretty dull without em.

Griefing has a love-hate relationship with the gamer. It is funny to some, and horrid to others. It's also relative, as most gamers probably have a personal criteria for what griefing is. Some see corpse camping as the consequence of not being careful, while others think such activities are a crime against humanity.

That being said, I would argue that the social dynamic between the griefer and the afflicted party are part of what makes things interesting and fun for an MMO in the big picture. In the short term, most of us think of griefing as an inconvenience, but in my opinion, it's all a part of the journey.

What if there were no griefers in our MMOs? I think many people would get bored because of the lack of player tension. I should specify that tension and conflict are the important undertones that griefers can provide.

When I look back to my SWG days on Bria, the Imperials were seen as the big bad wolf: the griefer faction of SWG. Guilds like LFD and FoE made their reputations on being assholes. FoE had their city take-over antics, and LFD bested most Rebel PVP groups in battles, and just by plainly not playing nice.

Hell, I remember there was a huge uproar and debate over 'video game rape' because two imperials and a coerced bantha were 'raping' a corpse in a cloner.

However, the Rebel faction would eventually bend their e-morals by doing meanie things like destroying turrets through exploiting turret range, by destroying a city, or by engaging in good old-fashioned corpse camping themselves.

In retrospect, it all added up into engaging drama. And it contributed to the creation of a strong and entertaining player community. Not to mention: some of it was really fucking funny.

Now, you might be thinking that I gotta be a griefer if I'm defending such a terrible class of gamer. Well, I guess you could say I am.

I've never really been a full-time griefer, but I've engaged in griefing now and again. Why? Because it's funny. It's funny especially if you get a response like this from people.

This goes back to a point Krib makes, which is essentially: don't feed the trolls. If you give them responses like the gem above, then griefing will always exist. And there's something to be said about those people too: the kind who take in-game drama, items, or actions too seriously, and who forget it's just a video game.

I grief because I take joy in poking fun at people who take gaming far too seriously. It's all a joke! Everything anybody ever valued or struggled for...it's all a monstrous, demented gag! So why can't you see the funny side? (Brownie points for those who know the reference.)

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Saturday, August 2, 2008

Leet Hacker Griefer-Trolls Are Coming To Get Me

We're a gamer feedback blog. That's all we are. When we cross into other territory, one could rightfully be concerned that the water will get a bit deep for us. However, I don't believe I could sleep at night without mentioning, at least once, the New York Times Magazine piece about Internet trolls.

Feast your eyes on this fine young man:

As a seasoned denizen of the Internet, is that not the face of your darkest nightmares? How can stereotypes be this accurate? I couldn't come up with a more spot-on troll poster child if I were to draw one from scratch. The guy is practically a forum avatar.

That being said, reading this article was a bit like watching a wizened, grandfatherly Oxford lecturer hold forth on the finer points of oral sex. Incongruous doesn't even begin to cover it. I never thought I'd live to see the words 'quasi-thermodynamic' and 'lulz' used in the same sentence:

Another troll explained the lulz as a quasi-thermodynamic exchange between the sensitive and the cruel: “You look for someone who is full of it, a real blowhard. Then you exploit their insecurities to get an insane amount of drama, laughs and lulz."
I understand that the Times has a specific audience, for whom they need to translate the wild, wacky world of the Internet. But we gamers don't need pedantic explanations. We know these sorts of people well; we call them griefers. Difference is, instead of creating blogs to mock teenage suicides, they're using a 20-level advantage to repeatedly one-shot us in Stranglethorn Vale. Or perhaps they're training thirty mobs into our earnest group of roleplaying D&Ders.

Jaded as I am, I felt as if I were reading an expose on lettuce, or perhaps an article on molecular biology that began: "These proteins, or... 'life goo'"...

Five Things: Griefers

I am intimately familiar with griefers. Matter of fact, they are one of my Five Things. Unless you're a griefer, they're likely to be one of yours as well. Anyone who has played many MMOs has experience with getting camped, ganked, curb-stomped, one-shotted, asshatted, podded. For no reason other than the fact that it ruined your playtime. And there are many flavors. Text spamming, group wiping, ninja looting and hate telling are just a few others.

Why do people just plain behave badly in multiplayer games?

Because they can. In real life, this sort of behavior gets you dragged into the street and beaten with a tire iron.

Why do they need to, though?

Probably because they're psychologically damaged, fifteen, or both. Any other answer is a rationalization.

If you are filled with rage, have low self esteem, are paralyzed from the waist down, are disenfranchised at work, are afflicted in a myriad of other ways, chances are you desperately require an outlet for your frustrations. Are you also a gamer? It's pretty likely that the above will significantly contribute to your playstyle.

Of course, you might also be so young that you're not socialized yet. Perhaps hormones are rampaging through your body. Perhaps you have no idea what the consequences of your actions are. Or you know, but don't care, because nobody has ever made you sorry before.

We were talking this week on our forums about a fellow we remember from SWG. He became well-known on the server after he joined a guild just to grab the legendary one-hander from their guildhall and /guildquit. I wonder if he knew what a big deal that would turn out to be.

Whatever the motivation, the effect is the same to the other player. Great aggravation, and possibly stomach ulcers. Multiplayer games (and the Internet as a whole) are a broad canvas for anyone who takes joy in getting negative attention, or in making other people unhappy.

As a player, you cannot allow yourself to give them the satisfaction. Ignore hate tells. Get backup for campers, or wait until they get bored. Never get upset. They win if you do. Choose to end the interaction instead. That was hard for me to learn.

There are game mechanics that prevent griefing. A bevvy of them, in fact. What is WoW's lack of cross-faction chat but one of those? No hate tells, no trash talk. Actually, I like being able to talk to the other side. I'd gladly take the hate tells if it meant being able to say 'good fight.' (I should admit here that I find hate tells to be utterly hilarious, so my opinion is somewhat biased). Blizzard, obviously, does not agree.

PvP safe zones, NPC guards, making lowbies unattackable by veterans... I could list the ways that game developers discourage griefing all day. It isn't instructive to do this, because no matter how creative they are, players (and griefers) will always be more creative.

Age-Limited Servers

It's my personal view that most griefers are young kids. Surely not all, but many. I would pay $30 a month to game on an age-limited server. Enforcement would be difficult, but I'm betting you could cut down on the numbers. Require a credit card in the name of the player. Use an age verification service. Alternatively, you could just design a game so difficult for young minds to grasp that the problem solves itself.

Am I being too harsh here? No. It's my playtime, and I don't have to interact with fifth graders if I don't want to. I'm curmudgeonly, and this is one of my five things. I'm also with Zubon over at Kill Ten Rats:
I confess: I discriminate against pre-pubescent males. Something about the voice of the twelve-year-old boy coming from the Orc Reaver grates.
In the meantime, I'll continue flat-out booting you from group if you behave like an idiot. No warning, no explanation. I will also use my /ignore button frequently, and fervently hope not to get DDoSed by leet hacker griefer-trolls everywhere.

Sorry guys, I didn't mean any of this. I wrote it for the lulz.

We're still friends, right?

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