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Chillin’ Out In Limbo Once Again

Lately I find myself stuck in gaming limbo once again. I’ve reached that point where no currently-released games give me that burning desire to log in and play for hours. This weekend I had a lot of free time and ended up preferring to just zone out playing Hearthstone while watching Netflix on my second monitor. I’m not burned out on MMOs or even games in general — quite the opposite, in fact.  I’m desperate for something great to play; I truly do want that ‘next best thing’.

Two MMOs are on my radar as big interests: EverQuest Next and Camelot Unchained.  Both are in in the year or more left in development stage which means it’s too early to wait for them to come out.  For those of you emailing me or tweeting me to check out EverQuest again, I am. I’ve dabbled once again on the old school servers and I’m debating if I want to jump into that heavily or… try FFXI with some friends.

I had a craving this weekend for something medieval or fantasy based where I build and/or manage a kingdom. My mind starting concocting something like WarCraft 3 meets Civilization.  Anyone have a good recommendation for something like that? Just a random thought.

What games are keeping you busy or maybe you can tell me about a game I’ve neglected to pay attention to that might release before my big two.

Time Frames

This world we live in — the real one, not your virtual world of choice — is one in which we value time over anything else.  We’re constantly trying to make things faster because faster is ‘better’. The same principle appears to apply to MMOs.

Time frames for just about everything used to be very different in MMOs.  Leveling used to take years, then it went to months, now it’s as low as weeks or even days. Finding a group used to take days or hours, and now it’s instantaneous.  Obtaining the gear you wanted could take months and months, but now if you take longer than a few weeks or even days to gear up you must be a filthy casual who clearly isn’t as good as the guys getting their gear to drop on the first run.

Everything is speeding up, and as a result everything is getting more shallow. People care less about the moment, less about the experience, and more about getting to the next activity as quickly as possible. Developers are spending less time building quality experiences and focusing more on quantity.

So the question now becomes how do you slow things down, or should you slow things down?  I am clearly in the camp of people who believe MMOs shouldn’t be about ‘racing through’ but ‘living in’ the world. So with that said, I’m going to focus on the how. Some of these ideas work well together, and others do not. I’m just going to take inventory of the first 4 or so ideas that come to mind as I write this out.

Remove levels
Leveling creates a virtual finish line. There’s a desire to push toward reaching level 50 because that’s the perceived point of victory.  If that’s gone, you’ll take a vertical environment and almost flatline it completely from the start.  People will look around and say, “well, what do I do?” That’s when you can turn their attention to other activities meant to cultivate a virtual world. You actually want that moment to occur where they pause and think.

Increase the scope of character development
Characters have devolved into three things: (1) Levels, (2) Ability, and (3) Gear.  There are so many other opportunities available for customization. Characters should be able to develop social identities and/or a role in their virtual society. I can remember an experience I had in SWG where I had tapped a resource node and was harvesting amazing resources. I supplied those resources to dozens of other crafters and become a supplier. I spent a week doing nothing but trading commodities.  I had other activities I could do, but I put them off to take advantage of this opportunity.

Expand the world
Easy one. Make the dang world a whole lot bigger. I want the world to be so big that I can’t even possible comprehend its magnitude.  That feeling of not even realizing how big the world is and how far I have to travel, or how far others players are from me, is such an amazing sensation. It will eventually fade, but it should take months, not says, to have that illusion at least come into perspective. Traveling should take time and players should be spread out.

Increase the difficulty
I won’t soap box this topic or wax poetic about the old days, but realistically things just aren’t dangerous anymore.  I’m not saying you should die every time you walk outside a town or that you should lose your gear or experience. I’m also not saying fights should take longer or that combat should be twitch based.  I’m simply remembering a day when danger existed and how danger made me think before acting. That pause was important and slowed everyone down.

Instead of logging in and thinking I need to gain ten levels to feel accomplished, I just want to log in and have moved the mark ahead a tiny bit or had a fun enough experience that it doesn’t matter — perhaps I even lost progress. That mindset can still be present in today’s burn ‘n’ churn MMO, but it’s not at all supported by the game.

I want MMO time frames to once again be months rather than days. I want the experiences to last and the scope of every day activities to grow. I want a richer, fuller, and … I want MMOs to present an opportunity to build a ‘life’ once again.

Rogue Legacy PS4/Vita

rogue-legacy

Rogue Legacy came out on PC a year or so ago but just recently made its way to consoles. Despite being an avid fan of roguelikes and rogue”lites” I never got around to playing the PC version. Recently we were able to get a review code from Cellar Door Games for the Playstation version of the game and I have been playing it non-stop ever since.

What kind of game is Rogue Legacy?

Rogue Legacy plays like an action platformer with roguelike elements. However, I also get a major MetroidVania vibe due to how the map and game levels are laid out. Not only that but the enemy types and variety along with the character combat remind me a lot of 2D Castlevania games. Your character runs around a castle setting fighting off skeletons, armored knights, floating eyeballs and skulls, elemental wizard guys, etc. Your main weapon is a sword which you can swing with but you also can do a downward thrust attack Scrooge McDuck Style, though you only bounce off of enemies and only slightly. You also get a secondary attack in the form of a spell like an arcing axe or throwing daggers. Like I said, very reminiscent of Castlevania sub-weapons. There’s also a very heavy emphasis on platforming elements and while you are making your way through the game you will have to avoid hazards like spikes, turrets, and fireballs as you make your way through corridors and between platforms.

rogue-legacy-ps4What are the roguelike aspects?

Whenever your character dies in Rogue Legacy (and you will die a lot) you take over as one of your descendants. You get a choice between three characters with different random configurations. There are several character classes in Rogue Legacy and they all have different strengths and weaknesses along with a special ability that can be unlocked. Your choice of character can also come with a variety of different and interesting traits. Some of these are just fun and offer cosmetic changes, like Color-Blind which makes everything black and white or I.B.S which makes you fart occasionally. Some of the traits can actually be beneficial like O.C.D. which lets you gain mana by breaking environmental objects. Gigantism increases your sprite size but also increases your swing range while conversely dwarfism makes you really small and shortens your range but lets you access a lot of secret areas. However a lot of the traits can be just awful and really impact how you play, like with Vertigo, Far-sighted, and Near-sighted.

Your progress in the castle and adjoining areas will be reset and randomized upon your death, aside from major bosses which stay dead. Fortunately there are lots of things you can do with all the gold you find stashed away. You do retain all of your gold upon death and in your next life you can use it to put points into a skill tree of sorts. There’s a lot of passive abilities that increase your hp, mana, and stats but some unlock access to new classes, class abilities, and merchants. Once you have a blacksmith you can use your gold to buy new equipment, provided you find the blueprints for the gear in the castle. The Enchantress can give you up to five different bonuses depending on the runes you find within the castle. These can increase your speed, how much gold you earn, give you double jump, let you fly for a short while, etc. If you double up on runes it actually increases the effect so if you equip two of the jump runes (or whatever it’s called) you can actually jump two additional times mid-air. The last merchant is the architect and he will keep the previous castle layout but you will only get 60% of the loot inside. It also lets you teleport to and retry bosses.

Final Thoughts

Rogue Legacy is essentially everything I want in a game like this. Great art style and music, fast-paced and difficult action, and gameplay mechanics that keep me playing for hours on end. The PSN version of the game is also cross-buy and cross-save compatible. In fact, Rogue Legacy has the best cross-save that I’ve seen of any game yet. Your saves are automatically synced (but it can be done manually) and it’s really easy to jump between platforms. I’m spent quite a few hours with the Vita version and it is just as good as the console counterpart. So if you have a PS3/PS4/Vita or any combination of them you should really consider checking this game out. Or if you don’t then it’s always available on PC but I’d recommend you play with a controller since I imagine trying to play this with a keyboard would be a nightmare. Anyway, for what it is I find Rogue Legacy pretty perfect or at least as close as you can get in this kind of game.

I Hate Mounts

Here’s a random topic for you today: I hate mounts in MMOs. I was watching a video of Camelot Unchained where Mark Jacobs was fielding questions and two of them dealt with speed: (1) How quickly can players get into RvR, and (2) Will there be classes with speed buffs. For some reason I thought of mounts; My mind stopped listening to the video and went back into the depths of my memory where I recall how wonderful it was when MMOs were mount free.

I can remember how long it took to run places in EverQuest. Grouping with a Bard brought this feeling of pure ecstasy as the speed song kicked in and I felt so fast and free. I remember trying to get back to the RvR fight in DAoC and how crucial it was to group with a Bard, Skald, or Minstrel to have that run buff.  Without it you were so much slower, and without it you wouldn’t get back to the fight quickly — or you’d be left behind and ganked.

Not having speed or access to speed made having it better.  Again I find myself going back to that feeling of opposition and deprivation adding so much value to the experience. Classes with speed had something to offer and filled a key role.  That role existed because there weren’t prolific speed increases.

Mounts make everyone fast, shrink the world, and remove a huge dynamic layer from many systems. Mounts have become zany and an out-of-control arcade element.  Mounts are something sold in cash shops, earned with achievements, and akin to the prize you get with your tickets at the arcade.  They are an accessory yet can influence so much of a game’s design.

If the decision were mine to make in the future… I wouldn’t include mounts in my game.

Landmark’s Massive Discount

Okay, so this happened.

landmark-markdown

Some people are miffed. Some people are laughing. Some people wonder what the early adopters think. Hey there, I’m Keen — I’m an early adopter of EverQuest Landmark. Here’s what I think.

I got my money’s worth, and I recognize that this is simply SOE marketing their product. Do I wish I payed $34 instead of $100? Yeah. Do I regret having paid $100 8 months ago?  No more than I regret buying an iPhone knowing in 6 months there will be a new one — anything related to computers or technology for that matter.

SOE isn’t marking this down because no one is playing. They aren’t struggling for cash. Landmark isn’t failing. Think about it… this is now on the Steam top sellers list. People are blogging about it and putting it into the news site rotation. Let’s evaluate what has happened:

  • More people bought a “free” game
  • More people are talking about a game still in beta
  • The real fans are still going to play and be happy regardless; The EQ brand has not lost any value

That sounds like marketing success to me.

If this is the type of thing that bugs you then don’t be an early adopter. Unfortunately (or fortunately), this founder pack stuff is a growing trend for games. We’ll have to see how these companies balance integrity with marketing. That’ll determine how all of this plays out.