About a decade into the MMO genre, we have started seriously discussing MMO tourism and have settled on the idiom of a “three-monther,” which implies how long you will stick with that game. Of course, as in most online game blogging, Jessica Mulligan wrote about it years ago in Biting the Hand: the four-month point was where games either died or took off. I am wondering about Sturgeon’s Revelation: a game you can happily play for years is an outlier, and most games you play for a few months then move on.
My college gamer friends almost perfectly followed that pattern. Single-player games you typically played through once and put away, and multiplayer games lasted almost exactly three months. An expansion pack could buy you another three months, so there were two three-month stretches for the original StarCraft. Asheron’s Call? Three months. Several Age of Empires games? Three months each. I think one of the Monster Rancher games was stretched to three months as people experimented with builds, strategies, and CDs that yielded special monsters. Our group skewed RTS, but I think that speaks to the consistency of the time frame.
The longest lasting game was Settlers of Catan. That never gets old, even with multiple games per night: extreme outlier. We played some pen and paper games. How often did we shake up campaigns or change game masters? Every three months or so.
The structure of American academic life lends itself towards that, and the large number of student gamers contributes to trends. Semesters last about four months, so you have a couple weeks to settle in, your group plays, and then you have a large break for exams and vacation. It is a natural stopping point; your momentum is spent, so switching to something new is easier. If you are not a student, you might be a parent to students, and their schedules affect yours. If neither, there is probably still some seasonal variability to your life, peaks of business or of outdoor activity. Our planet is conducive to three-monthers.
I am withering away waiting for the next Guild Wars 2 beta event. I have dreams of a dagger-charged necromancer or elementalist that I can’t wait to realize. Yet, the gaming world seems to be darkening as the light of the last Guild Wars 2 beta weekend event is receding. I am trying to shake the feeling as best as I can with Steam sales, and the like. Then I hear what is going on in the news.
Except for the aforesaid exception, the MMO genre seems to be bleakening. With a gracious nod to Beau Hindman, I would say that this only seems to be the case for so-called “AAA” titles as F2P titles seem to flood across the land like a scute mob. Continue reading →
One sort of “RPG elements” that never felt like a grind was the StarCraft 2 armory. This gave a real sense of progress in that you upgraded a building and it stayed upgraded. Contrarily, you still needed to go through upgrading your vehicles every mission at the armory building. I get that the campaign armory and research were effectively talent trees, but it felt like there really was some continuity and meaningful advancement as a part of the campaign, rather than just starting over with a Command Center and a few SCVs every time. Because sometimes you get tired of learning Bronze Working every game of Civ.
I thought Age of Empires Online was doing that, but it turns out that you are unlocking the ability to train Wheelbarrows every time you play rather than simply learning Wheelbarrows. There are some permanent upgrades down at the bottom of the tech tree.
I have an irrational affinity for claiming land on the map. Civilization IV and V expand your empire’s borders through culture, somewhat like Zerg creep except that it just keeps going. Civ V took away the dueling culture aspect, whereby empire borders would fluctuate as one culture overpowered another on a tile. This makes the Great Artist’s culture bomb much less impressive, although more permanent; it also takes away the immensely satisfying culture conquest of cities, whereby cities in other nations riot and defect because you are just that awesome.
Expanding your cultural borders is an effective defense. The further away enemy units must stay without either your permission or a declaration of war, the more time you have to marshal your defenses when that war happens. It also lets you claim some nice tiles beyond your cities’ borders, because whether or not you can use them, you do not want anyone else to have them. You can also block major travel routes so that those not in your favor must go decades out of their way.
I’m sure this is some primal mammalian urge, the digital equivalent of peeing on trees to mark your territory. It is still enormously gratifying to see the entire continent in your color while the numbers on the meters at the top of the screen keep going up.
It’s Age of Empires, with fewer civilizations and you need to both pay $20 and level grind to get full access each civilization. That is for each civilization, not $20 for the game. I can see where this business model would be great for Microsoft except for the “why would you pay for this rather than just buying an RTS?” part. They may have missed the “micro” bit of “microtransactions” with a $20 starting price point.
They are swinging for the home run, though, coming out of the gate with a $100 “season one pass.” They dream big, and MMOs are not the only ones asking you to drop multiples of a box cost for the promise of future content development.
Playing a little further, I met my first item that was no-drop, no-sell, “premium civilization” only. (Storage space is also strictly limited under F2P.) I think my exit point was meeting the Hetairoi, which are basically battering ram cavalry you can access with a “premium civilization.” I think the intent is “look at how awesome the paying customers’ toys are,” but the affect is “pay to win.”
Playing the Steam free game of the weekend, I have come to wonder: how many games have an Engineer that builds a turret; how many games have an Engineer that does not build a turret; and how many games have a non-Engineer that builds a turret. (I think I will avoid counting Warhammer Online’s Magus and units/classes that “summon” rather than “build.” I’m unclear whether the Raven builds, summons, or do we count “deploy”?) Was there some first game that set the standard that Engineer = build a sentry gun? It feels like engineers and self-directed turrets have become a standard game item, but perhaps exploring some examples will reverse this. I keep finding near-hits, where perhaps they consciously avoided calling the turret-builder an Engineer in recent games. I wonder if non-builder Engineers are also intentional aversions? Inventory below the break, please contribute in the comments.
Edit: let’s see what happens if we add in enemies that do the same, some of which may mirror heroes. Continue reading →
On the non-MMO online gaming front, one of my friends is all about competitive StarCraft 2, to the degree of having his favorite commentators when he is watching replays. He recently introduced me to a StarCraft 2 replay comedy series, When Cheese Fails 101.
“Cheese” is a technical term in StarCraft, referring to an early, all-out offense that will secure either victory or failure in a few minutes. Successful cheese wipes out the enemy or so cripples his/her early economy that the rest of the game is clean-up. When cheese fails, the attacker’s economy is crippled, having thrown all his/her resources at an early attack instead of long-term investment.
When Cheese Fails is a series about games in which … yeah. We all love to see lamers lose, but the better games have something special. Sometimes the cheeser fails to execute or follow-through. Sometimes the other player engages in masterful micromanagement that counters the early rush at very low cost. And some of them have such great surprises that I will not spoil it by even suggesting (although you may use spoilers in the comments). The true hilarity may not be fully apparent until the commentary after the game.
I recommend Episode 8 as one of their better games. Come for the cheese, stay for the pleasant Canadian accents.
Anything you do in real time will benefit from repetition. If you need to consciously think about what you are doing, you may not have time to do it at all. If you can do it, you are performing suboptimally and probably focusing on your specific actions rather than incorporating them into a larger strategy.
When I started playing StarCraft II, I would refer to a friend who was jockeying to get into a diamond league, saying, “I don’t want to be that good.” Which is to say, I do not want to engage in the planning and repetition required to be that good. I am still thinking about my build order and looking around to see where ramps are on this map, rather than just building automatically and knowing the terrain.
You can think about only so many things at one time. If you think of your build order as a series of five steps, which you are working on while setting up your economy, you have about exhausted your mental resources. If you have played 1000 games and can subsume all of that under one mental unit of “Reaper rush,” you have lots of active attention available for strategizing and scouting. If you need to flip through three buildings and mouse-over some icons to find the research you want, you have lost time that your opponent has spent micromanaging his units. For him, it is practically Pavlovian to respond to the sound of an upgrade finishing and start the next level.
My early multi-player games were a series of constant re-discoveries of what things from the single-player campaign do not exist in multi-player play. I may not have played Zerg or Protoss as much, but at least I do not need to un-learn things to play those races. Except Scouts and Guardians from SC1, I miss those.