If You Can’t Go Back, Go Back Even Further

Wilhelm has a good piece up right now detailing the ins and outs of doing a progression server for EQ2, and how that probably would not, generally speaking, really be all that fun for anyone. The salient points, for me, were primarily that EQ2 was a very different animal back then, and the changes to the landscape and to the way characters are built have changed significantly since launch. This poses problems with progression mechanics and just what, exactly, you would be enacting.

However, if going back creates problems and lacks interest, maybe you’re just not going far enough back. Don’t turn back the dial to 2004. Turn it back by one thousand years, to Norrath as it was before even the original. Norrath as it was in Everquest Online Adventures.

EverQuest-Online-Adventures-Map

EQOA was in some ways the little brother of EQ2. Launching nearly two full years before, some of the flavor of EQOA resides in EQ2, though whether by accident or design I couldn’t tell you, I assume its by design. Both games at one time featured progression through classes as well as levels. Much as EQ2 simplified some of the controls and difficulties of EQ, EQOA was also catered to a more casual crowd, perhaps because of console limitations at the time. Many of the skills also overlap, or perhaps were tested in EQOA and later used fully in EQ2.

But two hurdles are fairly obvious from the outset: would anyone play, and how much work would it really be?

The first is easier to answer, using polls and other metrics, but I think the answer would be “yes” provided the opportunity was branded correctly. Billed as an opportunity to play your ancestor, perhaps with appropriate tie ins to the main game via account unlocks, it would provide some interest from role players and achievers alike. Not to mention explorers get a whole new world to roam, and raiders have a whole new set of boss mobs and locations to trash. And while EQOA’s fanbase was admittedly small, they were loyal enough to keep a dead PS2 game going for 9 years – including years well after anyone even continued to sell PS2, much less make new games for them.

eqoa

The second question (“how difficult would this be?”) I can’t really answer. SOE was game for the unusual and down to take risks at times. But now that they are not calling the shots, this is probably a pipe dream. Still, if you wanted to do it in an efficient manner, you could. Classes did not really have all that many abilities – taking the same simplification approach that EQ2 has – not giving each level’s identical spell new names, then most classes really had few spells (the toolbar in EQOA was 4 or 5 slots if I remember correctly – a very modern approach). If I remember correctly, my magician had light and heavy versions of cold and fire direct damage spells, a pet, and a couple of utilities available at any given time.

Quests were streamlined and small in nature. After starter quests each level to get you to 5, quests were spread out after that, with several levels passing at a time before a new one would open up. And quests (with few exceptions) were not class or race specific. The world itself had quite a bit of open space, but textures and animations could be reused from EQ2, and some of the locations would probably just need minor editing as opposed to full blown overhauls.

Fayspire

Its a pipe dream, and I know it. But I still think it would be a lot of fun to do. Who among the EQ2 crowd even knows what Fayspire is, much less having ever visited it? To open up even a few zones of recreated, thousand year old Norrath, for current characters would make for great nostalgia of a different sort in the game, and provide opportunities for some interesting quest lines and stories to be told. Its not the first time that an MMO has turned to time travel to explain zone changes, new zones, or expand storylines, am I right?

Well, in any case, I guy can dream. And if Smed drops by, maybe he can look into making it a reality.

#mmos, #everquest, #2015

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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.

MM2

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.

    SWTOR

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!)

First Impressions, Again and Again

*Note, this post starts with War Thunder and branches out. IF you play MMO’s in general, this post is still for you…) One of the things that struck me, as I found myself playing War Thunder’s ground forces yet again last week, is how differently the aesthetic of the game is. And you can see it right from the very start. Here is what the beginning of a match in WoT looks like for me:

shot_016

And here is what the beginning of a match in WT Ground Forces looks like for me:

shot 2014.12.11 22.40.38

Do you see it? Granted in the first picture, I’m using a mod, so the names are a little more colorful than normal, but in that picture only three of the fifteen tanks on my team made it beyond prototype/testing. Everything about it, from camera angles to UI screams: this is a game!

But in the second picture, my team of twelve includeas all historical, battle tested vehicles, and in this battle – all from one nation, Germany. Its harder to tell because of the lighting, but the second picture includes my Jagdpanzer IV L/70A, a Jagdpanzer 38t, and a pair of Tiger I’s. And everything about it, from the minimal UI, to the models, screams: this…is…tanks!

And that’s the first impression you get, every time. It definitely sets a different level of expectations in your head as to how this is going to go down and how you should play it. And for me, that’s part of what brings me back. And, also, that is something unique about games – that intro music, that loading screen? Those are very important things for your Dev team to work on. Because they set the stage for everything else in the game.

I still remember the theme music, loading screen, and menu select sounds from EQOA. Same with EQ2. Even SWTOR, with all the baggage I have with that game, stirs something in me when the powering up sound effect tells you the launcher is ready for log in. Its a first impression that keeps giving, over and over again.

Even as Bhagpuss wrestles with the changes that are inherent to a living game over a long period of time, we can say that these first impressions are part of what combats the ennui or the growing distance with a game. They are part of what sets fire to the blood and conjures the ghosts of gaming past.

When I thought last year about where I might want to return to for a visit in 2014, I can tell you its not coincidence that the atmosphere of those games I pondered is what made them my main choice. They were games where I could get a fresh hit of that first impression all over again.

Maybe this is the essence of nostalgia. Or maybe its something everone has known all along and I’ve just now figured out. But whatever it is, it can be a powerful draw for me. And right now, its drawing me into something that, a year ago, I really didn’t think I would be interested in.

WAR is Over

Whether you want it or not.

News is probably old to most of you by now (being..what, 48 hours out now?) that Games Workshop is not renewing the license for EA/Mythic to continue running Warhammer Online. Is it just me, or does that sound like a blame game? “Well, we would love to keep it going, but…” I can’t see where the title really benefits GW as a company (outside of cash coming in I guess), but I can’t see that its really hurting them either. Surely they were not the ones pulling the plug.

In any case, this comes with a bit of sadness. My brother and I talked as we were wrapping up LotRO whether or not WAR might be a place to duck into for awhile. But neither of us really saw this coming. I just figured that they would eventually cave into the pressure and go F2P like everyone else.

So I am a bit saddened by the news. As Wilhelm points out, many of us started blogging with WAR and even banded together to form a guild.

So like other shutdowns I’ve endured (Shadowbane, EQOA, CoX), this one has a bit of personal bite to it as well. But unlike those others, I’m determined to do something different this time. I’m going to go back. Yep. I’m going to soil the nostalgia. I’m going to kill it with all the flaws I can find.

I’m going to play so that I can recall vividly how they abandoned the PvE game within 3 months, and how poorly tuned the leveling curves were, and how frustrating it was that even though in the tabletop my elf hero could wield whatever the hell he wanted to, in the MMO I could use only what they told me.

And I may not be doing it alone. If you want in – just say the words.

Either way, when December gets here, the plan is that I won’t feel so bad when the power goes out. I might come to feel vindicated and hope that it never sees the light of day again. I’ll remember why I quit playing and be happy to put this thing to bed.

I wonder…what will the world look like on the day Azeroth or (the real) Norrath goes dark forever? Or even the Three Realms of Camelot, which surely can’t be that far behind. And I wonder, when those days finally come – what will it feel like to know that a realm that not just 300k people – but 12m+ people have played (lived?) in will go dark forever.

Telling Tales

I have followed Syp’s Master of Orion nostalgia game with great interest. And not just because he named the planets (and ships) after other bloggers. He is telling a great story of a space empire and its successes and failures, and it is a lot of fun to read along. Syp nods to Casual Aggro’s bold and true statement that making stories is why we play.

One quote in particular from the post caught my eye and had me nodding emphatically:

“I know it’s boring to say this, but the most fun I have with 4X games is when I’m roflstomping over the enemy with ease, not when I’m scrabbling just to stay afloat against an enemy that I have a 2-1 planetary advantage over.”

The eternal frustration I have had with 4x games (which I love), is that ultimately, the AI is programmed to do nothing but kick the snot out of you at every opportunity. If you are at war, they are out to kill you. If you have peace, they are doing whatever they can behind the scenes to kill you. The AI doesn’t want to tell stories, it wants to win.

So I have over the years, found ways to mitigate this. Fewer AI opponents, of lesser skill levels. When the game has AI strat options, I generally pick “turtle” or “defensive” or its equivalent. But these are mostly bandaids and ultimately unsatisfying.

There is not much else to say or do on the subject I suppose. The 4X heyday has come and gone, and nobody saw fit to innovate games in this direction. I had a great PBEM game (using a modified Fudge system) and have tried to get something similar rolling myself (it failed, no takers). But it devolved into the same problem – every leader of every country (well, almost) wanted to change the map and conquer the world. And that is fun for a season, but its not fun all the time and every turn.

Am I missing something? Is there a game out there that does this better than others? Clearly from the other posts I’m not the only one that feels this way, but three people is an awfully small sample size.

When I fire up a 4x game, I want it to last for a year in real time and a thousand years of game time. I want to develop cities and explore continents as much as I want to build armies. I want famine and plagues and omens as much as I want bloodthirsty barbarian hordes (AI or person controlled either one). For as many 4x strat games as there are on the market over the years, I really want – well, more. Not more games, but one or two games that *do* more with the genre. That are built from the ground up, not for 4x, but for 1x – telling that epic tale.

And while I am here, let me promote (not for the first time I don’t think) my favorite 4x of all time, Dominions 3. If you are a 4x fan, you owe it to yourself to try the demo. And then to buy the game itself, because between the great game, the outstanding community updates and mods, its a world of fun. The game was released nearly seven years ago, and its still going strong. Though if the graphics throw you off, Dominions 4 (which seams to be little more than incorporating the 29(!) updates to Dom3 and bringing the graphics a bit more up to speed, is due to be released in less than a month.

How about you all? Any other good 4x games, or games to tell a story, that you know of?

The Box and the Store

Syp has a lovely post about missing the old computer stores.   I can’t help but commiserate, though I fully acknowledge that things are categorically better (and mostly cheaper) now.

 

My first experiences buying computer games were from Chips-n-Bits mail order adverts in the old gaming magazines and, eventually, their catalogue directly when Dad starting getting that.   In fact, the first game I ever bought with my own money was Might and Magic II:  Gates to Another World, which, if I remember correctly, was $39 and I used the Christmas money from my grandmother to acquire.   As a side note, even CRPG game designers back then knew better than to try to restrict your race and class, unlike some developers today.

 

And then one time, when we passed through Atlanta for some trip or another, we went to a giant computer store.   I can not remember what the name of the store was.   I could drive you there even to this day, as I remember its exact location, but I can’t for the life of me remember its name.    And oh lord did we splurge.    We spent hours in there, drooling over the boxes.   I remember we bought Deathtrack, and probably 3-4 other games.  And I remember regretting not getting one particular medieval game whose name I can’t remember, just that my parents talked me out of it because the cover had one knight getting brained by another with a morning star in a pretty graphic display.   Deathtrack may have sounded bad, but at least there was no blood and guts I guess!

 

These days, when I wander into a computer section, about the only thing I’m in danger of picking up (from my wife’s point of view anyway) is an Ultimate Game Card or something like that.

 

So, like one of the commenters in Syp’s post, I have resorted to the purest form of nostalgia.    I hoard boxes.

 

Behold my finger, which controls the fate of (this silver box) universe...
Behold my finger, which controls the fate of (this silver box) universe…

 

Now if I just had a computer that could play them.   Or if GOG would somehow acquire the licensing needed…

Day Eight: My First Blog Post

It was….uh…well, it was on August 13th, 2008.  Rick at /random was the first person to ever post a comment here.

 

I’m not sure what to say outside of that.   The idea was to dive right in and catch up on the dintzy stuff later.  Nobody wants to read about *you* in the first post.  They want to know about the games.  The other stuff will come in time, even if its all of nearly five years later, lol.

 

Looking back now its funny to see how my opinions have shifted.   I was hesitant to buy a new game right out of the gate because $40 was expensive.   And keeping up a Station Pass (back then, it was like $25-$30 a month right?) was also expensive.  Last year I bought two games brand new, right out of the gate  (GW2 and TSW), and at times in the last five years, I’ve often had two subs running at the same time.    Right now, as much as I love the Robotech Kickstarter, $90-$130 looks expensive, rather than $40.  Tech has changed too.   My laptop back then had a dual core 1.8 ghz processor and a 32 mb video card.  And, if memory servers, a 40 gb hard drive.  I didn’t have a smart phone.

 

Some things are the same though.  I still do most of my gaming on the laptop.  I’m still very critical of games when standing at a distance and (maybe too-) willing to forgive faults when I’m actually playing.  And I still wish I had far more time to play than I do.