Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Attack of the Blue Shells

One of the games I've been playing lately hasn't been an MMO or a PC based game at all, but a console game: Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U.*

I know that some "real" gamers don't think that the Wii U qualifies as a true gaming console because it doesn't have any gritty shooters on it,** but since the other consoles we have include an Atari 2600 and an Intellivision II, yeah, I think it qualifies.

I realize that some people would argue that the Wii U is technically behind the current gen consoles from Sony and Microsoft, but there is one thing that the Wii U does right: it allows you to play previous gen Wii games on the Wii U. The PS4 and XBox One won't allow you to play PS3 and XBox 360 games, which means you have to keep your old console around to play years worth of accumulated titles. Nintendo might be giving up some profits by following this model, but the goodwill generated by this gesture can't be underestimated. And if you're like our family, who doesn't want to have multiple consoles cluttering a single television, it's a great thing.

Even though consoles have been hooked up to the internet for ages, I still think of them as stand alone non-networked devices. They were the "get a group of people together and play" systems, one step removed from boardgames and pencil-and-paper RPGs.  Therefore, my approach to the Wii U has been to not explore the online capabilities of the system very much.

The one exception has been the online play for Mario Kart 8.

Ain't that the truth. From nintendonews.com.

My account is the only one on the Wii U capable of online interaction***, so I have a say in when we play online with Mario Kart 8. That has put a damper on the mini-Reds' enthusiasm for online play --they'd rather hang around LOTRO or Marvel Heroes for that-- but I introduced my wife to online Mario Kart races last week.

I didn't quite expect her reaction.

You have to put this in perspective; my wife looks at MMOs as a big steaming pile of "meh". She kind of shakes her head at the rest of us and our interest in slaying internet dragons (or internet Sith), but doesn't interfere as long as we stay within a specified budget. She may play her occasional word game as a single player, but she never exhibited any interest in online gaming itself.

That all changed the other day.

She had the day off and was getting a few Mario Kart 8 races in while I was working in the next room. Typically, around mid-morning I'd be ready for a short break and would get up and possibly get a race or two in before delving into something else, but I was stuck in meetings. So when she asked if I was interesting in playing, I had to turn her down.

However, a light bulb went off in my head, and I replied that while I couldn't play, I did have a few minutes between meetings to set her up with an online session if she was interested.

She was a bit skeptical. I know she hasn't heard about the XBox Live horror stories because that sort of news doesn't interest her much, but I figured that she was probably more worried about looking like an idiot on screen.

I assured her it wasn't a big deal, and since people tend to get grouped in with their same point level, you'll be able to find people with similar skill sets.

So I switched users to my account, fired up Mario Kart 8, and got her ready to play.

After I explained the (minimal) differences between a regular VS series and the online game, I retreated to my office and joined the next meeting.

Then I heard a "WOOO!" from the other room.

"I'm playing against someone from Japan! And Germany! And the UK!"

I grinned in spite of myself.

About an hour later, I stretched and wandered over to see how it was going. "Well?" I asked.

"I was going to stop after a few runs, but this is so much fun!"



The Mario Kart 8 online play has two big things that make it welcoming for new players: matching players with similar scores, and limited options for player interaction.

If you take the rating system in Rated Battlegrounds and apply it to all players of online Mario Kart, then you've got the idea how the Mario Kart rating system works. You do well, and your rating rises; if you do poorly, your rating drops.**** You're matched up with players of similar ratings --within reason-- but everybody who plays has a rating.  This means you don't have the scenario that's frequently found in a random WoW BG: a guild group who runs Rateds stomping all over the other side composed of casual BG players. There's nothing that says that a player who picks up a Wiimote with a "newbie" rating of 1000 isn't a high skilled player visiting a friend, but the gear discrepancy and "flavor of the month" build found so frequently in WoW isn't present.

Since both the Wii and Wii U versions of Mario Kart only allow a few set phrases to be used, there's no trash talk between online players. I'm sure that some people get frustrated at not being able to scream "YOU SUCK NOOB!!" or "GO MAKE ME A SAMMICH!" at the other players, but this creates a safe space for everybody to play. It's not unlike the Wizard 101 method of game play, where you're limited in interactions by design, so that parents can feel confident that their kids won't be bullied or stalked online.

Both online design decisions are a win in my book. For my wife, who would likely be intimidated if she were being constantly pounded into dirt or offended the minute some asshat decides to unload on her for being a woman and a noob, this is perfect. And, needless to say, it's good for kids, too, although the mini-Reds are kind of old pros at the MMO scene these days.

Maybe we'll have another MMO gamer in the future after all.

*Yeah yeah yeah, I know; I'm some sort of traitor.

**I'd have said "Rated M for Mature" games, but the Wii U does have some of those, such as Bayonetta 2 and Assassin's Creed IV.

***That's by design, since I don't want to open up a credit card statement and discover that I "purchased" some games or downloadable content (DLC).

****Everybody starts at a rating of 1000.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Hey, It's Video Game Related

If you're my age, this hits ALL of the right notes.


Forget The Avengers, THIS is what I'd like to see.

I mean, Adam Sandler can't screw this one up, can he? He even has Peter Dinklage in it!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Revenge of the Liebster

Syl over at MMO Gypsy has tagged me with a Liebster, which meant that it took about a year for the award to get back to me.

It's baaaack!

I've been perusing her questions, and while most of them I knew the answer to immediately, there were a few that I needed some time to consider.

Without further delay, here's my answers to Syl's questions:

1. If you could learn a new language overnight, which would it be?
German. Practicality be damned, I like the sound of the language.* Besides, I know enough German speakers --including the mini-Reds, who have been taking German as their foreign language requirement at school-- that it'd be fun to actually converse in German.

2. What is the first MMO you’d want to visit in full VR mode?
Hmm.  I'm assuming that they'd also get an graphical upgrade, so I'd say LOTRO, with SWTOR a close second. I suppose for the pure titillation factor there's Age of Conan, but the sword and sorcery landscape that is the Hyborean Age is too brutal for me to enjoy in a VR mode. WoW would be interesting, but I'd be more up for it in the Vanilla/BC/Wrath WoW (pre-Cata) areas.

3. If you got to invite a dead person over for tea and biscuits, who would it be?
This was a toughie.

I thought about what sort of person I'd like to invite over, which really defines who I'd invite. There are a ton of interesting people out there, from the enlightened monarch Frederick of Prussia to the true Renaissance Man Leonardo da Vinci, with everyone from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Albert Einstein to Bartolome de las Casas to Bette Davis in between. I'd like to chat with Copernicus about his observations of the heavens, Cleopatra about how she was able to use all of her skills to hold onto power in Egypt, and Lao Tsu just to hear him talk. Imagine talking with Mae West about how much of her act was based on her own sexuality, or Tchaikovsky about how much of his own personality went into his composing.

But if I'm going to be forced to choose, I'd say it would be my Great Aunt, who passed away over 16 years ago. Sure, I know all the stories she'd tell by heart --she said the same 15 stories for the last 20 years of her life-- but I wouldn't mind.

4. What kind of biscuits would you serve?
McVities Original Digestives. Yes, I do know about McVities --I get them at Jungle Jim's-- and while I personally prefer the dark chocolate ones, I know those won't necessarily go with tea.

5. Who should go down first: House Lannister, House Frey or House Bolton?
Since I haven't read the books (or seen the series), I threw dice and got House Frey.

6. Justice means:
– a) everyone gets what they work for
– b) everyone gets the same
– c) everyone gets what they need
For me, A, but with one caveat: the value of the work is is directly proportional to its criticality. In an office where three people get the day to day business done while others sit in meetings, guess who gets the most reward in my scenario?  (Hint: not the meeting people.)

7. If you could see one of your favorite games get a sequel, it would be….?
Hmm. Most of the games (video games-wise) that I like already either are sequels or have a sequel out there. However, for a GOOD sequel, I'd have to say Master of Orion.

8. If a person were to split a pot of 1000$ between them and yourself on condition of you accepting their first offer, would you rather accept 100 bucks or both go empty?
Hopefully, that person wouldn't be a complete jerk and try to take almost all of the money, but if they did try to give me only $100, I'd much rather us both go empty.

9. Which in game MMO place/location do you consider a home to return to?
When I played WoW, this would have been Eversong Forest.  There is absolutely no doubt in my mind; because even when I played Alliance characters I would occasionally sneak into Eversong to wander around.

Since I no longer hang out in Azeroth, I found this is a tougher question than I thought.

A big argument could be made that I don't really have a "home base" anymore; I play several games and there are several favorite haunts, but nothing quite says home to me like Eversong Forest did. Of course, a great deal of that is that my first moments playing an MMO were playing a Blood Elf Priest on WoW, so it's natural that I'd think of Eversong Forest as a place to return to when I'm in need of a recharge.

So maybe I really don't have a home anymore, which does make sense, given that I do wander about MMOs quite a bit these days.

10. Favorite midnight snack when nobody’s looking?
Um, it depends. Right now, it's some Swiss chocolate, but I've been known to cook up a grilled cheese sandwich or nosh on some hummus and pita bread.


I know a big part of the Liebster is to go and tap a bunch of other bloggers, but since my last attempt wound up with very few takers, I think I'm going to pass this time. As the old saying goes, "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

*Yes, I'm one of those who think that a foreign language sounds sexy. (Yes, even German. I'm sure there are skeptics.) Maybe I should insert the obligatory A Fish Called Wanda clip about the sexiness of foreign languages, such as Russian....

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Blizzard discovers that time is actually money

One of the best of The Far Side comics was this one:

Gary Larson, 1985. For some reason my copy wouldn't
scan right, so thank goodness for the internet.

I think it's safe to say that Blizzard has discovered the same thing. And, unlike Einstein, they're building their WoW token system based on another's work: EVE (and Wildstar, too).*

Another thing that's certain: Blizzard believes that few enough people will be taking advantage of this option for them to absorb any subscription losses involved. By setting the real world cost for the WoW tokens themselves --and allow only the token to change hands once-- they can tinker with the corresponding end price on the AH without becoming directly involved in the gold farmer black market.

I'm with Rohan on this; I'd prefer that Blizzard just turn into any other cash shop and sell gold directly to players. Blizzard isn't going to eliminate subscriptions, and the high end raiding guilds will likely recruit players just so they become gold farmers to subsidize the raid team's subscriptions.

For the majority of WoW subscribers, this announcement isn't going to change a thing. They'll still pay their $180/year (more or less) and get their gaming on. For those who play the AH and amass a lot of gold, however, they'll be able to live off the fruits of others' money.

*I suppose Newton and Calculus would have been a more apt comparison than using Einstein, but Einstein is easier to draw.