Steam sales. Yes, we have all done it over these past few days – I know you have and so have I. Steam has been rather awesome for a while but the direction the platform has taken of late is fabulous from my humble end-user perspective; easy browsing (too easy!), purchasing and gifting games to folk on your friendlist, automatic updates, trailers and demos all in one spot, public wishlists and screenshot galleries….and now with the new big picture portal I have even re-plugged a gamepad to my PC. I used to think that XBOX live showed the rest of the console world how online is done properly – the same can be said for Steam and PC gaming. As somebody who has always looked forward to multiplatform, digital gaming instead of dusty boxes piling up on my attic, I am very pleased with this new era. That doesn’t even touch on the fact that with Steam I feel more like I’m paying my money to the right people, aka developers.
What this platform does so well is what amazon, youtube and similar sharing, networking and self-publishing sites have done for a while: check out what others are playing, read your buddies’ recommendations, browse similar titles, genres and special bundles. Before you know it, you own so many games you don’t know where to start! Which brings me to the inevitable topic of excess. I guess it fits our overall lifestyle in the western world that we now increasingly “nibble” at our games, try more of them but finish less. I don’t know if this is good or bad; I remember how I saved up my allowance as a child to afford a new SNES RPG, playing it to death for weeks. Games were more expensive then, too.
Today, I might finish one game out of three. Does that mean I enjoy myself less? I am not so sure. With more choice and variety, I actually get to keep my enjoyment level fairly high. I have the flexibility to switch to something else when the same level or riddle frustrate or bore me. At the same time, avoiding frustration all the time is to avoid that feeling of epic win; of being victorious over tedious obstacles. That is an old discussion we know so well from MMO design too. Still, do we all need to play games in the same way? Do we take pleasure from the same type of “win”?
A Trip back to Middle-Earth
After thoroughly enjoying the new Hobbit movie in cinema, hands down the biggest fun I’ve had over the Christmas holidays (during which I was ill with a nasty flu, yay) was with Lego Lord of the Rings. Yeah, that surprised me too! Being my first Lego title due to popular bias, the huge care, love for detail and humor that has gone into bringing the movie trilogy to life with Lego characters is simply stunning. Lego LOTR is straightforward gameplay fun, sticking very closely to the beautiful settings and script of Peter Jackson’s films, while surprising you with creative ideas and funny details around every corner. I finished the whole storyline in about 15 hours, after which I had discovered only 30% of the entire world and open world mode got unlocked. The fully explorable map of Middle-Earth is packed with more secrets, puzzles and playable characters to recruit (75 in total!). That last one was a neat flashback of the fun I’ve had with an old RPG called Genso Suikoden. What else can I say, if you’re at all into Tolkien’s world and the LOTR movies, forget your lego bias and give this game a try!
As if that wasn’t enough Tolkien for a week, I finally decided to put my money where my mouth is and give Lord of the Rings Online a try. It’s one of maybe three MMOs I’ve been meaning to play forever (together with Vanguard and FF14) but different issues kept me from it. One of them was probably timing; when LOTRO came out I was still deeply into WoW. Way too much about this new title looked similar to WoW’s approach at first sight, for example the questing system. I am also not actually a die-hard Tolkien fan. Anyways, by now I can say that no MMO I’ve ever tried was actually “just like WoW” (the way some people claim): Allods is not like WoW, Rift is not WoW and LOTRO too is not WoW. They just share basic features like all MMOs have to.
After a few hours of gameplay (and rerolling on Laurelin EU RP server), I decided to upgrade my account to VIP status for three months and give this game a fair chance. I am still taking in newbie impressions, so suffice to say that LOTRO already managed to surprise me. I am loving the oldschool feel of this MMO both in setting and gameplay approach. I struggle with the combat quite a bit and have a feeling this isn’t the game’s strong suit. Questing is very linear and a rather uneventful fetch&delivery routine so far. The world on the other hand is absolutely massive (travel gets a new meaning) and lives from its community – which is really what I’m interested in with LOTRO. There is something very soothing about playing my Loremaster, dabbling at crafts and hobbies, stopping at inns and listening to music being played by real players. At this point I should also apologize for having called this game ugly in the past: I don’t know what Turbine have done since launch but on my current PC with max settings LOTRO, dated as it may be, is still a beautiful game with lots of nice details for today’s standards (click image to expand!) –
As you can tell from above screenshot, I am currently parked in Bree and undecided where to go next. So far all general chat on my server is very quiet. I don’t know if Kinships are a must in LOTRO from the get-go (tips welcome) or whether I am missing something. Hopefully I will find more chances to interact soon. I look forward to explore more of this world. LOTRO is not exactly the most self-explanatory or beginner friendly of MMOs in many respects (which does not have to be a bad thing).
Musings on 2013
Looking at my full Steam library and having recently resigned from a job that has drained all my energy, creativity and joy in life for the past few months, my wishes for 2013 are very humble: to do more of what I enjoy, to be more me again. Odd how that always seems to be such a difficult task.
I hope to find a more fulfilling (or at least less soul-destroying) work place soon and I look forward to having more time for writing again, gaming and other new projects – one of which may very well be a collaborative gaming&geek culture blog in the German speaking hemisphere (something that is still very under-represented compared to English sites and communities).
I have always wished to turn my different passions into a living, at least a part time gig, and I feel geek culture deserves more serious voices here in the heart of Europe. You may think mainstream media are conservative over in the UK or US still but when it comes to gaming, art and entertainment, both younger and older audiences around here don’t have many places to turn to and platforms to share in, unless they speak English. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while anyway and tackling blogging in my mother tongue would assist me in professionalizing it where I’m living. I’ve had people tell me about monetizing and different options before, but so far I never felt this was the way to go for this little blog here.
This turned out to be a very editorial post, which I guess is warranted after a quiet December and in presence of the new year that is 2013. These artificial boundaries we create for time have their upside in symbolism. I like a blank page before me, I always have. And with that I wish all of you a belated, very happy new year, filled with time and opportunity to be yourself and do the things that matter to you most. Now I have some catching up to do on my blogroll!
P.S. If nothing else, you should absolutely check out the current, amazing indie bundle up on Steam! It doesn’t get much better than this!