Asheron’s Call had (technically has) in-game paper you could write on. You could get a single sheet or an entire book. This may sound weird to the modern MMO player, but it was important at the time.

RPers, lore-hounds, and fan fiction writers would write stories in them. Some might exist in a single copy, or amateur scriveners might copy from one book to another. There was a library near Hebian-To (and elsewhere, but Hebian-To was the active spot I knew on Morningthaw) where people would gather to read the official in-game stories or share their own. There was not such a thing as a bookshelf where you could contribute player-written lore, but people might drop books for others to find or stand about as librarians/booksellers.

Beyond RP, books were extremely useful because Asheron’s Call came out in 1999. In 1999 you did not have wikis, extensive spoiler sites, or even a second monitor to refer to while playing on the other. Even if you had a second monitor, as the previous sentence suggests, finding info was a different matter; Google was still a new thing at the time, founded in 1998. Having a book of locations and directions was really helpful, and getting a book of location coordinates from a guild leader patron was a huge boon for a new player.

Sometimes it does not feel that long ago, and sometimes I remember that some of our readers have never known a world without MMOs.

: Zubon

Humble Monthly

The Humble Bundle folks are trying something new, a monthly subscription service. So you pre-pay for games without knowing which games. That sounds bad.

Spending $150/year on games I don’t know and probably won’t play seems like a bad investment. In the early days of Humble Bundle, I bought quite a few out of a mix of supporting the charity of the week and the indie developer of the week. Years later, my Steam catalog is bloated, and I have liked a small percentage of the games. Over time, the Humble offerings have expanded in various directions, and they more or less feel like a perpetual Steam yard sale on indie games through a different store front.

If I had more trust in their curating, this would probably be a great deal. If you buy almost every Humble Bundle, this is for you. If you maybe see a few games you like every few Bundles, bad. And I’m not especially sold on LootCrate-style deals where you pay someone to go buy things for you, but then I have rather niche tastes for my major interests.

: Zubon

Shop Heroes: Portable Pro-Sociality

At Tobold’s suggestion, I have been trying Shop Heroes, and I think Recettear converts to a mobile/social media game nicely. Why be an adventurer when you can be a shop owner selling things to adventurers? In the inverse of normal MMO mechanics, it is the adventurers who buy random crap, and they buy a lot of it because most of it has a 5-10% chance to break every adventure. Strangely, they do not actually use equipment you sell them, but rather you sponsor their adventures by equipping them with goods from your shop. Those items they break.

I would like to highlight the game’s City upgrade mechanics. I am not high enough level to see what it does in the late game, but it immediately seems to encourage players to be pro-social in a variety of good ways, while also making the high-level players’ drive for advancement subsidize the low-level players’ development. It does undermine the permanence of social bonds, which may be a good or bad thing depending on your view of this sort of thing.

The City is the equivalent of a guild hall, and it starts with a few buildings. Some of them help you get resources, like a mine for iron. Upgrading it increases the rate of iron provided. Upgrading your town hall expands your City, both in terms of population and getting new buildings. New buildings provide bonuses like new adventurers, bonuses to them, crafting bonuses, and raising the level cap on your crafters and adventurers. Those bonuses are effective for a limited time after anyone invests in building upgrades, 30 minutes for a minimal contribution up to 24 hours for a full upgrade bar. City members’ contributions are broadcast to all members, with an overall contribution rating on the member screen.

While there is an obvious anti-social incentive just to leech off others’ contributions, there are a variety of pro-social incentives here. If you want to raise the level cap for yourself, you contribute to the team. If you want to activate bonuses for yourself, you contribute to the team (even minimal contributions add up). Beyond mechanics, there is the social incentive of receiving public credit for contributions, along with the implicit social obligation to contribute to the team embodied in that members screen. That can turn nasty, in the way some MMO players consider a low gearscore to be leeching, although it also promotes reasonable stratification by player type if hardcore players who contribute a lot end up in cities with other hardcore players who contribute a lot. I would also expect to see social cities, where a few workhorses power their casual friends.

The last detail: your contributions go with you if you change to a new city. Wow, that’s big. Have you ever contributed to a guild only to be the last surviving member? Given it your all and had to abandon your sunk costs? Shop Heroes has no guild sunk costs. If you want greener pastures or to switch to a friend’s guild, you bring your investments with you. If you kick someone out, s/he takes her/his investments too. That might make someone hesitant to kick a toxic but rich person from the city, but I have yet to find how to be toxic in this game. Chat is hidden by default, and we are all off in our own shops.

: Zubon

[GW2] Heart of Value and Reason

I was pretty amazed at the amount of features ArenaNet delved in to yesterday in discussing the guild upgrades. Dulfy, Angel of Text Transmissions, as usual puts things in highly readable and digestible form. My favorite bullet points are multi-guild chat and the new guild missions. It seems like another really good update coming with the expansion, and most “core” owners will get most of these features as well. Heart of Thorns, I feel, is adding a lot of value to basic things.

My daily usually goes something like hit a vista, gather somewhere, go to WvW to stand on a ruin. I admit it is pretty rote right now. Mrs. Ravious and I used to do it together, but now we each have our preferred times and ways. She, a much better person and player than I, will usually do it through midday PvP. I just grind it at night out in the most menial of ways.

The new guild missions might shift that focus a bit. Say the daily is “capture a supply camp”. I can check to see if a WvW guild mission is up for capturing supply camps. The main rub is that at least 3 guild members need to capture the supply camp for it to count. This sounds like ArenaNet has created, for me, a reason to pause and collaborate with my guild beyond “fun” and “companionship”. Sometimes I need that objectivity. Continue reading [GW2] Heart of Value and Reason

Realm Grinder: Catching Back Up

Realm Grinder‘s reset mechanic has the important effect of speeding the player back to where s/he left off. In MMO terms, think of this as letting your alt quickly play where you main just was. There are drawbacks, but this seems generally a good thing that could be adopted elsewhere in some form.

For those who have not played this sort of game: after a slow first run while you are learning the game, you reset and advance steadily until you hit a wall in terms of progress, when you run out of new multipliers and abilities; you then reset, which gives you a bigger bonus and pushes the wall further out. Realm Grinder accelerates you towards that wall, which sounds bad to phrase it that way so let’s instead say that it brings you back to your personal late game. You are banking progress and continuing, not starting a long journey over.

This will not be to everyone’s liking because some people really love the early game. Alts! New characters! A simpler game in a purer spirit! Let’s say that incremental games do not have the early game feel that The Shire does. And games recognize that you have played the early game enough, hence boosts to near-max level or GW2’s birthday gifts of scrolls to skip the early game. To the extent that the early game is exactly the same whenever you start over, you want to accelerate/skip it; in a game like Civilization, the early game is often more interesting than a same-ish late game.

In Realm Grinder, this works out very well because you explore the early game diversity pretty completely the first time you play a faction. After that, your new multipliers quickly get you back to where you were. If you are going ten or a thousand times as fast, there is no more early game. You go through it as quickly as you can click. As you accummulate gems, you skip the early game and get back to prestige races in minutes rather than days. As you accummulate reincarnations, you zip back to the Mercenary stage in hours rather than weeks. In the late game, these bonuses just push The Wall out a little further, but they are ridiculously effective in burning through the early game, which you already know, to the late game, which might have something new for you.

If you are a “the real game starts at the level cap” player, really trying something new involves getting back to the level cap.

: Zubon

[GW2] ArenaNet TV and Information Bites

TwitchCon happened this past weekend, and while I didn’t have a care for the mainstream channels, I avidly watched ArenaNet’s shows. They had two days packed solid. There was some weirdness and patience was required by the audience in part of the some production hiccups. All told it was really fun.

The absolute highlight for me was the segment “Live at the Crow’s Nest” (at 1:38:00) where Maclaine Diemer was accompanied by two other musicians to do a small-set ensemble of many Guild Wars musical favorites. Diemer (along with other ArenaNet employees) has taken the in-house role of providing the music since Jeremy Soule has long moved on (and fled with DirectSong funds). I personally think the music quality has gone way up. Songs have been way more memorable to me post-launch, and there was really no song with launch that has stuck with me with the exception of “Dawn in Shaemoor”. Anyway seeing a guitarist, a bassist, and a violinist produce some exceptional renditions of Guild Wars 2 favorites was an absolute treat. The usually brilliant Twitch chat (sorry while I break for sarcasm overload) was clamoring to have those pieces, or something similar, in-game. I agree! Continue reading [GW2] ArenaNet TV and Information Bites

Realm Grinder: Customization

Realm Grinder is an incremental game that explicitly merges idle games and clickers. The emergence of “incremental game” demonstrates the convergence of the two, but Realm Grinder embraces both sides with options that gave it more interest and life for me than most incremental games. I may even go back.

Realm Grinder starts with six factions, whose abilities support different playstyles. Elves are the purest clicker faction, Undead the purest idle faction. Demons favor big buildings and Fairies favor many small buildings. Angels like magic and Goblins like money. As you advance further, the game offers prestige factions, first neutral factions to go with the good and evil trios, then a faction to add on top of good/evil. More recent updates have added Mercenaries that combine abilities across factions, along with bloodlines and heritages to let you bring forward racial strengths. These choices let you customize according to your playstyle, although only the Mercenaries allow much customization beyond the initial choice of a faction.

Like most incremental games, Realm Grinder lets you reset (“abdicate”) and start over with a stronger start, potentially changing factions. Then there is another tier of reset (“reincarnate”) that resets that process for a different series of bonuses; the progress currency from abdications is eventually cashed in for reincarnations, your “I beat the game” reset rather than “bank and go faster.”

The customization is more notionally interesting than relevant as balance is not quite there. This is a manager game about increasing numbers, and it can be mathematically proven that some options are orders of magnitude stronger than others. For all the potential options, only a few are in the range of “optimal” at any given point, although what works best for you might vary based on whether you play actively, leave the game running idle, check in occasionally, use offline progress, etc. So it matters a bit, just not as much as one might dream.

The diversity of abilities and factions, the existence of multiple paths, and the support of different playstyles makes it the best incremental game I have seen.

: Zubon

Brutal Honesty

Playing more Coup with new players, I find that honesty is a surprisingly powerful and common strategy. I do not know if the people I was playing with were hesitant to bluff, but almost every loss of influence/death was caused by false challenging someone else’s claim. It was a game of self-inflicted injuries.

I am sure I have played with other groups that lied constantly. I wonder what the curve is: start with minimal bluffing, because you do not know the game well enough to lie believably; lie shamelessly now that you know the odds better; go back to honesty how that people are expecting you to lie shamelessly?

: Zubon

Server Issues and Disconnection Losses

a list of Town of Salem 'suicides' suggesting server problems I am still playing Town of Salem, and I have begun to suspect that issues I was complaining about may be with the game rather than the players. People do quit at all times for all reasons or none at all, but connection issues I periodically see suggest players are being awarded losses for disconnects outside their reasonable control. In the picture to the left, it is possible that half the players in the game decided to quit in the first minute before anything happened, but it seems more likely that it was a connection problem. In the same night I saw a game with 5 disconnects from initial load to first night, and then another game was won by what should have been the losing team after the mafia killing role disconnected but their departure was never recognized by the server (someone else grouped with them confirmed their Steam disconnected for 10 minutes with the character still in-game).

To set the tableau for that last game, there were three mafia members against one townie. That last townie was the Mayor, who gets 3 votes and could therefore lynch a mafia member every day. The mafia gets one kill per night, so you can see how they are not going to lose this … except that only one person has the “kill” button at a time, and that was the person who disconnected and happened to be the last person the Mayor chose to lynch. The Mayor even recognized the absurdity of the situation (without knowing exactly what happened) and avoided lynching every day to give the person time to get back. The game stretched an extra ten minutes with only one person able to make one decision every few minutes. I have had several games with disconnected/AFK mafia killing roles, which makes a joke of the game.

The game can fail to connect half the players while also failing to notice when players disconnect. This is bad.

: Zubon