Sometimes Bad is Good: Player Edition

So Syp over at BioBreak was musing the other day about the inclusion of Necromancers in Guild Wars 2.   Its not a moral pondering so much as it is a question of: what is the internal consistence of games that allow for heroes that play with dead things.   Its a question I’ve gone over before myself with other people, and, on a memorable (and humorous occasion) with my oldest daughter.  So I thought I’d give a few of my thoughts.  If you want the TL;DR version, skip to “Why I Enjoy It.”


What is a Hero?


Almost immediately in the comments sections came a chorus of “who says I’m playing a hero?  I’m just a gal/guy out to [fill in the blank].”  But that’s not really “not being a hero” – that’s just being a different type of hero, specifically, an anti-hero.  These days the best known of those would, I think, be Wolverine from the X-Men.  As an operational definition for the purposes of this blog, I would specify anti-hero as the figure who carries out heroic deeds without the accompanying heroic attitude or passion.  Another good example would be Cade Skywalker from the Star Wars EU – descendent of  Luke, he wants to live his life free of Republic, Empire, or external controls.  Eventually he realizes that he is “destined” to fight the Sith, not because of the Force or his Legacy, but because they pissed him off and he hates their guts.  Other motives might be cash (Parker from The Hunter novel, or at least the Mel Gibson Payback version of him) or a desire for power (Raistlin).


Clearly, Necro’s could – and have various times in literature – fit within these schemes.   So they make perfectly viable heroes – in the since that they can still carry out heroic initiatives in a game where motive is not a concern – or at least not enough of a concern to prevent their participation.  But there are so many ways of using the term “necromancer” from the standpoint of how they operate, that there is room for non anti-hero types as well.


What is a Necromancer?


I think there are three main “types.”


For example, Gail Z. Martin’s main character is a focal point for the ghosts and traumatic past of a betrayed kingdom.  In this way, you could argue that he is more of a Spiritist or Medium than he is Necromancer, but then I would note that this is one of the original meanings of the term “necromancy.”  In this vein, even good guys like Aragorn, aka Strider, can go necro on you in a heartbeat.  Many games have gone this route – in fact, the Ritualist from the original Guild Wars would fit quite well.


I use necromancy for the greater good!


On the other hand, there are skeletons and zombies and the like, what I think of as the classic necromancer –  hordes of undead to do your bidding!   I believe the necromancer class from Age of Conan holds the record still, with up to 11 pets out at one time.   This raises the question of the metaphysics of your game world – what is powering all those dead things?  The original souls?  Does that mean they are not in their paradisical afterlife?  Or they are cursed?   Do they have any recollection of before?  Does anyone mind that Uncle Bob is now under the bidding of the town necro?


Many minions but few friends…


Last is the person who just likes to muck about with the dead, or be more like them, or utilize the things of dead for power or gain.  Or at least sympathize them – like the Dirge of Everquest 2.  Perhaps the most “gross” of the those, this is the person who tends more towards the Frankenstein side of the stage.  Maybe they are building a pet for themselves, “restoring” a loved one, or just have a fetish for all things dead.  The most memorable for me here would be 3rd Edition DnD’s Pale Master, who also made an appearance in the Neverwinter Nights series.   The original is more true to the PnP form than the sequal,  showing off a character who replaces one hand or arm with that of an undead creature, and crafts a sort of exoskeletal armor of bone.  In the actual 3rd Edition description, one of the requirements of achieving this prestige class was to spends three nights locked in a tomb with the undead.   The idea was a sort of kindred spirit bonding wherein the undead accepted you as one of their own.  The end result was empowerment and the ability to call on them as needed.   Creepy, but interesting.


Original Pale Master artwork.


This version of the necromancer is the one who perhaps best personifies Syp’s “playing with dead things” mantra.   And it probably also best fits the Guild Wars 2 version of the necromancer, with its ability to transform into a version of death itself, and call upon all things deathy – not just minions – to get its point across.


As for me?  I’ve played a necromancer class in every game that has ever given me that option, even if they weren’t my “main.”  Most often they were a solo character for me, as in group play I tend towards healing.   In EQOA I had a Shadowknight for solo and tanking.  Thought EQ’s IP on this has changed over the years, originally the SK was simply a Warrior/Necromancer hybrid.   In EQ2 my main was a half-elf necromancer.   In Vanguard my first character and solo project was a Vulmane necro.   Age of Conan – of course, necro.  Neverwinter Nights?  Pale Master of course, as as my favorite 3rd edition Pen and Paper character.  Warhammer Fantasy army?  Vampire Counts – but lead by a necromancer.  Even up to today – Guild Wars 2 – Norn necromancer.


Why I Enjoy It.


But why?  I’m not a horror movie buff.  I’m not into all things dark and scary.  But there is something intriguing about the concept, and I will submit that it is out of curiosity that I play them all the time.   You see, I want to know how it fits into the storyline and the world.   Is the necromancer and outcast to understands death and the spirit world?  Is he pressed into service because his power makes him a needed part of the front/war/survival game you are involved in?  Do people mind his involvement?  Can he overcome the natural revulsion to gain the trust – and even affection – of those he is working for?  What is his motivation and what is the end game for him?  What lead him down this path?  Will he think its worth it?


In other words – they are just more interesting than the hero running around in sword and armor ans working for money.   Or the hero destined for great things who always has fate on their side.  I play necromancers because they get my creative  juices flowing.  They help me engage more in the game by setting up a tension I have to resolve, if not within the game itself, at least within myself as I play and “develop” the character in my mind.


My daughter still thinks its weird that I play “dark” characters.   And that’s fine.  I think its weird that she thinks New York is the greatest city in the world.  Perhaps we all see some things through rose colored glasses.


But for my two cents, sometimes bad…good.

GW2 I Have Not Forgotten Thee

But I have had a heck of a time a) finding time to play and b) deciding on a character class.


You may remember that I am playing STO incessantly – but that’s rather easy with my schedule.  Even on busy nights (there’s been a lot of those lately) I can log on at 9 or 10pm and crank out an hour of dailies and duty officer assignments on STO, or just que up for a scenario for some extra Fleet Marks.  But for me, GW2 has not been a game to just drop into for an hour.  When I want to play GW2 I want to settle in and enjoy the scenario, have enough time to travel and check off some of those points of interest and what I have come to call “Helping Hearts” (The gold ones…you know what I’m talking about).


And I also have a hard time deciding what to play.  Some nights I feel Necromancer-ish.  Some nights I’m loving my Thief.  My two initial (and highest level) characters, a Ranger and a Mesmer are really two of my least favorite at this point.  The Mesmer’s disturbingly low DPS and utter squishability has me very distressed, because I thought that was me all the way.  And I was running the Ranger solo (and still am) – but its not quite as satisfying as I thought it would be.  So right now I’m mostly playing catch up, trying to get another character where the first two were so that my brother and I can take up arms together again.


Chat clipped because wedding planning details are boring.


The Mesmer has been the real sore spot.  I just cannot figure out how to play one effectively in a group setting.  Solo I just roll out a ton of illusions and stand off with my great sword and damange mantra.  But in group play I’m lucky to get one illusion out before a target goes belly up, and controlling them is a pointless endeavor on such a short window.   Some of the weapon skills are just wonky too.  I saw a player with a scepter/sword combo the other day.  I have no idea why that would be effective – 2 of your 5 weapons skills are used for blocking at that point.  And your only utility dps can only be used twice before it needs recharging, and it hits for so little, it doesn’t seem worth it.


I tried to figure out a trait line to make it a little better, and I did.  So let me pause at this point and deeply, highly recommend this site to you.  It is the best, most useful skill/trait calculator out there, as far as I have seen.  Using it put me in the drivers seat to letting me make the Mesmer viable and helping me choose what class would be “best” for me.  So far its a toss up between the Thief, Necro, and Ranger.  The Ranger I think I will keep as my solo fun toon (the Wild Boar’s Forage skill…so much fun), so the other two are on tap to be my new group main at some point.   I have yet to really try the Warrior, Guardian, or Engineer.  The Engineer I’m not really keen on – looks cool, but I’m just not sure its for me.  The Guardian looks fun, but my brother is running one so if I do one it will be another solo toon – and I like the Ranger too much for that.  Warrior – well, that would be something different for me, I may have to try that at some point.   That leaves the Elementalist of course, but there’s just too many choices there.  I know that’s a good problem to have usually, but I cannot puzzle out a build that would give me everything I want out of the character, so I’m setting it aside for now.


All in all – it’s a little weird to have alt-itis after the last couple of games (TSW, STO) pretty much nipped that in the bud!

Entry Level Social Interactions

I was reading Rowan’s second post on social interactions in GW2, itself inspired by Syp’s post on the same.

I appreciate the social interactions in GW2, perhaps all the more so because of how little I got in The Old Republic.  And I agree with the posts and what they have to say.  The truth is that social interaction in games is always going to start basic.  Its growth depends on the people involved and the relationship.

But how do you offer that initial opportunity for socialization?  That is the key, and in my experience, in MMO’s, the key revolves around allowing players the opportunity to help other players.

Think for a moment about how many of the relationships, friends, and acquaintances have started because you were helping that person or they were helping you?  Certainly all of Rowan’s examples fit that mold.  Think about what a guild represents – why are those people there?  To chit-chat with – yes, perhaps, but even the chit-chat is a means to the end of having people who are willing to come and give you a hand.  Or who you are willing to set aside your playtime for to give them a hand.  Even outside of MMO’s – the friends I have in Battlefield 3 that I don’t know in real life, are there  because of helping interactions we’ve had.  I pulled them out of a tight spot.  They ran the server we were on and helped us with a player who was cheating.  The list goes on.

Its also no coincidence that these are the most memorable moments in your gaming history.  That time your group banded together to take down the dungeon boss.  The moment when you helped that noob and donated some money to his start up fund.  The time your guild ran an event together to make sure everyone got the achievement/loot.

It is in every game’s interest – even those devoted to PvP – to provide opportunities for players to lean on each other.  GW2 does an excellent job of this with its mechanics, and its a part of the foundation of its success.  I think you can look to other successful games and see the same thing.  I was at a presentation one time where the presenter referred to these types of entry level interactions as “social lubricant.”  The term, while it has a bit of an “eww” factor, is dead on.  That lubricant makes it easier for people to develop a relationship.

Unfortunately, what games still struggle with is building a good community of players who will take those basic opportunities and interactions and take them to the next level.    They also struggle with providing tools that allow blossoming relationships to deepen.   Right now, most of those opportunities are outsourced to third party platforms – private guild forums and websites.   Even just have a place of meeting for a guild in game is a significant step forward.   This is a place where GW2, and to be fair, many MMO’s, are significantly lacking.   I believe, by the way, that this is one of the things that has made EVE a lasting success as an MMO – the ability for groups of people, having formed relationships, to claim a home and a strong sense of group identity, within the landscape (and I don’t necessarily mean that term literally) of the game.

The next game to get both of these things right – the lubricant, and the deepening roots – will be a great game indeed.

All Hail the Savior of the MMO World (?)

So, like many of you out there, I had a chance to spend some of the weekend playing Guild Wars 2 (though not all of it, as I was in attendence at Liberty Con again after a year hiatus).   I would be lying if I said I was not impressed.


There is a great deal about the game to like, from the general way that quests and exploration is laid out, to the unique advancement and skill unlock system that gives you a nice sense of progression without making you feel like you have to cap level to be fully effective, to the highlighting of a storyline that is configured to your play style.   I even have admiration for the few old school/hardcore nods they put into the game – like separating starting areas by race.  I can tell many of you all are impressed as well – if not from the glowing posts of praise, then at least from the fact that you gave all the half-naked female scholar models a complete and total pass.


But I’m hesitant.  Maybe its because I’m a little gun-shy from previous promises.  Or maybe its because I just don’t trust this franchise not to suddenly make the whole world go boom, or because of the way they carefully avoid the term F2P/Free to Play.   Or perhaps the way in which, unless you got lucky like I did, you had to actually buy the full game to try it out.


But mostly I think its the way that everyone is tripping over themselves to tell you how great it is, how its the next big thing, etc.  In other words, my BS alarm is going off in the back of my head.   Surely there are things about this game that are bad, right?  Things that we don’t like, yes?  If I tried to review this game from my limited playtime and maybe supplemented with everything I’ve read so far, I wouldn’t even have to put a Bad or Ugly section in it seems.


So here’s what I need.  I need to know what is bad or wrong or faulty or weak with this game.  If you have some insight, feel free to drop it here or write a post about it.


That about sums up my evenings this past week.  I returned home late Saturday night, pretty much went straight to bed given how many hours I had been driving and how zoned out I was (“highway hypnosis” is a term I recall from long ago).  Sunday, I took in my missed episode of Boardwalk Empire, followed by the new epsiode (both good).  Monday, and Tuesday though, I had some time.  I’ve been meandering my way through Star Trek Online, clawing my way to the long desired Nebula and Akira.  I made it through another level, so only two more to go.  I realized some of my slow going is that I haven’t spent nearly as many bridge officer points as I need to, and I haven’t upgraded my ships weaponry since I got it some 8 levels ago.

Anyone else here a little restless? Little holodeck action time maybe?

But mainly I’m just not with it.  Its not the games themselves mind you.  Its anticipation of what’s just over the horizon and out of reach.  I spend a good bit of time each day reading through whatever scraps of information I can come up with about Rift and SWTOR.  Which is admittedly very little.  SWTOR in particular is being stingy, for a game only a few months from launch and having been in closed Beta for awhile now.   Its starting to give some signs that it may be pushed back.  For my two cents, if there is not a class update this weekend a pushback is all but certain.

Rift isn’t out of Alpha yet, so I don’t expect as much from them, and yet they seem to deliver updates more consistently, which I think is probably good.  Some may argue that its not good since information can change that early in a development cycle, but they are putting out mostly lore and backstory and world related updates.  That stuff does not usually change and still generates good interest.  Compare that with SWTOR, which has still not finished dribbling out their backstory (a backstory, I might add, that ignores some 200+ years of history as if nothing at all happened therein), at a time when they should be promoting other things.  The biggest complaint though, by those much more heavily invested than me, is that the developers are nowhere to be found.  There were a handful of posts this week – the first tim the devs have spoken in the forums in perhaps three months.

For whatever reason Guild Wars 2 isn’t on my radar much.   No particular reason.

But those games all come next year at the earliest.  And even if SWTOR launches on time, there’s a long way to go.   So for now?  Well, I’m sure writing a novel in November will keep me mildly busy.  And we’ll see what my third tour of duty in EVE Online will bring with it…