Well, it’s been awhile and needed to sit down and write about something this weekend, and since it’s on my mind this week, I’ll go ahead and talk about the new Star Wars. The Force Awakens has had a good reception, and it was great seeing it over the holiday with my family. Since then, seen it two more times with friends, so have a little bit of perspective on it by now. For those who haven’t seen it yet, spoilers ahead, so stop reading!
I was lucky enough to have grown up in the 70’s while the original Star Trek was in syndication. I think it aired in the late afternoon on school days, just before the parents got home and dinner took over, and we’d catch every episode we could, eventually surprised when we caught one we hadn’t seen before. When we finally saw the second pilot “Where No Man Has Gone Before” with only a partially formed crew of those we all know (Kirk, Sulu, Scotty and a strangely hot-headed Mr. Spock – Dr. Mark Piper anyone?), it was an interesting view into the early days of the series. In the episode Lt. Commander Gary Mitchell is imbued with godlike powers and quickly becomes a threat to the rest of the crew, with the inevitable shirt-ripping fight with William Shatner in the climactic ending. It was a scarier episode than we had become accustomed to in the later shows, but moreso, we all noticed how much more rough around the edges Spock seemed to be. Of course, probably at this time, thoughts were about Vulcans being more closely aligned with their warlike Romulan cousins, and much still to be fleshed out. Even then, Leonard Nimoy had a presence as Spock that could not be denied.
We’ve got a number of new, smaller scale, independent fantasy MMOs in various stages of completion on the horizon – Pathfinder, Shroud of the Avatar, Crowfall, Camelot Unchained, Pantheon – as well as some larger scale efforts – EverQuest Next being the notable, though the sale of Sony Online Entertainment to Daybreak Gaming Company has many players doubting that game’s future. The one thing in common between all of them is a latching on to traditional fantasy tropes – elves, dwarves, swords, dragons…you get the picture. Sure, we have some space games coming too with Star Citizen and the recently released Elite: Dangerous, Defiance, Destiny, and Planetfall 2 but we seem to be caught between swords and spaceships (ok, some superheroes and zombies are in there too!).
Can we try something new? I’m the biggest fan of fantasy there is, but I’m thinking our settings could use a good kick in the pants. Or is D&D-style, Tolkienesque fantasy the only financially viable (e.g. safe) option when investing millions of dollars to build out a game? My guess is that a solid idea, excellent gameplay coupled with good marketing could take some other ideas further than they have gone to date. Just a few ideas this week to mull over, even if they never get built!
This last week, AOL shut down its “enthusiast blog” division, Joystiq, taking with it WoW Insider and Massively, three of the most well-known game reporting and opinion sites in the industry. It left the writers, with more than 20,000 articles under their belt, a bit bewildered and stunned. And perhaps surprised at, if you were not a regular reader, the great outpouring of sympathy on the discussion threads.
Last week, I talked about how we might improve community in MMOs, and these were pretty broad principles, based on perhaps some examples seen here and there in older MMOs as well as some (hopefully) common sense thinking about how people like to interact. But I thought this week, I might talk about some more specific ideas for improving sociability. That is, improving tools and ways that reward players to interact in a positive way such that a supportive community eventually arises. At the same time, I’ll try to keep the suggestions to things that won’t blow the development budget, or penalize players that prefer solo gaming.
Most of us know the current in-game tools for interacting and grouping, but here’s a brief rundown:
One of the questions that came up over on Massively recently was “What Do Fantasy MMOs Need?” That is, what, over and above our typical fantasy tropes, are the core set of features or qualities that would make for a better fantasy MMO? It got me thinking, not only about the specific MMO genre, but what draws me to the sci-fi/fantasy genre in general, and the answer came back pretty loud and clear: the sharing of ideas and common interest in what could be with others. With fantasy especially, there’s a nostalgia for home and hearth, somehow threatened that seems to lie at the center of The Hobbit and the early fantasy novels – Wizard of Earthsea, The Black Cauldron, The Sword of Shannara (yeah, I know…) that, if treated ham-fistedly, become cliché pretty quickly. And yet, that doesn’t negate the attraction of the feeling. It’s a wish for community combined with a love of the fantastical, and I think that’s what all MMOs are striving for, and never fully succeed in delivering.
So what are some things that could be done? Here’s a few ideas.
Well, it’s been awhile! Life busy-ness has kept me away from the blogging, but it’s good to be back at the keyboard again.
A lot of stuff has happened since I last wrote – we’ve had the release of Wildstar, ArcheAge, Elder Scrolls Online, Neverwinter (that’s actually old now!), Elite: Dangerous (still early access though), H1Z1 (another bit of early access – we should discuss this), Landmark. We had the re-launch of Final Fantasy XIV. Lord of the Rings Online downsized, World of Warcraft has a new expansion, talk of a new Guild Wars 2 expansion. Secret World continues to plug along (slowly), Rift and Star Wars the Old Republic, Age of Conan and Dungeons & Dragons Online and Star Trek Online and EVE are all hanging in there, some better than others. Still on the horizon EverQuest Next, The Repopulation, Star Citizen, Black Desert, Camelot Unchained, Shroud of the Avatar. We have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to our MMO choices, really.
But are we happy with those choices? Everyone seems to have a gripe of some kind with all of these games. Not enough attention to PvP, better crafting wanted, too grindy, too much focus on endgame raiding, more non-combat systems wanted, too much cash shop, too much pay to win, too “on rails,” too “open,” not enough free to play, too hardcore, too carebear. When you are making games from the “massively” in MMORPG, perhaps that’s just inevitable. The audience is so large, the number opinions so great that nothing can every satisfy everyone. And, yet those crazy developers keep trying, God love ‘em.
At least it gives us lots to talk about! And that’s what we’ll be doing over the coming weeks. Woo hoo – Happy New Year 2015, and see you (more) soon.