Dredging up the Past

This is a post from a long time ago that I feel is still relevent today. I wrote this when playing Asheron’s Call 2 and it applies to World of Warcraft, too.

Hate is the new cool and it’s got all new packaging so it’s flying off the shelves! Some people with a vision create a product and no matter how much better it is than what has come before, it’s nothing but crap. Or, at least that’s how vocal fans paint it.

I’m sure that when someone decides to create a PC game, they imagine that having some forums would allow them to open lines of communication with their consumer base and/or fans. The thought of hundreds of people logging into your official forums to voice praise, point out flaws, and read your own views on their topics is a welcome idea. It would almost be foolish to NOT create an official forum that is centered on your new venture. But if you actually think any of that, you’re still living in a fairy land and wearing gumdrop hats while you dance with pixies and leperchauns.

The reality of the PC gaming community is that no matter how much work you put into your product, or how `good’ it is, people are going to line up to punch you in the stomach for ruining their lives. That’s right, I said `RUINING THEIR LIVES’. Little do you know that by fabricating a new game with the intent of providing enjoyment for many people like you (and make some money to feed and house yourself), you’re actually forcing people to purchase, play, and experience every single flaw with your game. A rational person might argue that a few problems or bugs can’t possibly ruin someone’s life, but these consumers are nowhere near rational. Every single flaw in the product causes them physical pain not unlike having their nuts in a workbench vise while being hit in the chest with a sledge hammer. Not owning and playing the game would mean certain death. Stopping AFTER you start to play would be even worse (however that’s possible). How does anyone know this is the case? Simply read the official forums of a PC game, such as Asheron’s Call 2. It will become obvious that even when you set out to create a fun, exciting, evolutionary game, what you are in fact doing is forcing people to buy it, then ENDURE the pain of playing your game. The developers few bumps in the road to the ideal game are life-shattering, nerve-wracking, moments of pure torment that will never end for the forum posting game player. Nevermind that your new game might offer tons of features that make it more exciting and enjoyable than any other game like it. Put aside the thoughts that all your patches and fixes to the game have been based on forum posts and customer feedback. You’ll never be good enough and nothing you do or say will change that you are the worst person to ever have lived. Even the smallest word from you or anyone involved in making the game will be turned into bona fide evidence of your conspiracy to spit on people’s hard work and to make their lives meaningless. Don’t even bother trying to argue against the vocal minority of the forums. Your pathetic attempts to appease anyone will be swept assunder in the waves of constant bitching, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.

But won’t these people just quit? Oh no! Even if, by some miracle, they decide to actually stop playing your game, there’s no reason for them to not keep posting to the forums. They must make sure that no one else is ever lulled into enjoying the game or purchasing another copy. These valiant souls will throw their every waking hour into keeping others from ever possibly having to experience the game that ruins people’s lives. And probably to also make sure you never forget how bad the game was for them to play. That’s some real dedication.

Fraglimit Hit

A few years ago, I was approached by a friend about appearing in a documentary about online multiplayer gaming. This friend, DevilStick, has released his documentary to the world now and I encourage you to check it out.

This documentary was made when the gaming community seemed to be building at an incredible rate. LAN parties were huge and it seemed most everyone was playing one or two games. These days, there’s a lot more fragmentation. Grabbing random gamers from a single geographical location won’t net you 50% Quake II/III players and 50% Counter-strike players anymore. You would more likely see eight or ten different games being played, like Battlefield 1942, Counter-strike: Source, Unreal Tournament 2004, Doom III, Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Everquest 2, and so on.

I hope DevilStick decides to do a follow-up to this sometime in the future. There are so many interesting facets to the gaming community that I think are fascinating to learn about and to explore.

Chinese Farmers and Wal-Mart

The corelation should be obvious. I imagine some people might not even know what I mean by “Chinese Farmers”, though.

The concept of farming in a massivly multiplayer online game is that you kill certain enemies or monsters over and over trying to “harvest” money or specific items. It’s really part of any MMORPG at any given time. You need money or you want a more powerful item, you might farm it. The “Chinese” part comes in with the business built behind selling in-game items and money for real world money. In theory, you hire a handful of cheap workers (hence the China part) and employee them to play the game for hours on end and sell the resulting items to other players. Maybe you are playing World of Warcraft and you need one hundred gold, you can buy it for $40.00 USD for example. Obviously this violates most MMORPG terms of service or end user license agreement. It also may cause problems for people trying to play the game where farmers are at work. I’m not totally convinced it’s a viable business model.

So, the Wal-Mart part is next. There are people who utterly despise Wal-Mart and feel that Wal-Mart is a destructive force that kills small businesses. Wal-Mart moves into a town and wipes out all competition. And the people who utterly hate “Chinese Farmers” will tell you that they ruin the game economy and make the game less fun to play. Neither would be around if there weren’t enough people throwing money at them to be profitable.

Half-Life 2

Half-Life, I never finished. I played some Counter Strike, and some Half-Life Deathmatch. But that was about it. The story never really grabbed me and I probably was playing on the wrong difficulty level. But, that’s all water under the bridge.

Half-Life 2 is a better game. I played it on easy, so sue me. I didn’t really care for the jumping puzzles and I didn’t want to see the normal or hard version of fighting off twenty four soldiers in a courtyard. So, I sat back and just played the game and it was fun. On easy I made progress all the time and it felt more like an interactive movie than a first person shooter normally does. I only had a few reloads where I really screwed the pooch. If you want a good game to play, Half-Life 2 is that. If you want a revolutionary game that will redefine the genre, this isn’t it. The graphics are better, the AI is better, the voice acting is better, it’s all better. But it’s not going to blow your mind, and I don’t think it should.

The plot is pretty good, too, though it does kinda end with an ambiguous situation. I realize it leaves the door wide open for Half-Life 3, but at some point you do want to feel like you figured something out. I’m not up for the X-File jerk-around-a-thon in a game.

Making Peace with a Game

I can’t play a massively multiplayer online game without reading someone’s tirade about how broken the game is. That alone is not a big deal, and such rants are pretty common for every type of game people play. I certainly have spelled out my issues with games I have played in the past. What really confuses me is that someone can write a five paragraph essay about how some development group doesn’t “get it” or has caused them undue suffering yet this person will continue to play the game. Very rarely do I see a laundry list of complaints that ends with the phrase, “And that’s why I cancelled my account and will not play this game any more.” It seems evident to me that the game is worth playing, but the resulting complaining is not unlike a sixteen year old’s view of a pimple on their chin. These issues are not the entire game, but that’s the focus of forum posts, blog entries, and online news articles.

Massively multiplayer online games have some very predictable issues that are inherent in their design. Things that you use and experience in the game are going to change. Other people are going to find ways to profit or advance faster than you. Some of these problems are just perception based, and others are simply part of playing an masively multiplayer online game. My advice is to make peace with the genre or stop playing. Complaining about how one group of players is moving up some ladder faster than you, or getting more resources than you, is a fact of life. No matter how level the playing field, someone is out there getting more of something faster than you can. And when you break down and try to join that group, doing whatever they are doing, you should expect the game to change so that there is no more advantage there. All these behaviours are not conducive to actually playing the game. When a change in the game can cause you to stop having fun, you are left two options. You can quit the game, or you can develop an attitude that allows the game to change while you continue to enjoy it. And if you can’t do either of those, I’m sure you can get a job making the next great MMORPG. Just remember that what goes around, comes around.

What about WoW?

I’ve been playing World of Warcraft for a few months now. I think that this is the most enjoyable MMORPG that I have ever played. It’s probably a combination of who I am playing with and how I have approached playing that has made it so fun to play, but the game design has also played a large part.

I was playing my hunter class character and thinking about the concept of having a pet in the game. I know other MMORPGs have done this, but it always seemed poorly implimented or very flat. The ammount of control a hunter has over their pet, the complexity of pet growth, and the interface for pet interaction, all contribute to a really polished and interesting class to play. I could say the same for almost every class and race in the game.

I know that many people have been upset with server problems, but when the game you are trying to play is this good, it seems worth it. We’re not talking about Asheron’s Call 2 here.

Cosmos and WoW Mods

Blizzard did a great job designing the user interface for their game, World of Warcraft. The interface is clean and non-intrusive to the game experience and manages to still be very powerful and handy. The best part about it is that anyone with XML and Lua knowledge can add to, and modify, the interface. Everything from adding a clock to changing every part of the interface you see on the screen.

Cosmos is one such modifcation to the WoW interface. It’s the heavy-weight mod and is crafted from many smaller AddOns and mods. When I first started using it, it felt unorganized and clunky. Some of the features, though, were so useful that I felt I had no choice. Either go without or take the good with the bad. As time went on, I learned more about what AddOns really were and how Cosmos was not designed strictly as one. Proper AddOn design resulted in code that did not require manipulating Blizzards code. This design concept of the AddOn being stand-alone also meant that when Blizzard updated certain interface files, your AddOn code would not break. It also keeps one AddOn from interfering with another AddOn. All good ideas that Cosmos clearly broke. And that is why, on principle, I have stopped using Cosmos and started writing my own replcement for the one feature I could not un-integrate from it.

Cosmos also caused my client to crash when exiting the game. No idea why that happened.

World of Warcraft

Mail. This one little thing in WoW really has made items less of an albatross around my neck. I can chuck an item, keep it, or sent it to someone who might need it. No more hanging on to bags full of equipment and items, wondering when I’ll meet someone to hand it off to them. Swing by an inn and drop it in the mail. I think it’s the little improvements that can make a game enjoyable versus tolerable.

I also find the crafting aspect of WoW to be very easy to deal with. The interface makes fabrication very smooth and easy to work with. You aren’t fumbling with buttons or items or anything. Most of WoW has this same interface smoothness that makes the game very easy to work with. I do think that the screen real estate is the most limiting aspect of the interface and Blizzard did not want to clutter it up with more buttons. But, I would expect that most people will add user interface modifications to change that.

Mini LAN Party

Yesterday was Labor Day and a LAN party broke out. We only played three games, and we probably overdid the Quake. We started with some 5 player Doom 3 deathmatch. It had it’s moments but Doom 3 multiplayer is really not that interesting or exciting. So, for some reason, we played the original Quake in cooperative mode. And I do use the term “cooperative” in the loosest way possible. We managed to essentially beat all four areas in one sitting despite our spawn frag fests. Though, I have to say that as fun as it was, we really played it too long. Then we moved on to FarCry. I was surprised at how fun FarCry is for deathmatch, team deathmatch and their assault mode. Despite the whole wall building incident, fun was mostly had by all.

Thunder Road

Last night, LouZiffer, Aetius, Ranger Rick, and I played another game of Thunder Road. The game has some serious problems that make it really boring towards the end of the game. We made some changes to try and fix it because it really is a fun game to play. One change was how you ram through wrecks. Instead of getting a 50/50 shot with any vehicle, you can ram through a wreck by rulling under the battle rank of the vehicle doing the ramming. This gives some utility to the larger vehicle while leaving the light buggy at the even odds. Next time we play, we’ll try adding a few more rules to try and give the light buggy some purpose and maybe the middle vehicle as well. I think when we are done, I will put up our modified rules.