Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wandering Around the MMO-verse

Ah, what to unpack after the past month....

Well, there's Neverwinter heading to Ravenloft, and there's WoW's Battle for Azeroth inching closer to release. LOTRO had their 11th Anniversary livestream on April 25th, and SWTOR dropped game update 5.9 last month as well. Funcom finally released Conan Exiles, and at the same time finished up their Saga of Zath server event.* Rift has continued to expand their Rift Prime offering with a new PTS server, and Star Trek Online is inching closer to their June expac release "Victory is Life", which is their homage to Deep Space Nine.**

But closer to home, I've been splitting my playing time between SWTOR (yet another Trooper) and Guild Wars 2.

Yes, GW2.
Still a bit silly wearing all of these party
type outfits, but compared to TERA's I can
handle this.

I've been making a push to explore more of the world, and also try to complete the personal storyline. It's been interesting, seeing an MMO with as many people active in the field as GW2 currently has, as I'd grown accustomed to not seeing much of anybody in the low-mid level zones in just about all MMOs I play.*** However, the neverending series of events seem to keep people engaged in the game to an extent that you don't see in other MMOs. The fact that GW2 seems to have the low level toon adjustment better behaved than in other MMOs (such as SWTOR) has an impact here too. In SWTOR, once your gear gets overleveled enough, you become harder to kill even after adjustments on low level zones. In GW2, I actually have to keep an eye on my health because I've come close to dying numerous times in low level zones I've been examining.

One thing that does seem to be the case on MMOs that adjust your level to match the zone, however, is that those low level zone visits seem to encourage some bad habits, rotation-wise. I've discovered that going from a low level zone back to a zone that matches my current level I have a more frequent history of dying than if I'd have just stuck with a current zone, because I can get away with fewer combos on those low level zones but I absolutely need them on the high level ones.

The one thing that I've discovered about GW2 that allows them to keep costs down is that it is only the main storyline that requires voice acting. It's not unusual to do this; Age of Conan had done it for years, and WoW only put a lot of effort into voice acting in the cutscenes and parts of the raids/instances, but GW2's elegance is making the interactions look involved without utilizing the cinematic camera like SWTOR does.
At its core, the interactions are kind of
bland, but they reduce development cost and
are still very effective at communicating
emotion without the cinematic lens.
I personally prefer SWTOR's cinematic camera for all quest and story interactions, but I also recognize that is not cheap at all. And if there's one area that Bioware is likely to skimp on to keep the game going, it's on the cinematic camera like they did for KOTET and KOTFE.

The one thing that still makes me shake my head about GW2 --aside from the pristine clothing people wear-- is the Norns themselves.

I understand the basic concept of the Norns, as there's a long history in Nordic tradition of the race of giants as well as in F&SF literature (Robert E. Howard's Conan stories) and RPGs (the AD&D classic module series "Against the Giants" as another example). But come on. As food becomes scarce and conditions in the frozen areas of the world get harsh, our physical growth is actually stunted due to lack of food. That makes the concept of the Norns all the more difficult to swallow.**** I wonder whether the Norns were merely created to satisfy a desire to play a giant, in much the same way you see games such as TERA or ArcheAge where you find the equivalent of succubi/incubi playable races to satisfy that specific desire.*****

But that notwithstanding, I'm actually enjoying GW2 in a way I hadn't expected to when I started playing the game several years ago. I don't mind the group events much at all, because there's no guild or specific grouping requirements for the events. I know, imagine enjoying group activities in a Massively Multiplayer Online game. [Insert sarcasm here] But the thing is, the MMO environment can be pretty toxic, or in the case of guilds, come with drama or other requirements that I may or may not have the time for. The GW2 group events, like the rifts from RIFT, make it easy to feel like you're part of a positive online community without excessive commitment.

Believe me, I can handle that.





*No, I didn't participate in the Saga of Zath server. It took me forever to reach the point where I am at Atzel's domain, so I didn't exactly relish starting over.

**I watched the first four seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but didn't watch DS9, Voyager, or the others. Something about not having a television during several of those years had something to do with that....

***It may have been several years, but even after the "don't call them mergers" WoW server merges I didn't see hardly anybody in the field once you got out of the intro and first low level zones.

****I remember watching a science series years and years ago that talked about climate change and its effect on humanity, and in one scene the presenter (I want to think it was James Burke) stood in the location of the last known written record of the Nordic settlements in Greenland, which was the remains of a church in which a wedding had taken place. The presenter had taken pains to mention at how the climate change had drastically reduced the food available for the settlements and how consequently the people living there were barely more than 4 feet tall, as was evidenced by the graves archaeologists had discovered.

*****I could say that this crosses into fetish territory, but I'm hesitant to say so. Just because someone plays a specific race doesn't mean that they fetishize that race. But I also can't deny that it happens, either, in much the same way that people fetishize the Sindorei, Kaldorei, and Draenei in WoW. (Many years ago, I once tried searching on some of the back story on Jaina and Thrall and typed in "Jaina and Thrall WoW" into Google. THAT was a big mistake, as there were things there --even with safesearch on-- that you can't unsee.)

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Neverwinter Goes for the Big One

Yes, I exist.

I've been busy as hell, however, trying to keep up with work and handling stuff with getting kids to and from school. (Which includes getting the oldest mini-Red back from her first year at university.)

However, I did see that the MMO Neverwinter is going to a place that's beloved (if that's truly the word) by D&D fans:


Oh. My. From Arcgames.com.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Thursday Quickie

I was going to write something else, but I came across this Team Fortress 2 vs. Overwatch video posted by The Winglet: 


Well done!


Friday, April 20, 2018

What is this place, Goldshire?

I was playing SWTOR the other day on a new Trooper* and landed in Nar Shadda to catch the beginning of a long conversation in Gen Chat. It started talking about who is the best companion, then (naturally) morphed into which companion is the "most shaggable". Someone brought up Corso, and how his inability to see that women don't need anybody to be a white knight** kept them from wanting to follow the Corso romance to completion.

At that time I was entering the cantina just off the Promenade and discovered several toons RPing at the bar, so I kind of lost track of the Gen Chat conversation while I watched the spoken word RP going on for a few minutes.***

Once I left for the Nitko Sector, however, I discovered the Gen Chat had taken yet another turn, into group therapy.

One player was asking for advice about asking out a coworker, and several other players were providing advice. The advice ranged from being positive to being direct to providing pick up lines. A female toon was providing tips about flirting****, and then others were chiming in on what works and what doesn't.

In the 8+ years I've been playing MMOs, I've seen some conversations that go into potentially sensitive territory, but this was the first one in a while where I started to wonder just how explicit people were going to go.

And then they went there, talking about how if you flirt well enough, you can have sex on a first date.

I'm not exactly a noob in either MMOs or life, but I was starting to get uncomfortable at seeing this in Gen Chat.

It was then that the flirting commenced.

A female and male toon in the conversation started flirting in Gen Chat about "playing the flute." You know, how good she was at it, how he liked people who could play it well, and she said she was so good she didn't need encouraging. And so on, and so forth.

Yes, in Gen Chat.

"Get a room," I thought as I worked my way to my meeting with The Mountain.

***

The last time I saw flirting or other activity like this in public in an MMO***** it was when somebody asked Azshandra to go topless in the Isle of Conquest so he could fool around. If the two players were merely saying it in regular chat or whispering it --not posting in Gen Chat-- I don't think I'd have cared. But come on, Gen Chat is planet wide.

Even Romeo knew to not be quite so obvious in public.
From sutori.com.
I'm not even thinking about kids, here, because SWTOR definitely has some PG/PG-13 moments, but just that it was so public and so freaking obvious that my eyes were rolling so hard that they practically rolled into the back of my head.

My guess is that the two people were so caught up in the moment that they simply didn't notice or care where they were.

That brings up the obvious question: why doesn't this happen more often?

I honestly don't have an answer for that one. Of course, in SWTOR you've got built-in romances with your companions that helps to alleviate the "let's get online and have some virtual sex" angle, but other MMOs tend to have this sort of thing happen in seclusion rather than in a very public setting.

Soul once told me a story of when he was on his Rogue back in BC days, creeping along in Ashenvale, and he came across two players hidden in a corner who were obviously engaging in some virtual shenanigans. He was relaying the blow by blow (as it were) to his guildies when one of the participants managed to see him while hidden in the shadows. Discovered, he bailed out.

So, based on that story and my own experiences, I know that this sort of things still goes on in MMOs. And maybe I'm just not online enough to see this happen in public more often, but maybe I am also getting old in that I'm simply not comfortable with this idea.

You tell 'em, Murtaugh. From Lethal Weapon.




*Yeah, another new toon. Yeah, I'm a bit of an altoholic.

**That's one way of putting it. I believe the words "fucking stupid" or a baseline equivalent were also used in the chat session.

***It was actually very well done, which is why it caught my eye.

****I'm quite aware of the "assume every player on the internet is male" rule, but for the sake of simplicity I'm sticking with the gender they were presenting.

*****I think I asked myself the question "Is Goldshire still as... well... active as it used to be?" and checked that out before I unsubbed from WoW in 2014, but at the time it looked like Goldshire was not the legendary place it once was.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Conan Exiles gets a Release Date

After a long time coming, the Funcom game Conan Exiles officially releases on May 8th.



I'm kind of torn here, because I still play Age of Conan and I see the promise a game like this holds. Still, Age of Conan also taught me how the tantalizing vision of Tortage was not what the rest of AoC became, a WoW clone that fell short of the story and execution found on that intro zone. There was also the major problem of AoC perpetually having lag when hitting buttons, even on NA dedicated servers. When a game is dependent upon combining attacks into finishing moves as AoC was, perpetual lag was damning.

I feel that this is Funcom's last chance at creating a Conan game, and if it doesn't succeed they'll lose the license. Even if it does succeed, AoC will likely not survive.

But still, best of luck to Conan Exiles. I'll wait a bit on the fence before jumping in to let the bugs and the crowd thin out a bit.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Somebody Out Maneuvered Vanilla

While the MMO community has been watching for further developments in the WoW Vanilla initiative, Trion has actually gone ahead and implemented their own version of "Vanilla RIFT".

Called RIFT Prime, it was implemented a month or more ago and is for subscribers only. The idea behind it is to provide more of an original RIFT experience, but with some newer amenities (portions of the cash shop) still around. RIFT Prime is starting out without expansions, and will slowly add them over time to simulate the progression of the original MMO.

From my perspective, this is a grand idea for these two MMOs. RIFT and WoW are two games that would be well served treading down this path as they have a player base who pines for the original environment, although in WoW's case I could make an argument that they could have servers that stop at AQ40, the end of BC, and the end of Wrath, and people would be fine with that. In LOTRO's case it might be worthwhile to see something like this happen, but I'm not so sure that it is in as dire need of a reboot like the Vanilla WoW project would be, and an original SWTOR would be actually counterproductive given that SWTOR really found its legs about 1-2 years into its run.

The ironic thing is that Funcom is doing something similar with Age of Conan in that they've created a brand new server for people to play on, but it's only temporary and mainly done for rewards.

But still, kudos to Trion for making a bold move.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Enough to Give You Flashbacks

I spent this past week sick. As in, "I should have been in bed but work wouldn't let me" sort of sick.*

While that didn't exactly help me with keeping up with the blog (as well as playing games), I did have time to finish up a book on the video game industry. For people who read Kotaku, the name Jason Schreier should sound familiar, and his book Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is a look behind the development of several video games. While none of the games featured were MMOs, several of the games were those developed by game companies that do develop MMOs, such as Bioware and Blizzard.

And if I thought that his article on the disaster behind Mass Effect: Andromeda gave me flashbacks, this entire book was akin to reliving a five year stretch of my life.
This pic popped up when I searched Google for
"generic software developer working photo".
In my experience, these people can't be
actually coding at that time because they're
all smiling. (From thebalance.com.)

Video game developers are a breed apart of most other software developers. While I used to hear stories of the earlier days of Microsoft when upper level managers would roam the hallways, complaining that too many people had gotten married or had families for Microsoft to keep their edge, video game developers pretty much lived for writing code 24x7. A coworker of mine was once on the dev staff for Betrayal at Krondor, and the stories he told of the insane hours worked made for good lunch discussion.**

And the stories that Jason told in his novel really hit home for me, such as:

  • The doomed Star Wars 1313, the game that was going to restore LucasArts to its former glory but was destroyed by micromanagement from the top (George Lucas) and the sale of LucasFilm to Disney. This reminded me of my company's attempt to capitalize on the rush to get everything on the web by creating a "web based midrange CAD program"***; which was great in theory but was about 10+ years away in terms of bandwidth and raw computing power. All his initiative did was suck up resources when they were much better spent getting the last major release of our CAD software bug free (it wasn't, and the product when shipped was a disaster). There was even a last ditch effort by a sympathetic EA executive to try and save the LucasArts team and 1313 by arranging a 1313 presentation to another of their studios, but that ended in defeat when the head of the studio was only interested in acquiring the talent and not the product. And that reminded me of when my company was finally acquired, and I could only watch from afar as friends I'd known for years were let go in the massive bloodletting at was once a proud development and engineering house.
  • The redemption of Dragon Age: Inquisition, after the poorly received and hastily thrown together release of Dragon Age 2 (which was originally intended by Bioware to be called Dragon Age: Exodus, but EA forced them to say "2"). The original sequel to Dragon Age: Origins was meant to be Inquisition, but because SWTOR was slipping in the release schedule the corporate parent EA wanted to release another Bioware game instead, and so the dev team had to rush in and create what became DA2. The failures behind DA2 really weighed on every aspect of the work on Inquisition, as Bioware wanted to prove that they were more than just a Mass Effect studio with some other games of lesser quality. As a side effect of both DA2 and ME3, Bioware also had to handle corporate pushback as to whether they should really do the ME3 extended ending. Bioware wanted to get it right, but corporate looked at it as essentially feeding the trolls.
  • The lonely development process of Stardew Valley, where Eric Barone labored for years to get what he felt was a "good enough" product for release, to the point of nearly working himself to death. Even when he released Stardew Valley, he had no idea whether the public would think his labor of love to be any good. That crippling self-doubt plagues a lot of creative types; I see it from software developers to musicians to actors to painters, and yes, I've seen it in the perfectionism of the mini-Reds when they practice their instruments.
  • The eventual trainwreck behind Destiny, and the real reason behind why Peter Dinklage sounded like he mailed it in during the voice acting. (Not Quite A Spoiler Alert: it wasn't his fault.) As well as Activision/Blizzard's corporate handled the Diablo 3 fiasco (another chapter), it didn't handle Destiny's problems quite so well.
  • The soul crushing doubts that drove the Witcher III development, and whether the game would be good enough to meet the standards of Western RPG developers/fans, not to mention whether there would actually be enough content in the game to not have long stretches of simply "not doing anything".
I could go on and on, but the entire book is filled with stories about many games we video game players know, and yet don't truly know because we've not peeled back the curtain to what lies behind the game.

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels provided me with a bit of catharsis. I used to work in the software industry, so I know what it was like to be in their shoes. At the same time, I realize that is the sort of work that is by far a young person's game, because I'm more interested in trying to keep my work hours down to reasonable levels. I have become the "married guy with kids" that so upset Microsoft's old management, and as a consequence I want to step back from the intensity (and insanity) behind software development and enjoy more of the fruits of their labor.

But it has also increased the respect I have for the devs who make these games. I already had a lot of respect for their work having lived it, but you'd have to take my old job and crank it up to eleven to get what crunch**** is like for them.

So I'll raise a glass to Jason for a very well written book, and another glass to the devs who put together these games.





*We do have "sick days", but there were too many deadlines that were suddenly foisted on us this past week to take time off.

**He also used to tell us "you don't know how good you have it here, as we'd be sleeping on cots to finish the release."

***The midrange CAD/CAM/CAE market was above the level of Autodesk. Software in that range is what is used by major corporations to design products, such as CATIA or Pro/Engineer or Unigraphics. These are the software packages that auto companies use to design cars and electronics firms use to design televisions.

****Another dev term. We used to simply call it "hell", as in "we've got another hell week ahead if we want to lower the amount of bugs to acceptable levels."