Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It's All in the Mindset

The LOTRO experiment seems to have fizzled out.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but I am a bit disappointed.  The kids seemed to like interacting with Middle-earth well enough, but once they started the F2P version of LOTRO I started hearing the same complaints:
  • "I can't find the quest giver!"
  • "The buttons are too hard!"
  • "I can't see where I'm going!" [aka "I can't adjust the camera!"]
  • "My friends aren't on here.  I keep hearing about [fill in the blank] instead!"
Fixing those first three come with experience.  After all, I should know about the learning curve for an MMO.  Now that last one...

The Mash-up of Genres called Wizard 101

This was the first game I began hearing about from my kids, about how their friends are on it, it's free to play, and that it's a lot of fun.

What I heard was "blah blah blah KIDS ONLY blah blah blah," which set off alarm bells in my head.

Any place that advertises itself as a "safe place for kids" you have to be extra diligent with, because that's the sort of place that predators gravitate toward.  Are there predators on WoW?  Sure, but they have a harder time identifying their prey there.*  A place that is "kid friendly" is almost too good to be true from a predator's point of view, so as a parent you have to be extra vigilant to make sure that things remain (relatively) safe.

Wizard 101 addresses these issues by restricting what players can say via chat.  If your account identifies you as being below a certain age cutoff, for instance, you are limited to only some standard phrases.  You can still friend people and connect with them, but communication is minimal.  Above a certain age, you can chat normally, but certain phrases are replaced with a "..." if you are the incorrect age to read it.  Some words, as you can imagine, are completely off limits and won't appear at all in a chat session (they're marked red when you type).

This is all well and good, I suppose, until your kid creates an account and deliberately changes the age to be older than he or she really is.  That's when things can get a bit hairy, and adult supervision is needed to ensure that your kid isn't trying to subvert the system.  What was it that Winston Churchill once said about it being impossible to make something foolproof because fools were so ingenious?

These concerns aside, if you thought that toons looked pretty generic in WoW, you ain't seen nothing yet.

In Wizard 101, you enter a rather suspiciously Harry Potter-esque world as a young wizard --and yes, variation between toons is kept to a minimum as far as boy/girl tweaks.  So if you've seen one wizard, you've almost literally seen them all.  Your gear will change over the course of your time spent in Wizard 101, so if you want to look at least a little bit different, the gear is the way to go.

The game world has a feel of Harry Potter Meets Anime, with a dash of Technicolor brightness thrown in for good measure, so make of that what you will.

The gameplay is a bit of a weird combo between a regular MMO and Magic the Gathering.  You can pick up quests, run around the game area using the mouse, and do all sorts of generic things you're used to in an MMO.  The one major difference, however, is the combat system.  You initiate combat by running into an enemy (or dueling with a fellow player) and then you enter a magic circle.  Multiple allies and enemies can join the circle, so be careful how close you are to enemies before engaging.  When you fight, however, you fight using a deck of magic cards (hmm, sound familiar?) in which you play a different card each round to attack an opponent, buff yourself, heal yourself/others, or debuff an opponent.  The card's power is dictated by the land cards markers on the side of your dueling circle location.  You fight until one of you is defeated or retreats.

The game is F2P, but does have a subscription option which allows you access to a lot more of the game world.

Taking a page from WoW, the quest titles have a lot of quips in them.  Additionally, certain characters from some old fantasy novels (such as Dorothy Gale from The Wizard of OZ) are present in the game.

When I tried this MMO out, I kept wondering how on earth this company hasn't found itself sued by multiple groups yet, but time will tell.  The kids seem to find the game interesting enough, and they have schoolmates who play, so we'll see how long this lasts.

How to Ignore your Mouse in a few Easy Steps -- LEGO Universe

LEGO Universe recently jumped on the F2P model, opening up a limited section of its game to people with lego.com accounts.

Considering that the kids have quite a few of the LEGO PC games, it didn't shock me in the least that they wanted to try this game out.  What did surprise me was that you used an actual keyboard to maneuver around LEGO Universe instead of a gamepad.

Or a mouse, for that matter.

Whomever came up with the idea of using keyboard-only commands for LEGO Universe needs to get a swift kick in the butt.  Even my kids had major issues with that before they acclimatized themselves to using the keyboard commands.

You also don't have a lot of control over the camera, either.  You can tweak a few things, but like most of the regular LEGO games you're at the mercy of the camera's zoom capability.  The LEGO games give me a headache for that reason, and LEGO Universe was no exception.**

While I popped a couple of ibuprofen, I studied the game and the chat system.  Or lack thereof, in the case of the latter.

If you're taking advantage of F2P, you can't use chat.  Period.  Just get used to the idea that you can do a few basic emotes and that's it.  Supposedly LEGO Universe has active mods to act as police officers, but since you can't really do much in the F2P version of LEGO Universe, I'd not worry about that.

You also are very restricted in your name creation, although the LEGO minifig configuration is much better than what you get out of Wizard 101.

Okay, the LEGO minifigs are cute.  And the gameplay is a bit like what you find when you cross an MMO with one of the LEGO video games.  But can't these people just throw gamepad support on this game?  Or at least mouse support?

But what do I know; the kids find it fun enough.  And that the camera is on automatic seems to be fine with them too.

*Unless you get on Vent, of course.

**No, seriously.  I can't play FPS's either for that reason.  Dramamine helps, but it's not a panacea.

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