August 2011

There’s been a few posts on the topic of fun around the blogosphere in the last few days, mainly over at Nils and O. I thought that I would add my own comments to this topic seeing as my pronouncements are of such weighty validity.

To me, fun boils down to spontaneity versus planning. I’m sure you’ve all had the experience where you bump into someone that you know on the street, you go to a bar for a drink, someone else joins you and before you know it you’re all having the time of your lives, ending with you vomiting into a dumpster at 3am. If you try and plan or engineer that same situation, by calling up the same people beforehand and steering all of you to the very same bar, it just won’t be the same. Even if you tell everyone that they are going to have a really good time, they won’t. At least, not as much as the spontaneous version.

The reason for this is that the spontaneous version is an adventure. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. So with the curiosity of what could eventuate, you stick around, go with the flow, and end up having an awesome time. That is until the dumpster incident. And because every single person there has their curiosity enabled, collectively you are all able to come up with an amazing time. It’s not enough for one person to be feeling this way; everyone needs to have the same adventurous urge.

Which is why the blatant use of game companies telling their customers that they WILL HAVE FUN NOW WHEN THEY DO THIS THING BECAUSE IT IS SO MUCH FUN, is absolutely doomed to failure. You might just possibly succeed once. But that will be it. If you place players on a railroad where they have no real chance to enable their own sense of curiosity and adventure as they see fit then you are merely giving them a bunch of flashy lights on a magical carpet ride over which they have no real fundamental control. They are a passenger.

Which is why many of us gravitated to MMOs’ in the first place. It was the opportunity to decide things for ourselves as opposed to playing on a scripted journey which had been the hallmark to date for any number of single player RPG video games. While early WoW was not a complete freedom-fest, it did manage to strike a nice balance between having to follow a certain path but being free to experiment within it. And just like bumping into someone in the street and going for a drink you could do the same thing in WoW and end up on an unplanned adventure that would lead you on a journey that was rich in its own type of rewards. Which is fun. Pressing the LFG button and waiting for your group to form and then going and running the dungeon is the same as calling up your friends and trying to have that same experience that you had in the bar again. It won’t work because it’s not as fun. You might still have some fun, but your curiosity won’t be enabled and you will find that one person will make an excuse and leave and the group will quickly dwindle as everyone cites their responsibilities that they must follow or they will be behind or in trouble or whatever. People tend not to make excuses when they are having fun, when their curiosity is enabled.

If a game designer of a single player RPG is focusing on fun then they are probably on the right track, because you only play those games once. If the designer of an MMO is focusing on fun then they have surely lost their way.

So Blizzard has announced that it is effectively making threat redundant with a new hotfix and then a patch. I see. I suppose that they had to do this sooner or later; once you start down the road of player induced mediocrity it’s just about impossible to go back. The reason that Blizzard find themselves in this situation is because the made the very large mistake of taking their game in the direction that a large number of their player base were yelling for: make raiding accessible for everyone.

A few days ago I was watching a documentary of raiding in WoW and something struck me; raiding, hardcore raiding, is very much like having a job. I mean, you have to be seriously fucking dedicated to do it well. And back in the glory days of Burning Crusade, (which I like to think as the high water mark of WoW and raiding), it took a huge amount of organization, teamwork, and dedication to pull a raid team together and get results. It also took skill. So it was not for everyone, in fact it was only the top 5% or so of players who were able to raid successfully.

A lot of players didn’t like this, they wanted raiding to be more accessible for all. Which meant making it easier to get into and easier to do. But the fact remains that during this period Blizzard had huge growth in subscriber numbers. If these players were all so unhappy, if the system was so blatantly unfair, why then did the amount of people playing WoW continue to grow so much? To be fair, Blizzard probably made the mistake of being too greedy as opposed to listening to their player-base; they probably had visions of subscription numbers going ballistic once they made raiding accessible to all. All that happened was that the hard core element of players became disillusioned with the game and drifted away. Which is a very big deal indeed; make no mistake, nerds are loyal. But once you take away the very elements that made the game a challenge to a certain type of player, it makes it impossible to go back.

So now we find ourselves in the situation where taking threat from the game is seen as an improvement. It may be for the present general player base, but lets face it, that’s not saying much.

This is a blog about videogames, and as such I have restricted my posting to writing about that topic. But the England riots are something which I feel I must comment on. We have brought up a generation of really rotten kids. Not just in England, but in many countries around the world. We listened to the do-gooders with their platitudes of political correctness. We told each and every child that they are a special and unique sunflower who now believes that the world owes them a living. We removed corporal punishment from schools because violence is bad. We removed sports carnivals as we thought it would be terrible for the precious babies psyche if they were to come last. In some cases we removed grades, as these were deemed too confronting for children to be able to handle.

We promoted a society of instant gratification, where everyone is told that to be happy you must have the latest stuff. We listened to the “experts” and put children’s bad behaviour down to disorders. Everyone has to have a disorder now. Thus we taught them not to have any responsibility for their actions; how could it not be so as we were so quick to blame their behaviour on any number of disorders of which the poor little dears had no control over.

And now we have this generation acting in a purely narcissistic way, with no responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Why this is a surprise to anyone I do not know. This generation has been brought up to have no respect for authority. When teachers are too scared to go into their own classrooms what did we think would happen next?

And the truly frightening thing is that this rotten generation is a step away from producing the next one. What values will they hand down to their own children? People have been calling for the powers at be to take a firmer stand with the rioters. That’s a nice short term solution. But the real people who should be put up against the wall are the do-gooders who instigated this mess in the first place. Instead of weeding bad apples out of our society we have effectively cultivated them. You reap what you shall sow.

Based on what I can pick up from my mooching around the internet, a lot of gamers do not have a set game at the moment. They’re killing time until the next big thing comes along. They may be playing WoW, but they are still essentially killing time, waiting to see what great new MMO hope will spring from the ashes of Cataclysm. Some are playing Minefield, some are coming to the realisation that all free2play games are essentially the same model with a different skin, some are delving into the world of tabletops, and some are actually getting outside or reading books, heaven forbid.

In other words, the gaming community is lying on its back with its legs wide open waiting for some company to give it to them in the form of the next huge game which they can all lose themselves in. So if you’re a gaming company with a big release coming up, you could be in for the ride of your life. And if you’re a person who likes to invest in game companies, now would be a good time to work out who is going to hit the jackpot.

The big question is, will the next big hit be a game that plays it safe and caters to what the market already thinks it wants, or will it reinvent the genre, or at the very least take it in a new direction? If the market wants to play it safe and have the same old, same old, then the Star Wars MMO will most probably be the one to put your money on. Perhaps it could be Guild Wars 2, or even the next WoW expansion. But one needs to only look at Rift and its failure as a long term commodity to realise that perhaps gamers do not want the same old stuff rehashed in a different playing world.

Whatever you think the next hit game will be they need to make their move soon. Because the market is ready for it right now. Which is why Blizzard’s new MMO, Titan, may miss the boat. In this sort of scenario it’s all about the timing.

I felt like writing a post. It’s been a while, but I haven’t had anything much to say because I’m not playing many games at the moment. Actually that’s a lie. I’ve hooked up with an old school buddy – we began playing computer games and D&D way back in early high school, (1985 to you lot), and we’ve decided to drag out the roleplaying fantasy world again. We decided to use the Pathfinder rules, as the latest editions of D&D seem a bit twee. So yesterday I went and rolled up my character.

This was a problem, as I’ve always, and I mean always played rogues. But what happens is that I end up playing the same personality every time, just in a different game. And there are only three of us playing; a Dungeon Master and two players, so I need a class that will be able to handle a lot of situations. So I chose a cleric. Not so good for a blog called the noisy rogue, but I wasn’t planning on blogging about this. But like I said, I felt like writing something.

My rolls were pretty amazing: 18, 17, 14, 12, 12, 10. Suck it up, princess. I chose a human as I’m sick of playing pointy eared freaks, which gave me a +2 bonus to an attribute of my choice. The two main attributes for clerics are wisdom and charisma. So after my bonus my list looks like this:

Strength: 12
Dexterity: 10
Constitution: 14
Intelligence: 12
Wisdom: 18
Charisma: 19

Pretty damn good. I decided to play a female; with that charisma I’m planning on seducing most of my enemies to death, and my two clerical domains are healing and knowledge. My god of choice is Cayden Cailean, who is the god of beer, wine, and freedom, which means I’m a hell of a party animal. Alignment is chaotic neutral which means I pretty much get to do anything I want.

The DM is Ivan, who is the artist who designed my banner for this blog. He’s put together a 10 minute DVD with a voice-over explaining the background and history of the world in which we reside. It’s quite impressive. I have to go away for ten days for work but when I come back we’ll have our first session of cracking skulls and playing the diplomat.

And my character name? Isabella. Hey, I miss Italy.