When we engage in the collective fantasy of playing MMORPGs, we accept certain structures and tropes that have been in place since the early days of pen-and-paper RPGs. There are elements of MMOs — such as hit points, gear that somehow makes us smarter or stronger, and world-destroying bosses that are prefectly content to stay in their lairs — that we don’t even think about because they’ve been around for so long.
It works and I understand why developers go down these well-traveled design roads, because if you deviate too much you risk alienating players who won’t be patient enough to understand a radically different template. That doesn’t mean that MMORPGs make sense when you really think about them, and when I’ve turned my eagle-eye attention on what we are doing and how everything functions, I can’t help but think that sometimes these games are straight messed-up in the head.
Today let’s stop mindlessly accepting MMO tropes and call them to task!
Patches should, in all honesty, be the easiest thing in the world for online games to handle. You have a word that means patch, so you either just go with “patch” or a synonym, like “update.” Heck, you can even use seasons or issues if it’s appropriate for your game. Then, you put a number after that. You can even put multiple numbers. If I log into World of Warcraft and see that I’m playing patch 7.1.5, I know that I’m on the seventh expansion, first major patch, partway through the minor patches before the next big patch.
So why are so many games so bad at this?
Like I said, I don’t mind that, say, Star Trek Online has the patches labeled “Season 11.5,” because that’s just as easy to unpack. I’m talking about games where it’s completely unclear how patches are supposed to be ordered. Case in point… well, the entirety of this list, really. Just let me show you.
As I am fond of saying, there is no MMO that I’ve ever played that has the capability of being so frustrating and downright mean toward me as The Secret World. If it wasn’t for the fact that the game is so engrossing and downright brilliant at times, I wouldn’t put up with the abuse. As it is, I keep coming back and asking for more.
Part of this brilliance is how Funcom takes quest design to a level heretofore unseen in the MMORPG industry. While The Secret World certainly has its fair share of kill and escort quests, most missions have a great deal of thought put into them and require the use of your brain as much as your leet combat skills. In fact, the game is often lauded for its investigation missions — lengthy, hands-off quests that pit your intelligence against the developers as you perform all manner of bizarre tasks. Some of these even break into the real world and take you out of the game to win the game.
It’s awesome. And today I want to share 10 of the craziest things that The Secret World has asked me to do in its quests. There will be some spoilers in terms of quest mechanics, although I will keep story spoilers to a bare minimum.
I’ve mentioned many times that my first MMO was Final Fantasy XI. It released in North America 13 years ago as of tomorrow. I remember that very well, as I had two copies pre-ordered, one for myself and one for my college roommate at the time. I hadn’t even been planning on buying it at first, but my girlfriend convinced me to, and I figured it could be a fun thing for my roommate and me to do together.
That was most definitely not what happened, but 13 years later I can say that my girlfriend was right on the money about buying it being a good idea.
In the intervening decade-and-change, of course, my tastes have changed, by opinions have developed, and my experiences have been shaped by Final Fantasy XI as well as more or less every other MMO I’ve played. As an older man, I am no longer as fascinated by the same things that once hooked me in for FFXI. Here, then, are my demands to MMOs, new and old, now that I’ve been playing in this genre for 13 years. Yes, it’s sentimental;, I always get sentimental around this time.
Back in 2009 I made the transition into parenthood, an advanced class that I still don’t think I’m quite qualified for. Since then I’ve seen four small children enter into my household, all vying for my patience, love, and video game sessions. Video gaming isn’t the centerpiece of our family entertainment, but on occasion I do take my children with me on virtual adventures.
While there are certainly many younger and childless gamers out there, there’s also a noticeable contingent of MMO players who field a permanent dungeon group of their own, if you catch my drift. While it’s certainly harder to carve out large chunks of time to play an MMO when you’re a parent, ways do open up to bond with your kids through online games if you are smart enough about it.
It’s been quite a learning experience so far when my hobby has come into contact with my offspring, and today I thought I’d share some personal observations and techniques about ways that you can bond with your children (or younger relatives) over MMORPGs.
Leadership is difficult. You have to get a group of people to work together when they may or may not be naturally inclined to do so, and on top of that you need to make sure that their cooperation is directed in the right way. Even when you have utter control over an organization, it can be difficult to lead effectively; having an organization filled up largely by random people with usually world-shattering powers doesn’t make things any easier.
That having been said, a lot of MMO leaders are still really bad at their jobs. Digital representations of the Peter Principle in action, in other words. So here’s a look at some terrible leadership in MMOs and the leaders who are not, at this point, fit to lead teddy bears to a picnic. Hardly all of the incompetent leaders out there, of course, but the column is Perfect Ten, not Perfect Couple Hundred.
When you take a step back and look at the broad MMO genre, you see some common threads that run through most games. One of these is that pretty much every character we control is a humanoid, albeit in many shapes, sizes, and ear configurations. This makes sense, as we ourselves are human and have the easiest time strongly identifying with an avatar that correlates to our own bodies.
Yet there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, and I’m not just speaking of fantasy races that give you four legs instead of two or two heads instead of one. Some MMOs plop you into a nuts-and-bolts vehicle as your primary avatar, encouraging you to bond with this hunk of soulless machine over the course of incredible adventures.
Today we’re going to count down — or count up, or count sideways — through 10 MMORPGs that stuffed your brain into a machine and then encouraged you to live your new life as a ship, car, or very violent automatic can opener.
I am not a big fan of Kickstarter in general, but I like to think that I’m not a big fan for actual reasons rather than spurious ones. Every time I see someone referring to Star Citizen as a scam, I get annoyed; the game is very clearly not a scam. It’s already delivered too much of an actual game to be a scam. A scam is something that’s never going to happen at all; most Kickstarter games are, at the very least, going to provide a good-faith effort to try making a game.
Not that this necessarily works out very well, as evidenced by Pathfinder Online. Intentions and ability to deliver aren’t the same thing at all. So rather than calling out every Kickstarted game a scam simply because it involves still asking for money after the initial funding period (which, again, is not a scam so much as an indication of ballooning needs for money), why not teach ourselves to be better armed before backing a Kickstarter?
I’ve noticed that some people get irritated when others repeatedly bring up long-dead MMORPGs. I think there’s the mentality of, “What’s done is done, let it go, it’s in the past.” Yet memories and relationships ware what we take out of these games, and I’ve always seen it as a great testament to an MMO’s legacy when people honor it years after it has gone offline.
City of Heroes shut down on November 30, 2012, after a last-ditch community campaign to change the decision passed down from corporate. Since then, fans have created tributes, gathered together on a yearly basis to quiz its devs on lore, and sponsored several start-up spiritual successors (all of which are still in development).
Consider this my contribution to its legacy: a collection of 10 memories from this terrific, quirky, and inspiring superhero MMO that have yet to evaporate in my mind.
There are always going to be differences in opinion about what should be done with an IP based upon a franchise. That’s just natural. The same core universe could be used to make a sprawling sandbox with weak combat but a robust non-combat market and profession system, or it could be used to make a combat-focused experience that focuses on energetic fights, nifty story moments, and little else. In both cases, even if you don’t like the end result, you can understand exactly why the IP was used for this.
Our column today is not about those games. No, this is about games that completely failed to make use of their licenses to IPs, produced totles that did not in any way logically follow from the license that was given, or otherwise took pure gold and turned it into something… less than gold. There’s room to debate whether some of these IPs would ever make good MMOs, but boy, the uses we have were pretty bad.
If I asked you what a Mage is in an MMORPG, what would you say? Some cloth-wearing gal who lugs around a long staff and flings fireballs (or other elemental chunks) at bad guys. What about Rogues? Stealthy sneaks with twin daggers and lightning-fast attacks. Warriors? Big lugs with shields and swords larger than most compact cars. Fantasy class tropes are so ingrained that even developers seem powerless to go against them.
But there always seems to be this weird exception when it comes to Druids. A Druid in one MMO isn’t quite the same as one in a different game. Sure, there are usually some common threads — most notably an attunement to and use of nature — but each team has more freedom to interpret and design the Druid concept how it likes.
I thought it would be fun today to riffle through some of the current and past MMOs that have boasted a Druidic class (if not always in name) and see where the similarities and end and the wild notions begin.
receives too little of the MMORPG community’s attention, partially due to its age (six years now), contentious feelings toward Trion Worlds
, or a perception that the game is “generic World of Warcraft
.” And yet it’s endured and grown wonderfully over time, becoming a perfect rebound MMO when you grow bored of your current title and remember that, oh yeah, RIFT
is out there. And it’s free. And it’s actually pretty good.
Right now I’m in the midst of what has become a yearly pilgrimage on my part to return to RIFT. The announcement of this fall’s expansion has nothing to do with it, I’m sure. As I’ve been leveling up a Rogue and getting to know some friends in a new guild, I keep making a mental list of how many features I absolutely adore in this game. RIFT might get overlooked, but it really shouldn’t. This is as full-featured a classic MMO as they come, and it’s only getting better.
So here’s my personal list of 10 favorite features and aspects of RIFT, in the hopes that perhaps your attention might drift back to Telara one of these days.
Has this ever happened to you? You decide to roll (or reroll) a new character in an MMORPG, and after you get done choosing just the right hair coif and length of beard stubble, you find your mind freezing at what to call this perfect creation. Parents generally get nine months to come up with a name for their baby, but you have just minutes before you start feeling foolish.
Even worse is when you have a name — but it’s taken. After sending out a string of strongly worded curses at the player (probably a nine-year-old kid who thinks as you do), you are forced to come up with a replacement. Because heaven forbid that a virtual world have two characters with the same name. That’s why we have so much conflict here on earth, with all of the Jens and Ryans romping around.
Fortunately for you, I am here to help. With a decade and a half of MMO gaming experience behind me and a zombie uprising’s worth of alts, I have a few tips to share on how to name your next character. If you act today and get a new character name out, I’ll even throw in a vowel, free of charge!