Zombie Co-op Dreams (H1Z1)
Apr10

Zombie Co-op Dreams (H1Z1)

Okay, let’s get something out of the way first — I am a zombie hipster. I used to post in alt.zombie back in my text-only internet days. I would bore friends with dissertations on George Romero in high school. I listened to Braineaters by the Misfits. I helped with an email campaign to bring Shaun of the Dead* to North American audiences, and of course I saw it in the theatre.

In fact, this is me on the right in 2010 at the Seattle “Red, White, and Dead” Zombie Walk, one of three times that I have dressed up as various incarnations of Shaun. (On the left is a lovely friend who I originally met in WoW. She is usually quite alive.)

shaun 500x375 Zombie Co op Dreams (H1Z1)

Liore of the Dead

So yeah. And I know that in the last decade zombies became very hip and then quickly very overdone, but where, dear game industry, is my dream zombie apocalypse game?

The industry (and players, to be fair) seem quite enamored at the moment with griefing paradises like DayZ. I think of these games as less of a zombie apocalypse simulator and more of a “mom’s dead so I can do whatever I want” experience. The zombies could be replaced with anything — heck, they could really be removed completely — because the point of the game is not humanity banding together to fight an overwhelming pityless force, the point is to make unarmed strangers dance at gunpoint for a can of beans.

This is not what I want from my zombie apocalypse game.

What I want are co-operative tools. I want a serious, deep gathering and crafting system. I want to be able to find an abandoned truck, call for help on my radio, and roll it back to our base to become part of the baracade. I want to grow crops and go on clean water runs. I want to be faced with the moral dilemma of adding new wandering strangers to our fortress or making sure we have enough supplies for everyone.

As I write that now I think what I’m asking for is basically Telltale’s The Walking Dead, but in MMO form.

At first blush yesterday I thought that SOE’s brand new title H1Z1 (unlike Syp I think the name is kinda clever) might be the game of my dreams, but that looks more and more unlikely.

We’ve been promised an incredibly deep crafting system and an emphasis on “player ownership and building” which sounds great, but Keen pointed out that it looks like SOE may be targetting the DayZ crowd. All the comparisons to Planetside 2, the fact that their website is just a link to Reddit, the announcement being on a bro-gamer Twitch channel… SOE, at least, does not seem to think that we co-op MMO players will be interested in this title and I guess with little else to go on right now I’m inclined to believe them.

(By the way, game companies, when you use Reddit as your official medium of communication it just makes you look unprofessional and weird. Stop doing that.)

So I suppose my wait for my dream game continues! And when the co-op zombie apocalypse finally hits, I’ll be the one with the cricket bat.

* Apparently Shaun of the Dead turned 10 yesterday. Happy Birthday, one of my favorite movies ever! I will eat a cornetto in your honor.

The Joys of Not Knowing Everything

As I mentioned before I haven’t really been following all the Warlords of Draenor alpha stuff but just based off my Twitter feed and a few blogs the information has been flowing fast and furious, to the point where someone even set up a simulated server with the alpha client so they could take in-game screenshots.

Yikes.

WoW has had a tradition of providing almost complete access to data from the moment it launched, and to a degree that was unheard of in previous MMOs. And while I appreciate that folks are excited for new information and guide writers and theorycrafters love these heady few months, I can’t help but feel that all this transparency is a curse more than a blessing.

One of the things that many folks, myself included, enjoy(ed) about MMOs is the feeling of a virtual world. And clearly there are relative levels of immersion — I’m fine with achievements in my virutal world, for example, while Syl thinks they detract from her experience (which is totally valid). But man, it is hard to keep any sense of wonder when you already know everything, from where to find certain critters to how to quickly gain reputation to exactly how much damage you do with each hit.

I think we got to this point with the best of intentions. Blizzard was (and probably still is?) full of nerds, and as a fellow nerd I can appreciate a love of numbers, systems, and transparency. The unprecedented access to information thanks to LUA and add-ons is an extremely cool concept, but one that has also helped to break down the perception of MMOs from virtual worlds to a series of systems even faster than usual.

And really, a lot of the current MMO “elitism” between players can be traced back to this abundance of information. After all, when it’s possible to Google a bit to find the math for an optimum rotation, or just Ask Mister Robot to tell you what gear you should be wearing, why shouldn’t we expect Joe Random in our LFRs to meet a high standard of performance? Look it up, man, and stop being a bad.

I don’t blame people for being starved for content in a pre-expansion drought, and this is probably just my new filthy casual attitude talking, but it’s nice to not know everything in a game. Online resources are inevitable, but I kind of miss the days when things were crowd-sourced from players and not just mined dry out of a binary months before a game even launches.

It you have felt a bit of the magic wear off MMOs lately, I encourage you to just play the game, discover things, and enjoy the newness. Thanks to the leisurely expansion schedule of Blizzard and other developers (seriously, this always happens) we will have pleeeeeenty of time to explore and catalog every last inch of every last feature.

WildStar Release Date Set for June 3rd. Probably.
Mar11

WildStar Release Date Set for June 3rd. Probably.

You guys, I forgot how much fun a good old fashioned MMO release date war can be.

TESO played their hand well in advance and announced their April launch earlier this year. That left two big players — WildStar, and WoW’s Warlords of Draenor expansion.

Yesterday WoD went up for pre-sale* and the announcement included the slightly daunting sentence “Game is expected to release on or before 12/20/2014.” It seems pretty likely that this is more of a worst case scenario date than an actual launch, but it still caused a lot of people to suddenly realize that their dreams of a summer launch are pretty unlikely.

warlords release 1220142 500x105 WildStar Release Date Set for June 3rd. Probably.

Honestly I think anyone who has watched WoW’s expansion releases in the past knew to expect Fall 2014 at the earliest. Blizzard has repeatedly promised summer releases and has never, ever delivered. Yes, this means over a year of Siege of Orgrimmar and patch 5.4. Yes, this sucks, particularly for players who stayed up-to-date on the latest content or who do progression raiding.

Heck, I’m currently so causal that my idea of progression is working on the achievement to hug critters — learn to /love, noob! — and even I find myself slightly concerned about whether I’ll get bored before the end of the year.

Meanwhile Carbine seems to have learned a trick or two from Blizzard’s marketing team because in the wake of yesterday’s drama today there was a “slip” and, oopsie, someone has accidentally released WildStar’s launch date (Google cache) and pre-order details!

wildstarpreorder 500x281 WildStar Release Date Set for June 3rd. Probably.

I don’t know what a rocket house is but I want one!

It looks like pre-orders will open up on March 19th, and the game will launch on June 3rd. This hasn’t been officially confirmed yet, but after Carbine’s hints last week about press junkets and big news coming soon this seems pretty set.

And it’s a smart date too! June 3rd is roughly two months after TESO’s launch, which means folks who are MMO tourists or just didn’t take to the game will be looking for something new to play. It will likely be 3+ months before the launch of Warlords of Draenor, which is plenty of time to hook bored WoW players into a game that is being pitched as essentially Burning Crusade 2.0.

I am not pre-ordering anything until closer to their launch dates, but I definitely see some WildStar in my future this summer.

* No, I still haven’t decided which class to boost. Paladin (years of being a clothie makes me yearn for plate) or Warlock (finally I can be a real dot damage class)?

It’s Okay to Insta-level (WoW)

In what was probably a mistake, earlier today the live WoW servers briefly displayed a price for automatically levelling a character to 90, and that price was $60. While $60 seems too steep to me, everything is still up in the air and it doesn’t seem worth the effort to get too upset (or too happy) about that number right now.

What did stand out to me was a number of tweets with variations of the argument that $60 is a high enough price point to discourage players from using it “too much”. To be fair I get a little shirty around any authority (you can’t tell me what to do!!), but I kind of bridle at the idea that Blizzard is pricing this service to help save us from ourselves.

First, I don’t think it’s true. Blizzard knows they have a game full of people willing to spend $25 on a horse or a costume hat, and pricing something high to limit sales is pretty counter-intuitive in today’s markets. It seems far more likely that they would price it as high as people will still pay.

But aside from that, I guess I just don’t understand why some feel we need to artificially discourage people from insta-levelling.

A game like WoW has the vast majority of its content for level-capped players. Between heirlooms and the Cataclysm world changes, not to mention the monk XP buff, it’s faster than ever to level a character, to the point where a particularly determined person could probably do it in a long weekend. I appreciate arguments that levelling is an important part of MMOs or RPGs, but it’s hard to argue in the specific that levelling is important in WoW.

And even with paid level 90s, all the levelling content will still be there. If you like to level your characters, that’s cool. And other MMOs still have an emphasis on levelling. Diversity in products is a positive thing for us all!

The argument in favor of curtailing insta-levelling strikes me as another verse of that old favorite tune “You have to play MMOs the way I want to you play them”. And look, I get it, it’s a song I’ve sung myself on more than one occasion. But it’s not a good one.

40 Person Raids are not Necessarily Terrible (WildStar)
Jan14

40 Person Raids are not Necessarily Terrible (WildStar)

While WildStar has generally received praise from press and good hype from players, not everything is happy times in space. Probably the most divisive issue is the female character models and the lack of character customization in general, but close after that is the game’s plan to have 40 person raids.

(Don’t read the comments on that female character model link, by the way. Seriously. It is full of hyper-defensive dudes accusing the author of just trying to suck up to women and the usual “it’s not sexism, it’s marketing” argument and ahhhhh why did I read those comments why?!)

For good or for ill, 40 person raids make people think of Vanilla World of Warcraft, and apparently some people really did not enjoy those days. And that’s fine — my guild was pretty awesome and friendly and laid-back when we were raiding 40s bosses so I had an awesome time, but I realize not everyone had such a great experience and would prefer to not go through those times again.

ragsdown 40 Person Raids are not Necessarily Terrible (WildStar)

My guild and our first Ragnaros kill, 2006

I think, though, that it’s putting the cart before the horse to assume that WildStar’s big raids will be exactly like WoW’s classic big raids. I mean, they could be! But personally I think it’s unlikely, and we don’t really know how that content will play.

For example, after Molten Core a lot of the big raid content in classic WoW required quite a bit of gear and concentration to complete. Naxx #1 and Ahn’Qiraj in particular were extremely difficult when they launched, and had crazy requirements like weird nature resist sets and having 8 well-geared tanks available. I’m just guessing, but I would be very surprised if the bulk of WildStar’s big raid content was that punishing.

MMOs have also vastly improved their group management tools since Vanilla WoW. There are automated group finders, cross-server teams, lockout extensions, and WildStar’s relatively new idea of friend “circles”. Outside of the game, players use social media much more frequently now to coordinate activites, and things like oQueue and Open Raid make it easier than ever to find a spot in a big group on a flexible schedule.

Imagine that WildStar’s initial tier of 40 person raid content, for example, had an automated grouping feature along with it. Or, what if it was tuned to accommodate a more casual zerg style of play? Or some flexibility in difficulty, through group size or triggers like Ulduar?

I honestly don’t know exactly how their big raids will work. Maybe they will be serious-business-hardcore-only right out of the gate! But I think making the assumption that the content will be terrible (or amazing, really) simply based on the maximum group size is a mistake. One of the great things about the post-WoW MMO landscape is its diversity, and I’ll be interested to see how WildStar is planning on updating the now disused 40 person raid concept for a modern audience.

The Casual Scrubs of Hearthstone

I’ve been in an interesting conversation on Twitter over the last day about Hearthstone’s place in the pantheon of online collectible card games. It seems, perhaps not surprisingly, that some serious CCG players are not impressed by Hearthstone’s fairly simple gameplay and casual rules.

Take, for example, this tweet by blogger Scree:

I kind of disagree with Scree here — I suspect Hearthstone’s gameplay is not as shallow as presumed — but more importantly his response reminded me a lot of… me, like 4 years ago.

Blizzard is dumbing down MMOs for a mass audience! They’re making raiding for the lowest common denominator! Ugh, why are you making WoW for tiny casual babbies ugh I hate it whyyyyy.

And now, years later, I still believe those things and I think I was right, just like I’m sure Scree and others are right about Hearthstone being a simplification of online CCGs. However, what I have come to realize over the last few years is that not everyone wants the same thing from their games and a diverse marketplace makes for happy players. The casual-ification of WoW is only a tragedy if WoW and WoW clones are the only MMOs available.

For example, my sense from blogs and podcasts is that Hearthstone’s playerbase is different from, say, the player pool for Hex or Sol Forge. Hearthstone seems to be drawing from past and present players of WoW, past and present players of Starcraft, and previous players of the paper WoW:TGC. In short, it’s a Blizzard property and has drawn in a ton of Blizzard players.

I could be wrong, but I feel as though most of these people are not leaving one CCG to play another. In fact, in the alternate continuity where Hearthstone does not exist and Garrosh runs free in Draenor (*cough*), many of these same people would not be playing a CCG at all. I know I would not!

(I also think that WoW’s audience has a lot of women in it, arguably moreso than the traditional CCG audience, and some may feel more welcome to dip their toes in the card genre now strictly because Hearthstone has a simplified ruleset and is set in the Warcraft universe.)

I have sympathy with the view of Scree and others, I really do. I can totally understand how Hearthstone seems like a step in the wrong direction for a genre that they like, and it’s disappointing to see a game you think is bad do well while games that you love languish with a fraction of the media coverage and players. But complaining about people flocking to a simplified card game is pretty much the same as complaining about casual scrubs who wants to raid.

For Scree, Hearthstone is “simplified garbage” while for me it’s the game that kept me up until 3am on Wednesday night. (Can’t sleep, winning arena…) That’s marketplace diversity in action! As long as companies are producing games for both of us, I am all for a range of both the complex and the simple. And yes, that goes for MMOs too, Liore-of-the-past.

PS: Links for everyone who is taking part in this interesting discussion on Twitter! Syl, j3w3l, Harbinger Zero, Jazz Panda, and Murf.

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