Archive for the ‘Exemplary Games’ Category

Looking back over some of the posts on the blog I see that I wrote several anticipating the releases of The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2, including one called “Everything we know about MMORPGs is about to change. . .or is it?” which looked at the way both games were claiming to bring revolutionary innovations to the genre. Given that both games have now been out for a while and I’ve played both of them it seems only appropriate to ask: how well are we coping with the Revolution?

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A few months ago, I wrote about the popular mod turned indie game, Dear Esther, which I believed took many good steps toward reviving the interactive story experience as a genre, but was somewhat disjointed or perhaps misguided in its methods.  Dear Esther was a game with several great elements.  It had a good story premise.  It had beautiful visuals with a very loosely defined aesthetic to go with the ambiguous plot line.  It had good mechanics, though I don’t think the game took full advantage of them.  Today, I want to talk about To the Moon which in my opinion is pretty close to what an interactive story should be.  (more…)

Star Wars: The Old Republic

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been encouraged lately by the thought that even though the world of game design has, on the whole, proven stubbornly resistant to learning from its mistake (mainly due to a collective memory that makes an ADHD ant appear to be a fount of oracular wisdom) some improvement is nevertheless possible.  I’ve been quite impressed with the Bioware’s preparations to try and ensure that the launch of the massively hyped Star Wars: The Old Republic will not be an unmitigated disaster.

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There are many mysteries in life to which we will never, ever find a satisfactory answer: why Wall Street continues to make money hand over fist in the middle of a recession, how baseball replaced watching paint dry as the US national past-time, why anyone takes Michele Bachman seriously.

One of those unsolvable mysteries is categorically not why the genre of online flight simulation remains a nerdy niche unheard-of, unheralded, and unvisited by the overwhelming majority of gamers. The reason is because flight simmers, especially the hardcore variety, really like the fact that their preferred gaming genre is deeply unpopular. In fact, they want it to be even less popular than it is and to that end willingly applaud flight simulation developers who insist on giving them shitty, unplayable dreck instead of actual functioning simulation games.
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Home Sweet Home

Since the IA blog space received its first major decorator overhaul recently it seems only appropriate to inaugurate the new look with a post on the role of player housing in MMORPGs.

I just bought my first house in Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO).  Since I’m still playing with only a premium account (i.e. I haven’t paid for any additional inventory space yet) this was a pretty significant moment because it now gives me a space to offload some of my accumulated crap.  However, it started me thinking about how MMORPGs in general handle space.

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If you watch a lot of old movies, particularly those that have a vaudeville-inspired dance number you will have seen this move.  A guy or gal is dancing and they are swinging their arms in huge arcs forward and back, with an enthusiastic smile on their face, and their feet are similarly moving forward and back but they are actually dancing on the spot, sometimes even moving backward.

Well, ArenaNet did its own version of this move this week as they posted a followup to the launch of their MMO Manifesto video: basically a Guild Wars 2 trailer with `tude.

The video is, naturally, thrilling, sexy, sophisticated and full of all the visual splendiferousness that you would expect from any trailer for an MMO.  Every MMO now promises to change the way we play MMOs; you don’t get invited to the party without making such a claim.  What most gamers especially don’t seem to remember is that for the most part that claim has proved to be complete and utter bullshit, steaming layers of it simply covering the fact that the developers came up with a different and better-looking grind mechanic.  The video, therefore, makes some bold claims about how this won’t be your grandmother’s MMO, that traditional MMOs have lost their way, that they don’t make you feel like a hero, and that Guild Wars 2 is going to remedy all that.  In particular, the video puts a lot of emphasis on the game’s dynamic events system and the much hyped capacity of the game to change in response to player actions. This isn’t substantially different to anything that ArenaNet has been saying for months, but the claims are now accompanied by art which seems to be making its own kind of visual claim for the kind of world-shaking changes that the fevered digits of the player base would be able to perpetrate on other players.

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In a recent developer blog, Colin Johanson, Lead Content Designer for Guild Wars 2 asserts that their new dynamic content system will fundamentally change the MMORPG genre:

MMOs have become extremely popular, but the genre has done little to evolve over the past decade. Generally MMO players explore an unchanging, persistent game world, leveling up by performing quests which do not change the world in any way once completed. It’s time for the genre to take the next step, and explore the idea of a truly dynamic, living, breathing persistent world where the player’s actions really make a difference, and everything that occurs in the game world has cause and effect.

I’ve really been enjoying the Guild Wars 2 developer blogs.  I like the use of the cartoon strips to poke fun at some of the hoary practices of traditional MMOs (in the blog providing an overview of the combat system, for example, players are all set to pitch into a bar fight but then are reduced to standing around trying to calculate their relative damage and attack stats; I wept bitter tears of recognition).  The GW2 developers’ analysis of the problems with current MMOs is considered and, for the most part, accurate.  The design they are proposing in response sounds great; everything about it (with the unfortunate exception of it being set in a fantasy realm, but I could possibly suck it up and deal with that) sounds like exactly the kind of game that I would love to play.

However, I don’t have a lot of faith that this kind of game will prove sufficiently popular to last very long.

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