Virtual Property

The original ending of Neon Genesis: Evangelion featured Shinji in a void of infinite potential. His first act was to restrict himself, because he needed ground to stand upon and a sense of “up” and “down” to orient himself.

Players enter a virtual world of infinite potential, and their first question is “how do I kill things?” The second is “how do I get stuff?” MMOs are in a feedback loop with those impulses, designing around an endless cycle of killing things to get stuff to help you kill things.

Second Life and MineCraft are more open-ended than Yet Another Fantasy Theme Park MMORPG, but people exhibit the same behavior. Given a realm of potentially infinite space, we immediately want homes, buildings, a farm. Virtual glory comes from your castle, when you could be free of all that. We have left terrestrial space but brought a hunger for the dirt with us.

Everything you own in-game is a database entry, with only the significance we assign to it. One of the most fundamental violations of the game would be to edit that database directly. It would be against the rules, immoral, a trivialization of all the work everyone has done to get their legitimate database entries.

Because virtue lies in accummulating database entries that translate into virtual property through the execution of virtual violence.

: Zubon

A Tale in the Desert VI and VII

Ravious and I met back in the First Telling of A Tale in the Desert. The Sixth is winding down now, and subscription fees have been waived until the end so it really is free to play. If you are interested, you have the chance to jump in now.

A Tale in the Desert has been sold to Pluribus, our old friend who has been with Egypt nearly from the beginning. This could be a good thing for the game: new management, new life, and a Pharaoh less likely to shake the ant farm just to see what happens (we love you, Teppy). You can sign up for the newsletter if you want notice of when VII starts.

: Zubon

[GW2] Dragonhunter-y

Last week ArenaNet revealed the second of the Heart of Thorns elite specializations. This time it was the guardian’s specialization, which turned out to be a longbow wielding “dragonhunter”. The theme of the specialization appeared to be attaching more range and physicality to the light-wielding profession. Most fans appeared positive with the mesmer’s chronomancer, but the guardian received a lot more skepticism.

What Do You Mean By “Witch”?

Jon Peters attempted a community interface to explain over the weekend that the name “dragonhunter” was a high concept title. It came with the lore of a guardian believing that justice is the eradication of dragons and their minions. He compared it to a medieval “witch hunter”. Continue reading [GW2] Dragonhunter-y

Hay Day

While we were waiting or working around the matchmaking problems of Boom Beach, I went looking for a similar sort of game that did not involve blowing up other folks’ bases. I am more interested in building than destroying. “Hmm, but without something like combat, you end up with Farmville.” Lo and behold, in my recommended games from the makers of Boom Beach: Hay Day, their take on Farmville.

Hay Day starts with the time-based mechanic you expect from a farming game (plant seeds, wait) but grows to be a fair crafting game. You grow wheat and corn, which can be used to make chicken feed, and chickens produce eggs, which you can combine with more corn to make cornbread. Sugarcane becomes syrup, cherries can be crushed into juice, and then combine those two in your ice cream stand to make cherry popsicles.

This remains somewhat shallow. There is no deep “tech tree,” just more devices that you set to convert Good A into Good B, with an increasing number of options competing on each. Occasionally Good B can also be used as an intermediate good on the way to Good C, but that is about as deep as the dependency tree gets. There is no Theory of Fun fun to be had here, just resource management.

The economics of what you do with your goods can be interesting. There are five different ways to sell your goods, with different reward schemes in terms of cash, experience, alternate currencies, and alternate advancement. There are also periodic events and competitions to promote the sinks.

Game monetization is minimal. Most of what you would pay for is expanding your capacity: more storage, more farm space, bigger queues on production devices. You could also pay for money or to speed production, but at that point you are paying to skip what gameplay there is, so why bother? Almost everything you can buy with the real money currency, you can also get slowly as a rare bonus while harvesting or crafting, and you get a steady trickle of real money currency. Spend it on bigger queues and expansion materials.

I’m not sure one can go so far as to recommend a game like this, but people who like this kind of thing will probably like this one. I played several comparable games when social media games were becoming a thing, and this was one of the better ones. It reminded me that I have no Harvest Moon experience in my portfolio of gaming literature, and I probably should.

: Zubon

Avengers Tower Defense

I don’t know if anyone has made this into a game yet, but the climactic fight in Avengers: Age of Ultron is a tower defense level. Avoiding spoilers: the Avengers end up protecting a button. If one enemy gets past them to push the button, the bad guys win. Arrange the Avengers around this button (in 3D – superheroes fly!) and stop the bad guys. Uh oh, here comes Ultron — boss wave!

Spoilers are allowed in the comments, so feel free to discuss the fight, the movie, tower defense, etc. And you may not want to click through to comments if you want to be surprised at the movie.

: Zubon

[FF14] First Impressions

There has been a noticeable trend in this Guild Wars 2 pre-xpac downtime where I am seeing a lot of fans and devs mucking around in Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn (FF14). To be honest, I didn’t bat an eye when the first iteration of Final Fantasy 14 first dropped. I did follow their rebirth story a bit because it was an interesting tale where money and time (and brand power, let’s not forget) can truly turn things around.

Last week, I finally picked it up through Steam, which says a lot right there. I can almost guarantee that if it were were not for Gaben’s paradiso I would not have tried it out. (Really surprised Guild Wars 2 still isn’t there, but I guess they feel more profitable without Gaben’s cut.) Actually I got the demo first, installed it, and didn’t touch it. Guess I needed that $20 worth of worth incentive to actually play it.

Before I cut this post, I will say it is a hyper polished experience of a calm distillation of last decade’s MMOs (for better and worse). There you go, tl;dr.

Continue reading [FF14] First Impressions

[TT] Smash Up

Smash Up calls itself a “shufflebuilding” game. The game consists of 20-card half-decks, each of which is a faction like aliens, pirates, tricksters, and zombies. Each player picks two, shuffles them together, then tries to capture bases and conquer the world as zombie pirates, alien tricksters, robot dinosaurs, or a similar smash up. Each faction has a mechanical theme, and the combination gives you your strategy for the game. Expansions add more factions like bear cavalry, giant ants, princesses, and time travelers.

Recommended. The game is fun on several levels.

The first is theme. The main selling point of Smash Up is that you can play as robotic werewolves, ninja plants, or steampunk cyborg apes. It is wacky, customizable fun. Small amounts of roleplaying and enthusiasm go a long way once your dinosaurs start eating leprechauns or your alien kittens start abducting ghostly wizards. There is some weakness here as imagination is required to make some things mesh. Fundamentally, they are still just two decks of cards shuffled together, so sometimes it feels more like zombies allied with princesses than like zombie princesses. Or like they’re just standing next to each other. In a perfect world, you would be playing Smash Up on a computer and the cards would really merge, with customized cards so that the minions would look different in their different combinations. That would be a lot of customized artwork, expanding geometrically with each expansion, unless there is a good way to do it procedurally.

Due to randomization, it is more of a tactical game than a strategic game, but it does that pretty well. There are always multiple factors in play, and you have several options to choose from. Decisions feel meaningful, and you get to make at least two decisions per round. The two-player game feels more strategic, the four-player game more chaotic. (You can play bigger games with expansions, but it slows down play and can drown your meaningful decisions in chaos.) The randomization is sufficiently constrained for me but high enough for casual play.

Reading balance debates online, there seems to be little consensus, which usually means “just about right.” Some factions will be better with different numbers of players; the power of dinosaurs or zombies seems stronger in the more stable two-player game, while the flexible pirates and ninjas can shine amidst four-player chaos.

There is a booklet of rules, but most of them fit on the backpage summary. That makes it a non-gamer game with enough depth for gamers. Good, that is the combination we want.

I have enjoyed playing with the base set and the Awesome Level 9000 expansion. My wife is really looking forward to when our Pretty Pretty Smash Up arrives with its expies of Disney Princesses and My Little Ponies. Princess dinosaurs, here we come!

: Zubon

[GW2] A Mesmer Without Time

The end of the last week gave a lot to chew on over the weekend with the Guild Wars 2 expansion’s first look at an elite specialization: the chronomancer. Elite specializations are basically Dungeons & Dragons prestige classes that build upon a core class. The chronomancer builds on the mesmer, in this case.

Being a chronomancer gives another shatter, the ability to use a shield, and a new type of utility skills, wells. The theme of all these powers is the manipulation of time, which is most notable in the form of Alacrity.  Alacrity is a new buff that lowers the recharge duration of recharging skills, which makes it the opposite of the Chill condition.

I was blown away by the chronomancer on Friday’s Twitch demonstration. Dulfy provides all the notes in her usual fine form. As an aside, I really did not like the use of pre-recorded video. It didn’t feel like a great demonstration. It was neat that ArenaNet showed off a new sub-area and enemy, but there was a lot lost in the busyness of the videos. I would have much preferred a “now I am going to demonstrate the shield projectile ability after I explain it a bit”. Real time has a lot to be said.

Anyway, what I kept thinking through the end of the week news overload was “why wouldn’t a mesmer want to be a chronomancer?Continue reading [GW2] A Mesmer Without Time