Cat Context 26: You got your story in my first person shooter! (Bioshock Infinite)

This week on Cat Context we finally figure out what the heck happened in Bioshock Infinite, and discuss if First Person Shooters are really a good vehicle for story.

Special guest Mangle is back again, and we get into the Bioshock Infinite spoilers. Did the game kind of lose the plot in the middle? Were the racist tropes used effectively? And just what happened at the end, anyway?

The Bioshock chat also got us talking about whether cramming intense stories into FPS games is really a good idea both creatively and financially. Liore argues that the average game player doesn’t care about story and would probably rather keep it out of their action games if they had the choice. Elly, on the other hand, feels that story and action go together like peanut butter and chocolate and we’ll only see more Bioshock-like games in the future. Mild shouting ensues, of course.

As always Liore is joined by the most excellent Arolaide and Ellyndrial.

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Adventures in Space: EVE Online, Day 1

Adventures in Space: EVE Online, Day 1

I’m on this week’s episode of the podcast, “Game On: Epic Slant Press Edition“, talking about RIFT’s move to free-to-play. Thanks a lot to hosts Adam and Chris for having me on — it was a ton of fun!


In my post about RIFT last week I mentioned feeling like a bit of an MMO dinosaur. The things I value in my massively multiplayer games — community, group problem solving, rewards for completing difficult or time-consuming tasks — have fallen out of favor recently with both players and developers, and while the market goes where it will I still wanted a game to play.

I moped about it for a day or two, honestly. “I need an MMO that still values old school style”, I thought to myself at some point. “One with an emphasis on teamwork and difficulty and slowly working towards goals an– oh shit. EVE.”

And that is how I came to start my new life in space. My mission: be social, throw myself into group activities, embrace the infamously inconvenient game design, and see just how much of my pining for the old MMO dinosaur ways is nostalgia and how much is truly how I like to play MMORPGs.

Day One

2013 05 15 23 38 22 EVE 150x150 Adventures in Space: EVE Online, Day 1The first thing I did after creating my character and logging into the game was join a Corporation (guild). A discussion site I frequent has a smallish corp that seems full of chill adult nerd types, so that was my first stop. Even here, though, I had to go through a series of tests, sending emails around with secret codes and whatnot to prove my identity and that I was probably not a spy coming to steal space valuables. Truth be told, I enjoyed the extra layer of skullduggery.

Once that was sorted out, it was time to actually learn how to play the game. One of my new corp-mates said that my many years of MMO experience would make the learning process faster, but I’m not sure how true that is. EVE has.. many menus. Many. Maaaany. At one point in the very first tutorial the game reminds you to close UI windows when you no longer need them, because otherwise your entire viewport very quickly becomes stacked up with information grids.

evebig 500x375 Adventures in Space: EVE Online, Day 1

EVE newbie interface. Image from Click for big!

The trend towards streamlining the first few minutes of an MMO and packing them with action doesn’t seem to have made it to CCP’s headquarters in Iceland. For example, shortly after I undocked for the first time I realized that I didn’t properly pick up a quest. I managed to figure out how to turn around and head back to the station, and then I had a very peaceful 10 minutes or so while my pod slowly putt-putted its way back. Was it the most exciting use of my game time? No, but it made me laugh and I certainly learned a lesson about checking I had everything I needed before jetting off into space.

I will have plenty of time to learn these kinds of lessons before I meet up with my corp. Along with the basic introductory tutorial there are 50 advanced tutorial missions that teach you skills in Business, Industry, Military, PVP, and Exploration. These missions are optional, but they give skills, ships, currency, and other bonuses that seem useful for a new player so my plan is to work through them. (I’ve finished the intro tutorial and about half the Military missions so far.)

While I’m doing the tutorials I can start training my skills. Even my casual corp has a list of strongly recommended skills that will take players anywhere from two weeks to a month to learn. That’s right — it could conceivably be a MONTH before my character is properly prepared to jet off and meet up with the rest of the corp. Things do not move quickly in EVE, it seems.

Speaking of proper preparation, I have already managed to earn my first PVP death although it was a little underwhelming. At one point my game crashed while logging off, and I guess my little pod was left drifting through space. When I logged back on I was in a strange location with an automated “Sorry you got blown up” letter in my mailbox. I look forward to being a more active participant in my death in the future.

Tutorials and skill training started, corp joined, and a space death. Day One of EVE: success!

Kingdom of Loathing: the turn-based RPG that I love too much

Kingdom of Loathing: the turn-based RPG that I love too much

If you look at my Raptr or Steam stats it looks like I haven’t been playing any games recently. In actual fact, I have been playing hours and hours and hours of a game but it just happens to be the untracked browser-based Kingdom of Loathing.

2013 05 14 02 00 30 The Kingdom of Loathing Kingdom of Loathing: the turn based RPG that I love too much KoL has been around for just over 10 years, and probably most gamer enthusiasts have poked at it at least once by now. But for the uninitiated, KoL is a RPG that is infamous for combining clever, sassy writing and extremely deep gameplay. Each day players get a limited number of turns to play, although that number can be increased through consumables. There are very few graphics in KoL, and those that do exist are all done in a minimal black-on-white style. (That stick figure over to the left is probably one of the more in-depth graphical moments, it being my character Laplume in a goblin costume. Obvs.)

KoL has many of the familiar trappings of RPGs, although mostly with delightfully silly names. There are classes (like Accordion Thief and Seal Clubber), a myriad of main and secondary stats, gear drops, familiars, consumables, and quests. On a micro scale, the goal of KoL is to level up your character from 1 to 13 or so, beat the final big boss (the Naughty Sorceress), and then sacrifice yourself for the good of the world. Yes, that’s right: you die.

Or at least that incarnation does. Unlike most RPGs, character development in KoL mostly comes from repeatedly leveling up (and then dying). The run from level 1 to death is known as an ascension, and as ascensions stack up you will accumulate special skills and gear and familiars and just know-how that will make your character more powerful even at level 1.

2013 05 14 02 00 06 The Kingdom of Loathing Kingdom of Loathing: the turn based RPG that I love too much

An example of my wardrobe

Running the level 1-13 quests over and over again, even if you change your class around, sounds a little dull right? Oh hell no. For each ascension you can pick a number of different variables to shake things up. Try choosing a different difficulty, and pick one of a number of special ascension “paths” like oxycore (no extra turns from food or booze), or Bad Moon (limited familiar options and unlucky adventures), or Zombie (be a zombie with special skills but no access to stores and stuff because, um, you’re a zombie). Currently, new paths are added about every 3 months.

One of the neatest things about KoL is the flexibility in content. You can farm for rare items, you can play the notoriously unstable marketplace, you can work on collections and trophies, you can take on the clan (guild) raid dungeons. If you hate spare time and love numbers, you can focus on speed ascensions and nerd out over math and strategy to come up with the most optimal way to go from start to ascension with your particular set of skills and familiars. Try to hit a new personal best in either days or turns spent!

The strategy rabbit hole goes extremely deep if you like that sort of thing, and boy do I. I started playing KoL in 2009, and I usually can play it for about 3 months before I have to stop because all my friends have forgotten who I am and my dishes have become a sentient life form. (It is entirely possible to play the game without obsessing over turns, but just not something I’m good at.)

Although there aren’t any synchronous multiplayer activities, there are plenty of asynchronous interactions and global chat channels. Clan raids require group participation but are organized by turns (“you open X gate later, then in a few days I’ll go kill Y and send you half the loot”), which is nice for people with limited playtime.

KoL is a game that benefits from research. If you want to play, I advise checking out the wiki. The game is free, and if you play now or in the future say hey to Laplume.

RIFT goes free-to-play, Liore is bummed

“Keep in mind that there’s a fundamental difference in the way of thinking and the way you need to design games if you do take them free-to-play.

Take a free-to-play game or a social game, where the business is all about – the social games’ word for it is, ‘going whaling’. The idea is you have a paying player subsidising the play of, potentially, dozens or hundreds of other users. And so you have to be willing to create a game that has the ability to make huge sums of money from relatively small numbers of people.

Once you decide that you are going to enter the whaling business, it’s a different mindset and a different set of goals you’re designing for entirely.”

- Scott Hartsman, November 16, 2011

This morning RIFT announced that it’s going free-to-play. Trion, I am disappoint.

I’ve been a RIFT subscriber since the day it launched, back in 2011. I haven’t actually been playing the game that entire time — sometimes I am playing a lot, sometimes I am playing very little — but even when I wasn’t playing I felt comfortable giving Trion and RIFT money for being an awesome game and an awesome company.

Admittedly much of my response is an emotional one. I like games that emphasize virtual worlds and being social, that have group problem-solving, and a healthy amount of content that takes a long time to finish or requires a high degree of concentration. I know this makes me something of a dinosaur amongst players, and today’s announcement feels like another sign that my kind of game is a thing of the past. I don’t like that feeling, obviously.

I have other, more logical reasons to dislike this decision too!

1) As Scott Hartsman says in the above quotation, being free-to-play changes how a game is developed. You no longer have to worry about producing regular content updates, something RIFT was previously famous for, to justify subscriptions. Instead, the monetization goal is to tune your content to encourage cash shop purchases. I find the former to be much more in my favor as a player than the latter.

2) Trion has already said that they will be offering boosts and gear in the cash shop. (On Twitter they even implied that some of the gear will be equivalent to higher tier dungeon and PvP gear.) And herein lies my fundamental dislike of cash shops: they are all about giving people ways to not play the game, rather than making the game good. Buy gear, buy housing, buy XP boosts, buy gold — it’s like you don’t even have to play the game at all! Creating a game that people will spend money to avoid playing seems like crappy game design.

3) F2P encourages transient players. In my opinion, there is a reason why the free-to-play model and the “3 month MMO” problem started trending at the same time.

I accept that what I’m looking for in an MMO is not what most people are looking for in their game. While I’m glad that many folks are loving the current marketplace, I miss feeling like part of that. Such is the price of being old and opinionated and stubborn, I suspect.

Sparklepony: Architect of our Cash Shop Fate

Sparklepony: Architect of our Cash Shop Fate

Cash shops. Every game’s got one now, particularly MMOs. It doesn’t even matter if the game is free-to-play or subscription — cash shops may have once merely been part of a payment model, but now they’ve broken out into being a feature.

I’ve gone into my dislike of cash shops in general before. I think they can be done well, but rarely actually are. Too often a game is hobbled for non-shop players with extraordinary XP grinds or tiny inventory slots, or relies on some of the more skeevy psychological elements to lead people into buying. (Here is a hint: if we all mocked Zynga for it two years ago, don’t do it now.)

Ellyndrial was ranting in IRC last week about cash shops, as he’s wont to do, and it made me wonder how they ended up being so ubiquitous. Why did everyone suddenly decide that games need cash shops and players will love them? Was there some kind of referendum I missed?

After a little reflection I realized that there was a referendum, and I voted in favor.

celestialsteed Sparklepony: Architect of our Cash Shop Fate

This is the sparklepony, known formally as the Celestial Steed. It was released in April, 2010 by Blizzard for World of Warcraft. It was one of the first account-wide mounts in the game (if not the first?). The Steed matched your fastest riding speed, and it sparkled. It was sold for a mere $25 on the Blizzard Store.

The pony made $4 million dollars in the first week. That’s over 140,000 purchases. As I recall at the time, most players mocked themselves for buying it — $25 was more than a month of subscription, after all — but we bought one nonetheless. When I logged on after work the day it was announced, Dalaran was a sea of shiny ponies.

In retrospect, I don’t think I would have bought the Celestial Steed if I had known how much it would galvanize the industry to each create cash shops of their own. We thought we were buying a slightly overpriced horse, but instead we were buying an entirely new payment method.

I don’t much have a point, except it’s funny how little purchasing decisions can become huge industry or genre game-changers.

(Pony image from MMO Champion, natch.)
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