Category Archives: Wishlist

So, should I still look forward to Everquest Next?

Chatting with comrades on teamspeak the other night, the topic of Everquest Next came up along with “vaporware” and equally unflattering comments. I admit, I really wanted to believe in EQN; SoE sure made their other upcoming MMO(RPG!) sound and look exciting before the launch of Landmark. And really, what is there left in the AAA-segment after EQN? THIS NEEDS TO BE A THING!

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That notorious green picture of many years.

I get how the Everquest veterans feel about this title however, which has become a running gag of sorts ever since the early days. One day, some day sure, there will be a next Everquest! And by now, I am not feeling it anymore either, I certainly don’t expect to see it launch this year and god knows what the whole acquisition by the grey men might mean for the future of these MMOs. All the more surprising therefore that official press statement, referrring to EQN’s more imminent launch:

“Sony Online Entertainment, newly rebranded as Daybreak, is a great addition to our existing portfolio of technology, media and entertainment focused companies. We see tremendous opportunities for growth with the expansion of the company’s game portfolio through multi-platform offerings as well as an exciting portfolio of new quality games coming up, including the recently launched H1Z1 and the highly anticipated EverQuest Next to be released in the near future” [Jason Epstein, Senior Partner of Columbus Nova]

Now ‘near future’ is a vague enough term but it still suggests things happening in under a year or so. May be that a senior partner of an investment company with a career in venture capital doesn’t have a clue about MMO development speed, may be that it’s just the usual corporate marketing speech to appease the masses. Or maybe they really intend to release EQN on a set date in the near future no matter what, which would add another chapter on catastrophe to the great book of MMO mishaps.

Ever looking for an upside, I wish it was neither of these options; I wish that EQN was farther ahead in development than SoE let on until now and that they’ve just kept things quiet – which makes no sense whatsoever really and is not how they are typically handling their pre-launches.

Call it vaporware, call it getting the Titan vibes, what’s pretty clear to me by now is that holding out for EQN as the next great thing requires a considerable effort in wishful thinking.

Wot I Read: A New Golden Age of Videogaming

“Wot I Read” is a new category on MMO Gypsy because I needed another one! This is where I spotlight smart stuff written elsewhere and that needs to be passed on to my fellow bloggers and readers!

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One of the very few online mags I read regularly on all things life, politics and culture, is the Montreal-founded VICE network which among many other things, features outstanding (sometimes highly risky) independent journalistic work in the field of video news reporting and cultural series on their youtube channel. While not dedicated to gaming in a big way, the Tech section of VICE regularly delivers commentary to popular events happening in the world of videogames, as well as musings on meta topics or the industry as a whole.

In the wake of the new year, videogame columnist Mike Diver whom I have come to appreciate greatly for past articles such as “The Importance of Aimlessness in Gaming” (yes!), shared his optimistic view of the industry’s future while putting our rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia under heavy scrutiny:

I’d argue that, right now, video games are at the cusp of a new transition, another positive shift in public perception. And that’s entirely down to the wonderful variety that the industry can offer to its audience—through myriad devices both games-exclusive and multipurpose, a fantastic array of game types and challenge levels to suit all. Gaming today is the healthiest it’s ever been, and if we’re going to assign the banner of “golden age” to any era in gaming history, now might be a good time to pin up the bunting and get a cake baked: 2015 could be amazing. [source: ‘We’re in the New Golden Age of Video Games’ by Mike Diver, VICE]

The entire article is a comprehensive and most earnest appreciation of this fantastic era of tech we live in. Needless to say I agree completely – gaming has never been more advanced and diverse than it is today, more widely accepted, independent or exciting in terms of technical possibilities. If there was ever a “golden age of video games” it is the one we live in right now and the one that is yet to come for future generations.

Games, in 2015, can and will mean many different things. Perhaps by the end of the year we’ll all be playing in blissful isolation, virtual reality headsets supplying all our sensory needs. Or we’ll be down the bar, playing Mario Kart between beers, a big screen showing competitive gaming after the soccer matches. But however we play this year, we should do so with eyes on the future. Mindless celebrations of dead technology will always hamstring the pursuit of new heights of artistry in an industry that, with the huge possibilities afforded by current hardware, is only limited by a lack of imagination. Dream golden dreams, and let’s leave the yellowing systems of our past where they belong: in the loft, beneath the guest bedding. [source: ‘We’re in the New Golden Age of Video Games’ by Mike Diver, VICE]

Other recent articles at VICE you might enjoy:

 

Gaming in 2014, Worrying Trends and Great Expectations!

One more for #listmas before it’s too late! Looking back on a year of gaming, I realize that 2014 was for the most part, a year of small releases for me or rather a year of indie gaming and digging through my steam backlog. There are no blockbuster titles to list, no Bioshock Infinite like last year and no new MMOs I enjoyed save one. If there’s something that has changed in 2014 for me personally, then that MMOs are more and more taking a backseat and not for lack of trying. Generally, there are three industry trends that have me concerned right now and that are expected to continue:

  • This era of the classic MMORPG and AAA-MMOs is over
  • Early Access gaming with a wide range of definitions is here to stay
  • Console exclusivity is back with a vengeance

While online coop and multi-player games are thriving at least, it is especially that third trend which is both surprising given the state of console gaming only two years ago and annoying in an age of digital gaming and connectivity. If you’re browsing 2015 previews on any major gaming site right now, you will find a large amount of releases exclusive to either XBOX One or PS4, not to mention the usual Nintendo IPs (which have always been insular). Heck, even franchises that were born on PC, such as Tomb Raider, are going console exclusive in 2015.

There was a window early into the turn of the millennium, when the rise of online gaming seemed to finally overcome the boundaries of systems; multi-platform titles were all the rage and had the gaming community united. Now, the future bodes ill for multi-platforming and anyone sticking to just PC. Certainly anyone with a smaller budget. Meh?

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

The stunning vistas of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

My “GOTYs” of 2014

I am putting “GOTY” in quotation marks because I don’t really have one best game of the year – much rather, these are the games I had most fun with in 2014 and that I poured the most hours into, in no specific order (and not necessarily 2014 releases either):

  • Wildstar; My MMO of the year for what its worth!
  • Warlords of Draenor; A pleasant surprise and fuzzy feels.
  • The Wolf Among Us; A must-play for any Fables and Telltale fans.
  • Papers, Please; You may call yourself queen of multi-tasking afterwards.
  • Cook, Serve, Delicious; I am wildly proud of my five star restaurant!
  • The Vanishing of Ethan Carter; A dark horse, original and very sad.
  • Child of Light; A beautiful, poetic, otherworldly journey despite Uplay.
  • Rayman Legends; The greatest classic J&R/platformer I have played since the 90ies.
  • Don’t Starve Together; Already lots of fun in coop despite being beta.
  • 7 Days to Die; A solid building and survival game (with zombies!), alpha.

I could also list some disappointments of the year, such as ESO or Destiny, but let’s not dwell on low lights and move straight to great expectations for 2015 – of which there are many!

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Fun and games in Don’t Starve Together

My Most Anticipated Games of 2015

I cannot recall the last time I looked forward to new releases as much before a new year! The line-ups for 2015 are packed and fingers crossed, we got an awesome year of new games ahead of us for every preference. Definitely on my radar in 2015 (mostly available on PC):

  1. The Witcher 3; NO WORDS! I am taking holidays for this one!
  2. The Division
  3. No Man’s Sky (eventually on PC)
  4. Kingdom Come: Deliverance
  5. Black Desert
  6. Everquest Next(?)
  7. The Long Dark
  8. Evolve
  9. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (PS4)
  10. Minecraft Storymode
  11. Overwatch
  12. [Insert too many small indie/KS gems to name here]

With two MMOs still among my picks, I realize that I have never branched out as much in terms of genre as I do nowadays. I enjoy coop titles a great deal no matter the setting and look forward to more online multi-player in the future. This last quarter of 2014 has also re-lit my love for survival and building games, so along with classic exploration mode, I hope there will be some surprises on that front in 2015!

Not a bad way to start a new year! What are your most awaited games of 2015?
Oh and happy New Year, everybody!

Wildstar ain’t WoW – Wildstar is Heavy Metal

Suddenly everything is moving really fast. ESO is about to launch, Blizzard hints at launch dates and pre-orders, Wildstar takes another day to get real. And somewhere in between all of this, people are getting bored of Landmark’s alpha. Looks like this year of new MMOs is finally happening!

Sooo, Wildstar. I’ve played in the permanent beta since this January, not for any particular fandom but gloomy frustration over ESO. Clearly, going into this second MMO without much anticipation has helped a lot. I like Wildstar; not the way I love LOTRO or Guild Wars 2 but enough to pre-order come this March 19th. Smart of Carbine to move fast and set their launch well ahead of WoW – not because the two are one and the same but because WoW is always competition. To anybody.

That of course leads me to where I want to go with this post: how Wildstar doesn’t feel like WoW when you’re playing. The internet is obsessed with comparing the two for obvious reasons, the cartoony graphics and well, the classic approach. Yet probably 70% or more of all MMOs out there are themeparks with a holy trinity. If that’s the similarity you’re judging things by then Wildstar isn’t any more a WoW clone than Final Fantasy XI – a game that launched 2 years prior to World of Obsessioncraft. But hey, I too am guilty of early comparisons and Carbine weren’t exactly shy to point out their target audience in the past, either.

Contrary to the popular notion Wildstar isn’t WoW, more importantly does not feel like WoW. Much rather I would say this: Wildstar is heavy metal.

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A penetrating first look at Wildstar’s feels

From the get-go, Wildstar struck me as its very own thing. The overall feel and very consistent design concept seem well-known and yet aren’t, not after taking a closer look and certainly not within an MMO context anyway. If I had to describe the visuals to anyone, I would go with Brutal Legend meets Borderlands 2. That level-up animation still paints a wide grin on my face. This game is outspoken and slangy in its humor and despite the candy colors, it also has grimness and maturity to it (candy-color me impressed!). There’s the Firefly-like thematic fusion of a cyber-metal-punk wild west adventure…with pink bunnies.

The cartoony graphics of Allods mimic WoW in a way that Wildstar never does; more stylized, more artsy and whimsical are the settings of the Nexus and this painter’s brush is a different brush entirely. The world expands vertically as much as horizontally so the player character gets dwarfed more easily; a counter-immersive effect I’ve referred to (and complain about) as the goldilock’s experience before. Anyway, as a sucker for authentic and mature in MMOs it took me a good while to get used to the hyper-stylized graphics; staring at the grass in Wildstar for too long requires a willingness to suspend disbelief –

Spellsinger_Galeras

Whatever this is, it ain’t real grass!

But let’s rewind things a little and start at the beginning: the character customization. Wildstar offers as many options as vanilla Warcraft in terms of body and height variety which means well, none at all. That’s quite the flaw in 2014. At the same time, we are seeing some of the most exciting, accomplished and refreshing race design since Allods and maybe Tera. Boring and uninspired humans with weird hairdos aside, some of the Draken, Mordesh, Granok and Chua models are simply to die for.

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Once you leave character customization, Wildstar is quick to introduce players to combat with their very own tunnel scenario. Yeah, they do that. Once again, there’s much to get used to here and it’s safe to say the doubly active telegraph combat couldn’t be more unlike WoW even if Carbine are aiming for the same strategic depth and role-based play with their group content. In the same vein, their restricted skillset and talent system strike me as modern and light-weight in a way WoW is only just learning to be, simplifying things with every new expansion.

I could go on from here and point out how the (sticky) camera in Wildstar works differently which gave me pause. There’s no insta-turn and quick 90° cutting corners which some players will clearly miss for the first few hours even if it feels natural after a while.

Or I could describe the chaotic refugee city of Thayd that feels nothing like any Warcraft city I’ve ever been to. If I had to name something about Wildstar that really let me down it would be questing which, despite different path options, is very kill ten rats. In this there’s no letting off Carbine.

In summary: You should probably give this a try

So many aspects in MMOs make for that complex, intangible quality that we call “overall feel” and if nothing else, you should give Wildstar the benefit of the doubt as long as you haven’t played it. The Nexus is an odd place, alien yet familiar – not entirely new but new enough, a little more grownup than expected and every bit as polished as anyone could hope for. There will be things to love and things to hate but dismissing this new title over being a second World of Warcraft because cartoony looks, well that would be wrong entirely. Wildstar is a fresh interpretation of a classic, an ambitious and deep MMO world with an unmistakeable, stubborn and outspoken style. It doesn’t need to copy WoW any more than any of the other upcoming games do; I believe we can move on from this notion already.

DayZ – In the Land of Intense Colors and Unspoken Rules of Conduct

I currently live in a house where much of my weekend mornings and all of my evenings are accompanied by the loud and unbridled DayZ enthusiasm next door. I wake up to hectic commands shouted over voice-comm almost every Sunday (because like all sane people I sleep in on weekends) and go to sleep to “It’s me! Don’t shoot, don’t shoot!” and “Identify yourself now!”. The better half is having a blast in DayZ and the very playable standalone early access has done much to rekindle that passion. Being a pretty obsessive gamer myself, I observe all of this with equal amounts of understanding and amusement. Far be it from me to begrudge anyone their gaming sessions. Until he forgets to wash and get dressed, anyway.

Naturally, I was gifted my own copy of DayZ recently and having always been fascinated with the harshness and unmoderated authenticity of this title, I’ve given it a couple of nights over the past few weeks running with an international clan. There is a lot of mixed information out there currently about DayZ which, in my humble opinion, fails to paint a fair or complete picture of this complex beast of a game, of the depth and psychological intrigue of this persistent world hiking and murder simulator with rogue-like elements. And that’s the shortest way for me to describe it.

DayZ always has been and in its current state certainly is legitimately a PvPer’s game just like some games are made for PvE or RP. While it’s entirely possible there will be other server modes again where killing other players isn’t possible, DayZ right now is about handling an outrageous mix of feelings – between stark loneliness and desolation, to the desperate search for food while a quick, inconspicuous death is haunting your every step. Like in the real world that DayZ takes such pains to simulate, you cannot tell friend from foe at a first glance. Like in the real world, due caution and clear communication may decide your fate. Like in the real world, there are stakes to what you do and decisions have tangible consequences.

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DayZ is the game where absolutely nothing happens for hours and you find yourself desperately lost in the wild world without maps and indicators. Where you can hike forever and a day and never meet a soul. And then you die. And death has so many faces. It’s the game of paranoid retreat and uncanny social contact, of foul betrayal and uncompromising bonds. It’s the game of fear of loss, of terror and so much hope. In summary, it’s a fascinating social environment that teaches us much about the way we will behave under social / peer pressure once all written law and agreed-on convention is lost.

If everything goes and everyone is equally hungry, what means and tactics will you resort to in order to survive?

In 2003 Postal 2 launched with a particular tagline: it’s only as violent as you are! Only DayZ adds the online multiplayer component. The question of how violent you are gets replaced by how the violence of your peers will affect you. And there are many ways in which individual players respond and adapt. Despite inviting more notorious gankers along with everyone else, DayZ isn’t all kill on sight but more frequently about caution and basic unspoken rules of conduct. One of my very first encounters with strangers in the game went like this:

Still fairly fresh, hungry and ill equipped, two zombies attacked me and I started bleeding. Bleeding in DayZ gives you a limited amount of time to patch up before losing consciousness (which equals death pretty much), as the game’s color saturation gradually and unnervingly decreases. The zombies right now in standalone are a shadow of their former self, dumb and slow, yet dangerous in packs when unarmed (and a nub like me).

Frantically getting away, I crossed a small township and as these things always go, another player and his rifle materialized right in front of me. Oh shit! I froze on the spot because approaching strangers is pretty much the most stupid thing anyone will do while intentions are unclear – and intentions are always unclear in DayZ. Like most creatures that inhabit this planet would never dream of just running into each other, you just don’t do that here either. Should you ever form bonds with other players they have been tested beyond all doubt. In DayZ, trust needs to be earned and cooperation justified.

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Friendly! Friendly!!

I managed to raise my arms waiting while the stranger started using proximity chat, the single greatest feature ever added to DayZ:

“Hello. Are you there? Are you okay?”

(At this point I haven’t figured out proxi chat just yet. I keep standing still looking dumb and expecting death by rifle.)

“Are you bleeding? I think you’re losing blood. Can you hear me?”

(I finally figured it out.) “I can hear ya! Hi! Yeah the zombies just got me down that road.”

“I assume you’re fresh, ye? Unarmed? I think I have some spare bandages if you like.”

(Overeager) “Yes I am friendly! I have virtually nothing! And I would really appreciate a bandage!!”

“Okay…..umm Bob, you can come out of the bushes now.”

(That’s when Bob, a second perfectly British gentleman who had been hiding in the bushes behind me, in case I turned out to be not so friendly, emerged.)

This was possibly the most hilarious conversation I’ve ever been involved in with random strangers online. It is also DayZ in a nutshell. That day, I lived and was saved by strangers. That day, I met the good people.

Lessons from DayZ

There is an emotional roller-coaster to DayZ, a ‘rawness’ of the simulation and in extension, basic human interaction both good and bad, that makes for some of the most exciting encounters and meaningful decisions in the world of online gaming today. I will never be a shooter fan but I am full of envy for the tension, terror and exhilaration this seemingly simple game is capable of producing. It’s what MMORPG players like myself dream of: the risky tactical play, the screaming and cheering on vent, the epic wins, the real scares and strong sense for friend or foe. The meaningful rewards and choices that can only come from risk and real chance of loss.

None of this would be possible if DayZ changed its present core mechanics or started imposing too many restrictions. I’m all for different server modes, after all that’s what self-hosting is for, but I love PvP DayZ and hope it will always remain this harsh and thrilling setting of basic social mechanisms. Traveling Chernarus, like Minecraft before it, has made me keenly aware of the things I miss in other MMO sessions –

1) Sharing with your next wo/man
There is an overwhelming sense of community in DayZ’s group play, encouraged by both the scarcity of resources and bag space, as well as omnipresent fear of death (which means starting over naked at a random location). Players can’t hoard and won’t hoard because two armed players are better than one and four are better than two. Even as a completely new player, I had people watch my stuff in DayZ, meet me halfway to re-equip me and make sure I was good on food and drink. It’s been a most humbling experience to have others look out for me in such manner.

2) Constant risk, decisions and consequences
Centered around survival with and against other players, DayZ is a game of endless decisions that often need to happen quickly. Dilemmas abound: Do I cross that public square in broad daylight for a chance of food or do I risk my hunger longer? Do I take a chance at the exposed well or try the popular food store? Do I have my weapon at the ready or do I prefer the faster run speed? Do I talk to that person and risk getting shot? Do I shoot first and risk to be heard? If I get heard, what’s my fastest way out? It never ends and paths lead in all directions.

3) Communication, caution and (self-)awareness
We take so many things for granted in other games – zone chats, grouping tools, location indicators, nametags and colors of allegiance that we have stopped communicating our intentions and wishes precisely. There is no need to act considerately or with caution because our actions don’t tend to affect or harm others, so there is very little in terms of self-awareness, of watching our movement and general behavior in MMOs. DayZ brings back the sign language, the reading cues and the very clear communication: Who are you? What do you want and why are you here? What are you up to? Without nametags indicated, identifying yourself to your buddies becomes a test of its own. In my partner’s clan, allies will ‘wiggle’ when approaching the group and state on voice-comm what they are wearing.

4) Running and screaming in terror
What it says. How much I have missed this!

5) A sense of gratitude
Due to high risk and strong sense for friend or foe, DayZ creates moments of gratitude with ease. In contrast, gratitude is something that is mostly gone from the games I am playing; when resources are plentiful, loot is individual and nothing and no one can really harm or save you, there is less need to rely on others and therefore also less opportunity for gratitude. You could say that’s the nature of all PvE-centric games that don’t tend to pressure-test social mechanics outside of maybe high-end raid content but I’m not sure it needs to be. In any case, I’ve really missed gratitude in my social games and DayZ made me realize it. How ironic that an emotion depending so strongly on community and acts of kindness should exist in a PvP rogue-like a lot more than in PvE enviornments.

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And a beautiful world it is too.

Final Words

While this has become quite a love letter for a game I probably won’t make a main, I believe DayZ deserves our attention and curiosity as far as its less popularly promoted aspects go right now. It would be wrong to dismiss this title over its potential for griefing and asshattery or judge it based only on the most visible forum crowd. Paradoxical as it may sound, DayZ offers a wide spectrum of positive social experiences and chances for cooperation (not to forget creativity and hilarious pranks). Such is the nature of freedom – that it can be applied in any which way. And in my limited experience, it’s group play where DayZ really shines.

Like for other games I’ve played in the past and that fall outside my usual high-fantasy MMORPG bracket, I’ve tried to look for inspiring features and opportunities here (while hiking an awful lot). As far as I’m concerned, DayZ is a rich canvas other social games could borrow some intense colors from while still being in this modest stage of early access. The sun hasn’t even begun to rise over Chernarus yet.

You know Nothing, Jon Snow

At the verge of 2014, my MMO plans for the upcoming year looked vaguely like this:

1. TESO
2. EQN /EQNL
3. Archage / Skyforge huh?
4. probably not Warlords of Draenor
5. certainly not Wildstar

Here’s proof.
One month, a couple of first-hand experiences and developer updates later, the list goes as follows:

1. Wildstar
2. EQN /EQNL
3. maybe Warlords of Draenor (oh my god)
4. TESO when it goes free to play
5. whatever

…So, what am I playing this year?
Ask me again in six months!

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Why do we raid?

While rounding up last weeks numerous posts on multi-classing and writing an article on my private immersion (yeah that’s still gonna happen), I came across Jeromai’s recent post on GW2 and the latest Origins of Madness patch. It made me chuckle.

Jeromai displays a particularly fascinating case of raiding malaise in the sense that he dislikes almost everything about MMO raiding, including its basic nature – many of the inherent challenges and social dynamics that make raiding such an exciting activity for others –

Nor am I terribly keen on the idea of separating oneself from players that are playing poorly on average because it’s easier and more rewarding to be elitist and isolate oneselves, than to lead, coordinate and teach. (Though I recognize that it is a reality of life, and periodically tempting, especially when you can’t take repeating yourself any longer.)[…]My other pet peeve about raid bosses is regarding the clarity of mechanics and gimmicks of whatever it is one is to do.

[…]There’s the waiting.[…]There’s the suffering involved with matching schedules and timezones.[…]And there’s that old bugaboo of needing to rely on other people to perform well while not being able to help them much at all.

Now to be clear, I have suffered from all of the administrative side-effects mentioned by Jeromai for most years of my raiding in WoW. A good while ago, I published an article called “Vanilla Raiding – A Trip Down Memory Lane” reminiscing on all aspects of the insane raiding prep, downtimes and aggravation that was part of vanilla WoW’s competitive endgame. Players joining WoW later are unaware of how much more convenient things have become since. I can sing a hundred songs about the woes of 40man raid coordination that include the most trivial and silly of things – yet, we lost sleep over them at one time or another.

Yet, I love raids. I love the cooperative idea of raids. In answer to Clockwork’s more recent Wildstar 40man worries, yes I still love 40mans too. Since we really don’t know much yet about Wildstar, I’ll focus on WoW which seems to be the general reference anyway: 40mans had a lot of bad in vanilla WoW but if you compare my nostalgia post with today’s situation, the way class and gameplay mechanics have changed drastically over time, much of the old raiding downtimes have been removed completely. That starts with things like having guild agendas and guild banks, diverse and instant raid buffs and boons, dual specs….and ends with the removal of progression hoops such as atunements or resistance gear. Oh and flex raids, thank you.

That doesn’t necessarily make 40mans easier but it sure as hell reduces the more aggravating and redundant aspects all around setting up, recruiting and raiding effectively. Because underneath all the organizational hassle, coordinated large scale raiding is an absolute blast and unlike smaller raid units, allows for a more lenient roster in which it is possible to make up for that weaker player or three. It’s nonsensical that MMOs with few to no mechanisms of social control or pre-selective hoops before endgame, should toss players right into some of the hard-ass, unforgivable encounters that are 10-25mans, the way we know them in WoW.

However, returning to Jeromai’s well argued points on raiding, he also dislikes core characteristics such as the clarity of mechanics (and associated learning tactics) or the need to rely on other people’s performance. Now, if you raised a poll on a given MMO’s raid forum, you would probably find these listed among the primary reasons why many people currently love to raid. It’s a huge challenge to coordinate big raids and yes, it involves time often spent on someone else than yourself. But equally, the reward of beating such high-req encounters is unforgettable – a feeling many raiders live for. As an ex-healing coordinator, I would also add that I’ve always loved the “extra work” that comes with guiding others, improving team work and progressing together.

PUGs and mass zergs have their appeal because they’re all too often the only alternative to setup/balance restrictions and recruitment headaches in MMOs. However for myself, nothing truly beats your own guild’s smooth raid machine that you yourself have oiled together with your mates over months and years. That sense of group progression. I do miss that. A lot.

I got the first twilight draaaaake!! That’s pre-nerf!

There is also a rewarding aspect in learning raid tactics and then getting them to be performed perfectly. I am not a fan of “synchronized swimming” or static combat but it’s worth pointing out how that’s a different type of challenge; not primarily a challenge of finding all new solutions (as most guilds don’t do blind raids) or spontaneous action maybe but one of coordination, balance, communication and perfection. Let’s put it this way: any long-term successful raid guild in WoW is also an achievement in different social skills.

I realize how some of my views presented here appear to clash with more recent preachings on active combat or more playstyle freedom – but at the very core of encounter and combat design, I don’t think these things need be mutually exclusive.  In a world of more flexible raids, with less unproductive downtimes and more dynamic combat, I am all game for large scale guild raiding! The only thing that worries me is time. It still takes time to raid in a dedicated, competitive fashion, that won’t just change completely. And I realize given my current circumstances, I might simply not be eligible for that type of focused play in MMOs anymore and well, that’s okay. That’s on me. We’ll see what future games will do about the casual hardcore.

Instant Class Switches – The Last Bastion of Character Restriction

Some time ago Tesh voiced his support of Allods’ class change coupons in a minipost. While he called it the small and simple things, it is remarkable how this one feature among convenience features is still essentially taboo in most of today’s MMOs. And why is that?

When World of Warcraft started off in 2004, the answer to most player wishes concerning character freedom was NO. Over the years slowly but surely, the strict regiment of a character of one name, one race, one faction, with one same look and tedious respecs, changed completely. Today, there are hardly any final parameters left for an already created character. For a fee, you can not only change your server or your character’s looks but significant allegiances such as faction or race. With WotLK, Blizzard also introduced death knights, offering players not just a new class but instant level 55 character. For the Warlords of Draenor expansion, one instant level 90 per account has already been announced, in an attempt to draw parts of that retired audience back in.

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These guys could all be one character

In the light of such overwhelming flexibility, the question of instant class switches remains unanswered. You would think that in this day and age, where players are not only used to extensive alting and multi-classing in other games (Final Fantasy XI already featured this for the same character in 2002) but adjusting quickly to race -, spec- or faction-related switches, there were no genuine reasons left to prohibit such freedom in WoW or elsewhere.

What does it matter if I choose to go shaman with my priest? Will I not put in my own time to adjust to all the new abilities and have quests and dungeon runs as my harsh teachers? If I ever went back for WoD, boosting my old priest to level 90, I would essentially have to relearn the entire class after all this time. How is that so different? And who doesn’t already have several high-level alts anyway (except for me…), so why not make different classes available on the same character for those who like?

It makes no sense any more. I wonder when they’ll notice.

With a Crying and a Laughing Eye: A Look at GOTYs of 2013 and MMOs for 2014

It’s that time of the year and we are all horribly stressed. Everyone demands things from us at work and they only just remembered, there are trips to plan and if you are very unlucky, a ton of last minute Christmas presents to buy for your more-or-less loved ones. I am looking at my Steam wish list and wonder what to gift myself. It’s quiet right now, outside the world of consoles.

Looking back on a year of gaming, 2013 was as MMO-starved as initially expected. Even Wildstar took a pass at a well-timed launch, eager to make Q2 of 2014 even more unmanageable. Only TESO has finally come forth and snatched the magic date of 04.04.2014, fingers crossed! We shall see – such are the words of wise (and burnt) MMO veterans. I gave up on Guild Wars 2 this summer after the Bazaar of the Four(thousand) Achievements event and I am still stuck at the gates of Moria in LOTRO (edro, edro!). Other than that, I’ve had a look at TERA and found it to be very beautiful and just as flawed. I played some FFXIV:ARR too, only to forget about it. Such was my year of MMORPGs.

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In lieu of many new MMO stories to tell, I am excited for a new year packed with MMO launches and Wildstar isn’t even among them. Here go my most-anticipated MMOs of 2014:

1) The Elder Scrolls Online
While the game looks far from perfect depending on what gameplay video you watch on youtube, it shows all the flaws (ugly character models, clunky UI) of Skyrim – game of games. All things considered, I choose to trust those (as I have no choice here in the EU where no beta keys have been released) who have named it a true Skyrim experience and put my money on TESO for 2014. You can laugh and point fingers when the time comes as I’m sure you will. (I would).

2) Everquest Next & Landmark
Still unsure about how Landmark is going to work and play into EQN, I look forward to some of the design progress SOE intends to take up from GW2. Rallying Calls sound hot and the Adventurer Class finds me mildly excited. Not exactly boundless euphoria (the cartoony graphics are still a major turn-off) but I think we can expect a polished package from SOE, with some unique twists as usual. And if not, well it’s all free to play, right?

3) Archage
Another game to be published by Trion, Archage piqued my curiosity although I can’t quite say why. Maybe it’s because the entire character customization and backgrounds look like ArenaNet had some weekends to spare, or because the game is supposedly this awesome sandbox with 120 classes and non-instanced housing. I don’t care for naval combat but I admit sending other players to prison sounds appealing.

4) Skyforge
Nobody knows much about Skyforge, the fact aside that Team Allods and Obsidian Entertainment (Neverwinter Nights 2) have decided to join forces in developing a new MMO. While they didn’t bother releasing any information in English so far and the only existing “trailer” is a lot of repetitive blah in vibrant colors, I have lots of Allods love to give to this project. All that said, that 2014 launch is highly dubious.

MMOs aside, I look forward to The Witcher 3 (SO MUCH!), Dragon Age Inquisition, Child of Light and Tom Clancy’s: The Division. That last one looks like there might be some splendid coop play to be had and I need to compensate for Destiny not launching on PC.

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This better be good!

As for my GOTYs of 2013

Outside the world of MMOs, 2013 has been a fantastic year for indie gaming. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ve had the greatest fun with smaller titles this year, taking me completely aback and delivering the sort of experiences many AAA-games can only dream of. I’ve also been late to some parties in 2013 which is why not all of my personal GOTYs were actually released this year. Sue me.

1) Don’t Starve
This quirky, dark-humored and deeply complex rogue-like, with its Burton-esque flair and stellar soundtrack, is undoubtedly one of the craziest bangs for the buck of 2013. DS is a polished gem of hilarious proportions and everyone should get it! Nuff said.

2) Dust: An Elysian Tail
My great love of 2013, Dust is every bit the work of love of its tireless creator. It’s a beautiful game packed with retro and indie homage, intuitive and fun combat, deep story and loveable characters, secrets to hunt down (spoiler!) and a stunning soundtrack, making for an easy 12+ hours of gameplay at a ridiculous price. Not enough good things can be said about Dust: AET, indeed.

3) Bioshock Infinite
While much can be debated on behalf of BI’s story, there can be no doubt that it ranks among the greatest AAA-experiences of 2013. Stunning visuals, complex narrative and intriguing characters have made this rail shooter a must-play in my books (and I don’t shoot that often).

4) The Witcher 2
Rather late than never, I am currently still playing the Witcher 2 and have completely fallen in love with its characters and immersive way of story-telling. People have complained about the frequent cut scenes but you’ll hear no complaints from me. The Witcher 2 features some of the best dialogue I’ve ever seen in an RPG, a carefree way of making choices and beautiful, atmospheric settings (that to be fair, could be more completely accessible). Oh, and dragons!

5) LOTRO (my MMO saving grace!)
Impossibly late to this one, I started playing LOTRO between December 2012 and January 2013 and have been paying subscriptions ever since. Even if I’m complaining about the experience grind before Moria, LOTRO is probably among the Top 3 MMORPGs I have ever played, with hands down the most immersive MMO world I ever had the privilege to travel. Much of this is thanks to things like perfect scale and sound effects which we have yet to see in other games. Also: player music!

Looking back, I almost feel a little sad parting with 2013 now but nothing that a great new MMO can’t fix. Beware 2014, such weight already lieth on thy shoulders! Do we dare to unleash our expectations – or should we play it safe, for now?

P.S. I’ve played ‘Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons’ few days after writing this article and it is officially added to my GOTYs of 2013!

NBI: Armchair Game Designer. Or how that other MMO keeps ruining my Gameplay Experience

One of the two publicly elected topics of this year’s NBI talkback challenge is “armchair game designer” and several bloggers have already posted some fine entries all around ideal MMO design, mechanics, must-haves and wishlists. While I have some thoughts on the second topic of guilds too, it was the armchair that won my vote on the poll.

With few exceptions, most MMO players are rather outspoken hobby game designers of sorts. It’s quite remarkable how passionately and critically MMO design gets discussed up and down our blogs, message boards and other social media, compared to other genres where games are rarely debated with comparable stakes over longer periods of time. Of course that is hardly surprising if we consider how MMOs are these living worlds, made to last for years and unite players of all colors and playstyles under one banner. MMOs are multi-genre the way other titles never have to be and they do not only need to attract a wider audience but keep an audience interested that is bound to change tastes over the course of time. I could imagine easier tasks.

And yet, naturally I’ve done it too and keep doing it; every and now and then, I muse over how much better I could design certain game mechanics or how my ideal MMO is supposed to play. A bit of WoW’s polish, a good chunk of LOTRO’s approach to world and lore – a mix of Tera’s and GW2’s combat – loot from Rift and crafting from UO – oh and while I’m at it, the Arisen from Allods, please. That’s usually how these things go, until we have the perfect product straight from the great bazaar of mix’n match –
TheHomer

It’s tempting to believe that players could improve game design and mechanics – and for isolated instances they probably could. Yet, when it comes to creating the ideal game, I’ve a feeling my persistent yet fuzzy ideas and dreams have increasingly become a hindrance to my enjoyment of MMOs both present and future.

How “that other MMO” keeps ruining all the fun

The longer we’ve played MMOs, the more experiences we’ve accumulated in a particular genre, the stronger our inner armchair designer is getting. Those early months, maybe years of awe and wonder have finally passed. We know how this stuff is supposed to work and make us feel. Why can’t they do it already? That’s when that “other game” starts growing on our mind, starts to appear and manifest ever so subtly. That’s when the stages of carefree enjoyment and exploration become shorter and shorter in every subsequent MMO we play.

We compare. That’s a pretty human trait and in our personal lives too, comparing ourselves into misery is something most of us excel at. We compare less in beginnings simply because there’s less to compare to. Once that changes, our critical eye becomes ever more eager, faster and more merciless. I would wager that assessing a new MMO takes veterans nowadays a few hours at best, if even that.

I am guilty of that as anyone and it strikes me how many MMO debates and arguments aren’t so much criticizing actual design as they’re “opinion battles”. Whenever players demand that GW2 – a game that is fundamentally based on the idea of mass outdoor events and setup flexibility – should have a holy trinity or remove the silly zergfests already, that’s not GW2 being particularly broken but them simply preferring “that other game”. Every time WoW is bashed for cartoony graphics (I have done it) or welfare epics, somebody has stopped seeing WoW and started to see “that other game”. How often are we not actually criticizing bugs, imbalances or broken design but really just saying “why can’t this game be another game”? This goes for changes too: even if WoW has changed over the years, I’m sure many quitters would have been fine with changes they personally approved of.

To clarify, there’s nothing wrong with wanting different games or leaving an MMO. In fact that would be preferable to some of the ranting we sometimes see on official forums.  There’s nothing wrong either with arguing pros and cons of preferences, in fact as bloggers we do much of that. I find creative ideas interesting and passionate discussions entertaining, as long as we remember the rules of subjectivity vs. objectivity. The older I get, the harder I personally find keeping one (consistent) position. While I still have my preferences and undoubtedly want developers to cater to me as much as the next person, I can empathize with other views and playstyles. I used to be a different player in 2004 than I am in 2013.

And the longer I’ve been a traveler on this road, I find my inner armchair designer more and more of a nuisance. It keeps me from enjoying current games for what they are. It keeps dangling a carrot in front of me I can never reach; a carrot of something more, something better just around the corner. Add to this, that I don’t really know what “that other game” is as it seems to change gradually. I’m not convinced that if I ever got to see it go live, that it would actually be a good thing. Would I play this forever? Or would I not much rather tire of it the way I always do?

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Alas, dear armchair – this is where we say goodbye. I’m not saying I won’t have a seat on other blogs but when it comes to you and me, we must part ways in the future. There’s a real game or two just around the corner I intend to enjoy and make the most of. I’m not sure it will be perfect, given that perfection is an endless process, but it’s safe to say I’ll have no use for dusty, old furniture there. I’m sure you understand!

P.S. Speaking of furniture, I hope TESO gets player housing à la Wildstar! (ooops)