Monday, January 25, 2010

AI: Just Another Tequila Sunrise

So far this year, weekends have been for two things: drinking and playing Aion.  Sure, I've squeezed in my WoW daily heroic, but since all my raiding is done during the week, weekends are catch-up time in the world of Atreia.  Of course, NCSoft is helping their case with yet another double-experience weekend, and hints at more to come. 

All in all, the double experience has been a great idea for a young game.  Say what you want about the game and the company, but I think they've done a helluva job trying to compete in the World of MMOs (In which Blizz is both the Lich King and the Queen of the Dragons).  A lot of folks I know have left Aion for greener pastures, be they console games, single player RPGs, or just general disenchantment with the game type.  Thus, coupled with the excitement going on in WoW at the moment (And Icecrown IS exciting.  So are easy epix, even if you disagree with the design), I've written a lot less on Aion lately. 

I'd like to point out a few things to get us started today.  First, the botter problem has been handled.  The community said "Many Bots, Handle It" and NCSoft wielded a mighty ban-hammer.  It wasn't a perfect approach, it screwed some folks over I've heard, and it hasn't completely removed all bots.  However, I think anyone playing can agree that the atmosphere has gotten 100% better.  You still get the occasional spam and see the private store adds, but there is no longer the deluge when you first log in and I haven't filled up my block list in nigh-on two months now.  I mean, that used to be a weekly occurrence, so you have to give them credit for improvement.  Even WoW still isn't perfect after five years of western market experience, though obviously Blizzard is the old hat when it comes to this stuff, setting the bar quite high.

Speaking of WoW, for those expecting the leveling/gaming experience to be as smooth as WoW... You're right, it's not.  Nor do I expect it to be this year, or maybe even next year.  What I want to see is an effort on the part of the developer at improvement, and NCSoft has done this.  They do a pretty good job of listening and responding to community criticism, even if it's not with the optimal solution.  To be honest, I think they're learning some things.  I mean, I know they've been in the MMO market for a while, but I guess I believe each game is going to develop a pretty unique community with different needs and wants than other games.  What works in WoW may not work in Aion, which in turn may not work in Guild Wars or Star Trek Online.  Different strokes for different folks. 

Which brings me back to the double experience weekends.  What a great move.  I mean, it doesn't fix the bigger issues, but it certainly alleviates them.  NCSoft needs to keep adding quests and keep tweaking the baseline experience level, which they're doing (the experience has been tweaked a few times already).  It's a great "in the mean time" move.  Not only does it help with the leveling, but, in my experience, it has really brought players together.  Everyone and their brother is getting on on the double exp weekends and looking to run stuff.  It's a lot easier to get groups and people are a lot more willing to do anything because, hey, it's all exp.  Double exp.  I think it's really been fun to be a part of.

At the end of the day though, I'm not going to sit here and preach that this game is for everyone.  In fact, if your sole gaming experience is WoW, Aion is probably not for you.  If, like us here at KeS, you enjoyed some time spent in FFXI, then you will probably like Aion.  Those are the only backgrounds I can write about.  The game is more grindy, the art is different, and the game play is familiar yet novel (whatever the heck that means).  It's not for everyone the way WoW is for everyone.  However, it is  for some people, and for those people I feel it does a very good job so far.  If NCSoft keeps working on it like they have been, I'm still excited to be a part of it and spend time in that world.  It's a lot of fun.

I guess I just wanted to say all of this because I see a lot of polarized opinions out there.  People either love it, or hate it.  It's hard to be in between.  Yet, I think that's where the healthy viewpoint is: in the middle.  It's good to keep an open mind and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  It's also good to respect other folks opinions and realize that different gamers prize different game qualities differently.  Wow, that's a lot of "differences".  Yet, isn't that what makes the gaming community great?  We have so many varied tastes and viewpoints, yet we can come together and converse in a common arena.  There are very few other hobbies that can claim so many people from so many different walks of life.

Take this weekend for instance.  We've made a friend who lives in Finland.  For whatever reason, she tends to be online at the same times we do (time changes be damned).  She's a blast to play with, has great English for a non-native, and is a stellar player.  What other hobby can I claim to have spent some time with a Finnish woman (In actual Finland) over the weekend?  To me, that's one of the coolest parts of this whole MMO thing.  It's like seeing the world without the cost and hassle of, you know, seeing it.  Not to take anything away from tourism, because I'd love to see a lot more of the world when I get time and money, but learning about different cultures is at least half the fun and it's something you can do adequately over vent.  It's not ideal, but it's better than never getting out of your own backyard.  Gaming, more than many other hobbies I can name, is probably doing more to bring folks together than we realize.  Maybe Blizzard and other developers should be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize.  I mean, it's been giving for some things that have made me scratch my head a lot harder, that's for sure.

While we're on the larger MMO topic, I wanted to like a good article by Spinks about Dealing with Unfairness in Games.  There are a lot of good points there and it's deeper topics like this that really can give us insight into how different people from different walks of life perceive things like "fairness".  To me, fairness only goes so far as the developers see it.  In other words, fairness is by design.  If the developers think it's fair to make my DK do as much DPS as my Warlock with half the gear, then apparently on some level it's fair.  I'm sure the design is analyzed to be fair, it just often doesn't work out that way under real conditions, and isn't that like life?  We'd like life to be fair, but when it comes to real conditions, sometimes it just isn't.  Are all men really created equal?  I think I could easily write whole articles supporting both a "yes" and "no" answer. 

The surface issue of rezzing in games that Spinks brings up is a good one as well, and something that I love about Aion: everyone has a battle-rez.  Basically, you just have to purchase the reagent that lets you do it, but then anyone can sneak a rez in.  In the framework of Aion, it works.  I'm not sure if such an approach would work in WoW though.  Still, it's nice to be able, as a DPS, to CC a rogue mob, rez the healer/tank, and avert a wipe on your own.   In WoW, I'm often helpless in the same situations.  Both game designs exemplify different standards of "fairness by design".  Where in WoW, it might be considered "unfair" if everyone was suddenly given a battle-rez (perhaps for good reason), in Aion it's the norm.

So where to end this sober rambling?  Ah yes, drinking and gaming, two excellent conduits for deep thinking and cross-cultural discussions.  Bartender, another round!


  1. Glad to see you guys still going strong. Hopefully, I'll be able to poke back into the game in the near future.

  2. It would be good to have you back. I think I might be more anxious if I didn't have WoW to juggle also, but playing Aion slowly really agrees with me. It's sort of nice to not feel a pressure to get to an end game raid or really have no goals other than just have fun.