Catching Up – CCP, Gazillion, etc.

Literally my only screenshot from Marvel Heroes.

I mentioned that there was nothing to blog about. Then I started catching up on all the things I’ve missed in the MMO landscape over the last month or so.

CCP VR Layoffs. Apparently CCP decided they didn’t want to be a pioneer in VR after all. Presumably this means they’ll need to figure out how to increase revenue from EVE, a fourteen-year-old game that new players run screaming from. (Incidentally, I keep meaning to try out the free version.)

Voice Actor Strike Ends. I’m glad this is over. I don’t know all the details but I assume everybody is happy with the results. I love good voice acting, and voice actors deserve not to be treated like cattle by game companies.

Lord of the Rings coming to Amazon. Not quite game-related, but Christopher Tolkien retiring from his watch over the Tolkien estate might one day affect Lord of the Rings Online in ways we can’t predict. (Incidentally, I have no plans to watch Lord of the Rings on Amazon without a lot of convincing. You can’t just wave the words “Lord of the Rings” in front of my nose like candy before a toddler to get my attention.)

Marvel Heroes Shutdown. This was a huge surprise to me. After a month of silence, Disney and Marvel cut ties with developer Gazillion, and Marvel Heroes is shutting down on every platform. I’m pretty much over Diablo-style ARPGs, but I played this game a little bit in 2015 and I enjoyed it, and I thought it had been doing well all this time.

MXM Shutdown. And this just in.. NCSoft MOBA MXM is shutting down, too. After, like, a month? Or something? I don’t know anything about this game except that every time I heard about it, I thought, “Huh? Why?” Still, you hate to see anything tank in the games industry. It hurts everyone.

Year End 2014

In most Steam sales, I have a fairly strict cut-off point of avoiding anything unless it is under $10. Over the past year or so, I’ve rarely found anything meeting that criteria that I don’t already have, so I was a bit surprised to find myself buying nine games in this Winter Steam Sale, including Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, The Walking Dead Season 2, Murdered: Soul Suspect, Democracy 3, Contagion, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, Dominions 4, Thief, and Transistor. All less than $10.

Not to mention the fact that Origin had its own Winter Sale so I picked up Mass Effect 3 for a single-digit price, too.

Of course it will probably be years before I ever play any of those games, if ever. (I looked at Dominions 4 briefly but it was a bit confusing so I put it away again after about 15 minutes.)

I intended to finish Dragon Age II and then head into Dragon Age: Inquisition, but I stalled out after the second act. I was getting antsy for an ending so I could move on to something else, and then I went and bought Elite: Dangerous.

Elite: Dangerous came along at a great time because I was getting tired of story-driven gaming in general, and there were a bunch of Netflix shows I was falling behind on. For me, it’s rather difficult to watch television and cut scenes at the same time. But Netflix and Elite: Dangerous make the perfect combination.

Someday I’ll write more about Elite: Dangerous but in a nutshell I enjoy it. I have a hard time seeing it as an MMO though, because I’m playing it entirely in the “Solo” mode, and it doesn’t feel like I’m missing anything without other people. Space flight is an inherently lonely sort of activity, so it seems natural to me that there aren’t other people around. In real life I would only expect to see other people in the same ship that I was in, or after I landed on planets.

I don’t have much to say about the year 2014 in MMO gaming. I’m not much into trends. ESO and WildStar weren’t bad games in my opinion, but I didn’t get enough out of them to pay for a continuous subscription. I’d happily jump back into them again though. ArcheAge was a bit of a disappointment, although I could still see myself going back to it from time to time if–and only if–my progress were not destroyed by losing my property, which will eventually happen when my Patron status runs out.

As for 2015, one day I want to write a blog post about this, but I am going to call it now and say that EQ:Next is going to be a terrible game that will shatter the hopes of many people. There is an abundance of evidence for this conclusion in what we can already see in Landmark.

What’s The Best Subscription-Only MMO?

What’s the best subscription-only MMO out there right now? If you could only pick one to maintain, which one would it be? (By the way, the possible answers are: WoW, EVE, WildStar, ESO, or FFXIV.)

This is pretty easy for me to answer, actually: Final Fantasy XIV. Hands down. No need to even talk about it. It’s beautiful, it’s fun, there’s a lot to do, it’s updated often, it does every MMO mechanic (that matters) exactly right, and it’s cheaper than the others at $12/month. The only down side is that replayability is low if you ever want to make a second character. (You don’t need to, though, since you can play any class.)

Somewhere in Final Fantasy XIV.
Somewhere in Final Fantasy XIV.

In second place I would probably put WoW. It’s more expensive but it’s hard to beat the sheer magnitude of content available. For me, though, the lack of modern MMO features gets on my nerves and the gameplay gets repetitive after a month or so.

WildStar and ESO are both great games, too, but only for a limited time. Each one becomes repetitive quickly, so there’s no need to keep a subscription going all the time unless you have friends that play it.

EVE? Come on. Do I even have to say? That game is just not fun. It’s barely even a “game.” It’s more of a point-and-click adventure. The only reason to subscribe now is if you somehow got invested in the game years ago and built up tons of skills to the point that now you have to subscribe because you can no longer learn any skills in under 6 months.

This is not to say that I wouldn’t subscribe to WoW, EVE, WildStar, or ESO ever. I just would only do it for an occasional month here or there. What I’m saying is that FFXIV is the best one to stay subscribed to all the time. At least for me. Opinions may vary, of course. :)

PvE, PvP, and Racing

The topic of discussion from the NBI Talkback is whether or not PvE and PvP mix in MMOPRGs. At long last I have some time to write about it, now that everyone else has moved on.

Racing cars

The answer is no, they don’t mix. Thanks for reading.

But seriously, we’ve all seen the sharp divide between the PvE and PvP communities within any given MMORPG. In my opinion, it’s not because of the games or the players. The problem to me is that PvE and PvP require two entirely different competitive mindsets.

Competition is the basis of all games at some level, but there are different kinds of competition. Sometimes you are competing with yourself, such as when you play solitaire. Sometimes you are competing with other people, individually or in teams, such as when you are bowling or ski jumping. And sometimes you are competing against other people, such as when you play tennis or volleyball.

To further illustrate the different kinds of competition, I will use a weird racing metaphor.

I’m told that there are people in the world who participate in activities that aren’t on computers, so imagine driving cars as a sport. Let us assume that this is analogous to the “sport” of playing MMORPGs.

At the most basic level, you can enjoy the sport of car racing by getting in a car and driving down a road. You enjoy the wind whipping through your hair on a sunny day. You enjoy listening to the radio. You don’t care if someone in a Maserati passes you at the speed of sound. You don’t care if you have to swerve around an old man with his blinkers on. You just like going fast. You’re not competing with anyone. You are a casual PvE player.

As you get more serious about your car racing, you might start to care about how fast you’re going. Maybe you want to try racing on a track. So you go down to the local race track on the weekend and drive 10 laps in your car. You do this every weekend, and start to record how long it takes each time. You start to compare your times from weekend to weekend to see if you’re getting better or worse. You’re competing against yourself. Maybe you put on better tires or replace your carburetor to go faster. You’re still a PvE player, but maybe you’ve installed a DPS meter and you’re trying to play as best you can. I think the unofficial name for you is a “midcore” player.

Now you want to take your racing to the next level. You start to enter some time trials with other drivers. Each driver takes a turn at the track and does their best. In the end, you compare the times and the fastest one is declared the winner and gets a cash prize. You’re technically competing with other people, but you’re not racing with other people. You’re still a PvE player, but now you’re in a hardcore raiding guild and you’re trying to beat all the other guilds to the world firsts.

Finally you decide to enter a real race. Your time trials qualify you for a pole position. (Is that a real thing? I don’t know. :) Now you’re racing against other people on the same track at the same time. Now it doesn’t matter so much how fast you go, just so long as you are ahead of all the other racers at the end. This puts the racers in direct competition against one another. You have to adjust your tactics based on what the other racers are doing in real-time. Now you’ve become a PvP player, albeit of the more casual sort, playing in battlegrounds.

If you’re still not satisfied, you might turn to a demolition derby. Now there are no rules, and anything goes. (Sort of.) Now you’re not only trying to beat the other racers, you’re trying to knock them completely out of the race by smashing their cars to bits so they can’t race again tomorrow. Now you’re a more hardcore PvP player, perhaps playing in world versus world events or structured PvP matches.

But wait, there’s more. After the apocalypse, you still need your demolition derby fix. But now there are no more laws, and nobody to enforce them even if there were any. You attach thick, bullet-proof metal plates to your car and sharp spikes to your hubs. You don’t care about competition anymore, you just want to destroy things. You drive into random neighborhoods and start ramming minivans and mopeds, tossing grenades through windows and blowing vehicles into flaming fragments, shooting at defenseless people walking by on the street. You join a gang and terrorize whole towns together. Now you’ve gone as far as you can in an MMORPG: You’ve gone into open-world, full loot PvP, and you probably play EVE or you think Ultima Online was the greatest MMO ever made.

Hrm. That metaphor works, right? Well, it’s something along those lines.

I don’t mean to say there’s anything wrong with PvE or PvP. The point is that each of those examples is a different kind of competition with different emotional risks and rewards, and they don’t all appeal to the same group of people. That’s why there isn’t just one kind of racing sport in the whole world. There’s a bunch of different ones. I’m assuming. I’m not much into racing.

Yet modern MMORPG games typically try to jam most of those styles of competition into their games, with varying degrees of success. Instead of focusing on one core style of gameplay, they divide their attention across a dozen different styles. Inevitably, something suffers, or the game changes completely when you enter different phases.

For myself, I generally don’t play MMORPGs to compete against other people. I play them to chill out, and competition has the exact opposite effect on me because I must win all the things all the time. Ahem. Honestly I don’t consider PvP in most MMOs to be a legitimate form of competition anyway, because there is almost never a level playing field on which to compete. It’s always a competition of group size. And if you’re unlucky enough to be stuck in an even 1-on-1 matchup, it’s mostly a competition of class stun abilities and gear. (I am coming from a Quake background, where everyone had the same abilities and gear and there was no crowd control except when you hit the floor at someone’s feet with a rocket and bounced them across the room, like God intended.)

Did I have a point? I’m not sure any more. I think it’s this: It takes a certain mindset to play PvP, and it is antithetical to the mindset of the typical PvE player. In my opinion, studios should develop one game for PvE, and another game entirely for PvP.

But then I’m not a game publisher trying to keep players and appease shareholders. From a business perspective, you would want all players in your game no matter how they play. So in that case I would keep them separated as much as possible. I would probably go so far as to have PvE classes separated from PvP classes, and you couldn’t go into PvE zones with a PvP character and vice versa. (Like for example at character creation you could make a “Warlock” class that can only level in PvP, or make a “Wizard” class that can only level in PvE. Something like that.)

Many other great thoughts on this topic can be found in these posts:

Co-existence of PvP and PvE

NBI Talkback, pvp-pve mixing!

Memories of PvP!

To PvP or not PvP, that is the Question

And I’m sure many more that I have missed, sorry!

Returning to EVE Online?

Continuing my adventures in finding an MMO to get hooked on before the new ones come out in 2014, I turned to venerable EVE, the best–or at least the most popular–game I’ve never paid for. With reckless abandon, I bought 3 months of time and downloaded the client.

I haven’t played EVE in five years, when I played for a week or so during a free trial. Surprisingly, my character from the free trial was still there. I have no idea what "level" he is or if EVE even has a measurement for that. I didn’t get very far past mining with him.

In any case, I decide to make a new character. I find myself in an amazing character creation screen that wasn’t there five years ago. It’s one of the best custom character creation implementations I’ve ever seen, and yet I can’t help but wonder why it’s in a game of spaceships, because I have no memory of ever seeing my character’s face in the game at any point.

It turns out that you get to see your character when you’re docked. He stands in a room with a flat panel television and a couch that you can sit on. It takes me about ten seconds to realize that this is entirely pointless and adds nothing to the game. Okay, whatever. It doesn’t hurt I guess.

At this point I turn to the tutorials, because I remember from my previous experiences with EVE that this is an incredibly complicated game that is impossible to figure out without help. My memory is correct. I’m led through undocking in a coffin-sized capsule and warping to a place where I can find my newbie ship. I install some newbie guns and newbie armor and destroy a newbie target dummy. Some of these things are familiar and it’s starting to come back to me.

After the newbiest of the tutorials, I’m led to another system where I dock at another station. Here I get to choose a new path of Agent missions. (Agents are sort of like the quest-givers in EVE.) I pick the Explorer path because I haven’t done it before and searching for ancient relics sounds cool. At this point I’m introduced to sensor probes. Even after the tutorials, I have no understanding of how these things work. Sometimes they’re in my inventory. Sometimes they’re in the probe launcher. They keep going back and forth. Somehow I launch them into space. There’s a neat-looking solar system view where I can sort-of change the pattern of the probe launches. Somehow they go places and find things, and there are these percentages in a window that go up every time I launch probes. Except sometimes they go down or disappear. Anyway, when the percentages get to 100% I can click a button to warp to a place and do a hacking mini-game, or collect something. I really don’t understand any of this, but I notice that about 99% of my interaction with the game is clicking "go" buttons and watching what happens, and there are so many windows on the screen I can’t really see the super-awesome space view much of the time. Eventually the Explorer Agent tells me I’ve passed all the tests and finished all the missions and I’m ready to go. And the Agent stops talking to me.

Leaving me with no clue what to do next. This part seems very familiar, too.

Did I mention that the game looks really amazing? Warping through space looks cool as hell. (It’s unfortunate that you have to keep covering up your view with an endless number of little windows. I spend quite a lot of time moving windows around so I can see things better.)

So is the game different from five years ago? Not really. Not at first, anyway. I think the font might be slightly better. But there’s still a whole lot of down time. It’s a great game for people who don’t have much hand-eye coordination, though. Maybe that’s why people like it. In my meager experience so far, you spend most of your time watching the screen and not interacting with it very much. Most of the game is finding the right place to click on the screen.

I don’t know if EVE is going to "stick" any more than any other MMO. As I remember from before, it’s a game best played on a secondary computer that you only glance at from time to time. (EVE actually runs decently on my MacBook Air so maybe that’s what I’ll do.)