Category Archives: Simulation

Back to Minecraft (and my first video documentary!)

After the longest break since my first, very intense Minecraft spree over a year ago, it was decided last week, somewhat collectively out of the blue, that a revisit to Mojang’s prodigy was due. Truth be told, my absence from the game has had much to do with the unrestrained pace of my first encounter; I was completely and utterly hooked to MC for some weeks, spending nights in front of the PC exploring its depths (and creating my big ass castle dream). As a result, I burned out too quickly on what was still a limited game at the time, struggling with pre-release issues. Thus the last block of cobble stone set in my castle wall marked the ending of that first chapter.

But oh, have the times moved forward in Minecraft! With the arrival of the (approved) Spoutcraft client, Bukkit server mods, myriads of fan-written plugins and customization features, right down to some amazing and downloadable adventure maps, Minecraft has burst into what can only be described as (even more) baffling heights of community effort and player creativity. All the while, Mojang have kept improving and adding to the game, offering even more possibilities and freedoms to shape your unlimited, virtual space.

With great freedom comes great variety. While there are no default player classes in Minecraft, the game certainly brings out all sorts of playstyles and character types in its audience – from nutty engineers, to brave explorers, peaceful settlers and diligent carpenters. There are even MMO servers now with all the textbook MMO/RPG features you can think of, for both PVE and PVP, in a sword&sorcery, steampunk or zombie apocalypse themed world (where poisonous rain keeps falling…which you could’ve known if you actually read the tutorial).

I’ve visited a few public MMO servers and was duly impressed; after being run through a detailed starter/tutorial area, I was amazed to see item shops, teleport hubs, vendor and questgiver NPCs, PvP mini-games and more. Maybe a small detail but no less enjoyable for a soundtrack nut like myself: any designated area in Minecraft can now be attributed its own background music, hallelujah!

Public MMO servers

This is where it gets particularly interesting (and scary) because a “Minecraft MMO” can potentially offer the kind of tools and impact the current MMO market can still only dream of (known sandboxes included). It’s also where we see best how gameplay, fun and freedom trump everything else, top graphics first and foremost. The biggest woes of public MC servers right now are stability and bandwidth related, which is where big business MMO ventures will always have the upper hand.

Still, if a visit to Minecraft was highly recommended before, by now it is an absolute must! If you have any time to spare between your MMOs, RPGs and other games (and you know you do), have a look at MC! You will never install any game faster than this one.

My first omg-video documentary

Starting off on a fresh, customized server with friends, I quickly realized how behind I was on MC’s current flora and fauna, which inspired a small project called “the underwater greenhouse”. I am also still working on a much bigger scale hedge maze challenge but that’s for another time.

At completion, it struck me how I always wanted to give video commentaries with fraps another go (back when I was playing WoW my old PC was hopeless) which is how my first ever Minecraft (and for that matter first ever videogame documentary) came to be. In hindsight, I should probably have rehearsed this more…but I am a lazy person and easy to satisfy.

And yes, I am fully aware that everyone can hear my voice now. Oh noes!

Creating this video was actually so simple and fun that I am definitely doing more in the future. Maybe next time I’ll also manage to make less silly noises with my lips.

Quick Fraps how-to

Without exaggeration, making a video commentary like the one above is as easy as blogging. I was surprised how simple a tool fraps really is, with minimal setting up involved. My smartphone is more complicated than fraps! Together with a youtube account and two more, free tools, you are fully equipped to create your own gaming videologs which are lots of fun to do. And here’s how:

– Get a full version of fraps to be able to record more than 30secs videos
– Capture your ingame video (I use custom 15fps setting and record voice via headset)
Watch this guide on using Xvid and Vdub for file compression
– Upload your compressed video to your youtube channel

Works like a charm! And you can add extras like a title pane or annotations with youtube later. I love learning new things by myself, so it’s not unlikely I’ll look into Sony Vegas or similar video enhancement software soon. So I guess that’s one more way how Minecraft can boost your creativity!

[GW2] Of Lost Shores and Found Hopes

In 2001 when I was still for the most part playing console games, I became enamored with a so-called social simulation game called Animal Crossing on Nintendo’s Gamecube. It was the first of its kind for me and slightly ahead of a time of many more social sim, build-your-house farmville-whatnot type of games to come – even if not necessarily on console. AC was offline and it was mostly a game about building your own little animal town and community, planting different types of plants, collecting bugs and butterflies and digging up fossils for your personal museum. It was typical in triggering collector’s drive but rather evolutionary and unique on several other accounts which kept me playing with a passion. I am not one for pure Sims games; I love decorating my house in Skyrim as much as the next person but I won’t spend weeks doing that same thing in any game.

What AC did in remarkable ways however was introducing a sense of real time to a classic console audience grown with offline and limited session gameplay. Not just that, AC had unqiue (!) events, impact and a sense of punishment that was completely unknown in that time and space continuum. It blew my mind at the time with its merciless “internal clock”. Just few examples of what would regularly happen to you in AC:

    • Numerous seasonal events to be celebrated with the town folk. The events were announced in advance, either on the town board or by gossip you needed to overhear. The events were entirely restricted to a specific date and time frame synched to your console’s system clock.
    • Unpredictable one-time (or very rare) offers of certain NPCs such as the mayor, to re-arrange roads or bridges for you. Appointments where you were ordered to be “at the beach at 5pm next Tuesday evening”.
    • When neglected for too long, your town would be overtaken by wild plant life, your house needed cleaning from vermin and the townspeople would move away for good (sending you angry goodbye letters or rant at you for having been away and never call). AC’s NPCs had the uncanniest AI in general; they would build different types of relationships with you depending on what you did, how you spoke to them or what “you ONCE promised me!”.
    • If trying to trick “game progress” by resetting the console without saving your game, you would be visited by “Mr. Resetti” at your doorstep. While this angry mole would let you off with a very long speech about integrity and morals the first time around, punishment for such behaviour would increase drastically with every consecutive reset. (He actually once repainted my house in puke green!)

…While this might sound trivial by today’s standards, it was absolutely HUGE in 2001, given its platform. I actually put down a note in my school agenda back then so I wouldn’t miss meeting erm, “my town mayor at the beach next Tuesday evening”. Within two weeks I had my room mates thoroughly hooked to AC (and how glad I was the town had room for four player houses).

Today, I think back very fondly on this particular sim title. It introduced a sense of time and impact in a way that only few games did with such limited means. And that gets me to the core of this slowly unfolding argument, on why things like unpredictable or rare events are exciting in games and why MMO players keep talking about missing impact or punishment all the time. The common denominator behind all these features – impact, consequence, punishment, you-name-it – is time. It’s a sense of time passing and progressing. It is what gives things meaning, not just in games but actually in our short-span lives too. All these different features are mere consequences and side-effects of a notion of time flowing; “impact and punishment” are always after-effects. They cannot exist without introducing progressive time in an MMO. They cannot exist in limbo.

Time adds meaning to things because it creates a before and after. This is fundamental for any game world that is designed to simulate, feel alive and authentic. A world where randomness, consequence and lasting effect exist. A world where memorable stuff happens, events happen.

The amazing Mr. Resetti

On the Lost Shores event

I’ll not bore my regular readers by pointing out again how much I applaud ArenaNet for daring to be different and sticking to one-time events after this Halloween. Apparently the outcry after last night has been significant once more but it’s my very personal hope that three time’s going to be a charm and these loud players will have given up after Christmas, moving on to other MMOs catering to their every wish and personal real-life agenda. One more thing I love about a subscription-less MMOs in that context: not feeling the same pressure to constantly “appease the irritated”, turning game design and direction into loudest-whiner-whack-a-mole.

On to the Lost Shores, I was actually there for the full thing. Mixed is a very mild way of calling an experience that I would otherwise describe as two thirds horribly boring, repetitive grind and one third epic encounter. Now, I don’t know how many players ANet had in mind when they designed their one-time scenario, but I happened to be on an overflow with about 40 more players in that same spot. And for a good 2.5 hours it was painful drudgery, as we slowly escorted Mother Karka across a map swarming with the same bunch of normal, veteran and champion bugs coming at us over and over, wave after wave after wave, while the world’s slowest progress bar mocked us in the right-hand corner of our screens. 50% of the time players were ressing each other, which is one of the remarkable things that keep happening without fail in GW2 – players paying attention to one another. Other than that though, there was wayyy too much of the same…and after two hours it started showing. The “raid” lost focus and got increasingly chaotic. Some players quit, no doubt finding a good night’s sleep (Sunday night too) more appealing than another wave of one hundred karka. I have to admit I was tempted to leave myself but stubbornness to see this through got the better of me (hardcore raider remnant, no doubt).

Silithus – I did not ever wish to see thee again! The Lost Shores came awfully close to those bug nightmares of yore. While I cannot complain about lag like some other players did, I am once more marveling at some of the design choices ANet made in preparation for this event. How many players out there would seriously find several hours of more or less the same bug-slaying remotely appealing or at least epic? Was the event actually designed with smaller groups in mind, banned to overflow servers? Could there not have been (better) ways to address group size and pacing issues?

Like with GW2’s dungeons (on which I have my personal observations to share soon), I am cringing at the discrepancy that is “a good idea vs. execution” in some of ANet’s gameplay and design choices. I am starting to wonder if this company actually still believes in the old fashioned virtue of suffering? Already the badly designed Clock Tower event for Halloween showed this ambiguity between what constitutes difficulty in games vs. what is actually just bad, lazy or broken design (even if it results in some particularly torture-proof players feeling horribly challenged and thus rewarded after attempt 501).

And I get it: mass events and zergs can be lots of fun and certainly feel epic in scale. I’ve no issue with such events in GW2, in fact I find them quite enjoyable. I could’ve lived with one part of the Lost Shores event being a zerg against the same few bugs, but there was nothing epic in that as the night stretched before me and all I could think of was to “get this done with”. Maybe I just put my expectations too high?

On the bright side (yeah there was some of that) our little troupe of the persistent found back to a hysterical sense of humor in zone chat, which is always one of the nicer social side-effects in MMOs – that “bonding through pain” effect when things look dire or simply beyond reason. There were some great laughs later into the night although I doubt the developers would’ve shared any of it. There were also some parts of the battle that were more challenging and fun (such as the veteran karka “steamroll”) and for those who actually made it past the final battle there was – wait for it – some nice loot! I couldn’t believe my eyes when the chest dropped several exotic armor pieces, a 20-slot bag and exotic accessory upgrade!

This must have been the first time in GW2 when I actually got a useful reward for doing something special – especially hard or long or painful. So just maybe ANet are learning their lessons step by step as we go along and sooner or later we’ll not only get to see epic scale, one-time events with good loot, but also enjoyable combat with great stories to tell on top? As long as things are going somewhere, one can always hope!