Friday, June 29, 2012

Heart Mind Handshaking Fail

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Do you ever have that feeling that your heart and head are out of sync when it comes to gaming? Like, in theory, you really want to play a game, but you just can't bring yourself to log in? What is up with that?

Lately, I just can't get into any button-pressing, fighting games. MMOs, Diablo, they're all falling prey to this. The only games I'm really playing are facebook games. My mind is screaming at me that it's being slowly mushed. Crotchety statements hailing from the era of the black and white television scream through me. Something about boobs and rotting. Completely unpleasant.

Yet, I can't deny my heart. I sit and stare at a log in screen, and my heart flails. Sure, you can log in... but do you really want to?

I don't have a good answer for my heart. Truth is, I don't really want to. But I don't feel like I really want to do anything. Mostly, I'd like to nap. Switch my brain off. Watch some terrible movies.

You might say, "Well, just do that, then."

It's not that simple. My brain likes gaming. A lot more than movies or TV. It's why I go back to the Old Standby games. I'm looking for that feeling I used to feel when those games were new. But you never get that back. We all know that. The new shine always wears off. You can't make a career in gaming based on new shine alone.

(Or can you? But that's a topic for a different post.)

I probably just need to make some new goals. When you have goals, you tend to be more excited about playing. I've just reached a plateau where I've achieved the previous goals, but not set new ones. So I guess the whole point of this article is:

Setting new goals is hard.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Old Standby

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It's interesting to me how much we, as gamers, tend to compare games to relationships. I mean, it's an apt metaphor. We certainly do enter in a certain sort of relationship with different games. We have flings, go steady, get serious. Some of us get married, while others play the field. We have exciting first dates and horrible break ups. Stories of the one that got away are common among lifelong gamers.

And another thing we generally have is an Old Standby. A former lover that we keep around "just in case." The cute, sweet, and, uh, well-visited old friend that we know we can always go back to.

I have two, currently. Civilization is one. I own five, so I generally play the latest, but I think I have the other discs somewhere around, too.

Before Civ, though, there was SimCity and Rollercoaster Tycoon. Both are games that I keep around for rainy days. Every so often, I get the urge to retreat from the front lines of gaming to my comfort zone of old games. There's just something about games that let me build things that appeals to me. Even in Civ, when I'm in the mood, I tend to simply build up a society and refrain from attacking anyone. (Which means, in general, that I don't win, either. Pacifism is a hard trait to take to victory in Civ, at least at the harder settings. You almost have to attack someone.

What are your Old Standbys? Can we count WoW among them now? Is it old enough? (Not that Civ V is old enough, either.)

The reason this popped into my head is that there's a SimCity Social Open Beta going on right now. I stumbled across it after my latest peaceful civilization had been destroyed (on King, fwiw). The tagline reads "more city, less ville." A clever, if obvious dig at Zynga games. I mentioned recently how impressed I've been with Zynga. If the SimCity franchise can live up to the Zynga social gaming bar, color me excited. It's like one of my own flames grew into that awkward frame (or something). So yeah, I'm playing. I almost wish I could pay some money for the game and have infinite energy. Take the mini-transactions out and just pay like $50 to open the game or whatever.

I mean, they had me at SimCity.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hell on Heels

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It's been a while since I threw out some fan fiction on Friday. Wanted to write something quick and fun in the Diablo universe (since that's where I've been spending my time). I scheduled this to go up on Friday (I was away on vacation). Apparently I failed, so you get some fiction on a Tuesday. Oh well. Hope you enjoy.

The Demon Hunter grunted as she pulled her heel out of the corpse's arm. There was a sickening plop as the dispossessed limb settled back to the mossy ground. She plucked a bolt from the quiver at her waist, and fired down into the body... just to be sure.

"Would hate to be a villager around here," she mumbled.

She surveyed the graveyard, attempting to count the forgotten bodies. The practice grew tiring after the first dozen or so. They clearly outnumbered the headstones.

"Large village."

The hunter moved forward with a lithe grace that was more animal than human. Nephalem. The word echoed in her brain. She'd never much considered the term, but it'd been popping up far too often lately. Was she, in fact, one of the bastard children of the angels? A hybrid fostered from a heavenly pairing with the very thing she despised?

Demons.

The crack of a splitting stone yanked her attention to the right. Twin crossbows whipped around to point at the offending mausoleum. The stone slab sealing the chamber crumbed to the ground. For a moment, she just stared into the darkness. And then, dozens of chattering red creatures poured fourth, swarming toward her across the green.

"Vengeance will be mine," she growled.

The night gave way to a tempest of fire. Blazing bolts streamed toward the attacking horde, each bolt finding purchase in the flesh of a demon. The burning beasts did not falter, though. They crashed onward. A wave of flame meant to smash the lone figure that stood in defiance of their invasion.

The hunter knelt, and for a moment darkness reclaimed the night. The demons surged forward. At the last second, the hunter's head snapped up, eyes aglow.

The lead demon took a swipe. The hunter leaped high into the air, somersaulting and twisting, bringing her weapons to bear. She was firing again long before her feet found the earth.

In the space she'd just vacated, a small tuft of smoke puffed. Small, glittering objects scattered among the demons. The screeches were immediate. Sharp pieces of metal punctured demonic feet, all but halting the advance.

The hunter smiled. From a satchel on her hip, she drew out a small, spherical object. Pulling a pin, she tossed it into the cluster.

"... two, thr--"

The explosion was deafening. Bits of gore splattered among the headstones. When the displaced dirt settled and the smoke cleared, naught but a bloody crater remained.

The hunter rose languidly. A contented sigh escaped her lips. She tucked a stray strand of hair back behind her ear.

Then, she stalked away in search of more prey.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

ContentVille

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Is it just me or do these big time MMO companies need to start hiring people from Zynga? The social gaming juggernaut has over a dozen games, and none that I've ever tried out have ever lacked for content. Addicting is the best word to describe them, with all that word can mean. Now, before you get all nerd-ragey on me for talking about the "lower class" of the great gaming nation, hear me out.

I wouldn't call myself an avid social gamer. Currently, I'm dabbling in CastleVille. I've dipped into a couple other games, but I'm much more at home in an RPG or FPS. Still, I would be hard pressed to describe my experience with Zynga games as anything but "fun." Maybe a bit obsessive at times, but fun.

I play them "free." That is to say, I don't dump a lot of money into the games. I don't go in with high expectations of grand adventure, but look for something to kill a handful of minutes here and there. Typically, the handful stretches into a half hour or more.

What amazes me, though, is how smooth my gaming experience with Zynga has been. Granted, many of the games are run through Facebook, so I guess they deserve some props as well. But, coming from an MMO environment, I can't help but be a little impressed by the lack of bugs, downtime, and interruptions.

Granted, the gaming engines are probably much simpler. Also, since I'm not heavily invested into these games, maybe I'm more willing to overlook design flaws. So maybe I'm just doing the old rose-colored glasses thing here. Any social gamers lurking around here? You tell me, objectively speaking, has your social gaming experience been smooth?

Most importantly (to me), it seems like they always have new content. Doesn't matter which game I'm dabbling in. Like I said, CasteVille is my current guilty pleasure, and I swear they have a new quest every week. I can't complete the content as fast as they produce it, and I've never had that feeling in a game.

Again, these games aren't super complicated. They share a ton of back end, I'm sure. It's nowhere near the technical achievement of, say, WoW. After all, you're not usually syncing up exactly with other users, and that's okay. You can have a minute of lag and it's not a big deal.

But the content, holy cow the content. And thematically the quests are clever and funny in their own right. It's not just slinging crap against the wall and seeing what sticks. In short, it seems like they're designed by people that enjoy what they do. I can't always say the same about the big time MMOs.

I'm sure this is a completely unfair comparison. Apples to Snapples, if you will. Still, it was a thought I had as I was looking at my CastleVille quest log. I'll exhaust the novelty of the gameplay long before I run out of quests. When was the last time that happened to me in an MMO? Ever?

I can't say that I rightly know.

Monday, June 18, 2012

When Do You Stop Paying?

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I find myself in a conundrum as of late. Summer has officially arrived, and with it, the requisite outdoor activities. Gaming time is squeezed because I'm simply not in front of a computer as much. You know, typical summer slump stuff.

When your game time is limited, you find yourself re-evaluating the money allocated to gaming. Why pay for something you're not using? I found myself in such a preponderance this weekend. The subject of much thought: SWTOR.

Currently, my game time is allocated thus:
  1. Still poking around in Diablo
  2. Do some mindless Casteville when I have a few minutes
  3. ???
  4. Profit.
Okay, there isn't really any profit. Four is more like "pay bills." I'm not really playing WoW. However, since Diablo was free, the subscription there still makes sense. Casteville is free. That leaves SWTOR. I'm paying, but not playing.

I've always viewed subscription games like I would magazines. Remember those? When you used to get subscriptions to paper things that had words and pictures on them and were delivered to your door. Yeah, I haven't had a magazine subscription in years. However, I kept paying long after I probably should have called it quits. Why? Well, I liked having the possibility to read. And, in the case of Sports Illustrated, there's always the swimsuit issue to look forward to, right?

Diablo was sort of the swimsuit edition of Blizzard Monthly, for me. A quick, sexy run through. Good to glance at, but it's not like I'm digging into the articles. When Mists comes out, it'll be like the Fantasy Preview SI editions. Have to get the down low before my fantasy football drafts, y'know.

I'm not sure where SWTOR fits into all of this. The awkward Playboy subscription that your "bros" bought for you for your birthday that you have to then explain when your mom finds during a visit? (True story. She was hanging the laundry she did for me. Never let your mother into your tiny college closet. My buddies in the dorm thought it was hilarious way back when. Which really wasn't "way" back for me, but whatever. It was a Tuesday.) I don't have any real issues with the game. It's just not high on my priority list at the moment. I'm not gaming for lengths of time because it's nice outside, and thus I gravitate to games that can be digested in smaller chunks. Hence, Diablo and Casteville.

Maybe my biggest complaint about TOR is the lack of new content. They're being pretty slow right now, if you ask me. Once they get this 1.3 business released, I'll probably be more interested. At least for the month or so it takes me to do what I want to do with it.

And therein lies the problem. The current trend in gaming, at least for me, is to only really read every other issue. Or, perhaps more succinctly, I play one month hard, then take a month or two off. That's how I keep up with content, and I'm just fine with that. I like experiencing multiple games. It doesn't make me angry.

But when that monthly bill comes... it seems dumb to pay on those "off" months. Yet, I want the games I play to succeed, to keep going. At what point have I fulfilled my "obligation" to the game (yes, I know feeling obligated it stupid). At what point have I paid enough that they won't fold up, but not so much that I'm throwing money into a furnace.

The real answer is: my meager contribution doesn't matter. One person doesn't make or break these companies. If I asked them, they'd say "Yeah, keep paying. Heck, pay double! Here's a pony. We lurve you. Bring Money." If I ask my pocket book, it pushes its glasses up the bridge of its nose and sneers, "Pay only when you're getting value out of the game. No more, no less. And three shall be the number of the counting."

I sort of wish there was a way I could unsubscribe for a few months, but check a box that says, "Yeah, I'll be back when you release something new." In today's age of "investor calls" and crap like that, where subscriber numbers are reviewed and decisions are made based on some giant bottom line, I don't want to be a black mark on a game I've enjoyed. I don't want to be just another user jumping ship. But I don't want to pay for something I'm not using either.

So when do I stop? When do you stop?

I'm paid up through August for TOR. After that, I'm going month-by-month. I'll pay for one month when I want to play, and after that I'll let the sub lapse if there's nothing new to do, if I feel satisfied. After my year commitment with WoW is up, I'll probably do the same thing there. I've decided that makes the most sense for me. I used to simply pay the bill for the year and think nothing of it... yet I don't feel like we get a year's worth of content. Over 12 months, in any game, I feel like I'm given 6 months and then a lot of time-wasting fluff. The fluff can be good (like pet collecting and stuff), but it's not for me. When it's nice out, when there are other things to do (like writing novels), I'm just not going to sit down and spend my time on fluff.

Where do you draw the line? Especially, if you're not "rage-quitting," if you want the game to continue to exist. Are we supposed to keep paying? Or is month-by-month just enough?

Monday, June 11, 2012

#Diablo - Speed Play

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Okay, I retract my previous statement. Namely, that I wasn't all that interested in replaying Diablo. I didn't have a lot of time to play this weekend, but I did start my monk on the next difficulty mode. Because I was expecting malaise, I decided to remove the band-aid quickly. That is to say, I tried to move as fast as possible to each objective, spamming the fel out of space bar whenever people tried to talk to me.

It was a lot of fun.

Yeah, color me surprised. It wasn't so bad when you skip everything. And when you're not being compulsive about trying to explore every nook and cranny of the map, the game actually moves pretty quickly. So far, I've been rolling over things still. I can tell stuff hits harder, but there have only been a few rough patches. I'm not very far in. I'll be it'll toughen up sooner rather than later.

Speed play is pretty intoxicating. I'm not just playing, but trying to play faster, more efficient. It's sort of like gold farming, only with an secondary purpose in mind (of progressing). At least, I think it is. I've never been a big gold farmer, but I imagine you try to really maximize your profits over time.

Anyway, thought I'd mention this. Thanks to the comment tips last week on how to speed up play (like spacebar... though my spacebar does not thank you). Now back to your regularly sucky Monday, already in progress.

Friday, June 8, 2012

#Diablo - Vanquished, Now What?

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This post may contain mild spoilers. Fair warning. I'm not going to do it on purpose, but I didn't want folks to take a chance if they didn't want to. I finished Diablo last night, on normal mode. It was a great game for the price of free. Probably would have been solid at full price, but you can't beat free.

I've learned that my monk is pretty much OP. Some of the normal bosses are a struggle on my Demon Hunter. I have to be quick with moving out of the bad and such, but the Monk can just stand and take it. My self-healing is ridiculous. Made the final boss a bit of a joke, if you ask me. I wasn't really ever in danger of dying.

I didn't care for the ending so much. Maybe I wasn't emotionally invested enough, but it just didn't speak to me. I guess it was a happy ending. I'm not sure. Seemed like more of an ambivalent, quickly produced ending. Are there alternate endings on harder difficulties? Extended cuts? I guess after all the build-up, it was just a pretty mundane ending. I don't know if I was expecting to see shots of them toppling Emperor Palpatine's statue, dancing Ewoks, and space fireworks, or what.

Long time fans of the series may note that the story was pretty true to the flavor of the games. These are gore-fests. Perhaps a happy, emotional ending would tarnish the art. I don't know. Having only played Diablo III, I enjoyed the lore, the gameplay, and the story right up until the end. Is it just me, or did the ending seem rushed? Act IV went so much faster than the previous acts. I guess I would have liked them to be more balanced.

Or maybe I'd just figured out the game, so what took me a long time before was much quicker. Like I said, my Monk felt OP, so perhaps I just picked the "easy" class. If I had struggled more at the end, it probably would have seemed longer.

I'm not sure what I want to do now. I wish I could max out my character by doing something other than simply replaying what I just finished. Like if they had some challenge modes or something. Not just a difficulty slider, but like where they throw you into a scenario and you just try to beat it. Like zombie mode in FPSes or some sort of PvE arena. Make the reward dependent on how long you survive or something.

I plan try and jump into groups with some of my friends. That should help extend the life of the game, but only if I can find them on. I'm not sure what I'll do when left to my own devices. Am I the only one that would just like a simple "killing mode" where you don't have to experience the story again? I'm probably just being picky.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Gaming in Waves

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Here's another crazy idea I had the other day. Call this "mixing what I enjoy about Diablo with what I enjoy about WoW." Add in a dash of SWTOR's fourth pillar. That's where this idea was brewed.

We've seen a whole bunch of MMOs that basically start on some day, and then run perpetually forward, never looking back, until the servers are switched off. Somewhere around, say, year five, I'm pretty sure story hooks that were never meant to run for five years are being exhausted and stretched so much that we turn to the Bronze Dragonflight. Or time travel... second only in (my personal) annoyance to dream sequences.

I'm not saying a story can't run past five years, I'm just saying that within the media of video games, the way we're doing it right now, today, makes it pretty difficult. If the games going to be profitable, you're going to have people jumping on at a variety of points during that five year run. You'll have TBC babies, Wrath babies, and Cata babies. People that never saw Vanilla. People that have no idea what the Burning Legion even is. Why? Because they missed a whole bunch of story!

So here's a potentially revolutionary idea: what if a game was designed with this sort of "wave-like" adoption pattern in mind. That is, what if there were "launch dates" every month. Once a month, there was a server launched that started the story fresh. Maybe eventually these servers "caught up" and get merged, but they start fresh from vanilla with a certain time cycle in mind.

Each new shard could definitely incorporate the latest "quality of life" changes (or not). Each would have a firmly published schedule of events (or not). Each would follow the same storyline (or not).

You could have spoilers, or alternate endings. You could have everyone dumped into a common "max level" continent at the end. You could have a "sidekick" system allowing people to transport their main "back in time" (I know, I know. I just bashed time travel). Or you could have a "refresh" where a character "relives" their previous adventure. Perhaps the character could just jump into a prior spot in the flow (not necessarily the beginning) and experience the story again from there (getting de-leveled to match the point in time), jumping out (and back to max level) whenever they'd like. Maybe the leveling would be completely dependent on the timeline (and not the concept of experience points). Most importantly, you could jump into a game a year down the road and not feel like you missed anything.

And think of the press? Launch days are cool! What if you had one of those every month. Sure, they'd probably lose their shine after the first one, but there would still be some hype for each one. You could even manufacture it to some extent. Maybe with each launch there is a server limit, and you get "wait listed" for the next launch if you join between launches. Now, this would have to be done carefully so as not to piss people off, but as long as you're only talking "wait a few weeks" (and not months), I don't think it would be too bad. (Also, a clearly communicated schedule would be key, here.) There would be special launch events for each one, localized maybe. I don't know.

There are a whole bunch of possibilities for a game like this. It's like phasing on 'roids (or something). A game that is constantly launching. Think about it. I'd be interested... maybe in the second wave after I've seen how it goes and they work out all the server kinks...