On Fitness/Health vs Gaming

So if you follow me on Twitter, and if you don’t you should, you might have noticed me posting something quite interesting this morning. That is that I have cancelled both my WoW and ESO subscriptions. Now, I know that I have said that I wouldn’t be doing this as I enjoy both games but I had to pull some money out of somewhere to pay for something else. That something else being $125 per month membership fee for a kickboxing class.

This is where the inner/outer fat kid at me is screaming “Why God why!?!?!”. It is no secret that I’m not exactly in shape and that I’ve been trying and struggling to lose weight for years. I’ve been going to the gym mostly regularly for a couple years, and I am always trying to eat better which lasts a couple of weeks and then I fall back in to old habits. Now recently I’ve met and started talking to someone who achieved some amazing weight loss results and is helping me out with advice, and one of the things she had mentioned doing was cutting back/out a lot of her gaming. Now I find that a bit drastic, though I don’t think it’s a bad idea, it just isn’t for me. I plan to continue gaming but I will be cutting back on the money I spend on it.

The story here is that a few days ago a friend of mine that I work with and is my weight lifting partner said he was going to try out this Kickboxing class to see if it would be a good fit for him to keep doing cardio. Me, thinking “heck why not” said I’d give it a shot as well and if I found the price okay I would sign up with him.

This leads to last night where I did more cardio work than I think I’ve done in a long time, if not my entire life. Needless to say that out of the hour long class I was about to die 30 minutes in. By the time we finished it looked like I had jumped in a pool. I did have a good time however, but was a bit dismayed with the price. $125 a month is a bit high for me, but I really feel like I need to make a drastic change if I want to achieve my goals.

Unfortunately this means I have to stop playing my subscription based games, and possibly less time laying on the couch watching Netflix. I’d say there is a question here about which is more important, your health or your gaming life. But to me this isn’t a question. I think I want to be healthier more than I want to sit in front of the computer eating cheetos and drinking dr pepper. Being a gamer doesn’t mean I have to be the stereotypical overweight guy who doesn’t go outside. I feel like I can still do all the gaming I want and still have a better quality of life. If this means that I have to suffer a couple hours per week doing cardio and having trainers yelling at me to keep moving then I’m going to do it.

So not really a situation where one is better than the other. I view both as equally important to me. I want to be healthier, but I want to be able to play my games and be lazy. Maybe these are not the easiest things to do together but there are plenty of in shape gamers out there too.

On MMO Boredom

Before I get in to todays topic I need to remind everyone that they should be listening to my friend Bel’s podcast, especially this weeks because I got to come in as a guest host again (link).

Okay, so today’s topic is one I deal with every so often, and that is hitting the “end” of an MMO. What do you do when you reach the “end”? I know that in reality there is not really any ending to MMO’s. There are usually plenty of things to do such as dungeons, raids, and achievements, but what if none of those interest you? What keeps you playing a game that you feel there’s nothing left to do?

For me this usually comes up around the time that I reach max level in a game. In almost every game I get to that point where my interest starts to fade. I’ve done the raiding thing, and I’ve done the quest for better stats thing. I find these are only temporary fixes, and I’m starting to find that if I no longer feel like I’m enjoying myself then I don’t want to continue playing.

As I mentioned there was a time when I did the raiding thing which meant all of my non-raiding time was spent gathering materials to make enchants for the raid, or food buffs, or any other number of things like researching the bosses. This is fundamentally the reason I don’t ever really feel like raiding anymore. The “end game” content felt like it was a job. Getting online was no longer about me enjoying a game so I made the decision to stop playing. This also tend to apply to dungeons as well. I do enjoy doing dungeons, and I like the group of people I do them with, but my problem is that I don’t enjoy doing them over and over again to get the best gear. I like to do them to see the story, but after the first time it isn’t the same thing.

The first real thing that keeps me going in a game is achievements. Just about anyone I’ve ever played with has heard me talking about this. I love achievements, to me that is the best part of any MMO because it gives you something else to do besides killing monsters and being the pony express mail service. Achievements usually require some amount of effort and are generally fun to do. The only problem I tend to find with achievements is that it feels like an impossible task. There are always achievements that you can’t get, such as ones for raiding or pvp, both of which are things I don’t enjoy doing. I don’t mind them being there since plenty of people enjoy both of those things, I just don’t like it when a pvp achievement is a condition for some overall achievement. That just feels like I’m being forced in to content I have no interest in.  That being said, I still enjoy doing achievements because there are always new ones to do and they provide a nice alternative for more casual gamers.

The other thing that tends to keep me in a game is the people I play with. I’m sure I’ve stated previously that one thing I look for in a game is having people to play with, which for the last few years has been the same group of people. As a whole this group tends to shift from game to game as they come out and I enjoy running content with them when I can. I’ve only recently started to understand that the game I’m playing doesn’t matter so if I feel I’m done with a game this won’t keep me playing anymore. The people in the game still is a good reason for me to keep playing, but there is a limit to any game, especially one that you have to pay a monthly fee on.

Now, since the topic is MMO boredom I should also point out that I don’t make it to the “end” in every game anymore. There have been times that I get about halfway through the content before it starts feeling a bit stale and I play less and less. Another factor might be other games coming out that I’m interested in which draw me away from the PC gaming side for a little while. I feel like if it is that easy to be pulled away from a game, then I might not want to continue playing.

So I’m curious as to what keeps other people playing? Do you stick around for that end game content or achievements, or something else entirely?

On a side note related to my fitness post: Thanks for all the advice. I’m going to try cutting back on a few things, namely sugar and carbs. They won’t be gone completely, but I’m going to try to at least reduce them. This might just mean doing something simple like taking the bun off my sandwich or cutting back on sugary snacks, but small changes can have good results.

 

On Free to Play Games Vs Subscriptions

This topic has come up a few times lately, well, a couple? Enough that I want to write about it, and this is my blog so “I do what I want”. Mainly this topic seems to come up whenever a new MMO comes out that is either Free to Play or has some form of monthly subscription. The latest game to cause this was ArcheAge and the fear that it will be full of jerks. This isn’t to say that every free to play game is full of them, but it feels that way some times. This might be an over abundance of immature players (ie teenagers, or children) that can’t afford to pay monthly fees.

I think the concept of Free to Play is fine as long as it is done correctly, and so far at least Trion seems to be the ones that do it best. They have a nice balance of free content, a cash shop, and an option subscription service that gives you added benefits but does not give you an unfair advantage in the game you’re playing. In fact in their last few live streams about ArcheAge they’ve specifically said they don’t want to make Pay to Win games. I have no problem supporting these games either through cash shops or the optional subscriptions because I know where those payments go. Just like subscription based games it goes to maintaining the network, and paying their employees so that there is ready customer support and content development.

Really the only thing I don’t like about Free to Play games is the risk of having a bad community experience. If games games that have optional subscriptions such as Rift or ArcheAge offered a subscriber only server I would gladly pay the $15 a month for it so that I would be a little bit less worried about a bad experience. Now that isn’t to say having a subscription means there won’t be players that want to ruin things for everyone else. That is a risk of any game that allows you to interact with so many other people from around the world. The only way to avoid it is to play single player games.

I know a few people who don’t understand the whole subscription model, especially if it is a game you went to the store and paid $60 for to begin with. They don’t seem to grasp the concept of the company having to have at least enough of a profit to pay their employees. I would like to think that everyone that is capable of paying for an optional subscription would because that just means better support and possibly content.

That being said, would I choose a subscription over a free to play game or vice versa? To be honest I’m not sure. I like the concept of free to play games because there is no commitment to a pay schedule. If you stop playing the game for a couple months you don’t have to worry about paying the monthly subscription with no personal benefit. The first thing I tend to look at is the quality of the game, and if I find it interesting enough to compel me to want to play it. If I’m on the fence and can try it for free I will be more likely to play it. If I was on the fence and had to purchase the game first I don’t think I would. I would have to wait for someone else to tell me about it or watch videos to see if I would be interested at all. Like I mentioned before, I have absolutely no issue paying for a subscription if I feel it is worth it, even if it is optional. Some people may think that is dumb, but as a professional software developer I understand why they need that money and as a gamer I love having new content and customer support if something comes up.

On Playing Multiple Games At Once

Todays topic is one I’ve thought about on and off for awhile now, and that is, is it really possible to effectively play more than one game at a time? I know plenty of people who are very good at this, or at least have an effective schedule set up to allow them to play more than one at a time. Personally I’m not very good at this, and often say I have video game ADD.

For example, right now I have 2 reoccurring MMO games, World Of Warcraft and Elder Scrolls Online. These are on top of the other PC/Console games I’m trying to work through, namely Dark Souls 2 and the new Wolfenstein game. That list is going to grow pretty quick once Watchdogs and Murdered: Soul Suspect come out over the next couple of weeks.

For me, this presents a bit of a dilemma, what game do I play? I feel like I should play the PC/Console games first as they all have a definitive ending, unlike the 2 MMO’s. At the same time however, I feel like I am neglecting my online friends by not being around to hang out and talk or participate in guild events. Not to mention I’m stuck paying $30 a month between the two and not really playing either one. As you can see I feel like I am in quite the pickle.

Right now I’m probably going to put Dark Souls 2 on the back burner, mainly because that game frustrates me so much and because I think that Wolfenstein is probably a shorter game, and while not the hardest game ever, it is also pretty straightforward and mindless. To be honest, that is the kind of game I want to play right now. I don’t need complicated dodging mechanics, or have to worry that much about death penalties. I just want to blow things away.

The other problem I have is that I’m go to the gym at least twice a week if not more, and those days I get home fairly late and generally don’t feel like sitting in front of my computer. Even on days that I don’t go I tend to gravitate towards the couch just to relax after work. This would probably be fine if all I had were console games, but I feel like I should be on the MMO’s more than I am because of the subscription costs.

So I guess to poll any potential audience, how do you work out your gaming schedule? Do you give specific games specific days, or do you just wing it?

On Player Mentoring

I’m going to confess something, I’m writing this post a day early and scheduling it to post tomorrow morning. I’m not sure when or if I’ll be online long enough tomorrow to type out thoughts on any subject. I’m going to confess something else, I’ll probably do this for Saturday and Sundays posts as well. I am on vacation after all. Speaking of which I’m currently sitting in my hotel room with nice view of the apartment complex on the other side of the parking lot. Not that the other side would have a great view either, it would just be a view of the interstate.

So my friend Belghast has mentioned the subject of player mentoring several times in both his blog and on his podcast so I thought I’d post some of my own thoughts about this. I’ll start off with saying that I think this is a great idea if this is done done correctly and I think that every game would benefit from having this in some form.

The only game that I’ve played that I feel has done this right is Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn. In this game you unlock dungeons as your level progresses, most of which are required to progress the story. You can always go back and do these dungeons again but it scales your level if you have passed the level of the dungeon. This allowed you to go back and play them again with friends who were the appropriate level without being over powered. So, for example, you have a group of 4 friends (including yourself) 2 of which are level 40 and 2 of which are level 15 and need help doing the first story dungeon. When your group goes in to the dungeon the 2 players that are level 40 would be scaled down to around level 18 (the max of that dungeon). You’re gear stays the same, but your abilities revert to what was available to you at that level.

A game with a similar setup is Guild Wars 2. I never did dungeons in this game, but I know that your level would scale down to the area that you were in. So if you were a high level player and you wanted to play with a lower level friend then as soon as you entered that area you were scaled down in level to match that areas level range.

Currently I am playing Elder Scrolls Online, and I think that this game could benefit from this type of system. Preferably the system from Final Fantasy 14. The reason I say this is because I am not the type of person to ask for help in guild chat, but all the people I like to do dungeons with have very much outleveled me. If I were to ask them to run a lower level dungeon with me then it would not be a challenge as they would be over the level of the dungeon (up to a point anyways). This does not provide them any incentive as you stop getting rewards for dungeons once you have out leveled it.

For me this means that I have not done any dungeons, and probably won’t until I’m max level and can go back and solo the lower level ones. If there was a system in place to scale my friends down to the appropriate level then it wouldn’t be boring for them to come help me out. The way that I say that makes it seem a bit selfish, but this also allows the game to remain challenging.

I think my ideal system would be a combination of both Guild Wars 2 and Final Fantasy 14. What I refer to here is level scaling based on the level range for the area that you are in from Guild Wars 2 and dungeon scaling from Final Fantasy 14. However, I would modify the dungeon scaling to be optional. If you were in a group with someone of appropriate level it would scale the group down to the appropriate level, but if you were wanting to go back to see it as a higher level player by yourself you could do that and it wouldn’t scale you down. The reason for that modification is from one of my favorite things to do in World Of Warcraft, namely going through old content that I missed just to have fun without worrying about having a problem or needing to find people to play with.

 

On PVP – Player Choice or Mandatory

PVP is something that I’ve discussed a little bit before when talking about ArcheAge and that games “always on” PVP. After reading another blog by my friend Ashgar where he mentions PVP I thought that I’d go a little bit more in to the subject.

It is an established fact that I am not the worlds biggest fan of PVP in games, whether it is option or required. One of the most annoying things that can ever happen to me is being killed by another player, in some cases repeatedly. The first MMO that I ever played that had what I’d consider “always on” PVP was Lineage 2. Leading up to the game I thought it looked amazing, the graphics looked great and I thought I’d have a lot of fun playing it. I don’t remember the specifics of their PVP system, but I know that if you attacked another player you were basically red flagged as a player-killer (pk’er). This essentially flagged you for pvp allowing anyone to come and kill you without consequences.

So naturally the first thing that happened when I hit left the starter area? Someone attacked me and immediately disengaged, but I still ended up killing them in self defense. However, since they had disengaged from the fight I got the flag. This lead to them standing there farming me, so every time I would respawn they’d just kill me again. Needless to say I got tired of that very quickly and I stopped playing that game within a day and I haven’t played it since. That’s probably the prime example of why I don’t like a PVP system that doesn’t give me a choice. People are jerks.

As I’ve mentioned the one aspect of ArcheAge that I am not looking forward to is PVP. From my understanding there are areas where you will always have to worry about being killed/farmed by other players, but, you can also be attacked and killed by players of your own faction. That in and of itself is a problem, but where it gets annoying is that the game seems to reward certain types of players for doing this. In ArcheAge players can become pirates by essentially being a-holes. Every time you do something illegal you get crime points, and the justice system allows players to judge you and sentence you to jail. Eventually this will make you a pirate. So what’s the quickest way to be a pirate? Be a jerk.

Now, I don’t have a problem with responsible PVP. If you want to do that it should be up to you. I don’t want it forced on me when that is not something I enjoy. In my opinion games like World Of Warcraft and Elder Scrolls Online have it right because, while they have PVP, they don’t require you to do it. There are certainly benefits to it such as titles and other rewards, but you certainly don’t have to do it. World of Warcraft has specific server types that do allow for “always on” PVP, but you don’t have to play on those servers. Personally I prefer RP servers because the communities are generally more mature, not guaranteed but at least more likely.

Now there are also games that are specifically designed for PVP and they are gaining in popularity. These are games like League Of Legends and the upcoming Heroes of the Storm from Blizzard. These types of games are called MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas). I’m not to familiar with the objectives of these games, but I would consider them PVP based so these types of games will probably never be installed on my computer.

So to summarize, I don’t think PVP should be required in a game. If it has to be there then I think it should be optional either by having non-required areas set aside for it, or servers where you opt in to always being PVP flagged. I can guarantee if I play ArcheAge the minute some jerk starts farming me just so they can become a pirate I will quit the game.

On Character Defense – Active Dodging And Stats

This subject came up the other day when I was filling in on the Aggrochat podcast for my friend Belghast, and I thought I’d expand upon my thoughts a little bit.

For a bit of background, I’ve been playing MMO’s for many years now starting with Star Wars Galaxies. Before that I dabbled in MUDs (Multi User Dungeons for the youngins’). So you can say I’ve been around the block a few times. Most of the games that I’ve played up till this point have used stats for determining how much damage you take, and how much is deflected. Recently I’ve played several games that have started implementing “Active Dodging” systems. “Active Dodging” sits on top of your defensive stats, but introduces the ability to try to avoid taking damage by timing your dodge and moving out of the way. This is usually accomplished by double tapping a direction which makes your character doge in that direction.

The first game that I played that had this system was Guild Wars 2, and it is currently being used in Wildstar and Elder Scrolls Online. I’m sure there are others I am not aware of, and I couldn’t say for certain Guild Wars 2 was the first game to use it. These are just examples from the games that I’ve personally played.

Now as far as I can tell, the act of “active dodging” is optional. You can stand there and take it if that is what you want to do, but I think the fact that the system is implemented is a good indication you should use it. You still have defensive stats based on your armor class, and attribute points, so you don’t have to rely purely on your double tapping skills. Personally I kind of suck at it. If I had to rely solely on my ability to time a dodge I’d die a lot more in games.

I have mixed feeling about “active dodging” still. The more I use it the more I adapt to that play style but there are times I do miss not having to worry about it. I’ve played World Of Warcraft so long that I am used to the stat based defense where you just look for better armor ratings and let the damage be mitigated by your stats.

That being said, I do think the new dodging system is pretty interesting. You have to have some actual skill to avoid attacks as you cannot simply rely one your armor anymore. This requires the player to be attentive and know what they’re doing. Most of the games I’ve seen with this system show you a sort of attack area that you need to get out of, similar to the area of affect graphics (or poo on the ground) from older games such as WoW. Of the games that I have played recently Elder Scrolls Online handles this the best. There is a nice combination of dodging skill, but there is still a fair amount of mitigation based on what type of gear you’re wearing.

There is an added benefit that I thought of while typing this up, and I’m not sure if it is as effective as I’m thinking. But, in games like Elder Scrolls players who do not actively dodge might have a harder time surviving solo play. This might be an effective bot deterrent since I’m not aware of any bot smart enough to block/actively dodge. This might be why you always see them in clusters though. A solo bot at least would have a harder time.

So to end today’s post I will say that I think that I’m starting to enjoy the new “active dodging” system when it is done right. I might not be very good at it, but I think that is is a welcome addition to the genre and requires people to have actual skill.

I do understand that this system might not be for everyone, and I believe this is discussed in the podcast linked above. For some people this might be enough of an issue to prevent them from buying the game. That’s fine though, every player enjoys different things. It doesn’t bother me enough that I wouldn’t at least give the game a chance.