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“What MMOs Can Learn From Red Dead Redemption” or “Emotionally Penalized”

June 30, 2010 9 comments

Preface

I have been playing red Dead Redemption lately. The statistics tell me I have finished “18.6%” of the game. Note that this number isn’t necessarily a reflection of the main storyline. It is a figure designed for completionists like me, that will obsessively fuss over the smaller tasks and side-games to ensure they get that precious, oh so precious, 100% completion statistic!

Thought: Why do we never see random world encounters in MMOs?

Spinks has a post up today that spoke about activities your character engages in between organized group activity sessions. One of the bullet points listed was as follows:

“The origin of our grinds is not just to keep people playing but to answer the question, so what does your character do when they aren’t killing dragons?

  • Maybe they just like wandering the world (not really much to do in most MMOs here.)
  • …”

This got me thinking: why is it that in MMOs, you go to specific locations to accomplish specific objectives only? Whether its a world boss, or a quest, or a daily, or a dungeon, you take the shortest path to the location, completely ignoring anything and everything else between point A and point B. What is the fun in a persistent online world if everything can be found on WoWHead or (the now-defunct) Thottbot, before you even attempt to do it, where everything is explicitly and exactly laid out? Why is it that no MMO (that I know of) has randomly generated world events for players to participate in? For if that were the case, maybe more players would actively engage in world exploration and wandering, beyond questing for the first time.

Red Dead Random

Red Dead redemption has a fantastic storyline and stellar voice-acting. But beyond the central narrative, as is the case with most Rockstar Games, you can take on a wide range of missions and side-activities either for monetary gain or social stature (fame or infamy). Some of these activities have to be sought out, such as “kill 5 Coyotes before they harm you”. But there are several missions that pop out of the blue as you are horseback riding your way through the countryside. You are at complete liberty to accept the mission (no prompt or anything, you can just choose to participate in the action), ignore it altogether, or shoot the mission starter in the face if that is what pleases you.

Let us take an example of some missions I have come across in Red Dead Redemption and juxtapose them against counterparts quests in an MMO, specifically WoW.

The Kidnapping – Red Dead Redemption

I am riding on my horse down the dirt-path carved into the terrain by frequent travelers. I am minding my own business, on my way to meet a new contact who goes by the name of Irish. I am contemplating if I should just fast-travel to the location; in retrospect, I am glad I didn’t exercise that option. You’ll see why in just a second. Suddenly, I hear someone in the distance say:

“Please sir, would you help me? They’ve taken my wife!”

I pause, wondering if this was a mission marker that I missed on my map. The rider who has sought my help turns up as a blue circle on my mini-map. As I contemplate my response to this stranger’s query, he simply takes off in one direction, eager to get to his wife. As the blue circle grows distant, I get a message on my screen suggesting I follow the rider. I think a second longer and decide to follow the poor guy, and see what this random encounter has in store for me.

The man rides at top speed down bushy knolls and grass highlands for a little bit, and then he stops short of a posse of hooligans. His wife sits atop a horse, with a noose around her neck. Before I can even so much as gauge the situation, a firefight breaks out. I take out my trusty Winchester Repeater, and over the next few seconds, gun down the three perpetrators.

Then I realize I was too slow. They have already killed the husband, who lays crumpled next to his dead horse. I look over at the wife. The shooting has scared off the horse atop which she sat, and she is hanging from the tree branch. I panic. I run over to her increasingly limp body, but even as I am closing the distance I get a message on-screen that says matter-of-factly: “The victim has died.”

I am utterly devastated. Had I been a few seconds faster, both in the decision to follow the man and in the shootout, I could have saved their lives. I know they are digital beings in an artificial world, but the sense of loss is still palpable.

I came across this encounter a second and then a third time. The second time I ignored it altogether, because it was late and I just wanted to finish one last story mission before calling it a night. The third time I immediately followed the man, this time to a different location, with the kidnappers using a cart as cover, and the wife already hanging. I managed to save the husband, but the wife perished. The husband collapsed at the hanging, limp body of his wife and wailed.

A few things to remember:

  • The mission was completely optional
  • If you chose to take on the quest, you simply followed the husband, there was no mission log to keep track of the mission, and no prompt saying that you were now on this mission. In fact, you could abandon course at any point and just go your way if you so chose.
  • There were multiple outcomes: you could save both husband and wife; you could save just the wife; you could save just the husband
  • In any of the scenarios above, you weren’t penalized for failing (unless you take into account being emotionally penalized); if you failed, that family was dead, you were responsible for it, and there was nothing you could do to change that

The Kidnapping – World of Warcraft

Here is how WoW handles the same quest. There is a quest giver that is always found in the same exact location. In order to take on the kidnapping quest, you have to go to the quest-giver, you won’t come across the quest-giver at random. The quest is formally accepted, and shows up in your quest log. You are now officially tasked with the rescue of the fair damsel. The husband quest-giver does not accompany you, he does not lead the charge to get his beloved wife back. He just stands there, expressionless, leaving the responsibility to you.

In fact, you are not the only person he sends to save his wife, he sends along anyone and everyone who approaches him.

You go to the location where the wife is being held. The location is static and never changes. You could repeat the quest with 10 other characters, the same wife will always be in peril and be found in the same exact location. Why does she always get kidnapped? Why do the kidnappers never learn and change locations?

There may be the possibility of you failing the quest in case the wife dies. If that happens, you can simply abandon the quest, go back to the quest-giver, and he will give you the same quest as if nothing ever happened to her. You can go back to the mission location, and there she is, magically resurrected from the dead!

If you succeed, you either escort the wife to the husband, or she runs away, apparently to reunite with her husband. You never see her again. Even when you go back to the quest-giver, she is nowhere to be seen or found. And the husband continues to stand there, never moving, almost as if he is expecting the next kidnapping to happen any second, yet he does nothing to stop it.

The Juxtaposition

Let us construct a table.

Red Dead Redemption World of Warcraft
Mission is optional Mission is optional
There is no mission in your mission log There is a quest in your quest log
The mission-starter is randomly generated The quest-giver is always found in a static location and the location never changes
The objective’s location is randomly generated The objective’s location is static and the location never changes
Tactical situation varies (cart being used as cover; more vs . less kidnappers) Tactical situation remains the same
Failure has consequences; the family dies permanently; there are emotional consequences though Failure has zero consequence, you simply hit the reset button
You can partially succeed or partially fail You can only succeed or fail
Whether you fail or succeed, it is highly unlikely you will come across the same couple again in the same situation If you succeed, you will find the same quest-giver in the same place, offering the same quest, with the same damsel in distress in the same location

The question then becomes: why can’t more MMO developers introduce more open-world gaming to their titles? Why must everything be static, pre-determined, fated to occur in the same exact manner for all eternity (or at least till Deathwing comes along and fucks things up for everyone!)

There is an inherent fallacy in MMOs. As a powerful champion in the world, you are supposed to be able to create a meaningful and lasting impact, saving the world time and again from endless threats and predicaments. Yet your actions seem to have zero impact on the physical world.

  • That village you saved by killing the 10 wolves nearby is still under threat from said wolves.
  • That Deathlord you vanquished still taunts denizens from the depths of his dungeon.
  • Even the wife you rescued is never reunited with her husband because she is suddenly and inexplicably kidnapped again by the same group of miscreants you just dispatched.

It is ironic that MMOs are designed to give the player a feeling of power and control over the world, yet the world utterly fails to show any signs of a positive (or negative for that matter) impact by the player. Every threat remains. Every wolf still howls at the gates. Every damsel is in perpetual distress.

I long for the day when they craft an MMO experience that mimics the random world encounters of Red Dead Redemption. Till then, I suppose John Marston will continue to handle the discrepancy.

“Holy Heladin’s Healthy Healing” or “The Biggest PvPenis”

June 30, 2010 2 comments

I have been indulging in quite a bit of PvP lately. The following are screenshots from two recent matches (one in Warsong, the other in Arathi). The lists are sorted by “Healing Done” top to bottom, and you can clearly see what dedicated healing can do to turn the tide of battle.

In the second example, I healed more than the next five healers combined, Horde of Alliance.

Go go Holy Light bombs!

Categories: Bronte, PvP, World of Warcraft

“Why Lore Matters” or “Frostlord in Midsummer?”

June 29, 2010 Leave a comment

The Midsummer Festival in Azeroth is coming to an end. It is a 10-day long affair, that has players travel far and wide to pay homage to their own faction locations, while desecrating the festivities of the opposing factions. There is also torch juggling, torch tossing, and of course torch selling (I have made over 700 Gold just selling those beautiful torches!) But what I find most interesting is that the event also has you battle it out against a seasonal boss: Ahune the Frostlord. Wait a second, Frostlord? That’s a little strange, considering the festival is spanksville for pyromaniacs with all its flames and fires.

Although I know why Ahune is the boss during the Midsummer event, I realize that I am likely in the rapidly diminishing minority in a generation of instant gratification that focuses on barreling through the objective and ignores the lore. I am the minority that actually carefully reads quest text to try and enjoy the subtle nuances and side-stories that make up the worlds we so cherish. I am in the minority that is moved by an emotional tale of a Deathknight having to slaughter a woman who once held him as a baby. I am the minority that gives a damn about the story, the narrative and why we are trudging through this damp, dark dungeon slicing and dicing through Ahune, the Frostlord That No One Really Cares About.

The tale of Ahune is complex and deeply entrenched in lore. Trouble is afoot in the realm, and sinister forces conspire to bring about an event of devastating proportions. The elaborate quest series starts with a simple task: “Unusual Activity”. You travel to the distant Zoram Strand in Ashenvale Forest, and exact your wrath on puny Twilight Cultists that you can slice through like a hot knife through butter. And why shouldn’t you? They are about 60 levels lower than you!

The objective is to try and find a clue, some indication as to what the Twilight Cult is up to, and therefore figure out a strategy to stop it from happening. After conducting a small genocide, one of the cultists drops the Twilight Correspondence”. Right-clicking this item in your inventory reveals the following:

“Loyal servants of the elemental lords, OUR TIME IS NOW.

Too long we have languished in the shadows, biding our time, serving our masters, seeking the end we know must come. Now, as the flames of Ragnaros’ Appeasement burn brightly through the night, we have in our grasp the tools to incite war and chaos on a cataclysmic scale!

The Firelord is imprisoned in our world. He is not at his full power, but his might is formidable. Given an equally formidable opponent in this realm, the resulting clash would begin the great elemental war that will bring about the end we have sought.

In Neptulon’s service is a great frost lord by the name of Ahune. Even now he is marshalling his power to wage war against Ragnaros. All he requires is a gateway into our world; a gateway we will provide. We have the allies. We have the location. We have the strength and the will.

Final negotiations with our new faithful allies and guests will be conducted in a safe, out of the way location northwest of our primary location in Ashenvale.

Before this “festival” of the ignorant masses comes to a close, Ahune shall face Ragnaros in the shadow of Blackrock. The world will quake with the forces unleashed.

All our toils have worked toward this moment. Our masters will rise against one another in one glorious battle that will tear Azeroth asunder.

We live in the end times, my brothers. Hold to your tasks. Strive on. We will soon be triumphant!”

The message talks of one of Neptulon’s servants, a Frostlord by the name of Ahune, and shadowy allies that convene to plot the end of the world. The cultists are of the opinion that if they can have Ahune and Ragnaros face off in a battle of titanic proportions, it will bring about a calamitous battle that will rip Azeroth asunder, and thus fulfill the Cult’s mission. Using the Totemic Beacon in your inventory, you then call the Earthen Ring Guide, and share what you have just discovered. The Guide gives you the Orb of the Crawler, an items that transforms your physical being into an innocent-looking crab, and asks you to spy on the conversation between the cultists and their unknown counterparts nearby. The unknown allies turn out to be the ever-nefarious naga, and eavesdropping on the conversation reveals some crucial information:

This confirms the correspondence obtained earlier. The naga are working with the Twilight Cultists to bring Ahune into this plane, have him clash with the Firelord Ragnaros, and bring about total annihilation for Azeroth. A naga called Skar’this leads the effort to summon the Frostlord in the depths of the Slave Pens. As the conversation suggests, some ice stones are being used to ensure Ahune’s arrival is smooth and untoward-event-free. The Earthen Ring Elder in the capital city asks you to travel to the Dark Portal in Hellfire Peninsula, for it is there that the ice stones are being put to use. You are dispatched to the location to use the ice stone, summon one of Ahune’s templar protectors, and slay him in the hopes of forestalling the Frostlord.

You do as you are commanded, but apparently it has limited effect, for the next and final chain in the puzzle involves taking the fight to the Frostlord himself, and trying to protect the end of the world by any means necessary:

And that is the reason you get to slay a Frostlord in the middle of the Midsummer celebrations, and a powerful reminder for why lore matters and how much it drives the overall narrative.

Honestly: how many of you actually followed this story? And how many of you just engaged in endless slaughter for the new shiny epix? [Poll above!]

“The Single Greatest Post I Have Read All Day” or “Melmoth Takes on The Sun, Sort Of”

June 29, 2010 Leave a comment

I have no words. Just go read about the Summeraid! My favorite part:

“To counter Sun’s aura there’s a special Sun Screen buff that you can apply, it’s gained by using a cream every couple of hours or so. The buff doesn’t stack; attempts to apply multiple buffs will simply make you look like a noob when you go outside. The cream can be picked up from most vendors at your local village or town.”

Categories: Bronte

Quote of the Day: “Griefed by NPCs” or “Dawntide is Srsbsns!”

June 28, 2010 2 comments

Martin Anward, CEO of developer Working as Intended was asked how harsh the death penalty was in Dawntide. He said you resurrect at a graveyard, but your items need to be recovered from your body. His response included a statement that made me pause, and I mean literally pause and re-read the sentence:

“Looting corpses depends entirely on the area of the game you’re in. Inside national territories, players cannot loot each others’ corpses, though there’s nothing preventing a monster from helping itself to some of your treasure after you die.”

Dawntide, my friends, is srsbsns!

“Crysis 2 Trailer is Full of Irony” or “Mission MetLife”

June 28, 2010 Leave a comment

The latest trailer for Crysis 2 is here and it shows off quite a bit of gameplay. Unfortunately if you have seen the E3 presser, the gameplay isn’t terribly different from the giant robot fight; except that it shows you getting to the giant robot and then escaping post-fight.

The trailer is full of irony though, the MetLife building crumbles like a deck of cards towards the end. I have to admit, despite my reservations about the first game, I am quite excited about the urban jungle presented in the second iteration. Hopefully Crytek will move past the endless repetition and transition into something more innovative and unique in its mission structure.

Categories: Crysis 2

“My First WoW Memory” or “Trouble in Brambleblade Ravine”

June 27, 2010 Leave a comment

WoW.com’s breakfast topic was about the first WoW memory you have. Technically it should be my Undead Rogue that I played around with a little in beta, back in June 2004 (that was six years ago… man time flies). Instead it is a simultaneously frustrating and awe-inspiring moment from the launch of the game itself.

My first character in retail WoW was a Tauren Hunter named Xanthus. I got the game from a Target store on launch date, installed, patched and loaded in. The first thing I saw was the lush beauty of Mulgore, specifically the area around Red Cloud Mesa, the starting locations for Taurens.

The second was the directionless stampeding herd of cows.

The area was absolutely flooded with Taurens of all colors, classes and dispositions. It was a madhouse. But I didn’t realize the level of madness (refrain from Sparta jokes) until I entered Brambleblade Ravine for a quest at level 4. I couldn’t find any mobs to kill. The surface of Brambleblade Ravine was so jam-packed with starting Tauren players that they were camping spawn points of individual mobs to try and complete their quests. It was a frustrating moment till someone suggested we group up, and then five of us grouped up since we had shared objectives and we didn’t need to fight for resources any longer.

At the same time it was dumbfounding, because in those early moments, on November 23rd, 2004, sitting in my dorm room, I got a glimpse of the future of MMO gaming: truly Massive, truly Multiplayer, and truly Online.

Categories: World of Warcraft

“Games Radar” or “Too Many Tracked Titles”

June 27, 2010 2 comments

I updated my Games Radar to the left today. The following is a list of games I am looking forward to in a few months. I will talk about them individually over the course of time as well.

One thing that stands out to me is that my interests have diversified considerably over the course of time. Which is a good thing because diversity is the spice of life, and bad because, well, I have such limited time between family, work and social as it is.

I guess I better figure out how to operate on an hour of sleep a day!

MMOs on my radar:

  • Black Prophecy
  • Jumpgate Evolution
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic
  • The Secret World

Non-MMOs on my radar:

  • Assassin’s Creed II: Brotherhood
  • Brink
  • Bulletstorm
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops
  • Crackdown 2
  • Crysis 2
  • Deathspank
  • Deus Ex 3: Human Revolution
  • Dragon Age II
  • Fable III
  • Fallout: New Vegas
  • Gears of War 3
  • Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
  • Halo: Reach
  • Homefront
  • Hydrophobia
  • I Am Alive
  • Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days
  • L.A. Noire
  • Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
  • Mafia II
  • Max Payne 3
  • Medal of Honor
  • Portal 2
  • Privates
  • Red faction: Armageddon
  • R.U.S.E.
  • Singularity
  • Spare Parts
  • Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions
  • StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
  • Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II
  • The Witcher II
  • Two Worlds II
Categories: Bronte

“Privates Deathspank Spare Parts” or “Three Cute New Games”

June 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Over the last week I have come across some really cool new games that I have added to my list of titles that I keep track of.

Deathspank

The first of these is Deathspank, which can be categorized as “Diablo with a loony sense of humor”. The latest adventure from Ron Gilbert, the creator of the of the ever-memorable Monkey Island series, Deathspank centers around the titular hero and his hunt for The Artifact. Doesn’t sound terribly original for a hack-n-slash RPG, until you read Kotaku’s preview here, and realize that part of the hunt for The Artifact involves you finding, of all things, the ingredients for the Spicy Taco. Developer Hothead promises thousands of items to loot incvluding weapons, armor and accessories, all of which will stand out from the standard fanfare because of Deathspank’s ‘special’ brand of humor.

Screenshots are trailer below. The game is due for release on July 14, 2010.

Privates

Privates is a double  entendre. The first is obvious if you just see a single screenshot of tiny Marines running and gunning through a 2D-side-scroller universe. The hidden meaning has more to do with the human body. You see, Privates is a game about marine privates invading the private parts of the human body.

I don’t really have much else to say on the subject except that it sounds hysterical and an absolute riot, if a little gross and wildly inappropriate. And honestly, I am all for wildly inappropriate.

Spare Parts

Finally, we have spare parts, a platformer involving two robot buddies Mar-T and Chip. the trailer features some whimsical pre-rendered CGI moments, and some actual gameplay footage that features some inventive co-op platforming and robot genocide.

Quote of the Day: “Overcompansating Overlords” or “Unfortunately Unique”

June 25, 2010 2 comments

Activision Blizzard’s Thomas Tippl on VentureBeat:

“The Infinity Ward situation was unique and unfortunate. We have been in this business 20 years. Seventeen game studios have joined us. We have never been in a situation like that. I don’t think we will be in a situation like that again because it was unique. We have great development talent. Two-thirds of the team is still there. We are complementing that with very aggressive recruiting and supplementing them with some of the very best resources we have in the company. We have made major investments in talent. We have launched the Sledgehammer studio with a very capable development team. We have added headcount. Treyarch is focused fully against Call of Duty. We have made big investment everywhere.”

He added:

“We are recruiting ninjas. We will also invest in pirates. We will have ninjas fight the pirates. Efforts are underway to resurrect Michael Jackson. Because everyone loves Michael Jackson. We have also invested in singing and dancing classes for our employees. We are working on improving employee morale by keeping douchebaggery to a minimum. We are also going to have picnics. Yes. Big picnics. Hundred of people. We will have Cirque du Soleil. Microsoft did it, it must be cool. We will also buy out Starbucks and give free coffee to our employees. Just please, please, stop asking us about Infinity Ward!”

Categories: Bronte

“A Record-Breaking Heat Wave Hits Azeroth Just in Time For Midsummer” or “Anna’s Gone Bananas”

June 25, 2010 1 comment

[This is in response to Anna’s Friday Five-Hundred: Midsummer Sun.]

Midsummer in Elwynn can be a sordid affair. Temperatures soar, as if competing with the hottest lava rivulets in Blackrock. The air grows still, and on the rare occasion it blows, it reminds me of that one time I got caught in Onyxia’s Deep Breath. The water levels in and around Elwynn drops dramatically, and owing to certain miscreants and their loose bladders, swimming in any of the lakes and surrounding water bodies is severely prohibited.

Being a human has it’s advantages, everyone likes you better, at least by like 10%. But it also has its disadvantages. I for instance, could have benefited in the summers by being almost any one of the other Alliance races:

  • For instance if I were a dwarf, I could be resting comfortably in the cool temperatures of Dun Morogh right now, a land perpetually blanketed in a sheet of snow.
  • If I had been a gnome, I could have used one of the many contraptions they use to keep themselves cool as the temperatures rise higher than a Netherwing Matron in heat.
  • The draenei have a unique solution altogether, they call it “central air-conditioning”, a function of their now-defunct flying ship thing that crashed up north all those years ago. Apparently these advanced machines regulate air flow, and keep the inside of Exodar at a moderate, cool temperature, regardless of how hot or cold it remains outside.
  • And then there are the Night Elves. Bloody shape-shifters and whatnot. Whatever they do to keep cool in the summer I am not interested in. I can’t trust anything that doesn’t walk on two legs at all times. Except for Woolly Mammoths. They’re cool.

The worst part about being the Paladin class is the plate armor. First of all it itches, in places you don’t want to scratch in public. Second, and as you can well imagine, being encapsulated inside a metal cocoon all day essentially gives me all the comfort and warmth of the industrial furnaces that power Ironforge.

I even visited the hair-dresser to give my head a smaller crop of hair, but even that seemed to have negligible effect on my predicament. I have tried wearing cloth armor, but after being universally mocked and made fun of, I have decided the heat is easier to bear than the unrelenting sarcasm and derision.

But I think I may have finally found a solution that works to my advantage. A friend of mine from the once mighty city of Gnomeragan, a gnome mage called OMGWTFBBQQQ, and I have struck a deal. I will charge him nay a single sovereign for enchanting his gear, and he will aid me by dueling me on hot summer days and lobbing an endless barrage of frost bolts in my direction. I am going to the Old Town to meet him, enchant his gear, and then engage in the “cool down” duel. I will update this post as soon as the duel is over.

Update: That double-crossing bastard! Now I have frostbite in Midsummer!

Categories: Bronte

Se7en Tidbits: “The Destruction of My Moral Compass” or “Warden Boner”

June 24, 2010 1 comment

Here are a few tidbits that caught my attention for one reason or another this week:

“I guess the people who wrote the other versions of this quest were napping because this one is a doozy.” Tamarind is devastated by a DK starting quest that breaks his moral compass.

“Lifetime Subscriptions only make sense if you think that people will stop subscribing before the break point. I’m not sure that is a good assumption for anyone with a decent MMO to make.” Coriel wraps up thoughts about LOTRO’s recently announced F2P model.

“The bid ninja cannot end up second, unless either FG or SG make a mistake. Such mistake can be stopping before SGBP. But the 1/3 system strongly discourage it, since if BN is second, either FG or SG is third.” Gevlon elaborates on a spin on the GDKP system, and proves beyond the shadow of a doubt he is addicted to acronyms. Get some help you goblin!

“A MASSIVE multiplayer game needs to be seen from a massive number of views, and most casual blogs also treat foolish press embargoes with the disdain that they deserve.” Spinks mirrors my thoughts on the APB review embargo.

“Without a clear path, I am more likely to fall back on old MMOs with clear, well-trodden paths.” Ravious shares his frustrations with Dragonica’s limitations.

“Thus the Warden treads precariously along the tightrope of overpoweredness, performing a delicate balancing act between survivability and damage output, a fundamental issue with tanking classes in a lot of MMOs, where too great a damage output or too high a survivability means that the developers create a class that is a nigh-unstoppable killing machine.” Melmoth subtly admits that the Warden class in LOTRO pitches a tent in his pants.

“I think by pushing variety and keeping the fun more intimate its having some of the newer members getting more acclimated and more involved in the guild than in previous expansions.” Avatar talks about the pre-expansion slump in WoW.

Categories: Se7en Tidbits

“APB VoIP Fiasco” or “Verizon in my Voice Chat”

June 24, 2010 2 comments

APB was one of the three upcoming MMOs that I was very excited about. The other two being The Secret World, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Notice I said “was”, because I am no longer interested in what Realtime Worlds has to offer. There have been several reasons for this in the last few weeks, but the icing on the cake was a recent post on APB’s forums that hinted at Premium VoIP services for the game. The premium services remove in-game voice ads.

The VoIP Fiasco

Allow me to elaborate in the shortest manner possible. APB, of All Points Bulletin, is an MMO-FPS, or more accurately, an MO-FPS since it is not all that massive in terms of number of players (200 or so per server). VoIP is in-game voice chat implemented in APB. Up until recently (and by recently, I mean four days before the damn game’s launch), no one had any clue that there will be a premium price  for VoIP because the in-game voice chat will feature audio advertisements.

/facepalm

Nope, still not interested.

Can you imagine running and gunning in the game, only to be interrupted by an alien voice suddenly asking you to check out the capabilities of the latest iPhone 4G? If such is your concern, Community Officer Toxico over at APB forums quickly explained how the system works. You can only receive audio advertisements if you are entering a new zone, and that too only if you haven’t heard any ads in the last three hours of gameplay. Whether that is three hours of in-game time or real-world time, remains unclear. Because while both scenarios will disrupt gameplay, the former is much more intrusive.

Other Concerns

This isn’t the only reason I lost interest in APB. As an FPS, APB inherently involves twitch-based, fast-paced, run-and-gun gameplay. Realtime Worlds has stated in the past that players will need servers in relative proximity to their geographical location to play the game competitively at all, and personal experience suggests that the slightest delay in overall latency can be utterly lethal.

In addition, the recent ban on reviews, which I found out about through Dragonchasers, also has me raise an eyebrow and give a quizzical look. APB is enforcing an embargo on all reviews till at least a week after launch. Their reasoning seems to make sense, in that the beta version of the game, one that everyone has tested, is not a true representation of the final product, and the final product can only be tested online post-launch. Sure beta isn’t the same as the release version, but it is pretty fucking close. Despite a seemingly earnest and logical explanation, I just derived a negative connotation from the ban: they don’t want anyone reviewing their product because they don’t believe in its commercial success themselves. If that is true, why on earth would I spend any money on the title?

Sorry APB, our courtship was fun, albeit a bit brief, but you’re too sinister and devious for my liking. Adios!

Categories: APB, Microtransactions

“Two Books Reviews” or “Micro/Macro”

June 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter [Gamer Melodico]

The first is by Kirk Hamilton over at Gamer Melodico (Italian for melodic), and it reviews the new book by self-claimed former intellectual and current video game addict, Tom Bissell. I first heard of Bissell via the same Guardian article that Hamilton quotes in this brief review of Bissell’s latest book. The book is called Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter. Hamilton says:

“There is a lonely separateness that accompanies creativity; the act of building art is often an isolating, consuming undertaking. I can certainly attest firsthand to the powerful role that video games can play in that process, and so too can Bissell. That he does so with such courageous precision inspires in me both relief and gratitude. And beyond that, it simply inspires.”

I bought this book in digital format an hour after reading Hamilton’s post.

The Guild Leader’s Handbook: Strategies and Guidance from a Battle-Scarred MMO Veteran [Too Many Annas]

The second book is one that was released in April, and I already wrote about it sometime back. The book, The Guild Leader’s Handbook: Strategies and Guidance from a Battle-Scarred MMO Veteran, is penned by Scott F. Andrews, one of the authors at the ever-popular WoW.com. The book, which may also be in line for longest-title-ever category was reviewed by one of the many Annas over at Too many Annas.

“The Guild Leader’s Handbook is a solid introduction to guild leading and a good resource for anyone (RP or not) wanting to run a guild. A new guild leader, of whatever type, would do well to read The Guild Leader’s Handbook, and could glean a lot of information from it, hopefully avoiding some of the pitfalls of new guilds. While long-term guild leaders may already have picked up on some of the information, Andrews’ breakdowns, charts, and easy to read examples still provide useful “extra experience”, and having everything in one, easy-to-reference guide is quite helpful.”

I will never buy this book. I have great respect for Andrew’s writing, and I thoroughly enjoy his posts, but given my three years experience as a hardcore, dedicated guild leader, commanding over 300 troops, is all the experience I need. I won’t be doing it again, and as such, I have no need for Andrew’s pearls of Wisdom, useful as they may be to others.

Categories: Bronte

Quote of the Day: “Why APB Isn’t an MMO” or “Is MMO Synonymous With RPG?”

June 23, 2010 Leave a comment

The reason we shy away from MMO is because usually, when you say MMO to someone, they don’t hear MMO — they hear MMORPG. And while APB has a lot in common with MMOs, it’s definitely not an RPG.

There’s no character stats, there’s no levels, there’s no skills — the closest thing we have to that is the respect you gain from contacts and organizations for working for them, which allows you to access the better equipment they sell, and some of the functional upgrades that are available in the game. That’s all your characters loadout, it’s his gear, it’s not intrinsic to him leveling up.

– Jesse Knapp, Prodcer, APB (Source).

Categories: APB

“Mo ID, Mo Problems” or “The Great Real ID Debate”

June 23, 2010 Leave a comment

So patch 3.3.5 released yesterday, and with it brought about three things worth looking into.

Ruby Sanctum

The first will appease the raiders. Ruby Sanctum, although a part of this patch, will be released in the near future officially. This instance is the sacred sanctum of the Red Dragonflight. As is the case with most adventures in Azeroth, a ‘sinister force has taken hold of the sanctum’ (Helion, The Twilight Destroyer, of the Black Dragonflight – there, I ruined it for you), which houses the largest collection of the Red Dragonflight’s eggs in Azeroth.

Wow.com has two great posts about Ruby Sanctum. They detail some lore for the instance here, and provide a quick walk-through for the fight here.

“Next to nothing is known about who might be responsible for the assault on the Ruby Sanctum: the black dragonflight is not known for forgiveness or patience, but its numbers in Northrend are surely limited. What force would be powerful or daring enough to assail the stronghold of these ancient wyrms? How could such an enemy sneak by the temple’s guardians undetected? Surely an approaching air or ground force would have been caught by Wyrmrest Temple’s defenders.

For the moment, the members of the accord and their allies must assume the worst scenario that they can conceive of: that all life within the Ruby Sanctum rests on the precipice of extinction, and only immediate intervention will prevent the red dragonflight from being decimated. They’ll find that the truth is far worse.”

Vote to Kick System Overhaul

My post yesterday was all about how video games are constantly evolving, learning from their own mistakes and building upon the foundations of data we previously just discarded as meaningless gibberish. Since patch 3.3.3, Blizzard has been collecting information about how players behave in dungeons. Using this data, the new vote-to-kick system rewards cooperation, understanding and patience, and penalizes impatience, intolerance (of weaker / less geared players) and general douchebaggery.

If you are the kind of player who remains patient, even after a pitiful wipe in an easy 5-man dungeon such as The Nexus (strictly speaking at level 80 of course), and refrain from using the vote-to-kick feature at the slightest provocation or questionable performance issues, you will be rewarded and there will generally be no cooldown for when you truly see someone fit for a swift boot to the butt. (Man that was a long sentence, deep breath now). On the contrary, if you are trigger-happy with vote-kicks, you will have longer cooldowns, preventing you from subjecting others to your stupid tantrums and rage at the world because you weren’t hugged as a kid.

Mo ID, Mo Problems

I personally don’t have any real issues with Real ID, primarily because I have been running with the same crew for over five years now, and we all know one another in real life. We are Facebook pals with each other (cause that makes it official you know!), we know the real life names of everyone, emails, and in some cases even phone numbers and addresses. We advise each other in real life predicaments, we play each other’s toons, we share accounts when one of us gets into beta, and introducing Real ID into that dynamic is really a blessing than anything else.

This is not to say I don’t have reservations about Real ID. I wouldn’t, for instance, share the same level of comfort with close WoW friends who I know in a “we run VoA/ToC25 every week” capacity. And then there is the privacy argument, that every once in a while, you don’t want to be bothered by your friends, you just want to quietly quest or PvP or just play the Auction House on a toon no one knows about and not be bothered. That does irk me to a point, but at the end of the day if any of the closely-knit friends needed my help, I would like to step up to the plate. One could argue that you can set your message as “busy” or “away”, but with “real” friends, I doubt this will make much of a difference.

The blogosphere is also abuzz with debates on the Real ID fiasco with opinions ranging from acceptance to disdain to outright hatred.

“Gevlon Will Appreciate This Level of Stupid” or “Spiked Greatstaff of Stupid”

June 23, 2010 Leave a comment

If you can believe it, this is item 1 of 17 purchased in the same exact manner that day. It's a small turnover, but its adds up quickly... unless of course you come across a high-value item for cheap... (see below)

The second example is part luck, and part uninformed idiots on the Auction House. As you can see, net profit is 4,450 gold per hilt bought low and sold high.

Quote of the Day: “Something That Made Me Smile” or “Bronte, Douchebag”

June 23, 2010 Leave a comment

I ran a 5-man with a player on my server who was a little, uh, stubborn. So naturally I had to give me a piece of my mind. Then a guild mate of that guy, who just happened to be an old, old guildie of mine from the Cross of Vengeance days, got in touch with me. The following is what she had to say:

EDIT: here is the conversation:

Her: some guy got removed
Her: from raid cause he was a dick
Her: and some other guy was like “on a side note dont group with bronte he’s a d-bag”
Her: and i was like
Her: just cause you’re terrible and he tells you so
Her: doesnt make him a d-bag
Me: HAHAHAHA

“Plenty of Previews” or “GLaDOS is Still a Bitch”

June 22, 2010 Leave a comment

Bunch of previews that I finally got a chance to get through today.

Rage [Joystiq]
Looks interesting. The premise  does not seem terribly novel, and we have already seen some of the finest post apocalyptic worlds crafted in Fallout 3 and Metro 2033, so I am curious to see what id’s version of a less-than-ideal future may be like. But then again, Doom III, at least for me, was a massive disappointment. id claims the game is part racer and part shooter, and that is what sets it apart. Hello! GTA did that like eight years ago!

Deus Ex 3: Human Revolution [Joystiq] [Kotaku]
Deus Ex will always hold a special place in my heart, although Invisible War sort of ruined the whole thing for me. But if these previews are any indication, we seem to be back on track. I was initially wary of the lack of Warren Specter in the development of the third title, but maybe that isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Mafia 2 [Joystiq]
I loved the first Mafia. That game had me hooked from the moment I saw the rippling waters of Empire City as the camera panned over the lighthouse, and into a city teeming with life and opportunity. In many ways, I think Mafia was a better and smarter game than Grand Theft Auto 3. But that, of course, is more of a matter of perspective than anything else.

Portal 2 [Joystiq]
I am rabidly following any Portal 2 news, as, I am sure, is everyone else who got a taste of the brilliant title a few years back. And co-op? I am going to need several new shirts by the time I am done drooling!

Homefront [Joystiq] [Kotaku] [Trailer]
The more I look into this game, the more interesting it seems. Modern Warfare 2 extensively explored the possibility of America’s soil coming under invasion by Russia in a contemporary setting, but there is something about the grit and passion behind Homefront that seems to set it apart. I can’t quite put my finger on it yet though.

Article of the Day: “The Evolution of Gaming” or “Demands Evolution Complexity”

June 21, 2010 1 comment

The article of the day was this incredibly insightful look into the mind of John Riccitiello, CEO of one of the biggest powerhouse gaming companies of the contemporary gaming age: Electronic Arts. Add to that equation some very powerful writing by the great Stephen Tolito, and you got a fascinating read. The article is difficult to sum up because in typical Tolito style, it touches upon so many different points. But there are a two things that stand out, and I will try to summarize those here.

The most important point in the article is that fact that most gaming CEO’s actually don’t play video games at all. That is the practical equivalent of the President of World Bank utterly disinterested in global economies and the international monetary status quo, or if Micheal Dell was actually a cyberphobe. It makes little to no sense that someone who is responsible for a gaming behemoth have such little interest in playing said games himself, like when Activision’s Bobby Kotick told a gathering of developers that he doesn’t play video games. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, that is like if Steve Jobs kept promoting the iPhone, but used a BlackBerry instead. It’s retarded to realize that some of the biggest minds in the industry are merely driving the companies towards financial success, and they have no actual idea of what makes a game memorable, or, at the very least, fun.

Another point was somewhat along the lines of what Gordon said a couple of days ago about returning to some of his favorite MMOs, only to find them bland, almost prehistoric by today’s standards, and in some cases plain irritating:

“It’s not just Everquest that I’ve had this experience with either. Anarchy Online and Dark Age of Camelot were the same. I adored them when they first came out but when I briefly tried each of them again a couple of years ago, I just couldn’t get past how terrible they looked, how frustrating their UIs were and annoying the grind was.”

– Gordon, The Point Of No Returning To MMOs

Riccitiello resonates these view in his own way:

“When I played games a decade ago or 15 years ago, I was a lot more forgiving,” he told me during our interview this month. “Part of it was, if you could sort of simulate [something] in software, almost anything, it was the first time you saw it. If you could just pull off the technology and engineering, you didn’t necessarily need the same artful insight, and you certainly didn’t need the polish. A lot of it, if you remember games going back to like GoldenEye on the N64, is that we remember them as a lot better than they are.

Stephen Tolito, The Unexpected Gamer Who Runs EA

Both viewpoints essentially cover the same debate. Video games have evolved in every facet, from gameplay, to technology, art direction, sound design, graphics and so on. The change has been so markedly drastic in the last decade, that if we were to go back to our favorite games from just ten years ago, we would be sorely disappointed because our sense of what makes a game memorable and fun and exciting has metamorphosed over the course of time.

I have one recent example. With the imminent release of StarCraft II, I decided to load up my StarCraft I Battlechest and replay the campaigns for the original game and its expansion, so I am fully in tune with the events leading up to the second game. What I found instead was a dated game with bland graphics, poor level design and cookie-cutter units with predictable gameplay. Bear in mind that the game was truly revolutionary when it first game out, so much so in fact that it is played competitively to this day. But I was turned off. After about an hour into the Terran campaign, I was typing in cheat codes to skip missions themselves just so I could relive the story without trudging through the trouble of actually playing the game.

The bottom line is that what was the norm yesterday is no longer true today. What once excited us about a game visually is no longer acceptable. If we see clipping errors or graphical glitches in a game like Crysis, which, until 15 years ago, was an unimaginable technological feat, we immediately feel turned off by the ‘lazy’ developers. We take things for granted. We nitpick. We comment on the most anal aspects of gaming, that until a few years ago, didn’t even exist. Are we being too harsh? Maybe, but that is the price of evolution.

We are at a stage in video gaming history where titles are visually richer, the stories are intricate and complicated, the gameplay is revolutionary and complex, and the bar is being perpetually raised higher. It is a time of great innovation and inevitable letdowns. And as the evolution shapes and morphs our experience and expectations, so must our criticisms evolve to better guide the ebb and flow of contemporary video game development.