Certified for Nightmares

Last time I wrote about my progress in TSW, I was doing elite dungeons. Them being sandwiched between normal leveling dungeons and the “real” end-game nightmare dungeons, I didn’t spend a lot of time in them. After a couple of game nights, I had successfully pugged all elite dungeons and fulfilled that half of the “nightmare certification” list. All that was left was to defeat the Gatekeeper, who tests you before he lets you enter the branch of Agartha that leads for the nightmare dungeons.t

That fight was a bit of a letdown. It might have been because I was a healer, but I did it on try 3, and that only because I had to learn that he uses a debuff on you that you have to remove with a gimmick ability I had never put on my hotbars before. I heard horror stories from DPS doing their version, though… so it might have been a case of unequal balancing.

The premise was quite nice: the gatekeeper summed a “tank” that you had to keep up while dodging ground effects. At some point, “DPS” came in, one of which promptly decided to stand in the fire. You had to keep everyone up until the Gatekeeper was satisfied with your performance. I think it’s a very good idea to make sure you know what you’re doing before playing with the big boys, but it felt just a little too easy.

Yeah, yeah, thanks. No where do I pick up my certificate?

Yeah, yeah, thanks. No where do I pick up my certificate?

Since then, I’ve done three rounds of “18s” or “24s” (I just don’t have time at the moment to play on weekdays… I feel like watching old comedy shows is about all I’m able to do in the evening). By the way, I wonder who came up with that name. If you don’t know (and for me for reference in case I might need it years down the road), “18s” means the three nightmare dungeons that are considered easiest: The Polaris, Hell Raised, and The Darkness War. “24s” adds Hell Fallen. The number supposedly comes from the fact that each dungeon has 6 bosses. I have no idea where the “s” comes from, though. You certainly can’t run the same dungeons multiple times in a row on nightmare difficulty because they have an 18-hour lockout. Maybe it’s from the earlier days of the game, when nightmare wasn’t the default difficulty for the older population, and Elites were farmed? Who knows.

Anyway, I’ve done some nightmare dungeons, and most of the time, they worked pretty well. The “noobmares” chat channel is great for someone like me who is starting out with nightmares. There is not a lot of “rush rush” pressure during runs, which I certainly appreciate. There are also many well-geared players hanging out in there, which certainly helps. I also took the chance to interview my tanks afterwards to see whether they noticed anything I could improve on. Most of them were pretty happy and just noted I should work on positioning. In the beginning, I had problems with sometimes getting out of range of my tanks on fights in large areas with equally large ground effects (Machine Tyrant, especially). Switching auxiliary weapons from the healing-focused quantum brace to the rocket launcher seems to have solved that problem. Death from Above, a.k.a. the rocket jump, helped a lot with positioning. Yes, you can do a rocket jump in TSW! Isn’t it adorable?

So, anyway, nightmares going mostly well, so far. Yay! I’m happy that, apart from an occasional unnecessary death… or from blowing all my healing abilities on the tank, before I realizing that I had targeted a DPS, and the tank consequently dying… I’ve been coping with nightmares pretty well. Of course, it probably helps a lot to have, on average, at least two highly-geared people with you every run. I did meet a few annoying DPS, though. In one run, we had a fresh tank (with decent gear, but no tanking experience) and a DPS who found it funny to steal aggro from him… all the time… and die. We managed to pull through in any case, but that was more stressful than it needed to be. Then there was the group who had two DPS that were abysmally low on damage. So low that, in fact, we called the run on Machine Tyrant because we couldn’t get it down before the enrage.  Didn’t help that people died regularly on fights, either. But that’s the downside of pugging channels: you win some, you lose some. And it’s definitely better than an automatic dungeon-group-slap-togetherer, because it seems the runs are at least slightly more social that way. You still have players who’ve done it 50 times and just want to get it over with to get the bullion for upgrades, but at least there’s some talking and friendlisting involved before, during or after the runs.

Five Things Other Games Should Copy From Vanguard

Now that Vanguard is gone (except maybe for an emulator version), the question is: what stays behind? I think there are a couple of very well-designed aspects of Vanguard, and I hope some games will pick them up eventually:

The offensive/defensive target split. This is such a small but immensely useful innovation. It’s easily the thing I want to see every single MMO have. There is no excuse not to. Being able to target an enemy for offensive actions and, at the same time, an ally or yourself for beneficial effects makes so much sense. From the top of my hat, I can think of only one other game that has this, and that’s TSW. (Oh, there are probably more, no question.) Which is probably the reason why TSW also does a second thing well that I first saw properly done in Vanguard:

Offensive healers. Healing by using split damage/heal attacks. Healing by leeching. Without an offensive/defensive target split, the only way to do this is use abilities that are more or less intelligent about who to heal, or by giving AoE heals. Both of these don’t make for very compelling gameplay, and it’s one of the downfalls of RIFT’s Chloromancer in that respect. A special mention goes to the Disciple, one of my greatest loves in class concepts. A class who heals by hitting the enemy in the face from melee range, that worked? Yes place.

Modular Bard songs. These days, many games don’t even have proper bards. Both RIFT’s and FFXIV’s bard are merely slightly specialized DPS. You keep doing DPS normally, and just get a few fig leave abilities that are classified “songs”. Vanguard, in contrast, didn’t have song abilities. Instead, you learned parts of songs, and you composed your own abilities by combining sections into songs. Need some healing? Stack some healing verses and add a cleanse bridge. Traveling? Run speed stanza and levitate coda. And so on. I think the Necromancer had similar modular abilities to create undead from body parts, but I never played one.

Deep crafting. I’ll admit, I never got far into crafting, because I got confused by the building process. It also was a bit too grindy for my taste. But we know from games like EVE that complicated, deep crafting can work, and I’d prefer to see that over the half-assed “must level to cap making 1000 chestplates of uselessness to collect buff ability” route that some games go.

My last point is diplomacy. Again, the implementation in Vanguard lent itself to grinding, and the interface made the whole thing much more cumbersome than it should have been. A deck manager in which you could’ve saved a few decks to switch between would’ve gone a long way. What I liked about diplomacy was that it allowed you to place a lot of side content and information into the game. Just by listening to and convincing people, you could learn a lot about NPC characters, personal affections and grudges, alliances and enmities, and so on. It was a great “downtime” game.

Those are my five. Do you have some aspects that you really liked about Vanguard and would love to see in other games?

On the Healing Fence

… or, when it comes to healing, I’m on the fence. Specifically, when it comes to TSW healing, but there are some general topics mixed in, too.

So on my return to TSW I decided to go the healer route for group content. The reasoning was like this:

  1. I’m not gonna play DPS. I just don’t like playing DPS in group settings any more. I play it all the time when I solo, I want to do something different when I group. Besides, I like to fill a “supporting” role.
  2. There is no pure support role in TSW, like the EQ2 bards and enchanters or the RIFT Archons. At least not for group content. Maybe for raids, I don’t know.
  3. I’ve played tanks before, and I like tanking. But I’ve played little organized group content these last years, and I notice I’ve become very nervous about potentially underperforming in groups. I’d need new confidence to retry a role that always seems to end up having to know everything about every boss to succeed. Besides, coming late to a game makes tanking hard, if you end up with DPSers in your group that massively outgear you.
  4. So, that leaves healing. Why not, I’ve never done that seriously, outside of leveling a Disc priest in WoW during Cataclysm.

Now, healing isn’t bad. It can actually be quite fun. At the moment, I’m rocking a Fist/Blood deck, which means I have a lot of healing choices, mostly dots and shields, with some oh-shit instant heals for nasty situations. It has served me well in Elite dungeons (TSW’s second-tier group content).

All green, all healing.

All green, all healing.

I like being able to support other players (point 2), and I got back some limited confidence in my playing abilities in a group context (point 3). Picking up people from the brink of death is fun, if sometimes pretty frantic. There’s just one thing about TSW healing that I noticed:

I really miss the mana bar.

See, with a mana bar, your healing decisions become less tactic and more strategic: which heal do I use? Can I wait for a few more moments to regen mana? Do I then have to use a more expensive heal? Which choice is the better one?

During vanilla WoW, I played a mage for some time as some sort of an alt. Endgame mage meant frost, and frost meant spamming one button most of the time. However, I enjoyed the mana management game immensely. Interleaving potions, mana gems (of different qualities), evocation (with a spirit staff to switch to), and, if I got really lucky, synchronizing those with an Innervate… the tactic game was boring, but the strategic game was an additional, appealing, slower gameplay layer on top.

Anyway, the problem with TSW is that it doesn’t have a mana bar. All abilities follow a builder–consumer ability style, even heals. Some abilities cost nothing and give you resources; others consume resources for more powerful effects. That makes the game very tactic and not very strategic: building up resources happens anyway, and since you are capped at 5, even if you spend them, you’ll have them back in no time. Conversely, that builder–consumer scheme means that every moment you don’t use an ability is wasted; as a healer, filling every gap with spamming builder heals because they don’t cost anything and potentially keep someone alive is a good tactic. And during downtimes in fights, where nobody is taking any damage, you are completely useless. In other games, using the downtime to regen mana felt like doing something sensible. In TSW, I feel like I’m twiddling thumbs in fight pauses for no beneficial effect at all, especially on fights that have the boss disappear and the others DPSing some temporary target that doesn’t deal damage.

I guess that’s one of the reasons people drift away from pure healing builds as their gear gets better. Most seem to end up running a healing leech build. Which I imagine can be lots of fun: I love classes that heal by dealing damage. I had lots of fun playing my Disciple in Vanguard or my Chloromage in RIFT before they overhauled that part of the game. But the gear requirements in TSW to run a leech healer well are very steep, ands I won’t be able to reach them for some time.

And then there’s the whole thing with watching health bars. That’s a more general remark and doesn’t have anything to do with TSW. But I noticed that I feel more disconnected from the world. When I played a tank, my impression was that 80% of good tanking was being aware of your surroundings. That worked pretty well: you tanked some boss or adds in the middle of your screen and just scanned the periphery regularly.

As a healer, I noticed that I have a harder time keeping awareness of my surroundings. Half the time, I watch health bars at the border of the screen. That runs the risk of getting boring. Every fight ends up being the same for a good amount of time, because, in a way, your primary enemy as a healer are the health bars, and you have to focus on those. I’ve gotten to the point where I rarely kill myself or others any more by missing environmental effects in the world, but I still feel like someone who’s texting while driving: watching the health bars… watching… watching… oh snap, I gotta move! I’m slowly getting used to it, but it still feels weird. I wish there was a better way of integrating healing into the world.

So yeah, I still enjoy TSW, and I enjoy doing group content, too. The community, overall, is refreshingly non-toxic, and the fact that there’s no randomized, auto-group-creating dungeon finder probably helps with that. I enjoy healing, but I do have some beefs with it.

Hm, maybe I should try tanking again. Start with some beginner dungeons for newbies…

Only Paying Bodies Count

This post started as a reply to a post by Azuriel, but got out of hand quickly. So I made a blog post out of it. Since it’s a reply though, you won’t be able to understand much unless you go and read Azuriel’s post, which is a followup on Wilhelm’s post, which in turn looked at a report by SuperData Research. Go and read the two blog posts (they’re worth it) if you haven’t already done so, I’ll wait.

Now, I think Azuriel makes one mistake. The report mentions a data set of  36.9 million users, but it doesn’t say anywhere that all these users actually played a subscription MMO, let alone pay for any subscription in that time. I don’t think there is a direct relation between market share and those user numbers. What counts is the money. Look at the revenues, and you can try and “guess backwards” to figure out the number of users.

Now, I have to warn you: there is very little data available on exact subscription numbers and how they contribute to revenue. So at many points, I had to try and guess what I considered reasonable. It’s not quite as bad as a Fermi estimation, but the numbers have to be taken with a grain of salt.

WoW

An example: what is the average monthly spending for a WoW user? Last I checked, the US subscription rate was $15. Some players will pay more, some will pay less. That’s due to currency conversion rates, long-term subscriptions, or buying a sparkle pony. (The fine print seems to say that item shop revenue is included.)

If you now take WoW’s $1.041 billion, and divide that by $15, you end up with 5.78 million users on average over the year. That’s too low on users. Conversely, if you take the 7.6 million users that Azuriel mentions, you end up at an average of $11.41 per user per month. That’s too low on per-user revenue.

Or maybe it isn’t. There was probably a bunch of people on the Diablo III annual pass for a good chunk of the year, which they had paid for in 2012. I have no numbers on how many of those passes were sold, but I remember huge invite waves for the Mist of Pandaria beta (which was part of the annual pass package). So let’s just say 1 million users did not pay at all for their WoW subscription in 2013. That’s handwavey, because probably, most users who were interested into the annual pass probably bought it early on, and the annual pass was released in October 2012 (if I remember correctly). But that means even those people didn’t pay for subscriptions for 10 months during that year, so close enough.

That leaves 6.6 million paying customers. Which means $13.14 per user per month. Now we’re getting close. A 3-month subscription is $13.99 per month. Some will have 1-month subscriptions and pay more, some will have 6-month subscriptions and pay less. There will be some revenue from the item shop, but I can’t imagine that the big revenue generator for WoW. So this sounds reasonable.

edit: I was an idiot and off by a year on the annual pass thing. MoP was released in 2012, so handing out an annual pass in late 2012 with the prospect of a beta invite isn’t such a good deal if the expansion is already released… let’s look at the Chinese/Western split instead.

Or maybe it isn’t. WoW, more so than many other Western games, has a strong foothold in China. Or at least it used to have. The number thrown around is typically 50% of the players being in China. I tried to find numbers for that, but I couldn’t really, which is a bit disappointing. What we do know is that the Chinese market has fared considerably worse than the Western recently. There are two articles in Forbes from 2013 that Chinese players have been leaving in droves to other games. That’s good news for Blizzard, because the market isn’t nearly as profitable. Let’s just assume that, of the 7.6 million players, 5 million at this point are from the West and pay the monthly subscription. At an average price of $14/month, that provides a revenue of $840 million. Still $200 million short.

That leaves us with 2.6 million players from China. In China, players pay by the hour in the form of prepurchased game time cards. By poking around on the Chinese website, I found out that the often-quoted price of ¥0.45 per hour is still the current rate. Taking the average conversion rate for 2013, that translates to about $0.073. To produce a revenue of $200 million from 2.6 million players, they would therefore have to have played a total of 2.7 billion hours, or just shy of 3 hours per player per day. That lines up almost perfectly with the values from Nick Yee’s study. However, we have to be careful here, because those numbers are from a different point in time, on a different audience (Western vs. Chinese), and may suffer from selection bias. If I had to guess, I feel like 3 hours/day is a bit on the high side. Then again, there are revenue paths that I didn’t touch (server transfer fees, sparkle pony sales), which might make up for the difference.

EVE Online

A second example. Let’s look at EVE, whose user numbers looked way off by Azuriel’s estimation method. Their subscription is similarly priced, with longer subscriptions being cheaper than WoW’s. Then again, EVE gouges European customers more so than WoW does; in 2013, a Euro was valued, on average, at about $1.30; so EVE cost a whopping $19.50 per month on a 1-month recurring subscription, and still $14.30 at the yearly rate.

In addition, EVE’s subscriptions are supposedly funded indirectly for a significant part of the user base: older and richer characters with lots of income prefer to buy PLEX, which newer and poorer users buy sell for in-game money. However, PLEX comes at a premium: two month subscription worth of PLEX come at between $35 and $46 (=35€), so that’s between $17.50 and $23 per month.

Let’s make a really rough guess and assume that, on average, a direct subscription earns CCP $16 a month, while a PLEX subscription adds $20 to their coffers. For the next step, we’d need to know what fraction of accounts are paid by either option. I don’t think there’s any such information available. Sure, you can look at the amount of PLEX traded each day in Jita, but there are probably rich players playing the PLEX market, so not each sale will end up in 30 days of game time. Probably not by far. Besides, I don’t have historic trading volume values for 2013. However, these days, about 2500–3000 PLEX are traded in JITA each day, sometimes more. So that gives us something of an upper limit. (Station traders inflate the volume; however, back then it wasn’t unheard of to buy PLEX to fund your own subscription, because you could get in-game kickbacks from licensed PLEX-selling sites; those PLEX never showed up in the trading statistics.) Let’s say 60 000 accounts are paid by PLEX every month. That means about $15 million in revenue through PLEX.

That’s still not even close to the $93 million, of course. I was surprised myself how little of the market seems to be covered by PLEX. It certainly ties in with the claim of the “silent majority” that just flies in space for some missions and doesn’t have time or interest in making enough money to fund their game via PLEX. To cover the remaining $78 million, you’d need another 400 000 users by that calculation.

That gives us a total of 460 000 accounts, and that’s actually pretty close: in February 2013, CCP announced that they broke the 500 000-subscriber barrier. Who knows for how long they kept above the watermark; if the number of concurrent users is any sign, then probably not for long. (You can check those at Chribba’s EVE Offline.) But they probably didn’t plummet completely, either.

Return to The Secret World

There are always a few games I have on my back burner, which I don’t play, but update in regular intervals. If I ever feel like playing them again, I won’t have to spend a whole evening updating, and miss the window of opportunity to get back into the game.

TSW is one of those games. I was really looking forward to it when it got released, and got a lot of playtime out of it for two months or so. Then I went on vacation for three weeks, and I never got back into the game.

However, earlier this year, the Tokyo expansion was finally released. If you read this blog regularly, you know that I have an affection for Japan in general, and Tokyo in specific. The first introductory mission of TSW, which gave you something of a sneak preview into Tokyo, made me smile and hope for a quick release of the area which was already announced at launch. Alas, it took longer than expected (and probably longer than Funcom had planned; I bet they had plans for faster releases that relied on higher player and revenue numbers). But when it finally arrived, I knew I’d return to the game sooner or later, to have a look at Funcom’s twisted version of the city.

Of course, one does not simply walk into Tokyo. Getting into there requires at least a decent amount of end-game gear (if not necessarily of the highest quality), and finishing the story line.

Last time, I had left my character, Anselm “Tabascun” Arenberg, in the Besieged Farmlands, the first Transylvania zone. As I logged in, I remembered one of the reasons that had soured the game for me. Or two, actually. First, the Besieged Farmlands didn’t appeal to me in atmosphere. After Egypt, which I really liked, with some interesting characters such as Ptahmose and Saïd, and my favorite scenery (desert!), the game sent you to a dingy, run-down Romanian village. Second, there was a huge increase in difficulty between The City of the Sun God (the last zone of Egypt) and the Besieged Farmlands. Last time, that combination of high difficulty and unappealing scenery drove me away. However, this time I decided to give the game another chance, and bit the bullet. The good thing is that missions in Transylvania give you a lot of XP, so you only have to slog through a few missions before you can afford additional skills better suited to the area. Combined with level-appropriate drops, I soon managed to survive. Well, most of the time. TSW is probably the least forgiving game I (ir)regularly play. One mispull at the wrong time can send you the graveyard unless you massively outgear the challenge.

Soon, I was back on track and could concentrate on the things that I love about the game. Everything is weird and slightly off in The Secret World. It is the MMO closest to a David Lynch movie. And I love David Lynch movies. In fact, sometimes you wonder whether you aren’t actually playing inside a David Lynch movie:

Just missing a slice of damn fine cherry pie.

Just missing a slice of damn fine cherry pie.

Of course, there are also grown-up men having a seemingly inappropriate attachment to teddy bears:

tsw_awayfrombear

But it’s all good, because it’s a special bear. Well, at least it talks. But only to that guy. Which we’ll just believe, because Secret World. And because otherwise, we’d have to deal with a clinically insane guy with a weapon. Of which there are enough in TSW already.

As long as it doesn't eat your face...

As long as it doesn’t eat your face…

Add to that clinically insane girls, or at least very-aggressive-if-need-be girls, and you end up in nasty situations. Like when you enter a nursery, and you see that:

Cleanup on aisle 3! Bring bleach.

Cleanup on aisle 3! Bring bleach.

Of course, it wasn’t your run-of-the-mill nursery: this one had laboratories for human genetic and paranormal experiments, and some of the children grew both powerful and aggressive… and developed their own sense of symmetry.

Looks like a happy childhood alright.

Looks like a happy childhood alright.

In short, TSW delivers what I was looking for: creepy and atmospheric scenery and missions. We’ll have to see about long-term viability, though. Most missions are great the first time around, but the shock effects and surprises obviously only work once. And Funcom definitely won’t be able to provide content as fast as I can consume it. Plus, before Tokyo they set an ugly gate: to get your “certification”, you have to collect tokens that you can only get in scenarios. Those work like LotRO’s skirmishes, and I hate those: run a procedurally-generated mission in an instanced area with random enemy waves, over and over again. We’ll see how that goes.

I really like the game, but if I want to stay with it, I’ll probably have to find a cabal to do stuff with on a regular basis. Grouping for those scenarios might also take the sting out of them. We’ll see. If all else fails, I can always return to the game later when Funcom has released more content packs.

Three Years of Random Waypoint

WordPress made sure to remind me that today is a special day:
3yearsblog_wordpressgrats
Three years ago, I started Random Waypoint with my first post. I had just left my raiding guild, and for the first time in years, I felt directionless when it came to MMOs. Well, I guess that’s not completely true, because I had already started feeling like that for some time before I left the guild, but inertia kept me playing.

Since then, it’s been an up and down here, especially when it comes to posts. Phases of almost-daily posting or at least two-to-three-times weekly are separated by long periods of silence. So I’m happy even more about people who keep my blog on the back burner and continue reading when I pop up again. I’m not very good at writing regularly on a grand timescale, but I still enjoy doing it now and then. Every now and then, I even genuinely like posts that I have written!

Since it’s time to look back, and since wordpress provides some neat historical data, what better to do than show some plots?

More plots, more plots! (Click to enlarge; goes for all of them.)

Posts

postsRed diamonds on the timeline are posts. Since the beginning three years ago, I’ve written 186 posts, which means about 0.16 posts per day, or 1.2 per week. That only tells half the story, though. Since this blog goes through phases of activity and phases of silence, I identified them in the timeline: The grey areas are times of activity. You can see that I started enthusiastically, writing posts very regularly for about 10 months (from July 2011 to May 2012). I then had my first lull, and came back just in time for the first anniversary. It felt weird to write a “happy anniversary” post as the first one after two months of silence, though, so I didn’t that year. I went back to posting regularly for about 4 months, before I fell off the face of the earth for an extremely long time: my longest break up to now was from November 2012 to July 2013, a full eight months with only two posts in-between! Again, I came back just in time for the anniversary, and again, it didn’t feel appropriate to write a post about it. (It seems there is something about the dog days of summer that drives me to write blog posts. No idea why.) Since then, I’ve gotten into an on–off routine: 4 months of posting, 2 months of silence. Going by that rule, you’ll get some semi-regular reads until November! Even this time around, I only came back just in time for the anniversary, but this year, I was curious enough myself to crunch the data. Coming back to the beginning, while I wrote 1.2 posts per week over the lifetime of this blog, if you only take the active times, we get an average of 2.1 posts per week. That’s pretty close to the unofficial “2 posts per week” minimum that I have in my head.

Views

OK, so we’ve seen what my posting behavior is. How does that influence views? In fact, how many views does this blog get, anyway?

It’s not a huge-volume affair, but it gets regular traffic: I’m close to 10,000 views now. As I’m writing this, the counter is up to 9,788 views. That’s about 9 views per day, or 52 views per posts. Of course, these are again distributed very unevenly. Time for another plot!

viewsFirst things first: writing posts produces views. Surprise! It would be very sad if it were otherwise. Because then I’d have to assume only bots came by. That said, even during times of inactivity, some low-volume traffic remains. I assume these must be bots that are not filtered out by the wordpress statistics, and people who prefer to check the blog directly every now and then instead of using an RSS reader (you can also use Twitter now to get notifications).

You can also see a good example of how it takes time for a blog to take off. Even though I posted a lot in the beginning, it took a few months to attract regular viewers. I’ve been considering selecting some of the better posts from that time and reblogging them as “reruns” during lulls, because some of them never got much attention.

The amount of traffic that a post produces is both very irregular and almost completely unpredictable. Posts you spend ages on tinkering to near-perfection don’t make any impression, while a fast throwaway comment makes your status updates blink like a Christmas tree. This is probably nothing that comes as any surprise to those who write themselves. Every now and then, a post can get 60, 70 views within a day. Even more rarely, things go crazy. There are two events that dwarf the rest of the daily-pageviews statistic: (a) marks my top day in views in the last three years. One of my posts got mentioned on the MMO Melting Pot, and directed a lot of viewers over here. This wasn’t the first time I got mentioned on the Melting Pot, and it wasn’t the last either, but something must’ve been special about this one. Maybe it was the right post at the right time, or maybe it was a windfall of something larger happening. Maybe the MMO Melting Pot, in turn, had just gotten mentioned on a very large site? We’ll never know. (I miss the Pot, by the way. It was a great way to find new blogs.) (b) is an event that puzzles me. I have no idea what happened. Checking the logs, it looks like just a lot of random pages being accessed. Maybe it was an unfiltered robot, or somebody got really interested and went through a lot of posts.

These days, every new posts gets around 20–30 views within the first 24 hours. On the downside, that means that, when I give a lecture, I have an audience 5–10 times as large. On the upside, I’m pretty sure that my readers are much more interested in what I say than most students. My readers even come voluntarily, and without an exam to guilt them into the lecture. (That would be a funny thought, though. An MMO blog exam. Hm….)

Speaking of my readers, I have to thank them for being so faithful, even during the times of silence, and always coming back. While I try to follow the rule of “write for yourself, not for others” (which is one of the reasons that, when I really don’t feel like it, I just don’t write for myself), it’s a great motivation to see people reading, and especially commenting.

Miscellaneous

To finish with the statistics, let’s have a look into the most viewed posts, popular search terms, and other random tidbits.

Top Posts

The most famous page on this blog is, obviously, the home page. Many people either surf directly to the blog, or they click the blog link (instead of a post link) when they see a new post has been published. 3,764, or 38.5%, of all page views are for the home page. Since this doesn’t say much about which posts are popular, let’s disregard that information. The Top 10 of posts, only counting views of the post pages themselvesm, from the last three years is:

1 EQ2: Simulating the Level Cap Experience Before the Level Cap 258
2 So I applied to EVE University… 239
3 The Totalitarianism of Progress-Focused MMO Gaming 235
4 PS Vita Test 217
5 No Heart for Shotacon 178
6 Pilgrimage to the EVE Gate 170
7 An Example of a Good Dungeon 158
8 Another one bites the F2P bullet 142
9 What I’m not playing: LotRO 119
10 So… It’s Kung Fu Panda After All? 115

Most of these posts are from 2012. That means they had enough time to collect extra page hits over the last 1–2 years, but they’re not from the very early time of the blog when there were little readers (and linkers). Again, the list shows that it’s hard to predict how popular a post will be: there are some longer and more “theoretic” posts in the mix (number 3 or 7), as well as some simpler “this is what I’m up to” posts (1, 2, 9). The largest surprise might be numbers 4 and 5: I wrote the PS Vita Test posts simply because I had played around with a Vita at Sony Building in Tokyo before the official release, and felt like I had to at least write something about that, even though I hadn’t followed news on the Vita at all. The “Shotacon” post was a short half-serious, half-tongue-in-cheek remark about TERA’s Elin, and why they only come in female versions. I wouldn’t consider either of these posts exceptionally good, but they both seemed to benefit from a buzzword in their title. Which gets me to…

Top Search Terms

This is actually less interesting than it sounds. Sadly, google has stopped giving search terms in their referral links, so these days, I don’t have much information about what people searched for to end up here. However, the top two search values were “PS Vita” and “shotacon”, which confirms my guess about why those two posts ended up in the Top 10. I also feel like a lot of people searching for the latter term left disappointed…

I don’t seem to attract any outrageously weird or funny search terms. Some of the more offbeat ones are:

the best swashbuckler ever in eq2 (you called?)
dead hooker juxtaposition (I’m… not even sure I want to know.)
blue öyster cult (Must be my user icon.)
flosch taste (refined! what else?)
is it possible to reach the eve gate (Be my guest and try, but you might not have enough time until the next server downtime.)
“can not/cannot” grammar (yes, that is one of my pet peeves.)
where can i find shotacon games? (not here. And yep, that one left especially disappointed, I bet.)
город гоблинов (Hey, I understand that! And I didn’t even need Wilhelm’s help! Here you go.)
panda hardcore (I really, really hope you don’t mean that kind of panda hardcore.)

Top Referrers

This one was actually quite tricky, mostly because blogspot uses ccTLDs and you end up with all sorts of referrers that look different, but are the same: http://www.bhagpuss.blogspot.com, www.bhagpuss.blogspot.de, and bhagpuss.blogspot.com.au all show up separately in the logs. With the help of some perl scripting magic, I came up with the following top referrers in the last 3 years: (note: I removed search engines from the list; they don’t count in my opinion.)

1 blessingofkings.blogspot.* 1325
2 mmomeltingpot.* 676
3 nilsmmoblog.blogspot.* 529
4 bhagpuss.blogspot.* 396
5 playervsdeveloper.blogspot.* 232
6 raging-monkeys.blogspot.* 216
7 Google Reader 80
8 tagn.wordpress.* 77
9 biobreak.wordpress.* 72
10 hzero.wordpress.* 55

It’s interesting how four dormant or defunct sites still managed to make it into the top ten: The MMO Melting Pot hasn’t been stirred in almost 10 months; Nils’ MMO Blog has had only 3 posts in the last 14 months; Syl has since renamed Raging Monkeys and moved to another domain; and Google Reader suffered a much-lamented death. Of course, that might have to do with my regular posting breaks. However, even dormant sites can still produce traffic: for example, Nils’ Blog still is used by many people as blogroll, it seems. It is still in the Top 10 referrers for the last quarter.

Overall, blogspot blogs seem to produce more referrals than wordpress ones; I assume this must have to do with their rotating blogroll that shows newest posts at the top, something that can’t be done with wordpress unless you host it on your own server (which is why you can enjoy it on my page, yay!).

Random Waypoints from Around the World

Since early 2012, wordpress also collects data about which countries viewers come from. This produces another nice figure:

3yearsblog_countriesI cut off at 10 views, because the picture got unwieldy enough with the white space to the right. What surprises me most, I think, is how high on the list Britain, Canada and Australia are. The UK even beats Germany! (A result you haven’t seen in football for a long time *rimshot*). I guess I just assumed I’d get more German hits because the domain ends in .de, but then again, all posts are in English, so it’s maybe not such a big surprise. Canada and Australia mainly surprise me because neither country, for all their land size, is all that populous. It’s also quite funny that I have 15 hits from Hong Kong, but only 1 from mainland China. I’m probably blocked or something. Also, Switzerland finishes on a strong 8th place. I have a hunch who’s responsible for that!

Final Random Stats

Longest post: 3871 words, Allegiance, Betrayal, and Oh So Many Warning Boxes!
Shortest posts: 18 words, “Homefront” on Steam…
Most commented: 12 comments, What I’m not playing: GW2
Most revisions before finally published: 91 revisions, Allegiance, Betrayal, and Oh So Many Warning Boxes!
Most revisions before finally published (and not also the longest post): 76 revisions, Authenticators! How Do They Work?
Most used category: General Game-Related Blathering
Least used category: City of Heroes (and that one isn’t going to grow any more, I’m afraid.)

Final Thought

Off to another three years! I wonder whether this blog will still be alive and kicking then. No other way to find out than to continue!

Silly Shirt Idea

Back when we started running Molten Core 7, 8 years ago, we had a lot of fun, despite, or maybe because of, the fact that Molten Bore was somewhat… repetitive. It lent itself to cruise-control raiding (except maybe on Ragnaros… “group up the sons, group up the sons!”), so there was ample time to have fun and goof off.

One of the mainstays was, of course, that people wanted one specific item of loot, which wouldn’t drop week after week after week. Back then, I came up with this idea for a silly shirt. I never got it made, although I was close to it a few times. Then I realized, “when am I ever gonna wear it?” These days, it’s hopelessly old-fashioned, and even many current WoW players won’t get the joke any more, but I still like the idea, so anyway, here it is:

moltencoreshirt

For people who don’t know WoW: Burning Pitch was a vendor trash item that could drop from all mobs in Molten Core (and fire-based enemies elsewhere, so it wasn’t even unique to the raid). Almost everybody walked away with one or more after a raid night, because you had to loot stuff. You couldn’t skin the Core Hounds for their precious Core Leather unless they were looted, and the designated guild skinner (with Finkle’s ready) repeated his mantra many a time every run: “Loot ze hounds! For ze love of god, loot ze hounds!” (Or it would’ve sounded that way if I had been the guild skinner, which I wasn’t.) Burning Pitch was the consolation prize you walked away with to at least cover a small part of your repair bill. The font is Arial Narrow, WoW’s standard chat font, and the colors the standard orange raid chat and gray for a poor quality item.

15 Games From 25 Years, Part 2

Yes, I am a horrible blogger. I do have some excuses why it took me more than a month to finish part 2 of this series, but they can’t really explain all the delay, so I won’t even start. So, let’s just ignore it took me 40 days to finish this post, and, without further ado, just dive in:

9. Starcraft (1998)

For being one of the few (and the last) RTS game I played through without getting bored.
starcraftRTS games came at a weird time for me. I was still attached to the old-style point-and-click adventures, and 2D platformers. But when Command & Conquer came around, I played it quite a bit. At least I played the single-player campaign. Because back then, in 1998, there wasn’t much multiplayer gaming around that didn’t involve split screens. But soon enough, RTS games bored me. Always the same: build up some structures, amass an overwhelming force, then attack and crush your enemy, and all of that wrapped in a repetitive story. Until Starcraft came around, that is.

Back then, the story-telling within an RTS was amazing to me. Every mission, every cut scene seemed to have an insane story turn. I’m sure that my memory is exaggerating this in hindsight, but I remember that I believed that the story was awesome. It was what kept me playing. Because, at its core, it was same-ol’-same-ol’: build up structures, amass an overwhelming force, crush your enemy. Except for the special missions. Those had an almost RPG-like feel and were quite fun. But after the single-player missions, I was done and moved on to other games. With fond memories, and a short return for Brood War, sure. But it seems RTS as a genre is not for me, if not even the game that was played professionally for over a decade could keep me interested long-term.

10. Half-Life (1998)

For being one of the few FPS games I played through, and for showing that FPS can tell a story.
halflifeIn the first part, I said that FPSs never interested me much. Partially because I didn’t like their twitch gameplay, partially because I sucked at said twitch gameplay. But mainly because most of them came with godawful single-player “storylines”. (I needed to put that in quotes, because, really.) Half-Life was different. It started with a normal work day (sure, in a very much non-normal work environment, but still), and there was no shooting at all in the first half hour; instead, the time was spent on telling a story. The hero was an unlikely candidate for an FPS (and, granted, required some suspension of disbelief to work), and to top it off, there was a sense of mystery with that suitcase man appearing and disappearing.

Thankfully, I could *cough* procure a US version of the game (statute of limitations! Plus, to cover my shame, I actually bought the game a couple of years later, when I got the chance to get an English version), because the release fell into the “Dark Ages” of German game publishing: Because the rules on computer game violence were so strict and well-enforced, and because game companies feared loss of sales more than changing their games for the German market, Half-Life was changed. Extensively. Basically, all enemies were changed into robots, because shooting robots is cool, obviously (won’t somebody please think of the poor robots?!), and all non-enemy humans “fainted” when you shot them. I don’t even know what story they came up with for the robot invasion… thankfully, it seems that these days, the overbearing censorship has been dialed back quite a bit. Haven’t heard of a game being changed for the German market in some time. Maybe the publishers realized that teenagers don’t buy games anyway if they want to play them, and being put on the index doesn’t hurt much.

11. Grim Fandango (1998)

For being one of the best stories in point+click adventure games and a swan song for the genre, and for its great visual style.
grimfandangoWith the 90ies coming to their end, the classic adventure style of point+click faded from the limelight, too. Lucasfilm Games and Sierra stopped producing their hallmark series, and it wasn’t until some time later that smaller studios surfaced to fill the gap with quality replacements. Grim Fandango was maybe the last jewel by one of the large players. The story of love, betrayal and financial and political scheming is set in the Land of the Dead, which (I was told) is modeled after Mexican folk tales of the afterlife. It was a captivating story, but that wasn’t everything. The game was so perfectly set in a mixture of only-possible-in-dreams architecture and real-world Art Deco, with a soundtrack to complement that setting, that for style alone, this game would’ve earned a place on the list of best adventure games of all times. I mean, just look at that wallpaper!

Grim Fandango may have come closer to perfection than any other adventure game I ever played. And in some way, it is fitting that the game is set in the Land of the Dead, and ends with the way from there into the underworld. Because after the swan song of Grim Fandango, the curtain for adventure games on the big stage fell for good.

12. Diablo II (2000)

For playing so excessively that it probably single-handedly cost me at least one undergrad semester.
diabloiiWhen I picked up Diablo II in the summer of 2000, I was underwhelmed at first. Sure, it looked like a nice game, but the graphics resolution was so low that it hurt, and it just felt very incremental, nothing new and shiny, just a bit more of everything that had been there in Diablo (and maybe I had played the first installment a bit too much in the late 90ies). For a year, the game spent most of its time on the shelf, until the expansion came around, which, among other things, featured higher-resolution graphics. That did it for me, and from that time I was hooked.

I spent endless nights (and sometimes days) bringing my mage up to high level, then my paladin, then… at some point, I started collecting unique items compulsively. I even had a list of every unique and set item in the game, and ticked off every new item I got. My goal was the “holy grail”: find one of each of these items. Needless to say, I never finished that. I spent a lot of time on it, though. (Fun fact: did you know that only a handful bosses could even drop unique versions of the Sacred Armor type, and to add insult to injury, there were two unique Sacred Armors, with one being 8 times rarer than the other? I must’ve been crazy back then, thinking I could ever finish the grail.) I probably spent half a year playing Diablo II most of my waking time. Only WoW came even close to that obsession later. I also never seriously played online. I tried once or twice, but it never appealed to me. I stayed a single player.

13. Ultima Online (1997)

For keeping me away from online gaming until WoW came around.ultimaonlineI was a latecomer to the MMORPG party. I found it unfathomable that, if I wanted to play a game, not only would I have to buy it, but then also have to pay a fee. Every month! The craziness! These days, there are many people who’d rather do that instead of getting interrupted by annoying advertisements, or by obviously disruptive game mechanics that try to have you pay at every corner.

My natural curiosity, however, made me try out one of those strange games when I moved out of my parents’ and into my first own home. For the first time, I had a sizable amount of money available to me every month, much larger than the pocket money I had before (yeah, I was lucky my parents financed me and I didn’t have to work while studying other than as research student assistant because it was interesting and to earn some nice-to-have extra money). Of course, I had to finance everything out of that, but I lived frugally and had leftover money to buy all sorts of entertainment crap if I lived off cheap food. So, which game would be better suited to an Ultima fan to try out an online game than Ultima Online? It sounded great: a living, breathing world to explore and live in!

Of course, my curiosity is only one of my natural traits. Another is a stubborn insistence to not to things the easy way and how everybody else does it, but to do them differently just for the sake of being different. So, obviously, I decided that I didn’t want to become a fighter in UO, because I could do fighting in most other games, right? (The fact that I was killed by a rat the first time I entered the Britain sewers might have helped with that decision.) I decided to become a merchant. To do that, I’d have to craft stuff to sell. And to do that, I’d have to gather materials. I thought smithing sounded nice, so off I went to mine. And I mined. And mined. And mined. And soon I was so horribly bored out of my mind that I couldn’t look at cave walls any more. I wasn’t used yet to what we call “grinding”. This was supposed to be the great online experience? In retrospect, I think I just did it completely wrong, but I didn’t know better back then.

I stopped playing within a week. I was not going to pay this outrageous monthly fee to play the most boring game I had seen in ages! And that was that for online games for me. I barely considered any other online titles for years. Until…

14. World of Warcraft (2004)

For prodigious reasons that, if it were to summarize them, this subheading would have to be as long as the following text itself, contrary to usage.
wow-iniquitous-nefarian-down…to adapt a quote by the amazing Umberto Eco.

Oh, World of Warcraft. Where do we start? You were an important part of my life for six years (as sappy, or pathetic, depending on your point of view, as that sounds), and to me, you are what Everquest is to the older generation (or to those that started playing online earlier): the first hit whose rush we’re chasing after, trying to find it elsewhere.

After the letdown of Ultima Online, I wasn’t convinced I’d ever try an MMO again. For several years, I ignored the genre, and it wasn’t until my year in Tokyo that I picked up a copy in a shop in Akihabara, the nerd nirvana. (The irony of starting to play WoW in Final Fantasy XI’s country of origin does not elude me.) To make a long story short, I found a great guild, we had lots of fun, guild broke up, guild partially reunited, people moved on, I moved on, game lost its charm some time during Cataclysm. So much, so normal and boring.

But there are so many things that I can’t forget, maybe similar to what other people experienced, maybe not. The first time I left the Valley of Trials, and I realized that that area was just a tiny part of a zone, which was just one of dozens; when it hit me that this world was seriously large. My first, utterly incompetent dungeon run. Being picked up by my later raiding guild around level 30 after a Scarlet Monastery run (“I don’t know if I want to commit, I might stop playing again soon” — “just try it out, no hard feelings if you leave”). The headrush when I finally killed my last demon for Rhok’delar. And of course our guild’s high point in Vanilla, killing Nefarian in the autumn of 2006 (the picture is from that night). And so on, and so on. I still have contact with some people from that first guild. But what am I telling you, half the blog is based on some memories from my WoW days. You find them peeking around every corner. And finally, without WoW, you couldn’t even read anything here: my leaving in 2011 was one of the reasons I created this blog. It says so in my very first post ever.

15. Portal (2007)

For showing that short and small games without lots of content can be great.portalFor a long time, I was stuck in the “blockbuster mindset”: the bigger and longer a game, the better it must be. That’s strange in a way, because I started shying away from the blandness of blockbuster movies early on. I was always more a Stanley Kubrick or David Lynch guy than a Steven Spielberg one. Nevertheless, there is a certain logic to the thinking: with a movie, the difference between a 90-minute and a 150-minute movie isn’t significant enough in time to make you consider the “money-per-hour spent” ratio too deeply. With a game, it can be quite important whether you’ll get 6 or 60 hours out of it, especially if the price is the same.

Portal was different, though. As far as I know, it was a lucky random occurrence, thought as a mere bonus to Valve’s orange box, a collector’s-edition-like version of Half-Life 2. But the game developed a life of its own, and I’m probably not the only one who bought the orange box specifically because of Portal. (I don’t think I ever played Half-Life 2 for more than two or three hours; though that might not be fair, because I heard the game is actually quite nice.)

The thing with Portal is that it is so good exactly because it is so short: you can easily finish it within one extended sitting on a weekend evening, maybe taking a short break in between, like they have at the extra-length movies, just without someone asking you whether you’d like an ice cream (it never hurts to have some in your freezer, of course). Being able to finish the game in one sitting and witnessing its story unfold in those few hours gives the game the sense of immersion and immediacy of a good movie. The story isn’t watered down because it’s frequently interrupted by those pesky work days that keep you from playing. You absorb it in one go, and then can ponder about it later, if you want to.

I still haven’t played Portal 2 (though it’s been in my Steam library for ages… story of my life, and everybody else’s, it seems), but I heard it’s not as condensed and takes longer to finish. I wonder whether it can still deliver the same feeling of immediacy that the original could.

 

And that’s it! Here we are. 15 games, 25 years. If I ever get around to it, I might make a small “bonus post” with a list of games that I wish had influenced me, but didn’t, because I didn’t get around to them until years down the road.

15 Games From 25 Years, Part 1

I think it’s been over a month since the idea first showed up in my feed reader: name the 15 games that you feel were most influential to you. I thought it was a really cute idea, but didn’t have time to get around to it. Then it showed up a second time. Then a third time. I liked the idea more and more, so I created a dummy draft post. Now, after everybody and their grandmother has done it, I finally get around to doing it. It seems to be my thing: writing about topics when others are done with it, playing games years after their release, and so on. If I fail my PhD, I probably should apply for a job at some magazine that runs these “What ever happened to X?” columns.

It actually was quite hard to pick 15. The first 10 or so were incredibly easy. Then the troubles began: should I pick game X or game Y? Which one was more worthy of a spot? Should I maybe just cut the list at a point that felt natural to me, or extend it? In the end, I decided such lists are there to make you pick and choose. I guess it’s what Sid Meier calls “interesting choices”.

Once I had done this, I had another choice to make: how to sort the games? I thought about ordering them from least to most influential, but ran into problems. Was SimCity more influential than Metroid II? Starcraft than Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis? That didn’t work. I could have gone with chronological ordering. That works if you’re always at the vanguard of game development and releasing, or if you want to simply give a list of games in a historical overview. But this is about how influential games were to me. So, to me, the best way is to follow Rob Gordon and sort them autobiographically. Especially because, as I already said, I sometimes only get around to games months or years after their release. Because of this, while I give the release dates, they won’t be in order.

So, what then does “influential” mean? It can mean a lot of things, and there can be wildly varying reasons, big or small. A game can simply have been my first video game. It can be a game that opened up a genre to me. It can even be influential in that it kept me away from a popular genre for good. I’ll try to point that out for every game I list. So, let’s get this going, finally.

1. Battle Chess (1988)

For being the first game I had to hide from my parents.
battlechessI got my first computer, a PC, in 1990. Well, it wasn’t technically “my” computer. It was a family computer, so my parents used it for word processing, and I learned how to program QBasic on it. First steps towards becoming a computer scientist, I guess. It had been a hard fight. I had wanted a computer for a long time. All my friends had Amigas, or at least NESs. My parents, however, weren’t very interested in technology. It might be too harsh to call them Luddites, but they weren’t that far off. As the first child, I also had to fight for a lot of things that my brother got a lot easier later on. We had a TV, but I was only allowed to watch very limited program, and not much. My parents weren’t fans of computers, either. They didn’t feel like they needed a word processor, after all, they had a typewriter. (In their defense, the first word processors were barely better than a typewriter, so I can kinda see their point in hindsight.) So I had to beg for ages. When my parents finally relented and we got a PC, I held up my side of the bargain and worked seriously with it quite a bit. I did the programming that I mentioned, I tinkered until I destroyed the operating system install (probably several times).

And of course, I played games. Now, that hadn’t been part of the bargain, but my parents were no idiots. They knew it would happen. I had a couple of games like Sokoban, which I liked and my parents approved. Battle Chess was the first game that I had to hide from my parents. You see, they didn’t endorse violence. Violent computer games probably were the main reason they fought against getting a PC for so long. So Battle Chess was not approved of in our household. You killed the pieces when you captured them! Of course, it was all cartoon violence, in a way. But it was in a new medium, and who knows whether that wouldn’t turn me into a ruthless killer? I think I can now confidently say that it didn’t. But it was the first game out of a bunch that I hid from my parents for fear of disapproving frowns and maybe even groundings. As I said, my parents are no idiots: with time, their “no violence” doctrine softened. But I hid those “violent” games just as well as (a couple of years later) the pictures of scantily-clad (or not-at-all-clad) women. Oh, puberty! But that’s another story and shall be told another time. Or, come to think of it, maybe not.

2. Gargoyle’s Quest (1991)

For being the first game that showed me that games could tell a story, even a simplistic one in hindsight, and for pushing me to learn English as fast as I could.
gargoylesquestOnce we finally got a computer in our home, things progressed at breakneck speed. Just a couple of months later, I got a Game Boy for Christmas from my grandparents. (I hope I get the continuity right here, I’m can’t remember for sure which one was first, PC or Game Boy. But it fits the storytelling better this way, so I’ll go with this order.) Years later, my parents told me they hadn’t been happy with this at all, but what was done was done. My first games were the plain and simple type: beat a level, progress to the next one. Story? What’s that?

Gargoyle’s Quest was the first game I owned that told a story. It was a disaster in the beginning. I couldn’t beat the first stage, which was what we’d call “overtuned” today. (Every other stage felt simpler than that evil first one!) Thankfully, I got a one-year subscription for the Nintendo Magazine with the Game Boy, and a couple of months after I had gotten the game, they published a code that let you skip the first stage. From then on, it was smooth sailing. There was a world to explore! I had played games like Zelda before at a friend, but they don’t really work well for playing together, plus my friends were more into the simpler games, so this was the first time I was exposed to a deep story in a video game, or what passed for it in my mind those days. I was hooked, and from then on, games needed depth to interest me.

Of course, there was the tiny problem that the game was in English. I had to run to my parents all the time to have them translate for me, which they did dutifully, but I could tell they were immensely bored by it. Gargoyle’s Quest is probably the first time I felt like I needed to learn that strange language, and when English classes started in school the year after, I dug in.

3. SimCity (1989)

For learning to love the simulation genre, and for helping me figure out that I am no Richard Bartle.
SimCityI think this is the first simulation game that I played. It was easy enough so that a ten-year old with limited understanding of English could grasp the concepts. I loved planning my city, building it, and seeing it run. I loved it so much that, in fact, I tried to create a board game version of it for playing when my parents chased me off the computer. I created lots of tiles (residential, commercial, industrial, roads, etc.) to place on a map. I failed miserably trying to come up with a system to manage cash flow, though. All that behind-the-scenes management of revenues and expenses, which was done by the game engine, was voodoo to me. I’m still not all that good with money, but I blame part of that failure on being 10 years old and only having a very limited understanding of finances. But one good thing came out of it: my failure showed me that designing games is hard. SimCity 2000 came later, and expanded on the original. After that… let’s just not talk about it.

4. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (1992)

For having the greatest story I played up to that point, which would have been worthy of being the fourth Indy movie.
indy4Gargoyles Quest had showed me that games can tell a story more complicated than “your princess is in another castle”. Indy 4 taught me that those stories, told well within the limitations of the medium, could rival those of movies and even books. Having three distinct ways to finish the game, while probably less than impressive to someone who started their adventure career with Maniac Mansion, was something I loved. I learned that games not only have limitations in storytelling, but also tools available that books and films do not (except if you build everything around it like, e.g., in Run Lola Run). To this day, I think that Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis would have made a great movie, and it’s a shame it never was to be. And it’s obvious which of the three paths the movie should have picked: Team all the way! Sophia Hapgood rocked. I might’ve even had a prepubescent crush on a pixel character back then. While you had to rescue her more than once, she was still leagues above the typical cardboard cut-out damsels in distress of her time.

5. Metroid II (1992)

For understanding how a relatively small world can contain so many wonders to someone without access to playthrough guides or out-of-game maps.
metroid2Metroid II, the only installment of the series on the Game Boy, is often panned as the red-headed stepchild, only saved from being the bottom of the barrel by some later abysmal spinoffs, or so the story goes. Me? I had never played the original Metroid, so I had nothing to compare it to. I personally loved the sense of exploration in the game. The strange thing? Look at this map. Doesn’t look all that large, right? But without any in-game or out-of-game map available, I managed to lose my way so many times that it felt much, much larger. I think it took me months to complete the game, because I tried to search every nook and cranny for powerups and those elusive last metroids that triggered earthquakes to open up additional areas. When I saw that map for the first time, I couldn’t believe how small it was.

6. Final Fantasy Adventure / Mystic Quest (1993)

For being the first RPG I played, and for being engrossed in a great and long story (for a Game Boy game).
mysticquestThis was one of my all-time favorite Game Boy games. Many people seem to agree: it often features on “Top X Game Boy titles” lists. And it’s easy to see why: for a Game Boy game at that time, the story was captivating. There was a real sense of progress by leveling and weapon/armor upgrades. There were cities, deserts, woods and dungeons to explore. Of course, it was still a Game Boy game from the 90ies: if you play it today, you can finish it in a weekend (which still isn’t all that shabby compared to its contemporaries). It wasn’t all that nonlinear, either: most areas were cordoned off until you finished a story line part that awarded you the special ability to clear those trees, crush those boulders, and so on. In fact, it even cordoned off areas behind you at times. Nevertheless, at that time, it was great. While I never played all that many classic RPGs, Mystic Quest (as it was called in Europe) was the game that warmed me to the concept of number-based progression. And then there was the music, of course. Somehow it seems the Japanese producers understood best what to make with the limitations of the 8-bit age.

7. Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders (1988)

For showing me that a zany story beats dated graphics.
zakmckrackenI think we’re seeing a trend here. I favor games that tell a story, because that is what I tend to remember. Zak McKracken was the first “vintage” game I can remember playing and having lots of fun. Now, don’t get me wrong, at the time of release, the graphics weren’t all that shabby. But by the mid-90ies, it looked very dated. I loved the humor at the time, though. I think I was old enough by then to get a good deal of the cultural references in the game, something that would’ve gone over my head back when the game was released. It also was the first time that I beat a copy protection on my own. Back when we are were poor teens and games were traded back and forth between us, those copy protections always proved pesky. You either needed a “warez” version or become creative. With ZakMcKracken, I borrowed the black-on-dark-brown copy protection sheets, used the school scanner and Paint Shop Pro’s “levels” tool to make a high-contrast copy, and printed it out. I felt extremely wily that day. Good thing there’s statutes of limitation and I can now write about that. These days, I have money to buy my games, and Steam makes that a lot easier, too.

8. Quake (1996)

For showing me that I suck at FPSs and that I didn’t like their paper-thin story.
quakeThis is the first game on my list that influenced to me in a negative way. In effect, it soured me on most FPSs to come after it.

Quake was one of those games that the cool kids played. Well, that’s actually not quite true. At least in my area, all computer gamers were nerds. So playing quake made you something of a cool nerd, which is more the equivalent of the one-eyed amongst the blind. The game had a bit of a reputation because not only was it all about shooting things, it was mostly about shooting people. Or their characters, in deathmatches. I remember playing it in the school computer room. One upside of not having any competent computer science teachers was that the administration fo the computers was mostly done by a select group of school nerds. And with that power, who could prevent them from installing Quake on those machines? Pirated copies, of course, because even if we had had the money to buy multiple copies, none of us was old enough at that time to legally buy the game (it was on the German index, so no sales to minors).

The problem was that I sucked at the game. I was truly, genuinely horrible. Around that time, User Friendly was a big thing in web comics, and I felt like I was Stef: always getting killed, spending half my time in some lava pool, and so on. So I tried to get better, brought home a copy, and tried to play the single-player campaign. That was a horrible letdown. I’m not even sure it had any story to speak of. I realized that I didn’t want to train to stay competitive, because in the end, the concept of FPSs just bored me. Quake was the game that once and for all put me off FPS deathmatches.

Alright, that’s it for now. Because this is already one of my longer posts, I’ll talk about the other half next time!