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.

Planetside 2 – First, Second, and Third Impressions

This is unrelated to MMOs (sort of ), but I’ve been on a Quake CTF nostalgia trip for a while, so I went looking for a modern AAA shooter that would provide the same sort of team-based competitive spirit.

I don’t know if such a game still exists, but my first candidate for testing was Planetside 2, a game which I haven’t played before. (Well, that’s not entirely true–I installed it sometime around when it first came out, played it for about 30 seconds–enough to see myself airdropped into a chaotic mess–and then decided it wasn’t for me. I don’t remember it launching with the tutorial it has now and I had no clue how to play it.) I suppose technically PS2 is an MMO, but I think of it as a shooter because there is no PvE element.

It's a nice-looking shooter at least.
It’s a nice-looking shooter at least.

First Impressions

My first impression of Planetside 2 now after playing for a handful of hours is: It’s not what I was looking for, but it’s a fun and dare-I-say addictive game. (If you can set aside all the standard problems that modern shooters have.*)

In a nutshell, Planetside 2 drops you (sometimes literally) into a battlefield with hundreds or thousands or millions of other people. I’m not sure exactly, but it’s a lot of people. The gameplay is very similar to Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, if anyone remembers that, but with a whole lot more people.

There are the standard overall team objectives, like capturing enemy bases and defending capture points and so forth, but when you start out they are unimportant to your immediate survival so you don’t really think about them. At least I didn’t. Mostly I just thought about staying alive and trying not to shoot the teammates that kept jumping in front of me. (I imagine that is similar to what real warfare is like, not that I would have any clue about that.)

In more practical terms, when you start out your best bet is to find a group of other people running somewhere and help them shoot whatever enemies they’re shooting at. Most likely those enemies are very far away so you can’t really see what it is you’re shooting at. Even when you use your iron sights or whatever you still can’t see individual people very well. I end up spamming the “spot enemy” key while waving my gun around until I see a red triangle. Not that it matters because the enemy probably has sniper rifles and they’ll kill you the second you stick your head up to look around. Because all scrubs use sniper rifles in these games. (They don’t know they’re scrubs though, which is the worst part. That’s probably going to get some hateful comments but god I hate snipers.)

Side rant: God I hate snipers. I don’t know about anyone else, but I still curse the day that sniper-like rifles were ever added to the shooter genre. The first one I can remember was the Railgun in Quake 2, and snipers have destroyed the fun of anyone who prefers “fair” combat ever since. (At least the Railgun didn’t usually kill you in one shot like most modern sniper rifles.)

Anyway, back to Planetside 2. It’s yet another one of those progression shooters where you “level up” by gaining experience so you can unlock new stuff and whatnot, which makes it sort of like an MMORPG. You’re never really sure exactly what it is that you’re doing to gain these points, but sometimes you get a lot of points and sometimes you get a few points, and eventually your “battle rank” goes up. (I assume that’s meaningful but I can’t really tell any difference except that I can create more loadout sets–which is useless to me since I only have basically one gun.) That’s the essence of what makes these progression shooters so addicting. You’re always thinking to yourself, “Well, if I just play a little bit more, I’ll be able to unlock X, Y, or Z and that will really help kill those bleepity bleeping bleeped snipers.”

One thing I really like is the nifty report that appears each time you die that shows how well you did during each “lifetime.” It also shows who killed you so you can see just how much that other guy out-ranked you and how hopeless your chances are to run back and avenge yourself upon him.

I don't know what any of those numbers mean but it looks pretty impressive. EXTREME MENACE KILL. Yeah!
Don’t know what any of it means but it looks impressive. EXTREME MENACE KILL. Yeah!

One thing I don’t like is the placement of the minimap. SOE must have been sitting around thinking, “Let’s see, every other game puts the minimap in the upper-right and a few put it in the lower-right, so everyone is familiar with looking to the right to see where they are. I know, let’s put ours in the lower-left!”

Ahem. Anyway. I set out to find something like Quake, but this isn’t it. The scale of the battles in Planetside 2 is way too big to feel like you’re playing anything like a team-based “sport.” In these massive battles I don’t feel like my playing matters much when I’m only doing roughly 0.1% of the damage, or whatever. You’re mostly playing against yourself at that point; just trying to see how long you can stay alive while hopefully contributing a few bullets in the right directions.

To be fair, there are occasional times when the action feels a little more Quake-like, for example when you’re trying to hold one of the capture points. Those times are quite fun. But they are pretty rare.

While on I’m the subject of massive-battle shooters, let’s talk about sound effects. Something that bugs me about Planetside 2 and other shooters of this kind is the unrelenting assault of sound effects that wash over you the entire time you play. Don’t get me wrong: It’s perfect for the kind of game it is, and it’s brilliantly immersive, but I just can’t handle it anymore at my advanced age. It jangles my nerves and makes my muscles hurt from the tension. (I am the same way about continuous loud noises in real life, too.) If I lose track of time and play for too long (which unfortunately is easy since there aren’t any breaks in the action), I feel like I’ve been in a boxing match. I really wish there was a way to adjust the sound in such a way that you only hear the things that really matter to your particular gameplay. Or maybe have some way to adjust the volume of your effects versus the effects of other players versus incidental world effects. (Final Fantasy XIV has some nice controls like that.)

Overall it’s a fun game* that’s worth a look (since it’s free), but I can only play it for short periods of time. (I usually set a timer so I only play for about 20 minutes per session.) So far I don’t see any compelling reason to pay any real money for it. I’m perfectly happy with the free experience so far. (Unless there is a way to pay them a one-time fee or something to unlock everything–like a super-sniper-seeking-death-bomb–but I have a feeling they are more interested in nickel-and-diming you to death. A quick glance at the store confirms that it’s a subscription model–that SOE All Access Pass thingy–with the obligatory cash shop.)

Second Impressions

After playing a little bit each night for about a week, I’ve started to notice some trends.

The deck is seriously stacked against people who like a more defensive playing style, like, say, me. All weapons do incredible amounts of damage. Snipers almost always one-shot kill you (typical in modern shooters). Standard duels between two automatic weapons at relatively close range last for about two seconds if you’re lucky. Even the defensive turret positions at bases don’t last very long against flying vehicle weapons. So if you don’t like dying repeatedly, you may want to steer clear.

The game makes it possible to use plenty of super-cheesy scrub tactics. Things like suicide-ramming a position with vehicles over and over again. And of course the sniper thing. You can never, ever stand still if there is a hillside anywhere in the vicinity.

I’m not quite prepared to call it a pay-to-win game, but you can definitely buy better “stuff” with these things called Nanites (like Maxes and Tanks and Flying Gizmos), which are given out periodically while you play, and I think you get more Nanites if you’re a paying customer. (You also get more XP I think.) Basically, I believe it’s designed so that paying customers control the overall battlefield. The rest of us freeps are beholden to their whims. (Cannon fodder, in other words.)

But for some weird reason, I still think it’s fun*. Maybe because it’s the only game like this that I can play for free hehe.

Third Impressions

As you can tell from my statistics page, I’ve played about 18 hours of Planetside 2 and reached battle rank 14. My kill/death ratio stands at 0.27, a rating which I would have found shameful back in my Quake days, and today I find only slightly less embarrassing. People who are good at modern shooters would probably put me in the “loser scrub” category based on those numbers. (But I saw plenty of people worse than me, so there.)

Anyway, the freshness of the game has now worn off. I might pop in every now and then (because it’s free) but it doesn’t really feed the reward center of my brain very well now that the “ooh shiny” phase is over.

(By the way, the statistics page in Planetside 2 is very, very cool. The obsessive attention to detail in tracking statistics is one thing I love about modern shooters.)

Modern Problems

  • All modern shooters have these problems, no matter how fun they are:

1) Usually, you are the only person on your team who knows what to do and how to do it, because you’ve played team-based shooters for ages and everyone else is just there to shoot stuff and look at the pretty lights. 95% of the rest of your team either doesn’t help or actively hinders you somehow, which makes for a frustrating experience. Since Planetside 2 is a Friendly-Fire game, you can expect your teammates to be particularly adept at either shooting you in the back, or jumping in front of you when you’re about to make a crucial kill.

2) Everyone else has unlocked all kinds of uber weaponry and armor so you have basically no chance of killing anyone who has played the game longer than you, which makes for a frustrating experience. I really miss the old days when everyone was on a level playing field equipment-wise. (After carefully reviewing the weapons of the people that kill me, I can say that it’s not quite as bad as I first thought.)

3) In most modern shooters, old people like me can’t see what they’re shooting at. The enemies usually blend in completely with the background terrain somehow via. some sort of camouflage, or the enemy models are so small that they are just specks of pixels.

4) Ever since 1999-ish, somebody somewhere will always make a bot or a hack or something for online games so even if you do manage to get yourself the right equipment, you’re still never going to be able to beat the cheaters. Maybe I’m paranoid but I still clearly remember when cheating ruined Quake 3 tournaments. (And people were cheating, it wasn’t just our imaginations–back in the old days it was easy to tell the difference between a very good player and someone using an aim bot–so once the genie came out of the bottle, in my mind, there is no reason to think that cheaters aren’t continuing their efforts to create more and better cheats as the years pass.) (By the way, I don’t think everyone that kills me is cheating, like some people do, but some small percentage of people out there are definitely cheating in online games. The only thing you can do is keep repeating the mantra, “It’s just a game. It doesn’t matter.” And try to enjoy the scenery while you’re running back to the battle.)