Guild Wars on sale on Steam

The Guild Wars trilogy is on sale on Steam for $19.99. It’s been on my list of “I should really try it” games for a long, long time, and the sale did the trick. I’ve heard good things about it, mostly from the Van Hemlock podcast, and I think I’ll definitely get my money’s worth out the purchase.

It’s a smart move by NCSoft. With Guild Wars 2 coming out soon-ish (I don’t follow the game, and I’m too lazy to google it), selling the original at a discount is a good way to get people like me to experience the original, and maybe be more likely to pick up GW2.

You can check out the sale on Steam’s NCSoft page. The original game and the two expansions are on sale individually, as well as a bundle with all three games.Cheers!

I thought this was an Onion story, but no…

Game teaches sex through the eyes of a superhero

From the article: ‘Players can either be a man wearing a condom on his head named Captain Condom; a virgin named Wonder Vag; a boy named Willy the Kid who believes size doesn’t matter or Power Pap, a sexually active gal.”

Wonder Vag? Really? Please, tell me, what’s her special power? And if Willy has only one eye, I can die a happy gamer.

The argument that video games can be educational just took a punch in the face.

Games and Social Innovation

Tyler Barber, of Rebel FM podcast infamy, tweeted last week about a TED talk given by Jane McGonigal called “Gaming Can Make a Better World.”

Damn, that’s a lot of links in the first sentence. This ain’t no flat blog post. It’s relational.

Anyway, I’m glad I caught Tyler’s tweet because Jane McGonigal has some kick-ass ideas. I remember hearing about her earlier games “World Without Oil” and “Superstruct” from someone on The Well (probably Jamais Cascio?). I didn’t get pulled into either game, but hearing Jane’s talk gave me a broader appreciation of what she’s trying to do with gaming and social innovation.

I won’t go over the TED talk in detail in this post, but the summary at the link above says

Games like World of Warcraft give players the means to save worlds, and incentive to learn the habits of heroes. What if we could harness this gamer power to solve real-world problems? Jane McGonigal says we can, and explains how.

Her talk is well worth the twenty minutes of your life if you’re a gamer and think that gamers have skills that bleed over into “real life”. She’s connecting a lot of dots for me, dots that developed over my sixteen year gaming and Internet history.

Her current project is called Evoke. The “About” page for the game says:

EVOKE is a ten-week crash course in changing the world. It is free to play and open to anyone, anywhere. The goal of the social network game is to help empower young people all over the world, and especially young people in Africa, to come up with creative solutions to our most urgent social problems.

I wouldn’t call Evoke a game, exactly. It’s more like social networking, at least in the beginning missions I’ve been working on. It’s a thinking exercise too, and it requires some introspection. It’s not an escape from reality at all – but that’s not where gaming skills come into play, at least for me.

Over the past sixteen years (I count the beginning of my real computer life as the year I first sat down in front of Mosaic at work), everything I’ve learned from gaming has migrated into skills in my career. Games weren’t just something to play. I wrote about them, lived on message boards, tried to learn how to make games, learned how to make web sites, learned about IRC and instant messaging, learned about tearing down computers and building them back up, and learned about networking all because of games.

I learned how to quickly search the internet for information. I learned how to store and retrieve that information, and I learned how to produce more information. I also learned how to connect with other people and share thoughts and ideas about games.

I think those are the skills that Evoke draws from. No one is going to log into Modern Warfare to end hunger in Africa, but the skills people develop to play and learn more about Modern Warfare and participate online in the MW community are the same skills that can be applied to Evoke.

I’ve always been a bit of a dirty hippie (see: Well membership referenced above), a vegetarian, interested in organic and sustainable farming, interested in history and other cultures – maybe I’m a specific type of gamer already interested in the topics Evoke, well, evokes. I see people posting articles about farming, sustainable energy, power shifts, and lots of other ideas about how we can change the world.

I don’t expect any one idea, or any one person, to really change the world by playing Evoke, or any other video game out right now. I do think that McGonigal is tapping into a really powerful idea, though, a combination of games, information sharing, and social networking that does have the potential for powerful impact in the world.

McGonigal’s first two games passed me by without striking a chord, and I wouldn’t be surprised if people reading here don’t click the links or get involved. This time. Maybe though, in the future, some designers in the audience at TED will think “you know, there IS a way to make a game that’s fun to play that also accomplishes some of the things Jane was talking about.” Or maybe a gamer will say “Hey, I remember hearing about her – and this time, I do want to get involved.” Bit by bit, piece by piece, I think there’s a chance of gaming ourselves into a greater awareness of and greater service to the world around us.

There and back again

Yep, I’m back in MMOs, back in LoTRO. This was the longest break I’ve taken from MMOs in the 11 years I’ve been playing them. I wasn’t game-free during that time; I played a lot of Team Fortress 2, Dragon Age, League of Legends, and a bunch of other stuff on Gametap, including fairly regular Civ 4 games.

I think I played so many MMOs for so long that I lost my appreciation for the genre. Everything felt like work, and my burnout from one MMO was bleeding over into any new MMO I tried, or old MMOs I reactivated.

Honestly, I probably wouldn’t be back in an MMO if it wasn’t for Turbine’s  free Welcome Back weekends. The Activity Log on My LoTRO page shows that I was last subscribed to the game in April of last year, and I only played for about a month. Then, last October, I came back for my first free Welcome Back weekend, and returned for free weekends in November, December, and January before resubscribing in February.

Maybe it was playing only occasionally that allowed me to reconnect with the world and with my character without quickly burning out again. Maybe it’s just the depth of LoTRO after a couple years of adding and tweaking and upgrading the game experience. The depth of LoTRO is pretty significant compared to a lot of other MMO’s out there; Turbine hasn’t shied away from crafting, housing, and their skirmish system is pretty damn cool. I like the Deeds/Traits system, the world lore is significant, the Book quests now have solo options (which work pretty well for me as a mostly-solo gamer), and I’m always looking forward to logging in, instead of feeling like it’s a job.

I re-applied to the Old Timer’s Guild, and hopefully I’ll get enough sponsors by the end of the month to become a full member. I’m also hoping that playing an MMO rekindles my desire to blog a bit. No promises – I’m trying to finish up my Master’s degree by the end of June – but playing MMOs seem more blog-worthy than single-layer games. There’s plenty to talk about in LoTRO, and I haven’t felt that way about an MMO in quite a while.

What I played – 2009

I can’t do a top 10 list for 2009 that’s anything other than completely subjective. I don’t have time to play a huge variety of games, so I can’t compare what I do play to recent releases. I rarely pay full price for games any more, so I’m off the new-release train, and that prevents me from making any sort of objective game-quality comparisons.

With that disclaimer, I’ll mention some of the games that got a lot of play time, or were memorable for one reason or another.

First, my Gametap subscription is worthwhile for the Codemasters racing games alone. Colin McRae Rally, Dirt, and Grid are all great fun. They’re not ultra-realistic, so I can play them sans driving wheel and I don’t have to spend a lot of time tweaking the cars to have fun driving them. I’ve heard Dirt 2 get a lot of praise this year, and I’m not surprised. Codemasters makes racing fun.

Second, I haven’t heard any mention Team Fortress 2 in their yearly wrap-up, but Valve hasn’t rested on the laurels of their original release. The class updates and new maps are a lot of fun, and I’m still spending a lot of time enjoying TF2. It’s probably my most-played game of the past six months.

I did buy myself Dragon Age for Christmas, although I did so with a bit of hesitation. Baldur’s Gate, BG2, and Icewind Dale are all games I played but never finished, and I was concerned I would have similar issues with Dragon Age. Thankfully, DA has more in common with Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire, both of which I loved, and I’m really enjoying Dragon Age so far. In fact, I was having so much fun playing Dragon Age, I stayed up too late and forgot to buy Mass Effect for $4.95 when it was offered on the Steam holiday sale.

I played quite a bit of S.T.A.L.K.E.R through Gametap earlier in the year, so that was a definite buy on Steam for $1.99. When it’s time for a break from Dragon Age, I’m looking forward to jumping back in to Stalker, especially with the STALKER Complete high-definition graphics mod that really updates the look of the game.

I loved the Torchlight demo and bought it during the Steam sale for $9.99, only to see it drop to $4.99 shortly thereafter. I’m not concerned; in fact, I’m happy to give Runic a few extra bucks for another game I’m looking forward to playing after exhausting Dragon Age.

The Hunter, which was going to be my Overlooked Game of the Year, wasn’t completely overlooked, getting mentioned on the Gamers With Jobs 2009 review podcast. I bought a three-month license for The Hunter back in May, and it was a great value and very cool gaming experience. Even if you don’t hunt (I don’t hunt, I’m a vegetarian, for chrissakes), the game totally delivers an exciting simulation of finding, tracking, and shooting game. The Gamers With Jobs thread about the game has some tips if you’re curious about playing.

The Hunter can feel slow at first, but once you figure out your PDA (which pinpoints the direction of your calls and helps you track game) and you get on the trail of a target, and then spot the target, and then try to creep closer or, better, call the animal in to you for a clear shot, it’s an adrenaline rush of the highest gaming order.

You can play the game for free, with limited weapons and hunting only mule deer, but it’s totally worth paying $15 for a three-month license to also hunt whitetail deer, elk, turkey, and coyote.

Dwarf Fortress also got a lot of play this year. Graphically simple but otherwise wonderfully complex. It’s not a new game (the last release was in 2008), but it was new to me, and it got a lot of play this year. GWJ has two threads about it that are worth reading if you’re curious.

Those were the games I played the most (other than LoTRO and Eve Online, in which my interest faded away this year). And, like every year, Civilization always gets a good amount of play, so I’ve got to give it an honorable mention. Civ is consistently one of the best games of every year.

I missed a lot of quality new titles, but I don’t mind too much. I have lots of good gaming to look forward to in 2010 as more games drop in price and start to hit my “Buy” threshhold. 2010 looks like it’s going to be a great year for gaming.

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.

Holiday update

My gaming life has been decidedly non-MMO in the last couple months, and when I’m not playing MMO’s, I tend not to blog. There’s something about the shared MMO experience that makes me want to talk about it, while single-player games are more introspective for me.

I’m playing a lot of games lately, mainly Team Fortress 2. TF2 has become my MMO methadone, my step-down drug. Lots of fun, low commitment, but great depth within that low-commitment space. It’s rock-paper-scissors taken to the Nth degree, and I really appreciate how each night and each class can offer so much variety. It helps when Valve does a fabulous job updating the game regularly. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a better gaming value for my money.

Speaking of Valve, the Steam holiday sales are insane. Stalker for $1.99? GTA IV for $7.50? Braid at $2.50? Torchlight for $10? There are a ton of awesome games under $10, and I’m going to have to be careful not to over-indulge. I’ve got Dragon Age wrapped up and under my tree, waiting for Christmas morning, and my pile of unplayed game shame will be huge if I can’t stop clicking Purchase on the Steam sales.

I’m three classes away from my Master’s degree, and I’m starting to look beyond the Master’s for game-related projects at the university. I have some ideas, and I’m compiling video game studies reading lists for the spring semester and into the summer. There’s a chance this blog will move from just talking about playing games to talking about the academic and cultural implications of gaming. Time will tell; real life, work, and three more classes are keeping me pretty busy.

Until next time, have a great holiday season!