This March is going to be a hectic time full of exams for me and therefore with fewer blog updates than usual. I can’t really control my blogging and social media intake (I’ve tried) – it’s either all or nothing and right now my evenings need to be filled with studying and last minute panic. This means the Battle Bards podcast will be keeping my seat warm in the meantime, with two brand new and special episodes for this month!
After a slightly longer break than usual due to holidays, the Battle Bards are back to old Tyria and the wonderfully familiar soundtrack of original Guild Wars. Having recorded a show on both the first game and Guild Wars 2 now, it was interesting to discuss how the music of Jeremy Soule has grown over time and as always, we are not quite decided which version we like best.
I am also declaring the winner of episode 21′s special speakpipe challenge in this new episode, so if you made an entry or are curious which MMO blogger won the pot, make sure to listen til the end of the podcast! Thanks to everyone who participated in this first (but far from last) Battle Bards challenge!
Dragons. Formidable beasts of fantasy and wonder. The stuff of nightmare in many a heroic story of folklore, mythology and children’s tales. Most beloved foe of the high fantasy genre be it in movies, books or video games. Where would our MMOs be without dragons? Who doesn’t love dragons?
From an early age I was fascinated with draco, also known as dragon, drake, sometimes wyvern or lindworm. I was a child of fairy tales and the big bad wolf aside, which mostly just scared me, dragons were the most fascinating and exotic creatures that would inspire my wild dreams like none other. I remember a particular story in my vast audio&textbook collection about a green dragon and a knight; the pictures of the ferocious beast gave me such nightmares that my mother glued a blank opaque paper over the pages so I could follow the story without seeing the dragon. Bless our early beginnings.
Remember with your heart. Go back, go back and go back. The skies of this world were always meant to have dragons. When they are not here, humans miss them. Some never think of them, of course. But some children, from the time they are small, they look up at the blue summer sky and watch for something that never comes. Because they know. Something that was supposed to be there faded and vanished. Something that we must bring back, you and I. (Robin Hobb, Golden Fool)
Later I discovered the dragons of D&D and in particular, the Dragonlance; that’s when I irrevocably fell for this genre, absorbed in pages full of colorful illustrations by Elmore, Parkinson and Easley. My first artbook was a Larry Elmore limited edition which me and my best friend ordered on that novelty called the internet. I remember sending Larry a short thank-you email for the exclusive sketch he had done in each of our books, adding this well-wish: “may there always be dragons soaring across your sky”. I imagine he can see them whenever he closes his eyes or how could he possibly illustrate them in such stunning detail?
…the Dragon is the Patron Saint of all storytellers and artists and his likeness has adorned canvases and stone and has been forged in every precious metal. (Guillermo del Toro)
The Dragonlance Chronicles also opened a new, more modern perspective on dragons for me: dragons that are more than mere alien beasts and forces of nature. Dragons that have a face, that are scheming and cunning creatures of magic (sometimes shapeshifters like Silvara whose name I’ve adopted). Dragons that can choose different allegiances – good or neutral as much as evil. I love when dragons get to be real characters in stories and not just the ultimate yet dumb antagonist for the glorious dragon slayer. When a dragon ends up being little more than a T-Rex, that’s what I like to call narrative mistreatment, a lost opportunity. As far as morphology goes, it is interesting to note that historically there’s a distinction between European and Asian dragon tradition, with European dragon imagery being the predominant representation still in our western culture (with legs, wings or the ability to breathe fire) as opposed to the more snake-like Asian dragon (also naga).
MMO Dragons through the Ages
With the amount of dragon imagery and tradition out there, it’s no surprise that fantasy MMORPGs too capitalize frequently on our fascination with the winged, fire-breathing reptiles. I’ll come forth and say that I never ever tire of dragon encounters in MMOs; give me Blackwing Lair, Onyxia and the Dragon Aspects any day of the week! My favorite boss encounter of all time will probably always be Lord Victor Nefarius aka Nefarian which in my humble opinion, was a way more fascinating figure than Deathwing.
WoW is a game that loves to flaunt its dragons and “dragonkin” as foes but also mounts or pets. GW2 features the most breathtaking dragons for me as far as sheer size and dramatic entries go, so while ANet failed to make Zhaitan and Co. a particularly interesting bunch, the Shatterer or Claw of Jormag encounters will always hold a special place in my heart. Who would not feel awe and terror facing this? -
Musing on dragon history and my favorite encounters in MMOs, lead me to a full-scale investigation of MMORPG dragons of the past, present and future. As far as popular mainstream titles go, there’s not a single game that didn’t feature draconic foes at some point or other – or is there? Anyway, let’s look at my quick and selective chronology of MMO dragons (you can find the full-size wallpaper of the image here):
While we’ve come such a long way graphically since the dragons of UO and Everquest, today’s MMO dragons have the same effect on players and still follow the same narrow design template. AION probably holds the trophy for the most beautiful and lavish dragon design. If I had to try and tackle the beast, put into words what still makes dragons so appealing to lovers of the genre, I’d call it a mixture – the fear of the unknown and supernatural as much as a fascination with the majesty, power and wisdom of a sentient being that shares traits with familiar animals. More than any other fantastic creature, dragons embody the virtues of a magical world beyond our wardrobe and maybe our longing thereof. Or as this article concludes beautifully, quoting a Tolkien essay:
Fairy-stories were plainly not primarily concerned with possibility, but with desirability. If they awakened desire, satisfying it while often whetting it unbearably, they succeeded… The dragon had the trade-mark of Faerie written plain upon him. In whatever world he had his being it was an Other-world. Fantasy, the making or glimpsing of Other-worlds, was the heart of the desire of Faërie. I desired dragons with a profound desire… the world that contained even the imagination of Fafnir was richer and more beautiful, at whatever cost of peril. [JRR Tolkien, On Fairy Stories]
That is the gift of dragon-sight; the purpose of the dragon quest. Dragons embody the beauty and the peril of an “other world” that is “richer and more beautiful” and full of strange and marvelous things.
I look forward to meeting more MMO dragons in the future. I’m not sure about Wildstar but it’s probably safe to say we’ll see more of them in Everquest Next, Elder Scrolls Online and certainly WoW. What are your favorite dragons in MMOs? And is there anyone who’s tired of all the dragons? I can’t imagine my virtual worlds without them.
Already in this early alpha stage, EQNL has managed to enthrall many of my fellow gamers and bloggers happily digging away at voxels, while others are still contemplating founder packs or quietly observing things from the sidelines. I’d be lying if I said Landmark didn’t look very appealing – I have loved similar games in the past and SOE seem to have improved on them a great deal where the overall handling, aesthetics and graphics are concerned. Yeah Sony, you had me at different brush sizes for building!
Yet, there is at least one fundamental question where Landmark’s future is concerned; it’s one I’ve been eyeing with mixed feelings from the beginning and so have others, including the wider gaming press -
This was Everquest Next Landmark in Admin (read: God) Mode—pure chaos slamming head-on into raw creativity. It’s the best online sandbox game you’ll probably never get to play, and that’s a shame, though Everquest Next Landmark is still amazing even without Admin Mode’s sheer madness.
[...]For all SOE’s talk of player-driven design and enormous sandboxes, the development team seems set on giving users a fairly specific type of experience. Here are these areas where you can build, and here are the places you can’t. Here are the resources you have to mine to progress through the different tiers of the game. Here are the trappings of a real MMO inside this incredible building tool. Now, the details of that experience are still up for debate, but the fundamentals—the “arcs” of a players experience—are set. [PC World]
Most of this is not possible in the version of EverQuest Next Landmark players can now obtain. You’ve got to physically mine resources, earn your tools, you can’t just levitate everywhere – nor can you build outside your own “claimed” area. There is, in other words, no analogue for Minecraft’s creative mode in EQNL. Also missing: the option to run a private server and spread your filth far and wide away from the public eye. To keep it from affecting other players’ experiences, in other words. EQNL merges that sort of handiwork-heavy experience with a multifarious MMO realm, and that means compromises. Full freedom simply isn’t an option for now. But what about later? [Rock, Paper, Shotgun]
The Landmark players are currently enjoying is no longer a god’s alpha. It’s the alpha of things to come – of Landmark the hybrid social building game, not MMORPG and yet not unrestricted sandbox. Of course it’s far too early to rule out more options for the future but in the light of SOE also developing Everquest Next, their real MMO, I hope they will seriously consider alternatives to a survival mode-only Landmark soon. When questioned about creative mode by PC World, the ever enthusiastic Dave Georgeson took a cautious stand, declaring the team was “looking into potentially allowing such a mode on private servers, though that would come in a far distant future—if ever. And only if players actually wanted it.”
Alas, as far as such private servers go, SOE statements become even more hesitant: John Smedley calls them an issue of integrity (see RPS article) because there be penises on private servers and you cannot have Sony associated with male genitalia. Likewise, creative director John Butler is worried about ESRB ratings which irritates me a little given that private servers are well, private? I don’t know about you but if people need to build phalluses so badly, it would be a good thing if they had their own server to do that?
The ambiguity of admin mode
Technical and marketing-related matters aside, the topic of admin mode in sandbox building games is very interesting due to potentially different impact down the line. This is not just an issue faced by sandbox games with a social / cooperative or pecuniary agenda by the way, but one that presented itself to me while being deeply involved in Minecraft on a private server. I see both a case for and against admin mode features for this reason and while I would still always advocate pro playstyle freedom in new games, I remain somewhat ambiguous.
But let’s look at the strong vote first. The best argument for admin mode is clearly this: some players just love to build but not gather. While gathering, maybe similar to leveling up new characters in MMOs, is fun to some players, there is an audience for every sandbox building game that are exclusively there to do one thing and one thing only: to build dazzling worlds and run rampant with their imagination.
If you ever visited a Minecraft theme server for Azeroth or Middle-Earth, you have been blown away by the overwhelming size and detail of these player creations. It takes months, no years depending on the number of players, to create a Middle-Earth setting simulation in MC. It is also safe to say that without a creative mode (meaning flying and unlimited resources without gathering) many of these wonderful servers simply wouldn’t exist. It’s not realistic for an individual player or just a small group to manage the sheer volume of growing, harvesting, gathering and forging required. And that’s not considering the extra time spent on planning and coordination. More importantly, it would be considerably less fun and less motivating an endeavor for the more productively inclined.
I remember the moment during my very intense MC spree when I decided to switch from survival/normal mode to creative. I remember too, having to justify my choice to fellow players on our private server because “what, creative mode? cheater!” and “you’ll be sorry once the game got boring!”. But that’s the thing: I don’t think I would have continued playing MC without creative mode for as long as I did. I don’t think I ever would’ve finished my giant castle.
However, and this is where things get complicated in my case, creative mode clearly accelerated my path toward serious sandbox burnout once I felt I was “done”. That’s a big issue for pure sandboxes anyway (which to be fair, Landmark intends to surpass), that players feel finished once their creative energies were drained and there’s nothing you can really “do” with all these creations. The faster you get to that point, the harder it is to recuperate in my very personal experience.
What I would therefore conclude for admin mode is that it potentially causes conflicting effects by curing sandbox boreout short-term but also causing sandbox burnout more long-term. So the question is really which mode is more likely to benefit Landmark’s biggest target audience once you identify who they are (which isn’t so easy in a hybrid game).
I can only speak for myself: if Landmark makes me gather, pick, cook, forge and whatever else for weeks to produce a modest cabin in the woods, I won’t be playing for long. Been there done that. Boooring! On the other hand, if SOE handed me diamonds, gold and mahogany on a silver platter, I would build something considerably more satisfying and be done in four weeks time. Yeah, that’s a problem.
We’ll see how they solve it. For me, it remains a dilemma but maybe Landmark has finally found the answer to the big sandbox question. Until then, what do you think? Admin mode for Landmark yay or nay?
I want to say ‘finally’ but last Friday’s NDA lift for ESO was so shamefully overdue that I almost didn’t care to post about it. The game is due in April and already selling a much debated collector’s edition, so how nice to finally give the fanbase a voice two months before launch. We will try not to interpret the long hesitation. Personally, I believe Zenimax have caused this launch more harm by keeping ESO under NDA for as long as they have. Not only wasn’t the press particularly gentle once the press NDA got lifted (see RPS or Ten Ton Hammer for reference), the title would’ve benefited from the buzz created by more balanced and positive blogger reviews. After all, there are still many players excited for ESO.
I used to be one of them but alas, that enthusiasm was shaken in its foundations after participating in two of the more recent beta stress test weekends in January and February 2014. To be fair, I didn’t have the bar set very high for ESO: I expected it to feel more dated and traditional than the other upcoming AAAs this year, less polished and overall pandering to the Skyrim demography. Yet in retrospective, the Skyrim comparison is doing things far too big a favor.
My quick and dirty ESO review
While I don’t wish to rain on anyone’s parade, this much anticipated game has dropped on the 2014 priority list much to my chagrin. I don’t intend on buying at launch, in fact I am not sure I’m gonna buy at all for as long as there is also a monthly subscription. Subscriptions aren’t a financing issue for me but like everyone else, I draw comparisons and try to justify the expense. ESO, for me, is not in the right shape to ask for a sub. But let’s have a more detailed look, shall we?
The Good (at first glance):
The settings of ESO are very pretty. Having visited every faction’s starting zone, I liked them all equally as far as overall zone design, weather effects and light cycles go. The world feels more realistic than in many other MMOs, if that’s a criteria for anybody. I love the mature and authentic look of ESO.
The diversity of character customization is a forte of the franchise and ESO is no exception. While some basic faces across all races feel too templatey still, you won’t be missing options inside the rugged, old, scarred or unattractive spectrum; like every ES title before it, ESO makes it hard (but not impossible) to create your staple beauty. Really big props go to armor design which doesn’t discriminate gender and keeps things in the realm of the practical.
The crafting system appears to be complex and rewarding. While I’ve only meddled with it briefly, I could see crafters getting their share of attention and I didn’t expect anything less from this MMO. I liked the crafting hubs too and many of the small details for tools and ingredients.
The Bad (or why I was so appalled):
ESO gotta have the most sloppy and inaccurate combat I have experienced since [add random console hack'n slay title here]. What was already a boring exercise of throwing lackluster magic balls as a caster, went downhill fast once I experienced the completely unresponsive dual-wielding mess of melee mode. Combat is missing feedback, aiming is off and animations are frankly awful. I don’t want to look like a WoW undead when moving around hitting stuff. There is nothing of Skyrim’s more impactful combat and precisely aimed shots to be found!
While we’re talking animations, they are mostly horrible. I made a particularly awful acquaintance out in the wild with an eagle circling my head, its flight animation as graceful as a tour bus trying to squeeze into a beetle’s parking space. It’s great that ESO has birds flying around, you just don’t want to look at them too closely.
As beautiful as the world is, as dead does it feel traveling from place to place. The NPCs do precious little which is a stark contrast to MMOs like FFXIV for example, that comes with complex scripts for NPC behavior and events. Towns feel empty and there’s no life bustling inside unless it’s created by a bunch of coincidental players. This was very disturbing for me, especially since the more dynamic mechanics in Skyrim would constantly throw you into unpredictable situations and have quests and NPCs involve you actively. This is something that GW2 managed to do while being an MMO, so ESO gets no pass from me here.
Questing is a traditional and straight-forward fetch and delivery, featuring the transparent quest window and occasional dialogue choices that franchise fans will know too well. Friends of the tunnel experience in MMOs will be glad to hear that ESO makes you play through the same dark pit for 15 minutes on every new character. As far as the NPCs and (much praised?) voice acting go, I was under-whelmed and sometimes appalled at the sound and look of some of them, their shrill voices and bland, badly written humor harassing me during several multi-step quest chains. The early “John Cleese” appearance has already been criticized by others but I reached my personal high point with this remarkable fellow here:
A difficult closure
At this point, I don’t know when I will be ready to give ESO another go. My admittedly short beta testings were a painfully disappointing experience and while they might not be completely fair or balanced, they are lacking in ways that cannot be made up by playing the game longer or praying for the unlikely wonders of another two months of final polishing. My issues with the game are of no subtle nature – they are fundamental. Which makes me think that ESO just might not be the MMO for me after all. That is something I have to accept and which makes my return to the wonderfully dynamic and physical world of Skyrim all the more likely. I used to dream of adventures in ESO but that arrow to the knee was quick. Ah well!
I currently live in a house where much of my weekend mornings and all of my evenings are accompanied by the loud and unbridled DayZ enthusiasm next door. I wake up to hectic commands shouted over voice-comm almost every Sunday (because like all sane people I sleep in on weekends) and go to sleep to “It’s me! Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” and “Identify yourself now!”. The better half is having a blast in DayZ and the very playable standalone early access has done much to rekindle that passion. Being a pretty obsessive gamer myself, I observe all of this with equal amounts of understanding and amusement. Far be it from me to begrudge anyone their gaming sessions. Until he forgets to wash and get dressed, anyway.
Naturally, I was gifted my own copy of DayZ recently and having always been fascinated with the harshness and unmoderated authenticity of this title, I’ve given it a couple of nights over the past few weeks running with an international clan. There is a lot of mixed information out there currently about DayZ which, in my humble opinion, fails to paint a fair or complete picture of this complex beast of a game, of the depth and psychological intrigue of this persistent world hiking and murder simulator with rogue-like elements. And that’s the shortest way for me to describe it.
DayZ always has been and in its current state certainly is legitimately a PvPer’s game just like some games are made for PvE or RP. While it’s entirely possible there will be other server modes again where killing other players isn’t possible, DayZ right now is about handling an outrageous mix of feelings – between stark loneliness and desolation, to the desperate search for food while a quick, inconspicuous death is haunting your every step. Like in the real world that DayZ takes such pains to simulate, you cannot tell friend from foe at a first glance. Like in the real world, due caution and clear communication may decide your fate. Like in the real world, there are stakes to what you do and decisions have tangible consequences.
DayZ is the game where absolutely nothing happens for hours and you find yourself desperately lost in the wild world without maps and indicators. Where you can hike forever and a day and never meet a soul. And then you die. And death has so many faces. It’s the game of paranoid retreat and uncanny social contact, of foul betrayal and uncompromising bonds. It’s the game of fear of loss, of terror and so much hope. In summary, it’s a fascinating social environment that teaches us much about the way we will behave under social / peer pressure once all written law and agreed-on convention is lost.
If everything goes and everyone is equally hungry, what means and tactics will you resort to in order to survive?
In 2003 Postal 2 launched with a particular tagline: it’s only as violent as you are! Only DayZ adds the online multiplayer component. The question of how violent you are gets replaced by how the violence of your peers will affect you. And there are many ways in which individual players respond and adapt. Despite inviting more notorious gankers along with everyone else, DayZ isn’t all kill on sight but more frequently about caution and basic unspoken rules of conduct. One of my very first encounters with strangers in the game went like this:
Still fairly fresh, hungry and ill equipped, two zombies attacked me and I started bleeding. Bleeding in DayZ gives you a limited amount of time to patch up before losing consciousness (which equals death pretty much), as the game’s color saturation gradually and unnervingly decreases. The zombies right now in standalone are a shadow of their former self, dumb and slow, yet dangerous in packs when unarmed (and a nub like me).
Frantically getting away, I crossed a small township and as these things always go, another player and his rifle materialized right in front of me. Oh shit! I froze on the spot because approaching strangers is pretty much the most stupid thing anyone will do while intentions are unclear – and intentions are always unclear in DayZ. Like most creatures that inhabit this planet would never dream of just running into each other, you just don’t do that here either. Should you ever form bonds with other players they have been tested beyond all doubt. In DayZ, trust needs to be earned and cooperation justified.
I managed to raise my arms waiting while the stranger started using proximity chat, the single greatest feature ever added to DayZ:
“Hello. Are you there? Are you okay?”
(At this point I haven’t figured out proxi chat just yet. I keep standing still looking dumb and expecting death by rifle.)
“Are you bleeding? I think you’re losing blood. Can you hear me?”
(I finally figured it out.) “I can hear ya! Hi! Yeah the zombies just got me down that road.”
“I assume you’re fresh, ye? Unarmed? I think I have some spare bandages if you like.”
(Overeager) “Yes I am friendly! I have virtually nothing! And I would really appreciate a bandage!!”
“Okay…..umm Bob, you can come out of the bushes now.”
(That’s when Bob, a second perfectly British gentleman who had been hiding in the bushes behind me, in case I turned out to be not so friendly, emerged.)
This was possibly the most hilarious conversation I’ve ever been involved in with random strangers online. It is also DayZ in a nutshell. That day, I lived and was saved by strangers. That day, I met the good people.
Lessons from DayZ
There is an emotional roller-coaster to DayZ, a ‘rawness’ of the simulation and in extension, basic human interaction both good and bad, that makes for some of the most exciting encounters and meaningful decisions in the world of online gaming today. I will never be a shooter fan but I am full of envy for the tension, terror and exhilaration this seemingly simple game is capable of producing. It’s what MMORPG players like myself dream of: the risky tactical play, the screaming and cheering on vent, the epic wins, the real scares and strong sense for friend or foe. The meaningful rewards and choices that can only come from risk and real chance of loss.
None of this would be possible if DayZ changed its present core mechanics or started imposing too many restrictions. I’m all for different server modes, after all that’s what self-hosting is for, but I love PvP DayZ and hope it will always remain this harsh and thrilling setting of basic social mechanisms. Traveling Chernarus, like Minecraft before it, has made me keenly aware of the things I miss in other MMO sessions -
1) Sharing with your next wo/man
There is an overwhelming sense of community in DayZ’s group play, encouraged by both the scarcity of resources and bag space, as well as omnipresent fear of death (which means starting over naked at a random location). Players can’t hoard and won’t hoard because two armed players are better than one and four are better than two. Even as a completely new player, I had people watch my stuff in DayZ, meet me halfway to re-equip me and make sure I was good on food and drink. It’s been a most humbling experience to have others look out for me in such manner.
2) Constant risk, decisions and consequences
Centered around survival with and against other players, DayZ is a game of endless decisions that often need to happen quickly. Dilemmas abound: Do I cross that public square in broad daylight for a chance of food or do I risk my hunger longer? Do I take a chance at the exposed well or try the popular food store? Do I have my weapon at the ready or do I prefer the faster run speed? Do I talk to that person and risk getting shot? Do I shoot first and risk to be heard? If I get heard, what’s my fastest way out? It never ends and paths lead in all directions.
3) Communication, caution and (self-)awareness
We take so many things for granted in other games – zone chats, grouping tools, location indicators, nametags and colors of allegiance that we have stopped communicating our intentions and wishes precisely. There is no need to act considerately or with caution because our actions don’t tend to affect or harm others, so there is very little in terms of self-awareness, of watching our movement and general behavior in MMOs. DayZ brings back the sign language, the reading cues and the very clear communication: Who are you? What do you want and why are you here? What are you up to? Without nametags indicated, identifying yourself to your buddies becomes a test of its own. In my partner’s clan, allies will ‘wiggle’ when approaching the group and state on voice-comm what they are wearing.
4) Running and screaming in terror
What it says. How much I have missed this!
5) A sense of gratitude
Due to high risk and strong sense for friend or foe, DayZ creates moments of gratitude with ease. In contrast, gratitude is something that is mostly gone from the games I am playing; when resources are plentiful, loot is individual and nothing and no one can really harm or save you, there is less need to rely on others and therefore also less opportunity for gratitude. You could say that’s the nature of all PvE-centric games that don’t tend to pressure-test social mechanics outside of maybe high-end raid content but I’m not sure it needs to be. In any case, I’ve really missed gratitude in my social games and DayZ made me realize it. How ironic that an emotion depending so strongly on community and acts of kindness should exist in a PvP rogue-like a lot more than in PvE enviornments.
While this has become quite a love letter for a game I probably won’t make a main, I believe DayZ deserves our attention and curiosity as far as its less popularly promoted aspects go right now. It would be wrong to dismiss this title over its potential for griefing and asshattery or judge it based only on the most visible forum crowd. Paradoxical as it may sound, DayZ offers a wide spectrum of positive social experiences and chances for cooperation (not to forget creativity and hilarious pranks). Such is the nature of freedom – that it can be applied in any which way. And in my limited experience, it’s group play where DayZ really shines.
Like for other games I’ve played in the past and that fall outside my usual high-fantasy MMORPG bracket, I’ve tried to look for inspiring features and opportunities here (while hiking an awful lot). As far as I’m concerned, DayZ is a rich canvas other social games could borrow some intense colors from while still being in this modest stage of early access. The sun hasn’t even begun to rise over Chernarus yet.
I do wonder how many times Dave Georgeson and EQN Landmark’s community team had to repeat above line over the past few days. I admire the patience. No matter how many times you explain “alpha” to somebody who is also paying money – and even to those that do not – there’s always a person who thinks your game could really be a bit more polished and optimized right now.
It seems public or paid-for alphas are becoming more and more common in the game industry and many are making their first steps into such early territory. Even more so than betas, alphas need capitalized words of caution; gameplay is fraught with bugs and frustrations, so there better be a conscious choice of what you’re signing up for. While satisfying curiosity is a thing, quite often it isn’t nearly as great to see the gemstone being cut before its made its way into that hopefully shiny diamond ring you intend on buying.
I don’t feel particularly drawn to MMO alphas, let alone paying for one (but hey, that’s what I used to say about betas). Syp doesn’t seem sold, yet Jewel and many other bloggers around the blogosphere have caught the bug of early sandboxing greatness once the servers finally went sort of stable. I can relate too well; when I joined Minecraft pre-launch, I fell deeply into the rabbit hole for several weeks. It was absolutely amazing. And I also burned out quickly once that fatal question of so many sandbox games hit me: and what next?
I know what I’m getting into with game testing. I’ve played in many betas and a few alphas, the latest being the DayZ standalone – one of the more remarkably playable alphas. At the same time, Bohemia Interactive have done a commendably transparent job of communicating what players need to expect from their early game development. Dean Hall, game designer for both Arma and DayZ and frequent twitterer, has continuously warned of joining early access for the wrong reasons, jokingly admitting that even he himself wouldn’t yet want to play it.
As far as I’m concerned, in alphas there be dragons. It’s a stage for implementation and debugging a lot more than gameplay and I don’t usually have the patience. Many of the final features are still missing so it would be wrong to draw too many conclusions from anything. For those who are into active feedback and “that NPC didn’t give me any gold” or “it would be neat to have dual specs” – really, wait for beta. Make your wish-list on the forums while you wait and still dream.
Alphas are for the rough cuts and while players are sometimes invited, it isn’t really about the things that tend to concern us later just yet. It can absolutely be exciting and interesting to see a game grow though and to feel like you’re a part of something, a lot more so than in certain open betas that kid players about much fine-tuning three weeks before official launch. Alphas can have their own magic for sure – I just advise to bring your good shoes for the rocky hike ahead.
I will wait a little longer, cheering from the sidelines and savor this Vorfreude while I still can.
In this latest episode of Battle Bards, the bards are showing their true colors: we find out that Steff can’t ever make up her mind, Syl is a softie and Syp is hating on everyone’s picks. Well, almost.
Episode #22 is also an opportunity to hear us rambling and bickering more than usual (I think) and win a popular Steam game for sending us your voice via Speakpipe, in a special giveaway challenge. The race is still on – so it’s not too late to go for the trophy!
Oh and we were also talking about Flyff two weeks ago but then, surely everyone has heard of Flyff already? Happy listening!
While the Wildstar closed beta is still running hot and more and more press footage is being released on the net (the lucky ones), players have been debating and in places worrying about the active combat and telegraph system. How comfortable does Wildstar’s combat feel compared to other active combat MMOs? How are the telegraphs gonna pan out in 40man raids?
Already in July 2013, Carbine released a devspeak introducing telegraphs, making it very clear that the most defining aspect of Wildstar combat was gonna be this: aiming. After analyzing what similar titles had done in the past, Carbine settled for a “freeform targeting” approach which, while conserving the basic tab targeting function, allows players to adjust (and miss with) their area of effect at any given time, and vice versa for enemies. The result is a fairly colorful and at times hectic bling-fest, where the player is not only trying to aim his attacks most effectively (not all parts of a telegraph deal the same damage) but reacting to enemy attacks pro-actively and dodge-rolling or strafing to get out of the really bad stuff. This makes for a rather complex and highly skill-based combat, especially where tougher challenges and PvP are concerned.
As illustrated in the devspeak, telegraphs come in various shapes, with different cast methods, ranges and synergies. They can be stationary or mobile, instant or require ramp-up times. Naturally, colors signify whether a telegraph is detrimental (red), beneficial (green) or a variety of other things players will need to internalize. This has justifiably raised questions of overlapping (telegraphs are translucent) in group play or prioritization. No doubt, telegraphs will be adjusted and tweaked for a while to come yet, before Carbine have found the perfect balance – and then there are always addons. What’s probably safe to say is that this active combat looks far from boring or the automated face-roll we know from older games.
How Wildstar combat compares to other MMOs
Not surprisingly, Wildstar’s combat is frequently compared to that of recent predecessors TERA and GW2. That is interesting because, having personally played both MMOs, their active combat falls on different sides of the same coin for me.
GW2 is hands down my favorite MMO combat to date. It is characterized by a very high mobility and character-centricity, in the sense that combat focus is less about the aiming (there is auto-attack and classic auto-aim via tab) and more prioritizing dodging and survival on the player’s end. When the stakes are high in GW2, players will always move out of the bad first while not having to worry about aiming; auto-attack can take care of such transitions for a while. Indeed, you could take your eyes off the enemy completely if need be.
TERA on the other hand, flips the coin: while there are some mobile abilities, TERA is back to classic stationary combat that won’t generally allow you to cast while running. While it combines good old feet-of-stone with dodge-rolls, it prioritizes a mob-centric focus. Special attacks and AoE aside, TERA’s active combat is all about freely aimed projectiles (via cross-hair feature) which makes for a fun change from other MMOs. Coming straight from GW2 however, I did miss my mobility. I even wondered how awesome it might be to combine the two modes.
So, where does that put Wildstar? From all I’ve seen so far studying various sources and footage, Wildstar combat falls squarely in the middle. It requires the same constant vigilance tougher GW2 encounters ask for in terms of self-management and survival, while improving on TERA’s aimed combat with telegraphs. While there are some more stationary classes such as the Esper, this new MMO is all about mobility and aiming in equal amounts!
That will take some getting used to, especially for the more laidback and lazy casters among us. I wouldn’t go as far as declaring the peaceful solo-questing routine of one-handed pewpew dead but Wildstar combat is most definitely gonna ask for more attention than many popular AAA-titles have in the past. Carbine intend to keep their combat interesting for a long time and given how combat is such a central feature for most MMOs, I don’t blame them for putting that much thought into it.
As Telwyn recently pointed out too, it’s all about finding a happy balance. We will see how the player base adjusts once the dust has settled over the Nexus and everyone has had time to learn some new tricks. I for one welcome that MMO combat is still evolving.
While rounding up last weeks numerous posts on multi-classing and writing an article on my private immersion (yeah that’s still gonna happen), I came across Jeromai’s recent post on GW2 and the latest Origins of Madness patch. It made me chuckle.
Jeromai displays a particularly fascinating case of raiding malaise in the sense that he dislikes almost everything about MMO raiding, including its basic nature – many of the inherent challenges and social dynamics that make raiding such an exciting activity for others -
Nor am I terribly keen on the idea of separating oneself from players that are playing poorly on average because it’s easier and more rewarding to be elitist and isolate oneselves, than to lead, coordinate and teach. (Though I recognize that it is a reality of life, and periodically tempting, especially when you can’t take repeating yourself any longer.)[...]My other pet peeve about raid bosses is regarding the clarity of mechanics and gimmicks of whatever it is one is to do.
[...]There’s the waiting.[...]There’s the suffering involved with matching schedules and timezones.[...]And there’s that old bugaboo of needing to rely on other people to perform well while not being able to help them much at all.
Now to be clear, I have suffered from all of the administrative side-effects mentioned by Jeromai for most years of my raiding in WoW. A good while ago, I published an article called “Vanilla Raiding – A Trip Down Memory Lane” reminiscing on all aspects of the insane raiding prep, downtimes and aggravation that was part of vanilla WoW’s competitive endgame. Players joining WoW later are unaware of how much more convenient things have become since. I can sing a hundred songs about the woes of 40man raid coordination that include the most trivial and silly of things – yet, we lost sleep over them at one time or another.
Yet, I love raids. I love the cooperative idea of raids. In answer to Clockwork’s more recent Wildstar 40man worries, yes I still love 40mans too. Since we really don’t know much yet about Wildstar, I’ll focus on WoW which seems to be the general reference anyway: 40mans had a lot of bad in vanilla WoW but if you compare my nostalgia post with today’s situation, the way class and gameplay mechanics have changed drastically over time, much of the old raiding downtimes have been removed completely. That starts with things like having guild agendas and guild banks, diverse and instant raid buffs and boons, dual specs….and ends with the removal of progression hoops such as atunements or resistance gear. Oh and flex raids, thank you.
That doesn’t necessarily make 40mans easier but it sure as hell reduces the more aggravating and redundant aspects all around setting up, recruiting and raiding effectively. Because underneath all the organizational hassle, coordinated large scale raiding is an absolute blast and unlike smaller raid units, allows for a more lenient roster in which it is possible to make up for that weaker player or three. It’s nonsensical that MMOs with few to no mechanisms of social control or pre-selective hoops before endgame, should toss players right into some of the hard-ass, unforgivable encounters that are 10-25mans, the way we know them in WoW.
However, returning to Jeromai’s well argued points on raiding, he also dislikes core characteristics such as the clarity of mechanics (and associated learning tactics) or the need to rely on other people’s performance. Now, if you raised a poll on a given MMO’s raid forum, you would probably find these listed among the primary reasons why many people currently love to raid. It’s a huge challenge to coordinate big raids and yes, it involves time often spent on someone else than yourself. But equally, the reward of beating such high-req encounters is unforgettable – a feeling many raiders live for. As an ex-healing coordinator, I would also add that I’ve always loved the “extra work” that comes with guiding others, improving team work and progressing together.
PUGs and mass zergs have their appeal because they’re all too often the only alternative to setup/balance restrictions and recruitment headaches in MMOs. However for myself, nothing truly beats your own guild’s smooth raid machine that you yourself have oiled together with your mates over months and years. That sense of group progression. I do miss that. A lot.
There is also a rewarding aspect in learning raid tactics and then getting them to be performed perfectly. I am not a fan of “synchronized swimming” or static combat but it’s worth pointing out how that’s a different type of challenge; not primarily a challenge of finding all new solutions (as most guilds don’t do blind raids) or spontaneous action maybe but one of coordination, balance, communication and perfection. Let’s put it this way: any long-term successful raid guild in WoW is also an achievement in different social skills.
I realize how some of my views presented here appear to clash with more recent preachings on active combat or more playstyle freedom – but at the very core of encounter and combat design, I don’t think these things need be mutually exclusive. In a world of more flexible raids, with less unproductive downtimes and more dynamic combat, I am all game for large scale guild raiding! The only thing that worries me is time. It still takes time to raid in a dedicated, competitive fashion, that won’t just change completely. And I realize given my current circumstances, I might simply not be eligible for that type of focused play in MMOs anymore and well, that’s okay. That’s on me. We’ll see what future games will do about the casual hardcore.