There’s been a lot of topics going around the blogosphere, and I’ve been holding off on them because, well, I don’t really have anything groundbreaking to say about them.
But, what the heck.
First up is a non-MMO one, but something I’ve covered extensively in this blog — eBook readers. “Ask Slashdot” fielded a question from a reader who asked Which eBook Reader is Best? The comments fell predictably into the camps that felt nothing could come close to the experience of reading an actual book; PDAs, cell phones and laptop computers were more appropriate for the task; Sony’s Reader comes from Sony and nothing more needs to be said (these are people angry less for the SWG NGE than for Sony’s rootkit adventures and their role as a quarter of the allegedly evil* RIAA). I use my Sony Reader every day, and daily rediscover old friends — yesterday brought Fred Saberhagen’s “First Book of Swords” and Julian May’s “The Many-Colored Land” onto my Reader. I didn’t comment on Slashdot, though, because… well, commenting on Slashdot on matters of opinion is pretty pointless. I doubt many would be sympathetic to my “I use a Reader because it looks good and is REALLY EASY TO READ” stance anyway.
* Evil. What does evil mean in this day and age — and of course, by evil, I mean the Dungeons and Dragons definition. I’ve been categorizing people according to their D&D alignment. The killer in “No Country for Old Men”, strictly adhered to his moral code — that’s lawful. But then, he would kill random people. That’s chaotic. So in the end, he’s Neutral Evil. Sony is too large a company for one alignment, but I think Sony BMG’s anti-customer stance has to make them at least Lawful Evil.
Other MMO Genres
Next up: What other genres, besides Fantasy and Sci-Fi, could make a successful MMO? Well, I don’t know if a decent MMO in either genre has yet been made. I was watching Battlestar Galactica Razor last night and… wow… what I wouldn’t give to be part of that world, in a game. Or even Star Trek. Just… part of that world. Eve *perhaps* comes closest. Tabula Rasa is just a balls-out shoot ’em up, SWG was the dullest game I ever played… I think there’s plenty of room in SF for a decent MMO. As for Fantasy… that genre is still waiting for the break-out game. World of Warcraft? It’s a well-refined distillation of those that came before.
Other genres, though. Cthulhu mythos? Well, almost nothing ever happens in those stories. A person finds things are not as they seem, and is then exposed to implacable, faceless horror. Same problem with horror, in general, as a genre. You can’t scare people all the time, because it loses its sting. But you have to show them the money at some point, or they get bored.
The spy genre we’re getting in “The Agency”. That looks like an arcadish shoot-em-up, but I don’t know much about it. I doubt it will explore every cranny of the spy genre, though. What if you had an MMO where you had a public persona, let’s say, newspaper reporter for the New Zork Times; and a private persona, let’s say, assassin. You would gain levels by doing missions on your private persona, but the more people outside your faction who knew what you really were, the more chance your public persona would be destroyed, and you’d have to start a new one? Dual advancement paths, secrets, distrust everyone… I think that could work!
War… war is well-understood. Of all the genres, I think this is the most widely played. From tactical games, to shoot-em-ups, RTSs, FPSs, we have endless games of people blowing each other up in interesting and exciting ways. How about… peace? A game built around negotiations and diplomacy? Probably be dull as dishes, but let’s explore it a little. You are a politician, or you are a member of a diplomatic envoy, or you are an ambassador. And so is everyone else. You have a variety of goals you must advance, other things you must not allow, and some things you can be flexible on. This is like those old high school Model United Nations of which, as a true geek even back then, I was a member. Politics and negotiation was *fun*.
And if that fails, well, there’s always war.
Truth is, I think the limitations of technology have been and are still blocking that first great MMO from being made. In the next ten years, I bet we see an MMO that completely changes the genre. Maybe then a game can finally approach the complexity of a movie or a TV show.
Oh yes. If it’s the end of the year, it must be time for lists. Fine, I can play that game.
#1: Nothing. I have not yet played my favorite MMO. I can say that it will be a game where the players have a great measure of control and are active participants in the creation of the game, though talented game-masters and designers will still guide the game into fun paths.
#2: EverQuest. The game itself was just okay. But the community surrounding the game has never been matched. Almost nine years later, you can meet an EQ1 player, ask them their server, and launch into many, many stories about the guilds and people they knew. The game was never as strong as its players, and SOE is still making money from the bonds people formed.
#3: EverQuest 2. Game-wise, EQ2 is today the game EQ1 wanted to be. I think (this is opinion, folks) that it is the strongest MMO out there as regarding scope, variety, looks and gameplay. I haven’t played anywhere near all MMOs or even all fantasy MMOs, but I wouldn’t be playing EQ2 today if I didn’t think it was the best. But, you say, EQ1 is higher on the list? EQ1 still wins on community. I just can’t stand the game itself any more. It underscores, though, how important I feel community is that even after I stopped liking the game very much, I still played for a couple of years.
#4. World of Warcraft. The first thing I look for in one of these lists is, how high did they score the big giant of MMOs? The second things I look for is where EQ2 falls. It’s hard to overstate WoW’s impact. I was playing EQ1 when WoW beta came out. From the time I started in WoW beta to the time it released, I played no other game. It was that gripping. I also felt, when it released, that I had seen the entire game and had no interest in playing it again, having leveled a night elf druid and a human mage. A year later, I took another look, this time as the Horde, and was pulled in just as strongly a second time. And having brought that char to 60 and raided MC and Onyxia and ZG, once again, felt I’d finished WoW, and unsubscribed. I don’t look back fondly on WoW, a lot of it was really boring, but then, a lot of it was fun and it was always compelling until raiding turned it from a game into a job.
#5. Final Fantasy XI Online. Other games dabbled with requiring players to be skilled, but none made it as much a requirement as FFXI. With precise, to the second teamwork to pull off combos, and having to work together so well to get the experience multipliers, no game I have ever played before or since made such a wide chasm between the good and the bad players — or between the West and the East. This was a game made for a different culture, one that valued following directions and working as a team, a culture far different than the more laissez-faire Western culture that celebrates lone heroes. If you could make it in a Japanese group, and gain their respect, then you could get a glimpse of a different kind of gameplay. FFXI was wonderful in a good group. In a bad group, it was about as rewarding as chewing bricks. It was an experience I will always remember.
#6. Dark Age of Camelot. I derided this initially as “EQ-Lite”, but when I got into it, I found the PvE boring but the RvR portion extremely fun. Whether sneaking into enemy territories to take out some hapless newbs, or trying to do some PvE in the frontier while being stalked, or the massive keep battles, or the battle-lines at EM. The battlegrounds defined the casual PvP experience, and I enjoyed their re-imagining in WoW and look forward to it again in WAR. In the end, I went back to EQ1 when Luclin came out, but I always did enjoy myself in DAoC. I tried coming back a couple of times, but the game had changed too much.
#7. City of Heroes. I’m scraping the virtual bucket here, because I don’t really consider CoH an MMO. It has nothing of the scope of the other games on this list. But for casual beat-em-up action, it’s hard to beat. I just find myself playing it once or twice, then several months later, unsubscribing, as it just doesn’t have the pull to make me want to log into CoH vs some other game.
#8. Star Wars Galaxies. It’s hard to call this a game, or what I did when I logged in, playing. I was intrigued by unusual professions such as entertainer, and so after a brief fling as a combat-type going out and running around animal burrows firing guns into dirt and stumps, I decided to go into cantina life and find fame and fortune on the glittering stage. It turned out to be tough to make conversation with people who had largely programmed their avatars to repeat the same actions in perpetuity while they went off and did something else with their lives. I’ve always had a problem with games that you pay not to play, and so I eventually also did something else with my life.
#9. EvE Online. I did like this game. I just didn’t know anyone else who played, and I hate playing by myself in an MMO, and so I didn’t last past the 14 day free trial. Mining and running missions just didn’t do it for me, and while my occasional madcap runs through low security space were exciting, they weren’t compelling. I spent most of my time in EvE thinking of cool names for my ships.
#10. Lord of the Rings Online. Where WoW took all the good things from the MMOs that came before it and melded them into something unique, LotRO took all of the really boring things from MMOs and melded them into something boring. Grind? Oh yes. Killing the same mobs over and over and over and over? Yup, check that one off. The world has a well-known plot and it’s your job to not be a part of that plot? Huh. PvP limited to artificially contrained “Monster Play”? Durnit, I wanted to level a goblin! Newbie grounds in the roots of the Misty Mountains, maybe finally leveling enough to threaten the despicable bright lands of the Shire! The game I wanted to play was not the game they made, and so when my free month ran out and a billing error canceled my account, I couldn’t find it in me to fix it.