Opening the 2014 Time Capsule

So, according to my notes, this is my second year doing this. Instead of predictions at the end of the year, at the beginning of the year I try to capture my hopes, dreams, and thoughts for the year in one space, and then go back and look at them the next year. This change was inspired by SWTOR after I realized how I went from gung-ho-on-fire for it to hating it in the course of a year. How quickly things change in the world of online gaming, right? So here is where I was 12 months ago, and my reflections now.

I Was Looking Forward To Four Things:

    World of Warplanes: Vought F7U Cutless

The Cutless was my favorite tier 10 at launch, and was supposed to be my first end game plane. Its defensive handling and speed made it a great choice. But I ran into two problems. One is that the Corsair line has been perpetually underpowered in the game. It is unrealistically nerfed in its speed and handling, and tends to be one of the worst choices to fly at tiers 7-8 (where the grind kicks in). So while I unlocked the tier 7, I never went beyond that. It sits in the hanger, gathering dust. The more serious problem though, was Warplanes population struggles. While things are better now, its still hard to find any sort of decent size match above tier 7, and anytime they do a special (like the one that has been going on the last month) its impossible to play anything other than the tiers directed (in this case, tier 4) because that is where everyone congregates. Its good for the overall health of the game to get people together, and there is no real need for a tier 10 yet, but still, it is frustrating. I have used free XP to unlock and upgrade the FJ-1 Fury, at tier 9, and one that is probably better suited for my play style than the Corsairs were.

    Elder Scrolls Mania

I think I spent just about half the year on subscription for Elder Scrolls Online. I continue to believe it to be a great MMO. But it is almost exclusively used by me for playtime with my brother, and the last two months have been nuts for both of us. We talked this week and are anxious to make a return to the game in the coming weeks. Part of my joy is the flexibility in playstyles. Its not unusual for me to have a different weapon and skill set equipped each night. Oh and the crafting…my word the crafting. I collect crafting styles like some people collect stamps. Or pets. Or achievements. Yeah, lets go with those.

    Playing Old RPG Franchises

I tried Wizardry 7. Oi. Character creation alone was crazy frustrating to me. So I figured maybe I went toooo far back in time, ya know? So I picked up Might and Magic 10 on sale, and it was a bust too. So I tried M&M7 again. Also a bust. The magic just wasn’t there. And that’s when I realized the problem wasn’t that I had gone too far back, but that I hadn’t gone far enough. So, I busted out some Might and Magic 2. Its still hard as hell, but at least my expectations are in line with reality. And I don’t have to deal with an inventory system from hell – Might and Magic 2 restricts every character to 12 items – six equipped and six in the backpack.


And character creation evokes the feeling of classic tabletop dice rolling for some reason.

...can't quite put my finger on why.
…can’t quite put my finger on why.

So, nostalgia enjoyed, thanks again NWC and Van Canegham for making a timeless classic!

    The Return of WoW

Yeah, not so much. Not sure why, but by the time release rolled around, any enthusiasm I felt was completely nonexistent. I couldn’t tell you why, as I’ve said before, I think WoW today is much improved from when I last played regularly (2007-2008), but apparently, for me, that ship has sailed.

I Had Three Burning Questions:

    What Will Come of Wildstar?

It came, it saw, it had some success. But I wondered if it would have some impact on the MMO landscape. And quite frankly, I don’t think it did. It certainly did not aim to be groundbreaking in style, graphics, or gameplay, but I think they did want to bring back some of that old subscription magic. And for me at least, they did not (though I would argue that, again *for me*, ESO did manage to do just that)

    Will ArchAge Be Arriving in 2014

This was bizarre. After months and months of dragging feet, Trion finally put their full wait behind this thing and shoved it right out the door, along with a hefty preorder price tag. The long wait time, sudden ramp up, and ridiculous pricing levels muted my enthusiasm. I had hoped that this would be the next big thing, but the mindless development enslavement to PvP and propensity for people to be jackasses (ie, gank helpless players), doomed this game to a dark corner. Oh, sorry, “niche market”, that’s the spin we want to put on it. Sad.

    How Will WarThunder’s Ground Game Hold Up Against World of Tanks?

Boy is this one the opposite of my other questions. Ground Forces is, for me, an unqualified success. I have all but abandoned World of Tanks in favor of what I see as superior graphics, superior gameplay, and superior dedication to historical sensibility. I had no idea this was coming but I’m the happier for it. And while the game still has its struggles at times, the plane/tank crossover in one client has actually siphoned flying time away from WoWp as well. This is a case in point for why I do these articles. I had no idea 12 months ago I would be this deep in WT.

I Had Two Places I Wanted To Return To:

    EVE Online

I played again, I loved the visuals all over again. And once again, I quit after a month, because…well, I was bored again. There has never been a prettier game with less to do for those who came looking for an MMORPG. I think EVE is probably best classified as an MMOPBG – massively multiplayer online persistent battle ground. Because for all its wonderful variety, at its heart its a one trick pony. Still – what is it that GMC says? Do one thing and do it well? Well that is EVE – they do one thing, and they do it so well that a decade later, nobody else has even come close.


I’m glad I went back, because I learned something. I learned that the problem I had with TOR was not all the random side quests. It was the story quests themselves. The terrible face choices and the arbitrary light side/ dark side assignation drove me away more than the slow gameplay and group advancement did. So when the 12x XP event happened last December, I literally laughed. I can’t think of anything less enticing to me than to say “just come and play for the story.” I probably have a stash of cash now, and who knows, maybe one day I will go back and putz around again, but right now, I have lost any latent desire or nostalgia that was present.


So there ya go. I’m in a different place on War Thunder, Eve Online, ArchAge, and SWTOR than I was a year ago. Stay tuned for the 2015 time capsule coming in the next couple of days to a blog near you (ie, this one!)

It Really Was The Final Fantasy

…for me at least. Syp has his latest top ten list active on his blog, this time for the original Playstation. (I love this series of his, btw)

And Final Fantasy VII tops his list, as I’m sure it does many other people.

The love for FF7 has always fascinated me, because for me that’s where the series died. That’s where it stopped being an RPG. That’s where they stopped giving me a story to play with my characters and started giving me a story to watch with their characters. If you asked me to describe FF7 or the ones I played after that, “boring” and “dull” would be the tags I would use. Final Fantasy X was the first one I played, and all I remember was how ridiculous it was, both in story and gameplay.

In fact, it was this trend in RPG design – to stop interacting with the players – that kindled both my fierce loyalty to the Might and Magic series through its later years (as they were seemingly the only ones left doing this in the SRPG category) and dialed in my interest in Everquest and the MMO genre as it started to ramp up.

In fact, I can give you my RPG timeline for that period fairly clearly:

Might and Magic VIII (March, 2000)
DnD 3rd Edition (August, 2000)
Final Fantasy X (July, 2001)
Grand Theft Auto III (October, 2001)
Might and Magic IX (March, 2002)
Everquest Online Adventures (February, 2003)

I threw in DnD 3rd because when those came out I began an active PnP campaign with some friends, and didn’t really have a CRPG I was playing at the time. And one bit is deceptive: I played Final Fantasy for all of a day before I ditched it and started looking for something else (Madden, as it turned out).

So, while I have always looked daggers at FF7 and the downward spiral it started the series into (IMHO), I am ultimately grateful that it brought me into the world of MMO’s. And I wonder if I’m not alone in that. Did the general trend towards JRPG’s linear, enclosed storylines have any impact on the subsequent success of Everquest, World of Warcraft, and others? Did the near simultaneous launch of Ultima Online and Final Fantasy VII in some way split the CRPG crowd into smaller genres of players?

I wouldn’t even know how to begin to collect the data on that, or if its even possible. But at moments like this, I wish I had traded in my psych degree for a sociology one, like my professor recommended…

Time Capsule 2014

I really liked the format last year and enjoyed coming back to it. So the concept will go on for another year, but with a new name to better reflect what I’m looking to do.

The truth is, this post is a time capsule. I mark this place to show where I was at in my thoughts, hopes, dreams, desires, and questions at the beginning of the year. That is what is fun for me. So there are basically three sections below. The first deals with my hopes and desires for the coming year – what I want to accomplish or would like to see come to pass. The second is staking out, in the grand blogging tradition, what games I will return to to try again or just to enjoy again. And the third is my list of burning questions – my musings and ponderings about what 2014 might hold.

The Crypt of Civilization, the world’s most ambitious time capsule, and one of the inspirations of this post.

What I Am Looking Forward To

The Vought F7U Cutless. I’ve played around on the WoWp test server with enough of the high tier aircraft to know that I was made for this plane. Originally the fastest of the tier 10 jets, that has been eclipsed by the new British line. But, unlike its real world counterpart, this plane handles like a dream. I have led a two plane chase column from one end of a high tier map to the other without getting shot down, because of its incredible pitch and roll rates. It also has decent firepower and a great climb rate, making it the perfect ending to a line that already has those traits going for it. I’m finishing up the F4F Wildcat right now, and then its on to the Corsair for a couple of tiers, before transitiong to the F6U Pirate, the only hiccup in the line. It follows a bit too closely to its real world counterpart. And quite frankly, its an odd choice – the line would more logically go through the F2H Banshee, a production aircraft, rather than the Pirate.

In any case, this is probably my first planned foray up the tech tree in WoWp, along with the Messerschmitt line culminating in the severely OP Me 262 mark 3. Because you can’t ignore the OP stuff in the world of PvP. You could also include in this that I am overall looking forward to a growing player base for WoWp.

Elder Scrolls Mania. I got Skyrim for Christmas and have been enjoying it – except for the random murders of important townsfolk that I have no power to stop, which apparently happens at random. And I got to try my hand at the ESO Beta, and while its under NDA, I think it would be okay for me to tell you that I went from being “meh” on it to being very excited for it. I am not excited about a subscription fee, but I honestly don’t see that lasting more than about six months time. How about you?

Playing Old RPG Franchises. I picked up Wizardry 6-8 from Steam over the holidays. I was a Might and Magic fan growing up and just didn’t have the money to follow both series. So I’ve always wanted to go back and try it out, and that is exactly what I intend to do – at the bargain basement price of $2.75, which I could have afforded even back then, had they been on sale that low! Speaking of Might and Magic, UBI continues to develop MMX: Legacy, and I will continue to watch and wait eagerly, thought I have not been ready yet to drop the $30 they want for early access and testing on Steam. I may not be able to contain myself much longer though. Speaking of which, my other holiday Steam purchase was Conquest of Elysium 3, by the same people that created Dominions 3 and most recently just released Dominions 4. It takes more of an RPG flavor than the grand strategic scale of Dominions, but there is no denying the connections between the two. Speaking of which, you can now also get Dom 3 for a mere $20 on Steam. I absolutely guarantee that this game is worth its original asking price of 3x that amount. I can also include the Agarest series on here, as hopefully Ghostlight makes more of them available on Steam. The game got a terrible rap for confusing combat and its supposedly heavy fan service. So far I’ve seen less fan service than your typical Bong movie, and the combat is quite excellent – thought if you jumped the tutorial because the game looked a lot like Final Fantasy Tactics, I can imagine you got your butt handed to you more than once. The game looks the same but the system is very, very different.

I could have included this in my “Return To” section below, but I tend to think of that as more in the realm of MMO’s.

The Return of WoW. I am excited about the possibilities of the new expansion (especially the base/home), and the inclusion of a max level character. I have actually been playing around on my free WoW account some over the holidays. It seems strange to say it in some ways, but I firmly believe that WoW is a better game now than it was when I left it 5 years ago. At this point, unless ESO just absolutely grabs me by the head and won’t let go, I intend to spend a few months in Azeroth towards the end of the year (assuming that is inded when it drops).

Burning Questions for 2014

What Will Come of Wildstar? I’m not sure it can be said loudly or clearly enough, but Wildstar wants to be the WoW killer. From the art style to the considered goals, to the planning of races and classes, the goal can’t be seen as anything other than an attempt to invade the fertile subscription lands that WoW occupies. Maybe its just me, but when I hear ESO talk subs, I think its just a placeholder to recoup costs. When I hear Wildstar say it (perhaps because of the announcement of its version of Plex/Kronos), I think they intend to stick with it. I can’t help but think they will fail. I have no ill will to the game really, though I do think its a major step backwards to limit your race/class combos, so I’m not looking to be right here in the vindictive sense, but I just can’t imagine what it is about this game that will make it a lasting presence on the MMO landscape. On the other hand, I felt the same way about Guild Wars 2…

Will ArcheAge Be Arriving in 2014? Its been out for a year over in Korea. Its in testing with players over in RU as we speak. Yet we have nothing more than a basic placeholder site and zero information about release dates or just about anything else with regards to a timeline here. I submitted a question for the Game On Podcast (about the PR machine) and Victor Barreiro seems to think that Hartman was encouraging, but I was disappointed with the overall lack of response, not just on my question but on the game overall. One the one hand, the game is ready – just translation issues remain. On the other hand, we can’t give any further information or dates or even a range of dates. If we can’t give a range of dates even on a PR buildup, I have to think the game is really far off. Any yet I can’t imagine that if all that is remaining is the final stage of localization, that it would be on hold for another full year. The bottom line here is that this is my next big game that I have great hopes for, and the sooner it gets here, whether that be to fulfill my expectations or dash them, the better I will be.

How Will WarThunder’s Gound Game Hold Up Against World of Tanks? WarThunder’s vision is ambitious. Put planes and tanks together on the same battlefield. I can’t think that this will be easy to implement or balance, let along do those two things while making it fun to play. So I’m curious to see how it plays out. WarThunder and WoWp are different enough that they draw their own individual crowds, but there is something about the ground game that will be interesting to watch play out. Maybe just because Wargaming has more to lose than Gaijin does. Then again, WoT is the WoW of the military battleground world. Their position is going to be tough enough to assail without the added design complications that Gaijin is imposing on itself.

Return To…

I’ve pondered this one a lot over the past few weeks. Initial thoughts included Age of Conan, Dark Age of Camelot, or Neverwinter Nights. But NWN still doesn’t have a class that really drives me to want to play the game. Conan I got as far as downloaded and taking my old character out for a test drive, but an hour later I was done. So done. Dark Age is an old title, but with the coming of Camelot Unchained, I thought it might be fun to play for a bit and do a compare contrast as the year brings more information. Still, it is dated and we may still be a ways from Camelot Unchained. Plus, as a divided market now intends – it is still a subscription game, and that means there is a barrier to entry there that other options don’t have.

In the end, I thought about what I wanted out of the experience. I said to myself that these will be long term, but part time efforts. I have main, “every night” kind of games, but I want games I can “marathon” in – play one or two nights a week, draw the experience out for a year and really enjoy it and not feel like I have to log in every night to keep the world turning. With that in mind, I settled in on two:

EVE Online. On a whim, because I loved the idea and what was inside, and boosted by Wilhelm‘s glowing review of it, I placed the EVE Second Decade Collector’s Edition on my Christmas Wish List. I honestly didn’t think I would get it, but…what the hell, it was Christmas, right? Well my parents spoiled me, and I absolutely love it. The Rifter looks great on my desk, and I’m super excited about the board game, which looks like fun. And the soundtrack and history book are absolutely worth the price alone. And the game itself is perfect for the drop in/drop out mentality now that I think about it. I’ve always been desperate to fill time in EVE – but the long time EVE players like Kirith Kodachi and even Wilhelm, don’t seem to be people who play it every day. Maybe my pacing has just been off. If nothing else, I always enjoy just flying in space. While there is a subscription barrier here as well, but I think its worth it given my past experience with the game.

SWTOR. I have decided after long consideration to hit the reset button on SWTOR. I never did get past the starter planets on the side of the Republic. I would love to see the other half of the galaxy. And the idea of just following the storyline, and filling in the blanks with the minigame, ducking the sometimes irritating side missions – which also cuts down on the overly long leveling cycle, particularly towards the end. And, free to play, very good if I’m burning my two sub limit on ESO and EVE.

I don’t like that SWTOR under-reached for their Galactic Starfighter expansion, I think it was dumb and yet another let down, on top of being blatant plagiarism. But while I think that, I’m more interested in blogging about my experience in the game, than spending more time shredding them for the move. In other words, it sucks for the MMO world but it benefits me, so I’m gonna roll with it.

Kickstarter Updates: Successes, Failures, and Cards

First up, if you supported Anima: Gate of Memories, thank you!  They cleared their goal, hit a stretch goal, and continue to push with a PayPal account set up through their website.  While I don’t know if they will hit it or not…the $300,000 stretch goal includes co-op play.  Who doesn’t love that?  (Incidentally, there have been some technical problems with the website the last couple of days, so if its down, fear not).




Secondly, with a late surge, there was a victory for sandbox MMORPG fans when Pathfinder met their $1,000,000 goal as well.  I did not pledge there – mostly because I thought it was a pretty poorly run campaign that suffered from developer neglect (no contact or updates in the last 72 hours of the project…um…), as well as stilted investment levels that actually penalized late investors.  Early bird rewards are one thing…giving players who pledge in the first week 6-7 times the number of goodies as late adopters is a bit much.


If you are looking for other good projects to invest in, let me suggest two for more traditional PnP RPG players and one for CRPG players.



  • If you are an old school RPG guy, Ken St. Andre and the Buffalo crew are saddling up for a final ride:  Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls.  The project is already funded and blowing away stretch goals left and right.  Get in for as little as $14, or dig deep to get sweet rewards like a character portrait done by legendary Liz Danforth herself.



  • Chaotic Shiny, who creates free random generators for RPGs, and whose generators I’ve put to good use before here, is working on her first non-digital product – a deck of cards that doubles as a visual random tavern generator.  That’s…really cool.   Decks are $11 or $13 depending on how quickly you get over there.


  • If you are a fan of old school CRPG’s like the original Final Fantasy, but wish they would be updated for the modern day…boy do I have a treat for you.  Project BC, who has gotten several small indie RPG’s out the door right now, is working on something really neat.   Its hard to explain, but go to their kickstarter page, and read the updates and information on how this game will be what we all know and love – but with a twist that makes it even better.  Vacant Sky:  Awakening.  $10 gets you the finished game and (assuming they raise another ~$250 or so, which they easily will) a bonus story involving one of the main characters.

The New Online Dating RPG…

I was on Facebook today and saw an advert for what looked to be a Facebook RPG game that was a little more…complicated (read: interesting) than the standard Facebook casual game fare, that rests mostly on your still in Bugging Friends with a specialization in Multi-Level Marketing.

So I clicked the link for Wings of Destiny (A NEW FACEBOOK RPG! – read the tagline) with a picture of a full on character screen with what appeared to be stats and inventory (which is what got my attention in the first place).    After clicking “no” to the inevitable – “O hi guyz, can we has your information?” question, I was taken to the game’s main page.  Where I saw this:



Yes..fight hordes of demons, use your vast powers for good, find you soul mate!  I tell you, its only a matter of time before we see MATCH.COM: THE RPG in development.  Probably by SOE.  Those guys will try anything once.

Four Years and Counting…

Yeah, I may as well go ahead and post it since Ysh outed me.  Its been a little over four years since I started this fun little adventure.  If I remember right, there are a couple of others who share similar dates. The stats will be a little off since there is an extra month in there, but what the hay – here ya go:

Quick Stats: 

Total Views:  93,987  (41,363 last year, 21,407 or so the year before)

Best Month:   9350 views in May, 2012  (2,947 last January,  2281 the year before)

Busiest Day:  971 views on  May 2nd, 2012 (602 last year, 270  the year before)

Top 5 Posts:  Tips and Tricks for World of Tanks, Naming Your Ship,  TERA Online Review, How Well Will the SWTOR Launch Go? That Depends on How Tolerant You Are, Naming Your Ship 2

Top 3 Most Popular Tags (By Game):  Star Trek Online, EVE Online, World of Tanks

* Note, views to my home page blow all of those away.  This is the up and down of not requiring you to “jump” after a break in the post.

Search  Terms that Make You Go Hmmm:

minecraft hotel lobby  (if you build it, they will come…)

hot jedi  (we’re not that kind of site really)

вестибюль гостиницы (Russian for hotel lobby…apparently I am source zero for hotel lobby information)

otel lobİlerİ (Turkish that time…)

tera character nude (Also about six variations of “tera online sexy” – are people this desperate for porn?)

star wars the old republic nude (I’m seeing a trend here…)

real world controversy (We have that in spades…)

Referrals and Referees:

Top 3 Bloggers Who Helped Me With Traffic:  Nil’s Blog, Bio Break, Stonee’s EQOA Blog

Top 3 Bloggers I Helped With Traffic: GCTAGN, Rowan

Again, theres much bigger numbers in the former than the latter…

Thoughts and Goals:

At this time last year I was still looking for my first level cap.    I got that not long thereafter!  And then once more in April when I did the same in Star Trek Online,  a month after I hit 30.  And STO may be the first game for a multi-cap as well – my Klingon character is a day away from the same Captain milestone.   I have been blessed to have a regular playgroup for a long while.  Starting last June and continuing straight on until this past July, when my little playing group folded its tents in TOR and took a little enforced break while one of the members prepares to head off to basic training, and when my beloved TOR guild shut its doors.  These days I am mostly guild oriented, chatting amiable with my 12th Fleet and Knights of Mercy friends, or some of that old Beskar crew in World of Tanks.  Sadly though – guild oriented does not always equal group oriented.

My vision this year is tilted backwards.  The only MMO I am looking forward to is ArcheAge, and there is little evidence that it will land here in the next year.  And my Beta stuff has slowed down – only one I’m actively involved in at the moment is MechWarrior Online, and for my two cents, once you take people’s money for the game, its not a Beta anymore, no matter what you want to classify it as.

That said, there are several games I want to revisit this year – EVE Online, and Vanguard.  Pirates of the Burning Sea and maybe a stint in Everquest, since I never could bring myself to log in and say goodbye to EQOA.


MMO’s: Rift (3 months), TOR (7 months), The Secret World (2 months), TERA Online (1 month), GW2 (1 month), STO (7 months), Istaria (1 month)

Other Online:  WoT (12 months), WoWP (2 months), MWO (1 month), Stronghold Online (1 month)

Alphas/Betas:  Dawntide, Heroes and Generals, MWO, WoWP

Table Top/RPG:  Call of Cthulhu, Mansions of Madness, Anima: The Card Game, Anima RPG, Hellas RPG, Houses of the Blooded RPG


Thanks to the Casualties of War crew for keeping the wheels turning all these years, especially Genda’s hard work, though I do miss his blogging (poke, poke).   Thanks also to my wonderful – dare I say – online family in Beskar, who made the last two years so fun.  And thank you to KoM and 12th Fleet for taking me in – here’s to the future.    And a big thank you, and congratulations to my brother and his then-fiance-now wife, for helping me make so many of my gaming dreams come true in the last year.  Big ups playa.

The Fourth Pillar Debate

So what’s bigger news, that Derek Smart plagiarized from some of his competitors MMO’s – or that six years later, a new MMO can still make that claim with a straight face because nobody has been able to fufill the promise of the mythical fourth pillar?

LotRO has probably come closest to giving players that, admittedly.  But its hard to say really because people mean so many things when they say “story.”  Some people want lots of quests.  Some think that means plenty of solo instances.  Some feel it means the opportunity to be heroic and have an impact on the game world.  Some hope that it means the creation of a dynamic world, with scripted and hosted GM events.  Others say its time for story to be something the players do, with a storytelling system along the lines of SW: Galaxies, or CoX.  Some say it just means having enough space and sandbox to play in and the stories will write themselves – the drama of EVE Online’s null sec wars makes a story of its own in some sense.

All of these things have one common thread though, one element linking them all despite the different forms they take.  For their to be a story, their must be a change of some sort – within the character, the player, or the world – and preferably all three.

MMO’s have their roots in RPG’s of the table top variety.  Maybe its time to draw some strength from those roots.  RPG’s revolve around players and a GM, or in some cases, a troupe of players sharing GM duties and maybe even characters too.  Should MMO’s begin to offer a “GM Package” subscription that gives a basic tool kit to allow for quest creation and npc manipulation? 

Do we need to lower server populations or travel options so that players deepen their interactions with each other? 

Do we need to spend time and money for the better development of AI in MMO’s (face it, the AI in MMO’s is rudimentary compared to other games)?  NPC’s in The Elder Scrolls series open and close their stores, travel to and from their homes and places of business, have dynamic inventories, even steal from each other!  And yet *none* of those things is present in MMO’s, even the latest and greatest ones.

Anyway, bottom line – its not plagiarism if its a long time concept in the genre.  And if Alganon is the one to finally pin the tail on the donkey, more power to them.  Maybe when they are done with that they can start, you know, fulfilling the promises they already made.   Like finishing up the races and classes they promised two years ago…

A Real Life MMO

We were on vacation this weekend (kids on a two week fall break) and we took them to the revamped Stone Mountain Park  in Atlanta, GA.    This is probably going to be a long post so the tl;dr version is  this:  I spent time in a kid’s play area that was designed like an MMO, and it blew my mind.

A few years ago, Stone Mountain was taken over by the same company that runs Knott’s Berry Farm over in CA.  As a result, it took on less of a camping/refuge atmosphere and became more of a theme/amusement park area.  One of the things installed was the Great Barn.  Its a giant indoor funhouse, four stories up in the middle, with numerous different activities inside.  And as I sat and watched my kids and my neighbors kids (who had joined us on the mini-vacation) play, I began to see things with my trained gamer’s eye.   The whole blasted thing was one giant MMO.

Okay, we have four people but do we have all four gamer archetypes present?
Okay, we have four people but do we have all four gamer archetypes present?

When kids came in, they were stopped in an initial area where they could create their “farmer,” and get a special wristband that would track their progress in the different activities.  Can we say Achiever anyone?  In the center great room on the bottom floor, visible from just about everywhere, was an electronic sign proclaiming the top ten scoring farmers from each age group.  In that same great room, the “starter area” for the game, there are hundreds of balls (“fruit”) lying around in several different colors.  Farmers can spend time here gathering fruit for the activities, and the wise ones will grab a bag to extend their capacity (I didn’t get a chance to count the number of slots).  Farmers might also explore side rooms for additional fruit and bags, take them from other players, or perhaps speak with those leaving the game area to gather additional capacity.  Thus we complete the first echoes of Bartle underpinnings.

This fruit Economy as it were, is more complex than it might seem.  There are a finite number of fruits in the game, they are required for all the activities, save some of the explorer ones (ahem, slides, climbing nets, and side rooms).  Expended fruit, through a complex system of tubes, vacuums, and nets, are channeled back down to the bottom floor room out in the open and also in less visible caches around the side rooms.  Some of those side rooms are netted and hallwayed off from the main room, providing quiet areas for Socializing via benches and even through exchange of said caches to interested players.  Some Mini Games exist here in the form of small slides and riders for younger players or those who prefer to play alone for a while.  Killers can peg one another endlessly, as well as trying to defend themselves from the veteran players on the second Tier above.

But Dad, its hard to be an Achiever with all these Killers around!
But Dad, its hard to be an Achiever with all these Killers around!

Once one has completed the games and activities on the first floor, and gathered enough fruit for their liking, they may proceed to the second Tier of challenges and activities, either through Challenges such as climbing cargo nets, or via the Rapid Transport stairs, at the back of the room, conecting to the Quest Hub (lobby) of each Tier (floor).  On the second floor, one engage Killer instincts by Bombing players on the first floor, completing Challenges involving expending various color combinations of fruit to gain Achievement points, or engage in the running gun battle with air guns that use the fruit as ammunition on two opposing sides above the open air great room below.  This second floor also allows for Socilization and Trading as farmers find that they need different fruit colors or different skills or even additional players (one challenge involves a crank system that requires cooperation) to play.  Some of the less assertive farmers simply go between the floors carrying loads of fruit for other players, especially those locked in battle (Crafting and Player Driven Economy at its best).  After completing a challenge, if you desire, just scan your bracelet, receiving the points and perhaps a prestigious place on the big board instantly.  Some of these challenges are again hidden in side rooms, requiring Explorers to hunt them down and use them or share their location with others.

On the third level, players are treated to a more hard core version of the PVP battles below, as it is harder to obtain ammunition, and there are less available guns for the players to utilize.  Moreover, slides dropping one down to the starter areas below are clogged not only with PvPers looking for more ammo, but also less hardcore players just looking to enjoy the ride!   Many community service managers are in attendence, regulating the flow on the slides to prevent jams and aiding players who are lost or have a problem.   There are also a few challenge type games here that can be played solo for the biggest point scores, but require more fruit and more complex expenditures of that fruit or more demanding hand-eye coordination to complete them.

A final, smaller area seemed to be available for those who wanted to complete their tour of the entire facility, but carrying my weighty bag of fruit and my one year old, I found that even since their was no Rapid Transport System to that level, I was not able to go there.   Thus it was completed – those with family obligations or too tied to their material goods would find themselves unable to participate in the true end game and…whatever it was that it had to offer.

My kids played for probably two hours in the area, finally giving up only when it closed down and we headed for the famous laser show.  Caretakers/Devs emerged to arrange the balls and bags in strategic positions, helping to reset the economy to accomodate the new batch of players that would arrive in the morning. 

Are we trapped?
Are we trapped?

As we left, and I continued to marvel at what I saw with a gamer’s eye, I had one  final terrifying thought…what if I had it all backwards.  What if, instead of building a play area for kids, designed like an MMO, instead the MMO’s that you and I played were designed like kids play areas.  Perhaps in the final say, we are not only being treated like children, but we love it so much, we keep coming back to the same Barns, day after day, not really expecting or hoping for improvement, content in the channeled reality with which we are presented.

I Had A Strange Night.

I went to bed late – later than I should have.  My wife was acting a little strange, and was still up when I came to bed late…a rarity.  We talked for awhile, and her mood seemed to..shift somehow.

Finally I crashed, knowing I would have to be up in four hours.  Two hours in I awoke to a bloodcurdling scream.  And then a second.  My son and my infant daughter.  I rushed down the hall.  My son claimed he had heard a loud noise that had woken him up and scared him.  I told him there was no noise and to go back to sleep.  My daughter took a little longer to calm down than that, but eventually, I was able to fall back asleep.

But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I too had heard a noise.  And my last hour of sleep was lost to continual nightmares that lurked just beyond my ability to see them, even in that fuzzy vision we all have in the midst of our dreams.

I woke, got my daughter ready for school, walked her to the bus stop.  On the way back, a construction worker waved at me, with an overly large smile and wide eyes.  Inside, I fell back on to the couch.  The rest of the morning is a fevered blur.  I was asleep, awake, fixing breakfast, holding my infant daughter, I heard laughing, I heard computer sounds.  There was a strange buzzing outside my window.  My alarm went off and I went to wake my wife, but she was already awake.  Seeing me, she gently guided me back into bed.  Twenty minutes later, a different alarm woke me.  Feeling groggy yet, I got ready for work.

Finally, I came down the stairs, more awake than before, and I saw it.  The reason I had had this beastly night and illusory morning.  The source of my unseen fears and frets.

Tekeli-li!  Tekeli-li!
Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!


Yes, I had spent the evening playing Arkham Horror, which my brother got for his birthday, with him, my dad, and my mom.  It was oh so close.  We were one doom counter from Awakening Yig.  And one failed monster fight from allowing the Terrible Experiments of Mikatonic U. to spill onto the streets of Arkham.

The game is exceptionally well done, keeping the tension and atmosphere of the Lovecraftian Mythos without being entirely impossible or bogging the game down.  I will not be choosing the Researcher as my character anymore though.  Her rerolls were helpful to others, but I got tossed into the Sanitarium and Hospital way too many times, and we didn’t have a solid beat down character like the Gangster present.  We think next time we’ll run the Professor, the Gangster, the Private Eye, and the Drifter.  Seems like a good combo to handle whatever gets thrown at us.

If you get a chance, check the game out.  And if hopeless battles against the Elder Ones aren’t your bag, let me highly recommend  you check out the rest of Fantasy Flight Games catalogue.  They are a top notch company.  I know some people have been disappointed with their handling of the Warhammer licences, but I think few can complain about the quality of the products they put out, or the genius of their designers.  Tonight we are trying our first game of Twilight Imperium and I’m very excited about it.

Our local gaming store has weathered this economy well mostly because, the owner tells me, people are rediscovering the value of board games for their family.  It costs the same to buy a game like Arkham Horror that it does to take a family out for movies and popcorn/drinks on a Friday night, but the difference is you can play the game again with no further investment.  If you are looking for a family game night and need something that defies the usual boredom of Monopoly, Scrabble, or Sorry, maybe its time to upgrade your game.

Then again, given the night and morning I’ve had…maybe you’re not ready yet.

Redesigning the Tank

MMO players are simply amazing. No matter what “it” is, if it’s possible in an MMO, players will not only find a way to do it, they will find the best way to do it. The best example of this is the trinity of MMO combat. The idea of healer/tank/DPS wasn’t created by a game designer. It was created by players!

So speaks Hue Henry, Lead Data Designer working on Alganon, one of the new MMO titles currently in development.  And I keep coming back to it.  Is that really true?

Did players in Everquest and Ultima Online invent the taunt mechanic?  Or develop the idea of aggro by sending in the warrior first?  Hue suggests this was a change from PnP RPG’s where the idea of character is king.  This leads me to believe though that he’s never played PnP, given the existence of terms like “powergamer” and “munchkin” – terms which define almost exclusively the player base of MMO’s.

That one stung didn’t it?  Tell me its not true…

Anyway, Hue goes on to say that Alganon will not mess with the holy trinity of classes – tank/dps/healer. And in fact, he bows to their inevitability:

Many MMO designers think they can outsmart their players and make a game where this trinity doesn’t exist. I’m not that arrogant.

I am.  I think there is a different holy trinity of classses waiting to be discovered for the game gutsy enough to do, one that will tweak the way parties are created/grouped/run and give some originality to a new game.  And games need that!  Look at Vanguard – original classes that created new mechanics, like the Bard that allowed players to create their own abilities, or the disciple with his martial arts healing.  All except the tanks.  The same trinity there too – good guy sword/board tank, nuetral dual-wielding tank, bad guy two handed tank.  Bleh.

And for my inspiration, I do return to the PnP RPG scene.  Hue is right about that.  Until DnD 4th came along and tried to put MMO’s on paper, it didn’t quite work that way.  You did have roles for the characters, but they were slightly different:  offense, control, support.

Warriors and Wizards were there to hammer things into submission.  Thieves and Bards were their to make sure that there were no surprises, and that the battlefield would favor the heroes.  And Clerics and Druids were there to make sure that your people did work better in a group than alone, and that they had less chance of dying in that group as well.

And enemies weren’t programmed to go after the person hitting them the hardest and the fastest.  They were controlled intelligently.  To go after the party where it was weakest.  To use its own control and support in groups.

So what if we get rid of aggro, get rid of taunts?  What if characters abilities are arrayed in those three categories, rated primary/secondary/tertiary.  And what if we get rid of the white hat/black hat paradigm in tanking?  What if there was no tank?

What if the guy at the front of your party was wearing robes and a pointy hat, surrounded by a forcefield, paired side by side with a gal in chain, wielding a spear or a short sword?  What would your new “tank” look like?

the new tank...