My MMORPG Attention Stages

I’m still on MMO break, playing a lot of Team Fortress 2 and other single-player games, but I almost got caught by LoTRO this week. In years past, I think I would have succumbed to the lure of Middle Earth and re-subscribed to scratch my MMO itch, but I moved through my usual MMO attention stages much more rapidly than I used to. In fact, it was only about two days from “Boy, I’d like to run around Middle Earth again, there are some things that look like fun”, to “God, I’m tired just thinking about grinding levels”.

The first thing that got me thinking about LoTRO was Ethic’s post about farming in the Shire. I really enjoyed the crafting in LoTRO, and since that was one of the areas where WAR disappointed me, I felt the urge to dust off my hobbit (that sounds dirty, doesn’t it?) and do some farming and cooking.

Then I stumbled across a Tom Chick post about buying a house in LoTRO, and it was the second step off the wagon. Housing was another thing I really missed in WAR. My favorite MMOs have had some combination of housing, good crafting, and meaningful player versus player combat. He said making money is easy, and I could afford a house, and I could craft…I was weakening…

The third thing that got me excited about LoTRO was the most recent Gamers With Jobs podcast, the January 28th episode. They were talking about Moria, and how much fun they were having, and how awesome the world looks, and I was pretty much ready to sign up right there. BUT…

Then the GWJ crew mentioned that they didn’t level up the characters they were playing. It seems Turbine gave them accounts with higher-level characters so they could check out the new content. Very smart of Turbine to do that, very cool that the GWJ guys get an opportunity to enjoy Moria. However, one of them mentioned that they wouldn’t want to have to level a character high enough to experience Moria. I don’t remember the exact quote, but it mentioned grinding and fetching sandwiches and killing things over and over…and I felt the wind go out of my sails. My MMO burnout returned in a rush.

I know that feeling, the “Oh my god, I’d rather do anything than level” feeling. I’ve felt it eventually in pretty much every MMO I’ve played, from EQ in ’99 through DAoC, SWG, WoW, LoTRO, and WAR. It used to take a long time for me to get to that point. There was enough that was new and exciting about the worlds I experienced to offset the level grinding. After grinding through so many games, though, I just can’t take the idea of doing more of it to get to 50 to check out Moria in LoTRO.

So, instead of months to burnout, I went from excitement about LoTRO to burnout in just a couple days. I think that’s a sign I’m not ready to return to MMOs yet. That feeling won’t last forever; I think a long break will serve me well, and I’ll be able to face MMOs without a feeling of fatigue. I was amused, though, to track my attention span, and see how quickly it went from focused to bored.

Two weeks to Valentine’s Day

I’m one hundred percent sure my wife wouldn’t know what the hell to make of these gamer Valentine’s Day cards, but I think they’re awesome. Link goes to Geekadelphia, who’s linking out to Hawty McBlogger’s site.

gamer-valentines

My Mythic Valentine

Clue number 3/13 arrived in my mailbox yesterday.

Mythic Valentine

Mythic Valentine

I used to have a girlfriend who talked about hunting me down. She made it sound like a good thing, but, really, it wasn’t a good thing.

You know, when someone first jokes about stalking you (at least, you want to believe it’s a joke), you’re flattered, kinda. It’s nice to get that kind of attention, right? “She’s paying attention to me? Cool! She’s funny, too, all that talk about how all she thinks about is me, all the time…yeah, right. Who’s that crazy?” You don’t realize it at the time, but that’s a crucially important question you’re about to overlook.

But, then, there’s a slow realization that she’s not joking. Maybe the first sign is that you’re running in to her earlier each day, and without really looking for you…she’s just there, with a look that you used to think was adoring, but it’s starting to get a little creepy. Maybe your friend has a friend who knew a guy who used to date her, until he suddenly moved to Tierra Del Fuego because he wanted to “flyfish”, but all his friends thought that was odd, because he never talked about enjoying flyfishing before. Yeah, there are warning signs, but you’re a guy. You’re weak. You have a few drinks, you think about the way she looks at you, it’s been a long time since anyone’s looked at you like that…and sure, if she invites you to the Twisting Tower at the right moment? Sure, you’ll go. In hindsight, it’s a terrible idea, like three people splitting up at Camp Crystal Lake to see what those funny noises are outside the cabin, but in the moment, you think “Maybe she’s not really crazy…maybe it’s just kinky? Maybe we’ll have fun!”

And that’s all it takes. A few moments of wishful thinking, and you’re about to have the worst, and last, Valentine’s Day of your life, up there in the Twisting Tower, with the full horror of what you should have faced weeks ago right there in your face, like Kathy Bates tying James Caan to the bed.

I hate Valentine’s Day.

Sony MMO’s on Steam, and gaming behind the curve

It’s been about two months since I’ve played any MMO, which is probably my longest MMO-free stretch since Everquest released almost ten years ago. I’m really enjoy a bunch of different single-player games that I missed while I was obsessing over one MMO or another, but I still feel the occasional pull to log into a world.

I’ve toyed with the idea of re-subbing to LoTRO, and I’ve considered looking at Vanguard or EQ2, just because I never played them (aside from a short stretch in the EQ2 beta before WoW launched). I haven’t gotten past the “toyed with the idea” stage yet, because I think I’m still recovering from massive burnout.

When I opened Steam this evening to check the price of Bioshock ($19.99, sweet), thinking about using it as the subject for a paper I have to write about modernism and post-modernism for a grad school class this semester, I noticed that Sony Online Entertainment put their MMO’s on Steam.

First, it’s a damn good idea, dangling them out there like that, within easy reach of every gamer. Sony got their asses handed to themselves in the MMO market for quite a while, and I think they’re smart to use to Steam to reach a broader audience. Second, I was pleasantly surprised to see the prices (which I think are only good for the first 10 days they’re on Steam, which would be the 26th of this month if they were available the same day as the news item I read). Vanguard and Pirates of the Burning Sea: $14.99. Everquest 2, complete (all four expansions, plus the free adventure packs): $39.99. And you can even get the complete Everquest package, all the expansions ever released, for $14.99, although I’m not quite sure why you’d ever want to do that to your eyes.

Vanguard and EQ2 are pretty tempting at $15, with a free month of gaming thrown in. I’m still feeling the burnout, so I don’t think I’m going to bite, but I think it’s a good opportunity for anyone who started playing MMO’s with WoW, and hasn’t really dipped their toes into the Sony pool. If you’re burned out on WoW and want something completely different, it’s a pretty good deal to check ’em out.

I also noticed Mass Effect is $19.99. I know I’m way behind the gaming curve here, looking at Mass Effect and Bioshock, but I guess that’s one of the benefits of being absorbed with MMO’s for so long. There are a lot of solid single-player games out there that I missed, and they’re available at a bargain price.

I really need a job where I’m getting paid to play games. I can’t even keep up with PC games, and I don’t even own consoles. How the hell would I ever have time to keep up with all the good games out there? I guess the answer involves Powerball, a divorce, a personal chef and personal assistant. Barring that, I guess it’ll just be more nights playing until far too late in the evening πŸ™‚

Out of the crash comes innovation

I lost my earphones for my smartphone just before Christmas, and with all the busy-ness of the holidays, I never managed to buy a new pair. I do all my podcast listening from my phone on my daily train commute, or while I’m running errands on the weekends, and I didn’t listen to anything from about mid-December until this week.

During that time, EGM folded, 1UP laid off a ton of people, and the my podcast landscape changed. I finally got new earphones, and I spent part of my afternoon rounding up some of the refugee podcasts from the EGM/1UP fallout. I gotta say, it’s pretty damn encouraging to see the former EGM and 1UP employees getting so much love and attention for their new ventures.

First, I was stunned to see that the guys at eat.sleep.game (Anthony Gallegos, Arthur Gies, Phillip Kolar and Nuck Suttner) amassed $11k in donations to support their ongoing content creation. I think they were stunned as well. There’s already a couple podcast episodes up, called Rebel FM, and they’re buying equipment with the donated money to make more stuffs.

Second, I’m happy to see the old producers of the 1UP show in a new home, Area-5, and launching a new show called CO-OP.

Third, Ryan Scott dusted off his seldom-updated blog, The Geekbox, and has recorded the first episode of a new podcast, with lots of friends. They’ve received great community support, over 10,000 downloads in the first 29 hours, the #1 podcast in iTunes Video Games category, and the #8 podcast on iTunes overall.

*Edit* And while I was posting this, Dan “Shoe” Hsu announced a new startup with other EGM/1UP alumni. It’s so new it doesn’t have an official home yet, but it will be announced on Shoe’s blog, if you want to pop in into your RSS reader and keep an eye out for a launch.

I hope some smart person with deep pockets is noticing how much support these folks have in the gaming community, and they can figure out a way to fund their continued content creation without requiring them to work in some sort of dead-media old school format. The King is dead, long live the King. Hopefully we’ll see some innovation and great new media ideas arise from the ashes of the old print business. We could give a damn about the old magazine or website now, to be honest. We fell in love with the personalities who worked for the magazines or websites, and I’m excited that so many of them are already back doing what they love.

There was a great comment on Twitter (username justinmcelroy) that said “I wonder was it was, exactly, UGO was buying if not 1UP’s personalities? Aren’t they what made the whole network?” Hell yes, Justin. UGO’s gonna be wondering the same thing soon. It’s like Circuit City firing all their top sales staff to “save the company”. Yeah, that worked out well, didn’t it?

Speaking of Twitter, I saw that comment on a YouTube video that collected a bunch of Twitter comments about the EGM/1UP debacle. It’s worth watching, to get an idea of the scale of the impact the EGM and 1UP personalities had on the lives of the gamers (and game developers) who listened and watched them. Obviously, there are a ton of people happy that the end of EGM and 1UP isn’t the end of great video game commentary, and I’m one of ’em. I’m already looking forward to my train ride home!

Quake Live and gaming nostalgia

I’ll try to avoid “uphill, both ways, barefoot, over a 14.4 modem” reminiscing.

My earliest 3D online gaming experiences were playing Quake and its variants. I started working for a dot com startup company in 1996, making hardware and software that connected your guitar to your computer. I was the tech support guy, and it was my entry into a technology career. It was the first time I had my own computer on my desk, and the freedom to install anything I wanted. Naturally, it didn’t take long for me to start installing game, usually at the request of the other guys working there, so they’d have more opponents in multiplayer games.

We started with Doom, but quickly moved to Quake when it was released. We tried some Quake mods and settled on Pain Keep for Quake 1. We spent hundreds of hours during work and after work deathmatching. We moved to Quake 2 when it came out, and Half-Life and Counterstrike. In 1999, though, Everquest was released, and I had a new addiction. FPS games were pretty much forgotten.

I think I played Quake III, but didn’t stick with it due to the need to get back to leveling some character in some MMO. I remember thinking Q3 was flashier than I liked, too fast, and my PC wasn’t up to running it very well. To see Quake 3 in a browser, not all that many years later, is pretty shocking. I’m looking forward to seeing how it performs with a full arena of players.

I’ve been talking here about gaming history, and preserving gaming history, and I wonder how many other titles might be converted to something you can play in a browser? A friend on The Well was saying that he thinks the future of PC gaming will be through browser-based games, and part of me thought that was incorrect, but after seeing Quake Live, I see his point. The Wii and the DS are wildly popular, and the graphics there are pretty limited, or at least nowhere near as complex as top-end PC gaming. After seeing what Quake Live looks like, I wonder if people who were previously resistant to PC gaming (either because the games required hardware they didn’t have, or they didn’t know how to install and access games on the PC) would be more willing to play if they could get to a game through a URL. The setup was very simple, and removed a lot of the traditional problems with PC gaming. If games were created that could play on mid-level computers, not requiring a ton of CPU or GPU horsepower, I wonder if the softcore Nintendo fans might be more tempted by PC gaming.

I don’t know enough about programming to understand the technical limitations of coding PC games for browsers. I can see how a game like Quake III could work (predictable number of people playing on a small map) where Everquest wouldn’t work (many, many more players, plus NPC’s, plus huge maps). But I wonder about other games from the early part of this decade, like the Baldur’s Gate series. If Quake Live can run well in a browser, I suspect RPG’s could also perform well. I might have actually finished the Baldur’s Gate games if I could have picked up my saved game from a bookmark in my browser. I occasionally get the urge to play them again (I just downloaded the original on Gametap last night, in fact), but I don’t have my saved games from the last time I played, which is likely a couple years ago.

If a service like Steam could remember save points from games I haven’t played in a couple years, and I could play the games through my browser, I think I might actually get through some of the longer games that require a gamer to either be single, in college, unemployed, or all three πŸ™‚ I’m trying to think what else might work in a browser from that era. Starcraft? Civilization III? Thief? Deus Ex? Diablo II? Are we going to see games like that made available through Firefox one day? Would you be willing to play games in a browser?

Quake Live beta

Quake 3 in a browser? Yes please!

I just got my beta invite today, and I played the first “training” match. It’s pretty sweet! I’m sure I can’t talk about anything more than “There is a beta, I’m in the beta”, so I’ll hold off on impressions until beta testers are released from NDA’s, but I’m excited. Alongside MUDs, Quake was my first real multi-player online experience. Being able to play it in a browser is pretty startling, to be honest. I remember that I had to play Quake at work, because my machine at home wouldn’t handle it. This had to be around 1996 or so.

By my timeline, that means we could have EQ in a browser in a couple of years, right? πŸ™‚