The best thing about online gaming is Skype & Teamspeak…. *cry*

•January 4, 2008 • Leave a Comment

It’s pretty sad, a lot of the time, that being social with your friends while gaming is more fun than the actual gaming experience.  With our weekly WoW gaming session, it’s honestly more fun being on Skype, all 5 of us, ripping each other and having a blast in general versus focusing on the content that almost all of us have done several times before, and the game itself is just a medium for us all being in the same place and the same time.  Same thing when Jonathan from The Online Gamer’s Anthology and I play Hellgate:London… it’s more fun to make fun of our experiences than it is to just play the game.  To me, that’s pretty sad… I sure as hell hope that 2008 offers me more than just a reason to be social with my friends playing a forgettable game.  Otherwise, I’m going to start looking to the Wii for my next “fun online experience”…. *shudder*.

MMO = Money Mistrusts Originality

•January 3, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Why is it that almost every MMO that’s coming out in the near future is a rehash of the same material that we’ve already had ad nauseum? Simple reason: Everyone’s looking to get paid. Game developers are in business to make money, first and foremost. I have no problem with that; we all have to earn a living somehow, so why not get paid doing something you love? My only problem is: no matter what game I go play, it’s more of the same, with very very few exceptions, and even those exceptions borrow from the traditional. Be it WoW, or EQ, or DAoC, or Final Fantasy XI, it’s all the same thing: kill ten rats, fedex, grind, get to end game, do raid content, get bored, get into new game, repeat. Bleck. Surely our ability as a country to innovate isn’t tapped at this point; if it is I fear for the US in the coming decades. But why is it so bloody hard to get something new, something original? We were offered a glimpse of that with EvE Online, but even that turned into a grind… mostly a faction grind, and the crafting system is even more of a grind.

And once again, the simple answer is economics. Companies or VC’s for the most part aren’t willing to spend large sums of money on things they don’t know will provide a good ROI. (See: Zenimax Studios getting $300 million to produce many games, MMO’s being included, or companies like Perpetual Entertainment getting a fair amount of cash to produce Star Trek Online, $30 million for Sigil to make Vanguard, etc etc). With the exception of Perpetual, because let’s face it, none of us know what’s coming out of that studio except most likely a giant hunk of shit that will pretend to be an “innovative” MMO in ST:O, every one of those games either have been or will be a 99.9% “safe” MMO, with the same old same old, just a new flavor. It’s highly unlikely that any one of these companies would be willing to take a risk on creating something so new and outside the box that it WOULD capture everyone’s attention.

And there are many people out there who could easily fund such a project for pocket change to them. Bill Gates could fund 5 different MMO’s with 15 million in startup capital, and it would be less than a drop in the bucket for him. ‘Course he’d have to fund it and not *manage* them, but that’s a different story. Michael Dell, same thing… there are quite a few multi-hundred millionaires in the tech industry who could do a world of good by taking a chance and trying to push the envelope. I don’t know why they aren’t willing to take a chance, especially since it was they who TOOK that chance back in the day, and it paid off for them. Microsoft had the liscenses to every FASA IP; tell me of a better way to break the current MMO mold than by taking a game like Shadowrun and designing it the way it was meant to be played. No “levels”, no “grind”… you make a character, get involved with a group of shady characters, start doing runs… and if you die, oh well. Time to start over. Getting stabbed in the back is expected, not unexpected. Take every one of the “sacred cows” that exist in online games today, and either slaughter them, or mangle them to the point they’re not recognizable anymore. That is what we as gamers need.

And in return for them taking this risk, we as gamers have to be willing to reward them for it. I’m not saying that a game has to make billions like WoW has…but if you can get a truly new MMO that could get say…. 300-350k solid subscribers for a year+, you’d have your foot in the door of truly allowing for innovation. Don’t we owe it to ourselves to take our pastime to the next level?

My 2008 Resolutions for online gaming

•January 2, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Well, seeing as everyone else has made a list of things they want to see or do, figure I might as well make one for myself, to ring in the new year.

1) I will hit max level in a MMO this year.    Seeing as the last time I hit max level in a MMO was WoW, it’s about time I hunkered down and worked all the way through an MMO.  I’m thinking at this point it’s going to be Tabula Rasa… damn Darren and Jonathan, damn you both to hell, but it’s a fun game.  I have a lvl 52 Fury in EQ2, but the thought of going back to Kunark/Norrath fills me with dread, so it’s unlikely he’ll ever advance again.  Hellgate London isn’t a true MMO, so a max level char there doesn’t count, I don’t think.  And let’s face it, good game or not, WoW made levelling way too easy.  I’m not one for grinding for the sake of grinding, but when you can just breathe and hit max level, I don’t think that’s the right way to reward someone for “maxing out”.

2) I will *not* get sucked into any end-game/raid content.  I think this one should be pretty easy to do.  TR’s not really built for raid content, so unless the vehicles that will be added allow me to walk around in Mechs and do some serious ass-stomping, I think I’m safe there.  PVP has not and will never interest me, so there’s another time sink safely avoided.  And crafting can die in the fires of its own tortured “ingenuity”…. where it deserves to rest and never be heard from again.

3) I will put out at least 2 podcasts a month.  With the introduction of Witty Ranter, this will keep me busy… however I love podcasting, and I love getting as many voices into the conversation as possible – See past 2 episodes where it’s been crazy big groups, and good discussions all around.  I’ll prolly even try and throw in extras here and there, but 2 a month is my goal.

4) I will not lie down with every MMO that comes out there like a cheap whore walking the streets on payday.  This one will be tough, because I do tend to get sucked into a lot of MMO’s where I buy the game, play for 2-3 months, and then never play it again… so I’m out about $100 each time I do this… this is obviously not healthy, and it’s a waste of good money.  This will be one of the harder ones to achieve for 2008.

And finally….

5)  I will mock Brent endlessly for letting me join his Podcast Collective –  Wait, scratch that one off the list, it’s already done…

Happy Holidays to all, and for all you MMO game companies, you get coal this Xmas!

•December 23, 2007 • Leave a Comment

I apologize for my lack of work recently; work’s been hell, and Comcast hasn’t been particularly kind to me and my internet connection. Nothing more frustrating that sitting there, typing up an article, only to be unable to publish it when it’s done. But things are slowing down a bit, so I wanted to take a moment to get some more of my random thoughts out there.

In Podcast-y news, I recently summoned up the dregs of my sanity to host another Roundtable over at The Maelstrom Podcast, and a new home in the future. But more on that later. This roundable was… ambitious. With a total of myself and 8 other contributors it was a very full house. But I enjoy the larger shows over the smaller shows for a couple of reasons. While they are less “intimate”, I think you get a much broader base of discussion for the topics, as you’ll hear during our show. Also, they’re just more fun to be a part of! The hosts, and where you can find more of their work are:

Myself, as moderator -sometimes contributor

Joel and Remy from The Maelstrom Podcast

Darren from Shut Up We’re Talking

Jaye from Journeys With Jaye and Troy from Voyages of Vanguard and the Emerald Tablet

Jonathan from The Online Gamer’s Anthology

Brenden from AnotherHere.com

And last but not least, Michael aka Syncaine from Hardcore Casual

Some topics discussed included: “Why can’t my mage look hot?”, “MMO’s & 2007 – WTF?” and “Does EVE Online get equal harsh treatment when they screw up?”

Plenty more of goodness in there, so give it a listen. As a warning, there’s some language in there that may offend, but we’re not sailors. This brings me up to another topic: Why doesn’t the roundtable have it’s own show? An excellent question, and here’s the answer: It does…. now!

I’m pleased to announce the introduction of “Witty Ranter”, a new MMO-Roundtable that will be hosted by the ever-growing Brent and his VirginWorlds Collective (will that damn thing ever STOP growing?). Expect to see the first episode in the new year. Just think of it as Shut Up We’re Talking… with no reservations, and a HUGE set of balls. I’ll be involving more of the community, bloggers AND podcasters, and my goal is to get as much of the community involved in this as possible. Obviously you will hear some voices more often than others, but at the minimum, my goal is to have a new contributor every episode. As we get closer to launch, you will hear more about this in the future. Obviously I’m very excited, as this is my first “solo” podcast… in the past I’ve always had Remy and Joel there to help me with the show, sometimes saving me from myself and my poor attempts at humor. So if you’re a blogger or podcaster who’d like to join the discusson, please feel free to email me at trollonfire@gmail.com and let me know, we’ll get you in the discussion.

But as far as the holiday season, 2007 and MMO’s sucked, both for selection and for content. Nothing really new came out, other than some expansions (RoK for EQ2, miscellaneous content patches for WoW and HGL), all the “big” MMO’s such as Pirates of the Burning Sea and Warhammer Online are all delayed until 1Q ’08 or later. You’d think that someone would have had the good sense to release during the holidays, when EVERYONE could ask for the game for the holiday season, but what do I know? I’m just a gamer. *sigh*

Anyways, As we all look forward to next year and all the electronic goodness it promises… remember to be kind to your PUGer… unless they really piss you off… then screw them out of loots and dump them in the middle of the instance… where if they’re lucky they’ll find a way to escape the mobs ripping them apart. Happy Holidays!

Blizzard + Activision = Death for EA? *cheer!*

•December 6, 2007 • Leave a Comment

     I know it’s all over the news the past couple of days, but the fact that Blizzard and Activision, two of the largest game studios are out there, can only be a good thing.  Add in the fact that Blizzard is ponying up 1 billion more than Activision, giving them an ownership stake in the new merger, is an even better thing.  And the best thing?  The next largest game developer in their sights: Electronic Arts.  If there ever was a gaming trifecta, it’d be pretty close to this… 2 good game studios combining to take down one of the biggest and worst game studios out there.  Someone get Hollywood, this’ll make a hell of a movie.

All joking aside, this is a really good move for both studios.  Activision was known for making some pretty good titles such as Call of Duty 4, the Tony Hawk Series,  Guitar Hero, etc.  Blizzard… well, they make games. good games.  Polish is everything for them.  So you take these two companies, and mix their brightest together, and the end results I have a feeling will be very well worth it.

Now factor in that the next largest piece in the gaming puzzle is EA, a company that: cannot make high quality games without outsourcing them – See Crytek and Crysis, Flagship Studios and Hellgate London (all the negative shit aside, it’s a pretty game that plays relatively smoothly), they had to go out and buy Mythic Studios to get their grubby paws on Warhammer Online.  All the titles they produce in house are either shit to begin with, such as the Madden franchise (Do we NEED a new fucking Madden every year, at 60 bucks a whack? give me a break.) or start out good, only to end up being fucked over by EA.  For anyone who’s played Battlefield 2 or Battlefield 2142, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  Every patch EA decides to tinker with things, only to end up wrecking the game.  I’m not saying EA is the only company that’s guilty of this; SOE and SWG, I’m looking in your direction with NGE… but they’re the only company that has a history of doing it consistently in every game.

And, EA does not do the whole customer service thing well.  My rant on Hellgate London is a prime example, although EA was only supposed to be publishing that game, but even that involves some community relations when things go wrong, and EA has shown time and time again that they’re about as useful to community management as a drunk hooker in a room full of teetotalers.  Blizzard is not perfect on this front by any stretch of the imagination; a short look in the WoW forums makes proof of that.  But on the whole, the improvements they make show they do listen to their playerbase in some capacity, and will consider their comments in deciding the future direction of the game.

Bottom line, if EA was the 800 pound gorilla in the room, then Blizzard and Activision just became the 2 ton rhinocerous with a bad case of ass-whooping to lay down on someone…. too bad EA’s the only other person in the room.  Let’s all shed a tear for them… or just shed a tear of joy that we may never be forced  to see Madden 2010.

Im-a heading out of town…

•November 30, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Just as a heads up I won’t be back until Tuesday evening, heading to Colonial Williamsburg for the Grand Illumination Ceremony.  I should have much to talk about when I get back.  Until then, have fun!

M for Mature or M for “Mommy I want Blood, Guts and Boobs!”?

•November 27, 2007 • 8 Comments

On Saturday I went out and braved the post-“Black Friday” crowd, to go see Beowulf.  The theatre was surprisingly empty, although the nearby retail stores were not.  There were maybe, 15 people in the theatre, including my wife and I.  Right in front of us was a husband and wife, and 5 kids, none of which could have been older than 10.  My wife and I looked at each other like “uh… WTF?”  This movie, while totally animated, was R for a reason.  It was a very visceral, violent movie, with the Grendel ripping people in half, impaling them, spattering walls and every other surface with people’s blood.  Oh, and the pretty overt sexual references during the movie as well.  Just cuz Angelina Jolie doesn’t have nipples doesn’t mean that those melons on her chest are *not* boobs.  We were totally shocked that parents would bring children that young to a movie like that.  I can almost see the following conversation taking place shortly afterwards:

Dad: “So, what do you want for Christmas, son?”

Son: “I want therapy, Dad! I’m scarred for life!  Oh, and a lusty wench like the one in the movie… I’m 10 years old, it’s time for my first hummer!”

Kids are not mentally ready to deal with those kinds of images.  I understand that at 30 I’m an old fart when it comes to how kids are growing up today, and it’s pretty obvious that we as kids grew up slower, and in not quite such a visceral way.  When I was that age, I went and saw movies like ET, The Goonies, and The Last Starfighter;  if I ever saw anything like Beowulf, my parents would have given me a “hide tanning”… which of course parents today can’t do for fear of being sued for child abuse… whatever.  Regardless, I sincerely doubt that kids’ mental capacities for being able to separate these images from “real” versus “imaginary” has made that big of a quantum leap.  As such, if a movie can make that kind of impact, what kind of impact would a MMO, which is designed to be a fully immersive experience, have on these same impressionable minds?

Disclaimer: I am NOT bashing MMO’s or the genre as a whole.  I still play quite a bit of them.  I am raising this point for discussion, so please take everything I say in that vein. /gets off soapbox

So, with that out of the way, let’s look at MMO’s and other games that are coming up in the future, and what possible effects they might have on our younger gaming population.  I think pretty much everyone as kids played some sort of video game.  In my time it was the classic Nintendo versus Sega; you were either on one side or the other.  It was pretty rare that you came across any game with blood or violence, and the few that did (Mutant League Series on Sega, anyone?) did raise a pretty huge cry of outrage.  There were the arguments we all had “But Mom, all my friends have one!!!” or “It helps my hand/eye coordination!” (Always a favorite, because there was some truth to it.), but in the end all these games were fun and harmless, just ways to relax.  The graphics were poor enough that there was no way to even think it might be “real life”.

As the technology advanced, games became more realistic, and the line started to blur more.  The first game I remember really starting to blur this line was “Mortal Kombat”.  The fact that they used some motion capture technology for the characters made it so you could almost see the people behind the costumes.  The game “felt” more real;  while none of us could lift off our yellow hoods and turn someone into a 6 foot tall barbeque, it still had that semblance of reality.  Obviously the violence was a huge issue with parents, but as kids, we said “meh, it’s not real… it’s fun!”.  We were able to say that because we could STILL tell the difference between the two.

Fast forward a few years, and look where we are now:  movies like Beowulf, with CGI that is so close to actual people it’s downright scary;  at times even I wasn’t 100% sure what was CGI and what was live people, and I knew that the whole thing was animated.  Add to that Crysis, which may take an absolute monster of a machine to run, but it has pushed the gaming envelop even closer to that true “virtual” experience, where the surroundings look so real that you do as an adult, have to shake yourself sometimes and remind yourself “this isn’t real, it’s just a game”.  Now take that whole experience and put it in front of a 10 year old or 12 year old… are they honestly going to be able to mentally break the two up?  Either that’s one hell of a mature kid for his age, or we as a culture are fooling ourselves.

Now factor in the immersiveness of MMO’s, and think of a title like Age of Conan coming out sometime in 2008… the possible conclusions are pretty scary.  Now you’re going to have that almost-surreal realism, coupled with nudity, the same not very overt sexual references simliar to Beowulf, and some pretty downright brutal violence.  Given how many parents have a hard time spending extended quality time with their kids, especially if both parents have to work, the TV and the PC become cheap “virtual babysitters” that parents can fall back on to keep their children occupied while they try and eke out a living for their family.  Add in the joke of a ratings board, and how few companies actually enforce the ratings, it’s all too easy for very young, impressionable minds to have their idea of “reality” warped by the fantasies these games pose.

What if your child thinks that just because every woman he ever meets in a game is nearly naked and always ready for sex, that it’s what they should expect from every woman they meet?  In an era where groups have been fighting for decades to bring men and women to some semblance of parity, it’s like sliding back into the Dark Ages.  Don’t think it could happen?  Tell a kid that the moon is made of cheese long enough, and they will believe it… because an adult, an “authority figure” told them so.  Now if you put almost photorealistic women on a screen, and they’re doing those actions, to a child it would seem a lot more “real”, because of that inability to differentiate.

I’m not trying to be the person with the placard proclaiming “Games Kill Our Children!!!”, but I do want people to understand that as we get closer and closer to that true DNI (Direct Neural Interface) experience, which I think could be here in as little as 20 years, this is going to become an even more and more important issue for ensuring our children grow up knowing the difference between fantasy and reality.

I look forward to your comments.