Why I Didn’t Buy H1Z1 For $10

H1Z1 is one of those early access games that I have a mild interest in playing, if for no other reason than that it looks pretty. In the recent Steam sale, it was discounted 50% to $9.99, which is under that magic $10 mark where I will buy just about anything in any condition. I hovered over the Buy button…

But then I started to think.

I wondered what my reward would be for buying now–what cool stuff I would get after the game launches. How many “credits” or “gems” or “zombie points” I would get, what costumes or guns I would get, what titles I would get, etc. Because obviously there should be some tangible incentives for me to buy a game that’s buggy and broken and not finished.

So I went looking. And looking. And looking. And found… nothing. There is no indication on the official web site that H1Z1 will ever launch, let alone any listings of post-launch rewards I might get for buying now. The web site gives every indication that the game is live now, and you’re buying a finished product now, and the whole “early access” thing isn’t important at all. In fact, it might even be a feature.

So I didn’t buy it, even for that measly $10.

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.

State of Decay Is A-OK

In January, I went through a phase where I wanted to play some survival-type games. The first game I pulled out was State of Decay, which I already had on Steam.

I’m probably the last person to discover this, but State of Decay is pretty cool. I had played it before, somewhere back when it first came to the PC I think, but it didn’t really “click” with me the first time. This time, I got into it and spent some 40+ hours playing it. I kept thinking it would make a great MMORPG (minus the permadeath). If H1Z1 turns out to be anything like a multiplayer State of Decay, then that would be very cool. (From what I’ve seen, though, it doesn’t look like it’s going that way.)

The biggest problem I have with State of Decay is that traveling from place to place takes a long time. It takes a long time to run from place to place, sometimes it takes a long time to drive from place to place. I ran into a problem where too many new missions would pop up before I could complete old missions. I’d journey toward one mission, get sidetracked, or get injured, and then have to return to home base to heal or something, and by the time I got back to that mission, two new ones had popped up. And some of them disappear if you don’t complete them fast enough.

The other problem I had was that the game ended! I escaped the valley or whatever and won. I wanted to play more and take over everything! I suppose I could have kept going, but it felt somewhat pointless after “winning.”

How To Survive (A Game, Not A Guide)

In January, I went through a phase where I wanted to play some survival-type games. Perhaps I was inspired by the news that H1Z1 rushed itself out the door too soon came to Steam Early Access. I already had TUG and Don’t Starve, but they never really grabbed me. (I keep hoping TUG will improve.) I have a bunch of these kinds of games on my Steam wishlist, but as I’m sure you know, 99% of them are still Early Access (including TUG), so I tried to find something else.

I settled on How To Survive because it was cheap at $15, had mostly good reviews, and had achieved the near-impossible task of actually being finished.

HowToSurvive 2015-02-03 17-00-35-47

How To Survive’s basic gameplay involves finding things to eat and drink, killing zombies, and finding and clearing out shelters to sleep in before you get tired. At night, you have to tread carefully because of these weird Gollum-like creatures that stalk you, but run away if you point a flashlight at them. And along the way you pick up pieces and parts that combine together to make bows and armor and guns and gadgets that help you. And there’s a simple leveling progression system so you gain experience points for completing quests and select skills from a tree now and then.

It’s a fun, quirky game that’s reminiscent of a real-time Fallout. Especially in the way some zombies blow up. If you shoot one of the fat zombies, they explode into gruesome chunks and leave a huge red smear on the ground. (And damage you if you’re standing too close.) And there is a pretty funny Survival Guide (Kovac’s Rules!) that pops up now and then to explain the game mechanics.

(Possibly a mildly spoiler-ish video below, as finding a new Rule is a fun carrot in the game.)

And there are talking monkeys.

You’ll run across headstones all over the place that show where other players in other games have died (including yourself!). It’s a bit like Dark Souls in that way. You never actually see those other players, but you can get a pretty good idea of where the dangerous parts of the map are from the number of graves.

Staring at my own grave.
Staring at my own grave.

It was a leap of faith for me to buy a game with a Diablo-style isometric-ish kind of view, because they aren’t my favorite. I’ve grown to dislike that viewpoint over the years for one simple reason: I hate that I can’t see what’s beyond the edges of the screen. I should be able to see over there. I mean, my guy is standing right there. It’s like a stone’s throw away. I can see that he can see past the edge of the screen, so why can’t I see there?? Left-click-drag, left-click-drag. Nothing!

And it’s always something really dangerous that’s just off the edge of the screen, too. You’d think my guy could warn me about that. Just a simple chat bubble would be nice. “Get ready,” or “Don’t make me go over there!”

Other than that, the biggest negative in the game that I’ve seen so far is the same drawback that almost every game with an inventory has: Not enough inventory space. If I’m supposed to gather things and combine them together to make stuff, I want to gather everything. But even after making a couple of pouches, eventually you’ll start running out of space and have to drop something to pick up the thing you want, and that’s a painful chore.

So far I’ve played about five hours, which I figure is close to the break-even point on a $15 purchase, when you consider an HD movie rental is $5 or $6. And I can see myself playing it now and then in the future, at least until I finish the “campaign.” After that I think there are “challenges” to complete where they drop you somewhere on a map and ask you to survive. All-in-all, How To Survive is a surprisingly fun diversion.

Goodbye Massively

So yeah, there was a post recently in the MMO blogosphere that basically trashed Massively. I guess they’re entitled to their opinion, but it didn’t make any sense to me.

I liked Massively for the exact reason that this other blog trashed them: They didn’t take themselves too seriously. I always felt like there were human beings behind their articles and podcasts. Real people doing the best they could with clearly limited resources in a super fast-paced environment.

I get the feeling that people expect gaming news sites to have the same sort of gravitas that CNN or The New York Times has. That seems unrealistic to me. Most of these places are operated by gamers. That’s sort of like having The Times staffed by writers who are simultaneously running for Congress. I never viewed Massively as a hard-hitting news journalism site. I never view any gaming news as hard-hitting journalism. Mainly because they talk about games. It’s inherently a frivolous topic. There are a lot more important things in the world to worry about. If you haven’t learned that yet then, well, I envy you.

I don’t think it was a secret that Massively was always a purely editorial site. To me, they were essentially a regular blog with multiple writers who just happened to have a corporate sponsor and an expensive web platform. They wrote articles with opinions, and I never saw them try to hide that. I didn’t always agree with them, and I liked some of the writers more than others, but their voice was what I liked about them. They never pretended to be a lofty, objective source of pure facts, because such a beast doesn’t exist, especially when you’re talking about games. The Massively staff clearly liked some things and didn’t like other things, which makes them pretty much the same as you and I.

There have been complaints that Massively just re-printed press releases. Maybe they did and maybe they didn’t, but I don’t understand why anyone would take issue with that. I mean, press releases are supposed to be printed as news items. That’s why they call them press releases, you know? Everybody reprints press releases. It takes a lot of time and energy to research the credibility of every single press release, and most online news sites just don’t have the manpower. Even big places. That’s the world we live in. It’s mostly up to you the news consumer to sort out the facts nowadays, if it’s something you really care about. If you let someone else do it for you, you’re almost always going to be misinformed.

There was some mention of the poor quality of the Massively comment section. This is another topic that baffles me. As a blogger, it probably doesn’t behoove me to mention this, but I rarely read or participate in comment sections. There is a very popular philosophy that a web site is only as good as its comments, but I don’t necessarily subscribe to that philosophy. I look at web sites not as communities to visit, but as publications to read. That makes me a Luddite in today’s Internet, but that’s just how I am. (Part of it is that I’m not very good at writing off the cuff, and I usually need time to cogitate on my ideas and edit my writing before I feel confident publishing it. This very post is driving me crazy because I feel like I’m rushing it out the door too soon.) Anyway, the point is that I almost never read any comments on Massively, but the ones I did didn’t seem any better or worse than any other site’s comments.

That being said, I’m fully aware that commercially viable web sites need a thriving community to sustain a web-based business. It probably doesn’t matter if the community is for or against you, as long as people post comments. It’s the most visible metric of how successful a web site is. Therefore, it makes excellent business sense to post articles that will generate conversations; good, bad, or indifferent. Let’s face it. Most people are jerks. If you give them a chance to write a comment, they’re probably going to write a jerky comment. (That might be cynical.) I recently mentioned a Massively Soapbox article that I didn’t care for. But it did its job perfectly: It generated conversation, both in its comment section and in the blogosphere. And that’s exactly what a sustainable for-profit web site is supposed to do.

Beyond all of that, the only way I can think of to moderate comments is to delete the ones that aren’t appropriate. But that goes against the idea that more comments equates to better commercial success. It also takes a lot of time and energy to moderate, which again is something that most news sites don’t have. I wouldn’t expect them to be able to do more than skim through the comments and take care of the most obvious offenders.

The other things I enjoyed about Massively were the podcasts and the streams. The Massively podcast was the most laid-back, unpretentious podcast about MMOs ever. Most of the time it was just @Sypster and @nbrianna sitting around chatting about games. Usually one of them had a much higher volume than the other, which drove me crazy as I kept having to adjust the volume in the car, and every week I wished somebody over there would learn the value of audio compression. (I wish that for most podcasts, actually.) Anyway, I loved how the two of them represented polar opposite viewpoints about MMOs: Syp usually favored the soloing, gaming parts, while Brianna usually favored the roleplaying and economy parts. It made for great discussions.

Massively streams were great for giving us a look at games before we had to plunk down some money for them. Most recently, I learned from watching MJ on the H1Z1 streams that I had no desire to pay money for early access to a game where random strangers are going to run up and actually speak with voice chat at you. *Shivers* I also found it fascinating to watch how MJ plays MMOs… the things that she finds interesting in a game is incredibly different from me, so it gave me some perspective on how other people play these games. Mike was also great at streaming (and Jasmine before the cutbacks). They all sort of form the template for how I think game streams should be. Informative, inclusive, entertaining, but not shock-jocky.

So all in all, they weren’t perfect, but they did a pretty good job in a tough business. Also, based on what I’m hearing in a Repopulation stream from MJ, I have a feeling we’re going to see them again in the future, which is awesome. For me and the genre.

P.S. The Repopulation has nice visuals. I’m somewhat impressed.

H1Z1 – Dumb Question

This is probably a dumb question, but if these Airdrops are such a fun element of the game that everyone enjoys, why aren’t they building it into the game as random spawns like Trion’s Rifts and Arcfalls? Why would they make someone pay to spawn a fun event for everyone? That makes no sense. It’s like making people buy world boss spawns. (Don’t get any ideas, game developers. That would be terrible.)

I mean, besides the obvious answer that it’s a great way to make money from players. But then, why would anyone pay for an Airdrop if there’s little or no chance of getting anything out of it (and now apparently it will be even less chance)? That makes even less sense. I can’t even imagine spending real money for that. Maybe I’m the wrong target audience. (I’ve never bought a lockbox in my entire life.)

Sometimes I think SOE goes too far with their efforts at transparency. I mean, I appreciate the honesty, but when they “think out loud” online it sounds like they just don’t know what they’re doing, which squanders the goodwill they’re trying to get by being transparent.

H1Z1 – Early Access Already?

So apparently John Smedley of SOE called PvE players “disgusting carebears” on Twitter. (Covered by TAGN, BioBreak, and Clean Casuals.) It’s yet another example of how executives should never attempt to be funny in public.

More interesting to me was the sudden news (to me, at least) that H1Z1 is launching on Steam today (January 15). (Well, I say “launching” but I really mean “crowdfunding” because it’s an Early Access game.) This surprises me because I thought it would be a long, long time before we saw this game.

But then SOE seems be building their business around releasing games roughly two years before they are ready. I was burned once by SOE’s “early access” with Landmark, so there’s simply no way I’m buying Hizzy until launch day (and/or a deep, deep discount sale that puts it around $5), because if it’s anything like Landmark, they are releasing it way too early and what we’ll actually get is a game engine demo with maybe two hours of actual gameplay.

Not to mention that it’s a zombie survival game with, so far as I can recall, no distinguishing features. (Zing! Actually I don’t know if it has any features or not. I watched the very first live stream of H1Z1 and saw nothing but a running and driving simulator where you could hit zombies with a baseball bat.)

H1Z1 – You Have Got To Be Kidding Me

So. H1Z1. Another zombie game.

That’s already enough to make me not care about it.

Zombies were old when The Secret World came out. (Yes, TSW is already an MMO with zombies.) Zombies are now so old that you can’t help but roll your eyes whenever you see another zombie game. “But wait, in this one the zombies can breakdance! See how relevant we are!” No. Zombies are dead. Pun intended. They are like elves in a fantasy MMO. Except there are no other races to distract you from the elves.

Zombies are so over that vampires would be a refreshing change. In a World War 2 setting.

Oh, H1Z1 is coming from SOE? Oh that changes everything. Now I’m thinking that if I play it, not only will I be bored to death from yet another zombie-themed survival game, but I will also be annoyed by pop-up ads or screwed out of a lot of money!

Yeah, Landmark has tarnished my opinion of SOE a bit, which was never really that high in the first place. Man was that a stupid impulse buy. (Landmark would be a fun game, if they could actually put a frickin’ game in there somewhere.)

Oh, I know how they could make it new and fresh. They could make it a cartoon zombie game, where the zombies are funny!

No, wait. That’s old too. (See World of Warcraft.)

But hey, it’ll be free-to-play, so it won’t cost anything to make fun of it.

P.S. Dear games industry: Please stop doing zombie games. Please? Zombies are quite repulsive to look at, you know. Not pretty at all.

P.P.S. I have to acknowledge that there is a small possibility that H1Z1 might be fun. It’s just that at this point, it needs to be the absolute most awesome gameplay ever to climb up above the mediocrity of the zombie genre.

Some days later…

P.P.P.S. I watched some of the H1Z1 livestream. Let’s just say that I won’t be buying into any alphas or betas for this one unless they can show something a lot more interesting.