Tobold's Blog
Sunday, May 09, 2010
Open Sunday Thread

You might have noticed that I've been experimenting with "theme weeks" this year. Not consistently, but once in a while I stick to one larger subject for several posts distributed over a week. So in this open Sunday thread beyond the opportunity to ask questions, and make suggestions for single posts, you can also give input on what you'd think would make a good theme for a week full of posts.
Theme week: Lava zone! Ice zone!

Why do game makers insist on giving us half-baked variety?

Reviews of Downloadable PS3 games.
Topic suggestion:

Do you think there is any way to create an MMO that is PvP-focused that you would enjoy? And if so, what would it be like? Would it have to be one where every encounter was fair, or almost fair? Or could it simply be a game that convincingly make you believe that your individual fights are part of something larger? Or simply reduce/remove the time investment advantage? Or make make sure PvP is not negative-sum?
Do you think there is any way to create an MMO that is PvP-focused that you would enjoy? And if so, what would it be like? Would it have to be one where every encounter was fair, or almost fair? Or could it simply be a game that convincingly make you believe that your individual fights are part of something larger? Or simply reduce/remove the time investment advantage? Or make make sure PvP is not negative-sum?

All of the above. :) But I'm not starting another big PvP discussion here anytime soon.
What are your thoughts on how culture affects gaming preferences.

Bhagpuss has posted the following on Syncaine's blog: "Partly, I think, this is at least in part a cultural thing. SynCaine’s amusing explanation above of how PvP sandboxes work is very American. Tobold’s reaction to his experience is very European, specifically Central European. The legacy of centuries of warfare on home territory has led Europeans to look rather favorably at the idea of an authority above and beyond their direct control. The idea that someone is there to set rules to curb their own excesses is an attractive one. America, on the other hand, is still in thrall to the myth of personal freedom."

What are your thoughts on this?
Going off the above comment, do you ever write a post and feel very European for thinking that way or see comments and think "That is such an American way of thinking of it"?
"That is such an American way of thinking of it"?

Not just American, but Republican. You can't shoot somebody stepping on your property in Massachusetts.
Comparing GUIs between WoW and other games (predominantly EVE) made me wonder: Although all icons in WoW look big and easy to click at, Blizzard manages to show a lot of information on the screen.

EVE, on the other hand, uses extra small text and many windows that can overlap and still: If I look at the information actually displayed: It's not much at all. Actually, it seems as if the smaller the text and icons you use, the more the user gets the feeling of a a clunky GUI, that never shows what he is interested in.

My question:
Could you review GUIs of different games (not just WoW and EVE, perhaps) and analyse how well they do their job.
How important do you think the GUI is for a(ny) game?
Hey you should try this MMO called EVE, and tell us what your thoughts are on it ...
Like Verilazic mentioned, I’d be really interested to hear specifics about Tobold’s ideal PvP MMO. I’m sure there must be some form of it that you’d enjoy if you’re able to call the shots on design, and I’m certain you’ve given it some thought.

It would probably cause arguments and controversy, but I don’t think you’re the type to shy away from posting something just to avoid a heated debate. Doesn’t matter if it’s “anytime soon” or in the far future. People will argue anywhere on the internet, it may as well be here while discussing something actually interesting and appropriate. Dispute over an interesting topic (like PvP) is always better than idle comments after an informational explanation (like multiboxing).
Blogging vs. commenting.

This is a difficult one for me, but I've spent a lot of time thinking about it while reading your posts and subsequent comments over the last week.

This blog is your corner of the internet. You operate under an open policy: everyone is welcome to read and leave comments (as long as they are kept civil, naturally). If we don't like what you write, we are completely free not to come here.

The trouble, for me, is that it just isn't that easy. Among your readers are some of the most insightful and moderate people I've come across in my travels across the internets. If I want to read what they say, I also have to come here. Some of those comments obviously touch you on a very personal level. Sometimes, this leads to escalating emotions and a rapid deterioration of the quality of the discussion.

I would never suggest that you ignore comments that provoke you or annoy you, nor would I ask you to try to act against your instincts. Again: this is your corner of the net, and I see no reason why you should not write whatever you want (as long as you stay within what's legal and what Google Blogspot allows you to of course, but I think that's a fairly generous standard!).

However, is there any way we can have the best of both worlds? Off-site comments? Syndication?

I understand if this offends you, Tobold, if you read it as an implication that I come here for your commenters rather than to read what you have to say. And I have had that thought from time to time, to be perfectly honest. But this is not the case. You pick interesting topics and you do write about them in a way that really does make your readers think about them. That's good stuff, and absolutely necessary. All I want is that perfect la-la land where we can have all the good without the resulting insults! :)

Oh, and on PS3 downloadables: did you ever try Greed Inc? It's a from a Dutch developer, which is interesting in itself, and I do believe that it's bite-size strategy really would interest you.
Should an MMO be judged on a review written by one person who has only played it within a limited timeframe? Should an MMO even be reviewed by someone with a limited amount of time within which to do it? Should reviewing MMOs be attempted at all? Should MMO reviews be crowdsourced? If crowdsourced, what can be done to ensure that the review is not dominated by fanbois and/or haters?

Discuss :D

(note: this is not directed at you directly Tobold, but at the current game reviewing process used by major publications and websites. Its something thats been bugging me since you posted your aggregate review of EVE earlier in the week.)
I understand if this offends you, Tobold

You're not offending me, you are offending Nils! After all it's him who writes more lines of comments on this blog than lines of posts on his own blog. ;)
I don't feel offended ;)
You pick interesting topics and you do write about them in a way that really does make your readers think about them.

I think this is why forums don't work for me. If everyone can choose any subject, we more often than not end up with stupid "nerf warlocks!" threads. To kick off an interesting discussion, you need first somebody to start it, and then somebody to moderate it.
"Not just American, but Republican. You can't shoot somebody stepping on your property in Massachusetts."

As a Mass resident, I can confirm this.

As a resident of THE large city on the Western end of the city, I'm not so sure.
I was going to suggest what Nils suggested so I won't repeat his text but I would like to also suggest looking at the emotional connection to the genre that gets a player to stick with the game in spite of a poor quality UI. I joined wow shortly after retail release and I still remember my first trip out of Auberdine into Darkshore and thinking it was just amazing and that's where wow really first hooked me.
But I also remember struggling with the UI trying to find ways of doing things that did not boil down keyboard turning and mouse clicking spells. I eventually learned how to mouse move and tie actions to keys and it took a while but I stuck with it because I was in a storybook environment that held my attention. But for me the sword and scorcery genre had always come far ahead of scifi.

When I now look at eve and wonder what I should do today I don't feel that sense of engagement that compels me past the clunky UI to go forth and adventure. It works for some people but not nearly as many as wow.
Is it meaningful to describe a social game as a sandbox (playing your game your way)?

In a pure sandbox, your values are the only factor external to the games inherent mechanics that impacts valuation, i.e. your perspective is the only thing that matters. As soon as one other person hits the sand, there is something significant other than you and sand in sand box. Your singular control over valuation disappears.

With that in mind, which is more essential to the promise of a sandbox?

1) Freedom from socially imposed value structures?
Playing solo's on an acoustic guitar might be analogous to this. The guitar imposes fairly substantial mechanical constraints, but as a soloist you can play whatever you want within those mechanical constraints.


2) Freedom from mechanical game constraints?
Having the option to play any instrument in a symphony orchestra is analogous here. Your range of instruments is radically expanded so the mechanical constraints on performance are significantly relaxed. However, your play will be constrained by the music selected and your expected role in the orchestra.

So, given the generally augmented importance of player societies in “sandbox” MMO’s, is it possible that the resultant social expectations and constraints actually result in a game with less effective player freedom? Stated differently, is it easier to play a game like EVE the “wrong way” (i.e. to run into negative consequences for playing contrary to common in game social expectations) than say it is to play other games the “wrong way”?
I would like to second Nils UI. I do not find the EVE UI pleasant or modern or particularly functional. Now a large segment of the player base does not want an accessible/good UI as it will invite the casuals/WoW/Hello Kitty crowd.

One thing to explore is user configurable UI. It is not only a technical issue, but some players are against it.

I find it fascinating that most in EVE are opposed to user control of the UI.

Some say it would not be fair. Which always leaves me speechless. It's not like a console. Someone could have a desktop with 30" monitor dual graphics cards and fiber internet vs a 4 year old 13" laptop with integrated graphics and slow net. The forums abuse people too lazy to download and test a gigabyte Beta, yet it must be fair for people too lazy to customize their UI?

Maybe it is the PvP culture I am not that conversant in, but that just puzzles me. I am used to the best of addons, in games or Word or Excel, getting implemented in the product. The addons are just free market research and usability testing for the developers.

Another UI issue(s) I think gaming companies could address better are older gamers and larger monitors. Alas, I could use things bigger. In particular, things that might be fine on a 1024x768 monitor can be tiny on a 30"

Another issue is keyboard versus mouse. I usually prefer to use the keyboard for most things. A lot of UI assumes clicky-clicky only.
I've noticed a conspicuous lack on this blog of rampant speculation and uninformed opinion making related to the recent Guild Wars 2 information. As this is the only MMO I am really interested in following at the moment, this is a serious, serious lack. :)

As an actual suggestion, what sorts of MMO conventions in general would you like to see games experiment away from? (not necessarily with every game abandoning a convention, just more flexibility among developers as to whether they follow one, or try something new.)

(And while a Guild Wars 2 post might be nice, I'm guessing there still isn't enough information to really comment strongly on it yet, so am not surprised at the lack of posts on it.)
I have noticed that others use "sandbox" differently than I. And thus are wrong.

So you can have puzzle games where there is pne path. And something like Second Life where there is not only no constraints, but people can build clothes and buildings and "machinery" that is not created by Linden developers.

Some (Most?) people use "sandbox" to mean that there are no quests or progression paths. I had also inferred that it meant a considerable amount of "hands off". The developers define the world and the "laws of physics"; the players determine what happens. I.e. you come back in a year and something else may be trendy but you and your stuff are about as valuable as when you left. WoW is horrible about that, for good financial reasons I suppose. The BiS from January is vendored by fall. Many specs and spells get continuously "balanced"/randomized.

But even CCP in EVE will buff this ship or mineral or whatever far more than what I was expecting.

Is it really a sandbox when developers keep buffing/nerfing things until they get some % they want; is that really a sandbox, or just a progression known only to the devs.

Is it just me and I should go back to yelling at the kids on my yard? Or is some stability something to expect in a "sandbox"? I think that the people nerfed are far more upset than the people who are buffed are happy, so perhaps there is a downside to too much change?

Syncaine just knows that the big Euro PvP guilds would kick his arse. I remember some of the guys who used to play DaoC on our (EU) server (Nolby Pride, etc) and I see no special reason to find them less PvP-able than US players.

What I do suspect is that is that EU players lean towards team play over solo play in PvP (I mean, the hardcore players).
How about WoW for newbies? I've played several MMOs, but I'm thinking of taking up WoW. So should I wait until Cataclysm when there will be more low levels or do I need to learn the ropes? Stuff like that...
I'm a day late to the Sunday thread but hopefully you'll still see this Tobold. Have you kept playing Empire Total War since your lukewarm experiences with it?

I just recently bought the game and I completely regret my purchase of it now. I absolutely LOVE the Total War series and have every single game and edition from Shogun: Warlord, and Rome:Gold/BI/Alexander, to all the Medievals and so far I've been nothing but disappointed with Empire.

The unit AI seems much, much worse then Medieval or even Romes was. Even with Fire at Will turned on I've seen Units that will simply stand there and do nothing to an enemy standing a few yards in front of them. The naval combat was fun for about one or two battles and then I went back to just auto resolving them.

Like you mentioned in one of your posts being a monacrhy makes no sense, because your provinces are constantly rebelling no matter what structures you build and the game becomes much easier if you just let the rebellion happen...Whats the point of buildings affecting settlement happiness if no matter hwat you do settlements rebel anyways? And maybe it's because I'm only playing on the default difficulty but the other factions don't even seem to want to do anything. So far I've never been attacked by anything other then pirates and rebels and I don't see them doing much amongst themselves.

And as far as bugs go I can't even play the road to independance campaign, because the game crashes as soon as I finish the very first John Smith battle. Wasn't the 1.5 patch supposed to fix all that?

All in all Empire seems like a game that had great potential, but ended up being a huge let down for me...This game could have used a few extra months dev time to polish it up.
"How about WoW for newbies? I've played several MMOs, but I'm thinking of taking up WoW. So should I wait until Cataclysm when there will be more low levels or do I need to learn the ropes? Stuff like that..."

I would say that you should just wait for Cataclysm. To be frank a lot of Vanilla (and BC) questing is designed very differently from current content and a lot of it is just plain bad.

Cataclysm will bring 1-60 changes and with that (hopefully) Wrath-type streamlined questings.

It would be a shame for you as a new player to go through what is pretty outdated design and content and end up not liking WoW because of that.
How about a week? This website seems to be creating a renaissance in the old 4x strategy games (particularly with the recent $5 releases of MOM & MOO2).

Graphics not withstanding, I am currently enjoying both of these old classics again.

Yes -- I know this is a MMORPG blog but great single player games were obviously the forerunners to all the great MMORPG games.
I played WoW through burning crusade, stopping before sunwell came out. If I buy cataclysm once it comes out but do not buy wrath what sort of playing options will I have? I had five 70s who will want to get to 85 if I end up going back to WoW at all.
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