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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.

I have never played a Mega Man game

Until now!

It’s always been my secret shame, and something that I’ve always been embarrassed to admit, but the truth is I have never played a Mega Man game until quite recently. Honestly I blame it on the fact that I owned a Master System rather than an NES and never had a Playstation 1. I should also probably not admit that I haven’t played any of the early Castlevania games but we only have enough time for so much shame.

So how did my first Mega Man experience come about? Why, after all of this, time did I finally play a Mega Man game? Well all through August there is a new Mega Man game being added to the virtual console service on Wii U. So which game was the first one I played?! Mega Man Battle Network! Whaaaat?! An offshoot game? Does that even count? These questions and more must be rushing through your mind but it is in fact the truth. It looked fun so I tried it out and immediately loved it. I have a vague recollection of the cartoon on Saturday mornings, but other than that I went in blind. Basically the game centers around a kid named LAN and his Net Navi named MegaMan.exe. You can jack into various electronics and send Mega Man onto the net and so on. The combat is actually pretty cool too. You move around on a grid in real-time firing your buster at viruses and the like. When your meter fills you can utilize various chips to perform special shots and attacks or other supportive functions. It’s pretty freakin’ sweet.

Some time later I did feel like I owed it to the series to try out the original games. I got my hands on the old Mega Man Anniversay collection and gave it a go. I mean, how hard could it be if kids in the 80’s could beat them? Obviously that’s a completely stupid sentiment since 80’s hard doesn’t just refer to rock music. I never knew how brutal these games could be and my self-respect and self-worth was seriously compromised. After many, many attempts and a lot of swearing I was finally able to beat the first Mega Man game. I wanted to feel excited but knew that there were 9 other games in the original series just left me feeling overwhelmed. I did try out Mega Man 2 but there is only so much ass-kicking I can take. I opted instead to try out the Mega Man X series and I’m actually enjoying the first game a lot. It is very hard but the pretty colors and added features make going back difficult.

So there it is: my first few Mega Man experiences and only a few decades too late. I’m actually a little hooked on the series now and my Amazon cart is stuffed with a few titles. I guess it’s proof that it is never to late to try something new and enjoy it. On the other hand I now feel incredibly depressed that the Mega Man series seems to be pretty dead. At least we will get to see him in the new Smash Bros. game.

MMOs ARE Dying

Bhagpuss, one of my peers with a blog actually worth reading, brought this subject once again to the forefront of my mind.  I would end this entry with the title, but some of you may think my simple yet direct statement implies the entire genre is going away. Wrong. In fact, the MMO genre is here to stay, but in order to stay they are going to have to change so radically that the majority of this generation won’t recognize them. Perhaps the title should have been: “MMOs will be reborn.”

The MMO as most of you know it WILL die. The themepark model WILL be gone within a matter of years. The business models of today WILL change. Why? They aren’t working! MMORPGs (notice the RPG on the end there?) worked for years and the change to the MMO (McMMO even) was only brought on by big business. I have been preaching for years that it was a mistake to change or ‘fix’ something that wasn’t broken. Granted, that “mistake” introduced hundreds of millions of people to MMOs and brought in billions. Speaking strictly about the games, it was a mistake and led to the actual games being worse. Long-term (very long term) that has driven the industry into the ground.

You guys know me well enough by now, but it needs to be said again.  ::Steps up onto his soapbox:: Ahem…

You can ABSOLUTELY go back to that ‘first MMORPG experience’ and MMOs can ABSOLUTELY go back to MMORPGs and a modernized version of the old school mechanics! MMOs ARE Dying because the people who play MMOs are fleeting and moving on. MMORPGs never died and in many ways are still going strong in the hearts, minds, official servers, and player-run server communities.

There’s plenty of money to be made — ridiculous amounts in fact — for those savvy enough to bring back and change this industry once again back to its roots. How messy this whole situation becomes, and how hard it will be to bounce back, simply depends on how long it takes the decision-making side of this industry to wise up.

I’m ready when you guys are. Seriously. I’m ready to finally be able to post blog entries about the games I’m playing and the adventures I’ve gone on that day instead of talking about the same old crap not working. I’m ready to fully embrace a MMORPG again. Someone, please, give me that opportunity. Want help making one and getting people excited? I’m here for that too.

MMOs are dying; It’s not a matter of IF but WHEN. Hurry up already. We’ll all be better off when they do.

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.

The Best MMO Mechanic: People

We’ve had some great discussions over the past few days in our comments section about MMOs and how mechanics have changed over the years.  Throughout the discussion one theme kept rising to the top: Relying on others.  Whether it be for survival, advancement, accomplishment, or social edification, the human component has slowly disappeared. Grab a drink and relax.  It’s story time.

Once upon a time…

The worlds we played in were dangerous and unforgiving places.  We used to huddle around light sources in the middle of camps so that we could see at night and at least know that death was coming.  Finding another player evoked almost this ‘I want to hold on to you for safety and follow you just because…’ kind’a feeling.

Grouping with others usually increased your chances of survival.  It may have decreased your experience per kill or slowed you down, but even the chance of dying once wasn’t worth it.  Grouping meant you could do and see more amazing things.  Solo play was incredibly effective, but grouping gave options.

People used to talk in groups.  That annoying thing in the bottom left corner of the screen with all the words in it — we used that to communicate.  Over days, weeks, and months of grouping people gained real reputations.  We knew the people on our server.  Tim the Enchanter was a day trader; Marvin the Wizard was a veterinarian; Doug the Necromancer was in middle-school.  We discussed the world, each other, and built relationships.

And lest you think this tale is solely about grouping, solo players and those wandering the world relied on each other as well. Happening across another player who could increase your run speed or mana regeneration changed your life.  Stumbling upon someone who could resurrect your corpse made your cry tears of joy. When lost in a dungeon and filled with despair knowing you are going to die and potentially lose your corpse just as a hand reaches out from the darkness and guides you to safety is a feeling beyond my ability to relate with words.

People.  People are a mechanic I want to see more of in MMORPGs.  I want that human interaction.  I want the unpredictability.  Other people are the truest form of ‘dynamic gameplay’ we will ever see.  People are the greatest tool a developer can use to leverage the world they’ve created. In the end, I don’t care how it’s done.  Old school or new, I just want the results.