Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Reading: MMO Leveling

If you are looking for some Sunday reading I would highly recommend checking out Klelith's analysis of the MMO leveling conundrum. 

It dives deep into the problem that occurs when friends out-level each other.  Klelith does a great job of explaining the different models currently in place in the MMO world.  If you've ever wondered about solutions to this problem make sure to check out the post.

Impulse Buys

The app store for the ipod touch (and iphone I suppose) is so quick and easy to use that sometimes I have trouble not buying games.

Today I saw that Final Fantasy and Final Fantasy II released for the ipod with updated graphics.  I ended up buying them without really seeing the price.  I remember they were under $10 each, but I honestly couldn't tell you the actual price that I paid.  I did the same thing with Plants vs Zombies the other day.  I think that one was more reasonably priced but I still don't remember the specific price point.

The ipod isn't the only place where I've seen fast buying of digital goods.  Amazon has one-click buying on almost every page of their site.  Steam constantly updates me on sales, specials, and current releases.  Kindle makes buying books online a breeze.  As more content goes digital I think we will continue to see more one-click buying.

I think the selection and fast downloads are great for consumers, but I may need to learn to curb my own impulses a bit.  But, then again I do have 3 awesome new ipod games...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fallback Games

As Klelith over at Lost in Neurons points out, some games stand the test of time.  I like to call these my fallback games.  They are the games I turn to when I beat a new game and have nothing else to play.  Or when I need to break up the monotony of playing just one game.

These games change over time for everyone.  For me, my fallbacks used to be StarCraft, Warcraft 3, and Counter-Strike.  They are still fun games to visit occasionally but they have all become dated.

My current fallback games are Team Fortress 2 and Modern Warfare 2.  They are such solid skill based games that I cannot recommend them enough.  If you haven't played these two games you are doing yourself a disservice.

I'm extremely excited for StarCraft 2.  Starcraft has always been like a futuristic complex game of chess... in video game form.  I'm pretty sure that once SC2 releases it will join TF2 and MW2 in my list of fallback games.

What are your fallback games and why?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Achievements are awesome.  Last night I beat Mass Effect 2 and today I'm starting over not only for a new story experience but also for the achievements I missed.  I looked through the achievements and I'm only missing 5 of them.  It makes me want to get them all.

I love achievements.  For me, anything that makes a game's appeal last longer is a good thing.  Something that makes you play a game in a new way helps extend the life of the game.  Achievements can also push you out of the boundaries in which you were playing the game, or teach you new techniques that you would otherwise miss.

Achievements are here to stay and I like it that way.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Types of Storytelling

There are many ways in which games try to tell a story.  Most MMOs use text and quest logs to tell their story.  I think this is a disservice to players.  MMOs are almost all MMORPGs but many have had the RPG elements taken out.  Without the concentration on storytelling there is simply the leveling game left over.  Text is becoming antiquated in video games as the medium grows up.

 We should move beyond this

A step up from using text is the use of cutscenes.  Older RPGs would use text for most of the story and then reward players with the occasional cutscene.  Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and IX are all good examples of this trend.  MMOs are finally adding cutscenes, but they aren't widely used.  They usually show up at the very beginning to introduce the world and your character's place in it.  With Wrath of the Lich King Blizzard also injected a cutscene half way through Northrend.

Moving up to a higher level of storytelling leads to full voice work.  This requires an immense amount of work that isn't needed when doing text only.  Final Fantasy X was one of the first games to attempt this, although some text was still used.  Mass Effect 2 is the quintessential modern day example of a great game using full voice work.

Full voice work isn't the last increase in storytelling that can be done, it is simply where the industry is at the moment.  Beyond this is actually getting a performance out of digital actors.  Mass Effect 2 tries to do this sometimes, but more often than not the characters stand still while talking to one another.  Compare that to a movie where each scene is blocked out so that the actors move around and interact with one another constantly.

That is the next step in video game storytelling, giving animation to more than just a character's face and lips.  We need full body movement and interaction.  Keep your eyes on Heavy Rain and LA Noire to see how they attempt to incorporate it.  Hopefully they push the medium forward.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I Miss Story in My MMOs

I'm having a strong tendency lately to lean toward single player RPGs.  MMOs simply don't tell a story as well as single player games which have been created around a story.  MMOs feel like the leveling system is central and the story is tacked on.  Single player RPGs feel like the story is center and the leveling system is tacked on.

The secondary aspect (whatever has been tacked on) isn't necessarily bad.  But, it is secondary and I can definitely tell while playing the different types of games.

It makes sense from a business standpoint for MMO devs to concentrate on the leveling, since this is what will determine how long it takes before a player reaches endgame.  Unfortunately for them, I am sick of the grind without any reason.  Reading text and hitting the accept quest button is no longer enough for me.  I am burned out on it.

Compare that to Mass Effect 2.  I am absolutely in love with this game at the moment.  I haven't had as much time to play it as I want, but whenever I have gaming time I pick up ME2.  The story is superb and the leveling grind is almost entirely streamlined (accept for scanning).  I can't wait to beat it and start a new game to play Renegade instead of Paragon.  The story is that engrossing.  I want to see what changes when I play the game in a new way.  When I start a second playthrough I will also change the sex and class of the main character, which will affect the story as well.  None of that happens in an MMO.

I really really hope that Bioware can break this trend when The Old Republic comes out.  If anyone can inject story back into the MMO genre it will be them.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

PSA: StarCraft 2 Beta is Live

The StarCraft 2 Beta is finally out.  It seems that there is no NDA, so information can actually be found about the game.  Check out some live streams of SC2 being played or read the impressions from Joystiq.

Hopefully more beta keys will become available soon.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Server Structure

The other week Syp asked if there were any ideas from MMOs that people would like to see attempted again, even if the MMO they are currently in isn't that great.

Although yesterday I gave reasons why I have had trouble playing EVE Online there is one thing that I absolutely loved about it.  The server structure.  EVE is one world.  If you are playing EVE you are in the same world as everyone else playing EVE.  This has huge ramifications because it means all 300,000 people who play EVE end up interacting with one another indirectly.

Compare this to a game like WoW where you have a separate world on each server and no way to interact between worlds.  To transfer to another server actually costs $25 every time you want to do it.  I have friends who have been playing WoW since it came out who I have never actually played with because they happen to be on a different server.  World of Warcraft is actually Worlds of Warcraft.

The other server structure that is becoming popular lately is having everything instanced.  Cryptic has done this with Champions Online and Star Trek Online.  It ends up making the world fragmented, although it does allow you to quickly change to whichever server your friends are on.  Since the same people are almost never on the same servers it is hard to build a sense of community and continuity with the people you meet.

I wish more games would use EVE's server structure and let us actually have Massive Multiplayer Online Games.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Eve Online.... or What Do I Do Now?

Before I say anything else I want to preface this by saying I may be the problem instead of EVE Online.  What I expect from my gaming may be different from what Eve is trying to provide.

Having said that, I want to know what to do in Eve Online.  I have tried on 3 separate occasions to really get into this game, but by the end up the first month I am only logging in to queue up skills.  Since I am no longer actually playing the game I end up canceling my subscription.

I remember how much fun I had the very first time I played the game.  I did all of the tutorial missions and the epic storyline that took me all around the galaxy.  I was having a ton of fun.  After I finished the epic questline I was dumped into space and basically Eve said, "Go" without any further instruction.

At this point many people say it's important to get into a good corp.  I did that each of the 3 times I played EVE, but it only increased my enjoyment a little bit.  Maybe I needed a better corp?

It always bugged me that I don't have direct control of my ship.  There are no buttons to control which way I fly.  Instead I feel like I'm playing a spreadsheet, which isn't all that fun.  Right clicking in space to go anywhere gets annoying.  There are a few buttons to rotate around an object, keep it at a certain distance, lock onto it, or other basic movements but they aren't mapped to the keyboard.  It lacks the feeling of direct control when using WASD to move an avatar.  Star Trek Online managed to use WASD plus QE to give direct control in space combat.  I wish EVE would implement something similar so that I didn't always feel so disconnected from my ship.

I will keep my eye on EVE for the future.  Maybe in one of their many updates they will introduce something that will allow me to get more than a month of enjoyment out of the game.  For now, I wait.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bioshock 2 Question

Is it just more of the same?  I loved Bioshock but everything I have seen about Bioshock 2 makes it seem like the exact same game with a new story.  It all looks so similar.

So, does anyone know if there have been improvements or new (and hopefully interesting) systems added to Bioshock 2.  I'm looking for a reason to play it, but most reviews I have seen say it is extremely similar to the first game.  If someone can give me a reason to pick it up I gladly will.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Releasing an Unfinished Game

I can't believe that companies still release games that feel so unfinished.  There is a lot of shovelware out there in the gaming world, but I'm seeing it happen more and more with MMOs.  Since an MMO inherently needs an internet connection, companies know that they can push out patches after launch to fix things up.

Some companies, like Cryptic, do a great job of patching on the fly.  The recent release of Star Trek Online has already had many patches to fix up the game and it hasn't even been out a month yet.  On top of that, they are already doing content patches to expand the game.  I will acknowledge their good work in this respect.  I wish their games were better tested before being sent out into the world, but at least they work like crazy right after launch to patch things up.

The other side of the coin is when a game is actually released unfinished.  These games don't need minor tweaks or quick fixes.  These games still need chunks of their main content to be created.  They feel like an alpha release.  It is simply unacceptable.

The most flagrant violator that I have recently encountered is Global Agenda.  Walking around the hub it is easy to see that about half of their planned shops are walled off.  One of the shops has a vendor with no items.  Global Agenda doesn't even have a friends list.  I didn't think I would ever see a MMO launch without a friends list.  It has been a foundation of MMO gaming since Everquest.

The game feels like it only has about 3 PVE missions per tier (which adds up to about 12 total missions).  It has no explanation or tutorial about what to do after you reach the hub.  It doesn't let you select which PVP game type you want to play.  It's inventory and upgrade system is never explained.  It's conquest mode is never explained either.  I started looking online and found out you have to be in a guild to control or fight over territory in conquest mode, but none of that is explained in-game.

Not only does the game feel like tons of content is missing, but PVP feels unbalanced.  PVP will always feel unbalanced to some in any game, but Global Agenda's feels way off.  With so many abilities and different skill trees for each class it will be a hard game to keep balanced no matter how long it is around.  For the moment, turrets and defensive play seems very overpowered compared to being on offense or trying to disable turrets.  It was also hard to tell how much of the imbalance was because of level differences.  There was no easy way (that I could find) to see the levels of people you are competing with.

So here you have a game that looks about half content complete which has been released as a finished game.  I'm glad I got it as a gift, because if I had paid 50 dollars for Global Agenda I would be seriously pissed off.

Developers, please finish your games before you release them.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why Should I Wait for Endgame?

After Tobold's post  and Seraphina's post this week I've been thinking about MMOs and their endgame content.  Namely, why do I have to grind through so many levels to get to the "real" content of an MMO?

This is the main reason I have trouble picking up any new MMO that comes out.  I don't mind learning a new game for the first 10 levels, but after that why do I need to grind through 40 more to actually play with the big boys?  This is extremely discouraging for me, especially when new MMOs often feel like re-skinned or old MMOs with a new gimmick thrown in.

Why should I invest a huge amount of time in your new game to hit the level cap when I already have a max level druid waiting for me in WoW?  I haven't played WoW for over nine months now, but at the drop of a hat I can be back online and on my max level character.

Please make a game where I learn the system for the first ten levels (which hopefully don't take more than 6-8 hours) and then have access to all of the rest of the content.  You will draw my attention.  After playing many MMOs over the years and reaching the level cap in more than one I just can't take the grind anymore.

The last 5 MMOs that I have tried were great while I was learning the new system.  The second I started to feel I was just grinding levels and quests to reach some arbitrary level cap I unsubscribed.  Every single one of these subscription cancellations happened before my first month of free play time was up.  That is 5 MMOs that could have potentially hooked me if their endgame wasn't such a timesink to reach.

I already feel the grind coming on with STO.  I want to get my second tier ship.  That is my personal goal at the moment.  Once I have that ship I will play around with it for a day or two.  At that point I will most likely cancel my subscription.  Chances are very high that I will.  If I had access to an even playing field of PVP and high end raid content after level 15 or so, I would stay and play for awhile.

I can no longer stand to grind in MMOs.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Quick Multi-Player Gaming

This is something I feel that MMOs are lacking.  It is very difficult to log into and MMO for 10-20 minutes and feel like you have actually accomplished something.  The way most MMO progression systems are laid out you have to spend longer then that to acquire another level or a new piece of gear.

I think other games, especially first person shooters, have a leg up in this field.  It is easy to play a complete round of Team Fortress 2 or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 in 15 minutes.  It helps that you don't necessarily have to make progress in a FPS.  Generally, people play them simply to play them.  Although MW2 has changed this somewhat with the introduction of achievements that give experience, it is still pretty easy to get a few kills closer to your goal in a 15 minute sitting.

I hope we see more short session options in MMOs in the future.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Japanese Game Industry

An article caught my eye on Joystiq the other day.  Basically one of the creative leads from Final Fantasy XIII said that FFXIII will resurrect the Japanese gaming industry.

Can you believe that someone actually has the audacity to say that their game that will single-handedly save their entire industry?  The Japanese gaming industry needs some serious work.

I just looked at my gaming shelf and realized that there are almost no Japanese developed games there.  The only two I see are Devil May Cry 4 and Resident Evil 5.  Neither of which are original IPs at this point, being in their fourth and fifth incarnations.  Honestly, RE5 wasn't even worth the cost of the game.  I ended up with it because my brother and I were looking for a way to fill an empty weekend.

Western developers seem to be the norm these days.  Of course, this is coming from someone who lives in the United States.  Maybe things look differently if you live in Japan.  Maybe they are still making games that appeal to the Japanese crowd.  But, from an American standpoint I haven't seen anything revolutionary come out of Japan in quite a long time.

When did Japanese developers fall into second place?  In the same interview they list the Call of Duty series as one of their major influences.  To me that says that the Japanese are drawing from western influences.  But according to the games on my shelf, they aren't holding up to the popularity of western games.

Despite all of this I still have high hopes for FFXIII.  Final Fantasy has a great pedigree without many missteps.  I just wish that Square-Enix could come out with a new game that is as good as Final Fantasy.  Everything they release feels iterative at this point.

I hope that the Japanese gaming industry turns around and if FFXIII helps, then that's great.  But for now I will continue to show my support of games with my wallet.  Most of that money isn't going very far from home.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Power of IP

Star Trek Online is one of the newest MMOs on the block.  There is a ton of coverage in the blogosphere and there are so many people playing it at the moment.  When bombarded from multiple fronts it is a hard game to ignore.

But, how great would this game be if it had to stand on its own without the power of the IP behind it?  Would it still hold up as a decent MMO or are people overlooking flaws because they get to finally be in the Star Trek universe?  I think much of the current appeal is seeing your own character in a star fleet uniform.  Hearing the sound of a phaser (which has been burned into the fanboy mind) in battle is hard to resist.

At this point it is impossible to divorce the game from the IP, but it is still interesting to think about how many people would have bought STO if it didn't have the power of the Star Trek license behind it.

STO isn't the only game this applies to either.  Just look ahead to next year's launch of The Old Republic.  Star Wars has as big of a cult following as Star Trek.  Star Wars may even be more popular at the moment because Episodes I-III were released in the last few years, but Star Trek hasn't been as visible as a franchise lately.

Who can blame developers for trying to get their hands on giant IPs?  It makes perfect business sense to attempt to increase your player base on day one.  Every person who pays 50 dollars for the box helps fund the game months down the road, when the developers are trying to retain players.  The company needs enough revenue to continue to improve and polish the game so that they can compete with older MMOs.

So many games fizzle after just a few months because they don't have enough revenue and support to continue improving their gameplay.  There is so much potential that is never given time to be fully realized.

Hopefully the large install base will help STO in the coming months.  Currently the game needs some work, but with enough devoted players STO could be a heavy hitter for years to come.


So many games have vast potential when they are announced.  It's hard to criticize fans when they get worked up over games that are on the horizon, because the grass always seems greener when dealing with a game that hasn't actually been played yet.  As a video game fan you hope that the next game will be bigger, better, improved, new, fresh, and innovative.

But, How many times have you seen developer interviews that announce features which never pan out?  Peter Molyneux comes to mind.  Feature interviews that occur years before the game is released contain so many great ideas.  Time after time these great ideas never make it to launch day.

Then again, you can't gripe on developers for talking about what they hope to bring to their game.  They want to innovate and bring the gaming world something new too.  Unfortunately, more often than not they end up re-creating what has already been done.

As a gamer I can only play the same game re-skinned and re-packaged so many times before I become bored.  I want innovation, or at the very least I want top of the line production values.  Those are the two ways to grab my attention these days.  If you want gamers to play your game you had better do one of these two... otherwise we are going to reject your game faster then you would believe.

First Post

First Post, the most awesome post I have ever placed upon this blog.  Mostly this post is here to take up some room while I format the page.  How exciting it must be, to be this very first post.  Oh the joy, the wonder, the excitement.