Podzilla 1985

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It's the end of the world as we know it...every single time...

Quick blog today before breakfast.

I was just reading the plot for the new Guild Wars 2 game and, would you believe, it apparently takes place in a shattered world of destruction and violence?

Let me say this - I enjoyed the first Guild Wars. I didn't think it was the best MMO out, or even the best FREE MMO out, but it was enjoyable. The problem I had with it, and you'll come to find its a problem I have with lots of MMO's, is that the world was supposed to have this great history and setting, but most of it was destroyed and crumbled.

That's fine and all, but then I read about the sequel which is set 250 years after the original game. AGAIN, the world is under fire and a miserable place to exist.

Why is it MMO's always go the route of "EVRYTHING IZ VIOLENTS!!!" and give us a shell of a world to play in? Part of the reason I love WoW so much is because you have various kingdoms to explore and a world to live in, not just survive in.

I know the old doomsday switch has been a vital part of RPG's for as long as they've existed, but these aren't simple single player games where your character is the be all/end all of heroes, and these games aren't supposed to end a few hours later once you've "beaten it."

No, these are supposed to be living, breathing, virtual worlds of wonder and excitement. Why does it have to be doom and gloom all of the time?

It seems like the only online RPG's that don't drop me in the middle of some kind of war are the Eastern MMO's, with their far too happy upbeat anime graphics that just don't speak to me like they did when I was a confused teen looking for something to belong to.

I personally would like to see a return to the kind of MMO's where you felt like you were in another world, not another world constantly on the brink of destruction. Ultima Online had in game events where the world was threatened, and it even lost a whole city to chaos once. But it didn't happen as soon as you logged on! You didn't live in the ruins of Sosaria your entire virtual life. It was a rare occurrence, and it made you feel like you were apart of something special.

Warcraft is doing it with the next expansion, Cataclysm. Of course, WoW has been around for years now and its awesome to see the world I've adventured in since release change because of the war I've been fighting in for years to protect Stormwind, the massive city of righteousness (not the ruins of Stormwind, or the one tiny village left somewhere on the map).

So I ask you developers, why do you hate the world so much? Have we become so bloodthirsty as players that we can't live in a peaceful world that has the potential for conflict? Do we need to be forced to kill others at all times and not waste our days with non murderous activities?

Maybe we shouldn't point fingers at the ones making these games. After all, products are usually modified to fit the tastes of the consumer.

Maybe we should look in the mirror and ask ourselves some questions.

Monday, September 07, 2009

MMORPG Doomsdays and Stale Bread

My last blog stirred up some responses, especially on my Facebook page.

A response from our dear friend Jack McNeil got me thinking about the reality of online RPG's, and the goals companies set for themselves that are so far from reality they're riding unicorns to work.

There is an evil out there that, if you listen to the living doomsday clocks that plague MMORPG.com, is causing destruction of the genre we all love so much.

I'm looking at you here, super evil mega corporation Blizzard and your genre defining/destroying World of Warcraft. Blizzard is to the Shinra of this industry, and every new MMO that pops up are potential Cloud Strifes in the eyes of many players.

Everyone wants Blizzard numbers. They all want to be riding that multi-million player count and raking in the big dough. Where 200,000 players was once enough to make you top dog, now its considered a "failure." Warcraft has upped the bar significantly and told all other comers to bring their A+ game.

That's all well and good, right? Competition breeds excellence. It worked for wrestling during the WCW/WWF wars, didn't it? Before WCW (and lets be honest, the New World Order) came along the WWF was just a cartoon collection of insulting storylines and embarrassing characters. Not at all like they are today, of course. It was big, of course. I was a wrestling fan before I could remember caring about anything else. But even I can admit that wrestling was a guilty pleasure, something to be enjoyed only by those who "got it."

And then came along WCW, with their hip storylines and mass amounts of money to spend on the best talent (And Scott Steiner). Eric Bischoff and his people at Turner changed the face of the game completely. The WWF, in more of a dire situation than anyone really knew at the time, was forced to up their game, retake their title, and stand valiantly at the top of the food chain once more. The fans benefited the most. Ratings spiked, merchandise soared off of shelves, and wrestling was suddenly the hippest thing since sliced bread (or its sequel, Sliced Bread 2:Electric Boogaloo.) <---- Mr. Show reference. Look it up.

Let me break it down for you -

WCW=World of Warcraft.

WWF=Every other MMO of all time.

Very similar paths. Before WoW MMO's were just kind of there. They were popular in the right circles, but lacked any true mainstream power other than the legends of "Evercrack." Ultima Online was a great game and will truly go down as the greatest phenomenon I've ever had the honor of being apart of. But how many people did you know that played UO, or at the very least, played it so vocally? At the time the term "Multi Massive Online Role Playing Games" were reserved for the nerdiest of nerds. They were for people who couldn't find enough other nerds to do table top roleplaying, so they found a virtual outlet for their nerd events.

Once the juggernaut called World of Warcraft came along that all changed. Ozzy Ozbourne is pimping out World of Warcraft on television, along with other...superstars like William Shatner, Mr. T, and even Jean Claude Van Damme if you're lucky enough to watch foreign TV. Games like WoW, and especially WoW, are now as popular as console gaming, which itself has seen a surge in popularity and mainstream notoriety thanks to the Nintendo Wii.

MMO's are coming out every single month and at last count they numbered in the triple digits.

So what is this plague that so many people are afraid of?

Everyone expects "the next big thing" to come and knock that evil Blizzard off its pedestal. Those who don't come out of the gate with the most well tuned, superbly polished, million + account base are deemed failures immediately and all of the "in the know" players wait patiently for the game to close its doors.

Well you arrogant little pricks, I'd like to see you do better. I've yet to see the uber MMO compilation from all of the holier than thou jackasses that like to sing about the destruction of Warcraft, yet revel in the supposed "failure" of those who challenge the throne.

And that, my friends, brings me to my most important point. Most of these games that are coming out will never reach the 1 million mark, much less topple an industry giant like Warcraft. And that should in no way take away from the enjoyability of these games. When players expect titles to take down WoW, publishers and dreamers can only hope to compete by copying. That's why every game you see now is slapped with a "WoW Clone" sticker before it can even see retail shelves.

And to be honest, yes, they are in their own way WoW clones. Just like WoW took bits and pieces of games before it to make an extremely well polished online RPG.

No game will ever beat WoW by BEING WoW. If I want to play World of Warcraft, I'll play World of Warcraft. And I don't care if you base the game on a beloved story (Lord of the Rings) or gussy it up to look like the classiest of whores (Aion), if I'm going to kill X number of something and retrieve X number of something else I'm going to do it in Azeroth, where I know I can do it the best.

Star Wars Galaxies was a great game that felt the pressure and changed its game to try and steal some of WoW's player base. What happened? One of the most infamous moments in gaming history that caused a mass exodus from the virtual world and delivered a blow so hard to SOE's reputation that it has yet to recover so many years later.

Stop worrying about competing and start concentrating on innovating. If you can't beat them at their own game, and my God I promise you won't, change the game.

Isn't it about time for the next New World Order?

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Realization or overreaction?

As I sat motionless and dead at the counter at my local Gamestop (where you can pre-order your copy of Modern Warfare 2!), beaten down by nearly two weeks straight of working while my lord suffered through live infomercials in Vegas, I noticed my game adviser (with an attitude) Theo flipping through the pages of the new Champions Online strategy guide we had gotten in.

Ol' Theo (http://www.myspace.com/nightfirex AKA shameless plug #2) and I had both been playing Champions and were indeed having a good time. But he seemed perplexed, and I inquired as to the complexity of his perplexionary confusedment. He didn't know what kind of powers he wanted to pump into his would be Superman, or as Theo is a young black male, one of the other African American superheroes in popular culture. You know, like Storm, Ultimate Nick Fury, Luke Cage....that one Green Lantern.....or...uh... Steel?

Remember, Shaq played him in one of those movies Shaq did on his whirlwind tour of acting. You might also remember Kazaam from that time period. I could do a rapping genie joke, but that horse ain't gonna get any deader.

Anyway, Theo was trying to figure out how to get the most bang for his buck. He was mixing and matching his powers to become just the most ultimate bad ass since the hero from the new blockbuster Gamers, which will surely do for Gerard Butler what Hulk did for Ang Lee.

I listened to his near 3 hour explanation of what he was going for, and in between naps I realized that this entire genre has just left me in the dust. I felt like Homer Simpson, sifting through the local CD store looking for some classic bands and wondering when he got so lost.

I've been playing MMORPG's for a good 11-12 years now. I started with Ultima Online, back when the concept of graphical online RPG's was still in its trial years. Back then we'd argue about whether or not a katana or a halberd was better for fighting. We didn't call it "pwning" and we ddn't call the people we fought "noobs." Those terms, along with "carebear," themepark," and "sandbox" weren't pop culture yet, and hadn't pissed me off to the point of nearly turning my back on the whole genre altogether.

Over the years the paradigm definitely shifted, and while item based "themepark" (shudder) MMO's certainly became all the rage thanks to games like Everquest and World of Warcraft, I didn't feel too overwhelmed by the mathematical influence stats would have on these games.

I ignored stats through most of the games I played. I spent years in Final Fantasy XI and never made the kind of food I ate a priority like other players. I didn't go insane trying to pick the exact gear/class combos to make the best character to play. I played because I loved Final Fantasy and the thought of being in that world made the kid in me that had stood with Cloud, Squall, Zidane, and to a much lesser extent Tidus excited. As time grew on I came to realize that it wasn't about having fun and being whatever I wanted to be. It was about being what other people needed me to be to squeeze the most XP out of that particular party session. I wasn't having a good time anymore.

I think I've played just about every MMO available. From UO, EQ, Star Wars Galaxies and Anarchy Online through Ragnarok, Perfect World, Rohan, up to City of Heroes, FFXI, and the World of Warcraft. And I'm pretty sure everything in between.

The games have definitely progressed in terms of graphics and volume, but also in becoming mind numbing chores of stat boosting and optimization.

In Ultima you had metal armor, cloth armor, and leather armor. In Champions Online you have so many different combinations that I don't know where to begin tailoring my character. After listening to Theo explain his reasoning to me, suddenly the big chested cute blond girl with the telepathy powers didn't seem so cool. She couldn't solo very well as it was and closer to end game she'd probably be group reliant.

She wasn't a super hero anymore. She was a statistic.

Suddenly I felt like a statistic too. I'm 27 years old and it was the first time I had ever really felt like I was out of the loop. That's not to say age plays a part in it, as Theo is actually a little older than I am.

But I had been designing this character based on the image in my head of a Jean Grey-esque vixen who would use her mental powers to defeat Dr. Destroyer's treachery. Now I'm wondering if I've gimped her. And, if I have, what's the point of playing?

I told my boss during my interview "if you're not trying to be the best, why even try?"

Should I take my own advice? Is it about having fun, or being the best you can be? What if being the best isn't fun?

It might be time to hang up my virtual boots.

And that's a scary thought.