Listillation: Podcasts

April 9, 2008

During the work week, I tend to listen to podcasts throughout the day rather than music. Why you ask? Well, in order to hear someone approaching my desk (I hate having people behind me when I don’t know they’re there), I need to have one ear open. Considering I generally don’t like listening to a mono version of a song, I choose podcasts instead. The vast majority of the following podcasts are about gaming in one form or another.

Gamers With Jobs
Gamers With Jobs is a nice little community set up as an oasis for normal people in the morass of immaturity that is the current state of online gaming. The founders also put up a very good weekly podcast, which I would categorize as general gaming. Simply put, this is the best gaming cast I’ve encountered. The group is not only opinionated and intelligent, but also open minded, which is a rare thing in gaming media. If I’m not mistaken the fellowship is largely Canadian (I’ve always had the best of luck with Canadians in MMO especially), so perhaps that explains the civility. From time to time, they also have guest from the industry (Ken Levine being the most notable). In terms of punctuality, the podcast is almost always on time, and always lengthy (usually coming in at an hour and a half). All in all, a fantastic show. Uploaded Wednesdays, around noon PST.

Totally Rad Show
Part of the revison3 enclave, the Totally Rad Show is actually a video cast, though I tend to simply listen to the show, and keep an eye on it from time to time when I think it’s needed. The show is based around nerd media, with the trio giving reviews on movies, game, television, and comics. Interestingly, I tend to disagree with both the games and movies experts (Jeff and Dan respectively) when it comes to their designated specialties. However, this does little to detract from the overall chemistry that this team exudes (which I attribute in large part to Alex Albrecht, from diggnation). This chemistry makes TRS a compelling weekly show which I highly recommend. Uploaded Tuesdays, around 2 or 3 PST perhaps.

1 Up Yours
Given a slow Monday, I tend to check this out. They do a good job with new content, but I find the hosts to a be a bit too much over the top and hard nosed with their opnions.
Virgin Worlds MMORPG News

Gamercast Network’s Video Game Show
RPG style nerds talking about gaming. This one works for me because I relate so well with their game choices. However, if you’re not really into MMO’s or RPG’s, I’d say go ahead and check it out, but this podcast may not be for you.

The Drone Bay
Somehow, as I started my career in Eve, this podcast also started airing, and I have to say it has been invaluable. For some one stumbling through their first steps of Eve, I would suggest even going back to the beginning of the show to pick up all the tips. By far the best part of the show is DON’T PANIC section. Here the newest player of the group asks simple questions to the other more experienced hosts. For a novice pilot this is a god send.

Warp Drive Active
Another Eve podcast, WDA is more focused on an experienced audience. For a new pilot in Empire space like myself, this is a great way to start learning of the politics and activities going on outside the insulated High Sec bubble. If nothing else, this has been a great way to really get an idea of where things are happening in Eve, and what groups are involved.

Gamer Theory Podcast
By far the most erudite podcast (maybe it’s the British accents) online, this is a weekly discussion about the gaming industry. Instead of focusing on the actual games being produced, this podcast leans to games related news. If you have an interest in the gaming industry, and the news that falls out of it, this is a fantastic show.

Zero Punctuation
Not a podcast persay. But you know you love it.

Considering that it’s been about two days now since I’ve realized that it’s been two weeks since my last decent idea for a post, I decided the best idea would be to post total crap instead. So, in times like this (i.e. all the time) I’ll just prattle on about whatever happens to be on my mind. Or whatever I am thinking about in too much detail to sleep. Now, without further adieu, I bring you Eve Online.

Over the past year or so, I’ve dabbled (Its OK. It’s a play drug!)with Eve from time to time in the form of several trial accounts. This time it looks like CCP is finally going to reel me in for the subscription fee. Its simple demographics really, I couldn’t resist. Let us have a peek at the Eve Online target group of users check list.

  • Male or homely looking female (check)
  • Former table top, CCG, or D&D player (check)
  • Bad posture (check)
  • Able to recite large portions of the original Star Wars Trilogy, or Star Trek: TNG (check)
  • Owns a cat (check)
  • Single (no check)

See. I have no choice really. I’m compelled to play Eve. Now that I’m resigned to my fate, let’s look at a few things that could keep me interested.

Virtual Travel Agent Simulator, WHERE CAN I SIGN?
A large part of the Eve experience is one of planning. With 24/7 skill training and an almost endless amount of skills, a plan is key to success. In many ways, the meticulous arrangement of skills is akin to planning a vacation down to the hour. What kind of obsessive compulsive person would do such a thin? One need only look at the list above.

In The Ghetto
Note: I don’t have any statistics of any kind, but I’m going to go ahead and project that these stats are 57% correct, giving me 15 delegates in the process. Anywho, as anyone who is anyone knows, PVP is one of Eve’s selling points. Now, let us say the majority of players aren’t active PVPers, making them traders, miners, industrialist, etc. Though all of these players could at anytime be engaged in combat against their will, the reality is they are largely left to their own devices. But the mere fact that the chance is there ratchets up the intensity 100 fold. It’s like when you walk through a neighborhood that everyone says is “dangerous”. Even though the crime rate may only be 1% higher than where you live, you still eye every passerby with that much more intensity.

Stars are pretty
The graphics are great (and simple really), the sound is fantastic, and the music has that ambient, melt away in your chair quality that makes you forget time. Truth be told, this game was made for stoners. Nerds and social outcasts will do I suppose.

Lately I’ve been contemplating the gaming experiences of my adolescent years, and what really influenced my current view of games. Until recently I had completely forgotten the 6th installment of Might and Magic. This may have been the first title that I ever become truly obsessed with. I remember sitting at my computer day after day and month after month playing this classic.

 

Many consider MM 6 a return to the classic, open ended style of RPGs from yesteryear. Though I vaguely remember Betrayal at Krondor, Might and Magic stands out as a first for me in the realm of RPGs, rather than a return to form. In many ways, I would consider a MM 6 a precursor to the modern MMO. Very open ended game play and a series of mostly optional main quests are staples which this game flaunts in spades. Rather than using story to compel the player, Might and Magic appeals to the inner explorer, begging them to try their hand. Even the dungeons, which are basically instanced, contain depth and breadth that I’ve rarely seen in any genre. At one point in time, I actually had a cycle of areas that I would farm for gear in order to most efficiently encompass respawn times (6months in game time for some areas).

 

It would be disingenuous if I failed to mention PC Gamer at this point. At this time, with the internet still in its fledgling stage, PC Gamer was a great source of knowledge the average gamer. I eagerly awaited every monthly tome (some issues approached 300 pages at that time) that arrived. At the ripe-old age of 15, I would have been lost without their rather detailed and lengthy guide. The fact is if I were to play this game again I believe that I would still need some sort of guidance to complete the game.

 

Even for its time the graphics in MM VI were sub par. When most games were starting to incorporate the power of true 3d graphics, Might and Magic stayed with tried and true sprite graphics. Furthermore, the character representations were terrible/hilarious human portraits with the most over dramatic expressions in the history of gaming. Though these may seem like negative aspects to the game, they’re really not. The character portraits are just campy enough to remain entertaining throughout the game. For the 7th edition of Might and Magic, more advanced graphics were used, and the pallet was dulled to a tragic extent.

 

Overall, MM 6 is a fantastic game that really formed the basis on which all other RPGs that I play are jugged. I find it sad that this game isn’t mentioned more often in regards to best PC game ever, it is certainly on my list.

Issues in MMOs: PVP Systems

January 14, 2008

PVP has long been a derisive issue within the MMO genre. This has caused stratification within the player base to the point that different servers (PVP, and “normal” in WOW terms) have been created to address the issue. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but largely a product of a rather diverse player base.

Though a generalization, the majority of users within an MMO will come from two backgrounds.

  • Classic FPS, action oriented game play (leaning heavily towards online FPS games I’d guess)
  • RPG, adventure, and classic table top type games.

The first are typically more interested in fast, “twitchy” gameplay. Being suddenly ambushed by an enemy, and more aptly, ambushing a victim are activities that are seen as quite enjoyable to this group. At the same time, some typically can become bored in a classic MMO raid context. This can cause trouble for some when a high degree of organization is called for.

The second group lean to a slower style. Instead of relying on twitch behavior (regardless of ability), this user would rather deal with encounters that require thinking and planning to overcome. However, when mixed in an unprotected environment with the latter group, this can become a problem. Instead of enjoying this fast paced environment, they can become easily frustrated, and indeed stop playing all together.

The question then is this: How can developers design a game that is equally appealing to both crowds? There are a few different options.

1. Don’t.

Not attempting to appease both player bases can be quite an appealing option for some developers. Instead of splitting your resources to attack a multifaceted problem, instead develop your world around one in which PVP exist. Very good games can be made using this philosophy. However, the recent history of MMO’s questions seems to suggest that this may not be a viable solution, as the player base has traditionally been quite small. Shadowbane an extreme example of this. A very loyal group of players that is also quite small. This is largely because moral boundaries which keep violence in check are suspended in a virtual world. Random murders are not just common, but the norm in this type of game.

Some studios (Mythic in particular) have attempted to augment this and present it in a more novice friendly form. RvR takes the most difficult part of starting a new PVP game (finding that initial group/community which one can more safely experience the game) out of the control of the player. This security blanket provides much needed comfort for the average player and as such appeals more to the mass market. Dark Age of Camelot was successful in this approach. World of Warcraft, however, has changed the bar for success with which publisher will judge MMOs. Because of this, it will be interesting to see if Mythic’s new title (Warhammer: Age of Reckoning) will fare any better than its architectural predecessor DAoC.

2. Make Two Games

Another solution for this problem is to separate the two sets of gamers. While this can be done in a multitude of ways, the first real attempt at this was the creation of PVP servers. In terms of public relations, this was a great idea. Instead of taking the risk of frustrating a portion of your customers, force the customer to make the choice of play style. In this case, no complaints can be directed at the designers. Sadly, this is a somewhat half-baked idea. Usually the game is created with one ruleset in mind, and then the new one is tacked on without regard to the current rules, resulting in less than stellar final product. (I’d love feed back on what game originally had PVP and Normal servers, as the first I encountered it was EQ1).

World of Warcraft has provided a few interesting twists on this dynamic. At launch, they provided both “Normal” and “PVP” servers. However, instead of being a true PVP server these were, in everything but name, RVR servers. As the game evolved, Blizzard added another wrinkle into the “Make two games” design philosophy with the creation of battlegrounds. With this, Blizzard had basically created two distinct end games, that for the PVP player, and that for the PVE player. With this change, the delineation between PVP severs and Normal servers became significantly muted, as the majority of PVP in the game moved to the instanced battlegrounds.

Furthermore, an additional problem was introduced, that of balance. Now, don’t get me wrong, balance is a very large and delicate issue in any MMO. With the introduction of battlegrounds however, Blizzard paved a very tricky path to walk down. See, by adding these battlegrounds, as well as rewards for participating in them, the WoW designers for all intent and purpose said “PVP is a valid stand alone endgame activity”. It is the equalivent of raiding for the avid PVPer, and it should be balanced as such. Now Blizzard is faced with the quandary of balancing classes on not on one axis, but two. Any seasoned veteran can attest to the fact that this is one of the largest on going struggles for the developers.

3. Law And Order

The third and final way of instituting PVP is through the rule of law. Either designer mandated or player controlled, this method seeks to artificially create a moral design for players in the virtual world through punishment. The basic premise is to have a punishment for killing a player severe enough that a user will actively think about their actions before committing them. To my knowledge, I am unaware of any mainstream MMO that has implemented this system. I would, however, enjoy the chance to see it in action, as I believe it would be an interesting social experiment if nothing else.

Game of the year…

January 7, 2008

End of the year lists have always been a bit contrived. What is it about the end of the year that causes us to simply cut the line and say “This is where all games up to this point must be judged”.

Furthermore, these lists are generally dominated by titles released later in year. This isn’t really surprising, as we tend to remember much more vividly our recent memories. Still, a penalty is automatically applied to the early releases.

And with that, I present ofDanes 1st anual best game that was released late in the year. The nominies are…

  • Bioshock
  • Mario Galaxy
  • Mass Effect
  • Portal

BioshockIt isn’t really that hard to be frightening. It is, however, quite difficult to both induce fear and at the same time compel the user to trudge on excitedly in this frightening place. Bioshock pulled this trick off perfectly. The last time I really felt like that playing a game? System Shock 2(duh). That said, the game-play was far from perfect. As I progressed, I would come to a point and say to myself “This is the end right here”, and when it wasn’t, I was actually disappointed. That takes Bioshock out of the running.

Portal – There has been some debate about the select ability of The Orange Box as game of the year. The argument goes as such: It’s 4 games. Some of the games are old. Portal is really short. All quite true. But if you disqualify Orange Box as game of the year, why is COD4 considered? Short single player. Check. Good multiplayer. Check. By this categorization, just Portal and TF2 should be considered the game of the year. ‘

I don’t feel constrained by any such law of reviewing physics. As such, Portal is on my list of “BEST GAME FROM LATE IN THE YEAR”. It is short though. So it doesn’t win (hypocrisy reigns here).

Mario Galaxy – I nearly completed this game in about 2 days over ther break. You’d think I’d love it. But I’m very Meh about it in truth. I can see why people love it, just not for me. Zero Punctuation sums up my thoughts well.

Mass Effect – Admittedly, ME can be a buggy, unpolished mess. It’s also by far the most fun I had playing a game late in 2007. It has by far the most cinematic quality of any game I’ve ever played, and the combat was surprisingly fun. I can completely understand how people were underwhelmed by this game (epically given the lack of tutorials and general game play information early on). I personally didn’t have any problems figuring out all of the nooks and carnies, and I may have even had a bit more fun figuring them out. So congrats Bioware.