The Year I Fell Out of Love

I’ve never done reviews or predictions here. I’m not nearly timely enough in my posting to pull it off. That doesn’t mean I don’t mentally review the past gaming year, though, and this New Year’s brought the revelation that 2009 was the year I fell out of love with MMO’s.

I’ve gone through multiple stages of MMO burnout in the past, only to return with a vengeance to a new game/new world, but I suspect that’s no longer true. 2009 found me subscribing and unsubscribing twice to LoTRO and Eve (the closest current examples of the MMO design I prefer), and I don’t think I’ll ever play WoW again. I’m playing a lot of single player games and Team Fortress 2, and I don’t think I’m simply burned out in need of an MMO break any more. I might be done with MMO’s, unless something really interesting appears on the horizon.

MMO bloggers seem to be looking forward to Blizzard’s next WoW expansion, Bioware’s The Old Republic, and Star Trek Online in 2010. I have almost zero interest in any of them (TOR being an exception because of how much I’ve enjoyed Dragon Age, and I hold a shred of hope that Bioware will surprise me with TOR the way DA surprised me). I really don’t expect to buy or play Star Trek Online, and I can’t imagine ever returning to Azeroth. I had three good years in Azeroth, but I think I’ve exhausted that theme park. And honestly, I expect The Old Republic to be a similar theme park, albeit newer and shinier.

I don’t have the same sense of anticipation about new MMO’s that I once had. Maybe WAR broke me; I had so much hope for a DAoC-style game, and Mythic just abandoned so much of what I enjoyed about DAoC in WAR. It felt like it had been influenced far too much by WoW, and I have a fear the same will happen with The Old Republic. I’m still bitter about WAR, so much so that I can’t even bring myself to play the free trial to see what’s new.

The only game I can see myself perhaps trying again in the future is LoTRO. The new skirmish system in the Siege of Mirkwood expansion sounds interesting, and if they make the Book quests solo-able, that might be enough for me to give it another shot. I do enjoy my house, the crafting, and the huge world of Middle Earth, and there’s a lot I haven’t seen there yet; I’m not nearly as burned out there as I am with WoW. I suspect I’m going to have a long stretch of MMO-free gaming ahead of me before that happens, though. I just don’t feel the love any longer.

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Restless gaming

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading lately, instead of playing games. I thought I was just burned out on MMO’s, but single player games are causing the same restless feeling I experienced with MMO’s. I’ll sit down at night to play, and no matter what game I choose, I don’t want to play it after about 20 minutes. Games used to be a way for me to disappear into the Sid Meier zone, where I could lose myself in an evening of play, and I loved that feeling. I’m chasing the dragon now, I guess, getting a “been there, done that” vibe, no matter what I choose to play. I hate that feeling, so after some TF2 I end up logging off and grabbing a book to read.

You know what I need? I need a punk rock MMO. In 1980, I was 14 years old. I got to listen to the punk vs. arena rock vs. crappy pop music/disco wars firsthand. MMO’s feel totally like arena rock at the moment. WoW is the Journey of MMO’s, and I can’t take it any more. And most things seem to be following in the WoW model, making the genre accessible and polished. I want an MMO that doesn’t want to be Journey or REO Speedwagon or Foreigner or Tears for Fears. Can I get a little Circle Jerks in my MMO, please? Because I really want to be playing MMO’s. I can enjoy a single player game, but too much single player is like going to restaurants by yourself all the time. I want the buzz of people around me, even if I don’t talk to them all. I want my MMO to be difficult again, or at least challenging.

I lived and worked in West Yellowstone, Montana (the west entrance to Yellowstone Park) for a couple of years, and I heard a statistic that said like 90% of the visitors to the park never get more than 100 yards from a road. That’s how I feel in the post-WoW era…as MMO players, developers never want us too far from the leveling path. That’s one of the things that pissed me off about WAR. I felt like the content was jammed together, like players couldn’t be trusted to travel through the landscape without signposts to content, like we’d need non-stop attractions to keep our attention. Theme park, right? I hate it.

I want a world that feels open, not a world that has billboards to content everywhere I go. I want more to do than just kill things or deliver things. I want to make things, sell things, collect things, display things…and useful things. I want to fight other players. Speaking of being mad at WAR, another thing that made me mad about WAR was the RvR overkill. DAoC, Counterstrike, and Team Fortress 2 are examples of why you don’t need to include RvR in every zone in three different areas with an overly complicated method of zone control. Those three games concentrated great fighting in a limited number of maps or zones, focusing on the quality of the fighting, not the making sure there was an RvR entrance just steps from any location in any zone. So instead of WAR focusing the people who wanted to RvR in a few meaningful areas, it ended up feeling like you were chasing fights all over the map, all over the factional areas. The fighting was diluted because it was so spread out. The PvE was jammed together, the RvR was too distributed. And they really needed a third faction. Ah well.

Eve’s got the PvP right. I wish Eve’s crafting model existed in other games. I like when players have to make everything. Putting all your good gear behind gated content bores the hell out of me. I guess I want a game like Eve, except with an avatar on the ground, harvesting stuff, making stuff, selling stuff, fighting for control of territory, not control of space. With a house. And a pony.

When did I start to sound so old, by the way? You kids get off my lawn.

Anyway, in my boredom, I picked up Chrono Trigger for the DS. My daughter is letting me “borrow” hers, so maybe some solid old school RPG action will get me through my MMO blues.

There’s a positive in my gaming doldrums, though; I’m getting a ton of reading and writing done for grad school. I bet you’ll never see a scientific study on the positive effects of too much gaming 🙂

Summer break

I didn’t intend to take the summer off from blogging, but that’s exactly what happened. Between work getting a little crazy (anyone else getting hit with budget cuts, wage freezes, hiring freezes, etc.?), spending a lot of time outside with my daughter, and taking a summer class for grad school, life has been about everything but blogging.

Plus, I can’t get too excited about any of the MMO’s that are out right now. I’ve beaten WoW to death, don’t really have the time to enjoy Eve the way it’s meant to be played, I was bored by WAR, grew weary of LoTRO, and there’s not much new to catch my interest. Ok, other than Champions, there’s like nothing new, right? And don’t mention Aion…that’s a definite “give it three months” game. I’ve had my fill of Eastern MMO’s lately, and there’s nothing new under the sun. I even tried EQ2 for a month, and while I liked it, it’s too many steps backward. I want to see MMO’s doing something new and different, or I suspect my malaise will continue.

So, is the problem the games? Probably not. I think I’m just toast on MMO’s after ten years of playing them pretty much nonstop. I still have the desire to log in to a persistent world and build characters…just not any of the worlds that are currently available. I’d gripe about the industry and lack of innovation and clone-mentality development (this is the Internet, after all…I can bitch with no justification, right?), but I don’t really think that’s true or fair. I think developers work really hard to provide good gaming experiences, and I think my inability to stick with one MMO has more to do with me than the genre.

Keen made some good observations about what he misses in current-gen MMO’s last month (yeah, I’m behind on my blog reading, sue me), and a lot of it rang true to me. He started by saying

When I think back at what we’ve lost, or have begun to lose, in the MMORPGs of today, I keep coming back to one thing:  The World.  We’re starting to lose that sense of a big/massive, open, true world that we can explore and live in as we develop or take on the role of our character

Yep. I think this is what disappointed me most about WAR. It’s a game that’s packed with content, and I found out I don’t enjoy that very much. It was a very linear experience, and I never felt a sense of isolation. There wasn’t a sense of danger, either…you could either survive the zone you were in, or you were going to die. There wasn’t much tension, like in Keen’s run across Antonica. And there’s definitely not that much open space.

I blame WoW’s success for that shrinking of the game world, although I think WAR went further than WoW did. The idea that a world has to be convenient after World of Warcraft is pretty pervasive. I miss the sense of distance in Everquest or even Dark Age of Camelot. Making a run from your portal area down to the enemy gates in the DAoC frontier was a hell of an online gaming experience, and WAR didn’t preserve that feeling. WAR’s like a convenience store MMO experience…you can get a limited number of things really fast, and some of them are enjoyable, but if you’re really hungry, you want something more.

I was thinking about resubbing to Star Wars Galaxies the other day, because I was remembering riding around on my speeder with my artisan/architect, surveying for good spots to drop my harvesters. I remember how cool it was to have so much space around me, and an encounter with another person out there usually resulted in some sort of interaction, even if it’s just a wave or another emote. Travel in WAR and WoW feels like commuting…there’s sea of people around you, but you’re not interacting with any of them. I miss the days of physical space and possibility and adventure.

I don’t know if the MMO market can support games like that any more. There’s so much pressure to deliver WoW-like profits, or even a tenth of WoW profits, that designing a world that’s more of a community-driven sandbox is risky. There certainly don’t seem to be any games like that in development, so maybe MMO’s have passed me by. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with current gen MMO’s…it just means that I don’t think I’ll be playing them very often.

So, instead of logging in to WAR and leveling characters through scenarios and RvR, I’ve been playing a lot of Team Fortress 2. WAR scenarios reminded me of my old FPS days, and I’ve been getting my scenario/RvR fixes through TF2. It’s easier to get in and out of TF2 matches, I don’t have to grind levels or gear, and it’s a brilliant game. Is it just me, or do you think Valve could make a TF2 MMO that’s more fun than WAR? Might just be me, and the burnout speaking.

Anyway, my daughter is playing Wizard 101 and Free Realms, and I have alts on her accounts that I’m playing, so I might hit up some of the folks I’ve seen playing those games and say hi (Tipa and Pete have both posted about those games recently). Other than that, I’m usually playing TF2, on the Gamers With Jobs servers when they’re hopping in the evenings, pining for the old days, the MMO frontier days.

Little stuff: Mission architects, what I’m playing

I’m behind on my blog reading, and on my blog writing. Spring has finally arrived, and I’m spending a ton of time outside with my kid, and then playing games late into the night, without taking time to write. Work’s crazy busy, so there’s no blog reading/writing time there.

Here’s a quick update on things knocking around my head, or being played on my computer.

I read Zubon’s post about the CoH Mission Architect system, and it made me wonder if anyone has tried it, and also tried the Ryzom Ring. Let me know if you have some experience with each system. I wonder which one is easier to use, has more depth, etc. I really liked Ryzom, but I didn’t get a chance to try out the Ring; I think their finances imploded before I got a chance to try it out, and now I’m distracted with other stuff. I remember thinking that Ryzom was totally on the right track with the mission editor, and I hope CoH has continued success.

I’ve been playing a ton of Team Fortress 2, and I’m thinking it’s one of the best video games I’ve ever played. Simple design, a small number of beautifully crafted maps, awesome diversity in classes while maintaining a really good rock-paper-scissors balance, and wicked awesome team play. I’m mostly playing on the Trashed Gamers servers (the Gamers With Jobs server is usually empty during the hours I’ve been playing), and I was surprised to find that I’m ranked in the low 200’s out of the 56,000 players who have happened to play on their servers. I think the rankings are based on points earned, and the major lesson learned by my stats is probably that anyone can appear successful if they play far too much TF2. Still, I’ll take it as an ego boost for a middle-aged gamer.

I renewed my Gametap subscription for another year. I’m locked into the $59.95 yearly subscription price, since I was a premium subscriber before they raised their prices, and it’s totally the best value in gaming. I don’t think I’ll ever run out of games to play over there. The switch from a client program interface to a browser-based interface has been very smooth for me; I had a small problem that required me to download a tiny executable and restart my computer, but after that, it’s been silky smooth.

The Everquest 2 announcement that players can write books in-game is an awesome addition to MMO’s. I probably made original EQ devs crazy with my constant suggestions about player diaries. I wanted there to be a journal feature, where you could write about your experiences, and other players could read it in your character bio. I love the EQ 2 ideas, but I’d still love to see a journal that would import major game events (where you leveled, who you leveled with, how much money you made, what you looted) alongside a WAR Tome of Knowledge achievement tracker model, as well as a place where the player can enter notes, fiction, etc.

It’s encouraging to see EQ2 taking the first steps toward that, and CoH enabling player mission creation. We’ve bandied about the term “second generation MMO” for a long time, without seeing anything that’s really second gen, but I think these ideas are the initial steps toward an evolution of the genre.

I’m re-subscribed to LoTRO, but playing really casually. I’m still feeling MMO burnout, at least with an achievement-based gameplay, so I’m refusing to get obsessed with levels, or money, or gear. It’s super-easy to solo in LoTRO, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’m level 34, I have a house, I’m saving for a horse, and I’m having fun crafting. It’s such a drop-dead gorgeous game.

I realize now why it didn’t stick with me the first time I played, though. The classes don’t appeal to me that much; nothing stands out and makes me say “I want to play THAT class,” and the character animations seem awkward to me. I’m not a big fan of the character models, either, and I think that partially contributed to my lack of attachment my first time through the game. I’m still not a big fan, but I have a computer now that can run everything at high resolution, and damn, it’s a beautiful world.

I happen to be on the wrong server to play with Oz from KTR, or with the CoW LoTRO guild, and I’ve considered re-rolling, but I’m 34 levels in, and I just don’t think I have the motivation to start from scratch when I’m playing so casually. The last thing I want to do is make an MMO feel like work again.

Oh, and I’m in a beta. Yeah, that beta. Darren’s shame is my shame as well, but I’m man enough to deal with it, for the sake of my 9 year-old daughter . You’re a good dad, Darren, even if you are a fairy. Takes one to know one, I guess 🙂

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.

Feeling guilty

I haven’t blogged in a couple weeks, and it’s because I’m avoiding something…avoiding doing something, and avoiding saying something.

I think I’m done playing Warhammer Online.

My place of employment closes up between Christmas and New Year’s, so I’ve had almost two weeks off. I was planning to use that time to level my archmage from 33 to 40, and to enjoy some of the WAR endgame content. But each night, when it was time to sit down and play some games, I’d choose something other than WAR. I played a lot of Team Fortress 2, I played some games through Gametap (Stalker, Sid Meier’s Pirates, some indie old-style RPG’s), but I wasn’t choosing WAR.

It took a couple days for me to realize I was avoiding WAR, and a couple more days to admit it to myself. It’s not an easy realization for me, partially because I really enjoy some parts of WAR. The open RvR is the most fun I’ve had in an MMO since Dark Age of Camelot, and I really think Mythic has made a good game.

Why, you might ask, am I not playing it, if I feel like it’s a good MMO?

After thinking it over for the past week, I think I’ve hit another MMO burnout threshold. I’ve maintained at least one, and usually two, MMO subscriptions since Everquest released in 1999. That’s almost 10 years now, and I think I’m just burned out on leveling. It’s happened before, and it may be temporary, but I suspect this goes a little deeper. If I’m going to spend my time leveling, I want something in return for my time. I do want the RvR that WAR and DAoC provide, but I’m finding that there are other things that are almost as important, or more important. I want a house, a place to call home. I want crafting that’s a little more in-depth than what WAR offers. I want a world to explore, rather than a world to quest through (which is why I can’t return to WoW either). And I want fewer instances. I miss the DAoC frontiers, with mobs you could level on, with the risk of RvR always present. Oh, and I don’t think I enjoy the WAR zone-locking formula; I got turned off by people in warband or Region chat who had addons that tracked zone points, counting down until a zone was locked and we could move on to the next zone, or the right scenario, or whatever. I miss the organic feeling of DAoC frontier RvR, where you just needed to have the most keeps.

And I think I really miss the three realms of DAoC. Two realms in WAR is too static, and contributes to that sense of being funneled into the next RvR zone progression. I miss the unpredictability of a third realm.

I worried about some of these things in beta…no housing, light on the crafting, only two realms…and I think it’s affecting my immersion in the game. I don’t think it’s coincidental that I’m playing a lot of Team Fortress 2 after enjoying WAR RvR. It’s very much a team-based FPS feel…which is great when I’m playing a team-based FPS. I’m not enjoying it so much in my MMO.

I feel guilty, though, because despite all of the things I’m not enjoying, I think Mythic has made a pretty damn good MMO. I think a lot of my dissatisfaction is at least as attributable to my MMO burnout as it is the design choices. In the past, when I’ve tired of an MMO, I’ve been excited about trying something else. I don’t have a burning desire to play any MMO right now. I have the Lich King expansion, and I haven’t even thought about logging in; it’s there because my eight year-old daughter enjoys it. I don’t feel like re-subbing to Eve, or trying EQ2. The only game that might get some attention is LoTRO, but I think I need a break before I can try it again.

So, there you have it. It’s like dating a pretty girl, but breaking up because of some vague unease, even though on the surface everything seems great. I’ve tried to put my finger on what it is that makes me feel like I don’t want to log back in, but even though I can point to some game design decisions, I don’t really feel like that’s it. I think it’s me, and I think I’m really burned out on leveling. Would housing, and crafting, and a chance to be a merchant, and a great big world to explore for resources prevent me from being burned out? I’m not sure, and anyway, that game doesn’t exist in this generation of MMO’s. Maybe by the time I’m done being burned out, there will be something like that on the horizon. I’m not holding my breath, though; it’s quite possible the industry is moving in another direction, in that WoW theme-parky direction that I’ve grown dissatisfied with. Time will tell!

Until then, I’ll be playing TF2 (I try to jump on the Gamers With Jobs TF2 server when it’s up, but they play earlier than I’m usually available most nights), and I’ll be working through a backlog of titles on Gametap that I’ve downloaded but haven’t played, mostly because I was neck-deep in MMO’s. There’s a long list of single player games that I missed while I was in MMO’s, and Gametap’s going to help me catch up, but that’s another post…

I hope everyone had a happy holiday! Hopefully, I’ll be back to blogging semi-regularly, now that I’ve stated what I’ve been avoiding.

CoWs, I’m really going to miss listening in to the Vent conversations, but I’m not sad, because I know I’ll be seeing you again in other games, in other worlds. It was a privilege hanging out with the Order folks, those who play regularly, and those who played briefly. I met a ton of wonderful people, and I’m looking forward to gaming with y’all in the future!

WAR: Heresy Mill, part 2

I’ve returned from making my information-gathering rounds for Inquisitrix Lady Stern and the Heresy Mill. The news is not as epic as the previous warning of a server-wide Armagaddon, but it’s still brand-new to the WAR community.

First, it seems that all the races in WAR are preparing for the upcoming holidays. Each race welcomes the winter solstice in their own unique manner, and it should be interesting to see how different cultures celebrate. I’ll wager a gold piece that the dwarven festivities include a lot of Winter Ale, and I have another gold piece that says I’ll be out drinking with them most of the night.

Second, I found out that the business of the Empire is…business. When we think about WAR, we think about battles, bloodshed, and mayhem. And we like it that way! But behind the scenes, little-noticed by swaggering adventurers, live the people who make the war effort possible. The Emperor’s accountants, the bankers, the tradespeople who supply the war effort, all of them crunching numbers day after day…I spent a long evening at the pub hearing about the price of metals that get turned into armor, the cost-benefits and qualitative differences of scavenged tradeskill materials versus what you can buy from a vendor, and the dye shortage, which is driving dye prices through the roof. I had to keep drinking through a lot of the discussion, but my ears perked up when they started talking about battles.

The bean-counters ran the numbers on the fights that occurred at Reikland Factory over the past couple weeks. From my notes on an alehouse napkin, I got these statistics out of the accountants:

The special event Reikland Factory Scenario launched over 150 times an hour. It was a close-run fight, but on overall points, Destruction just managed to beat Order. Reluctant to ever admit to the enemy they had been bested, both sides fell back when a tie was reached only 196 times…

I forget exactly how many days the fighting went on at Reikland Factory, but 3600 scenarios a day, times the number of days the scenario was available, is a pretty impressive number. I suspect, though, that we had been drinking in the pub quite a while by the time the accountant reported that Destruction was the overall winner on points….he was quite likely so drunk that he got confused. I’m sure he meant to say that ORDER was the overall winner.

Or maybe it was me who had one too many glasses of ale, causing some confusion 🙂