Category Archives: Rambly Me

Friday Conundrums: The last Game of your Life

This week while casually browsing my twitter feed, I came across a short exchange between fellow blogger Braxwolf and Michael on their love for Civilization 5. It was one line by Brax there which completely took me aback –

In over 5 years of video game blogging and discussion with other players, I have never once asked myself the proverbial question of “if I could only play one game for the rest of my life – which one would it be?”. The fact that I still don’t have the faintest idea after several days of musing on this topic, gives me pause.

The “three things to take to an island” thought experiment is a fond memory from my school days, naming your most important movies or books which I generally find easy. Heck even the question about which food I’d go for if it was the only thing I could eat, forever, is easily answered: Pizza! I have weighed all the pros and cons of other food items and come to the solid conclusion that I could live out my days quite happily on a balanced pizza diet.

But when it comes to video games, I am at a loss. The intuitive thing would be to name one of my all-time favorite titles surely, Chrono Trigger or The Witcher 3 or some other RPG or adventure with some substance to it. Yet – I am not so sure! If I REALLY was to name one game for the rest of my life, it would probably need to be a smarter, more long-term choice: a game that allows for plenty of repetition and customization, something open-ended rather than a heavily story-based title that’s also final. Either way, it would be a matter of time before I came to hate it with a passion, but anyway.

Tetris? No. Minecraft maybe?

mcforever

Forever on MC Island?? (justminecraft.tumblr.com)

Really, I haven’t got a clue and it amuses me how I freeze at the mere idea of this fictional scenario. Happy weekend everybody – and which game would you choose to be your sole companion for all eternity? It’s a scary thought!

Off-Topic: Musings on losing my Phone and Patience

Last Friday I „lost“ my cellphone somewhere between work and home and was unable to retrieve it until today. I spent a good part of my weekend frantically turning the apartment upside down to my partner’s chagrin, because the potential loss of my phone is the stuff of nightmares. Years of messages, personal notes and photographs from all over the world could’ve ended up in some ditch or worse, a stranger’s pocket. The fact that my car battery also decided to die on me yesterday morning on my way to work didn’t make things better – I have no other phone line beside my cellphone and so I ended up emailing people at work like some maniac (there is the assumption that everyone has a phone and therefore must also be able to use it, no pressure!) while rushing to the local car garage on foot at 8am. And I am not a morning person, mornings are for other people.

Am losing my shit

Losing my shit

When I was finally able to recover my phone at work today, where some fairy must’ve found it and put it in my personal locker, I cried proverbial tears of joy. Dear phone, I MISSED YOU SO MUCH! In this day and age we’ve come to rely on our mobile communication gadgets in a way that frightens me a little. What is all this doing to me?

On the erosion of patience being the erosion of skill

While I was still jubilating my phone’s recovery during coffee break, I came across an interview with Nicholas Carr, bestselling author of “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains”, in a weekly feuilleton I like to read and which is literally the last remnant of print media in my life. Carr critically discusses the omnipresence of digital media and our reliance on and obsession with connectivity. So far, not exactly a fresh angle on the internet age. However, the interview became more interesting when he started referencing studies on what the ever increasing speed of information and interaction does to our brains: how we expect faster reactions and feedback from webpages/email/people, how our frustration threshold for wait times is decreasing as we grow more demanding yet less focused, valuing instant gratification while losing our ability for patience.

And unlearning the ability for patience/focus or never exercising it in the first place, is a bigger issue than one might think. It’s not just about dealing with all the extra (peer) pressure created by new media. Carr goes on to explain the skilldrain accompanying this age of technology, where gadgets have stopped enabling or improving personal growth and skill development but rather replace them entirely. Instead of learning from an early age that acquiring and exercising certain skills takes time for practice and repetition, we are tempted to leave such effort to technology altogether, especially if it’s faster. This is the case when kids can’t do mental math anymore but require a calculator to add two-digit numbers together or when we’re incapable of navigating traffic without a GPS device. These are not positive examples of technology improving our lives but instead, examples of them taking over. It creates a dependability that is risky and potentially harmful. Which is not to say that technology doesn’t do an awful lot of wonderful things, too – it should however not make the education of a versatile and well-trained mind obsolete.

This is where I am personally grateful that I grew up before the complete takeover of mobile tech and uber-connectivity. I consider myself a digital native due to my upbringing around video games but I was in my late teens when the internet happened. I am also part of a now bygone generation of “classically trained” college students within the Swiss academic system. That means I was part of a crowd that primarily learned to question, interpret, analyze and debate with strong focus on language learning, literature, art, history and other humanistic disciplines such as philosophy or religion/theology. I spent 7 years studying latin along with three other language majors (plus all the natural sciences and art subjects) before moving on to specialize at university. I sat in archways in the beautiful city of Bern sketching old church towers and got to spend time in museums and dusty city archives. Thanks to all of this, I believe I am a pro at educating myself; I am very fortunate and privileged that my school was still the “we help you to help yourself”-kind and that there was diversity taught for the sake of diversity. Of course I didn’t quite see it that way at the time.

I realize that with growing economic pressures too, schools are less and less allowed that much room for “frivolous subjects”. There’s a plethora of studies and articles out there right now on how the school system is old-fashioned and not in tune with modern times and demands. Apparently productive adulthood can’t start soon enough, which is somewhat ironic given that we only just discovered the importance of childhood in the early 20th century. Where is this going? Without all this time and patience for learning in my curriculum, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I wonder if I’d play games differently too – after all, there’s a very strong parallel here to the more slowed-down and exploratory playstyle I prefer in MMOs, as opposed to bite-sized themeparks full of reward and achievements that require shorter attention spans. Maybe my gameplay preferences too are shaped by my upbringing? I don’t know, I am thinking out loud here.

As an ex-educator, it does concern me that schools offer less time for children to focus on developing their own skillsets from scratch, rather than being productive and job-ready as fast as possible. But maybe this is really the times we live in and there’s no point in fighting the takeover by technological optimization (it’s already happened to manual work). Maybe being impatient is the new green and I am sounding like my grandparents. Or maybe “go with the flow” is some defeatist thinking right there.

I retweeted this image. Yes, I realize the irony.

I retweeted this image. Yes, I realize the irony.

What I do know is that every time  I have willingly unplugged during holidays in the past, it was simply amazing. There are few times a year when I don’t read email and hardly use social media platforms, reducing all social stimuli to a minimum except for the ones of my immediate environment. Once the transition is done and I am sitting at a lake somewhere breathing the sun, it feels great – like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. It’s as if my outward senses are recovering. And yet these are connections I do treasure and maintain around the year, which is the conflicting part. How do these things fit together? What’s more real?

I think I need to get back to answering some emails.

You know Nothing, Jon Snow

At the verge of 2014, my MMO plans for the upcoming year looked vaguely like this:

1. TESO
2. EQN /EQNL
3. Archage / Skyforge huh?
4. probably not Warlords of Draenor
5. certainly not Wildstar

Here’s proof.
One month, a couple of first-hand experiences and developer updates later, the list goes as follows:

1. Wildstar
2. EQN /EQNL
3. maybe Warlords of Draenor (oh my god)
4. TESO when it goes free to play
5. whatever

…So, what am I playing this year?
Ask me again in six months!

wsss

Does everything have to be a Game now?

I’ve been in the middle of an interesting twitter discussion lately, following up a comment I made after hearing about Choice:Texas (“a serious game about abortion”) via this article on Indiestatik

twit

The replies I received to my comment were intriguing on account of their diversity – from complete agreement to yet another discussion of what constitutes “game” in this day and age. That wasn’t really what I was going for though (even if it has a part in this discussion).

I’ll be honest and say I am completely weirded out by projects such as Choice:Texas and it has nothing to do with subject matter. I am all for making a wider audience aware of serious and seriously difficult but important societal, political or cultural issues, yes even testing new media and avenues of transportation. When it comes in combination with the game label however, I hesitate. This is not the first time either – I’ve had the exact same feelings on the recently published Depression Quest. Now, I’ve read several great reviews on this title and I’ve no reason to doubt any of them. For many personal reasons, one of which being my current employment in a mental care facility, I am a big supporter of getting the word out on illnesses such as depression, on educating a wider audience against common and harmful stigma. Heck, you cannot educate too much on such matters. Yet despite all of this, the title Depression Quest still fills me with cringe.

How do you make a “quest” out of something as crippling and insidious as clinical depression? How does the association with all of this being like a quest – that traditionally heroic undertaking with epic loot at the end – add anything to an otherwise important message? I get it: Depression Quest is an earnest attempt to take away some of the gloom off a heavy subject, in order to make it more accessible and encourage people to put themselves in the position of a person affected by depression. I just genuinely wonder why we need gameplay mechanics, tropes and quests to learn about or show interest in such topics? I wonder too, if the average person truly takes this seriously as usual gamer habits, such as looking for the correct answer or choosing the most efficient path, kick in (I assume that the main target audience of this title would be especially those who do not usually engage with it?). And if such isn’t possible here, is it still a game? Why does it need to be? Can we not learn about the world anymore in non-gamey fashion?

Choice:Texas takes my intuitive misgivings a step further. It is majorly bizarre to me how one can make a game out of “the severe restrictions placed on women’s health care access in Texas”. – Are you serious? That is a game now? You have just lost me completely.

Just to make it plain once more, I get all the intention behind this and the need for education. I just honestly don’t see how applying the game label to such a matter can help. There is an almost insurmountable bias or thematic association I have with the term game and I am happy to bet so have most people. Even if videogames can serve multiple purposes or be designed therefor, historically speaking games have been pastimes, activities done for distraction or entertainment. They are short-lived, limited in severity and therefore trivial to a certain point. And that lies at the heart of the problem for me personally: game is trivializing. I don’t feel it serves anybody to trivialize the issue of abortion laws in Texas to a point where it can be packaged into neat units of gameplay (*).

I don’t see how evoking associations with gaming (and questing, gathering points or beating the game from there) aren’t counter-productive in this case. One could even suspect the creators of Choice:Texas have already had similar doubts or why keep emphasizing how this is “a very serious game”? To clarify: I absolutely think you can create things like comics or even interactive clips / stories etc. on political subjects but why call them games?

Maybe I am completely off here and I’m sure those who think so, will kindly let me know. As I said, I appreciate all underlying intention but to me there is a bad aftertaste of desperate marketing thrown in the whole mix, all other misgivings aside. I think games are a wonderful medium, vast and creative, diverse and powerful, but all considered I still believe some things should be worth saying and hearing without having to make a game out of them. Guess I’m just old fashioned that way.

(*)This is where I take the opportunity to recommend the Black Mirror trilogy, especially season one, episode two: “15 Million Merits”.

Launch Fever Detachment

I’ve been feeling oddly detached and indifferent to all the launch mania that’s been going on these past few weeks. Defiance, Neverwinter, Firefall, Startrek Online and Wildstar keys – I feel exhausted thinking of them all. Every other week I google a new acronym to find out what MMO people are talking about this time. Someone said on twitter that it’s not about the games anymore, that he’s just “addicted to launch rush”, a restless nomad never setting up camp. Far be it from me to criticize such behavior or rain on anyone’s parade but that’s the thing really: there are no parades to rain on anymore. There’s one-night stands and short-term flings, no more falling in love or grand statements of exclusive or at least deep affection. If you told me Defiance was great yesterday, then post an article on Neverwinter today while tweeting about tomorrow’s awesome STO session, you’ve lost me at “it was so much fun”.

Not that I’ve had any big hopes for 2013. It’s been pretty clear that TESO aside (and even that remains to be seen) there won’t be surprises or smashing hits for me this year. I am happy to delve deeper into Guild Wars 2 and maybe return to Rift’s Storm Legion. Yet, I feel gloomy looking at the current trend of MMO launches, the speed of playing and the fraction within the community. Many bloggers have predicted a future of variety and niche titles for this genre. It seems we’re slowly catching up with that vision, I’m just not sure it’s quite how I pictured it. I’m searching for genuine excitement and enthusiasm around me. Even on known community websites hasty reviews read as if written by people who aren’t “feeling it” but jump at every occasion to well, write reviews for something. How wonderful. Maybe I am deluded to think it was ever different but wow, I am so not catching fire!

If we accept this as the future of MMOs, what does it mean for the social factor of the genre? How will bonds be formed within a community of game “grazers” – will they shift to other social media, without specific games retaining their own dedicated community? Or will the experience of playing with and inside an established player base simply disappear?

There have always been MMO players happy to solo, pug and mind their own business, no matter what games they play. And then there are those still looking for the social gaming experience, scrutinizing new games for grouping and guild mechanics. Only – social and cooperative game design matters very little when games can’t retain that player base which would rather be inter-railing between virtual worlds. It seems to me this issue matters a great deal more right now than social game design, great group content, guild incentives and whatnot.

Somewhere these two factors are probably connected. Maybe division doesn’t just stem from the fact that there’s more and more variety at a cheaper price; but is it a lack of social game design that creates the current community – or did the changing playstyles of an aging target audience not rather ask for game design that requires less dedication? More importantly: can niche games do anything about this or will they too be overrun by the grazing trend?

Personally, I still yearn to be dedicated. While my life and net gametime have changed, I’d still like to play that one game with that one guild or group of people. I don’t think less overall gametime must be a hindrance, as long as it’s regular and you’re playing with peers. I could see myself doing this in Guild Wars 2, LOTRO or Rift – it doesn’t even matter that much. But I’m not close to a single stable, dedicated bunch of people anymore who play together longterm. As for guilds, they are dying and dying everywhere. It seems we’re looking at a future of loose cross-platform / cross-game communities at best, spamming raptr stats or chatting via twitter. To be clear, I wouldn’t mind either in addition, but on their own they’re horribly subpar alternatives to real ingame communication.

How well will true niche titles (which NW and the likes are not) be able to carve out their unique, stable communities? And what if I never find a niche MMO that suits me?

scream

Off the Chest: Unlearning Convenience, One-time Events and what would you do in a Sandbox?

otc

It’s one of those days where I have too many thoughts on different blogging topics which don’t warrant a blogpost of their own but still, in my mind, ask for more dedicated commentary. I tend to leave longer replies on my fellow bloggers articles for this reason and often that’s good enough; yet for a while now, I’ve been thinking about a format or style of post that allows rambling on various topics that have come up, vexed me and yet didn’t quite make it into a single post – usually because I feel somewhat late to the party or then I simply cannot bring myself to present you with anything less than a WoT. It’s true.

Be that as it may, I herewith introduce “off the chest” as my on-and-off, multiple-subject (and likely ranty..ier) commentary, where articles are shorter wrap-ups or openers to bigger subjects and where I get to be wonderfully incoherent. Summary posts can be quite enjoyable, so maybe these can deliver some information or entertainment to somebody sometime (or else they’ve just been of highly cathartic value for myself)! Without further ado, three topics I needed to get off my chest for a while now, in no particular order.

Unlearning Convenience

One of the fascinating things about the mixed MMO community in Guild Wars 2 is that you can tell who the ex-WoW players are after a while, judging by the degree of convenience they are used to or rather, the degree of discontent they voice in that particular area. After an era of WoW and not GW, I absolutely am a spoiled MMO brat: for example, I expect a lot of menu choices and customizability for things like name tags or combat info (ally healthbars anyone?), I want the market place search to be refined so it’s actually functional (armor class search?) and I expect a quick disconnect/relog from WvW not to throw me back into a queue of doom with no way to rejoin my team mates. Stuff like that, missing polish like that, is just horribly frustrating and it gets more frustrating the longer ANet take to fix it. These may be small(er) issues and not top prio in a launch week or even month – but come on, address this shit already!

How long is the average MMO player of today willing to ignore disfunctionalities or little bugs after a fresh MMO launch? How long is your personal tolerance span? Rather than Halloween content I would’ve welcomed some long overdue fixes, some of them as old as open beta! And I haven’t even yet mentioned the camera / first-person view, botting or culling problems. These are not “aspects of GW2 that are just different”, these are issues that need fixing ASAP in any MMO! /GnaRghL

One-time Events

Speaking of Halloween, GW2’s one-time only Halloween event of this Sunday past has sparked quite some debate and of course both negative and positive reactions. This is an incredibly interesting subject because it shows us just how ready today’s MMO audience really is for the often hyped “unique content” and “meaningful impact”. Or to quote a passage in my last post’s comment section:

I think we do not need to content ourselves with impact only ever existing in offline/single-player games. like you said, GW2 makes some good attempts – but they could be much better even. I think MMOs need to lose the idea that everything is always available and repeatable for everybody. much of the generic feeling comes from everything that players do happening over and over, respawning, resetting….why? why not make some events more unique? what if somebody misses them – so what? you could add small content patches for this on a fortnightly base, like I suggested a while ago in an article on expansions. give players a real sense of story progression, unique experiences and impact. let them change things permanently!” (Syl)

That’s the thing: you can’t have it both ways. You can experience triggered quests that are available all the time, or more random events to which you are sometimes too late or early. You can finish quests with zero to marginal impact on the world and people around you – or you can witness really memorable events. Once in a while. And you can most certainly miss those. There is a flipside to that coin of memorable and special MMO moments that gravitate towards simulation and open world a lot more than towards gamification.

I actually missed this Sunday’s Halloween event in GW2 as I was on holidays in France; and yes, I am a little sad about that. On a less personal note however, I am very happy ArenaNet made this decision. Maybe next time I’ll be around for it. Either way, now the community has something to talk about and tell each other! Missing the Mad King’s appearance in Lion’s Arch or having to re-watch it on youtube is a price I will gladly pay for MMO worlds to become less generic, feel less repetitive and predictable! But that’s me and my idea of games worth playing. And living in, really.

So, what would you do in a Sandbox?

It’s become a trend of late to invoke the mystical spirit of the sandbox wherever MMO players feel the blues and are simply unhappy with their choices in current games on the market. I get that dissatisfaction and I’m in fact more than up for future MMOs to revert to a more open world state of play, with less orchestrated content. Still, I wonder how many players have truly ever experienced a sandbox game, stuck with a sandbox game? And what is it exactly you wish for, from your next sandbox MMO. Do you know? I’m not so sure we all mean the same things when we talk about sandbox elements (worth having).

Pure sandbox games ask a lot of a player base, both in terms of time and commitment The feeling of freedom or impact doesn’t come for free. So, if by any chance you belong to let’s say a player demographic depending on a) linear progression, b) endgame, c) set achievements or d) in fact any kind of pre-conceived content….I have bad news for you: you won’t like a sandbox! You won’t thrive there. If you already felt that GW2 was “finished” after four weeks, if you lament endgame and progression and ask questions like “what to do next?” in an MMO, the sandbox is not for you. While we’re at it: there’s no “rushing through” or “winning” a sandbox. There’s a lot more in terms of self-defined progress, achievement and goals than in a themepark or playground or whathaveyou MMO. 

Can you deal with that? If so, I hope you’re also up for outdoor PvP and griefers. The big, shining beacons of sandboxy gameplay currently out there, such as EvE Online or Darkfall, are basically MMOs that revolve around the simple principle of “building clans and defending clan bases” and then “warring against other clans and clan bases” (terminology may vary). This is by the by, what the sappy memories of vocal UO and DAoC veterans are made of: strife. Territorial (or resource) warfare with all its little neat side-effects. That’s also why community building was so important in these games to begin with. Sure, you could do many other things too, but erm…..territorial warfare impacting on you! 

So, just in case any of the above gives you headaches but you still yearn for the sandbox…well, I keep my fingers crossed the next such MMO comes with big enough safe sectors! Or alternatively, still deviates enough from its predecessors to accommodate you. A real sandbox is about building your own little castle just as much as it is about destroying your neighbour’s. And it most certainly isn’t going to present you with linear progression and endgame. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya!

Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,
Zip-A-Dee-A,
My oh my, what a wonderful day!

[GW2] 80 Elemental Ponderings

So I finally dinged 80 with my Elementalist in Guild Wars 2 yesterday, which has been my main character and class since the open beta weekends. Even if GW2 inspires alting more than other MMOs ever did for me, I can’t change my basic nature of being a very dedicated main=me player. That will probably never change…even if I am also leveling an engineer and hunter slowly on the side and really enjoy how different every class feels in playstyle and mechanics (and Elems actually get a bit of them all via conjures, hah!).

Naturally, I have started to try grasp the deeper complexities of my chosen main in GW2 over the past days and weeks. If I am going to play this, I want to play it right – and the Elementalist happens to give a lot of merciless feedback like that. It’s true that this particular class doesn’t make for the easiest ride of the lot; that is not to say that combat and leveling are hard, but there are many occasions playing your Elem solo in PVE when you feel things aren’t going so smoothly. This also changes gradually during the journey to level 80: there are highs and lows in terms of pacing and character progression/power during some level spans, which makes you lean towards more glass or cannon at particular times. What is probably true is that you need to be in love with the class, its basic premise, playstyle and versatility, or you won’t stick to it very long. All Elementalists will experience the following in various degrees while leveling:

    • Dying quicker than most, especially when compared to your other scholarly peers
    • Feeling damage and survivability drops sometime after level 30ish. I experienced an incredible low during my mid-levels which only got better towards level 65 or so, making it impossible to kill groups and struggling with higher lvl mobs in general
    • Underwater combat sucks. It keeps sucking until you reach proper high level. Also: Air is your friend here.

While weapon choice matters, I would go further and say for this class especially, keeping gear up-to-date at least every 10 levels (including gems, sigils etc. on all slots) is crucial – and so is spec. When comparing myself in combat with my partner’s Necromancer, I could only gape and the sheer amount of buffs and debuffs he had going on for himself, when I had erm…one to two. This made me start looking into my traits very hard, asking myself about my synergies and where are my boons?? Elems don’t have that many debuffs going on as some other classes do, but they can certainly unload some burning and bleeding. To make your buffs and debuffs effective though and help yourself to become more powerful, harmonizing your traits, skills and gear stats is of the essence. And this is where it starts getting complicated.

Wrapping your head around skills, traits, stats and gear

If I thought gearing and optimization became somewhat of a headache in WoW between WotLK and Cataclysm, GW2’s many different stats combos, item enhancements and synergies are proving a real challenge the deeper you delve into them. Having explored multiple guides of late, my two big recommendations for getting to grips are Tasha Darke’s guide on attributes and equipment, combined with Talk Tyria’s post on understanding basic naming conventions in GW2. While the marketplace is still far from functional, that second link will help you with the general gear chaos you’re facing.

I have now started to experiment with different specs, supporting traits via gear and skill choices. I leveled full fire for a very long time until it started to feel incredibly weak around level 40. My stats were all over the place and due to survivability issues, I used quite a lot of vitality gear. I had pretty much zero boons going on for myself and no traits to support my chosen utility skills which are mostly glyphs and signets (I don’t use cantrips, conjures or arcane skills much). Not great.

Much of that is now off the table. I have invested heavily in Air and Arcane traits, boosting my crit from 14% to 40% with trait, skill and gear adjustments (minding set bonuses and including interesting sigils or runes). Arcane is a great support tree in general for synergies and boons and worth looking into with any given attunement combo. I dropped healing stats entirely and started improving my health via traits rather than gear. That last point is still under heavy scrutiny right now as I am still feel too squishy; I might need to revert some of my gems sometime to address this. (How are you other lvl 80 Elementalists out there handling the survivability issue: traits or gear?)

…All this wild brainstorming really brings me to the heart of the matter though, which is understanding what you’re doing. Do you know how tougness and vitality differ in benefit, for example? Do you understand set and rune bonuses and what sigils and runes can do for you? Do your traits support your utility skills? Would you rather stack condition damage or crit, for a consistent damage debuff-heavy build or burst damage build respectively? Do you know your boons? Do your trait choices reflect your playstyle? Et cetera.

Getting to the bottom of these questions will greatly affect your character’s performance, Elementalist or other, and ultimately affect your entire gameplay experience and enjoyment in the game. It’s been said that GW2 is that MMO with the casual leveling and grouping mechanics, but by now I disagree quite a bit with that, having played my Elementalist in many different situations. The game might not punish you in the same way as others do and within a group individual weaknesses are less apparent. But you will need to address spec and gear questions at higher levels (Orr…uh oh), certainly for solo play and harder dungeons, as well as PvP encounters – and the ins and outs of character optimization in GW2 are not to be underestimated.


While it’s hard to find more concrete theorycrafting and build suggestions (few more in-depth discussions can be found at GW2 Guru forums) at this point in time, I encourage my fellow spellweavers to experiment and make use of the trait calculator. For a more basic intro to the class, there is also a great two-part Elementalist 101 guide over at Talk Tyria. In closing, I still greatly enjoy playing my Elem in GW2 and consider its shortcomings a challenge. I love the versatility of the different attunements, the mighty AoE and general “feel” of playing the class. As for all the open questions I currently still have, I fully intend to get to the bottom of them all over the coming weeks and months – Fire, Air, Earth and Water, I can deal death with any of them!

New to this World – Musings on MMO Tourism

When Kleps described a particular type of MMO tourist the other day, something about that label stuck with me even though I couldn’t feel further apart from such tourist mindset. Be it in MMOs or in general, I immensely enjoy new experiences and I’m a sucker for exploring strange lands and cultures which is no doubt partly due to very mixed heritage. I’m a traveler in real life as much as virtual worlds with quite a long list of countries that I’ve visited in my backpack (more to be added!). Had I been bestowed with substantial wealth from birth, I would probably have become a full time gipsy, releasing travel diaries or guides and shit…for free. The road is ever calling to me and those five weeks of annual holidays I get nowadays are sacred. Next summer’s trip is already greatly anticipated!

I’m a strong believer in that traveling is one of the most beneficial and eye-opening things we can do as human beings, something that will shape and educate your understanding (and hence respect) for other, different places and people more than any theory in a book or well-polished political speech ever could. It is humbling to be a guest in a strange country and be treated as a friend; to break bread with people who have no reason to offer you hospitality but share the little they have; to discover first-hand just how similar we all are despite all hyped cultural differences and outward appearances. To realize how much wealth and beauty is out there that the daily news never talk about. But this we can only learn by actually leaving our own doorsteps – you cannot smell the roses by reading about it in a book.

Yet, for all my personal inclinations, my love for travel, languages and cultures, I am still feeling a bit like a tourist in GW2 right now. Not the willfully ignorant tourist described further up, but a tourist in the sense that while GW2 is a truly immersive MMO with the most amazing world, there are moments when I feel more like a guest or even intruder, rather than somebody setting up his own home. I happen to know exactly why that is too.

So close and yet so far

I never played GW(1). I mentioned briefly once why I didn’t and I’m currently in very good company when it comes to people who skipped GW but are now invested in GW2. It’s not just the timing but the fact that the two MMOs are very different in many essential ways. GW2 is not exactly a “sequel” and yet, ANet have obviously conserved much of the world that was old Tyria for their faithful player base – the lore, characters, setting and atmosphere first and foremost.

That’s where my misgivings, which are completely self-fabricated (just to clear that up) come in though; it might sound bizarre but a part of me feels like I have no right to be here. I’m the newbie in Tyria and not just that, I am the player who didn’t support the first game, now showing up for its shinier, more mass-market successor. YIKES!

While the olde GW community is taking a sad goodbye from a game they called home for years, I get to enjoy the moment without any ambivalence felt. It’s great articles like that one or like Jeromai’s that remind me just how little I know about this world; how much there has been before and how I am unable to draw connections the way longtime GW players can. It’s also hearing a new ingame acquaintance (met during anonymous questing zomg!) talk about how she’s waited on GW2 for five years (I waited two to be fair) while being an avid GW player, and how disappointed she is in many respects because “GW2 is not like GW” (and where the fuck did the monk class go…). Which I can actually empathize with when seen from that perspective.

(She also mentioned that “coming from WoW or Rift, everything must seem really great of course”….I know there is an insult there somewhere!)

It just bothers me that I am likely missing a lot of details and hidden meaning while playing, even if much will get clearer in time. It bothers me too, that I simply cannot fully connect or give comfort to some players that are now in my own world but still feel strangely apart. They’ve been longer in Tyria than myself and I feel like they have much more right to it. Does that even make sense?? Ah well.

http://www.theparentreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Social-Anxiety-Disorder.jpg
“Hi, I’m new! Hope it’s alright if I join you guys!”

Sometimes I wonder how all the new, heightened attention for GW2 must feel to GW veterans right now – other bloggers like Hunter for example who have been dedicated to that game forever. What a bunch of enthusiastic party crashers we must look to them….

I am probably exaggerating at this point and frankly I wonder if I managed to explain my feelings very well. It’s all extremely silly in many respects, first and foremost because ANet surely want more players to enjoy GW2 than played GW, after having put seven(?) years into its development. I know that, trust me! Also, I’ve no resentment whatsoever towards GW veterans in case there’s any doubts – quite the contrary – and I don’t even know if they truly see the likes of me coming from other MMOs as party crashers or greenhorns or whatever (although I could understand if they did). It’s just….now that I’m immersing myself in Tyria with every intention not to stay a tourist for long, I’m a little sad that I missed its “past” – the history of that world others were there for. I’m clearly not used to not being “there from the start” for MMOs I consider a big deal, even if paradoxically I was there for bloody head-start (of doom).

There’s an intangible generation gap and a little bit of self-cringe for blundering into a world with such wide-eyed ignorance that other players are already familiar with. Gawd…I hope we are welcome here and don’t make too big fools out of ourselves in zone and party chats! Sigh.

Monday musings on phony media, SWTOR, birdchat and wishing it was Friday already

Last year’s media controversy regarding the mass murders in Norway, has resurfaced once more among bloggers. I commented on the ludicrous claims in July 2011 and how angry it makes me every time newspapers and TV channels pull the video gamer card when such exceptional human tragedies occur somewhere on the world. Redbeard, Tobold and Gordon have each voiced their concerns in the past week and I briefly wondered about the timing. Around here, the news have gone very quiet for some months now, as is the way of the world. We are shocked, we cry out wringing our hands, we pay our condolences – and then we move on with our lives. The court of Oslo has a task at its hands now nobody would envy. How do you punish such evil a deed?

I managed to install the free trial of SWTOR this weekend, thoroughly uninterested as I am in both TERA and Diablo III – and a jolly club we are. I’d rather not rant too much, but it turned out to be the longest download in the history of mankind, after lots of initial sign-up troubles (sorry we don’ like your email address, try yet again!). Anyway three hours of gameplay in, I feel SWTOR has done nothing to win me over and everything to confirm my bias. So I’ll stick to the good which is the shared quest scenarios, the audio conversations and choice options…..and of course the Chiss! What a great race, they definitely did something right there. In a way it’s a pity SWTOR came out this late – I would probably have enjoyed it more 7 years ago when it still would’ve been nice looking and innovative.

In other news, I finally succumbed to joining the birds club. I officially have a twitter account, ya rly. I had to open a work related twitter recently for a company I’m freelancing for and actually liked how easy it let’s you stay on top of updates and releases. I don’t expect to chat there much and I am still a cautious client, but I do see the advantages of link exchange – and of course being able to follow my favorite developers, writers and bloggers with more ease. So for now, I will have a look at this. The proof is in the pudding.

How I wish it wasn’t Monday! I have a job interview this afternoon and another on Wednesday, so I’m feeling somewhat nervous for no good reason. I deeply dislike the drill – which is ironical as my future job will include interviewing applicants. But then it’s a big difference what side of the table you are sat on. Seems a fitting analogy for our entire existence on this planet: it all comes down to what side you are on and what clothes you are wearing. If they ask me about my weakness again, I’m going to tell them that I’m a bad liar. Gotta love the room for interpretation.

This Guild Wars 2 beta weekend cannot come soon enough. All responsibilities have been canceled and the fridge will be stuffed with pizza and Coke Zero (the greatest gift since the electric toothbrush). Oh the glory of playing MMOs! Happy soon-to-be Friday, everybody!

GW2 pre-purchase ponderings

So there it is at last, lying on my desk. Things are getting more tangible. A white sober DVD case – nothing fancy. Very under-statement. It’s shockingly empty inside, just a card with a serial key telling me to go online and register. Not sure why it comes with the standard case at all, staring at me with a naked eye but there you go. Beta weekends, three days headstart is all I need to know. First time I ever paid for an MMO that doesn’t even have an official release date yet. How odd! But then, I didn’t know either how great the LotR movies were gonna be when I bought out two complete theater rows for the EU premieres several weeks in advance (every year!). I knew my friends were going to be there though; that tends to have a reliably positive effect on one’s enjoyment. There’s also an oddly lackluster trailer full of old footage. For once the goons on youtube got it right. Not that anyone cared.

On the beta weekends

Some players stay away from the beta for spoiler reasons but I’m way past that stage. Not sure what I could possibly spoil at this point; the game is as overdue as a Swedish bus and I just want to FINALLY see something for myself. The only thing the WoW beta did for me was confirming what I already suspected, along with exclamations of “omg I want moar of this!”. I can’t wait for end of April now. I’ve watched too many videos by other people. As for bugs – bugs don’t bug me. There’s something strangely nostalgic about them.

On playing GW1

I’ve wondered briefly whether to follow other players in giving the first title a go. There’s the wait time until release and it might not be the worst idea to have a quick look at GW1. Not sure what it can truly teach me though – aren’t the dissimilarities going to be a lot bigger than anything? I’m still undecided whether I should really expose my eyes to this ancient predecessor. Feels more like spoiling for no good reason to me. The real deal is still out there and in desperate need of an ETA.

Time to part

As I worry about my dated PC specifications a little (will I be able to play in PvP battles of 300 people with a “WoW machine?”), it’s definitely time to pull the plug on an old love. Disc space is running low and it feels strangely well timed: good-bye WoW, time to uninstall. It was fun for a very long time, thanks! I’ll keep the screenshots folder. May GW2 be worthy of your passing. May it bring us new stories and epic memories.

We are waiting. (And definitely prepared!)

P.S. Priest T5 and Anathema forever in our hearts!