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“200 Hours of Amalur” or “Amalurning to Not Trust These Numbers”

February 6, 2012 4 comments

Context

There are a few things I want to talk about today. But in order to do that, I need to establish some context. Damn context. Gets me every time!

First and foremost, 38 Studios’ lead designer, Ian Frazier conducted an internal test. He had testers play Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and complete the game in a “speed run”. Since speed run sounds (intentionally) ambiguous, this is how it is defined:

“That means easy difficulty, skip all cut scenes and dialogue, sprint everywhere that’s sprintable, fast travel everywhere you can, don’t do any combat you don’t need to do… that all took around 200 hours, and that was a speed run.”

That is actually an astronomical number. In a day and age where single-player versions in video games take 3-4 hours to complete (hello modern Warfare 3!), a 200 hour video-game is an unprecedented, shocking and welcome event. Of course it is also said that the main storyline should take only 30-40 hours (which is between 15-20% of the 200 hours) to complete. So the 200 hours of gameplay is largely dependent on how much of an overachieving completionist you really are.

The second piece of contextual information you need is that since August 2011, I have invested about 14 days of playtime into my main character, a Night Elf Hunter in World of Warcraft. 14 days is approaching 350 hours of played time in WoW. This implies I spend around two hours daily playing WoW.

Beyond the Context

MMOs, by design, require you to invest a significant amount of time. The meta-game, at every level, is designed around grinding. If you want the best PvP equipment, you must grind points in PvP. These points are further gated by a weekly cap, so you cannot play for a hundred hours in a week and get the best gear in a week. Professions, PvE content, world events, daily quests, transmogrification, and just about every other in-game mechanic is designed around perpetual grind. The reason for this is simple and possibly forgivable. No developer in the world with a finite team and finite resources can create content fast enough to be consumed by the player base. Months of coding, tweaking and planning can be completed in a 20-minute dungeon run. I don’t like the fact that i have to grind everything in an MMO, but as a lifelong fan of the genre, I understand the rationale.

Lately though, it seems that this design decisions seems to be penetrating single-player games, particularly RPGs.

Take Skyrim for example. Prior to the launch, there was a statement by one of the developers that the quest system in the game would technically spit out an infinite number of quests for the player to take on. One example of such behavior was the Thieves Guild, which could send you on a wide variety of jobs across the land. The jobs were randomly created and you could pick from one of several mission types. A second example were jobs made available through barkeeps and innkeepers in towns and cities. These randomly generated quests could send you to go kill <insert antagonist> at <insert location>. Technically, you could have an infinite number of quests in your log. However, I personally found this to be incredibly lame, as it seems to add unnecessary, artificial padding to an otherwise great game.

I enjoy a complex RPG with a deep, compelling storyline and well thought-out lore. Dragon Age took me over 106 hours to complete, and I veered into every nook, cranny and cramped dungeon corridor I could get into. I was elated to find that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning’s “speed run” will take you over 200 hours. But after realizing that only 15% or so of that is the main storyline, I can’t help but wonder how much of this game is fluff activity that yields limited to none player satisfaction.

My point is very simple, MMOs should certainly try not to artificially inflate content, but I don’t think that is likely to change any time soon. Single-player games, however, don’t need to pad content with unnecessary grind mechanisms, random quest dispensers, and fluff, unpolished content simply to get more player hour mileage out of the title. 10 times out of 10, I would prefer a tight campaign with side-quests that have meaningful premise, meaningful consequences and meaningful rewards, than “the ability to complete an infinite number of quests”. I am hoping the the later is not the case with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning when I open the box and install the game tonight. But I guess I will let you know in 200 hours of playtime!

“Eitrigg and Bloodhoof” or “Maelstrom and Aggamagan”

January 11, 2012 Leave a comment

In all my time playing WoW, I have, oddly enough, played on only four servers. When I was state-side, I first played on Bloodhoof, and the the entire guild made the transfer to Eitrigg. Recently when I joined Goblin’s guild on Aggamagan, I also started a mage on Maelstrom.

Having never played Horde-side (except for the very shiny new mage), I never really knew that Eitrigg was actually a fairly important character for the Orcs. It got me to thinking: “what do the names of the servers I play on mean in the larger lore context of the game?” Here is what I came up with.

Bloodhoof

This one was easy. The Bloodhoofs are one of the noble families of the Tauren Race. The two most significant characters are Craine Bloodhoof, the late High Chieftain of the Taurens, and Baine Bloodhoof. Cairne dueled Garrosh Hellscream but was betrayed by Magatha who secretly poisoned Hellscream’s weapon. The chieftain dying words were:

“And so, I, who have lived my whole life with honor, die betrayed”.

Baine Bloodhoof is Cairne’s son, and the new High Chieftain of the race.

Bloodhoof is also a village in the Mulgore zone.

Eitrigg

Eitrigg is an aging warrior of the Orc clan who fought in both the First and Second Wars and lost two sons in the process.

He sequestered himself to seclusion, but was stumbled upon by Tirion Fordling. The two fought, and the duel ended with Eitrigg rescuing an unconscious Tirion from a collapsing tower. Tirion is forever in Eitrigg’s debt and hold him in high regard.

In Wrath of the lich King, Tirion wrote to High Warchief Thrall, leader of the Orcs and the Horde in general, asking after Eitrigg and requesting that he be sent to Northrend as Tirion “needed a good Orc by his side.”

Eitrigg was one of the the three advisers Thrall recommended to Garrosh Hellscream as he ascended to the Horde leadership. the other two were Vol’jin of the Trolls and Cairne of the Taurens.

Maelstrom

Aside from being the most significant plot-location in Cataclysm, The Maelstrom was originally formed during the Great Sundering, some 10,000 odd years before the events of World of Warcraft (vanilla). Before that, it used to be the Well of Eternity. Here is an excerpt from the Warcraft III manual:

As the aftershocks from the Well of Eternity’s implosion rattled the bones of the world, the seas rushed in to fill the gaping wound left in the earth. Nearly eighty percent of Kalimdor’s landmass had been blasted apart, leaving only a handful of separate continents surrounding the new, raging sea. At the center of the new sea, where the Well of Eternity once stood, was a tumultuous storm of tidal fury and chaotic energies. This terrible scar, known as the Maelstrom, would never cease its furious spinning. It would remain a constant reminder of the terrible catastrophe… and the Utopian era that had been lost forever.

It is implied that the Maelstrom is slowly drawing the Broken Isles towards itself, and will ultimately destroy them for good.

Agamaggan

This one was a little difficult to find. Agamaggan a Giant Boar, one of the many ancients roaming Azeroth in it’s early days. During the War of the Ancients, Cenarius sought the assistance of Agamaggan against the Burning Legion. Agamaggan fought Mannoroth, eventually falling in battle, but his sacrifice was vital for Malfurion and his allies to enter the stronghold of Azshara and reach the Well of Eternity. Some of these events can be witnessed in the new 5-man dungeon,Well of Eternity.

What do the names of the servers you play on mean?

Categories: Lore, World of Warcraft

Played Lately: “Witcher 2: Pros and Cons” or “Witcher 2’s Divergent Chapters”

July 18, 2011 6 comments

With a severe lack of MMOs in my life, I am finding my guilty gaming pleasures in several multiplayer co-op and single-player titles these days. I wait anxiously for the day new-generation MMOs like Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World come out, but until then, I just can’t bring myself to engage in the same old cyclical redundancy that is the bane of the contemporary MMO experience.

My last post detailed the multiplayer co-op games I have been playing of late. This post details the single-player titles that have kept me occupied

Witcher 2: Pros and Cons

The Witcher 2 is simultaneously one of the most amazing and annoying games ever build in the history of computer gaming.

On the positive side, it is a complete RPG experience, rich with lore, dripping with ambiance and executed with style in a lush, beautifully crafted world. The lore is especially well-planned, originally based off of the books of polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, and details a fantastical kingdom with geopolitical tensions, royal assassinations, political espionage, magic, dragons and civil war in the lands. The game world has perhaps the best-looking environments I have seen to date in a video game. Lush foliage, towering castles, painstakingly detailed ruins and winding dungeons seamlessly blend together to create one of the most visually rewarding experiences I have had in a virtual world. The combat system, though initially baffling, can vary dramatically depending on your specialization, and can prove to be incredibly rewarding and challenging.

The game is not without its flaws. The combat starts very tough, with no clear direction as to what you’re supposed to do or how you are supposed to fight. Over the course of the game you actually become powerful enough to decimate anything in your path regardless of size, health, disposition or strength. Read that again. The combat starts really tough, and gets really easy. That’s dumb. The inventory management was a colossal pain in the ass. You only have 300 units of items you can carry. Given that the game throws cloth and leather and creature parts, and swords, and axes and pikes, and war hammers, and random junk, and herbs, and quest items, and beast trophies, and elemental stones and diamond dust and silver ore and iron ore and timber and the kitchen sink (to name maybe 1% of everything there is to pick up in the world), you run out of inventory space quite quickly. And god help you if you run out of space in the middle of a dungeon crawl, because the game will encumber and slow you down to a crawl. Add to this the fact that you will pick up recipes throughout the game and you never know which materials you might need later to craft that epic silver sword, piece or mail or armor kit, it can result in a very frustrating experience. The upcoming patch 1.3 promises to deal with both these issues, which is a great thing, I just wish they had done this when I was going through it myself.

Yup, that's one of the monsters you get to fight in the game.

Witcher 2’s Divergent Chapters

But Witcher 2’s greatest strength isn’t all of the fantastic gameplay elements, graphics, or mechanics that I listed above. In Witcher 2, one of the coolest things, that I only realized after reading up on it online, is that a binary choice in Chapter One completely changes the way the rest of the game plays out.

This isn’t necessarily a spoiler, but read at your own risk. The game will ask you to choose between Roethe or Iorveth during your first showdown with the Assassin of Kings. Either choice is permitted, but the game divides into two completely separate paths after you make this choice. Allow me to explain. The binary choice results in different NPCs dying, different fate of the town of Floatsam, a completely different Chapter Two and Chapter Three, including missions, NPCs, objectives, story, monsters and side-quests. Allow me to rephrase, playing the game after siding with Iroveth is a completely different lore and storyline experience from that moment onwards, than if you sided with Roethe. For example, Iorveth’s side leads you in Chapter Two to the Dwarven town of Vergen, which is preparing for an invasion by King Henselt’s armies. Whereas if you sided with Roethe, you actually play Chapter Two in King Henselt’s camp, as he prepares his advance against Vergen.

That is true choice, where your decisions matter and effectively change the entire direction and disposition of the game.

If you haven’t yet, you must play The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings.

Categories: Lore, Review, Witcher II