2014 is upon us, so it seemed like a good time to reflect on our favorite games of 2013 and look forward to what we hope are the highlights of the next 12 months.
Liore, Arolaide, and Ellyndrial compare their lists of the favorite games of the year, which includes a lot of indie games unsurprisingly. Then we look at 2014 and talk about what we’re anticipating, including Broken Age, Witcher 3, and Destiny. (Also, is it just us or was 2013 a crappy year for MMOs?)
In more current gaming, Arolaide has returned to SWTOR and reports back on space battles! Ellyndrial tries a mobile game that doesn’t have microtransactions! Liore is an expert in Horse Mastery, which is really not a game for tiny children!
There was a microphone error this week so the audio is a little janky. Sorry!
It would be downright awesome if you gave us a vote on iTunes. :)
* Free Music Archive page for our theme, in THE crowd by The Years
* Tevis Thompson’s critique of Bioshock Infinite.
* Horse Master, a game of horse mastery
Yesterday two lovely bloggers, Belghast and Alternative Chat, wrote posts about why WoW could use a better player skill ranking system, and ways to go about that. Bel wrote about the Gatekeeper in The Secret World and proposed a similar skills test in WoW. The Godmother devised a detailed way to essentially create an “effort score” for gear instead of just a flat gear score.
With respect to both, I think they are looking for automated solutions to what is essentially a social problem.
To The Logs!
The Godmother wrote in her post:
“How do you ensure that your player base understands that playing your game isn’t just simply a case of turning up, taking what they want and wandering off when satisfied? How can you prove they are capable of actually playing?”
I’m not even sure that Blizzard is in the business of making sure players are capable, but let’s look at this from the perspective of a guild leader. How does a guild or raid leader know that their team is capable of taking on certain raid content? Easy — they play with them.
Way back in TBC and WotLK when my guild was raiding GearScore was a big huge deal. And yet our application specifically stated that we were not interested in the least in what people’s GearScores were. In fact, I don’t think I ever recruited a single person who included it.
Why? Because gear doesn’t really matter when recruiting for a raid team. Okay, yes, you probably don’t want to bring a fresh level 90 in greens to heroic Garrosh but for a group that raids on a regular basis gearing up the new guy is pretty simple, particularly nowadays. Instead, I recruited for personality and previous experience. Once we got someone in their first raid we’d look at their response times, and then after at the logs. Within a raid or two we would absolutely have a great idea of how well the newbie could actually play.
The Godmother has come up with a complicated system that removes high level crafting and other “easy” gearing methods so that players can’t just cruise to a high ilevel, but reading it reminds me of the famous line Laurence Olivier said to method actor Dustin Hoffman on the set of Marathon Man: “My dear boy, why don’t you try acting?”
Forget an automated score, any score, that will tell the world how good one is at WoW. Instead, read logs and watch your raid team. (And if they’re not on your raid team.. then you don’t really need a skill score for them, do you?)
Good Guild Leaders are Jerks. Sometimes.
While The Godmother took on ways to create a better Gear Score, Belghast went a different direction and proposed a skill testing system. He something like the Gatekeeper in TSW, an NPC who presents tough challenges that players must complete individually to unlock Nightmare-level group content.
In theory I like the idea of having ways outside of raids to train your skills. I am a big fan of Proving Grounds, the solo skill test recently added to WoW. It took me three tries to get my Silver as a (rusty) disc priest, and I’m proud of it. But really, isn’t Proving Grounds supposed to be the skill test of WoW? If one is worried about setting a skill barrier to entry, why not just say that everyone has to have the Silver or Gold achievement to join the raid?
The truth is that skill level is not actually the problem that Bel is trying to solve with a Gatekeeper. He wrote in his post:
“It sucks being the one to tell a player that they just are not good enough to be able to do the content. Without hard facts as to why, it often feels like the leader is playing favorites or simply singling a player out unjustly.”
Ahh yes. The gatekeeper is really there to let the guild or raid leader avoid delivering bad news themselves.
I totally understand that having difficult conversations about performance is one of the least fun parts of running a raid team, and I also happen to know Bel fairly well so I know he is a kind person who doesn’t like confrontation, which is a not at all a bad thing to be. However, creating a whole system of raid barriers basically just so a guild leader never has to say a strong word seems like an inefficient solution.
Again, logs are the answer here. Hard facts are available! Performance charts, death numbers. Show underperforming shadow priest X how much better shadow priest Y’s uptime on Shadow Word: Pain is. Write or link guides on your guild forums to proper reforging for Death Knights, or even start a post with “raid tips”. Codify your expectations of raiders and post them where everyone can see.
Those people who are oblivious to how much they’re dragging the rest of the team down? They’re not going to be any happier being told by a robot that they aren’t good enough to raid, and my experience is that it won’t suddenly inspire them to train and become the best. Sometimes, if you care about raid progression, good guild leaders have to be the bad guy.
Robots Can’t Create Caring
I mean no slight to The Godmother or Belghast here. They both seem like awesome guild leaders! But this is not a problem that needs an automated solution and I think creating hard-coded limitations for social problems is a mistake. Not only does it limit the game for everyone through removing things like end-game crafting and making skill checks mandatory, but I don’t actually think either measure would actually fix the issues.
At this point, nine years into WoW, if someone doesn’t care at all about their raid performance then no amount of gear scores or gatekeepers is going to change their mind. Instead, it’s up to the guild or raid or role leader to monitor their own team if they care about this kind of thing — look at logs, recruit carefully, and bite the bullet and have that slightly uncomfortable conversation if someone is letting down the other 9-24 people.
2013 was a pretty unspectacular year for MMOs, huh? While some have found their fun in the new offerings of Neverwinter and (revamped) Final Fantasy XIV, it’s sort of mind boggling that the closest thing to an “MMO of the year” for me is… Mists of Pandaria (Amazon link). Which is an expansion. That launched in 2012.
(More on the ish year of MMOs — and the amazing year of indie games — on Wednesday’s Cat Context!)
Even though I am very much enjoying playing it, and I see that continuing for some time, I just can’t bring myself to call Mists the best MMO of 2013. “Best” implies some element that makes a game better than its compatriots, and while Mists is very fun a big part of why I’m enjoying it is nostalgia and the fact that most of my old crew seem to be playing again, neither of which has much to do with the game itself.
So I guess Mists of Pandaria is my pick for the milquetoast title of “MMO I enjoyed the most in 2013″. The marker of “Best” will have to be set aside until we see what 2014 has to offer, though.
Anyway, speaking of Pandaria, over the holidays Ellyndrial posted his To-Do List for World of Warcraft, and I am borrowing his idea!
Complete my Vial of the Sands.
Oh wait, I finished this over the weekend! Then I flew an unsuspecting guildie high into the sky and cancelled the dragon effect, but instead of him dying he just got a parachute and a great view of me plummeting to my death. Harrumph. Still pretty cool, though.
2) Finish levelling my monk
Let’s face facts: monks are a hero class, except Blizzard didn’t want to cause a fuss by calling them that. I hate levelling and am generally uninterested in alts, but when you combine heirlooms, rested XP, and the daily monk XP buff even I can (probably) get a level-capped character! Level 42 now and counting…
3) Keep working on the legendary cloak questline
I know that I am way behind the times, but I am sloooooowly making my way through this. I’m on “Chapter IV”, or the final stage, which right now means running LFR again for Titan Runestones. And that’s part of the problem — while I tore through the first few stages, the questline requires a lot of LFR for us non-raider types and man that gets tedious.
4) Get to maximum level archaeology
Wait, what? Archaeology may have debuted with the Cataclysm expansion, when I was technically still playing WoW on a serious basis, but it struck me as a silly time-waster and I skipped it almost completely. As a casual scub, though, I found a reason to pick it up again and that reason is the skeletal raptor mount. I neeeeeeed to be on that mount while hopping mindlessly around Org.
Hello? Hello? Why am I at work? Where is the eggnog? What is going on? Oh. Dammit.
Anyway, remember how I said before the holidays that I saved up all my game-buying for the Steam Christmas Sale? I predicted three titles that I would probably pick up, which I felt was generous at the time, but now that the frenzy is over I see that I was just fooling myself. Behold the terrifyingly large list of games I bought:
- The Stanley Parable: I’ve actually watched multiple walkthroughs of this game already but it’s really really really good, so I wanted to give some money to the developer.
- The Testament of Sherlock Holmes: I’ve had a craving for more point-and-click games after The Wolf Among Us, and this one got some okay press when it was released. Plus: murder! And mystery!
- Surgeon Simulator 2013: This is one of those stupid physics games that people like to play on YouTube because they can be cheerful idiots and look it was $2.50, okay? … I’m the worst.
- Guns of Icarus: You and a few friends pilot a steampunk airship around, blowing up other people’s airships! This looks like great co-op action, so I picked up a 4-pack to spread the joy.
- Dust: An Elysian Tale: Jumpy-choppy-actiony titles aren’t necessarily my thing, but this game was highly recommended by a few people I trust and what else are Steam sales for if not trying new things?
- Roller Coaster Tycoon 3: Finally, something from my wishlist! I love builder games like Tropico, and although this game was originally released in 2004 I hear it’s one of the best.
- Shelter: An indie title, I bought this ENTIRELY based on a guildie telling me it involved “saving baby badgers”. I may have had a touch of Steam madness by this point, but it DOES look legit good (I checked later).
- The Swapper: This game caught my eye back when RPS looked at it, although that was mostly because of the name. This has turned out to (thus far) be the jewel of all my holiday purchases. It is precisely my kind of puzzle game, with the bonuses of beautiful graphics and freaking freaky setting. More on this game later!
And as if that wasn’t enough, I was also fortunate enough to receive a few games as gifts! Like these:
- Starbound: I super extra wanted this game, so hooray! It’s Terraria in space! I’ve only played around a bit since there’s a character wipe coming soon, but I feel like this will be big in my future.
- Papers, Please: Another great game! I played the heck out of this in beta, and I am happy that dev Lucas Pope got some money on my behalf.
- Tower Wars: According to the internet, this is “competitive multi-player tower defense”. Co-op gaming is going to be a thing for me in 2014, and I love tower defense.
- Hammerwatch: More indie co-op games from the indie co-op specialist. (Thanks, you!) This looks like a hack’n'slash title, although I haven’t had time to get into it yet.
The only proper conclusion from all this is that I have too many games. Therefore, I declare 2014 to be The Year of the Backlog. I am gonna play all these games, dammit. The terms of said project are still being determined with a few co-conspirators, but prepare yourself, game library, to be played!
Murf vs. Internet has organized a “Blogger Listmas“, where folks write lists every day during this, the listiest time of the year. You can see more at his site, or look for the #Listmas tag on Twitter.
PS: No “best games of 2013″ list — you’ll have to listen to Cat Context and Game On over the next couple of weeks for that. ;)
Back in August I talked about some of the general MMO podcasts out there, but that was just dipping my toe into the huge number of podcasts available, on games or otherwise.
I listen to podcasts a lot. A lot, a lot. (I find headphones are marvelous for being out and about on days when the ol’ social anxiety is flaring up.) Below are four shows that make me genuinely excited when I see an update.
PS: Recommendations of shows I might enjoy are greatly appreciated!
The Bugle – “Audio newspaper for a video world”
If you haven’t discovered it yet, The Bugle consists of former Daily Show funny guy John Oliver and his fellow comedian pal Andy Zaltzman talking about news and politics from around the world. John is a master of high outrage, and Andy is so (purposefully?) unfunny that it actually loops around again into being hilarious. While the US and UK are certainly not ignored, one of the great things about The Bugle is that it talks about news from countries we don’t usually hear about in North America. Yes, it’s satirical, but funny and smart at the same time.
Also, it was The Bugle that coined the term “Fuck-eulogy” (say it out loud), which is just sheer brilliance.
The FPlus – “Terrible things, read with enthusiasm”
If you haven’t noticed yet, the internet is full of terrible and useless content, from forum rants by guys who hate “3D” women to WikiHow articles on “how to wear casual clothes on the weekend”. (Yes, that last one actually exists.) Oh sure, you could ignore all that stuff, or get angry about it, but isn’t laughing so much better? The FPlus has a team of “ridiculists”, some professional voice actors and some just fans of the terrible, who read these nuggets and have a great time doing it. Pretty much every episode of The FPlus makes me laugh out loud at least once.
I think Night Vale became a genuine phenomenon this year, so you’ve probably already heard about it. Welcome to Night Vale is a community radio show for the small desert town of Night Vale where strange and terrible things happen. Sometimes it reports news like the Glow Cloud that rains dead animals running for the PTA, other times it has warnings to stay inside and close your eyes because the street cleaners are coming. Welcome to Night Vale ably balances the macabre and the oddly sweet, and the show as a whole feels like a rebirth of the radio plays of yore. And now… the weather.
How to Murder Time – “Podcasting about games and things”
Mad props to j3w3l at Healing the Masses for suggesting this show earlier in the year. How to Murder Time features friends Jon and Tim talking about video games, whether it’s simply what they’re playing or more topical episodes like taking on games reviews or console comparisons. (MMOs are often discussed, too.) The show has that trademark dry British humor that I enjoy, but is also quite smart and always informative.