IntPiPoMo – Horror edition

I like it when games are a little scary. Or more than a little. Hence I’ve played quite a lot of horror games during the years, among others most Resident Evil issues, Dead Space, The Evil Within, F.E.A.R., and of course my all time favourite, Silent Hill.

Most of those games ran on various older consoles though, so I don’t have any screenshots.

Fortunately there are many PC games that also have some ‘scary’ in them, and naturally I’ve always been drawn to those too.

As a die-hard MMO player I have to start off with The Secret World of course. In terms of conspiracies, fairytales and horror it’s the mother of all MMOs.

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One of the coolest, spookiest places in the game – which is saying something – is the haunted amusement park in The Savage Coast. Here I’m taking a ride on its roller coaster. Of course I expected something to happen, but it gave me the chills nonetheless, and I jumped in my seat when that apparition lunged at me just as I was about to pass her.

The next one is from a quest in Tokyo. Imagine you’re sent into a parking garage to investigate something. It’s dark, it’s gloomy, and something’s clearly not right. You walk down the ramp to the next level when suddenly what little light’s there goes out. It’s pitch black, but not for long. Before you can decide what to do next a blood red light turns on and you’re greeted by this:

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I didn’t watch any videos, I swear! I don’t even own a VCS player anymore…

Then there’s the James Bond-esque mini expansion A Dream to Kill, which towards the end has you investigate a nursery. Evidently something’s gone horribly wrong here.

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Yeah, I think I’d rather leave now…

One of my favourite games of all time is Vampire Bloodlines. Despite being a buggy mess and looking anything but fresh even when it came out in 2004 it’s so great that I still play through it every couple of years. I guess I have to talk about it in more detail some time. Until then you might enjoy Rakuno’s walkthrough series of the game, if you don’t mind spoilers that is.

Anyway, Bloodlines also has some seriously eerie sequences.

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That’s gotta be a haunted house if there ever was one

Actually the quest giver flat out tells you that a ghost is making trouble in that old hotel, and your mission is to put an end to that.

What you don’t know is who the ghost is and why it can’t find rest. During your investigation you find more and more clues about what happened. Apparently a family of four stayed at the hotel for it’s grand opening, and due to jealousy – and maybe also some otherworldly reason – the father’s mental state got worse and worse. He – spoiler – eventually killed his family and set the hotel on fire. I found this image drawn by one of the kids to be the most disturbing clue:

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In the end you can put a stop to the father’s haunting, and his wife’s ghost can finally rest in peace. At least there’s that.

Next up is Batman: Arkham Asylum. We have seen so many versions of Batman’s origin story by now that it’s gotten pretty stale. In this game though it’s done quite nifty (and short). During the course of the story Batman gets drugged by Scarecrow a couple of times. Sometimes it makes his worst fears become (perceived) reality, at one time it forces him to relive his parents’ death. Visually this is done exceptionally well, and the most emotional realization of the scene I’ve seen to date.

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Path of Exile makes you fight lots of big bads during the course of its storyline. Among the most sinister is Piety of Theopolis, the right hand of the game’s former end boss Dominus.

When you first enter her lair in Act III, The Lunaris Temple, the set pieces make it abundantly clear that she’s really, really evil.

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Yep, definitely evil.

I played a bit of Left 4 Dead 2 with a couple of friends after it came out. It wasn’t really all that scary, but it sported pretty much the highest gore factor I’d seen up to that point to compensate.

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Rochelle and the guys having yet another bad day at the office

To end the post on a lighter note, here’s a shot of some rather unthreatening ghosts you’re probably familiar with:

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Yo ho ho and a bottle of…grog?

IntPiPoMo picture count: 9 (this post); 26 (total)

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IntPiPoMo – putting the ‘Massive’ into MMOs

It’s been a highly debated question amongst gamers since the dawn of MMOs – when exactly has a multiplayer game earned the right to actually call itself ‘Massively Multiplayer’?

Personally I don’t care much, as long as the game is fun to play. Yet there’s no denying that there are games wearing the MMO moniker where in reality you hardly ever meet another player.

Today I’m going to share some gaming moments that truly put the Massive into the experience, for better or worse. As always, click to enlarge.

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The Secret World is (or rather was) one of those MMOs where encountering large amounts of players was common pretty much only in it’s hub areas, like Agartha seen above. As long as you were out in the world you’d only rarely meet another soul. In my mind this was actually beneficial to it’s great, gloomy atmosphere, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way while questing.

Thankfully though, that loneliness went out the window whenever there were world bosses to fight.

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What do you mean, ‘unfair’?

What looks like total mayhem…was exactly that. Shouts would go out in event chat when a boss had spawned (or was about to get summoned by players) and people would pile into the instance until it couldn’t hold any more. The fights itself were mostly a dance of doing as much damage as possible while continuously dodging the boss’s AoE attacks, many of which would one-shot you. I had to dial down my graphics to potato mode and still had a hard time to dodge or execute my rotations properly, but it was so much fun nonetheless. These were world bosses done right as far as I’m concerned.

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Here a couple of clans had arranged a big racing event in APB Reloaded. I had participated in some races organized by my own clan before, which already were a lot of fun. In terms of player numbers this one beat everything else though, and the ensuing chaos was just terrific. My own car is somewhere in there, but I have no idea where exactly.

The rules and race course weren’t as clear and well thought out as they had been for our own races, and most of the time I just tried to tail other drivers who seemed to know where they were going.

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And this is how you dispose of your car when all is said and done

I had an absolute blast and wish such events would occur more often.

As it also doesn’t happen often that we have this many clan members online at the same time we also did a posing session of course.

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Say cheese…no, wait, you gotta look badass! No smiling!

Whenever EVE Online gets big headlines in gaming press it’s either because someone pulled a giant scam or theft, or a massive battle took place.

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Here you see the biggest fight Lakisa and I found ourselves in the middle of so far. It wasn’t nearly as big as those headline battles, which had the upside of the server being more than capable of handling it without time-dilation or hiccups. Still, if I remember correctly there were well over 500 players in system and on grid, so compared to other games it was more than massive.

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Aion is one of the few MMOs I played on release day, and this is the first screenshot I took, right after logging in. All those players shared the experience with me, which unfortunately wasn’t all that pleasant. Somewhere in there an NPC is waiting to give players their first tasks, only that it took him minutes (!) to actually respond when you hailed him due to server strain. When I finally got the quest I couldn’t find even a single specimen of the creatures I ought to kill. It wasn’t a bug or somesuch, there were just too many players for far too few mobs, and it took ages to tag enough for getting the first quests done, even if you grouped up for it. Not fun.

So here we have three instances of many players being in the same place at the same time which, to me, were really great, and one where the high player density actually was to everyone’s detriment. What were your experiences with massive player numbers?

IntPiPoMo picture count: 7 (this post); 14 (total)

On randomness in MMOs

A great deal of gameplay elements in many video games are chance based, especially so in MMORPGs. Since those have their roots in Pen & Paper RPGs and board games more than skill based arcade games this isn’t actually a big surprise. Instead of dice being rolled the game’s random number generator (RNG) decides if you succeed or fail to, for example, hit your target or get your hands on a piece of desired loot.

Is this good or bad though? After thinking about it a lot and weighing my experiences over the years against each other I have to decidedly conclude: it depends. 🙂

Many forms of randomness aren’t really noticable as such. That my attacks sometimes miss is a fact that I just acklowledge and that I work against by raising stats like accuracy. But the important bit is that missing an attack every now and then is almost never a big deal. It doesn’t hurt much, is what I’m saying.

My first experience with randomness that could actually hurt was in Star Wars Galaxies. When crafting I sometimes failed, losing all materials in the process. I didn’t know how my chances for success were, nor if I could have minimized the chance to fail somehow (it wasn’t even known for sure if using crafting stations and tools of higher quality had any effect back then). After a while I was convinced that I failed more often on critical combines consuming the most resources, resulting in me thinking “RNG hates me!” for the first time. It wouldn’t be the last.

I don’t know how many times during my first years playing Everquest II I hoped in vain for a specific drop that I really wanted, or worse, saw it drop only to have someone else win the roll. For a while I really hated the randomness of it all.

As time passed and the genre evolved to more accessibility and less overall difficulty, token systems came into play. Instead of specific items (often only usable by a specific class) mobs would drop a token that could then be exchanged for an item of choice. This circumvented the frustration of ‘again a whole dungeon run and not a single drop for my class’, but made competition even more fierce since most players had ‘Need’ on most drops regardless of class all of a sudden.

Even further went The Secret World’s approach. Instead of tokens dungeon bosses would drop a fixed amount of currency. Every endgame weapon, armor, enhancement and upgrade would be bought with that currency. The good thing about that was that every player always got the full amount of currency, so there was no competition and no envy between group members at all. At first I really liked this solution.

After a while I felt that something was missing though. There was no pleasure, no adrenaline rush and no associated story when getting a new item.

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This was my pride and joy in TSW. Nevertheless I have no idea when exactly I got it, which dungeon run gave me the needed currency or how I got the token to upgrade the Glyph. Nothing.

In contrast, I still remember under which exact circumstances I got most items for my Warlock in EQII’s Rise of Kunark expansion. The Tormented Bracelet of Doom, for example. This could only drop from a contested named mob in Kunzar Jungle, Doom. I would swing by his turf every time I started playing and look if he was there. He was pretty sturdy and hit very hard, fighting him solo was a tough challenge. On the day he finally dropped his bracelet the fight was particularly close, I beat him with just a sliver of health left myself. I was overjoyed to finally get it, so much so that I still remember now, about ten years later, that it gave +4% to crit chance and +17 spell damage at the time without looking it up.

Being a Dark Elf Warlock I probably should have been friends with this Ancient Evil. Unfortunately for him I wanted his bracelet really bad…

This made me realize that when it comes to item acquisition I actually prefer the much more random approach of yore. For me token and currency systems took pretty much everything that’s fun about getting better gear away.

Then there’s gear upgrading as seen in ArcheAge and Black Desert Online, among others. This seems to be an Asian thing, basically not being able to use an item right after getting it because it has to be heavily upgraded first to become effective. Chance plays a huge role here too.

I passionately hated ArcheAges’s system, which involved so much RNG and so severe consequences when failing that it made the whole thing downright hostile.

The RNG ‘fun’ began well before the upgrading part. When crafting armor or weapons the outcome in terms of stats was completely random, and most versions couldn’t even be crafted further to higher tiers at all, forcing you to start over.

The real pain started once you had managed to get your desired base item though: the regrading system. This boosted the stats of an item while keeping basic properties intact. From the second tier onward (of which there were twelve!) there was a good chance to fail an attempt. From fifth tier there was an added chance to downgrade by one tier if you failed. From seventh tier you could downgrade two tiers with one fail. From eighth tier onward you could lose the whole item. With every tier upgrade an item gained exponentially more power than with the previous one, making top tier items godly powerful, so just not doing it wasn’t really an option. I quit the game mainly because of this crap.

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Ironically not long after getting this. Should have quit much sooner though.

Black Desert has a system that works similar in outline, but is much, much more forgiving. I’m actually having quite some fun with it, though one important reason for that is the fact that the game keeps handing out upgrade materials, silver and lots of other stuff for free on a daily basis. This lessens the feeling of loss immensely when failing a couple of times.

In conclusion, RNG elements in MMOs can be extremely frustrating to the point of ruining a game as a whole for me. When done right though they are not only ok, they can actually enrich the experience by giving achieved goals much more gravitas.

Your mileage may vary of course.