Amazon’s New World, Part Two

From a draft written somewhere around October 2016…

I finally got around to watching Amazon’s teaser video, thinking that it would erase my earlier skepticism and soften my opinion about their upcoming games, and maybe even start to get excited about the possibilities.

Unfortunately it only pushed my skeptical buttons even harder.

“What if a game was built for Twitch,” wonders a voiceover 12 seconds into the video. Instant buzzkill. The video goes on to mention Twitch about five times in the first 60 seconds, before anything about games. If we go with the assumption that what they put into the very beginning of their video is the “hook” and therefore the most important message they want to deliver, we have to assume that Twitch integration is the most important part of their design philosophy for these games. And if Amazon making games to target Twitch viewers is not a corporate-synergy-driven game design, I don’t know what is. It’s as if they accidentally put the video meant for their shareholders out to the public.

The bottom line is that we don’t know anything about New World right now, except that it’s main, repeatedly-stated purpose is to synergize with Twitch. Which, to me, is not a selling point. When I look at the Twitch ecosystem, and indeed the whole streamer sociography, I see something that’s very difficult to comprehend. Lately I’ve been thinking of streamers as the modern-day equivalent of dancing monkeys or traveling freak shows. Probably an unkind comparison, but that’s the kind of content that seems to rise to the top.

I don’t understand why they’d reveal anything at this point and leave so much room for rampant speculation. They’re talking about this game even earlier in the development cycle than when ArtCraft started talking about Crowfall, which was incredibly early, and now seems so long ago that Crowfall feels like it’s come and gone already.

On The Radar For 2015

Last time I did this.

Note that some games aren’t on the following list because I have either a) forgotten about them, or b) never heard of them.

MMORPGs I’m Looking Forward To

These are games that I’m still anxiously awaiting the opportunity to play, because I haven’t yet seen or heard anything to wreck my enthusiasm.

Black Desert. I keep seeing good things.

Skyforge. I keep hearing good things.

Otherland. I have enjoyed some Tad Williams books in the past, so surely a game based on some of his books I haven’t read would be good.

MMORPGs I’m Ambivalent About

I’m not excited about these games per se, but I’ll probably buy or try them because of hype and/or boredom and/or peer pressure.

GW2: Heart of Thorns. I’ll play it, but because it’s GW2 aka. The One RPG Without Meaningful Rewards I’m anticipating that I’ll get bored quickly.

Crowfall. To me, this isn’t even an MMORPG, and I think a lot of people are going to be disappointed by that after the hype wears off. My latest concern is that the ambitious class customization plans will result in PvP balance issues that will ruin the game. (Everyone will keep chasing that one overlooked combination that is bugged and overpowered, resulting in an endless cycle of nerfing disappointment and forum rage.)

EQNext. I’m not burdened by EQ nostalgia, plus I have no reason to think this game will be good. (Where is ACNext Turbine??)

Pathfinder Online*. I’ve never played the tabletop version, and the gameplay appears uninteresting (and the animations are terrible), and it’s open world PvP. When will they learn?

Camelot Unchained*. I hear a lot of buzz about this game but it doesn’t look that great to me. That YouTube video honestly makes it look like the most boring thing in the entire universe. Given the way the devs talk about it, I get the impression that this game is more about being a game engine technology demo than a game.

MMORPGs I’m Undecided About

These are games that are on my radar, but I don’t know enough yet to form an opinion about how much I’d be willing to spend on them.

Shroud of the Avatar*. Seems to be flying under the radar. I hear little or nothing about it, but the gameplay looks tolerable.

Gloria Victis*. I like the look of this game but, you know, it’s open world PvP so it will mostly be a game of staying in town or hiding from people.

Wander. Saw it on Steam. It looks cool. It’s not clear to me if this is a PC game or not though.

MMORPGs I’ve Lost Interest In

These would probably have to be free or sold at a deep discount for me to even try them, unless I start to see a lot more positive buzz.

Star Citizen*. Honestly I’m not sure what this game is right now, but anything targeted at EVE players probably isn’t for me, plus we all know this is vaporware, right? (Just kidding! Don’t freak out!) But seriously, I think the smart money is on this game self-destructing from too much ambition.

Life is Feudal*. I thought there might be something to this game, but so far it looks like a plain old survival building game, and the models and animation need serious work.

Das Tal* and Albion Online*. Overhead views plus open world PvP. Why, god, why?

Pantheon: Something of Something*. Seems unlikely this will ever see the light of day, but if it does, only those handful of people who backed it will delude themselves into thinking it’s fun to replicate late-1990s mechanics. Sorry but this game looks awful right now.

H1Z1*. I don’t even consider this an MMORPG.

Pre-Launch MMORPGs I’ve Already Bought

Trove*. (I think it’s still technically beta.) I like it. Good casual game.

Landmark*. Meh. Just meh. Do we really need a game that’s a thinly-disguised 3D modelling program with a 1980s-style UI font?

The Repopulation*. I haven’t played enough to know what to think of it. But I feel like it’s probably trying to do too much and it’ll never capture that SWG feeling.

Advice To Game Developers

Please perfect your basic artwork assets, models, and animations before releasing anything to the public. It’s a huge turn-off to see placeholder models and animations that make your game look like a high school project. It’s literally the first thing I evaluate to determine if your development effort is serious business or you’re just a bunch of kids messing around in somebody’s basement. Great results can and do come from people’s basements, but honestly not very often.

* These games can be bought and played now in some early access form or another. (I think. Don’t hold me to it.)

The Line Between Hand-Crafted And Random

Syp generated some conversation and controversy by posting a somewhat strongly-worded post against procedurally-generated worlds, but I think he’s absolutely correct: If a developer tries to cut corners by substituting a computer-generated world in place of what should have been a hand-crafted world, it probably won’t be fun. I’m not sure which game he was talking about, but it might have been Crowfall or H1Z1, both of which embrace procedurally-generated worlds and claim to be MMORPGs.

He might also have been thinking of Trove which creates random worlds when you go through those Adventure gates. Those worlds aren’t terrible, but they don’t have any depth or personality. It’s obvious that they are computer-generated. When you leave, there is no reason to remember any part of it. But I don’t think they’re intended to be remembered. They’re just 3D spaces for you to run through and gather materials and kill stuff. You then use those materials to build your club world any way you want. (Or something like that.)

It’s basically the same in Landmark, the only other procedurally-generated MMORPG-like game that I have any experience with. The worlds themselves are forgettable–what you’re supposed to remember is the player-built constructions. You can always move to another world if you don’t like it.

I suppose that’s the demarcation line: Whether the world is supposed to be temporary or not. It’s okay and probably even desirable to create temporary worlds procedurally, but if the world is supposed to be permanent and especially if it’s supposed to be part of a story (like most “traditional” MMORPGs are supposed to be), it’s going to come out better when it’s hand-crafted, and savvy consumers will be able to tell the difference.

I think that Crowfall will be able to get away with procedurally-generated worlds because of the nature of their campaign system (and the fact that it’s not really an MMORPG like we’re used to). I imagine that starting a campaign will be somewhat similar to starting a game of Civilization. As you discover the landscape around you, you’ll be able to use it strategically as you place your forts or ganking chokepoints or whatever. And to maintain freshness, each new campaign world should be different from the last.

I haven’t played it yet, but I imagine it should work for H1Z1 because those worlds are mostly intended as a stage upon which to hit other people over the head and take their stuff. People probably aren’t going to be looking to discover any ancient civilizations in cryptic ruins.

Crowfall And Much Rambling On Game Types

A number of people are questioning whether Crowfall is asking for enough money to make their game. I don’t really care about that. (But I think they know what they’re doing.)

My main worry is that they’re making an MMO that I won’t like. And they know it. I suspect that’s why they are crowdfunding like this: Real investors wouldn’t support making a game intentionally targeted at a small niche market that doesn’t include mostly-casual PvE players.

But let’s get this out of the way first: I love that somebody is making a new MMO. Even if it isn’t made for me. I hope Crowfall gets made and it’s successful. (Let’s face it–it will get made, even if the Kickstarter fails, which it won’t, because they’ve almost made their goal already they easily made their goal, which I’m sure they knew they would.)

We Need A New Acronym

Why won’t I like it? Crowfall doesn’t sound like the kind of game that I think of when I think of an MMO. It sounds like another game that’s trying to redefine MMO as “any multiplayer game that saves your progress on cloud servers.”

I will now commence some tangential rambling unrelated to Crowfall.

Maybe MMO has always been defined like that. But I wish we could settle on a word or acronym to describe what used to be an MMO–i.e. the big three of EverQuest, Asheron’s Call, and Ultima Online back in 1999. Otherwise known as the games that created the genre.

For me, those kinds of games were built around concepts like exploration and imagination and adventure and story. So when I hear someone say they are making a new “MMO,” that is what I think–that they will be providing something that will spark my imagination and give me a place to explore. (Yes, I score high on the Bartle “exploration” scale.) To me, the lineage of such games goes back to the likes of Dungeons of Daggorath, Dungeon Master, Bard’s Tale, and the Ultima series. (And of course, every pen and paper role-playing game ever.)

Maybe “CRPG” is the word I need to adopt instead of “MMO,” although that implies old single-player games to me. Maybe “MMCRPG.” Ha! That’s better. (I just found a reference to “MMCRPG” in a 1999 Usenet post talking about Asheron’s Call.) Or maybe something totally weird like… ACEQUO! In honor of “the founding fathers.” (Pronounced ACE-Kwo.)

Crowfall Is Not For Explorers

Anyway, back to the point, Crowfall may be an MMO but it isn’t an “ACEQUO.”

Crowfall is being built around (in the words of the Kickstarter) “allies, enemies, empires, betrayal, risk, and conquest.” This is my main problem with Crowfall. I would enjoy a good story that includes those things, but I don’t particularly want to actually experience them. (That’s what “real life” is for.) Crowfall wants to be a Game of Thrones simulator, which I suppose is why people are also calling it a fantasy version of EVE–I don’t know much about the EVE “endgame,” but I gather that competition between corporations is a big thing there. (Possibly the only thing.)

Whatever the case, it’s pretty clear that attacking others and/or defending against attacks is the primary gameplay of Crowfall, and while I can enjoy that in short bursts or “matches,” it doesn’t appeal to me in a long-form “trench warfare” campaign that lasts for months.

Is Crowfall Going To Be Like Planetside 2??

Something else struck me when thinking about Crowfall. They use the tag line, “Eternal Heroes, Dying Worlds.” That idea seems fundamentally similar to modern progression shooters that I most recently experienced in Planetside 2. In modern shooters, you play in “campaigns” to gain experience and unlock more powerful weapons and stuff. The only difference between a shooter and what Crowfall is describing is that they are using fantasy weapons (and a third-person view) instead of guns.

One last thought I had about Crowfall is this: Why are they putting in character progression at all? They compare the game to Risk a lot in their pitch, but a strategy game like Risk requires no characters whatsoever. Why not make everyone equal so the game is actually about the strategy and not about who has the best character? (A question I ask myself quite a lot in MMO PvP games.)

Anyway those are some of the reasons why I’m not donating to Crowfall and it probably won’t be my main game if it ever comes out. It’s the kind of game that I might play for a couple of weeks just to see what everyone is talking about, then never play it again. (Like, say, Planetside 2, and also the vast majority of the games on my Steam list.)

But who knows. It’s still early. If they ever release a free demo or somebody starts streaming it I will definitely check it out to see if there’s anything in it for me. I do like the art style.

P.S. I wonder if playing Crowfall will be similar to WvW in GW2, or Cyrodiil in ESO.

Crowfall Sounds Like A PvP MMO

I’ve been interested in the dribble of Crowfall information that has been coming out over the last weeks. I liked the art style, and the initial bits on character creation looked interesting. That is until they started in with The Hunger Week. Now it’s starting to lose me.

Crowfall_T1Gameplay

I’m on board with the idea of a periodic “reset.” I actually like the idea of starting over now and then, but then I’m sort of an altoholic, so it fits my playing style. I realize that not everybody would like that though.

But then they kept talking. Excerpts below, emphasis mine:

One of the key elements of strategy games is they have a win condition followed by a board reset.  You start the game, you play the game, someone wins.  You reset the board and start a new game.

Phase 2 is Summer.  The Hunger starts to infect the creatures.  Resources become scarce.  Your team claims an abandoned quarry and must fight to keep it.  You use the stone to build an ancient keep, to use it as staging areas to attack their neighbors.

Your guild frantically builds a wall around your city, as the nature of conflict shifts from smaller skirmishes to siege warfare.

Your kingdoms grows in strength; your neighbors falter and you demand that they swear fealty or face complete loss of the Campaign.  Instead, a handful of smaller kingdoms choose to band together against you.

Your Kingdom emerges victorious, and you return to the Eternal Kingdoms to enjoy the spoils of war.   Your adversaries head home, too — to lick their wounds.

This sounds a lot like a siege-based PvP game, with some survival thrown in. It sounds like it will be like WvW in GW2, or Cyrodiil in ESO. Now, if you’re into WvW-style PvP, then Crowfall actually sounds like a neat concept. Unfortunately for those of us who have never considered MMORPGs as “competitions,” Crowfall doesn’t sound very appealing any more.

It almost sounds like they’re being deceptive about it, too. If they were proud of the PvP nature of their game, and they thought that MMO players craved more PvP games, why not feature that prominently? Why not give us a big headline that says, “This PvP Game Is Going To Be Awesome For PvP!” Instead, they’re hiding the PvP in a complex wall of text about The Hunger and Campaigns, like they’re trying to fool PvE players. Not cool.

I’d love to be wrong, but given that they’re leading with PvP information, I have a feeling that any PvE elements are going to be afterthoughts.

P.S. I never played Shadowbane.