Going Galactic

Thus far in my MMO career I’ve primarily bounced back and forth between two games: World of Warcraft and Star Wars: The Old Republic.  Oh sure, I’ve dabbled here or there in other games.  Occassionally I still jump in and have a swim in the waters of Dungeons & Dragons Online (Less so now that they’ve decided to abandon Eberron for Forgotten Realms, but I could write a whole other post – and might – about that beef), and my copy of Guild Wars 2 still sits firmly installed for when I just want to wander and have fun.

So now the pendulum has swung back and I’ve decided to wander back into TOR for a bit.  Why?  Well, I won’t speak ill of patch 5.4 for World of Warcraft because by no means do I feel it was bad, but for the moment there’s not a lot of time investing fun to be had beyond leveling alts.  The Raid Finder (aka the only raiding Vry does anymore because every raiding guild I’ve ever run with boils down to petty drama bulls*&%) is more frustrating than anything when the wings are just opening.  People rushing in like cattle to the slaughter.  Best to wait until everything opens up and people start getting used to the mechanics and fights before wading into the thick of it.

WoW vs SWTOR: The Metaphor… I guess?

The Timeless Isle however IS content I can sink my teeth into.  It’s fun and open.  I like just wandering in circles and seeing what I can find.  I LOVE the trivia daily as you can imagine.  But the problem with the Timeless Isle right now is that it’s pretty much the ONLY thing to do outside of Proving Grounds (Solo) and raiding (slaughter house), so the Island is PACKED.  And the problem with the island being packed full of players running around and killing everyone and everything in sight is that the place becomes so ridiculously overfarmed the only chance to do anything is just to chest hunt.  Hey! A rare is up! Oh, it’s dead before I can reach it because 100 people were camping it. Oh another one! Hurrry scurry murray hurr-  Oh, dead again.

Then if you’re lucky to find the Island at a time when it’s NOT busy as hell, good luck having the killing power to take down the big game.  I mean, I enjoy the fact that I can at least kill my 20 elites in peace, and maybe actually tag an albatross, but at the same time it seems like some of the bigger mobs require a group effort to bring down.  So when the island is bare, you’ve got yet another problem.

Really, the only solution I’ve come to with the island is that it’s great fun, and will continue to be great fun when I’m killing things on it next expansion when I’m 95 in bad ass gear cutting my way through it solo because no one needs to gear up alts anymore.  AKA the “How Vry plans to do the Isle of Thunder achievements” plan.

However I don’t plan to just abandon World of Warcraft for months on end.  Oh heck no.  I’ve been having a ball just going back and leveling my alts.  My monk just made it to Northrend, and for the first time in a good long time I get to explore the Alliance side stories in Northrend. Which despite all the talk of Horde bias in recent years, the Alliance stuff in Northrend is REALLY good story-wise.  The Cult of the Damned infiltrating their ranks in the Borean Tundra, recovering the Ashbringer for Tirion in the Howling Fjord, reuniting with the Westfall crew in the Grizzly Hills…  there’s a lot of good stuff there.

Meanwhile it SW:TOR there’s a lot to catch up on.  I came back to just miss the bounty hunter week so I’m curious to try that out. I just finished up my Makeb reputation and am currently setting all my 55’s to complete the Section X one before moving on the new Czerka area.  And I’ve started a bunch of alts fresh to try out some new experiences in the game (Light side inquisitor, good guy agent, bad guy jedi, greedy bounty hunter) as well as have a refresher for the class storyline reviews.  Which for those who haven’t seen yet, you can find spoiler-free paragraph long class storyline summaries here now. I’ll be doing more reviews soon hopefully.

I know TOR has gotten a ton of crap over it’s short life, but I still find it quite enjoyable to play.  Okay, not every aspect of the game is amazing.  The cartel market constantly swings between “That’s AWESOME” and “You’ve got to be kidding me” for one.  But they’ve also done some pretty cool things.  Like the new flashpoints, while devoid of fun conversations, are designed to be done with any combination of classes and roles.  3 tanks and one healer? Cool.  4 DPS? Fine.  (On the Hard mode, it’s still the typical 2 DPS/1 Tank/1 Healer arrangement, but that’s fine)  This is pretty much like WoW scenarios.  Which I love.  Like a lot.

But when it comes down to it, the stories in TOR is what keeps me coming back to it over something like Guild Wars 2 or DDO.  I had 10 – TEN – different playthroughs of Mass Effect 1 & 2, 6 characters in Dragon Age 2, and yes, I loved ME3 ending and all.  Is it any shock that playing through the class stories and seeing how different choices play out is really fun for me? Even if there’s a ton that’s the same every time?  Plus they’ve done a great job of fixing up a lot of the annoyances in the game that were there at the launch.  The group finder works great, the later worlds seem to be retuned a bit, and the legacy unlocks and new travel consoles make getting around much less of a head ache.  The only thing that still drives me nuts is that with F2P or preferred, you only get 5 on-site rezes per character.  Then you have to go back to the med center always unless you buy more.  Really?  Can’t you just put a ridiculous cooldown on that one instead?  Like you can only on-site rez once per 4 hours for F2P, or 2 hours for preferred if you don’t have a medi-droid contract (first 5 is free, then you have to purchase further medi-droid contracts in the market. Or else you go on a wait list – aka long cooldown).

So if you happen to be on Begeren Colony, keep an eye out for the Vrykerion legacy running around.

What Is A Game?

Not sure what's wrong with this...
Not sure what’s wrong with this…

I was recently reading an interesting article about the amount of harassment from the internet game developers face on a daily basis.  It was a good read.  A reminder about the utter savagery some people face when exposing themselves (or in some cases, forcefully dragged out into) the anonymous hordes of the internet.  I haven’t had a lot of interaction with developers myself online, but what little I have had has been nothing but courteous and helpful. Heck, even Xbox Live support (Not a developer, I know) always went out of their way on Twitter during my numerous rants about how Xbox Live refused my credit card (The problem has been fixed.  Turns out the solution was: Switch banks).  I have spoken to Ghostcrawler at least once with some questions about Pet Battles, and he actually answered them.

And while the way we treatment game developers who wish to have an open dialogue with their players is a very important topic, that’s not actually what I wanted to talk about.  Actually, what I wanted to say came from a comment to one of those articles.  Among the comments of support and comments of “Well if they don’t wanna be harassed they should stop making ****y games.” there was one comment that really stood out to me.  It posed an idea that I think is at the heart of the divide of much of the gamer community.  Not an issue of hardcore or casual. Or console versus PC.  But an issue of mentality over what a game actually is.

The comment was (and you’ll have to pardon me for paraphrasing, I wasn’t able to find it again): “What developers don’t understand is that it’s about working to become better, overcoming difficult obstacles, crushing the competition, and proving you’re the best. If you don’t have that, you are not a real game.”

Not a real game?  Interesting.  Because that description can probably only apply to maybe a handful of the “games” in my collection.  And they are surely not the ones I play regularly.  But I bet you’ve seen something similar to one of those requirements in the forums of nearly every game you’ve played.  I know I have.   So let’s take a look at these a bit closer.

Become Better: This is pretty much the most universal concept.  You become better by doing over and over.  From jumping over pits in Super Mario Bros., to grinding levels in MMOs.  Honestly, I think a lot of people overlook how universal this is in gaming.  I see that a lot in WoW, when people talk about how “easy” the game has become.  That for a lot of people just starting there isn’t much to point them along the right road, which skills to use and when, or how to build a decent rotation.  Of course, folks respond with crap like “That’s what the internet is for”.  Look, I didn’t have to go to the internet to figure out how to jump over pits in Super Mario, why is that such an easy solution for MMOs?  /sigh.  I don’t know.  But we were all noobs once, right?  But now we’re all bad ass.  So we had to have become better.

Overcoming Difficult Obstacles: If the last requirement was the most universal, this one is probably the most subjective.  What constitutes difficult?  If one person struggles with beating a boss on easy mode, but eventually kills it, is that less overcoming difficulty than someone who beats it on the hard mode?   This is probably the most common thing I see in MMO discussions and it’s one that I doubt that will ever be solved mostly because it’s so subjective.  Of course, as we’ll see, the application of the later requirements tends to create conflict when applied to the subjective one.  Like if you can overcome the hard mode, and the other person has a hard time overcoming the easy mode, you are clearly a better gamer than them.  I don’t really agree with that.  But that’s probably the reason I personally steer away from games that thrive on competition.

Crushing the Competition:  And hear the lamentatiooooons of da wooooooomeeeeeen! Yea, no.  This is one of those concepts that seems to be derived from old school board games and probably more likely sports.  But it DOESN’T apply to as many games as it does apply.  Arkham Horror for instance is a cooperative board game where players work together to defeat the game itself.  And there’s lots of board games like that.  Or how about single player games?  What is the competition to crush?  The NPCs?  The Bosses?  Wouldn’t that fall under the ‘Overcoming Difficulty’ portion of things?  If this is a REQUIREMENT of gaming, then there’s a lot of Non-Games out there that people enjoy.  Or are you gonna tell me that Skyrim isn’t a REAL game?  Really?  Now you’re just being stubborn.

Proving You’re The Best: This one kind of walks hand in hand with the crushing the competition, except that it really can be done on some single player games.  After all, there’s a world wide competition for speed runners for games like Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Wind Waker.  And while yes, you technically can “crush the competition” with that too, the game is not designed around that.  It IS designed with the ability to prove you’re the best (or at least the fastest).  This is where I personally think the main split between gamers actually lies.  Do you play to prove your the best to others, or do you play just to play the game (I’d say ‘have fun’ but if proving you’re the best is fun, then well, both options would be ‘have fun’.  After all, there is something fun about punching your initials into the high score…  spot…  my god, I just realized how old I am…)

So are these THE requirements for a game to be a game?  No more than Chuck E Cheese’s being the only place where a kid is allowed to be a kid (Except in Alaska.  It’s actually a law there.  Sorry Alaska Kids.)  I can see why some people would put emphasis on these aspects of gaming.   They are all great ways and reasons to enjoy a game.  But I don’t think they are the only reasons, nor do I think it’s fair to say these are the criteria developers should be judged on in the Court of Internet Popular Opinion.  We all like different things.  I’d be perfectly fine with a game that you can’t lose, don’t have anything to overcome, but told a kick ass interactive story.  Sadly for me, things like Japanese Visual Novels was never a concept that caught on in the United States, so for the most part my selection there is parsed down to hentai options.  And while I love a good story as much as the next person, I’m not playing through a 20+ hour game to look at pixel porn.

That’s what Mass Effect is for. HEEEEEY-OOOOOOOO! (Just kidding. I loved the ME Trilogy.)

So what about you?  What do you think the requirements of a game to be a “Real game” is?  Graphics?  Narrative?  Online play?  A Blue Fairy, a cricket and a giant whale?  You tell me.  I’d love to hear some other thoughts on the subject.

Of Death and Ironmen

Honestly, I’m still completely shocked that the completely silly Ironman Challenge idea that we brewed up on Twitter all those years ago is still kicking around.  Now we’ve got our brand new level 90 Immortal Ironman.  For those who haven’t visited the OddCraft Archive’s Ironman page, the Immortal Ironman is the much, much, much, much, MUCH more well-known No Deaths variant of the challenge that the World of Warcraft Community came up with months after the original rules were posted.  (No, I’m not still sore about this all. I swear. I’m NOT! Stop saying it.  I do not protest too much.  And I’m not a lady, bub…   Sorry about the bub comment, Ma’am.)

But I was thinking about the Immortal Ironman version of the rules, and the past World Firsts that made it with no deaths, and I realized that there was an aspect of that whole challenge that really bothers me.  Something I think kind of undermines at least what I personally sought to see with the original Ironman Challenge and one of the reasons I didn’t WANT a ‘No Death’ rule in the game.

It makes you play it safe.

The 85 Immortal Ironman? Dinged doing level 80 dailies.  The 90 Immortal Ironman? Questing in Hyjal.  Are you kidding me?  I mean, yes. You did something amazing, hardcore, bad ass, all that. But come on people.  You can’t even do it in the current expansion’s content?  You could just do damn dailies over and over until you ding.  That’s…  borderline cowardly!

In my mind, Ironsally did it right.  Ironsally went into Hyjal and Deepholm and did battle against things that were compared to trying to solo raid bosses.  That is awesome.  And yes, she died.  But survival wasn’t the goal.  Conquest – VICTORY – was the goal.  And victory she achieved.  She killed them.  She waded into hell wearing her skivvies and emerged bloodied, beaten and victorious.

I really don’t want to diminish the victories of those who decided to undergo the Ironman Challenge with the no death rule.  It’s still an amazing accomplishment.  But in my mind, to play it safe is the undermine the true goal of the challenge.  To face the forces of darkness with nothing but barest of essentials.  To see if you could do it.  To see if you can even HIT or KILL a level 85 monster at level 84 with nothing but your underwear and a wooden sword.  That’s where I was going in my mind when the initial conversation on twitter took place, that’s still where the REAL challenge is in my mind.

But that’s not what the community wanted.  They made the challenge they wanted.  They took our framework and modified it.  That’s fine.  They have their champions, we have ours.  But if they want a challenge.  A REAL Ironman, best of the best, Ironman challenge.  Allow me to offer one additional rule to pair with their hardcore ‘No Death’ one:

14. No Daily Quests.

I’m asking you to show me how ‘Iron’ you are. I’m saying drop your safety net.  I think we’ve shown that Ironman is doable and Immortal Ironman is doable.  Now I’m upping the ante.  Show me what you have, WoW community.  I’m eager to see how tough you are.