February 2012

“There’s an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”

Woody Allen.

We don’t get video games of high quality on a regular basis. For us it can often be a long time between drinks. On rare occasions in the last 30 years of video gaming I have been spoilt for choice, but these have been rare circumstances. My post yesterday regarding savouring Skyrim received a reply which I had been expecting. Frankly I was surprised that there weren’t more that were similar. But for every comment that someone takes the time and trouble to write down I am sure many more readers were thinking along similar lines.

The comment in question is from Okrane, and I’m glad that this person took the time to voice their feelings. Lets have a look at what was written.

“… you mean the all the horrible fetch quests?
or maybe the shitty interface which when u are a wizard you have like 30 spells and skills and only 8 hotkeys?
or the really boring combat, where you whack a sword at the enemy from level 1 to 50 and beyond, or throw the same fireball over and over…
or perhaps the interesting dungeons where you battle the same kind of undead over and over again.

and I could go on. The only good thing is the big ass world which can seem interesting to explore but only when you are willing to ignore all the other shit.
For gameplay the game is really shit and does not provide much fun if trying to achieve anything else but explore …”

I understand this point of view, and I have seen it reflected in many posts from bloggers lamenting the very same points raised here. But as I said yesterday, you have to learn how to eat. You don’t wait a long time between meals and then stuff your face as fast as you can while complaining how bad some of the food is. I don’t like gathering quests either, which is why I ignore them. I have completed one as it involved an interesting alchemy line, but apart from that example the rest lie unloved in my quest journal. However, I am sure that there are many players out there that do like those quests. Thus, the developers included some. They did want to make a profit, and I for one am happy that they did. More similar games for me. But don’t complain about something while simultaneously stuffing your face with it. I mean, it’s not like there’s a shortage of quests in Skyrim.

I play a warrior who likes to sneak around and shoot things with a bow, so I’m not up on the mage-like problems regarding hotkeys. A friend of mine does play a mage in Skyrim and he loves it. As far as he is concerned, 8 hotkeys are more than enough. Back in the day when playing a mage you were lucky if you got two spells every 24 hours. But the latest incarnations of video games give him unlimited powers at his fingertips. Now with Skyrim he forces himself to make a choice.

Selectively playing in this way gives you more rewards in the long run. The game lasts longer. What’s the point of blasting your way through so much content when these sorts of games come around so sporadically? Learning how to eat is about not gorging in one sitting, but taking your time and enjoying the ride. I for one, never use fast travel in Skyrim. Why rush? Is there another game that needs my attention so much right now? Of course not. Whenever I find myself playing a session for too long and I begin cutting corners then I know it’s time to quit for the day. I’m not gaining any more pleasure from that session, I’m just playing for the sake of playing and getting things done. That’s the ignorant method, and we all fall prey to it. The trick is recognising it for what it is and having the discipline to shut it off at that time.

As for the combat being boring, I find it exhilarating. No bells and whistles here. No fancy moves of whirling blades. You have to get in and cut the enemy down before he gets you. That’s what combat is all about. I still sneak into any unknown area with the possibility of enemies. I love the thrill of taking them down with one shot from my bow. It doesn’t happen often though because I haven’t artificially gimped my skills. I’ve set them up so I can have fun, but still have a challenge. Why ruin it for myself? Why indeed. But as I said yesterday, you have to know how to play.

I’ve noticed that people that know how to eat are never idiots.

Guillaume Apollinaire

One needs to learn how to eat. But first, one needs to recognise that the need to acquire the talent is even necessary at all. It took me some little time, but once I had the skills I realised that perhaps I could apply the same process to other aspects of my life. So I learnt how to dress. I learnt how to travel. I learnt how to seduce. I learnt how to read. Whereas before I had merely consumed books, now I discovered the art of reading well. The drawback to this was the newly acquired inability to put up with sub-standard writing.

Along the way I learnt how to play video games. You may give a man the finest meal he has ever had, but if he does not know how to eat, it will have been wasted. And the man himself? He will scoff at the art digesting now in his ungrateful stomach. What kind of a meal was that, he will sneer. I’ve had better.

Skyrim is that meal. The game’s designers have placed art upon the table. But what we do with it is out of their hands. And we are bound by our own restraints. If our knowledge on how to truly play a game is lacking, then it will be reflected in the game itself. There is no right way to play the game, much as there is no right way to eat a meal. Knowledge is key. With the correct grasp of how to eat, the meal can reach new heights, and the satisfaction is deep indeed. Can this be understood? Only by those who know.

I have played 138 hours of Skyrim since its release. I have finished a single quest line, and I have a single character. The game is akin to a fine bottle of scotch that I can savour when the mood takes me. The more I enjoy it, the more I value it, the more pleasure it gives. Perhaps I will play a couple of hours tonight. Where shall I go, what shall I do? The game is my guide.

I have been quiet of late due to starting a new job with an insane learning curve. Another reason for my lack of posting has been the endless drama circulating the blogging world as regards to SWTOR. To whit, most posts seem to argue about whether it’s even okay to talk about this game, and if it is okay just who is allowed to possibly have access to their own right to freedom of speech. I could have lots to say on this topic but I have recently become bored with arguing with people on the internet; it’s akin to masturbating with a cheese grater – slightly interesting, but mostly painful.

However, today Goblinworks have their new blog post up and I thought that this was a marvellous opportunity to ramble on my own blog for a bit. Truth be told they blogged about death penalties in the new Pathfinder MMO in mid-January, but I was a bit busy and I find the whole death argument just a tad tedious anyway. But their post from today concerns how PvE will function within their game world, and it is very interesting indeed. How interesting? Well, let’s just say that if this game doesn’t get made I’ll probably do nasty things to small furry animals.

In Pathfinder Online, the players are the content. And the PvE world is made up of a symbiotic relationship between fighters, crafters, and builders. Each one depends on the other for their survival and prosperity. They have a nice little graphic on how it works here, which I’m posting hopefully with their permission:


They go into the detail of how this works in their post, but what gets me excited is the possibility to exist and play in a dynamic world based in a fantasy setting. The idea is very comparable to EVE online, but I don’t particularly enjoy space games and I think there are a lot of other old school players out there with the same preference as mine. The vast majority of content will exist in the world in real time, (as opposed to being instanced), and will change and evolve or disappear depending on player actions. These are broken down into wandering monsters, harvesting hazards, and ruins, lairs and caverns. So let’s say that a bunch of harvesters have found a valuable source of material a fair way from their base of operations. They may find that they require protection from raiders on their operation and will thus engage some adventurers to help them deal with the problem. A deal will of course have to be agreed upon, and who knows – perhaps the adventurers will renege on the agreement and steal the resources. The possibilities for gameplay in this vein are almost endless. One idea that I really like is the fact that caverns are both populated by high level monsters and are generally found deep below civilized areas. This means that areas will remain dynamic sources of PvE play even after they have become fully settled.

There is also a little addendum where they postulate the idea of how to handle quests. These will be more along the lines of what we know as modules from the tabletop gaming world. Some will be free and available to all, and some may involve being purchased via micro-transactions. The jury is still out on this one but they have also added the caveat that there may be opportunities for players to create their own content which they can sell themselves in the in-game shop. Now that’s a good idea – get your playerbase to make content for you.