In third grade, my teacher sent home a report card with the note that "Justin is wonderfully strange." Ever since then, I never found the terms "strange" or "weird" to be pejorative but rather a signpost pointing the way to interesting paths less traveled.
To be weird is to deviate from the safe and predictable and instead venture into the wild and woolly lands of the imagination. When it comes to MMORPGs, I feel that more devs would love for their games to be more strange while the risk-averse studios (and their publishers) pull hard to keep traditional tropes in play.
Still, every once in a while a game comes out that walk on the weird side. These MMOs don't usually boast universal appeal, large numbers, or even great respect, but they do offer vivid imagination, hidden qualities, and a certain uniqueness that is rarely found elsewhere. Today, we will celebrate the wonderfully strange in online gaming with these 10 titles.
Earlier this week, Redditor maxpower888 started an epic thread on the /r/mmorpg sub asking everyone to chime in and name his or her top five MMORPGs of all time. I thought it was a nifty thread to skim to see how many times the same games kept popping up (and the same games turned up in combination with each other).
"You can tell how old people are by their lists," one gamer objected, but I don't think that's necessarily true!
So for this week's Overthinking, we're going to join in the fun, then explain our choices and puzzle out what those choices say about us -- don't forget to click the entries to expand them for explanations! You should do the same down in the comments!
This week's Massively Overthinking was inspired by a reader who decided to go by Sandboxless in Seattle when he penned this note of frustration to us.
I have been playing MMOs for more than half a decade now, and in that time, I've tried numerous MMOs -- old and new, Western and Eastern -- and developed what I would like to think is a very broad understanding and appreciation of the genre. However, I will confess to a blindspot. I have next to no experience with sandboxes. Most of them are just fundamentally unappealing to me -- usually due to non-consensual PvP -- but thanks to MassivelyOP's trial key giveaway, I'm now giving Black Desert
a try. And I just don't get it.
The general consensus among the MMO community seems to be that sandboxes are the superior breed of MMO. I've spent years seeing praise heaped upon the virtual world as the pinnacle of MMO design. I've yet to encounter a themepark that did not have a large and vocal group of players wishing it was more of a sandbox, but I have never once heard anyone (other than myself) wish a sandbox was more of a themepark.
Yet when I play Black Desert, I'm not feeling the magic. I see nothing special about the experience. Intellectually I understand the appeal of sandboxes. It's usually something about player freedom and greater immersion. But I don't feel any freer in Black Desert than in any other game (in fact I felt much more freedom to go and do as I wish in Guild Wars 2 and The Elder Scrolls Online). Nor do sandboxes seem any more immersive to me. Indeed, focusing on (often very complex) systems ahead of structured content is quite unimmersive to me. In a themepark, I can lose myself in the story and adventure and learn the game systems at my own pace along the way.
Yet clearly I am alone in feeling this way, so I throw myself upon the mercy of the Massively team: What's wrong with me, and how do I fix it?
This is gonna be a fun one to unpack. Let's talk sandboxes! Is Sandboxless broken beyond repair, or are sandboxes the problem?
Ryzom is really truly on the way to Steam -- this week, in fact. May 6th is the big day.
The 2004 sci-fantasy sandbox MMORPG was greenlit in May of last year and is finally ready to go. Winch Gate says that it's upgraded the game's visual effects, rendering, textures, and security as well as implemented OpenGL 3D and support for 64-bit systems.
Winch Gate rather famously released the source code for the game in 2010, allowing other players and programmers to dabble with their own servers. In 2012, the company wiped Ryzom's servers completely and started clean, which is a bold move for any MMO studio, never mind one with half a million registered players.
Looking to get caught up on the history of the game? Our very own Game Archaeologist covered it in full just a few weekends ago.
Every so often I get requests to cover such-and-such game in this column. These are often incredibly obscure titles, even to me, and when I get them they go into a queue along with my other wish list topics. One title's popped up enough in the request space that I knew I had to tackle it before too long, and that game is Saga of Ryzom (or just Ryzom if you're being informal, and we are).
Ryzom is an incredibly odd sandbox that's been on my radar for two reasons. The first is that it was a beloved title by one of our former Massively colleagues, and the second is that this game had struggled to survive over the years as it switched hands, business models, and presumably alternate dimensions. In September, the game will have been operating in one form or another for 12 years, which makes it a candidate for investigation.
What is Ryzom, how did it come to be, and can you really own and run a copy of it yourself? We'll answer these questions and more today!
I freely admit that I am a bit leery of ambition in game design. Not because it's an inherently bad thing, mind you, but because it often seems to indicate that the development team for a game is writing checks that it can't cash. Overreaching ambtion often leads to ideas getting trimmed back, and when the defining element of a title is ambitious design principles, that results in far less of a game than we would have had if the developers had planned more reasonably.
I admire the goals of the team behind Rebel Horizons, for example, but I'm dubious that anyone could pull it off successfully. I admired the design goals behind EverQuest Next, and I see where that ended. The goals behind Ryzom were commendable, but they were trimmed down into the game's current state, which has very few dedicated adherents.
Of course, saying "ambition is bad" consigns us to a world wherein everything is just slightly iterative improvements on what already exists. But there are certain sorts of ambitions and certain far-reaching plans that do give me pause when considering whether or not a game will launch successfully. What about you, dear readers? Does ambition make you skeptical about an MMO's development?
Here I go, here I go, here I go again. Girls, what's my weakness? Non-human races. But oh, so many MMOs let me down in that department.
Now, let's be fair: I greatly enjoy the usual array of races present in most fantasy stories, which consists of five reliable stalwarts (humans, humans with pointy ears, short humans, short humans that are different from the other short humans, and big humans). And there are games that have done great things with the usual suspects. Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV have both done great work in making sure that the playable races are all seen as people by the game's cultures, and there's nifty stuff to unpack there. I like elves, even.
But I'm always super happy to find races that are really out of the box and can't simply be pigeonholed into the categories that I've seen before - or if they can be, they're at least interesting about it. So here are races from various games that are just plain cool.
My original plan for this week - during the few moments that I was capable of coherent speech rather than just babbling about the upcoming Final Fantasy XIV expansion - was to give you lovely folks a drinking game. Each time you see certain things come up in indie MMO Kickstarters, take a shot. And I might still do that one day, but I decided against it for two reasons. One is that it feels a bit like punching down, which I don't like to do.
But the second reason, and the more important one, is that not all of the fault can be laid at the feet of indie Kickstarters. The part where you expect to build a functional MMO on a budget that won't pay for a single programmer, yes. Pretty much everything related to Greed Monger, that's on you. But some of these terms come up over and over because they've been bludgeoned into formless masses now, and so it's not really the fault of the indie folks that you can throw these terms in front of more or less everything.
There's something to be said for having all your games snuggled together on one platform, and now Ryzom may be on its way to joining Steam. The community voted to greenlight the free-to-play sci-fantasy sandbox, which opens the door to adding it to Steam's library. Currently Ryzom offers players the opportunity to delve deeply into a vibrant world filled with wildlife that acts realistically and interactive events with actual live NPCs on the PC, Mac, and Linux; it's available in German, English, Spanish, French and Russian.