Category: Games

/hail %t

I have seen a few discussions pop up on Twitter recently regarding games as social spaces. While I haven’t followed those conversations directly, what I have read makes a lot of sense. If games are social spaces and that’s what draws so many of us to them, then why are MMORPGs, a genre that is inherently social, no longer a draw?

It all comes down to competition. When MMORPGs were new, they were a far more interactive and innovative online social space than other options. I spent plenty of time in AOL chatrooms as a kid or working on my Xanga/Angelfire/Geocities/MySpace page, but none of those things combined as easily with my love of fantasy or video games as MMORPGs did.

I do not want to comment on the merit of online gaming as social spaces for children and young adults. My eyes always roll at the “kids don’t go outside anymore and that is why this country is doomed” arguments. Wherever you fall in that argument, for me as a kid, I spent near equal time outside as I did in, but for entirely different reasons. Outside, I explored the woods behind my house in relative solitude, only occasionally bringing a friend or young relative. Inside, I spent holiday breaks from school staying up until 5 AM playing games like Ultima Online and EverQuest.

As I grew older, my time outside was largely replaced by my time inside. To this day, I still enjoy a good hike and I have incorporated daily walks into my routine, but between work, adulting, and personal leisure, I go outside far less.

Other than the obvious reason of increasing responsibility, I also ascribe some of my outside/inside shift (especially when I was a teenager) to enjoying the more complex social spaces of MMORPGs. I wasn’t a loner as a child, but I had relatively few friends and no social drive to spend time with them after school, every day, every week. MMORPGs were fantasy escapism, but they also provided me a means to acquire an identity that I felt more control over than I did my real-life self. It was easier to escape my shyness. It was also easier to feel important or validated since, in an entirely self-contained world and community, expertise in the game is attainable by most who play it and is subject less to the real world’s prejudices regarding quantity of experience, the age of the person, etc. In other words, in MMORPGs, it was easier for me to feel more important and more confident than I did outside the game.

As much as I miss specific bits of gameplay, it is the social aspects of MMORPGs I miss the most and the thing I have had the hardest time recapturing. Journeying back to EverQuest or World of Warcraft, I rarely reintegrate into the current community and find it hard to continue playing without finding those I already know and who I most often speak to independent of any specific game these days.

Back to competition, MMORPGs are not going against AOL chatrooms anymore, but are instead going against a world that has evolved with them in mind and largely stolen their best bits for their own. Most multiplayer games these days come with their own chat tools regardless of how persistent their games worlds must be. If they don’t have the chat tools, then there are a ton of platforms that will provide the same functionality. Beyond those platforms, it’s not unheard of to hand out a phone number or email address, much like I used to have an AOL Instant Messenger and ICQ handle, only now we can reach one another anywhere with cellphones.

Almost every game is its own service now or directly integrated into a broader service otherwise. As such, the only unique thing left to the MMORPG genre are the things that were always horrible at worst and to the player’s test at best; namely, excessive grinding, bloated but weak content, and intentionally complicated sub-systems in the name of “simulation”.

This bothers me. A lot. While any future MMORPG has a good shot at being a great multiplayer game, I worry that the bar is too high to make a MMORPG that is a great multiplayer game. Developers must navigate a world that has largely left the genre behind while trying to compete against established evergreen games (League of Legends, Minecraft, Fortnite, DOTA 2, etc.) that may never sunset. Worse, MMORPGs need to target these gaming behemoths directly if they want to capture enough market share to sustain themselves. It used to be that MMORPGs were too expensive to make, but now they are too big a risk to attempt.

It leaves us all with a catch-22. Do we hope for MMORPGs that are good enough gameplay-wise that they may get lucky and catch on? Do we hope for MMORPGs that embrace the games-as-social-spaces that focus primarily on being an interactive super-chatroom that is engaging to a wide audience? Do we hope for both and get neither?

I wish I still had a guild to chat about this with while I run meaningless circles around Orgrimmar.

My Top 3 Games of the Year

It has been a little while since I wrote a video game post or a list. Here’s my top three I played this year:

#3: Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4)

Marvel’s Spider-Man had me hyped from day one, but the game delivered more than I had expected. I even went as far as getting the platinum trophy. I am glad now that I skipped the DLC, but I could use a sequel as soon as possible.

#2: Hollow Knight (Switch)

Hollow Knight took me by complete surprise. I expected to like it, but I did not expect to love it. For a few weeks, I obsessed over the game, going as far as defeating a really challenging optional boss. This game was an absolute blast and one of my favorite game experiences in 2018.

Dishonorable Mentions

  • Persona 5 (PS4) – I wanted to like Persona 5, but I didn’t take to it. I haven’t deleted my save though. I do intend to give it another try in the future.
  • Dragon Quest XI: Echoes of an Elusive Age (PS4) – Absolutely beautiful, the latest Dragon Quest did nothing for me. I hated the characters, I was bored by the story, and the gameplay did nothing for me either. I know that Dragon Quest games are “vanilla” by design but I had hoped for some hidden sprinkles. There were none.
  • World of Warcraft: Battle for Azeroth (PC) – For an expansion dominated by my favorite race, trolls, it was a huge disappointment to last less than a month and leave behind the three months I prepaid for. This was a terribly weak expansion.

Honorable Mentions

  • Ni No Kuni 2 (PS4) – It was good enough to finish!
  • Dead Cells (Switch) – I played a ton of this on Switch. Though I was never successful enough to finish it, it was a lot of fun.
  • Donut County (PS4) – I didn’t play this indie game directly. Instead, I watched as Diane thoroughly enjoyed it. We both laughed together at the jokes. It was an incredibly funny experience given the odd subject matter.
  • Frostpunk (PC) – I wanted more than what I got with Frostpunk, but it was still an incredible experience. I love a good city-builder and the fusion of that with survival mechanics to make a game I dreaded playing was a match made in heaven (or in this case hell).
  • Overcooked 2 (PS4) – It is Overcooked only better. Our couples nights playing this game every weekend were just as fun as when we did them for the original. I consider Overcooked 2 to be superior in every way.

#1: Slay the Spire

At over 700 hours, I have one achievement left to get in this blend of roguelikes and card games. I cannot think of a better game to carry me on now that I am completely done playing Binding of Isaac. That said, my obsession is currently waning, so I doubt I get to 1,000 hours unless they add something new when the game finally launches early next year.

D&D 5e: Running My First Original Content

It finally happened. With all my character ideas, I finally managed to find the time and energy to turn those creative forces toward original content I could run myself. In doing so I recently ran my second ever one-shot as a Dungeon Master only this time it was wholly original content.

I had the idea to do a murder mystery/game of Clue when I was discussing potential werewolf lore. The idea was that in a world where hospitality (socially/culturally/legally) matters, there’s also a prevailing believe that you become a werewolf by harboring their kind and giving them aid, whether you know the person to be a werewolf or not.

In this scenario, my three players arrived individually at an inn outside a backwater in an area once rumored to have werewolves. The nearby villagers are your typical superstitious type, but they support the presence of the inn because it keeps strangers from knocking on their doors seeking shelter which they would be obligated to give.

I have always been fascinated with secrets in games. For example, there’s a variant of the board game Risk called Secret Mission where players have secret missions that they must fulfill to win. Having these built-in secrets makes it harder to forge lasting alliances with other players since, unlike with a regular game where everyone is striving openly to dominate the entire board, there’s always the unease of accidentally helping another player win at your expense.

Secrets are difficult to do in a game of D&D since everything happens out in the open for all the players to hear even if their characters aren’t in earshot. Since I wanted that Clue feel, and I didn’t want my players to accidentally metagame, I needed a way to make all my NPCs and my players wary of one another. To this end, I requested my players each have a secret that they wouldn’t want shared with anyone else. My NPCs also had secrets of their own. My intent was to use all these hidden motives and concerns as a wedge to keep everyone pitted against one another and to keep my players from teaming up so quickly that my murder mystery was trivialized.

I think it worked great. Some of their secrets were more trivial than others, but since they were roleplaying them honestly, it really helped to give me another tool to sow chaos and maintain disorder. The entire session was a rapid series of scene changes from one area of the inn to the next as the three players and eight NPCs fell upon one another.

I also feel like the chaos I was able to employ helped make the mystery more interesting. I wasn’t planning to surprise anyone with a particularly well-written or surprising plot. To be honest, I didn’t think I needed anything more than a bare-bones Scooby Doo plot. My goal was always to keep everyone pointing fingers at one another or doubting one another that any inadequacies in the story were made up by the journey to its conclusion. And they did just that.

Coming into this one-shot, I was nervous. I am not a master of D&D 5e rules and I am brand new to running a game. Adding in the anxiety of running something I created, I was worried that I would waste everyone’s evening. But it went well, and I am all the better for it. My sister-in-law’s character was an agent of chaos in her own right, but I managed to stay on my toes and use her character’s blunt actions to further the plot and keep to my overall structure. It is hard to get that kind of experience anywhere other than playing the game with other people. I am even more exciting to work on more original work and hopefully DM again in the future.

On Watch Again in Overwatch

While Blizzcon seemed to be more of a negative than a positive for many this year given the fallout over mobile Diablo, it did inspire a friend and I to get back into Overwatch. I am unsure what the difference is, but I am really enjoying my return. Here’s why:

New or Re-imagined Heroes

I have no clue who is good or bad anymore. When the game launched, I played Roadhog most of the time and he was widely regarded as overpowered. He’s not who he once was after being nerfed, so I have been inspired to look elsewhere for my tanking needs.

Enter Orisa.

Orisa was released around the time I quit playing last. Despite this, I never got around to trying her. In truth, a lot of it comes down to her design, which I hate, and I associated her with more of a Reinhardt “stand still with your shield up front and hope you randomed into a good team” style of play. After giving her a fair chance, I really enjoy playing her.

In most shooters, I gravitate toward heavy/large machine guns. In Modern Warfare 2, I almost exclusively played with those kinds of weapons because I enjoy the concept of suppression fire in FPS games. With Orisa, I get the giant clip and more. Her shield feels a little broken (as do most of them in the game, especially when stacked, if I am honest). I also love her gravitation bomb thing as that’s the only aspect of Zarya – her ult which does the same thing but far better – I really enjoy (other than her awesome design, of course).

Regarding tanks, I have also taken to playing Winston, continue to play Roadhog, and am slowly coming around to D.Va.

Beyond tanks, I also really dig the reworked Torbjorn. I used to hate playing him and playing against him. I still think his turret is bullshit, but at least now he feels more interesting on his own. He’s a close enough approximation of the Dwarf Engineer class from Warhammer Online, at least in regard to his area denial ability. If the Overwatch team (or any other dev team with a compatible game) wants to add a hero that focuses on Point Black Area of Effect Damage Over Time attacks, then please do so. I absolutely loved playing Dwarf Engineer and miss playing it even though Warhammer Online was terrible. Plus, it is cool describing a class as PB AOE DOT specialist to someone unfamiliar with the acronyms.

Finally, I am in love with Brigitte. I know she is getting nerfed soon, but I am still hopeful I will continue to enjoy playing her. I am a sucker for a healing/tank hybrid, and she is that in spades. She reminds me of playing Taric in League of Legends whom I also loved. It doesn’t hurt that she has a fun personality and aesthetic either.

Casual Play is Less Toxic

While I was away, Blizzard implemented a new system to help counteract toxicity in Overwatch chat and I feel like it has worked. Rarely do I get yelled at – most people seem to opt for the “don’t say anything at all” approach. I did run into an incident the other day where someone spectating the game wanted to offer me unsolicited D.Va tips. He friended me after despite me not responding and I immediately said no. I appreciate the offer, assuming it was in good faith, but I tire of others assuming I want advice or am playing the game to “get good”. I know it’s a behavior that I am also guilty of, but there is a time and a place.

Mystery Heroes is Still Around

I never play ranked mode in anything. To me, that’s just asking for frustration and heartache. And, when it comes to playing without one of the two friends that regular play Overwatch, I prefer going solo in Mystery Heroes.

Mystery Heroes the same 6v6 objective gameplay as the regular quick play list, but with the slight wrinkle that your hero is randomly chosen at beginning of the game and changes every time you die. The randomization “seems” to keep up with having at least one tank and healer, but there is no limit on having more than one of the same hero on your team.

It isn’t necessarily more fun, but I love Mystery Heroes for two reasons:

First, when I am on my own, I don’t want to fight over which role I get to play. I do typically gravitate toward tank or sometimes support these days, but it is nice not being forced to play that way. I also like that there isn’t really any reason to complain at my or anyone else’s hero pick.

Second, it forces me out of my comfort zone. Part of the reason I stopped playing Overwatch, other than my friends all quitting and toxic chat, was because I felt stuck playing Roadhog > Pharah > Mercy as my three mains. And, even with a less toxic atmosphere, I still feel extremely self-conscience when trying to play a hero I am less familiar with, especially without the backup of friends who can either carry me or playing something complimentary, so I have more success. I would’ve never given Torbjorn a shot if it weren’t for Mystery Heroes, and the influence of seeing playtime as more characters is helping me a ton.

Conclusion

Overwatch is still fun, and I am enjoying playing it again. It is one of the few multiplayer-only titles I can play without feeling too frustrated. Better yet, I don’t mind playing with friends of different skill levels because win, lose, or get owned we still have fun. That’s a huge advantage over games like League of Legends where I am likely to break a keyboard over my monitor and be out a few hundred bucks.

More D&D Character Ideas

We still haven’t started a new D&D campaign. I continue to spend the time thinking of new characters to potentially play. Here are a few more:

The Psychopomp

A psychopomp is a type of spiritual guide. I have always liked the idea, so I wanted to try and create a playable character equivalent. Without making things too original, I decided to use established D&D lore for the Shadowfell or the Plane of Shadows. I also wanted to use the Raven Queen, a mysterious deity often associated with memories and death.

Since I am still learning about these elements myself and you, dear reader, may not be anymore knowledgeable than I (or are more so and I risk embarrassing myself), let’s ignore further defining these elements for now.

Here’s my short background to introduce the character:

Not all souls are chosen to walk in the plane most suited to their spiritual alignment. There are a number who go unclaimed. Of them, many fiercely cling to the virtues and vices of their living days, no longer able to satiate their mortal desires or move on to immortal oblivion. Thankfully, there is a place for these souls to find help.

Deep in the Shadowfell, there is a large grove that attracts the unclaimed dead. Called the Shadewalk by the Shadar-Kai who live there, they serve the Raven Queen by helping strip these lost souls of the memories that bind them to a material world they can no longer return to and help them move on to eternal nothingness.

Pomp, youngest of the order and most naive, ventured out of the Shadewalk and the Shadowfell altogether. He journeyed to the material plane, land of mortals, a place he had never been before. He figured why wait for the souls of the living to come to him. He could teach them his order’s ways long before their deaths: the self-destruction of the self, rising beyond pain and pleasure to a state of boundless bliss, unencumbered by want or need. Better educated, the living would have no need of him when they die.

He was ill prepared for the vices and virtues of the world himself. Try as he might to serve the Raven Queen, every attempt to aid those in the mortal realm pulls him one step closer from the grey thoughts formed in his grey head born of his grey world resplendent in all its grey glory.

Will he be the teacher or will he be the student?

In summary, he is a person from a place of limited emotion and almost no enjoyment whose only purpose in life has been detethering wayward souls from whatever keeps them from moving on from their lives into the planes beyond. I am a sucker for a good fish out of water story and I love the idea of a Buddhist monk in reverse (going from what is essentially a variation of a state or nirvana to absolute hedonism).

He will be a Warlock, of course.

The Atheist

More often than not, Druids are not Humans. Fantasy tends to depict humanity at its worst. Humans are shortsighted, cruel, and selfish. Rarely is Human civilization depicted in fantasy as an ideal. Similarly, Druids are often depicted as purer for their love of nature and frequently get stuck with Elves since Elves tend to be purer as well. Obviously, I wanted to make a Human Druid.

At the same time, I wanted a more militant Druid that wasn’t just a Progressive Liberal driving their electric vehicle to rallies and protests nationwide. When I decided wanted to try an atheist character in a world where gods are known and knowable, the Druid seemed like a perfect fit.

For this character, I don’t have a background written up, but here’s a quick and dirty version of what’s in my head:

Character born in small village. Village is very religious. He is bullied at a young age by the son of the church leader. While being bullied out in the woods one day, the bully is attacked by a wild animal. The character hesitates to stop the animal, not out of fear, but because he is really tired of the bullying. A woodsman spots them and comes to the rescue, but the bully is nearly dead. When both children are brought back to the village, the church leader pleads with the village god to save his child and the god does. Character then begins his journey to forsaking all gods and religion, running away when his parents punish him for his thoughts, and joining a druid clan.

He is an atheist not because he denies the existence of gods, but because he denies their sovereignty over the natural world. He believes in survival of the fittest, but believes gods to be an alien corruption who defy the natural order to inflict their will on the world, which is sacred and pure ot him. Regardless of the gods alignment, he is vehemently opposed to the spread of any ideals foreign to nature. He’s a cosmic libertarian/materialist.

The Chaser

Finally, my last character, like the first, grew up in a different plane. In this case, he grew up in the Feywild. If you are unfamiliar, imagine every story about evil fairies, good elves, will-o-the-wisps, fae, etc., were true and all of these creatures – good or bad – arose from and lived in one place. That place would be the Feywild.

As a huge fan of the game Planescape: Torment, I am also a big fan of the Lady of Pain character. Her creation was inspired by the poem “Dolores” by Algernon Charles Swinburne. Not that I am talented enough to create the Lady of Pain, but as the game made me a fan of the character and the character made me an even bigger fan of the poem, I decided to revisit it for inspiration.

In the poem, one of my favorite parts is:

O garment not golden but gilded,
O garden where all men may dwell,
O tower not of ivory, but builded
By hands that reach heaven from hell;
O mystical rose of the mire,
O house not of gold but of gain,
O house of unquenchable fire,
Our Lady of Pain!

I have long had the idea for a petulant, overly romantic elf character who falls into an unrequited love with a chaotic force that decides to take advantage of the situation. I wanted to play on that idea in fantasy of the perfectly faithful hero figure whose one true love is waiting for him though he has to prove himself for her or her father or to his own self so he knows he is worthy.

Rather than a princess in a castle, my elf character stumbles upon a beautiful woman trapped in an unbreakable magic prison at the heart of a swamp. The two fall instantly in love with one another. He yearns to break her free of her bondage so they can be together. She’s perfect, she’s virginic, the only name she can recall for herself is “The Mire Rose”, and she is horribly, terribly evil.

At first, she sends him on trivial errands. She has been stuck in her prison for many years and no suitor yet has come close to surviving what she believes she needs to break free. She’s grown fond over that time of seeing would-be heroes never return or return altered or scarred by the trials and tribulations she gives them for her own amusement.

In this character’s case, he is more talented and more persistent than the rest. He manages to survive and she decides to give him tasks in earnest in hopes they will free her. All the while, she flirts and promises a happy ending.

He isn’t completely hopeless. He has doubts and suspects their may be foul play, but gets himself in too deep to abandon the quest. That’s the arc of the character though, so seeing him start off as a sappy romantic who asks birds to send his Mire Rose tidings of his love or bring her tokens of his affection and grow bitter/concerned over time will be part of the fun.

Netflix’s Castlevania Is Fantastic

This last week has been Castlevania heavy for me which is a real treat. I started playing the series when my brother wanted me to try Symphony of the Night on Playstation. Hard to go up when starting off on the greatest game in the series and one of the greatest games of all time, but I persist. Despite having no love for vampires or vampire-related mythology, Castlevania continues to have a strange hold on me and that includes the animated series on Netflix.

Castlevania - 1

If you haven’t watched it, do so now. Diane didn’t take to it, but she isn’t keen on gore to begin with and has no experience with the games. Without question, Netflix’s Castlevania is the greatest adaptation of a video game series to another medium yet. It goes its own path, but always with an eye on bringing any lore from the games or adding in Easter eggs to keep fans happy. It is hard to describe exactly, but unlike so many other adaptations of other games, this one doesn’t feel stupid.

It isn’t a perfect series. As much as I love the art, sometimes it falls apart. The first season is far too short. The second season, easily the best thus far, bogs down a bit in the middle as its introducing new characters and their backstories. The fight scene in the penultimate episode is worth it though.

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The second season rapidly expands the scope of the first. If you are only casually familiar with the video games, then you probably know Belmonts are good, Dracula is evil, and Alucard is a bad ass. In the second season, however, we are introduced to the hierarchies and power struggles in the vampire world beneath Dracula. I loved every second of the scheming and plotting of the new characters. Even when it felt painfully slow (largely because Castlevania, on the whole, is extra snappy with its half hour episodes), I enjoyed all of the new characters and what they did to broaden the scale and make way for the series to continue beyond the end of the season.

I do have one major complaint about the series though: it should’ve been live action. In the near-wake of Game of Thrones, every network and streaming service has announced their attempt to bring the next big epic fantasy series to our television. With season one, Castlevania was perfect for animation, but with season two and its intrigues, I wish this had been Netflix’s answer to Game of Thrones. I think it would work well, at least if given a budget.

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In addition to binging on the second season of Castlevania, I broke down and brought Castlevania: Requiem on Playstation 4. The includes Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It’s a no frills port, but Konami can get away with it because I am sure most all of us would pay for similar ports of the excellent Game Boy Advance Castlevania games.

This is my first experience playing Rondo of Blood. Outside of having one of the best subtitles in the series, I only knew of it. Thus far, I am welcoming the challenge. I am really, really out of step with these kinds of games. Sure, I did play and beat Hollow Knight not too long ago, but both games (especially Rondo) are far less forgiving and much more limited.

Symphony of the Night is still perfect, of course. This is either the third or fourth time I have purchased the game. I rarely enjoy replaying games I have been, but this one is a classic that I never mind retreading.

With plenty of Castlevania left to play and season three of the series renewed, I have more than enough to look forward to! If Konami could just do a collection like Capcom has done with Mega Man, I’d be most pleased.

Battle for Remember to Go to Azeroth

Since my last post on the subject back in August, I have been unable to return to Azeroth and finish leveling my character. Why?

First, MMOs only tend to work when they can keep my attention. I knew already that Battle for Azeroth was not doing a whole lot for me, but, to make matters worse, I got distracted by other things. Mostly, I got distracted by other games.

Like a bad relationship, time apart does wonders. For me, it stopped the moment-to-moment hooks that dominate the genre – completing an area, experiencing more troll stories, advancing my character, etc. With those out of heart and mind, I was left remember a game that honestly and sadly was boring me to tears.

Despite being a lot earlier than expected, I am giving up on the final month of my three month foray and calling it quits on an expansion in which I couldn’t even cap out one character. I enjoyed playing my Warrior not more than I enjoy playing newer, fresher games. A different character may have helped but to what end? Similarly, I can get the feeling of progression and advancement elsewhere as well. The only remaining draw for MMOs for me these days are the social aspects and they are all significantly watered down from the earlier days of the genre.

It is a shame. I hate wasting the money and I hate knowing I did it on a troll-heavy expansion. It failed to satisfy me, but in a “vote with your dollar” world it can be hard for a company to sort out why people leave a service versus why they played a few extras than they should’ve.

It also furthers my disillusionment about MMOs overall. These days, I can scarcely raise a finger to type a rant about the next big genre-ending trend. Not that there is much to rant about when no one makes these kinds of games again.

At this point, I am unsure what it would take for me to play a MMO again. Too often I feel like a tourist, rather than a resident, and I go back to other games that hook me for hundreds of hours without question. With MMOs, there are always questions. And, frankly, I have run out of answers.

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