A Parent’s Guide to MMO Gaming

Someone needs to tell the truth about MMOs. I guess it falls to me to explain to parents about the games their children are playing online with people whose idea of a good conversation opener is “I AM SO HIGH.”

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm by Activision Blizzard.

In the original World of Warcraft, children could take the role of a virtuous human fighting on the side of the Church against the evil Horde. The Burning Crusade expansion revealed that the enemy Horde came from Hell itself, and the humans took the fight against the villainous Orcs and other demons to the lower realms.

Blizzard’s game took a decided turn for the worse with Wrath of the Lich King, where human players were encouraged to become Death Knights, soulless minions of Satan. This trend continues with the Cataclysm, when Hell comes to Earth, and the good players become bloodthirsty werewolves. Expect your children to call one another “bitches”, because, hey, they are playing female dogs in heat, and you’re paying for the privilege.

Hello Kitty Online by Sanrio, Inc.

In his novel “Rising Sun“, Dr. Michael Crichton exposed the cruel designs Japanese megacorporations had for the trusting citizens of the United States. This lesson has been forgotten even as Japan has come to dominate the electronics and auto industries. Now they are coming for our children in the guise of a game where children help cheerful cartoon animals with household tasks — tasks such as the mindless slaughter of cartoon creatures.

As innocent as this may first appear, Sanrio’s real game is to replace your children with soulless androids, programmed to obey the orders of their Japanese masters.

Don’t underestimate this threat. Ask your daughter to tell you about the bishonen boys in her hentai manga. And don’t take “ee-ay” for an answer.

TERA Online by Bluehole Studio

Do we even want to know what a “bluehole” is in Korean? I sure don’t. Your kids may learn when they play South Korea’s “TERA Online”, a softcore pornography simulator coming to your son’s bedroom later this year.

In TERA, your son controls scantily clad lingerie models who undress for his pleasure. Don’t worry — TERA understands if your son would rather see boys disrobe; chiseled male models cater to any sort of preference. There’s even animal characters for especially disturbed children. Players may group into sex parties and have drunken orgies in a wide variety of adult fantasy locations.

If you’ve been putting off having “the talk” with your son, but he plays TERA Online, your work is done. He already knows.

APB: All Points Bulletin by Realtime Worlds

You might expect that Asia would have little use for our “outdated” sense of Western morality, but you might be surprised to find that Great Britain hopes to lead our children into the criminal life with their gang simulator, APB: All Points Bulletin.

Children can experiment to see how they would look with tattoos, piercings and high powered weaponry as they take to city streets to drive irresponsibly, spray graffiti on public buildings, take drugs, become prostitutes, and kill policemen. An important portion of the game lets your kids design their own piercings and tattoos, and then have it done to them for real.

Remember, parents, we trounced Britain in 1776 and 1812, and they’ve never forgiven us for beating them back, cowering, to their side of the Atlantic. Their greatest dream would be to push our children into anarchy.

The Bible Online by FIAA

Surely a MMO based on the Holy Bible would be a safe haven for children? Not so fast. German developers FIAA GmbH, known for their adult fantasy KALOS Adventure and their war simulator Operation7 (where you may “bare (sic) your own unique gun“) have turned the struggles of the Tribes of Abraham into a game of resource control.

In The Bible Online, FIAA GmbH brings together the Torah and Microsoft’s Age of Empires in a way that manages to cheapen them both. Have the Tribes of Abraham battle each other in exciting, bloody battles on their way to claim the Holy Land for the victor.

We all look forward to the inevitable sequel, when heavily armored Christians arrive to take it all back.

Fallen Earth by Icarus Studios

In Fallen Earth, Icarus Studios has created a near-future utopia where the basic rights of Americans are preserved — the right to bear arms, the right to defend ourselves, the right to our own happiness no matter the cost, and the right to free speech (especially when coated in armor-piercing titanium). In a land where pathetically clueless liberals mouth words they can repeat but never understand, only those with the strength and determination to make their perfect America out of whatever land they can defend will thrive.

Don’t like your neighbor? Kill him. Don’t like your neighbor’s dog? Kill it. Like your neighbor’s house? Take it. When someone tells you to stop, don’t retreat. Reload.

The only America worth having is the one patriots will die for.

This post is satirical in nature. If you take offense from any part of it, take a deep breath, then take a step back, and try to look at the games we play as an alarmed non-player might.

IP-based MMOs Part 2 (of 5)

While developing a game to an established IP may bring the potential of thousands of players eager to live in the world they have come to know, the property may also be a straight-jacket. Clever developers have found ways around these problems, though.

Game: Dragon Oath IP: “Tian Long Ba Bu” by Jin Yong

In 1963, Jin Yong began serializing his epic novel Tian Long Ba Bu, or “The Heavenly Dragon and the Eight Sections”, in newspapers in Hong Kong and Singapore. Four years later, he finished. Over 230 characters make their way through TLBB’s grand plot of warring sects, intrigue, love, betrayal, blinding, death, demigods and dragons. He was the Robert Jordan of his day — if Robert Jordan had written a chapter of his books every day for four years. TLBB has spawned four films and five movies. After reading about TLBB on Wikipedia, I don’t understand why we haven’t seen a Western adaptation yet. A whole fake CITY was built in order to film one of the series (and is now a tourist destination).

At least we have the MMO version, called Dragon Oath here in the states. Dragon Oath boasts 75 million players worldwide. Yes, 75 MILLION. Publisher ChangYou.com claims it is the #1 martial arts MMO in the world. The player chooses from nine schools of Kung Fu, can apparently eventually command armies, ride dragons and command showy magics. Judging by the quality of graphics, the game, which is in open beta here, should likely run on most anything.

 
Game: Dungeons & Dragons Online IP: Wizard of the Coast’s Dungeons & Dragons

First published in 1974 by long-time wargamers Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, early editions of Dungeons & Dragons had a dead-easy character generation technique: roll three six-sided dice and add them up and assign those values in turn to STR, INT, WIS, DEX, CON and CHA — the six characteristics that told the story of every character in the D&D world. If you had a high strength, you might opt to become a fighter. A goodly intelligence would mark you as a mage, and so on. The games were moderated by a (hopefully) impartial Dungeon Master (DM) who would lead the party on adventures appropriate to their classes and numbers. Later editions of the game introduced more rules and many ways of tuning a character just exactly right, but the game itself is still instantly familiar. The character sheet, the iconic 20-sided die, and the DM behind his or her screen cackling evilly as the players blunder into some insidious trap — all would be instantly familiar to a D&D player of any age.

It’s no big surprise that D&D was made into an MMO; the only mystery is why it took so long. Then again, with almost every RPG of the 70s through the 00s explicitly modeling itself on D&D, perhaps there was just too much duplication going on. EverQuest came about as close to an implementation of D&D in MMO form as one possibly could without severely trampling on D&D’s copyright. With a largely faithful implementation of D&D 3.5’s rules and its Eberron setting, the d20 spinning on the screen and the occasional voice of an unseen Dungeon Master, DDO tries its best to pay homage to its pen and paper roots.

At launch, DDO did fairly well, but players did not take well to the heavy instancing and requirements to run dungeon modules time and time again in order to gain the most points and experience with which to level. Since DDO became free to play, player counts, subscribers and income have increased five-fold.

 
Game: Final Fantasy XI Online and Final Fantasy XIV Online IP: Square-Enix’s Final Fantasy series

Aside from the occasional reuse of character names, general plots and Nobuo Uematsu’s haunting scores, about all that unites the various titles in the Final Fantasy catalog is the name “Final Fantasy”. You can’t get much purer than that in an IP. The earlier games in the FF series tended toward more universal character classes and abilities before 1997’s Final Fantasy VII moved the series toward more individualistic characters with iconic weapons and fighting moves. Since then, creators Square-Enix have outdone themselves in finding new, unique combat methods, weapons and power-ups, aside from a single return to their roots in 2000’s Final Fantasy IX. The Final Fantasy series has been credited with bringing Japanese-style RPGs to the rest of the world, and has spawned two movies, at least one anime, manga and a host of tangentially-related spinoff games.

Final Fantasy XI Online and the in-development Final Fantasy XIV Online take their inspiration largely from the earlier games in the series; players have jobs (classes) with various set skills, and they can train for and change their jobs with little effort, once they have unlocked them. Ridable Chocobos (pony-sized birds almost certainly based on the mounts in Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind) and monstrous Summons make their appearance, and the infamous BCNMs — Burning Circle Notorious Monsters — provide mini-boss battles that could be earned or bought at will. Innovative game mechanics, a strong plot, gorgeous scenery, the famous Uematsu music and an “automatic” English/Japanese translating chat system made FFXI a favorite the world over. It didn’t hurt that it was the first MMO available for Sony’s Playstation 2, predating Sony’s own EverQuest Online Adventures by a year. FFXI Online is, eight years in, still going strong. FFXIV looks to take the best parts of FFXI and improve on the rough bits, and should easily match the popularity of its predecessor.

 
Game: FusionFall IP: Cartoon Network

Since Cartoon Network started broadcasting in 1992, its blend of classic and original cartoons has made it the discerning teenager’s outlet for original animation when the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon have lost their luster. Their late-night “Adult Swim” block shows experimental animation aimed at older teenagers and young adults. Cartoon Network broadcasts to kids from Ireland to Pakistan. The generally high quality of its cartoons make secret watchers of plenty of adults as well.

FusionFall launched last year to good critical buzz. With kid-friendly systems in place similar to those used by other kid-focused games such as Disney’s Toontown and KingsIsle’s Wizard101 and gameplay based on classic platform running and jumping, combined with ease of play (runs in a browser) and NPCs drawn from most of Cartoon Network’s most popular shows, the game is apparently doing quite well. Launched as a subscription game, FusionFall will go entirely free to play Monday, April 19th.

 
Game: Hello Kitty Online IP: Sanrio’s Hello Kitty

Originally developed as a simple, semi-abstract decoration for a coin purse in Japan in 1974, within two years Hello Kitty had spread around the world. Now, Hello Kitty and her legion of friends can be found on merchandise of all descriptions available wherever children may be found, including Sanrio-themed stores selling every kind of Hello Kitty branded merch you could think of… except maybe that Hello Kitty AK-47. From her humble beginnings as a coin purse, Hello Kitty has gone on to reign over a media empire that includes two animated series and a dozen video games.

Hello Kitty Online lets players go on an epic quest to find all of Hello Kitty’s lost friends who have scattered across the world. Along the way, you’ll find and raise pets, tend farms, battle villainous creatures, craft clothing and weapons, and unlock and play various minigames such as fishing and water-skiing. The game tends to be grindy (as is usual for Asian imports) but the social tools are second to none. I suspect Hello Kitty Online appeals more to kids moms than the kids themselves, though. Also, your screen will almost certainly run out of pink almost immediately.

Tune in tomorrow for part 3, where we’ll be looking at lords, pirates and little plastic bricks.

Daily Blogroll 9/9/09 – Galaxy Express edition

That’s like Galaxy Express 999, NOT the Futurama ship. That’s Planet Express.

My pet loves me when I'm dead

Ever, like, DIE in a game, and your pet begins dancing around your decaying corpse, singing about what a great day it is? Thanks, Hello Kitty Online! Leveling has slowed quite a lot in that game. My pet is having a super time, though.

If you spend several hundred hours in your game of choice, the LAST thing you really want is someone coming up and telling you that you’re wasting your time, because Game B is SO much better than your Game A — insert any two games in those slots. Super Mario World vs Legend of Zelda. Cribbage vs Bridge. WoW vs…. well, any other game that is not WoW.

Tobold writes that people become so INCREDIBLY vested in their GoC, that they can’t even LISTEN to anyone praising a different game. Because they are WRONG and always WILL be wrong — as they run back to their computers and log in to their comfort game. MBP notes that it’s not just EVE, Darkfall and other non-WoW gamers that pile on to any mention of WoW’s merits, but WoW players who can’t understand why anyone would play any other game. MBP kinda makes that point as well, saying that “World of Warcraft is the biggest, most popular, most polished mmorpg on the planet. It is a very good game.” Well, EverQuest and EverQuest 2 are both bigger, and Aion is arguably more polished, and Maple Story has over 72 million players… kinda makes you wonder just what WoW DOES have going for it, aside from fanboyism… Blizzard, treat your fanboys well, they are your greatest treasure.

Karen of Journeys with Jaye makes a stellar comeback to her too-long-dormant blog with a homily to the power of a good guild to turn a game into a community. I love guilds, but that’s a huge problem for a MMO mayfly like myself that floats from game to game. I do love my EVE corp, OtakuDyne, to death, though — the game would be far too frustrating without them.

Speaking of EVE, omgtheyarenerfingtitans! Titans, for non-capsuleers, are moon-sized ships of ultimate destruction — like the Death Star, except bigger, and without a lot of starship-sized paths to the power core. Gordon of We Fly Spitfires says the Titan-only 10k radius sphere of destruction is being made… single target. Now, I’m still an EVE noob, but even I can see why that is a Bad Idea. AE spheres of doom don’t need to lock on to a target, they just kill everything in range. Weapons requiring a target can be foiled all sorts of ways. Hey, if I just spent hundreds of billions of ISK and a year or two of training to fly a Titan — which is like flying an asteroid-sized target around — I want it to be UBER.

Paladins RULE!

Zubon of Kill Ten Rats has been having a grand old time making and leveling new characters in the largest, most polished, most popular MMO in the whole world, Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. His take: Night Elf druid boring, Gnome mage nerfed at low levels, and OMG Paladin!!! I wanted to make a screen shot of a paladin with its magic horse for this bit, but I am among the WoW-challenged, so I offer up the screen shot of a paladin and her magic horse in Nethack, instead. But it’s just like WoW in most ways.

Recently-capped protection warrior Copra finds the game changes at 80… especially in pickup groups. He has a dozen things PuGs have taught him about playing in a group with both random strangers and consummate professionals….

Massively has a great video of ship combat in the in-development Star Trek Online. One of the criticisms of combat in EVE Online is its slow pace of combat — STO looks to change all that. Can’t wait to see how all that comes together.

Wizard vs Crab

I’ve been back in Free Realms for a few days now, studiously leveling up my wizard. The game has sure changed a lot since its launch. I’m not sure why that surprised me, but it did. Beau of Spouse Aggro likes to point to Free Realms as an example of a larger trend among MMOs to remove all the boring bits and just move the player from one fun activity to the next at a good pace. Because, seriously, modern games are all more or less a collection of mini-games, right? Some just wear the badge more proudly than others.

Wolfshead was one of the fortunate few who went to Seattle’s PAX over the holiday weekend. He had this to say about the games he saw on the show floor:

Part of me is worried about the lack of originality and experimentation given this apparent grand consolidation of gaming features. This is probably because of WoW’s success and the simple fact that most people in the industry creating video games have either played WoW or are playing WoW and are understandably enamored of its success. I suppose in some ways it’s good to see features becoming standard much like a rear view mirror and seat-belts became much like standard features in the automobile industry. Still, it is a bit unsettling that all games seem to be converging into one game.

That IS disturbing, and I know that Wolfshead would agree with me when I talk about the virtues of games that do things in a different way.

Well, love to talk more, but have to head to work. A bunch of Republican thought-czars are coming to Hartford today, and traffic is gonna be AWFUL.

Gatheryn, Star Trek Online, Hello Kitty Online infomegadump

I’ve gotten a bunch of emails telling about updates et al to a lot of games. Rather than write an article about each one, or ignoring them entirely, I thought I’d just combine them into a single post.

Concept art from Windstorm Studios

Windstorm Studios, brainchild of ex-Age of Empires and Halo Wars dev Dusty Monk, has just released two bits of concept art from his unannounced evil giant super death robot massacre game, Citizen Kabuto. Just kidding. The cries on everyone’s lips, where is Ultraman? … still just kidding. Check out the awesome art and bug him for more info!

Star Trek Online

Cryptic has opened their beta registration page for Star Trek Online, so if you like spaceships and exploring and stuff, play EVE Online. BUT — if you want actual walking around avatars in the game as well as the ability to rip off your shirt and roll around in alien mud going pewpew, well, you probably want to apply. Remember, the Prime Directive is really more of a guideline.

Gatheryn

Steampunk-themed casual games portal Gatheryn says, with a sigh, that if people Really Want Quests With Exclamation Points, then they shall have them as they introduce (or reintroduce) a new (or at least revised) questing system:

Long-time testers and new arrivals alike will have much to look forward to in this latest update. Several popular demands have been met, and enterprising Elymian residents will be able to enjoy a new economy with more generous minigame rewards. What’s more, quests are making their way back into the game! We’ve re-added a very small handful of quests to Gatheryn, allowing players to get a feel for some objective-based gameplay, and the story and characters behind Elymia. Be sure to look for NPCs with quest indicators hovering above them for larger rewards!

The Playstation Network is exploring new realms in Software Quality Assurance by offering a prized SQA job to someone who has studied quality assurance in school, I mean an entry level game programmer getting their feet wet in a development studio, err, I mean some random yahoo who can look creepy weird like the people on Fear Factor. Saith PSN:

This original program will challenge a select group of gamers in a series of challenges to determine if they have what it takes to make it as an official Game Tester. The elimination competitions throughout the series will not only assess the contestants’ videogame knowledge, but they will also challenge the gamers’ memory, stamina, dexterity, and overall mental prowess. Contestants must have the whole package to take home the coveted prize in this new original series: personality, skills, smarts and competitive edge. Our lucky winner will earn a contract position at Sony Computer Entertainment’s Quality Assurance department in San Diego, CA, where he or she will get hands-on time with the most highly anticipated games in the industry.

… and you wondered how Sony shipped such bug-free code.

Ooooh! Shiny crystals!

Dying to check out Hello Kitty! Online? Don’t! Nothing dies in Hello Kitty! land, things just get knocked out. If you want to clobber defenseless starfish and make rainbow colored hoodies, you need to join the beta!

Okay, that’s enough for now. My in-box feels so much lighter :)