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How about a Medieval Survival Game?

Being sick for the last 4 days gave me a lot of time to do nothing but sit and watch streams on Twitch (which was just acquired by Amazon for 970 million… pretty cool it’s Amazon and not Google!). I watched a lot of open-world survival games and mods for  Arma III where people take on the role of cops and … everyone else.  It’s was fascinating to watch the dynamic nature of those games and how much more the players, rather than the game mechanics, influence everything.

All of that got me thinking about how much fun and easy it is to jump in and have a unique experience in games like this, and be able to do so at one’s leisure. There are elements of persistence, but very little permanence. That sense of ‘starting fresh’ adds something special and unique. What I’m most fascinated by, and wanting to explore further, is the idea of setting. They all seem to be either modern or post-apoc. What about a medieval setting?

Imagine a game like H1Z1, DayZ, or Arma III mods, but in a setting matching something out of Robin Hood or King Arthur. The quasi-persistent open-world could be a lot of fun in a setting with rolling hills, large forests, townships, and keeps. The idea of vehicles could easily carry over to horses, and the rest transfers just as easily.

We’re seeing a lot of copycat designs and not a whole lot being done to expand or develop the emerging genre. I’m thinking there’s still a lot that can be done to make it better. Just a thought.

WildStar Pre-Postmortem

In the least surprising move this year, WildStar has abandoned the promised idea of monthly updates. Before launch, I remember some of the more hyped up fans stating that Carbine had 6 months of content already prepped and ready to go. Looks like that is simply not the case.

According to the Q2 report from NCSoft, WildStar only sold less than 500k units. WildStar is already bleeding subscribers. Will WildStar go F2P? Yeah, it will. I give it a few months.

All of this has nothing to do with the subscription model. Nothing. This has everything to do with the themepark design model and how it is no longer sustainable in this market.  People do not unsubscribe from $15 a month because of the subscription — they unsubscribe because the game isn’t worth it.

Here’s how you make a good MMO: Make a virtual world that sustains and allows players to sustain themselves with goals and progressions designed to casually scale over time. Oh yeah, and make it fun.

What can we learn from this?

  • People don’t care about end-game raids or how hardcore your promises about end-game will be
  • Don’t promise what you can’t deliver
  • Pre-launch marketing doesn’t sustain a game after launch
  • Nothing else matters if the game is simply not much fun

A nostalgic roadtrip with Graev

super mario land gameboy

The other night I was doing my usual binge-watching of Netflix when I suddenly felt like pulling out my 3DS. I opened it up and searched through various virtual console games that I had purchased, and probably never played, until I finally settled on Super Mario Land. Ah, now that game takes me back. So with The Office playing in the background I proceeded through Super Mario Land at a steady pace. For those of you who might not be aware: Super Mario Land is an old GameBoy game. Most of it is exactly what you expect from a Mario game- Well, that’s not really true at all. SML is actually a whole lot different from regular Mario titles. You do run around and jump on stuff and hit blocks like normal but that is pretty much where the similarities end. You are trying to rescue Daisy (who turns into a bug for some reason), Koopa Troopas leave behind exploding bombs when they die, there are weird bug enemies, sphinx guys, creepy kung fu grasshoppers, rock dudes, rock riding, a submarine vehicle level, and an airplane vehicle level. It’s pretty strange but a lot of fun all the same. Also the Star Powerup music is the can-can song and that’s just weird.

I actually made it all the way through the entire game and only died a couple times. I sat there feeling pretty satisfied when it finally hit me: I’ve never beat this game before. I’ll always be reminded (especially by my family) of the time when I lived back east in Massachusetts. My family would take weekend drives to Vermont and other places; point out leaves and various historical sites all around us. The joke is that while we were supposed to be taking in all of the sights I instead had my face glued to my GameBoy. They joke around and say that all I remember of living there was my Gameboy and that’s not entirely untrue. Some of the best games I ever played were on those car rides. Super Mario Land, Wario Land, Donkey Kong 94, Kirby’s Dreamland, TMNT: Radical Rescue, and so on.

So there I sat having just completed one of my favorite childhood games for the first time. It wasn’t even that hard at all, which is a lot different than how I remember things. I had this moment and feeling that things had come full circle and that my childhood was now, somehow, officially over. It was a strange and sobering experience and something that I entirely made up just now. Seriously though, it’s a fun game. You should check it out.

Expansions are Barriers to Entry

There’s an interesting quote floating around from Blizz dev Tom Chilton. “By building expansions, you are effectively building up barriers to people coming back. But by including the level 90 character with this expansion, it gives people the opportunity to jump right into the new content.”

On one level I completely agree. I know the feeling of wanting to go back and play a game but feeling too overwhelmed by what I’ve missed in the past. I absolutely love(d) EverQuest 2. Wonderful, wonderful MMORPG. I’ve wanted to go back so much, but every time I download the trial I feel completely lost. A few years ago (gosh probably 4+ now) I went back for the Kunark launch and leveled a Sarnak from 1-65. As I worked through previous expansions, I felt lonely and never saw anyone around. I needed to do that content to level up to see the latest expansion, but ultimately never made it there.

On a different level, I don’t necessarily agree that this is an expansion’s fault or intrinsic to the idea of an expansion. I think vertical progression / development are the issue. If anything, an expansion can be an enticement for players to enter a game or for someone who has been gone for a while to re-enter because there’s more to do and see — essentially the value offering has hopefully increased. This is also because of the problematic nature of focusing on an end-game rather than an entire game or a “living world.”

Offering an instant level 90 in World of Warcraft is a bandaid fix to the problem of having the 1-89 gameplay be worthless. This is a case where we see the symptoms being treated and not the cause. Does this work for WoW? Yeah, it probably does and in fact it’s actually reducing their particular barrier to entry, but not fixing the core issue.

It’s not easy. Balancing character progression while still creating a world that expands the possibilities more horizontally, without boring people from a lack of “things to do,” is one of the most complex and difficult to achieve designs — that’s why we almost never see it happen.

Graev Rant: What happened to licensed games?

aladdin snesA long time ago licensed games used to be pretty bad, like with E.T. on Atari. Maybe some were good, but I don’t really care because I was either not alive or just barely sentient at the time. Later on there was a golden age of licensed games on systems like the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Disney games were almost always great and stuff like Aladdin, The Lion King, and various Micky/Donald games were just awesome. Ninja Turtle games like Turtles in Time and Hyperstone Heist were the shiz. There were Batman: The Animated Series games and even a few decent ones based off of the movies. I think a lot of these games were made by companies like Capcom and Konami which seemed to print gold with every game. Maybe that has something to do with it or maybe I just have a very poor and selective memory of older games.

There were also several great licensed games on later consoles like the N64 and PSX. The Spider-Man games were incredible. Unfortunately I think I just invalidated these while recalling Superman 64. But I’m sure you get the point here. There used to be a lot of quality licensed games. From there it got so much worse so fast to the point where people just wrote off any game based on a movie, tv show, comic, or book. Every now and then there was an anomaly like Chronicles of Riddick and Spider-Man 2 but by and large it was mostly god-awful crap that got churned out. I think this kind of game-mill mentality really hurt Disney’s game image but fortunately that seems to be getting turned around with the release of stuff like Disney Infinity.

I just used to really enjoy the idea of “getting the game after you saw the movie,” if you get my meaning. It’s kind of like the next evolution of buying all of the action figures after seeing a movie, which I imagine probably ends up being a lot more expensive. Nowadays new movies come out and I always keep an eye out for video game tie-ins with the hope that a gem might slip through the crack. Unfortunately they just don’t seem to make too many console licensed games these days. Which may be a good thing depending on your perspective.

But to answer my own question… What Happened To Licensed Games?

Oh, they’re all on phones and tablets. Fantastic.