Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bringing the Social Back?

Had originally intended for this blog to be called 'Anti-Social Gaming', it was supposed to have been ironic, how I had come from 2 years of playing WoW and had so little to show for it. It was really having a major effect on my life and how much I felt it was a diversion from all the negativities and doubts that have filled my life for several years now. One of the straws that broke the proverbial camels back was sitting for several hours in a Naxx raid with a PuG from mostly the same guild and people were barely tolerating each other and all for filling out gaps in their gear. So this blog was intended as an outlet for examining how anti-social it had all become for me, (hence the new moniker of 'Dark-Adjusted Eye'), but also as a form of therapy yeah I admit I've social anxiety not just shyness, having fallen into a trap it was time to step back and look at things from a new perspective. And just recently several people involved with MMOs have been looking at the same issue, starting here, continuing here and here. Massively picked up on the theme too.

It's an important discussion, but one that's steeped in nostalgia too for past games, 'Everquest' is mentioned a lot but seeing as my MMO experience starts with WoW can't comment on it much, suffice to say it was probably more to do with the community than the design of the game, it being more akin to a small town of like minded individuals willing to share the experience than the gated-communities of modern MMOs where even within guilds can feel very unwelcoming.

But why aren't MMOs like social clubs where people with a common interest can meet and play together, it's a lot to do with the anonymity of the interactions. Many commenters have already talked about creating Facebook like profiles for the MMO players, even to link an MMO profile to any other social networking sites would be great. Would amend that with something I'd think even more important, an itinerary, where you could schedule in what you plan to do each day, saying what areas you plan to quest in and what times, maybe even listing some of the important quests you want to do, then an advance LFG tool matching players. That's really what it boils down to, bringing strangers together in a helpful way to accomplish goals. Adding players identified in this manner to a temporary contacts list.

Like Keen's assertion that MMOs can't be more social without looking to past games, and take it a step further and create a world based on our distant past such as getting rid of currency and only having a barter system, something completely divorced from modern life and these notions of always making gold and the ridiculousness of 'vendor trash', it's a fantasy genre after all so why is there a need for a constant wage with everything done in the game world, it only breeds greed and selfishness.

Think the most radical idea along those lines is to remove regional chat or any form of chat where you can not see the player, but still allowing people to IM/tweet people on their friends/temporary contacts list, so bye-bye general chat, bye barrens chat and good riddance to trade with it's inanities like 'Dirge' and 'Anal[...some random ability linked...] spam. I'm thinking about how this would make players feel about the zones and areas they find themselves at any particular time, and would hope they notice the other people around them more, it would become necessary to achieve a rewarding playtime to fill out the itinerary, and actually make use of the suggested contacts without a LFG channel, a twitter like interface would be great too for updating it as you went about it. I'm really drawn to the idea of being out in the wilderness and meeting a friendly face, even if it is just to wave and then continue along my path, but what if you needed to ask directions, because you couldn't spam chat and hope for an informative reply? For one thing it would encourage more interactions at quest hubs, if something wasn't clear you could ask the other players hanging around so you're certain of the task before setting out, of course only if you're not of mind to check online for the solution.

This is quite hard to surmise, but the best social experiences for me is ending up somewhere you never expected to end up and all because of someone you'd met, here's an example from Keen about a memorable journey in Everquest. Your playtime can be planned with an itinerary but player's still need to be willing to take chances along the way .

Monday, July 13, 2009

Edge's 'Time Extend'

Back when I used to read Edge magazine religiously, this was my favourite feature 'Time Extend'. Here's the link to two of those articles that they've condensed for online but still very good reads, think these might have been the first and second game featured in that series, and two of my most remembered games 'Majora's Mask' and 'Eternal Darkness', don't think those particular issues are still around due to my flat been flooded twice in the last year and them occupying a low shelf (you'd have thought I learned my lesson after the first time). Miss reading Edge every month, playing WoW constantly lessened my desire for other games, resubscribing to Edge is a good start in getting interested again because they can write so evocatively about games, as displayed above.

Where to Next?

Just coming to my month's stint in LOTRO and trying to decide where to go next. For the most part have enjoyed it, we'll not mention the Ered Luin incident again, had the opportunity to try the Bree-land questing before and after the recent patch, and the improvement was immense, much more engaging. Surprisingly despite the alt explosion (totally necessary to find my main, should have done this with WoW when I first started would've saved so much annoyance) I was able to settle on one class that I liked and it wasn't the one I started first (Warden).

So yeah I do enjoy playing support/buff classes but they must have good consistency in character, hence the Shaman ranting previously. The Captain class is a nice conceit but without someone to buddy up with it wasn't as 'fun' as it could be, pointing out tactics only for myself did look a bit silly. Was missing the totems a bit, but planting a banner was a nice alternative not so much having a faithful 'pet' to follow me around. Don't think I'll go for another month in LOTRO, but would wait til the revamp occured in Lone-Lands or North Downs or that I got a much better computer, (also the reason I can't try WAR out for a month, did the trial a while back before the big 'live expansion').

Was eager to try AOC but they're stopped offering the trial to new players while they have that welcoming back of previous players, damn them just as I wanted to give it a try. And WoW is out of the question til patch 3.2 lands, me thinks a break is in order...?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Redefining MMOs: Story and Lore (focusing on SW:TOR)

Having recently just completed KOTOR, one thing about Bioware's stated features for their new MMO is that they want to include companions in the game. Sure the companions in KOTOR told engaging story and often times held a mirror up to the motives of the player character but that was to be expected from playing most of Bioware's previous solo RPGs. But what's bothering me is this seems a crutch for actually trying something new and socially orientated...(in reply to the Massively article)

Would love to see them develop a system of approval/disproval, and trust/distrust. Say two player's party up and enter a scenario, like the one aboard the Sith ship described at E3. One player taking the lead and initiating dialogue, is the other player just going to sit by listening, or can they have the ability to interject into the dialogue or even break off the dialogue for some action? Could there be some way to show your approval or disproval for this injection or interuption, and as a result your trust in the offending player drops. And if trust drops so low, it bans the offender from entering into further dialogue, having agressive abilities neutered or left outside the area where important dialogue occurs. It does seem unfeasible but how else are two or more players going to be able to shape the dialogue and events in SW:TOR or any such future story-orientated game? This trust/distrust system could also affect each player's powers or combined abilities in a meaningful way, say distrust hampers them from reaching their full potential.

From what has been seen in the comic and that scenario mentioned, a pair of players might be the most important group in the game, and that might be a necessary decision that Bioware decides because as soon as you add in more players it's going to become a muddle. Someone else in the Massively post said they foresee the rise of small group over raids, and I'd definitely agree with that, especially in story and lore orientated games as Bioware promises.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Why Do MMORPG Successes Feel So Hollow

I do a quest and get a reward, supposedly that's what keeps me occupied for hundreds of somewhat menial tasks levelling up in an MMORPG. It's a pity that thousands, even millions have done or will do the same quest and received the same reward as me, no unique hero am I it seems. There's something going on there that anybody rational or intelligent should be able to fathom, so what is it about an MMORPG's system of continual rewards that has conditioned me to do this long drawn out grind, starting with WOW and falling into the same patterns with LOTRO...

And don’t think it stops at levelling either, endgame in WOW is one continual grind, running heroics, raids for gear to be able to move on to the next tier is the exact same. It does have one difference though, skill is supposed to improve with each conquest but why the need for repetition. In a single player game, one time is enough then maybe another time for the fun. Once the challenge has been overcome, why then must raiders enter 'farming' mode, same encounters, same core personnel, and god help anything interrupts that efficient process of repetition. Tried it, hated it and don’t want any further part of it, so not going to dwell anymore on this aspect.

Ok so what does this reward fuelled grind achieve, not a whole lot on the face of it. It does nothing to define in game character, other than demonstrating subservience to the whims and vagaries of strangers, who happen to be the laziest, most demanding people ever created. For the most part it doesn’t increase skill, time and alternatives will overcome most obstacles in the way to the level cap. Funny that for the most part grouping isn’t rewarded at all, exact same rewards for doing a quest solo or grouped, creativity isn’t rewarded either. Maybe it's as simple as that, the rewards make the grind more palatable, and that's a trap many fall into, me included.

Changing tack for a moment by looking at the notion of successes. Success is something that unknown to many people is being continually justified by our thought stream even if we are paying attention or not. Paying attention to it, can have a very powerful effect, even to lift someone out of chronic depression, and I should know. By paying attention I mean observing successes and questioning what it was that led to them, whether it was our own skills and abilities, luck, being in the right place at the right time. Does questing and rewards in WOW and others suppress that it in some way? (staring unblinkingly at the screen perhaps)That's the question I'd really like to know the answer. But it must be bad to ignore our skills in life (like reasoning, socialising...) for interacting with game systems of mindless and inconsequential advancement.

Do MMORPGs reward successes that aren’t worth rewarding and don't contribute to personal happiness and enjoyment? (hah, posing the right question is hard)