Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Not Quite a Guild

The MMO site MassivelyOP had a post by Justin "Syp" Olivetti* about an organization called Permateam whose goal is to reduce the toxic nature of random PvP matches in games such as Overwatch and League of Legends.

Before I could write a post that said "Yeah, good luck with that," I hit pause and let the article and my perusal of the Permateam website percolate in my head for a few days. And I have to admit, it has as good a chance at dealing with the player toxicity found in online PvP matches than anything else.

Permateam is somewhere in that hazy area that is not quite a guild and not quite a fansite. The idea is that you fill out info on what roles you like to play, when you like to play, and what games you play, and Permateam helps you out in selecting players to play Overwatch and League with from their own database. The entire point is that players who sign up with Permateam want to avoid the drama and toxicity by reducing the potential pool of players to the Permateam player lists. Sure, it's not perfect, and people can still be asshats, but how that is dealt with is kind of hazy right now.

Like I said, it's a lot broader in scope than your average guild, but still has a lot of common ground with an MMO player running battlegrounds and arenas with your guildies.

What I find most interesting are the comments, some of which have me scratching my head.

Some people seem to truly believe that if you don't allow purely random match selection, you're not truly opening yourself to the ability to meet people online and you're self selecting a group of players. But for me, I don't see it like that. If a game's toxic player base is so bad that you derive no enjoyment from the game itself, then why play the game at all? Isn't the toxic player base engaging in its own version of self selection, only in a more obnoxious manner?

I realize that some people think this encourages elitism, but I don't believe that what is there now is any different. The current environment in Overwatch or League or DOTA 2 is an elitist environment, because if a player thinks you're not playing well enough they hurl invective and abuse at you until you quit. If you join a guild or join Permateam to get away from the asshats and play with people who are friendly, it's a win-win for everybody; the original asshats get to group the old fashioned way without Permateam directly impacting their fun, the Permateam players get to play with people who share similar gaming values, and the game admins have less stress all the way around.

Do I think that Permateam will last? I believe that the jury is still out on Permateam, because well meaning organizations like this require dedication and support and active interest to keep going. There are plenty of MMO guilds out there that have fallen apart due to personality clashes and general disinterest. If Permateam is to succeed, the players and the management have to keep up their interest in the service.

Best of luck, Permateam. I hope you know what you're doing.

*Yes, the Syp of the BioBreak blog and of the Battle Bards podcast.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

On the Endangered Species List: The Story in MMOs

As I'm well into my third (and kind of poking around my fourth) MMO for my "Fun With" series, I've noticed something about some of these Asian MMOs that I've not noticed in the WoW branch of MMOs: that story is much less important than other factors.

True, I'll grant that ArcheAge is more story rich than TERA, but the more I've played the more I get the feeling that the story is father down the priority list than what you'd find in most of the WoW branch's MMOs. For ArcheAge, story is below PvP, Crafting, and graphics* in terms of importance, while for WoW, the story is likely only below the Orcs vs. Humans dictum. I could even make the argument that Orcs vs. Humans is the foundation of the WoW story and that a argument could be made that WoW's true #1 is raiding, but even then the story is a higher priority in WoW and its branch of MMOs than in ArcheAge, TERA, and (now that I think about it), Aion.**

As much as the post-Cataclysm story discontinuity drove me nuts, I can't deny that without a story WoW would have been closer to a MOBA than anything resembling its current incarnation.

Now, all this being said, I readily acknowledge that there are going to be Fantasy/Science Fiction tropes --that are primarily Western in nature-- that don't apply to Asian MMOs. (And vice versa.) This also impacts the development process, what parts of a game to put priority on, and how the story unfolds. So it's likely that I'm missing some parts of the story and overall thrust of some of these Asian MMOs that would be more apparent were I not so steeped in the Western SF&F tropes.

What is bothersome to me --and to others who prefer the story to be the primary focus of a game-- it seems that game companies in general are moving away from the story and more toward multiplayer competition. Remember how Mass Effect: Andromeda announced it won't be updating single player, and only multiplayer going forward? I used to think that maybe it was more due to the ME team needing to take a step back and refocus on what makes Bioware games tick and devote resources to making that happen, but now I'm not so sure. The more I've played the Asian MMOs and gone back and reviewed the rise of the MOBA and Overwatch, the more I think game companies are starting to abandon the story in favor of (cheaper to develop) multiplayer games where it's "Story? What story? I just want to kill things!" as the focus.

Even Blizzard had begun doing this with WoW by dumping major story points into novels that are then reflected in game; if you want to catch up with the story, you have to read all the novels.*** That has historically given me the impression that it was done as a cost saving measure, so Blizz wouldn't have to spend development dollars for something they'd pay an author to write. But at least Blizz still puts focus on the story, because without the story they'd be another Splatoon.

While I get that for some people, the story in an MMO is best left to the players --such as in EVE Online-- I'm not like that. For me, a story provides a framework for everything else that happens in an MMO, and while you can get away with a generic Fantasy or Science Fiction MMO as a pure sandbox, MMOs based on name properties would have a hard time pulling that off. If you've got a name such as World of Warcraft or Star Wars, you expect a game to have a WoW or Star Wars feel to it, and while you can stick a Wookie in a bar, that doesn't make a game "Star Wars" anymore than having some Orcs fight some Humans and call it WoW.****


Perhaps these things come and go in cycles, where story becomes more or less important based on what becomes the new hotness. Computer RPGs had an early golden age with Infocom text games, the early Ultima series, and the AD&D games developed by SSI, but there was a long period in the 90s where RPGs nearly vanished from the scene. It was 1998's Baldur's Gate that revived the RPG as a genre, so maybe we've hit a period where except for a few titles --such as Zelda and Horizon: Zero Dawn-- there's just not a lot of interest from the major software companies to fund new story driven games.

But I sure hope more of them get made, because while companies may not be interested in such games, the public certainly does.

*Yes, including boob physics. The nature of the boob physics in ArcheAge is that while breasts can move that way, because cloth and leather armor operate in-game as if they're attached to the frame of the toon, the breast movement is more akin to a naked person wearing body paint than a person wearing cloth or leather armor. In WoW, this "attached to the frame" aspect of toons is very obvious if your toon is wearing a tabard; in ArcheAge it is less obvious until you see a female toon move. Like TERA, the ArcheAge devs' implementation of boob physics is less about realism and still more about titillation.

**I suspect that Black Desert Online is in the same vein. Not so sure about Vindictus, however.

***It must be said, however, Blizzard still would have a ton of story in each WoW expac.

****Some boardgame designers forget that when trying to design games based on named properties. For me, Pillars of the Earth, based on the novel by Ken Follett, is a prime example. When you take out too much theme --or try to wrap a theme around a mathematical exercise-- you end up with a result that looks nothing like the source material.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Why I Likely Won't Play EVE, Part Whatever

I was originally thinking of writing something a bit more lighthearted for Friday, but I came across this little post in Kotaku from Wednesday:

A game that prides itself on its no-holds barred/Machiavellian environment* in a space economy is the only place I'd expect to see something like this. Sure, it makes for fascinating reading, but I know I couldn't handle this sort of shenanigans. It'd be like watching real work intrude on my gaming fun.**

Oh, and the spreadsheet aspect of EVE isn't something that I'm enamored of, either. Sure, I'm good at spreadsheets, and I use them even outside of work, but it's not something I like to do but rather something I have to do. Like keep track of college data so we can drill down on what universities mini-Red #2 should be focusing on when we go to the college fairs.*** Or working out the cost details on house projects. But if you want to be good at EVE, you need to run spreadsheets. LOTS of spreadsheets. And that doesn't spark my interests.

Still, more power to those who love to play. It's the difference between respecting somebody who is good at the old Avalon Hill boardgame Diplomacy and actually playing it: the people who are best at both may not necessarily be the people you want to hang around with in real life.

*With the major exception of out of game threats of violence being met with a perma-ban.

**The main reason why I won't read A Song of Fire and Ice and other, gritty SF/F novels is because if I want to read about gritty realism and how characters must suffer and die, I'll go turn on the news.

***Seriously. There's not enough time at those things to cover every university that is there, so you have to focus on the ones you're most interested in. Add to that the complexity of finding universities that have majors that you're interested in --English or Chemistry is easy, finding a university with a Music program that has an Oboist, not so much-- and you've got the makings of a pretty challenging environment.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Well, That was Unexpected

I've been working on Archage for my next review, but midway through my playing of the game they had a server merge. So, there's that little surprise.

And then I discovered that unlike some other games that are F2P where you can create a maximum of 2 toons per server, Archeage gives you a maximum of 2 toons period.

So, my little side exploration into one of the other race options meant that I accidentally locked up all of my toons for the game, so I had to delete that other toon in order to free up the space.


When you delete a toon in Archeage, you have to wait 5 days (or so) for it to clear. I'm not sure if that was due to the impending server merge, but the toon was on a server not affected by the merge so I think this is a regular thing with Archeage.

All in all, Archeage really really REALLY wants your money and has no qualms about really restricting things in odd ways. For all of those people who complain about SWTOR and it's restrictions, at least you're not restricted in toons the way Archeage is.

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Mashup Made in Geek Heaven

It's pretty much gone mainstream these days, but Settlers of Catan (now called just Catan) started out was an import here in the US. It was one of the original Eurogames that made it to our shores in the mid 90s* and began the boardgame revolution that we see today.

And Season Seven of the television adaptation of George RR Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice, HBO's Game of Thrones, just ended.

So what do I find when flipping through the big Con book from Gen Con? This:

The oldest mini-Red freaked out
when I texted her this.
Its a shared venture between Fantasy Flight Games (which holds the Game of Thrones license) and Catan Games. Here's the info on FFG's website.

Let the geeking out commence.

*Our copy dates from roughly 1996.