How Perception Shapes Reality, or Expectations FTW/FTL

rakghoul effect on a trooper

How cool are those eyes?!

We have another one-week-at-a-time in-game event in SWTOR, and opinions on it have been very mixed. Some people love it, some people hate it, some people think it is okay… the usual mix of Opinions. Me, I think the event is fine, but I went in knowing what the event was going to be, and what it was not going to be. My expectations were well in line with reality, and it left room for me to be pleasantly surprised by this event.

As with most of these one week at at time game activities, I know that my enjoyment of it will be limited. Eventually I’ll have seen all I want to see, gained all the rewards I wanted, and get bored. I’m still unsure as to the long term return on investment that these types of events pose, but that depends on how many new people constantly come into a game where the content is new to them.

The people I’ve seen who hate the event are, in general, bitter and unwilling to allow their perceptions the room to enjoy it. This is not what they wanted, and (some) like children they are expressing their unhappiness. “No! I won’t eat that, I hate it, it looks weird!” Those I’ve seen who love the event are either pretty new to the game, or like me they went in knowing that this wasn’t going to be the same thing as when the Rakghouls plagued us before. We’ve left our reality some room to find the fun in what we have been given.

I’ve been happy with the crafting mats gained, the experience points for several of my alts, the bolster effect that allowed our guild to bring in some of the lower level characters to raid the Operations boss, the relics, the artwork, and the overall design of the event. They even added some hidden little secrets like a limited time mini boss in their Rakghoul themed Flashpoint Kaon, that drops a coveted pet.

Cathar plagued

Outraged much?!

This was a nice break from the norm but not so intrusive that I can’t get back to the business of saving the galaxy as soon as I want. Oh sure, some people think the virus sharing is very intrusive, but because they are too lazy to go see a medical droid about their problem, I have no sympathy for them. I get frustrated with the attitudes that want to mock my enjoyment of an event like this as some kind of fangurl problem of mine. I know that my enjoyment of it is limited, which I take personal responsibility for, but that my willingness to allow myself to find the fun in it makes me a much happier person than they are. And finding happiness playing games is what it is all about, right?

Posted in gaming, MMO, Star Wars The Old Republic, SWTOR | Leave a comment

Crafting For Fun And Profit?

Word of warning on this post, I am not all that enthusiastic about crafting in my MMOs so keep that in mind when you read my opinions about this topic. Maybe this is because I’ve never played a game where crafting was exceptional, or maybe I just don’t enjoy a certain play style, I just know that while I learn and do craft things in games, I don’t relish the activity.

complicatedI tend to cringe a lot when people talk about how unfair it is that crafting has become so quick and easy and how other games made you really work hard to become a special crafter. It is almost as if they are looking for the kind of tedium (my assumption here), and work in their game that they have to put up with in life. I understand that you value something more that you had to work hard to achieve, but I tend to think that work and game are not compatible words. When it comes to how much grind I’ll put up with in a game, crafting is one of the areas where I just don’t tolerate much of it.

I craft to support my altaholocism and sometimes my guild. I’d like to craft to make money, but it never works out that well for me. I’m not ruthless enough or willing to spend enough time undercutting the competition to make it worth my while. I know people who do make money crafting in the games I play, but they have to really work hard at it (there it is again, that “work” word). When I log in I want to play, not spend hours juggling an assembly line. I know that for some the assembly line is their play, but I also assume they could find that outlet in other games (Minecraft maybe?).

Player economies are one area where the few can skew things for the many. It is definitely an area where the casual vs hard core player comes into conflict. Is it fair that someone who is unemployed and spends all day crafting in a game to make money gets to benefit over someone with a job who comes to relax for a few hours? I’ve known people in RL who found ways to exploit the heck out of WoW and I’ve seen enough ‘bots in games farming materials to really dislike a system that spawns cheaters.

Despite all of this, I do think good crafting systems have value. Even bad ones have some value. Games are certainly designed to integrate crafting and players spend many hours involved in the activity. It keeps people playing and gives us something to do outside of just questing. So while some of my biggest frustration and dislike of games comes from the crafting grind, I still maintain hope that a game will develop a crafting system that would entertain me and make it worth my while.

I wonder if that will only work if a game supports both a general purpose crafting system for casual players, similar to the “easy mode” (not my description) many complain about in most current popular MMOs, and a complex and multi-faceted mode for the really hard-core crafters. For “easy mode” you make things, you sell things, you support your character and guild activities and that is all. For “hard core” mode you earn XP, you take on quests, you explore and at the end you can make things for yourself and your characters that let you use your imagination. The fact that you can earn XP and special achievements makes this path more worth the time and effort.

SWG custom crafting

Custom description and special qualities in SWG items.

Maybe with unique craft items you can pick from a set of looks, a set of weapon types or combine stats in different ways not normally provided from regular quest gear. In my opinion, the special items shouldn’t be for sale, but they should be things you can make for alts or even for your entire account. They have to be worth your time while at the same time not causing balance issues within the game. There is nothing more annoying than jealous whiners in a game and there is nothing more frustrating than people who exploit crafting or cheat for resources. Removing the hard path crafted items from the player economy, while it will make many unhappy, preserves the “purity” of the path IMO.

Games still should at least try to make the time and energy that the easy mode crafters put into to learning and selling items worthwhile. There are several craft skills in SWTOR that I find completely useless as the “special” items I worked to learn and build became wasted due to gear introduced by the developers. Overnight, things I had been selling became bag fodder. Imagine if I’d gone through a massive time sink and grind to learn those things, rather than the relatively easy path of learning them. Ragequit!

Do I think this “ideal” dual craft world is realistic or likely to happen? In this competitive environment, I doubt it will. Companies have to focus too heavily on getting the most bang for their buck, which means they will roll the dice on the crafting style that will make the most people happy and stick with only that. And as we’ve seen from a sub game converted to F2P, they will also focus on what makes them money over what is most fair to their crafters.

The TLDR part of this is that I think crafters should be able to attain bragging rights and special items for their efforts; I just don’t think those same crafters should be allowed to dominate the in-game economy because they can put in the time to make things that everyone feels they need in order to compete. That starts games down a very slippery slope.

Posted in gaming, MMO | Tagged | Leave a comment

Dissecting New MMO Content

Another recent topic on Twitter has been hopes from Star Wars The Old Republic’s players for content from the game in 2014. It will be a year of many new game releases with new stories and worlds to tempt away the players of existing MMOs. Many of us hope this will bring out the A game in our current titles, while fearing they won’t have the resources, will or vision to bring it and compete.

As I think about new content in games and expansion packs, I find one of my big frustrations is being forced to work toward new levels in order to experience it. I get tired of my gear becoming invalid as my epic gear gets overshadowed by green quest rewards. I don’t need the XP bar to be turned back on in order to experience new story or lands, and yet that is the mechanism that most MMOs use to motivate players.

I understand how this happens. There are lore, story and an underlying conflict arc that have to evolve. You can’t always insert new content into the middle of the game and have it ignore where players are within their story experience and have it be relevant, and yet that is exactly the kind of content that players tend to love. Not trivial or non-relevant, but new, accessible to most levels and universally relevant to all factions. Trivial content isn’t the solution either, it only has a limited shelf life.

Plagued Bounty Hunter

What do you mean my eyes are glowing?!

Let’s dissect the Rakghoul event in SWTOR as an example of the kind of content I think we need a lot more of. This was a very popular piece of new game content and spoken of with great nostalgia. It had its flaws, but overall there were some very smart things that the event did for the game.

  • It came as a complete surprise which made it feel more realistic and more relevant.
  • There were visible signs all around that this was happening.
  • It was available to most players, not just those who had hit max level.
  • It included a scavenger hunt which, while it wasn’t totally without flaws, was still interesting and rewarding enough to do at least once.
  • It included gear that was unique and different, useful to most levels, and not designed to reward or replace only high level gear.
  • The fights scaled to the level of the player, provided a means to gain XP, but weren’t designed specifically to increase level cap.
  • There was story and cinematic content included with the event that didn’t contradict or invalidate the overarching Empire vs Republic theme, but was still interesting.
  • It included a common enemy and could be done anywhere within the planetary and class story arcs as long as you could survive on Tatooine.
  • It was fresh, it was new, and we resolved it.

This is the type of content that I would love to see happen a lot more in SWTOR. I don’t want to have to level my max level characters, but I’d love to see them have more chances to interact with the world around them, with interesting NPCs and particularly with their companions. While I’d love class-unique content for all, I know that isn’t as attainable. However, Makeb showed how all of the classes and both factions could experience the same content and still have a somewhat unique flavor to it. I just wish it didn’t include the gear treadmill and new levels and was re-playable for longer.

The Bounty Hunter and Gree repeating events do meet some of the benefits I’ve listed above, but their very nature makes them interesting and relevant for a limited period of time. Repeatable content does give more bang for the buck, but it is one of the facets of MMOs that I eventually start to loathe and eventually stop doing. So in the end, how much bang for the buck does it really provide?

Chevin speeder

Think it might explode?

The Chevin scavenger hunt event was also an interesting experiment in sudden, new, limited-time activities, but for some reason it fell flat and didn’t have the staying power or player investment that we saw with the Rakghoul event. I think it was how some of the activities were designed as well as the fact that they felt less important in the grand scheme of the galaxy. Some of the activities turned out to be more frustrating than fun. I just know that I have very few fond memories of that event, even if I do have a few fond rewards from it.

I don’t want a repeat of the Rakghoul event itself, but I do want many more events like it, things that happen despite the war going on that give the galaxy a feeling of existing outside the conflict. That is the kind of content that doesn’t require raising level cap, although I know that the storytellers have a lot more ground to cover in the Empire vs. Republic arc that has to evolve the game. I almost wish there were a way to include that evolution without including gear and level inflation too, but I know that isn’t easy or realistic. I do hope the game has both the will and the resources to compete in keeping players and gaining new ones despite the new games being released this year.

Posted in gaming, MMO, Star Wars The Old Republic, SWTOR | 2 Comments

Is It Me? Or Is It Game Design?

One Ring from LOTRI’ve been reading a few blog posts and articles lately about how the MMO population has started to age. I’ve read nostalgic posts about how great MMOs used to be and how there used to be that One Game to rule them all and now there isn’t anymore. I’ve decided that it isn’t so much the game design changes that are to blame for my malaise as it is my own changes that are to blame.

I’m old(er) and while I still spend a lot of time playing games, many of my former gaming friends have taken long breaks to raise children, work multiple jobs and live their lives. I have a lot more chores that need to be done now, so when I do play games I’m really picky about how I spend my time. This is the case with my friends and my guilds, so I’m endlessly faced with a semi-revolving door where people just can’t give the same endless hours to a game that they used to give. And let’s face it, there are a lot of really high quality games to play both in MMOs and in standalone formats.

cat you kids get off my lawnI certainly don’t tolerate childish behavior as well as I used to. I want to play with other adults, but this means putting up with the time constraints that other adults face. It also means I won’t spend my time trying to support or assist children who come play in my MMO. In fact, I go out of my way to ignore and avoid any game or element of a game that force-feeds me childish behaviors. This means I don’t tend to PVP and I only do group content within my guild or with RL friends. I don’t support random dungeon finders and I hide general chat where people might be asking to group up with others so that I don’t have to see the garbage that gets spewed in those channels.

I do think games have evolved to try and keep up with changing patterns in what their paying customers/players want and how they play. I’m glad they have. Rather than lament those changes, I have to accept that they are why I still play MMOs at all. At the same time, the same games that are trying to keep me playing are trying to gain new players. If we think our games have become kind of schizophrenic, they probably have due to divergent player bases.

What I miss the most is being immersed in something along with my online friends. But that hasn’t been the case for a long while now. People game hop and play more than one MMO, trying to recapture those glory days. We have changed, our tastes have changed and our ability to play the way we used to play is gone.

I have to wonder if MMO design will continue to evolve enough to keep me playing, or if I will lose enough of my joy in it that I spend my time and money on other forms of entertainment. I also wonder if nostalgic players will allow evolution or if we have become too averse to change while game companies become too averse to risk. My lack of enthusiasm for the upcoming MMOs does seem to indicate I’ve become jaded. And yet I still keep track of them, read about them, listen to others enthuse about them. I guess I still have some hope left in me.

Yet I worry that game designs will try to cater to a younger audience, making them something I can no longer enjoy. Will they instead continue to evolve to accommodate the majority of their aging players, while other game styles work to capture the younger generation? I suppose the response to MMOs coming out in 2014 will make that picture more clear as the titles in question have very different styles or attempt to reboot long standing, beloved games with massive nostalgia factors. Should be interesting to see, and I’m certainly waiting to hear how much fun (or not), my gaming peers have playing them.

Posted in gaming, MMO | Leave a comment

My Current SWTOR Character Customizations

Andronikos Rakghoul event infected appearance

Andronikos Rakghoul event infected appearance

This started with a friend asking me for a list of what one of my characters was wearing. While I was grabbing that, I started screen shotting all of my current characters because I really like the way most of them look right now. Gone are the days of being stuck with a certain set of gear. With bound to legacy pieces and adaptive gear, everyone has a slightly unique look, and pants. I never did like the “sorcerer” look of some of the skirt wearing classes, so I go out of my way to put everyone in pants. I like a lot of the gear coming out of the newest content, although we still have the occasional WTF piece cropping up. Some of the helmets are so cool-looking that I’m even willing to not hide them.

I’ve also had many envious questions about the more rare Rakghoul companion customizations, of which I ended up with 3 from that fun event.

I’m going to put in a gallery with each showing larger size (as opposed to the widget on my site that shows them very small), and then describe some of the pieces below so this post doesn’t scroll for eternity.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Female Smuggler Cyborg: Troublemaker Duster (cartel market item), Rakata Field Tech’s Leggings (still love these leather pants from early Ops gear sets), Blue Scalene Boots (Gree event reputation gear, bound to legacy)

Male Smuggler Human: Bounty Tracker’s Hat (Bounty Brokers Association rep gear, friend standing, bound to legacy), Smuggler’s Birthright Jacket (very hard to get legacy random drop, wish this stuff scaled because some of it is very nice, but not upgrade-able), Drelliad Leggings (crafted), Contract Hunter’s Boots (BBA hero, bound to legacy), Gray Helix Blaster (Gree event rep gear, Champion, bound to legacy)

Female Jedi Knight Zabrak: Red Scalene chest and gloves (Gree event gear), [Artifact] Pristine Vindicators Greaves (Oricon quest reward), Pristine Vindicators boots (early quest reward), Gray Helix Lightsaber with red/black crystal

Male Jedi Knight Human: Balmorran Resistance Jacket (dyed blue/green, social gear), Imperial Containment Officer Gloves (event gear from Rakghoul event), Gunslinger Leggings (crafted), Niman Master’s Secondary Lightsaber (crafted), Gray Helix LS with black/blue crystal

Female Sith Inquisitor Rattataki: [Artifact] Pristine Seeker’s Robe (Oricon quest reward that isn’t a dress!!), Cor-Sec Pants (social gear)

Male Sith Inquisitor Cyborg: Inquisitor’s Inheritance Robe and Gloves (love the purple glow to these but they are low level rare legacy drops that don’t scale), Formal Pants (social gear)

Female Jedi Consular Human: Blue Scalene Chest, Greaves, Gauntlets (Gree event gear), Oriconian Force Healer’s MK-1 Boots (Ops gear, ultimate comms), black-green crystal (Rakghoul event Jawa vendor, really glad I gathered the event currency for several of these)

Male Jedi Consular Sith Pureblood: Sand People Bloodguard Bodywrap (Hutt scavenger hunt event gear), Energized Conqueror’s Saberstaff (cartel market), Sacred Septsilk Headgear (adaptive, quest reward)

Female Imperial Agent Chiss: [Artifact] TH-21A Master Scoundrel  Headgear, gloves & leggings (Oricon quest reward), Electromesh Battle Jacket (quest reward, dyed purple), RD-07A Vendetta Boots (random quest drop), Hypersonic Shredder (bowcaster started out bound to character, then became bound to legacy, scavenger hunt event gear)

Male Imperial Agent Cathar: Synthmesh Battle Jacket (quest reward), Agent’s Pants (crafted), Gray Helix Blaster Rifle (Gree event rep gear)

Female Bounty Hunter Cyborg: Professional’s Chestguard (crafted), Thana Vesh’s Leggings (cartel market), Hunter Inheritance Boots (legacy rare drop, sadly only low level), Red Blade’s Belt  (cartel market)

Female Bounty Hunter Rattataki: Dread Host Headgear (Oricon reputation gear, friend standing, this is one of the coolest looking helms in the game), Contract Hunter’s Chestguard (BBA, hero standing), TD-17A Imperator Leggings (adaptive gear, low level FP reward?), Contract Hunter’s Boots (BBA hero)

Female Sith Warrior Sith Pureblood: Dynamic Sleuth Mask (cartel market), Thana Vesh’s Boots (cartel market), black-green color crystal (Rakghoul event)

Female Trooper Miralukan: Quadranium Onslaught Helmet (quest reward, another cool-looking classic helmet), Hazmat Med-Tech’s MK-3 Body Armor (Ops gear), Republic Trooper Greaves (crafted), Republic Containment Officer Boots (Rakghoul event), Automatic Bowcaster (scavenger event)

Posted in Star Wars The Old Republic, SWTOR | Tagged | 1 Comment

NBI Poetry Slam

MMO Gypsy Syl has launched a challenge this month for we geeky bloggers to wax poetic. She did ask…

Newbie Blogger Initiative Poetry Slam

I admit, I really enjoy filk music. I like adding my own words to the catchy tune of someone else’s music. What’s the fun of writing bad poetry if you can’t ruin someone’s favorite song in the process? And who doesn’t love “Klingons off the Starboard Bow” or “My, my this here Anakin guy”?

Coming up with the song to bastardize is almost as much fun as finding the words to make it sparkle. Of course, then I have to decide if I’m going to write something actually serious and heartfelt to the music, or parody it to death. :)

Without further ado, here is my Sith of Pain for SWTOR (based on The Police’s King of Pain)

There’s a little Dark Lord on the fleet today
She’s more deadly now than yesterday
There’s a minion caught in her crushing grasp
There’s a fool that’s breathing his final gasp

I have stood here before inside the Hypergate
With the world turning circles fueling my dark hate
I guess I’m always hoping that I’ll steal your reign
Cause it’s my destiny to be the queen of pain

There’s a little Dark Lord on the fleet today
She’s more deadly now than yesterday
There’s a minion caught in her crushing grasp
There’s a fool that’s breathing his final gasp

The dark emperor sits with his Wrath torn out
There’s a Revan confusing with a shadow of doubt
The dark council is sleeping on a bloody bed
There’s a dark lord choking on a gasp of dread

Queen of pain, I’ll always be, queen of pain

There’s a little Dark Lord on the fleet today
She’s more deadly now than yesterday

Then you hear a phrase and it pulls a song out of your brain that begs to be “improved.” I read something about an MMO world, and bing! Madonna’s Material Girl was next on the list.

Some games hit me, some games miss me
I think they’re okay
If they don’t give me lots of fun time
I just walk away

They can beg and they can plead
But they can’t make me stay,
‘Cause the game without rich content
I don’t want to play

‘Cause we are living in an MMO world
And I am a multi-gamer girl
You know that we are living in many MMO worlds
And I am a multi-gamer girl

Some have romance, some have fun dance
That’s alright with me
If they can’t raise my interest then I
Have to play for free-e

Some games try and some games lie but
I don’t want to play,
Only games that thrill their players
Make my rainy day

‘Cause we are living in an MMO world
And I am a multi-gamer girl
You know that we are living in many MMO worlds
And I am a multi-gamer girl

In an MMO, in an MMO, in an MMO world

(Living, in an MMO World) MMO! MMO-ooh!

And to relive the past, way back when SWTOR was new, I wrote them a little launch poem based on The Night Before Christmas. Actually, as I read this and then see how many of the servers are gone, I’m a little sad. But poetry is supposed to evoke emotion, right?

Posted in blogging, gaming, MMO | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Games People Play (While Playing Games)

Rift dimension items

Creative outlets like player housing are popular for a reason

I have been thinking about MMO grinds lately and how much I start to hate a game once I start to hate its more grind-y elements. If you think about what you are asked to do in your character’s “free time” to satisfy some faction or impress some group, it tends to be really meaningless or stupid stuff. It can be very petty and not realistically how you would choose to spend your own free time.

And yet, games need fluff. It can’t all be about saving the galaxy/planet/universe. You need to have your down time. Just like in life, when you aren’t working, you want to fill your free time with interesting pursuits. In real life, some people watch TV and movies, some read books, some play games, some play a lot of games, some meet up with friends, make arts and crafts, travel, work out, etc.  So why shouldn’t our game characters do the same kinds of things?

The biggest problem isn’t giving us fluff to do in downtime in games, it is how that fluff is designed. In MMOs, that design tends to encourage serious boredom and repetition as well as start to feel meaningless and never ending. I would love to see some creative thinking in MMOs for better mini-game designs. We can’t be stuck with time sinks that feel like work, or time sinks that are too mundane. Don’t ask me to dust or weed or mow my lawn, I do enough of that in real life. Build mini-games that make sense within your world, but that I and my characters both look forward to doing. I’m not talking Sims stuff, if I wanted that level of micro-managed world I’d just play the Sims. There has to be a change in how MMOs design their time sinks.

If I enjoy watching entertaining content or reading entertaining content, then games that include that tend to be more interesting to me. I really enjoy good voice acting and cinematic content as well as good writing. If I enjoy playing games with friends, then why wouldn’t I enjoy having my character sit down with a group of in game friends and our characters play cards from time to time? Why can’t we look at the types of things we do for fun in real life, and see those types of things mirrored in a game world?

The thing is, there would need to be a lot of them, a lot of variety in them, and the reasons for doing them would need to stop being tied into a mold that makes them feel like work. To really make this succeed, maybe MMOs have to open up the development of mini-game content to their player base. I know this could impact game stability or even open avenues for exploitation, but surely there are ways to allow some form of player made fluff content?

PVP seems like one area that could benefit from player made content quite a lot. Sure, people worry that someone would try to cheat or skew their content in their own favor, but how many would do that, versus those who would genuinely try to make stuff to share that was challenging but fair? And who would want to put a lot of time and effort into making unfair content, if no one was willing to use it because it was poorly made? There is a lot of passion in the PVP community and a  lot of opinions of what is fun versus what isn’t. Not all of it would have to center around beating each other in combat. Maybe it would center around racing to see who could build the fastest go-cart? I think most of it would be spent designing fiendishly clever gauntlets of destruction, but what is the harm in that?

So when I think about the next generation of MMOs and pushing the boundaries or changing the model, I think more along these lines than I do along the lines of the basic world stories or quest lines. Those have to exist and be well designed, but having fun and varied fluff to do when you want a little down time, that is where some games could really shine. I don’t think I’d enjoy an MMO that focused so much on the fluff that the game was pretty meaningless, but I’d like to see some nice balance added. Then again, I already spend WAY too much of my free time playing computer games. Maybe I don’t want a game that I “can’t put down” as much as a good book that I can’t stop reading. Hmmm.

Posted in gaming, MMO | Leave a comment