Category Archives: General Game-related Blathering

EQ Mac Closes. Surprise!

Well, not really.

The thing is, even though I feel sad for Al’Kabor closing, I really can’t blame SOE. And believe me, I like to blame them for everything they do; it’s the safe choice most of the time!

So what we had was a Mac-only, time-locked Everquest server. Take the small fraction of gamers who use a Mac. That probably already removes 95% of all gamers. Probably more like 99% if you add consoles and all that to it. Hell, by now, I wouldn’t be surprised if Linux gamers had a larger share of the gamer pie. Of those 1%, take the people who would be interested in playing an MMO, but not WoW or EVE, the only other ones I can think of that have a Mac client. (caveat: I didn’t bother to check many games. I have a Macbook, but it’s from and mostly for work.) Instead take those who’d rather play something nostalgic: an Everquest, stuck in late 2002 and the Planes of Power expansion.

That doesn’t leave a lot of people.

Now, granted, SOE has other games in their portfolio that are wildly unsuccessful (Vanguard, I’m looking at you, with a weeping eye thinking of the things that could have been). Will they be in danger of being taken off life support next?

Not necessarily, because Al’Kabor had it even worse with the unfortunate combination of the Mac-Nostalgia-MMO-gamer target group. All the other SOE games I can think of have Windows clients. And as different as the code base is between them, at least they use the same operating system. If you have one tiny Mac game that doesn’t even produce revenue in an otherwise Windows-based shop, you pay an extraordinary amount of money for upkeep. You need Macs for testing, you need Mac programmers, all that stuff. Granted, a game that’s not gotten any content updates for more than 10 years only needs a minimal staff. Nevertheless, you still need to have someone to fix bugs or (when you talk about such a timeframe) keep the software compatible with OS updates. At some point SOE probably just had to cut financial corners somewhere.

Criticism in Guilds

Alright, I’m back from my vacation. If I run out of things to post, I might actually torture you with vacation impressions. You’re in luck though, because for today, I have a topic to write about. Like many of my posts, it started as a comment on a blog, but grew enough that I told myself, “wait a second, this is getting unwieldy enough for a comment to become a blog post on its own”.

I’ve been following Stubborn’s blog for some time. It’s been interesting to read about his experiences with his (now ex-) guild. I won’t say too much about that part; it’s water under a bridge by now, in a way. It didn’t work out, and I’m sure (or at least hope) that Stubborn sees it the same way, and won’t linger too much on “how it could maybe have turned out better”. Better to look into the future.

What I want to talk about (and what has been discussed to a certain point in that blog post’s comments) is an excerpt from his recent blog post (link below the quote):

That’s something that a lot of more casual guilds lack: the willingness to put players’ performance out there. It may be because they’re worried about people taking it personally[.] […] [I]n some of my guilds it’s just not considered acceptable. That baffles me; don’t people who are doing poorly want to know specific ways in which to improve? Of course, the fallacy there is that not everyone thinks the same way I do or wants to play the game the way I do.

Stubborn, of course, already hints at the problem with this, but I think he dances around the problem, as seem to do most commenters. They point out that some people are too touchy and can’t accept criticism, but also that some people voice criticism in the form of personal attacks.

I’d go a step further and say that the very same criticism can be both at the same time, to different people. People just have very different thresholds for criticism. And that doesn’t only apply to the point at which they get offended (I’ll call it the “tolerance threshold”), but also the point at which they start noticing hints and are able to apply the criticism constructively (which I’ll call the “response threshold”). So to provide effective, constructive criticism, you’ll have to take that into account. There are (at least) two factors at play here: tone and audience.

Regarding tone, some people are accustomed to strong responses. They are fine with and even prefer direct, sometimes even curt, factual criticism, will say “yessir”, and apply it. Others will shy away from the strong authority inherent to that tone, even become defensive. To reach those people, you are better off making sure you stay below the tolerance threshold. You will notice that those more easily offended people often have a low response threshold, too. It’s not necessary to be quite as direct. They will pick up the hints in what you say, and act accordingly, often improving quite well, because they don’t feel the pressure they might feel from a curt criticism.

Therefore, it’s often good to start soft. In one guild I was in, we had different people for the different approaches, because everybody’s best at one type of tone. I was typically the guy who tried it with careful hinting first, because I generally was quite okay at that. If that didn’t help, somebody else with a more direct approach took over, because they were better at being direct and potentially more confrontational.

The second factor is audience. Criticizing people in front of others is, by its nature, a more confrontational approach than private feedback. Therefore, if at all possible, I try to give criticism, even constructive factual one, in private rather than in public. Public criticism can very easily be perceived as humiliation in front of your peers. Private criticism is eye-to-eye and feels more like a discussion between peers, while public criticism easily has a component of power play, because the criticizing person can be perceived as being in a superior position to the criticized.

Of course, it can be quite hard to properly do private criticism in a raiding environment. You don’t want to wait with feedback until the end of the night, when you’re on your own, because you preferably want to give feedback before the next pull. So that only leaves public voice channels, or whispers. Which, in a time-constrained raiding atmosphere, make proper communication and tone problematic. So there’s a bit of a trade-off here. Some stuff isn’t so vital that it can’t wait until the end of the raid. In that case, it’s a good idea to just wait until then. A raid is already a stressful environment (if it’s progression, for all members; if it’s about a new member, even the simplest raid will be stressful to them while they adapt to the new environment; and so on). If possible, save yourself and the other person the additional stress and postpone criticism until after the raid.

Of course, it’s a fine line, and it doesn’t mean to ignore or postpone everything. Sometimes you just need to say, “Dude/Dudette, I know it looks pretty, but get out of the fucking fire!” (see what I did there? always add some light joke. bonus points for self-depreciation!)

So yeah, bottom line of my opinion: consider tone and audience in your criticism. Start easy and escalate from there. But that’s just my opinion, maybe there’s a reason I’ve never been a guild leader (not that I would ever want to do that, officer was more than enough for me, thank you!).

The Kindness of Strangers

(No, not the album by Spock’s Beard.)

eq_buff_speed Imagine this situation. You are in a somewhat old-school MMO. You are running and meeting someone else on the road. Let’s say you’re a priest or mage in WoW and meet someone in the Barrens, or a shaman in EQ and meet someone in Karana. What do you do? (PVPers who answers with “I stealth and gank them” may stop reading now). To me, the most natural thing, even before thinking of a /wave or anything, would be to target them and hit my buff button. Fortitude, Arcane Intellect, Spirit of Wolf.

wow_buff_aiI loved doing that. Just randomly be kind to other players, help them out a bit. It made the other happy, sometimes you got a “thank you”. Every now and then, it even sparked a conversation. I only realized how much I liked buffing people randomly after the ability to do so went out of fashion. Ask yourself: what was the last game you played that allowed you to buff random people on the drive-by? I thought about the games I played in the last couple of years. LotRO? Nope. EQ2? Nope. Rift? Don’t think so. TSW? Nope. EVE? Muahaha… hahaha… *gasp*… sorry. Kind to strangers? That was a trick question, of course. Vanguard? Ok, you got me there, Vanguard lets you buff strangers. But the way this game promotes the old-school vibe, it only reinforces my impression that this is something that MMOs have phased out.

eq_buff_strengthWhy do games not allow me to be kind to strangers in that way any more? OK, so there might be ways to exploit this to grief people. But you have to look really hard and really close, and even then, I can’t think of anything but rare cases. The only one I can come up with was the ever-so-popular “Zeppelin Fortitude Splat” (a name I just invented) in WoW. I’ll segue for a second, just because the thing makes me smile even now.

wow_buff_fortitudeSo, Undercity and Orgrimmar were (and still are, I think) connected by a Zeppelin line. When you arrived, you could jump off before it moored, and save some time. You’d take falling damage, sure. Lots of falling damage (easily 90% of your health). But you didn’t die, because it was always a percentage of your maximum health (unless you jumped off too early and straight up died from the fall). Fortitude, on the other hand, increased your maximum health. It didn’t increase your current health, though. So let’s say your “victim” had 1000 maximum health before buffing. Fortitude increased that to 1200 maximum health, but the current health was still 1000, slowly regenerating. Buffing someone right when they jumped off… Well, 90% of 1200 is more than 1000… I’m guilty of doing that a couple of times. I always offered a rez afterwards though, and apologized.

eq_buff_concentrationAnyway, I digress. So, why did games stop doing that? These days, buffs area almost always group-only, so you have to form a group with people before you can buff them. Which kind of works ass-backwards considering so many games try to lower the barrier to interaction by doing informal grouping with transient groups, or with kill-sharing without joining any group at all. What are developers afraid of that they took those tools away from players? Are they worried about balance? That people will either be way too powerful with buffs, or not powerful enough without them to progress in the game? That doesn’t make sense to me, because in-the-world events are typically not carefully balanced anyway. The only serious balancing seems to be done to group and raid dungeons, and if the buffs are group-only, you still have them there.

wow_buff_motwAre they worried most people might not be able to manage buffs properly? That they forget to renew buffs, buff new group members, forget to buff altogether? In that case, the developers at least chose an effective solution. These days, most buffs I can think of are fire-and-forget. Like an aura, they apply to yourself, are eternally in effect until cancelled (sometimes even persist through death), and automatically apply to your group members as long as they stay in your group. On the other hand, that also makes such buffs immensely boring. It takes away the gratification you get from buffing someone and see health, run speed, or whatever, increase. Would anybody design all damage spells to be auras that automatically apply to close enemies, without any interaction? Of course not, that would be silly! So why are buffs treated that way?

Review: Papers, Please

First of all, as you can see from the, again, quite long absence, I’m not really back in the groove of regular writing again. There were also some work-related, but especially personal things that came up and kept me away from playing and writing because, frankly, they were more important to take care of. I still don’t want to give up, so I’ll try with an unusual game that I stumbled across.

The Game

I’m not even sure whether Papers, Please is a real full-fledged game. It has the basic requirements, I guess: you have a goal, means to reach that goal, and rules you have to follow to do so. Even if the rules constantly change, and the goal isn’t much more than “do your work well enough to survive on your salary”. That used to be enough for a game in the old days, and I guess it still is.

As the game tells you: "Glory to Arstotzka"!

As the game tells you: “Glory to Arstotzka”!

The setup and the rules you have to follow are somewhat tedious (by design). You are a citizen of The Great Arstotzka, a Soviet or post-Soviet nation with fascist undertones, who has recently finished a border war. You have been assigned the position of immigration control at a reopened border post. Your job is to check passports, all day, every day. And boy, are there a lot of forgeries (I guess that can be attributed to the game nature). Let a person in or send it back? At the end of the day, you get evaluated for performance. How fast were you? How many mistakes did you make?

The main screen. You'll be staring at this a lot.

The main screen. You’ll be staring at this a lot.

The UI is as minimalistic as the game’s premise. One static screen, with a few sprites. Low resolution. Clunky interface. This is actually my main gripe with the game: I don’t mind retro design, and I every now and then play old games. However, a little bit less mouse-dragging and clicking would have made the game less tiring for my mouse arm which, after a day of office work, is happy if it doesn’t have to do more than necessary of that. The cramped interface is actually one of the main enemies you have to fight. In the later stages of the game, where you have to juggle a passport, travel permit, travel supplement, work permit, audio transcript of interview, and your rulebook, your workspace is so small that you have to drag around stuff constantly to check documents against each other. Your other main enemy is time. Too slow processing immigrants? Tough luck, your salary is based on the number of people you process each day. Hope that your savings can offset rent, heating, food for your family. And pray nobody gets ill and needs medicine… On the other hand, work too fast and make mistakes? Missing a wrong gender entry, or a mismatch in names between travel permit and passport, or that the issuing city of the passport is not in your list of valid issuers? Citation! First two each day don’t cost you, but from then on, you’ll be fined, which eats into your salary big time.

Your working desk seems to be designed not to be able to hold all required documents. It gets worse than this later on.

Your working desk seems to be designed to not be able to hold all required documents. It gets worse than this later on.

All of this doesn’t necessarily make for a very compelling game. But it’s not the game itself that makes it interesting, it’s rather the atmosphere. The orders you get each day are from a faceless entity, and feel arbitrary. One day, immigrants need a small transferable travel ticket, the next day a personalized travel permit. The next day work immigrants need a work permit. Then you are instructed to treat your citizens preferentially. Then there’s an attack on the border post, and the government blames a neighboring country. You are instructed to subject all citizens of that country to “random body searches”.

"You detain people, I give you money."

“You detain people, I give you money.”

In short, your instructions are strict, feel arbitrary, and are hard to understand. The way you are talked to doesn’t help endearing your government to you either. Then the moral choices start. Let a woman pass even though she forgot to buy a travel ticket, simply because she says it’s her first chance to see her son in years? Or what about the couple, the man who has an immigration permit, but there’s something wrong with his wife’s papers? The man who is desperate to get medical treatment in Arstotzka that he can’t get at home? What about the shady guard who visits you and tells you that the government pays him for every detained person, and he’s willing to give you some kickback if you funnel him people? When you realize that the money you earn from your job cannot keep you afloat if you’re unlucky enough to have a bout of flu in your family, you might be grasping at straws like this.

Beyond The Game

The compelling thing about Papers, Please is that it puts you into the role of a small cog in a large, inhuman machine. You can “just follow your orders” and not alert the guards to the pimp who’s smuggling women, because his papers are in order. You can separate the couple I talked about above. And for all of this, you are rewarded with an increased salary. And in the end, you can always justify it by saying that “this is what I had to do to survive myself”. On the other hand, the first two mistakes each day are not punished. You can try to save these for the cases where you bend the rules to help out desperate people. The game puts you in a situation where it is very easy to say “I was only following orders, this is what I had to do”, while actually giving you at least limited choice.

He had no choice but to follow orders either, or so he said.

He had no choice but to follow orders either, or so he said.

This is a quite accurate way of depicting a totalitarian system. As I come from Germany (and like to read about history), I feel like I’m quite informed about our history, including our dark spots. Most people who made the Nazi system work weren’t evil in the normal sense. They just did their job, did what they were told, and didn’t question what they were ordered to do. This is the frightening thing about it, and the reason why totalitarian systems work so well. You don’t need many evil people; you’d never get enough of them have them personally control every corner of a country. What you need is to make the average Joe feel like they should follow orders, either because you make them feel good about following them (rewards, instilling a sense of “being part of something important and great” – the Nazis were among the first who effectively used mass media for manipulation by means of Gleichschaltung), or because you make them feel bad about not following them (instilling fear, making an example of select cases). The human mind is very malleable. A person can be ruthless in their day job (in this game: detain the immigrant with a simple typo mismatch in their documents), and still be a loving parent at home (worry about earning the money to get medicine for your kids).

I’ve only played the game about halfway through the “storyline”, but I’ve noticed that I tend to have little mercy for my immigrants. Since I have problems keeping track of the more complicated rules, and can’t check all of them without spending too much time, I cut some corners during inspection, so I’m reluctant to use my two “free” daily citations to help out people. And I tend to detain people when there is even a hint of foul play. After all, there are regular terrorist attacks on the border posts by people let through. Or is it rather because of the kickbacks? Since money is so scarce to come by, and you will be homeless and lose the game if you can’t pay for at least your bare necessities every day, there are incentives to make you behave immoral. I first thought this is one of the main drawbacks of this game: as much as I like the retro style, it makes it hard for me to empathize with the pixel people in front of me. I only see them for seconds each, and their faces cannot convey emotions to me because of technical limitations. I was ready to say that this is where the game ultimately fails: that the gamification incentive (earn as much money as possible) is not properly offset by a feeling of moral obligation.

On the other hand, there is enough food for thought. Isn’t there a lot of gamification in morally shady areas in the real world, too? Managers get bonuses for short-term boosts by laying off people without caring for long-term developments. Soldiers get shiny medals if they kill others well and often enough. All of these work because people drift into a dangerous mindset slowly, without noticing it, and because there are rewards waiting for them to engage in that behavior. The game might at least trigger some introspection and make you spend some time with the question of how easy it can be to slip up and become a tiny cog in an evil machine, in which case it is a success after all. Yes, of course, it’s easy to argue that “it’s just a game”. But isn’t it also easy to become an armchair criminal by “just following orders”?

Getting Your Trinity Right (or: in Defense of CC)

Lots of talking about pros and cons of the holy trinity again recently. One thing that irks me a bit is that often, the trinity is implicitly defined as “tanks, heals, DPS”. Which isn’t true, of course. The classic “holy trinity”, as it appeared in EQ, didn’t even have DPS in it. DPS was merely something you added once you had constructed the actual trinity. After all, every could DPS… somewhat.

No, the role that always gets forgotten, which is something that saddens me greatly, is crowd control. For the classic holy trinity, you brought a tank, a healer, and a CC, which in EQ typically meant a warrior, a cleric, and an enchanter. And CC is a great asset! Plus, what’s more fun that to play a class that can completely shut down your enemy? But it seems that true CC classes died out over the years. First, their defining trait was distributed among other classes. Suddenly, most classes had one weak CC power, but the master of CC disappeared. But, here’s the thing. Many players that ended up with a CC ability didn’t like playing CC. They wanted to play DPS or heals. So they complained about having to do CC in groups and raids. And the developers listened and did away with CC requirements. So, these days, many encounters are designed to not use CC any more. Just go in and AoE everything.

Keep that in mind when you talk about removing specialized tanking and healing roles from a game. There’s a good chance you’ll end up with a situation where everybody has to tank and heal a little. And people will complain. Especially those DPS that now complain about long queues in games like WoW, and will then complain about suddenly having to do some tanking and healing themselves, which is something that they didn’t sign up for. And if developers listen to that, too… we’ll be without tanking and healing too, and it’ll be even more of a zerg fest than it is these days without CC on trash.

Signing Up for EQN Beta as a European

Quick one. I haven’t really watched a lot of the EQN reveal videos. I typically don’t do that kind of stuff, because I tend to react negatively to the staged and artificial hype-building that goes with those events. I wouldn’t mind trying out EQN once the beta comes around, though.

Turns out you can’t sign up for the beta as a European, though. Well, not with SOE at least. If you want to do the beta, you have to sign up via Pro-Sieben/Sat-1, which understandably a lot of people don’t want to. (On the other hand, that company hasn’t lost all your user accounts to security leaks yet! Might only be a question of time, though.)

The question is, of course, if that means that SOE will want to do one of the most despicable things in online games: split people by region. Really, I feel extremely strongly about that point. It should never, ever, be done, under no circumstances whatsoever. I’ve been bitten by these stupid restrictions too often.

However, at least for th beta, there’s a workaround. When you try to sign up via, you first have to provide your credentials, and then are sent in an infinite loop back to the main page as a European. However, if you directly access the page behind that check, you can sign up without any problems. I did that by using a link that a helpful player in EQ2’s general chat posted: Everquest Next Beta Signup. I was cautious and scouted the link, because you never know whether it’s a scam. Since it’s a domain though, I don’t see anything suspicious about the link.

I can’t promise you you’ll ever get a beta invite – who knows, they might check for residence before they send them out. If I had to guess though, they won’t be that rigorous in their checks – if they don’t even just do it lottery-style anyway.

I signed up with my SOE account, got a registration confirmation, and now will just wait and see.

Zones and Zone Lines

Every now and then, people argue whether “zones” in an MMO are a good or a bad thing. Just today, the discussion came up again in replies to a post by HarbingerZero. I first wanted to answer there, but then I ended up with a full post. So here you are!

First of all, I think we have to make sure that we don’t conflate two concepts into the word “zone”. When people think of zones, they can mean two different things:

  1. Self-contained pieces of terrain, which you can only leave for other zones through specific points and loading screens.
  2. Thematically grouped areas (the “snow zone” or the “lava zone”) which are connected to other zones without load screens.

I’ll call the first one “technical zones” and the second one “thematical zones”.

Technical zones

Everquest (both I and II) is probably the king here. Many original EQ zones were quite small, and to change from one to another required you staring at loading screens, sometimes for a long time. This was probably more a technical limitation that anything else: by keeping each zone small, the number of players that could interact with each other also was kept low. Keep in mind that, in an extreme case, each player’s actions need to be sent to every other player in a zone, so you end up with quadratic growth – which is never a good thing. Of course, things like “spheres of awareness” (I will only be informed by the game about things happening in my view range) help a lot. Still, you’re typically limited by your servers’ computing power, because it is much, much harder to have more than one server handle a zone, because you run into the classic parallelization problems and open yourself up to a lot more bugs (which are hard to debug, to boot). So, historically, small, self-contained zones made a lot of sense.

Small zones also make it easier to handle and redistribute the load. In EVE Online, each star system is a zone, though the loading screen in this case is the warp tunnel, so it’s hidden from plain view. Most star systems in EVE are almost completely empty almost all the time. Each server therefore handles a bunch of zones. However, if a system suddenly becomes very active (think of those several-thousand player battles), this architecture allows them to dynamically redistribute the load. The server sheds all its other systems off to other servers, and focuses on that one system only. (It’s still often not quite enough, so EVE uses a trick called “time dilation”, in which everybody in that system slows down by a certain percentage. Everything goes slower: flying, shooting, etc. That allows the server to keep up with the load.)

On the other hand, we see that these days, it’s not really necessary to have these “hard” zone lines. WoW created an almost zoneline-free world in 2004. LotRO did so, too, and even has “dynamic layers” in which copies of an area are created if too many players flock in one spot. (Though I’m not sure whether that’s for technical or game design reasons). I don’t remember enough of the even earlier games to speak about them, but didn’t UO have no loading screens, either?

So if it is technically possible to make a world without loading screens, is there any other reason to have them in your game? I can see an argument for them in a world that switches between multiple-instance zones (“instanced dungeons”) and single-instance zones (“open world”). In that case, the loading screen does not only mask the potential waiting time to process the additional load on the server (create a new copy of the zone, etc.), but it also functions as a visual cue to the player that they are transitioning from one presentation of the game world to another.

Perfectly rectangular EQ zone. Also no the typical "Z"-style exits, designed so you will never have a view of the adjacent zone, which of course isn't there at all.

Perfectly rectangular EQ zone. Also note the curved or “Z”-style exits, designed so you will never have a view of the adjacent zone, which of course isn’t there at all.

Other than that, in my opinion, there is no compelling reason to have zone lines with loading screens in your game. They only detract from your experience. They chop the world into tiny blocks that are only roughly pieced together. When I go from home to work, I don’t have to stare at a loading screen when I pass a certain point. When I go on vacation, I don’t have to pass 15 checkpoints with loading screens, either. Loading screens have no equivalent in the real world, and they also don’t give us any benefit by being better than what we’re used to from the real world. Also keep in mind that the strict separation means that I can’t “peek over” into the other zone. Even if I’m standing right at the zone line, I can’t see what’s happening on the other side. That often leads to the infamous “rectangle with mountains around it” zone design, with zone exits with curved or bent tunnels that make sure I won’t catch a glimpse of the adjacent zone – which of course isn’t even there, because the zone is all there is, as far as the server is concerned.

My opinion: only chop up your world into zones if you have to for technical reasons. Otherwise don’t.

Thematical zones

Back in the day, before MMOs, before 3D graphics, before high-quality 2D graphics, there was a very technical reason for zone themes. Remember Super Mario Bros? Outside level, night level, castle level, and so on… The memory, computing and display power were so limited that it made sense to only have a small set of tiles available for each level. Palette shifting (recoloring existing visual assets) saved space, so you had levels that used the same assets in different colors. For the same technical reasons, every level was also separated from the others by a technical zone boundary.

MMOs have often not deviated much from this zone idea. Have a look at this (pre-cataclysm, but it didn’t change much afterwards) map of WoW’s Searing Gorge, a typical “lava zone” with lots of dark ash and open lava pools:

Circle are entry and exit points, arrows show the adjacent zones' themes.

Circle are entry and exit points, arrows show the adjacent zones’ themes.

If you leave lava-land, you can either go to snow-land, or temperate-grasslands-land, or desert-land. That doesn’t really make much sense at all, geographically speaking. There is no savannah between the temperate grasslands and the desert. A lot of the other transitions aren’t impossible, (snow to grasslands, lava to the others), but the combination of all of them in so little space is quite implausible. In addition, even though there are no loading screens, the zone lines are very visible. Note that I chose searing Gorge also because there are three distinct entry and exit points. Other zones are more open, but you also get the same border-like feel when the scenery suddenly changes.

I collected some examples of what I mean. Click the images for larger sizes and captions with explanations! (Also, it’s the first time I used this gallery feature. If it doesn’t work as intended, please tell me.)

This, perhaps more than all the other things people mean when they say “theme park”, reminds me of theme parks. Bored of Desert Land? Visit Lava Land! It’s just around the corner! I wonder where the preference for that sort of design comes from. Is it because each zone gets a few design sketches, and then a staff of people who populate it without much interaction with the designers of the adjacent zones? It doesn’t feel very world-like at all.

This behavior isn’t restricted to zone lines, though. Often, you end up with “sub-zones” that have a different feel. The evil camp in the forest, the fiery mountain in the plains. Palette shifts are very popular for these kinds of areas: Just change the “dominant” color, as if somebody put a color filter in front of your camera. You know what I mean: when you stand in green fields, then take a step forward, and suddenly the sky becomes purple and the grass you stood on turns gray, then you take the step back and everything is as it was before. It always felt silly to me. Why would the whole sky suddenly change color from one second to another? Why would the grass suddenly look dead and burned, and, even worse, look fine again if I take a step back? The colors support the theme of the zone, I get that, but the change is so sudden that it feels silly. I thought these days we wouldn’t have to resort to such drastic hacks any more. A more gradual change should be easy enough to implement, shouldn’t it?

I guess that’s what it comes down to, when I look at all those points: gradual change. A desert doesn’t suddenly become a forest within two steps, light doesn’t change that drastically either. A good world should have gradual changing scenery. Yes, that probably also makes it a lot larger, because you need more space to go from snow to savannah. That’s a good thing in my book, though.

MMO Ennui

It’s that time again.  I come home after work, eye the icons on my desktop (I don’t use my desktop for pretty much anything, but I do keep my game shortcuts there), and just sit there staring at them. I had a pretty good run recently, played a bunch of LotRO, EQ2 and EVE. However, the last couple of days, none of the games could really captivate me.

LotRO was the first to fall off. During the time I didn’t write, I pushed my Hobbit Warden the last couple of levels to the level cap. However, I never really got to the point where I enjoyed Rohan. Too on-rails, too grindy, too… I don’t know. I guess part of it is that there’s nothing at the level cap I really want to do. I’ve exclusively soloed to the top, and as such, I never collected any experience with grouping mechanisms. Wardens will be expected to tank in groups. I don’t think I want to dive straight into that cold water. So all there is to do is grind dailies (blech) or level an alt.

EQ2 had the best run of the three. After hitting level cap on my Swashbuckler late last year, I started an alt Illusionist who, after my general MMO hiatus in spring,  is sitting at 85 at the moment (long-lost post about him in my post queue). I’m somehow missing the motivation for the final push to 90, though. From there I should be able to get groups and waltz my way to 95 and 320 AA easily (or at least that is the hope). I switched guilds from a US-based to a Euro-based guild, but it for the most part stopped raiding around the time I joined, which led to reduced attendance in the guild overall. Nobody really quit, but people just play less, and there are still not a lot of people on to play with. I basically switched from one guild with low attendance due to time zone issues to another guild with low attendance due to other issues. I probably should try and find a larger and more active guild, but I always feel like I’m abandoning people when I leave a guild, even if I’ve only been there a short time and not really contributed much.

EVE is the most recent one I picked up again. At the moment, I’m sitting in my private corp again, population status: 1. I’ve been flying around a bit, doing some missions, but that’s really not something that can keep my interest going. EVE missions are quite repetitive and get boring fast. I’ve been thinking about re-applying to the Uni, but being a Uni member comes with some restrictions I’m not sure I’d want to carry right now (especially when it comes to where you are allowed to go and such). Plus, the Uni is specifically designed to be a transitory corp. Newbies join, and most leave after some time when they learned some ropes. As much as I liked the Uni, this transitory nature made it hard for me to completely feel at home. I’m slow in my socializing, so it sucked when people tended to leave about the time I felt I slowly started to get to know them. I’m still a bit scared about WH and Null, so I’m a little bit scared of finding a corp in one of those areas. Plus, I don’t have a lick of an idea how to go about finding a corp in EVE in the first place. It seems to be all about alliances, but you don’t apply to alliances, you apply to a corp that’s part of an alliance, and I don’t think I could name more than 5 corps without looking them up. And while those 5 would probably interesting places to be, and I’d gladly accept an invitation from them, they are also (highlighted by the fact that an EVE noob like me knows them) famous enough that they wouldn’t accept me. You know the saying with clubs and exclusivity…

At the moment, I’m also lying in wait for FFXIV. I’m having high hopes; on the other hand, I know that I’m almost certainly setting myself up for a disappointment. I don’t even know much about the game, just what I saw over the course of a bunch of beta weekend hours. I think I’m projecting my hope for a good community and lots of socializing and grouping onto a game that’s still mostly a clean slate.

Long story short, just like Syp, who seems to be at a point where he feels like he needs to restructure things, I also have to reconsider what I want. Looking at what I wrote, a common denominator seems to be that I want more social interactions in my MMOs. Soloing MMOs can get boring, surprise! I guess I’ll have to do some thinking and figure out what I want and how to go about it. Suggestions are welcome.