Posted tagged ‘Sandbox’

What is an MMO?

January 29, 2011

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Back in 1997, when Ultima Online released, MMOs were a fledgling genre. No one was sure if they would succeed. Hell, no one even knew exactly what constituted an MMO. Of course there would be a persistent world for the players to interact in (in the case of Guild Wars that persistent world would just be the city and the player hubs), and character progression would be included as that is the basis for all computer role playing games.

So, in 2011 has the genre become a more solid entity? Do we understand exactly what makes an MMORPG, let alone what makes a GOOD MMORPG? The answer, I feel, is no. Right now there seem to be two categories of MMO gamer. The first is the old school MMO player, the guys and girls who cut their teeth on AOL Muds, Ultima Online, Everquest and the like. These people will take every opportunity to let you know that they’ve played UO or EQ (much like I’ve done above, and right here, and probably below this too). The second is the player who got drawn into MMOs because of World of Warcraft. These are not necessarily still playing WoW, and it’s these people who are often the most likely to rant and scream about how terrible WoW is.

To that first category, which from here on will be referred to as Old People, todays MMOs are missing that spark that made UO and EQ great. No one is exactly sure what it was that made them so great, but everyone has a theory and they won’t hesitate to share it with you. From the more sandbox nature of UO, to the neverending grind/socialization of EQ, players will talk about how much more ‘alive’ the old MMOs were.

The second category, which I have dubbed Noobs, doesn’t have those old school games to warp their perception. Often these people have only ever played WoW, or if they have branched out most of them haven’t been able to enjoy the other MMOs out there. Why? Because for them WoW IS MMOs. They may have stopped playing it because 3 years of any single game is enough to drive someone insane, but WoW is still their basis for comparison. To these people the more social aspects of MMOs take a backseat to their personal progression.

So which of these people are right? Neither really. The Noobs (forgive me for the name Noobs, it just fits when compared to us Old People) believe that an MMO that forces them to group up is a failure, while the Old People will scream about how the old games, like EQ, were far superior to the new games because they forced you to group up and interact with people. Coincidently they will be playing one of the new games and NOT one of the old school MMOs.

Now that I’ve grossly over generalized an entire group of people, let’s get to what I think an MMO is, and what I want to see in an MMO. The first thing is that we need the basics: persistent world, character progression. That’s the basis for an MMORPG. Sadly most companies making MMOs, ever since the early days of EverQuest, decided that the most important thing about making an MMO was keeping their players playing for as long as possible. This has resulted in the dreaded EQ year long grind to the level cap, the 40 or more man raids, and the horror that is rep grinding.

When do we put up with shit like that in our single player games? If I picked up the new Dragon Age II and it told me I needed to grind the same quests/mobs for a few months before I could fight the final boss it’d be the first game I brought back to a store and demanded a refund for. So why do we accept it as part of an MMO? For the same reason millions of people play FarmVille. Is it tedious and ultimately pointless? Yes. Does it take hours out of your day just to do something you get no enjoyment out of? Yes. Does it also allow you to space out, like vegging out in front of the Television, while at the same time interacting with friends and feeling like you are accomplishing something? DING DING.

So MMOs, since the beginning, feed on our basic want to improve ourself, while at the same time allowing us to sit around and space out, grinding away on mobs for rep or xp. Was it fun in Final Fantasy XI to get a good group of Linkshell mates and just grind mobs for hours? It could be a total blast if you had the right combination of people to chat with, but you know what? I could get that in a damn AOL chat room too. A video game should not have a caveat like: Sure the gameplay and story are boring as shit, but I get to chat with people and compare myself to others as I play! A video game, of ANY genre, should above all be fun to play.

I’ve recently been reminded, thanks to several blog posts and friends playing DCUO, exactly what I always wanted in an MMO.  Ever since I first started playing Ultima Online I realised that I wanted a video game with a persistent world. That has yet to happen. Instead we’ve gotten repetitive grinds, whether quests that are meaningless kill quests or straight grinding for rep or XP. There is very little ‘game’ in current MMOs. I want the basic concept behind games like Demon Souls multiplayer aspects taken to the extreme.

I want a single player experience wrapped in an MMORPG. Give me an 80 hour single player RPG like Dragon Age, then make it the same persistent world that everyone else playing the game is occupying. Let me hit the city and see thousands of players walking around, doing quests, shopping or just chatting. Don’t give me bullshit quests just because you’ve decided it should take me a month to get to the level cap and you need more quests to fill up the time. Treat it like Dragon Age, where most quests are either directly involved with the main questline, or if not they are epic on their own.

Then what happens when you’re level 20, at the level cap, and you’ve finished with the 80 hour storyline? That’s end game baby, time to do some end game dungeon runs and start raiding just like everyone else. Don’t let it end there either. I don’t need massive expansions every year, but instead I should have DLC constantly. Perhaps a five or six hour story once a month, and perhaps a new raid or so every two months. Then the expansion hits and the level cap is raised to 30 and everyone levels up and gets ready for end game again.

So what’s the difference between that and current MMOs? Removal of the boring stuff. Should you have to go spend a while gathering herbs for potion making? Yes. Should you have to spend three weeks grinding daily quests to get your rep up with someone so you can get one piece of enchantment that you need for raiding? No, that’s done ONLY so that you spend more time playing and thus more time spending money on the game.

Does an MMO need to keep me playing nothing but it for three years? No. But it should be fun while I am playing it. When did we start accepting bad design and purposefully gimping our playing experience just so the company making it could (theoretically) make more money. It seems stupid to me, but I write this while waiting on the PVP que for WoW to pop, so it’s not like I’m voting with my wallet here. Still, it means The Old Republic could be exactly what I’m looking for.

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Sandbox means Boring

April 15, 2010

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That looks boring as hell

If you have been following my blog for any length of time you know that I don’t dislike games because they are sandbox games, take Fallen Earth and Ultima Online as examples. In general I dislike sandbox games due to other factors such as boring combat (Darkfall, EVE) or horrid grinding being required (Darkfall, EVE). I think however that I have discovered another reason I don’t like most sandbox games, and it’s not the elitism that leaks out of those that play them like a festering wound (not today anyway), it’s the fact that most companies, and indeed most players, seem to think that sandbox means boring.

I constantly see blogs about how people just don’t understand this sandbox game or that one. About how, if you want to have fun, you need to find something and use your imagination in order to get any enjoyment out of it. They then berate people for saying that they got bored when that person obviously just wasn’t working at it.

At some point developers and player sat around and decided that in order for a game to be sandbox it needed to have mobs, pvp, a skill system and absolutely nothing to do unless you make it happen. If this is the case why not just open up MS Paint and make something happen. If you try hard enough you WILL have fun, you just have to put in time and effort.

I think something that needs to happen to really help the sandbox genre, at least in my opinion, is for the genre and it’s players to get over itself. Would it ruin Darkfall to have more quests? Surely players would cry foul and say that their favorite sandbox was ruined because they had to go from one place to another, even though NOTHING was changed except the addition of 1000’s more quests. Would it ruin Ultima Online to have a Dungeons and Dragons Online type of immersive, interactive dungeon? How about 30 of them sprinkled throughout the game?

I’m not saying you need to FORCE people to do certain quests or go to certain dungeons, but give me some story and some developer created things to do and perhaps I wouldn’t be sitting around looking for stuff to do 90% of the time I am playing. If there were as many quests in Darkfall as there are in World of Warcraft it wouldn’t take anything away from that game, other than giving people a little direction if they CHOOSE to take it.

Instead sandbox players and developers sit back and grin, thinking about how much better they are than your average MMO player because they have to make their own fun. Sounds more like a failure on the part of the developer to me with the fanbase continuing to support the product just because they are fans.

It’s a wonder that I like some sandbox games. What usually does it is getting lucky and finding that sweet spot, that perfect moment where you experience all the game can be and then spend the rest of your game time pining for it. Kinda like heroin I hear.

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EVE Online: Let’s Be Civil

April 14, 2010

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Very, very pretty.

I was reading Hardcore Casual and We Fly Spitfires and they were both talking about Tobold’s adventures in EVE Online. They also both happened to be doing the same thing while talking about Tobold’s posts, they managed to be snide and elitist without offering anything that might resemble a helpful suggestion.

Don’t get me wrong, I love reading Hardcore Casual and We Fly Spitfires has some real gems. On Hardcore Casual Syncaine took his usual approach and defended sandbox MMO’s, namely EVE. He makes a good point about Tobold seemingly going into the game with the expectation of disliking it, but he loses me when he starts talking about the EVE Offline problem. I played EVE for a very short time and I didn’t like the way you skilled up. I understand it, and I know some people love it, but if I am playing I want to be able to choose to get a certain skill up and not have the game tell me I can’t. Sure you can choose what to skill up on in what order, but this amazing sandbox actually limits what you can do by making you unable to work hard and see faster progress.

Many people have a problem with EVE because the skill system encourages you to not play in the early levels, or so they say. Syncaine makes the point that if you want to play like that, you might as well buy a preskilled character and it’s a good point. However with the inability to focus on skilling up while playing, it leaves the player with only one goal in the early game (assuming they are new, they know almost no one and they are not in a coorporation, which is nearly all new people). That one thing is to get money, and in the starter ship with the starter gear, the best way to make money without the very real risk of losing everything you have is to mine. Mining in EVE is notoriously boring, a fact Syncaine tries to refute by equating it to playing the WoW auction house. I disagree as I can play the WoW Auction House for an hour a day and make a little money and then go about questing in order to improve myself, or make money. In EVE I can mine for three hours, then decide to go skill up OH WAIT I CAN’T! I can just mine some more.

Gordon over at We Fly Spitfires tries to defend it by saying the biggest problem with the EVE skill system is that we are paying money, and feel we are being forced to wait just so CCP can make more money. He feels that if we take the money out of the equation, we would see that the skill system was great. I disagree. If I picked up a single player game and it told me that I couldn’t “beat it” for six months, and that I could play the multiplayer version but I would probably NEVER be as good as the people that picked it up a year ago, I’d probably just stop playing. I could see continuing if there were other things to do in the game, dungeons to run, an alternate advancement system that I could actually work on other than money (which equals ships and gear).

Saying the freedom of EVE Online is it’s greatest asset I feel is a little misleading. EVE is free in the sense that, if you are in the right corporation you can do certain things, but you are in no way free to do whatever you want. In fact, if I want to skill up, I can’t choose to go do that. If I want to PVP and not get destroyed immediately I need to be in a PVP Corporation. If I want to enjoy the political intrigue that is EVE’s Corporation system I need to be in the right Corporation. So how does a newbie get into those Corporations? Well many require a certain amount of skill points to even put in an application, so it seems like you’ll just have to keep paying CCP until you get to the point where you can do what you want to do, as long as your Corporation approves.

Seems like they just traded level restrictions for skill/social networking restrictions. Better start friending  people if you want to really enjoy this Facebook game.

(Keep in mind I didn’t mind EVE, and just didn’t like the skill system. Since that seemed to be what both blogs defended the most, that’s what I tackled. I’d offer some helpful advice but I haven’t played enough to get the requisite skills to join a decent Corp, so I don’t have any advice to give.)

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Sandbox vs. ?

March 5, 2010

Warning. Today’s post contains cursing, foul language and anger.

A lot of the people I follow have been chiming in on the whole Sandbox vs. Theme Park discussion such as Keen, SynCaine and Alex to name just a few. Let’s get a few things straight before we start. I started playing MMO’s back in Ultima Online, before they supposedly “destroyed” that game. I have played most major MMO’s and many free such as Atlantica Online, Asian such as Lineage, or just “kiddy” MMO’s such as Wizards101.

I game a lot too. Most of my free time is spent gaming, and a lot of that is playing MMO’s with my friends. I also fall squarely on the “Theme Park” side of the discussion, though I think that term is derogatory. You see I’ve played so called Sandbox MMO’s before. It was amazing in Ultima Online, and from what I hear Everquest 1. Have you ever noticed how it has sucked in every other MMO that has come out since? Ever noticed how most of them have tanked?

I believe there are two main reasons for this. The first is that 80% of the people who say they want a hardcore PVP free for all Sandbox game reminiscent of Ultima Online actually don’t. The second is that PVP of any kind, whether it is in an FPS style game like Call of Duty or Halo, or it is a game like World of Warcraft, Warhammer Online or Aion, is flooded with douches.

I’ll try to explain both of these, starting with the second. Let me be clear here that I do NOT think that everyone who likes PVP is a douche or an asshole, and I don’t think that PVP makes people into this. I simply think that the massive amount of asshats out there (many of whom starting playing MMO’s with WoW) are drawn to PVP. Not really though. They are drawn to the misery of others, and PVP is a means to an end.

These are the type of people who will roll onto a role-playing server JUST to harass the role-players. These people are the teabaggers, the Halo jocks, the people who don’t really enjoy the game, only the interaction with others that makes them feel good. You will hear these people, from here on referred to as asshats, berating the game in general chat and wishing it didn’t suck SO much. Most often you will find them playing some kind of rogue class where they can stealth and gank lowbies. These are the same people who will cry the loudest when a new MMO talks about putting in protections for lowbies.

More after the jump

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