The Case Against LFD

With a shiny new MMO out everything old is new again, and that includes discussions over the necessity of an automated Looking For Dungeon group-matching tool. I have seen a fair number of posts on other forums lately that start out saying something like, “Well obviously everyone agrees that a LFD tool is necessary…” and it makes me want to bang my shoe on a table or something.

Perhaps we can all agree on some common ground: cross-server LFD tools remove a reliance on the local server population. Yes? Right. This, I think, is a bad thing.

Plenty of people will say, “People were jerks before LFD!” and of course they’re right. However, a vibrant server community means we all know who the most egregious of those jerks are. In the pre-LFD days of WoW I would frequently know who the most progressed guilds were on the server, who the nicest guilds were, and who was a ninja. We recognized our opponents in a PvP zone. The official server forum was humming with posts and people chatting between guilds. LFD meant we no longer had any interaction in the game, and contributed mightily to the death of community in WoW.

The vacuum left by the death of intra-server activity and interests was filled by anonymous group content and, well, asshattery. Anti-social behavior, such as ninjaing or being cruel, no longer had community consequences. In LFD, the people in our groups were of no more value than digitized sprites. Give people tools by which they can monitor each other’s progress (damage meters or gearscore or whatever) and tell them that they’ll never see their teammates again, and asshattery reigns supreme. Now instead of a server community, there is just a automated channel for antagonizing.

You know what other game is famous for having an abrasive playerbase full of jerks? League of Legends. And what does LoL do? Randomly matches a huge group of people up from a lobby for the purposes of playing together for a short period of time. It is almost as though there is some correlation between people being anonymous jerks and lack of reprocussions for anti-social behavior!

An unlimited LFD system is almost indisputably bad for the community of a game. However, I understand that standing around Ironforge or the Imperial Fleet for an hour looking for a group is not fun. Personally, I found my groups in WoW and in SWTOR by asking in general chat or grabbing guildies, and my ideal answer to the LFD question would be, “Get a good guild”. (Seriously, this would solve most problems.) However, seeing as I can’t tell everyone what to do (yet) here are my two guidelines for a cruelty-free LFD system:

1) You can have either damage meters/gearscore/player monitoring system OR an automated Looking For Dungeon lobby. Not both. I think MMO players have handily proven that we cannot handle the “absolute power” of monitors and anonymity.

2) LFD should not cover new content. I understand that in a year fewer people will (presumably) be leveling in SWTOR and it will therefore be more difficult to find a server-only Mandalorian Raiders run. I say wait a year, and then stick it on the LFD. When there are tiers of level-capped group content, put the PREVIOUS tier on the LFD. Let the server community take care of the most recent content, and let LFD help new players and alts.

Thus far Bioware has said that they are not adding a cross-server Looking for Dungeon tool, and I hope they stick with that. Not everyone agrees that a LFD tool is necessary in an MMO or even a healthy thing to add to a game, and in fact I am rather at the point personally where an unlimited LFD tool would make me quit SWTOR or any other new MMO. Developers have a duty to balance convenience with the integrity of a game, and consumers have a duty to… well, to basically not be asshats. We’re still working on that one.

Mea Culpa from Space

For months I have been telling everyone that SWTOR is going to be a bust. End-game is dubious, the graphics are cartoony, and themepark MMOs are so 2009. Plus, I’m not a huge Star Wars nerd. This game, I declared once, is not for me.

And I still could be entirely right about all those things, but what I didn’t account for is that it would also be a wagonload of fun. I’m not saying it’s the greatest MMO ever, or it’ll kill other games, or that it’ll be awesome still in three months. What I’m saying is that thus far on my level 13 Jedi Knight and level 12 Smugger, the game is a freaking blast to play and I can’t wait for it to go live.

Mea culpa, my friends. Mea culpa.

RPG Review Bonanza, and Why I Didn’t Like Skyrim

For whatever reason lately — I think I blame the last SWTOR weekend — I have had a deep need to play games with dialogue trees. On Friday night I finally finished my first complete Mass Effect 2 playthrough, which took about 35 hours all told. I immediately bought Skyrim and played that on Saturday. Then on Sunday I had the opportunty to talk to someone about Saints Row: The Third and watch a few hours of their gameplay.

Mass Effect 2 is almost two years old, but it’s still commonly considered to be one of the best computer RPGs ever. The plot is.. well, not as good as the first one I hear, but it’s still epic. The graphics are still good. The world is well-realized with alien races and political intrigue and you can explore an almost endless sea of planets (if you want) on your way through the story. ME2 is a lot more of a FPS than most games I play, but it fits well into the story and combat is pretty entertaining with the various damage combinations you can put together with your squad. I found myself becoming quite fond of my team and I was surprised at how bummed I felt when one of the favorites died at the end because of my poor decisions earlier in the game.

In short, I was an idiot for waiting two years to play this. The greatest compliment I can give the game is that after finishing my bad-ass FemShep run I almost immediately started over as a Paragon (ie. sweetness and light) ManShep.

Saints Row: The Third launched on November 15th of this year, and is essentially a hyper-stylized version of the Grand Theft Auto games. While the GTA series has tried to become more and more realistic, Saints Row 3 (and 2, I understand) went the other direction and aims for goofy fun. The character creator is almost overwhelming, and you can assign clothes and cars to your posse in remarkable detail. The missions themselves are incredibly similar to standard GTA tasks, but they include more amusing weapons, set pieces, and thumpy thumpy house music. SR3 is not for people who want some morality in their games, but it is amazingly fun and glossy and occasionally breath-taking.

So now we come to Skyrim. Ah, Skyrim. Look, I really wanted to like this game. I was so excited to buy it after reading a week of everyone’s exaltations about what an amazing experience it is. And yet.. after six hours of gameplay I just cannot make myself start the game up again. I actually became angry — why does everyone else like this game, and I hate it? The graphics are amazing, the environment is reactive, I can go anywhere and do anything I want. It’s a fine game. What is wrong with me?

Part of the problem was absolutely the user interface. If you haven’t gotten the game yet please do not ignore the frequent complaints about the UI. On the PC, at least, it is HEINOUS. I have played a lot of games and am generally good with interfactes, and I had to look up on the internet how to sell junk to a vendor. Settings are not where you expect them to be — you have to set up windowed mode before loading the game, for example — and the ones that you can find are not intuitive at all. The interface isn’t a dealbreaker if you love the game, but for someone already struggling to enjoy it the stupid UI will definitely compound your frustration.

However there was more to it than just the UI, and after a lot of thought I think I’ve figured out a big part of why I didn’t enjoy Skyrim: I don’t like not being a hero. Look at the one of the very first scenarios in SR3 — you are a stylish gang leader flying around on top of a giant vault that is chained to a helicopter, music pounding, while you take out enemies in a blaze of glory with a semi-automatic in each hand. In one of the very first scenarios in Skyrim I was a young, dirt-covered girl lost in a deep cavernous hole, hoping to find some shoes. And I died over and over and over.

I realize that my character would likely gain power as the story progresses, but I think I just don’t like not being heroic in some way. Yes, RPGs rely on character progression so it would be impractical and boring to start out as too much of a god, and yet in Mass Effect I was a humbled space hero and in SR3 you play a tough gangster. In Skyrim I was a small girl with a stick.

I get enough of feeling powerless and lost and having poorly made shoes in real life. As I learned this weekend, when I play a game I want to feel awesome.

WHY ARE WE SHOUTING ABOUT PANDAS?

Hey guys! Anything interesting in MMO-land happen this weekend?

Okay, okay, I kid. If you’re reading this, then you more than likely already know that on Friday Blizzard announced that the fourth expansion pack for World of Warcraft will be Mists of Pandaria. The reaction to this announcement has generally been derisive, and bloggers in particular have been deleting their characters in protest and declaring that they’re moving on to other games.

My reaction has been mixed. I’m not a fan of the furry races although much of that can be attributed to the fact that Blizzard artists cannot stop fetishizing the female form of any species. (Yes, that is an official concept drawing of a mantis lady with no arms and the rack of a Playboy bunny.) However, I totally dig the addition of a hybrid melee healer class in the monk, and I think the proposed talent changes are a good direction. There was nothing said at Blizzcon that convinced me to rededicate myself to WoW but I will likely end up buying MoP and playing it for a few months.

Mostly, though, Blizzcon just made me kind of nostalgic and sad for the way things once were. We had guildies there in person from 2007-2010, many meeting face-to-face for the first time. I went myself in 2009 for the announcement of Cataclysm and the sense of community and excitement in the convention hall was palpable. While I couldn’t make it to Anaheim last year I did buy the feed and had a few folks over for a Blizzcon party.

This year the Cats are far-flung around the gaming universe and while a lot of folks checked in to talk about Pandas it made me very much miss the good ol’ days of all being online together. (Sema, if you still read this.. I hope you’re well.) To some extent that applies to the MMO community as a whole, too: I’m not arguing against diversity in the game pool, but I do feel a little sad that we’ll probably never again be united as we once were.

And in truth, some of the complaining got on my nerves. My IM list lit up like a Christmas tree on Friday afternoon with people who wanted to talk about how WoW is a stupid game for stupid people, and it started to irritate me. I played it for six years, and I liked it. Were we all stupid then? Some Cats still play WoW. Are they stupid? I mean hell, Blizzard has made some decisions that I don’t agree with but the glee with which people tear into the game now is off-putting, in my opinion.

So anyway, yeah. I’m supposed to be all outraged about pandas like the cool kids when in fact I’m more just kind of sad that the MMO scene is a big ball of aimless wandering and negativity right now.

——————————–

Much to the dismay of my guild leadery tendencies I can now totally see the appeal to just subscribing to WoW when there is new content to be had and not worrying about it when there’s not. My casual goblin self had a fine time this weekend trying to remember what buttons mean and doing the Molten Front quests.

I had the opportunity to see Firelands for the first time with a semi-pug. I hadn’t raided in seven months and hadn’t played a holy spec in longer than that. I skimmed over the Tankspot videos for the first two bosses and just kind of winged it and lo and behold at no point was I instakilled by a dance move. In all fairness perhaps the complaints about this refer to later bosses, but SpiderLady and PathyTrashGuy seemed not unduly reliant on twitch movement to me.

In which Liore has a hissy fit about the MMO genre

I am cranky at MMOs today! Despite the fact that I am still very much enjoying RIFT, I feel some dissatisfaction with the genre as a whole. I should probably just stay away from official forums, but it seems like everywhere I go people are demanding an end to scheduled, organized gameplay.

It makes me feel like a buffalo in an ever-shrinking pen. Once we extended players roamed free on the plains, eating all the grass we wanted to and generally being badass. But now there are so many transient players who need grass and they keep coming and .. shooting us for food and okay I don’t really know where this metaphor is going but it is incredibly frustrating to feel like you’re part of a dying breed of playstyle.

I like talking to people in games! I like doing things with them! On occasion, I like participating in scheduled events! I am just cranky today, but the problem is that the “I have 10 minutes to play and I hate people but where’s my end-game content?” posts are winning the audience war as far as I can tell. I am increasingly a dinosaur of MMOs, sitting on the porch shaking a stick at kids and mumbling about how back in my day we killed things with 25 people. I don’t begrudge the transients their unscheduled play — well okay, I do today because I am bitter but I don’t usually — but I do wonder what the heck I’m going to be playing in a couple of years.

This is what I want from an MMO:

  1. Scheduled end-game progression on a 2-night schedule, or 5-ish hours a week. I certainly don’t ask to be the best with that kind of time committment, but I would like some progression to be possible. I’m fine if this is available through “modes” as long as expected progression is not to work through each of the modes in sequence.
  2. End-game content should be served in multiple courses at a time, if not all at once. None of this Cataclysm-esque “you have three months to finish this before we make it obsolete go go go go go”. In RIFT now I can see two more 10s raids in front of us and three 20 mans, and I love not feeling rushed.
  3. Enough of an active playerbase that finding 9-24 other interested players is feasible and not overly difficult. (Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Dear Sartre: HELL IS RECRUITING NEW RAIDERS.)
  4. Leveling should be difficult and time consuming. Think, yes, Vanilla WoW, which was still much faster than Everquest but still a substantial part of the game. And I, generally, dislike leveling! I think modern MMOs are kind of weird and top-heavy now, though, and really suffer from letting people hit cap in a couple of weeks. (This is particularly true for newer games.)
  5. Plenty of transient, or casual unscheduled activities. This can include PvP, dungeons, long quest chains, some dailies (but not all!), reputation grinding, and events like the Darkmoon Faire. No, I don’t want to raid every day either, so let’s get some more casual fun all up ins.
  6. Acknowledgement of the economy. I realize this is a bit of a niche, but some of us really enjoy “playing the AH” so a full-featured trade system is most appreciated.
  7. A nuanced crafting system. I think RIFT is actually very close on this point. I enjoy the way runecrafting works, I like that high end crafted gear is awesome, I like the daily crafting quests, I think the weekly crafting quests are perfect, and crafting rifts are one of my favorite unique ideas in a long time. I would also love to see a modern game have different, non-gear related craftable items, like home furnishings in Star Wars Galaxies.

I originally got in to MMOs from hearing my friends tell stories of their adventures. Their stories always, always involved groups, if not full raids. Where are these stories coming from now? “And then I used my soulstone to rez and save the day” has become, “and then I waited in the Random Dungeon Finder for 45 minutes”.

I feel kind of bleak about the whole genre, right at this moment.

RIFT Owl Pet Giveaway! Here! Right now!
Sep08

RIFT Owl Pet Giveaway! Here! Right now!

Oogh, I keep trying to write a post about how players seem to frequently demand less challenge from MMOs than they do from other games, but it is just making me cranky and really Syl already approached the ideas of challenge and restrictions in a much more even-handed way.

I have sworn off Blizzard games for a while, personally, but if they offered a $5 forum-only account I swear I would get it just because there are so many PEOPLE BEING WRONG on the internet there. The hot topic on the official WoW forum now is adding a third “easy mode” raid for people who, and I am not making this up, are too lazy to gem and stuff. It’s like.. someone demanding an easier mode for the new Deux Ex installment because figuring out how to spend their Praxis points is too time consuming. Look, I am all for having content for small groups or folks with limited playtime, but these arguments frequently boil down to “Please make this game simpler because I don’t really like playing it.” It boggles the mind.

(And do not even get me started about all the people on the RIFT forum this morning complaining about their +XP, +Prestige, +Valor birthday gift vials that they merely had to log on to receive. “Oh em gee, Trion, now I am quitting because your free bonus items that you were in no way obligated to give me are not ponies.” Oh, for a way to poke people in the eye over the internet.)

Anyway.

Two things: first, you may notice a slight site redesign. I am still keepin’ it texty, but the old design kind of hid the list of blogs I read and it is a good list that deserves to be seen! Go visit one of them fine folks!

Second, I am giving away an owl! It’s an in-game owl pet for RIFT, and it looks like this:

5913d1312567071 coming pax prime run dungeon your guild just party us hoot RIFT Owl Pet Giveaway! Here! Right now!

I am a very stern owl.

I haven’t used my code yet myself, but I am fairly certain that this pet will be BoA and not BoP. This pet was only available from the Trion Community Party at PAX. So how do you win? Easy:

  1. Do not be in my guild. I love you all, mes petits choux, and I have a second code to give away just for you guys.
  2. Post a comment to this thread with what shard you play on and why you like RIFT.

That’s it! I will randomly select someone in a week, on Friday the 16th. Please be sure to leave an email with your comment (it is hidden from everyone except me) so I can contact you.

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