So Fallout 76 is better now? Well, congrats Bethesda…not!

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We now have Developer/Creator Appreciation Week going on in Blaprilverse, and while I’m usually not one to overly focus on the negative I’m taking the liberty to turn the idea upside down in light of current events.

Of course I’m talking about the fact that the long anticipated Wastelanders-expansion for Fallout 76 released just over a week ago.

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Originally set to arrive “in fall of 2019

Now, a lot of folks seem to be pretty happy with it. Syp, Naithin and many Steam-users have to say good things about the new experience, and more power to them. I absolutely don’t begrudge anyone finally having some fun (or more fun) with the game they bought, don’t get me wrong here.

Still, in my opinion this doesn’t redeem Bethesda one bit. I’m not willing to just forgive and forget their disastrous and to some extent downright criminal conduct surrounding the game’s original launch 1 1/2 years ago – yes, it’s indeed been this long.

So today I’m going to recap this train wreck of a release, lest we forget what happens when players shower game companies with their hard earned money without knowing whether they’ll actually get said money’s worth (or any worth at all) in return.

Let Developer/Creator Naming and Shaming Week commence.

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I’m not even going to beat the dead horse that is Todd Howard’s grandiose presentation at E3 2018 again. Of course it is extremely funny (and sad) to watch considering what players actually got, but I can hardly blame only Bethesda for doing what absolutely everyone does to get people hyped up for their games, can I?

So let’s leave the land of fairytales behind and cut straight to the facts.

The game released on November 14th 2018. Before being able to actually play people had to download a day one patch, about 50 GB in size depending on platform. Hell, the game client itself was smaller than that!

The real ‘fun’ began after and despite that sizeable download though…

You don’t have to listen to the commentary, just watch the first few minutes of that video to get but a small glimpse of what players went through. Glitches, bugs, crashes, disconnects, duping (accidental as well as on purpose); you name it, FO76 had it.

The game crashed some people’s gaming devices so hard that they had to reinstall the whole thing, in some cases allegedly even their console’s operating systems. Others logged into their accounts – or so they thought – just to realize that they were logged into someone else’s instead for some reason.

However, as sad as it is to say, so far this is all not that unusual for a triple-A release these days. Not many are quite this bad, sure, but bugs, massive day one patches and stuff like that have become the norm rather than the exception in the last 10-15 years or so.

Which is bad enough on its own, but apparently the folks at Bethesda weren’t content with delivering one faulty product and leave it at that. Hell no.

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On the left you see a canvas bag, advertised to be included in the game’s ‘Power Armor Edition’, priced at 200 bucks. On the right you see what buyers actually got. Of course people weren’t happy and contacted Bethesda’s support about it. To give credit where it’s due, they did get a response.

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Click to enlarge

Wait, what? They surely weren’t serious here, were they? When more and more inquiries piled up they added:

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Now you’re talking…wait. How much do 500 Atoms cost again? Oh yeah. 5$. Five. Dollars.

Well at least folks could now buy an ingame-outfit that actually includes a canvas bag…oh.

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So close…

Only after the outrage had become big enough to be covered by pretty much every gaming news outlet there is did they cave in and promise that everyone would get their real canvas bag…in four to six months time.

But fear not, if you feel you’re in desperate need of a drink after all that crap Bethesda’s got you covered.

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Oh hey, that’s a pretty nice looking bottle of rum. And for an 80$ price tag the bottle as well as its content should be of a somewhat high quality, no?

See, they even delayed shipping because “one of the components of the product was not up to Fallout standards“.

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That’s…actually not all that reassuring, is it?

The rum was shipped about a month after its initial release date. The bottle, it turned out, was a standard glass bottle inside of a not really that great-looking plastic casing. Apparently you couldn’t pour a drink without spilling half of it, so you pretty much had to crack open the plastic and use the rather bland glass bottle. Almost needless to say at this point, the rum didn’t taste that good either. Oh yeah, and somehow there were a whole bunch of 5-star ratings before the rum had even shipped. When people called them out for it those reviews quickly disappeared as if by magic.

There’s still lots more I haven’t covered. This video by the Internet Historian sums it all up very well and is also highly entertaining…although it’s a bit like watching a car crash in slow motion.

So yeah, that’s why I think Fallout 76 doesn’t deserve a second chance. As far as I’m concerned it didn’t deserve a chance to begin with. When the makers of a product lie to me, deliver a product that’s not even close to working as advertised (or even something else entirely), fake their own reviews and generally behave as if they can do whatever the fuck they want without the smallest bit of respect for their customer’s rights, time and money, they don’t deserve anything but a hefty kick in the nuts.

I’m sure, I’d like to add, that the majority of people who worked on the game and its related products in whatever capacity did their best, and I’m not faulting them for any of this. The fish rots from the head down though, as the saying goes, and this particular head is undoubtedly rotten to the core.

I’m glad that I didn’t spend any money on this pile of crap, and I definitely won’t buy anything with Bethesda’s logo on the box any time soon. Screw you.

Blapril 2020 post count: 9

Designing good MMO-PvP is hard – but not impossible

There’s been a lot of fuss about Amazon’s New World lately, specifically regarding the quite radical changes to its PvP-design. Originally planned as a free-for-all open PvP title, players will now be able to fight each other in “opt-in faction conflict and territory wars” only…or will they?

What bugs me personally about the ensuing discussions – if we can actually call them that, quite often it’s more like shouting and screaming at one another – is that the vast majority of players seems to be rooted firmly in one of two extremist camps, with absolutely no room for some middle ground.

Camp number one is mostly comprised of the hardcore PvP folks who wanted their big budget FFA-slugfest so bad. The gankers and griefers, as it were. Look, I am a fan of PvP and really hate it when all PvPers are painted with the same brush, but I’m not blind or stupid and know full well that this kind of player exists. Their dream-MMORPG would be all but unplayable for everybody else. History has proven as much.

The other camp is home to people who are like “If a game has any kind of non-consensual PvP I’m not touching it, period. Don’t wanna know anything about it, don’t care, lalala, I’m not listening!”.

Both camps seem to be totally convinced that finding a middle ground can’t, or worse, shouldn’t be done. Well, I beg to differ.

In my opinion there are some MMORPGs out there that manage to not only provide open PvP for those who like it, but also give incentives for and meaning to said PvP without actually forcing anyone to participate in it. Is any of those games perfect? No, because nothing ever is, but they prove that designing good and meaningful PvP can be done without the game in question automatically becoming a “gankbox”. I hate that term, by the way, ever since camp number two has decided to throw it around like candy whenever an upcoming game plans to have any kind of open PvP.

I’ll use ArcheAge as an example here because – again, in my opinion – its PvP aspects and how those are integrated into the game’s design as a whole are pretty well thought out. As a consequence there’s something here for everyone, and no one has to do stuff they don’t like, despite the different game systems’ various interdependencies.

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Gliding into action – voluntarily

First of all, the game’s population is divided into two warring factions, with the option to switch to a third – the dastardly pirates – later on if you so desire. The two main factions each have their own home continent, separated by the sea. As I’ve talked about before a couple of regions constantly cycle through states of peace, conflict and war; everywhere else on your native land you’re absolutely safe all the time.

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My home continent: fifteen regions, ten of which are permanently at peace

Our little family empire is located in Two Crowns, for example, which means that when we’re tending our crops, sleeping in our beds or doing whatever we can be totally relaxed, knowing that no harm can come to us.

When you do venture into a contested region – which you technically need to do only once for the quests there – you can always wait until it’s at peace. Granted, doing all the quests that way might take a while, but it’s possible if you want to avoid PvP at all cost.

Why go there at any other time at all then, or even place your house and farms there?

For one, since living in constant danger obviously isn’t for everyone those regions aren’t as crowded, and farmland is much less sought after. If you wanted a big chunk of land for yourself or your whole family early on your chances would have been much better there than anywhere else.

Said land can also be quite lucrative. If your cheese has aged on a farm in Hellswamp or Sanddeep, for example, it sells for a considerably higher price than cheese from Two Crowns or Dewstone. Since gold is extremely important and always scarce in ArcheAge (much more so than in most other MMORPGs I’ve played) that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Another incentive might be gaining honor. Honor is a very important currency, mostly for gear upgrading, and you gain it in big chunks for recurring events that are either centered around PvP or at least take place in contested regions, making PvP a possibility. Honor is also gained by killing players of the other factions during the highest level of conflict or war.

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At the heart of all this is one design principle that’s often talked about, but rarely executed this well: risk versus reward.

Pretty much everything that offers big (or bigger) rewards in ArcheAge involves taking a higher risk. You don’t have to take any of those risks if you don’t want to, but if you do and it works out as planned you’re rewarded accordingly.

Another good example of that is the acquisition of Onyx Archeum Essences. That’s a crafting material needed for almost all kinds of advanced products. No matter what your personal playstyle and goals are, you’ll most assuredly need a couple of these at some point.

The only way to “make” them is to buy a special kind of trade pack on one of the main continents and sell it on another. So you shell out 26 gold, strap the heavy pack on your back, and then what?

Well, you can board your clipper (or vessel of choice) and set sail. The catch is that the sea is always at war, so should you encounter other players chances are they’ll try to…umm…relieve you of your burden. Nevertheless this is my method of choice, and I have yet to lose a pack in Unchained. I lost one once or twice in the original game though.

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Almost there…you don’t see me…and I’m definitely not carrying anything of value

Alternatively you can wait for the NPC-ferry to arrive, pay another five gold for a ticket, take a seat and just enjoy the ride. That ticket makes you immune to being attacked as long as you stay on the ship, so this is a risk-free variant that’s more expensive and takes longer in return.

Option number three is to just buy the essences from other players on the market. Fast and risk-free, but obviously the most expensive way to get them.

There are many more examples for risk vs reward-based choices players can make. Fish caught in the open sea is more valuable and it’s also way more labor-efficient than fishing in a lake; delivering trade packs to a contested region during war yields a bonus; mobs in all contested regions drop more loot during war; honor-bought lunagems (gear upgrades) have lower stats than the crafted versions, but are waaay less expensive.

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Also, gaining honor can be quite fun

Remember, you don’t have to ever choose the riskier option. You might progress more slowly towards whatever goal you’re pursuing, yes, but you’ll get there eventually without ever giving other players the chance to attack you without your consent.

Me? Above all I love to have that choice, and which path I take may well vary from one day to the next, depending on my mood. More often than not I’ll choose the high-risk, high-reward option though, not because I love to gank or get ganked but because it keeps the gameplay exciting and fun for me. I’d like to give you some examples of such exciting situations I’ve found myself in, but this is already getting long, so I’ll save those for another time.

Of course, as with any game out there, different people say different things about ArcheAge. Some call it a gankbox (bleh) while others claim its PvP is meaningless, nonexistent or both. As far as I’m concerned those people seem to be playing a different game because for me it’s a (mostly) well designed sandbox that incentivises PvP in all of its forms without actually forcing you to engage in it.

So…if XL Games can do it, why should Amazon Game Studios not be able to? The question is, can they manage to radically redesign New World in the time they have left? Probably not. At least they’re going for a three-faction system now, which is likely better than what they had before. Well, I guess we’ll know soon enough.

Why so serious?

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Lakisa, Tristron and I cruising around, being anything but serious

The main complaint I’ve heard about ArcheAge since Unchained’s launch – those about the numerous technical issues aside, obviously – is that the game isn’t actually a sandbox anymore because it has turned into a grindfest of daily tasks in recent years.

It’s true that there is a lot of stuff players can do every day. There are various rifts (PvE events located in contested zones, so sometimes PvP does also happen), large and small battlegrounds, many daily quests and various other activities waiting to be done. Some of those even run on fixed schedules, so if you’re set on doing them you have to make time for them when they’re available.

Pretty much all of these activities have one thing in common: they award stuff for advancing your gear or your character. Honor, infusions, awakening scrolls, PvP badges; all sorts of currencies and materials to upgrade your armor and weapons, to buy gems to socket into those items, or titles with stat boosts for yourself.

In essence this is what the complaints are about. Most folks aren’t unhappy that those activities exist at all, their argument is that you have to do all of this each and every day lest you fall behind on the gear curve and cease to be competitive.

Well…so what?

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Yep, we leveled up by beating up a huge pumpkin. Quite unserious

I’ve never understood this urge many people playing MMORPGs seem to have, which is to get to max level and have BiS gear right fucking now. It’s as if they want to be “finished” with the game, get bored and move on as quickly as possible.

Now granted, ArcheAge provides many opportunities for PvP, consensual as well as non-consensual, and not wanting to get stomped at every such opportunity is quite understandable. Still, in my opinion and experience it’s absolutely not mandatory to grind like crazy every day, especially if you don’t enjoy it.

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Running a dungeon without knowing anything about it…much more enjoyable

For the second time now I’ve started playing this game from zero. This time around I was there right at launch, so my progression started along with everybody else’s. Back in ’14 the game had been already out for a month or two, so I was behind from the get-go. Of course I’m behind now too because, well, I do not like to grind every day.

Are there situations where I wish my gear was stronger? Yeah, it happens. But more often than not that being the case wouldn’t make a difference either way.

Most types of small scale battlegrounds deck out participants with equalized gear anyway, so what remains are the large scale battles as well as the open world, where it’s more about strenght in numbers than anything else.

So, no, “being competitive” isn’t all what this game is about, despite all claims to the contrary.

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Fishing is actually pretty rewarding, but also quite relaxing

Like noted above the attitude of wanting to progress quickly no matter the cost isn’t confined to PvP-heavy MMOs anyway, so there must be more to it.

Now, I do get the appeal of feeling more powerful, or of being satisfied with what one has achieved. I have felt it myself. But is it worth doing stuff that isn’t fun for hours, each and every day? I don’t think so.

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We’re even so lucky to have schools of fish right on our doorstep

The kicker is, all those repeatable activities can be fun; it’s the constant repetition that makes them boring and tedious. For the last month or so I have done the Hiram dailies about once a week, Grimghast and/or Crimson rift maybe twice a week and other stuff even more irregularly. The only thing I actually aim to do at least once a day is the Halcyona battleground, but that’s because it’s fun for what it is. The rewards are nice too, but that’s a bonus.

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Getting ready for the slaughter that is Halcyona in potato mode

The much bigger part of my playtime is consumed by all those other, progression-wise “suboptimal” activities I’ve been talking about for the last two months, and some more depicted on the screenshots in this very post.

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I guess nothing’s more suboptimal than buying a Viola that has zero stats on it…I love it!

As a consequence I’m still really happy with the game – and also with my gaming in general. If folks would take their gaming a bit less seriously maybe they’d be happier too and not have to complain all the time.

An outsider’s view on WoW Classic

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WoW Classic has been live for just shy of two weeks now and a couple of our friends, this corner of the blogosphere and pretty much the MMORPG community as a whole are all abuzz with excitement and joy.

About a year ago I talked about my reasons for never having played the game. I still haven’t played it, and I’m not going to. Nevertheless I’m really happy about what I’m hearing and reading right now because it gives me some hope – just a teeny, tiny bit, but that’s better than nothing – that the gaming industry might take notice and learn one or two lessons from it.

Here are some examples of what folks have to say about their experiences up to now.

SynCaine writes:

It’s obviously very early, but playing just felt right. […] there is a sense that all of this content was created with a passion, and that passion shows in all of the little details that bring the zone together. […]

Classic being enjoyable, for me at least, isn’t just about the nostalgia, its mostly about the fact that Vanilla WoW was a really fun MMO to play.

Bhagpuss notes:

I’m not claiming it’s intrinsically “better” than either WoW Retail or any other game in the genre. I am saying that it has a coherency and throughline of design that later development, both for WoW and most of its progeny, has lost. And that’s a big part of why I’m playing it and enjoying it when I wasn’t expecting to find all that much to hold my attention.

Syp has an example of good design that has been scrapped from the game later on, namely talent trees (I wholeheartedly second his stance on this, by the way):

Mapping out your character’s growth is one of the most fulfilling parts of RPGs (at least for me), and this system provides a visible means for those plans. We’re given lots of choices. We’re given the opportunity to differentiate ourselves from others. We can specialize or hybrid ourselves as much as we like.

Pretty much everyone agrees that playing Classic feels by orders of magnitude more like being part of a living, breathing world than any later version of the game or any of the countless wannabe-WoW-killers that came after it. Some even say it’s actually not a full-on themepark, but rather a sandpark (i.e. a themepark with a lot of sandbox elements, or vice versa). This really surprised me, and I find it extremely ironic considering that a great many people, myself included, were under the impression that WoW always was the mother of all themeparks and the main culprit for the major shift in game design we saw following its huge success.

Which makes me wonder if game designers at that time, including the development-staff of WoW themselves, had a hard look at that success and drew the completely wrong conclusions about why people actually liked this game so much.

It seems like a fair assumption, because whenever people aren’t talking about the experience as a whole and instead describe what they’re actually doing in the game, they tell stories about how they need to be on their toes to not pull unwanted adds, how they are scrapping together the few silver they have for their new skills, how satisfactory it is to make their own 6-slot bags or find a grey yet good piece of gear, how they embark on long and dangerous journeys, or how they just watch some NPCs doing their thing for a while.

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Nabbed this from Bhagpuss. I hope you don’t mind, mate

You know what nobody is talking about? How they need to get to revered with faction x. How they need to do their dailies. How they got a new piece of gear that they need to equip because of its gearscore, but that actually makes their character worse to play because it rolled the wrong titanforge stats (or whatever).

These are things I’ve read all the time when folks talked about BfA. Incidentally these are also things that almost every MMORPG that came after WoW has in one form or another.

Now, I’m not saying these are inherently bad. Some people really like doing their dailies, others can’t have enough factions to raise their standing with. But I think that even those players wouldn’t argue that any of that feels like having an adventure or like living in a virtual world. MMORPGs can have these features, maybe they even need them to an extent, but they are not what makes these games great.

Don’t give us chores, give us what it says on the box: Massively Multiplayer Online RolePlaying Games!

Of course it’s a bit early to call WoW Classic a huge success, but should it in fact become one this is the lesson that I really hope some people in the industry will learn from it.

MMOs didn’t invent The Grind

Several times over the last couple of years I’ve read the sentiment that more and more grindy game mechanics are creeping into single player games of late, and that the success of such mechanics in the MMO genre are to blame for this development.

I disagree. In my opinion The Grind has been an integral part of video gaming since, well, the advent of video games.

First off I’d like to make clear what I mean when I say grind in this particular case, since grind, like P2W or casual, seems to be a rather subjective gaming term.

By my definition to grind in a video game means doing the same thing over and over and over again in order to reach specific goals.

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Don’t ask what I’m doing with an icebear on a boat, you don’t wanna know

Let’s play a little game. Name the first five video games you’ve ever played, as far as you remember. If you’re around my age (which is 42) your list probably looks similar to mine:

Pole Position, Asteroids, Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Jungle Hunt.

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Why is a game about shooting at marshmallows called Asteroids anyway?

Pole Position is the only one of those that I played on an arcade cabinet first, steering wheel and all. The rest I played on the Atari 2600, my first home-gaming device. Like pretty much every game of that time they all were originally developed for the arcade though.

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Consequently these games had to encourage players to spend as much money as possible, and their gameplay design very much reflects that.

You always had a limited number of lives or tries, and the difficulty was always high enough to ensure that even very good players couldn’t possibly beat the game with just a few bucks spent.

At the arcade, whenever you decided not to continue by spending more money, in my case usually 1 DM for another set of lives, or if you had no continues left you had to start over from the very beginning.

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Obviously the games’ console ports didn’t require you to insert any money, but since the gameplay usually remained unchanged you still had to go back to square one whenever you’d spent all lives and continues.

So that’s what we did. A lot.

During the mid- and late-eighties the huge success of home consoles and computers ushered in a new era of video games. More complex genres were devised, the ability to save and load game states became more common. Nevertheless a lot of new releases still followed the arcade formula for many years to come.

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This is one of my all time favourite games, the Amiga version of Turrican 2. I bought it shortly after it released in 1991 and still play it from time to time on an emulator, believe it or not. I’ve probably seen the end credits about 30 to 40 times. How often I’ve played the first stages, however, I have absolutely no idea. It must have been hundreds of times.

My enjoyment didn’t suffer from it though. The game has nicely designed stages, superb music and slick controls. Advancing further and further with each try was motivating, it was more of a fun challenge than tedium and repetition. Even after I’d beaten the game I challenged myself to get better still, my measuring stick being the amount of lives I had left when the credits rolled. I believe my record was 32 (you start with three).

Going by my definition this is a prime example of grinding your butt off, as it were. And as I said, if you intended to beat pretty much any game during the eighties, and a great many games during the nineties as well, this was the only way to do it.

I think the fact that this type of gameplay-loop still persisted long after the arcade’s heyday – and still exists today – clearly shows that there’s more to it than just making people throw more money into coin slots. It seems human beings just like the kind of challenge I described in my example above. Many of us do, anyway.

So this is it? The grind has always been there, and that’s a good thing? Well, not quite.

The grind we encounter in a lot of games today is missing a key element: the aforementioned challenge to progress further than last time.

We don’t do our dailies or fight our monsters again and again because we didn’t manage to beat them before. We do it because the games withhold our rewards if we don’t. Rewards, I might add, that didn’t even exist in games of old. I guess in the end it’s a matter of taste which kind of grind is the worse one – or better one.

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Yes, yes, I’ll do what you’re all asking…again

Anyhow, MMOs aren’t to blame for the latter kind of grind either. Endless slaughtering of non-challenging mobs just to level up has been around for ages, for example. Whether you played Final Fantasy, Ultima or any other RPG, chances are you’ve encountered a boss you just couldn’t beat at some point, so you had to go and get some levels before you tried again. Or how about killing the same bosses over and over for specific loot drops in Borderlands or Diablo?

This is getting kinda long, so I’ll try to get to the point.

The way I see it there’s always been grindy mechanics in video games. Some are specifically meant to keep us playing and paying, but most of them are mainly there because we actually like doing repetitive tasks and/or running against walls until we finally overcome them.

The former type is found in pretty much every MMO out there, yes, which is no wonder since those are and always have been about keeping people engaged and playing for a long time. But they definitely didn’t invent that stuff. I wish people would stop making that false argument to cast a poor light on the genre for whatever reason.

A game is more than just a product

In the comments to my last post Isey of I HAS PC made the interesting point that gamers tend to “put game developers and companies on a pedestal” and wondered why that is when it should be perfectly clear that game companies – at the very least the big, publically traded ones – are like any other business in that they need to prioritize maximizing profits above everything else. Like, say, their customers’ best interests.

At least to me it is absolutely clear. I don’t have to like it though, and I’m not willing to just calmly accept it. To be honest, we as consumers shouldn’t let any company get away with it anymore, no matter which industry they’re working in, because it’s gotten seriously out of hand in recent years.

The effect of greed dictating decision making is especially devastating and heartbreaking in the gaming industry though, at least in my opinion. Today I’d like to talk about why.

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Pictured here: greed

I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever put any company or single developer on a pedestal. There were some, like ‘old’ Bioware and Blizzard, whom I trusted to deliver great games more than others, but I’ve never been a fan or even fanboy of anyone. Well, ok, maybe except for The Bitmap Brothers and Factor 5 a long, long time ago.

That being said, I’m still very passionate about everything gaming-related, as are many others. And I think that’s perfectly ok because games are more than just commodities.

What differentiates games from most, if not all, other products – at least in my mind – is potential. Potential for greatness. Potential to be that one perfect game you’ve been waiting for. Potential to take you on an adventure you’ll never forget. Potential to meet new people and make lifelong friends. Potential to make you feel at home away from home.

Most other products don’t have that. Even the largest TV set is still just a TV set. The most powerful vaccuum cleaner still only sucks up dust. The world’s sharpest knife still only cuts stuff. You may be very satisfied with them, glad that you bought them, even have fun using them. But that’s about it.

The only type of product that comes close to matching the potential games have to be more than what meets the eye are movies and serials, but those can only be consumed passively. You may witness extraordinary adventures, but you don’t experience them yourself.

This is why I can get mad at developers and publishers when their games don’t fulfill my expectations. If you ask me why a certain game disappointed me I’ll probably name some features I deem incomplete, missing or just bad. Or bugs, hackers, whatever. What I’m really mad about though is most likely the wasted potential. I just can’t help but imagine what could have been. What, in my opinion, should have been.

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Pictured here: wasted potential (still a cool game though)

For this reason I’m not satisfied with ‘cost per hours of entertainment’-calculations either. It might be true that a 60 Euro game that I enjoyed for, say, 50 hours before getting bored/pissed/whatever has given me more hours of entertainment per buck than many other hobbies do, but I really don’t think they can be compared like that. Like I said, I expect more from a game, and as such it can’t just be measured in hours of gameplay per Euro spent.

Of course I do make exceptions. I’m perfectly fine with games like Uncharted that tell a coherent, complete story and provide good gameplay – a matter of taste, obviously – for like 15 hours and aren’t designed to do anything more than that in any way. Or gems like Limbo and Inside, that are even shorter but also cost less and are just exceptionally great experiences.

What bugs me are games that actively make me get my hopes up only to smash them. That are specifically designed to make me think there’s much more to them and would like me to play them for hundreds of hours, but where after a much shorter timespan it becomes apparent that, no, there isn’t anything else and I’m now expected to do the same shit over and over and over until the service part finally kicks in and more content is provided. For an additional cost, more often than not.

Which brings me to the second practice the gaming industry has adopted in recent years that I really hate because it is just the destroyer of potential: hacking games to bits and pieces so they can nickel and dime us for every little feature or scrap of content.

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Pictured here: content locked behind a blonde paywall

Want to look cool? Pay for it! Need more inventory space? Pony up! Fancy playing two more hours of story? That’ll be 20 bucks please!

In free to play games some of this is ok, those obviously have to make money somehow. That we find so much of that crap in 60+ dollar games nowadays is sickening though. And I haven’t even adressed the elephant in the room that is lootboxes…

All of this is actively working against any potential a game has to be great. How are we supposed to be immersed, to feel like we’re having an adventure, when big red price tags are slapped right in our faces every five seconds? When we can’t look cool unless we swipe our credit cards some more? When we can’t pick up stuff because we haven’t bought enough inventory space? When we can’t play the character we like because she’s locked behind DLC?

Say whatever you will about AAA games needing to make more than 60 bucks a copy to even recoup its development cost nowadays – if it’s even true – or whatever. This. Shit. Is. Not. Ok.

fallout-76-atomic-shop-items
Pictured here: NOT OK!

Every product is expected to work, to do what it’s supposed to do. Well, as far as I’m concerned games are supposed to be epic adventures that entertain us in ways no other product can. They have the potential. The big dogs of the industry seem to have forgotten that, but I hope we’ll manage to make them remember.

Games as a ‘service’, yeah, right

I think many executives currently working in game development need to look up the word service in a dictionary, because they obviously don’t know what it means anymore.

Unless they think what they’re doing is deliver games that are already very good and totally worth their price tag at release, and then continue to refine and expand them for years afterwards.

Problem is, they are not doing that. Not even close.

It’s shocking how many high profile, full-price games that came out during the last couple of years were arguably unfinished and/or disappointing messes at release. Destiny 2, Fallout 76, Anthem, Battlefront II, Sea of Thieves, No Man’s Sky, Mass Effect: Andromeda; to a lesser degree Battlefield V, CoD Black Ops IV and probably some others I’m forgetting right now.

This is not to say there weren’t any good releases at all, quite the contrary. But it’s impossible not to notice a very disturbing trend here. Especially whenever developers or publishers can’t shut up about their fabulous Games as a Service chances are we’ll be getting only half a product for full a price. If we’re lucky.

Of the games mentioned above I can (fortunately) only talk about Destiny 2 from my own experience. I bought it at release and can’t deny that I had quite a bit of fun for a while. Though even at my pace, which seems to be considerably slower than that of most gamers, I reached the point where there wasn’t anything of interest left to do pretty quickly. The first two ‘expansions’ – more like rather meaty content drops, really – were too expensive for what they offered. The first one, Curse of Osiris, even shut out those who didn’t buy it from most endgame content. Bungie only changed that after the playerbase had expressed their outrage quite explicitly.

Destiny-Trio
With guns. Destiny 2 players solve every conflict with guns. Just kidding of course.

The first ‘real’ expansion, Forsaken, seems to have pretty much fixed the game for many a player, I hear it’s pretty great now. I don’t care though because I had given them too much money already for what they’d offered me in return up to that point. Basically Destiny 2 players who still play today have paid at least 120 bucks – if they bought everything at the time of release or shortly thereafter – to be able to play the finished game. Only now does the service part begin, which – you guessed it – won’t be for free either. No thanks. Fool me once, and all that.

Destiny 2 has yet another problem that’s become a blight in recent years: content that has been developed and could be earned through gameplay – thus making us feel rewarded and, you know, good about the time we spent playing the game – is kept off of loot tables to be sold in the cash shop instead. Gee, thanks, what a great service you’re doing us there after already taking our money for half a game and then some more for the rest of it.

Not all of this is ‘just’ caused by greed either. Sometimes there’s also mind-boggling incompetence to be blamed, as seen in the case of Anthem.

Anthem
What are you looking at? Search your feelings, you know it to be true!

On Tuesday Kotaku published an article by Jason Schreier titled ‘How Bioware’s Anthem went wrong’. I highly recommend reading it. It’s pretty long, but if you’re still here at this point I assume you won’t mind. If you’d prefer a video, Angry Joe and friends have summed up their reactions to the piece on their show.

The article is based on interviews with 19 people who either directly or indirectly worked on Anthem and basically boils down to this: while the game was in development for about seven years total, the actual production had to be done in the last 12 to 16 months, crunch time style, because years and years had been wasted flailing around and not knowing what exactly the game was to become. When they showed this ‘gameplay-demo’ at E3 2017 the ground-level developers themselves were like “Oh are we actually doing this? Do we have the tech for that, do we have the tools for that?”

Anthem2
They were not only lying to us, but basically also to their own developers

How can stuff like this even happen when you have so much developer talent and a massive budget at your disposal?

In my opinion the big publishers and development studios suffer from a development (no pun intended) that Steve Jobs already talked about in fricking 1995. Basically he’d observed that once a company gets big enough the “product people” get driven out of decision making because the “sales and marketing people” become ever more important, get promoted and so on. In the end the company “forgets what it means to make great products”.

This seems to describe spot on what’s been going on with EA, Activision and the like *cough*Apple*cough* for quite some time now, but Schreier’s article proves that not even developer studios who once were hardcore gaming enthusiasts are immune to this.

Now, is there a silver lining at all?

I sure hope so. The Battlefront II disaster has shown that we can fight back, that we can make ourselves heard. It’s critically important that we keep it up now. We need to stop preordering stuff. We need to stop buying games on day one when we don’t know if they’re any good yet (review embargoes anyone?). We need to stop buying season passes when we don’t even know what those will entail. We need to stop buying stuff from the cash shop in full-price games.

I’ll do what it takes, even if I have to miss out on games I’d actually like to play. Who’s with me?

What makes MMO combat enjoyable?

When asked about their preference regarding combat in MMORPGs many players reply by naming one of the generally agreed upon main categories: A) Hotbar/Tab Targeting, B) Action Combat or C) a mix of both.

I can’t really do that because I’ve played games of all categories where I liked the combat very much, and also some where I didn’t.

My current main game is Black Desert Online. I enjoy its combat a lot, but it’s hard to compare it to most others I’ve played because it’s not really designed to be challenging at all other than excecuting your skills and combos properly. It plays more like a beat ’em up, really. Also, there are no roles to speak of, basically everyone’s a damage dealer. Hence I’ll leave it out of this discussion.

combat2
Playing the Striker is a bit like being the Hulk, always SMASHING stuff

One combat system I had a lot of fun with is The Secret World’s. Interestingly (and unfortunately) though that system was almost universally reviled by the broader MMO playerbase and the most stated reason by folks for why they couldn’t bring themselves to give the game another shot at any point. On the other side of the spectrum many players seem to be pretty happy with Final Fantasy XIV’s combat, which I don’t like at all.

This made me try to understand what exactly I need from an MMO’s combat for it to be enjoyable. If it’s not the fundamental design, and not if it’s smooth and well animated either (which FFXIV is and TSW, admittedly, is not), then what is it?

I narrowed it down by thinking about which role I like to play the most, which is tanking. During the last 10+ years I’ve tanked in every MMO I played (if it had such roles), and usually it’s been my main character. As a tank nothing is more important to me than being able to react swiftly and effectively to anything the game might throw at me and my group. I want to be in control. And I like to have at least some measure of freedom in how I go at it.

These, I realized, are the two key aspects for me: control and freedom.

I’ll stay with TSW and FFXIV to elaborate on this.

In FFXIV I mostly played the Warrior. It’s a hard hitting tank class wielding a huge axe.

FFXIV_Warrior
I work out a lot, yes. Why?

Looks and sounds right up my alley, but while leveling him up to 63 and doing every kind of content it never was as fun or felt as good as I’d have liked.

My biggest gripe is the awfully long global cooldown (GCD). It makes the fights feel so. slow. you. guys. Or rather, I feel slow. What’s worse, I feel neither free nor in control because I have to wait too goddamn long after I’ve used an ability before I can do anything else.

This is exacerbated by the fact that the Warrior relies heavily on ability chains, like a lot of classes in the game do. So I’ve just used a combo of three’s second attack when a group member pulls some adds? Too bad, because now I need to decide between finishing my chain (which, again, feels like an eternity due to the long GCD) and interrupting it to react to the new threat, losing a lot of extra damage and refreshing of buffs.

This kind of design is just not fun to me. I think of myself as a pretty good tank player, but the game actively prevents me from utilizing my strengths by forcing its – in my opinion – too tight design corset on me.

In contrast, The Secret World’s much maligned combat system enabled me to be exactly the tank I wanted to be, reliable and very fast reacting if things went south.

Combat1
And stylish to boot, with an elegant weapon for a more civilized age complementing the look

I took pride in the fact that I tanked most of the game’s harder dungeon bosses like Machine Tyrant or both encounters with Doctor Klein pretty well on nightmare difficulty. When tanking those a single error would cause you to die most of the time, which almost always resulted in a wipe. That this rarely happened to me made me feel good about myself, and also made those fights all the more fun for me.

So what exactly did TSW’s combat system give me that FFXIV’s didn’t (enough)?

One: freedom of movement while fighting. When tanking in TSW I often felt more like performing a choreographed dance than battling an enemy, and with all the stuff modern MMO’s bosses throw at you to dodge, evade or interrupt I really want to be able to do it like that. To me the most helpful tools in that regard were 360 degree AoE attacks so I could run sideways or even away from a boss and still hit it (not very realistic, but I don’t care), and generally being always able to move. No requirement to stand still while casting or channeling stuff, no animation locks.

Two: rotations with some leeway. As in every MMO ever TSW players of course developed perfect rotations to squeeze every possible bit of damage out of their characters. Because of how the system was designed though, revolving around resource building abilities, consumers to spend those resources and resource-independent special abilities, there was always room for improvisation without fucking up the rotation completely.

Three: a huge toolkit to choose from. A boss has lots of nasty attacks that should be interrupted? No problem, I’ll slot three stuns and rotate through them. Need to constantly dodge huge AoEs? I’ll bring a couple more movement abilities like dashes then. Our healer can’t heal at times due to boss mechanics? Let me prepare some defensive cooldowns or self-heals to stay alive.

I do realize that I’m comparing a class-based game with a pretty flexible skill-based one here, but I don’t think that the former has to be inherently inferior to the latter in this regard. I feel more flexible in how I play my characters in Everquest II than I felt in ArcheAge, for example. While at first glance you seem to have enormously more freedom in AA you actually don’t because 90% of those 120 possible sub-class combinations are crap, and you pretty much have to skill and play the viable 10% just the right way to have any chance at success.

All of the above doesn’t only apply to playing the tank role of course. Especially the ability to move while casting or channeling is a godsend for healers and DPS players. Having to stand still all the time admittedly doesn’t bother me that much when playing my Warlock in Everquest II – despite cast times of up to five seconds – since that game doesn’t harass players as much with bad stuff to move out of as more recent titles.

combat3
Any moment now…no, NO, don’t move!!

As a healer in FFXIV though you’re forced to choose between two ills all the fricking time: either finish casting your healing spell and get hit by an AoE because of it or move out of the ground target in time and maybe let someone die. To me that isn’t fun, it’s just stressful.

To summarize, combat is a main feature of most MMOs, and I’m fine with that because it can be tremendously fun. Action combat or tab targeting, I don’t care. What the game shouldn’t do is force me into a too tight design corset dictating the exact ‘right’ way to play. Give me some freedom in how I play my chosen class or build and enable me to feel that I’m in control of the situation rather than the game controlling me. Then I’m a happy camper.

Quo vadis, Blizzard?

I initially didn’t want to talk about this, and now I’m way late to the party. I realized that I need to get it out of my system though, so here goes. There will be bits of strong language in this one.

Seriously Blizzard, what the fuck?

I’m of course talking about BlizzCon and Blizzard’s unfathomable decision to present Diablo Immortal, a title for mobile devices, during the first and thus main presentation on their ‘mythic stage’ – and absolutely nothing else Diablo related.

Seriously, this is what they expected their hardcore fans, who had spent a good amount of time and money to be there, to get really excited about. It didn’t quite pan out as they seem to have imagined.

Well, who could’ve known, right? It’s not like the vast majority of people attending BlizzCon are used to playing high quality games on PC and crave only one thing: more of that, just bigger and better.

The assembled Diablo fanbase basically wanted to see one of the following things (or, preferably, all of them):

Diablo IV on PC; new content for Diablo III; a high quality remaster of Diablo II on PC.

Had Blizzard announced at least one of those after their Immortal thing, this would’ve been a wholly different story. Personally I wouldn’t have cared much about the former two, as Path of Exile sates my needs for a modern ARPG well enough, but I’d devour a good DII remaster, that’s for sure.

DII
It’s astonishing how much nostalgia fits into 800×600 pixels

This isn’t the first time Blizzard comes across as tone-deaf, indifferent and even arrogant towards their playerbase though. As I’ve said before their attitude of ‘we know better what you want than you do’ has effectively kept me from playing WoW when I maybe would’ve at least tried it out at some point otherwise.

Until now this arrogance seemed to have been limited to the people in charge of WoW, at least to me, but right now it’s hard to shake off the feeling that Blizzard as a whole has gone full ‘Shut the fuck up and just buy our shit’-mode.

You see, Starcraft II didn’t fare any better. I bought all three of its collector’s editions at the time, and I’d kill for new story missions. Instead we get more co-op heroes which, of course, cost money but add nothing storywise.

SC2
One of many great ‘holy crap’ moments during the campaign’s missions

Overwatch seems to be the only franchise that’s still handled by people with a healthy portion of love for their own game, which is mostly to ‘Jeff from the Overwatch Team’s credit. Sure, not everything’s perfect over there either, but, again, I can at least feel some kind of connection between the makers, the game and the players here.

Its monetization though…no thanks. I unfortunately have to admit that I bought some of their lootboxes during the game’s first year, but I don’t intend to do so ever again.

Overwatch 2016-08-26 23-57-21-479
My favourite bad guy looks best sporting his default look anyway

For a long time I’ve been one of those people who said ‘Yeah, some of this is bad, but the game is fun, so I just play and ignore everything else’.

Not anymore. During the last couple of years things went from bad to worse in terms of customer friendliness, and I’ve finally decided to draw the line. From now on I’ll boycott the worst offenders.

Yes, I might miss out on some stuff, but you know what? There are other games to play – too many, in fact – and other products to use.

Blizzard and Apple are the first companies who won’t squeeze another buck out of my wallet as long as they don’t manage to genuinely convince me that they value me as a customer again. If enough people do this maybe, just maybe, things might change again.

IntPiPoMo picture count: 3 (this post); 17 (total)

EQII quest types if wish every MMO had

Ever since WoW set lots of genre standards quests have become the de facto means for progressing your character in most themepark-MMOs and even some sandboxes. You don’t just go forth and kill Orcs, gather shrubs or whatever because you want to, but because some NPC tells you to.

Players are supposed to be busy for as long as possible, so lots and lots of quests are needed. Quantity often trumps quality in terms of quest design due to this. It’s become so bad over time that there’s a well known trope for boring busywork-quests: ‘Kill 10 rats’.

10Rats
In case you don’t know The Noob yet, it’s hilarious!

Fortunately not all quests are like this. Everquest II has a lot of variety, and also some types of quests I haven’t seen in any other MMO yet. Which is a shame because I think these are pretty great, although they, too, are mainly meant to keep you busy.

Here are some examples.

Lore and Legend quests

For nearly every creature type in EQII there’s a corresponding L&L quest. They require to collect body parts of said creatures to learn more about them.

What’s great about them?

You have to kill all those mobs for other quests anyway (see above), and it’s nice to get not one but at least two pings every now and then as well as extra XP at the end. Some of those pings come in the form of tradable items that need to be consumed for the quest, so even if you have already finished yours you can still benefit from looting duplicates by passing them to your alts or selling them.

The rewards other than XP are what make these quests stand out though. Every class has some kind of spell or ability that you can only use against creatures whose L&L quest you have completed. It’s not insanely powerful, but it’s still nice to have another damaging ability at your disposal.

You also get a wall mounted trophy and an actually readable book containing a short story about that creature type for your house.

EQ2_LL
Yes, I’ve studied that brain very thoroughly, thanks for asking.

When a quest manages to make mindlessly killing mobs much more rewarding and fun it’s doing something right in my book.

Language quests

The EQII Wiki lists 43 languages, only two or three of which player characters can speak from the start. Some can be bought, but most have to be learned by doing a quest.

What’s great about them?

The basic ones again require simple drops coming from the corresponding mob types, so they give you yet another reason to go on a killing spree.

More elaborate languages, like the Dragon language, have equally sophisticated quests. The main step of this one asks you to “find 26 translated runes of Elder Dragon”. Doesn’t sound too hard until you realize that those runes are spread out all over the game world and you have no exact idea where they might be hidden. If anyone has found all these without using coordinates from a walkthrough: hats off to you! Even with outside help it’s really cool though because it makes you revisit all these zones and kind of see them with different eyes while you examine every nook and cranny.

Learning the languages serves the purpose to actually be able to understand and talk to those people and creatures. If you don’t know the language yet you will see only gibberish in chat, and consequentially can’t properly interact with them to get or progress quests. This makes the world feel more real to me and gives a sense of achievement the more my characters learn.

EQ2_Language
Ha, you say that now!

Heritage quests

These aren’t exactly applicable for every MMO because they send you on a quest to rediscover ‘relics of old’, namely famous items from the game’s predecessor Everquest. Still, even without the nostalgia factor (which I don’t have either because I’ve never played EQ) these are very cool quests.

What’s great about them?

In a word, they’re epic. When done at the appropriate level they’re much longer and harder than your average quest and always tell an interesting story. Some are sad, some are hilarious, some are plain silly. Whatever they are, I never skip the quest text because I’d do myself a disservice.

Granted, the items they reward aren’t always worth the effort, at least not for their stats. Often you’ll find that you can’t even use it because it’s not for your class. After all the legendary Shiny Brass Halberd, for example, won’t magically turn into a wand just because you’re a spellcaster. This doesn’t bother me though because these too can be used as a housing decoration, and I often sit in my library, drink mead from the Stein of Moggok and read a book about lore and legends while admiring the sight of my Glowing Black Stone and Greater Lightstone upon my shelf.

EQ2_Heritage
Well, not really, but you get the idea.