On Following Your Friends To New Games

So, if anyone noticed I did not write anything yesterday, which kind of breaks my posting every week day goal. In my defense real life crap came up and I just didn’t have the time. One of the responsibilities I have on the project I work on is taking an on call shift once every five weeks. This involves a lot of small things, but mostly making sure things are working. Yesterday we started having issues with one of our servers in what we are now referring to as “Fileocolypse”. So yeah, just didn’t have time to come up with coherent thoughts. Today I passed that on to someone else and it’s not my problem anymore.

So for a quick post I though I’d talk a little bit about how we choose games. I think I’ve touched on this before, and hopefully I haven’t already written this post. What got me thinking about this was the recent release of Wildstar, the latest MMO that people have jumped on. Personally I have no opinion on this game because my time playing with it amounts to maybe 1 hour. This is just an example. I have previously stated that I have chosen several games because I like the group of people I play with and want to play the same games as them. Wildstar is one of the few examples that I can think of that I did not “jump on the bandwagon”. I don’t feel guilty about this though, I like my friends and I like playing with them but there comes a point when you realize you only play games because you’re following other people around.

Is there anything wrong with that? I don’t think there is. I mean I’ve done it enough myself so what right do I have to judge? Do I think it’s a good reason to buy a game? No I don’t. I’m getting over this myself, but the internet definitely makes it easier. There is always a wealth of information available if you look for it. The hardest part is hearing strong arguments for playing a game from a friend. Because then are you following them or are you there because you want to be?

I think that really is a personal opinion. I personally don’t think that would mean you followed them in to a game. They may have made a very persuasive argument or they had information on a game you were already interested in that helped you make that decision. When I think of “following” people I’m thinking of blindly playing a game because everyone else is. It’s like when you’re a kid and someone asks you if all your friends jumped off the cliff would you too?

There may have been a time where this was less of a big deal because there were limited means of communications but now voice chat is readily available and it is easier to communicate across games. Now if there was a good solution for cross platform voice chat I’d be all over that.

I’ll admit that having people to play with is a factor in some of my PC gaming decisions. I do prefer to play with friends but I find that is no longer a requirement. I find that I want to base my purchases more on reviews and features and maybe seeing some game play footage. Just enough information to help me decide if I want to drop $60 on it. That to me is the main thing I look for now, is it really worth paying $60+ for?


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.


On Different Graphics Styles

Lately I’ve been talking about various aspects of player preferences, housing, and character customization to be specific. Today I plan to talk a little bit about preference in graphical styles. In my opinion these styles can be broken down to “cartoonish” to “realistic”. That’s a fairly broad description but I think it’s fairly hard to judge because most games fall more in the middle.

I’ll probably catch some grief for this, but when I say “cartoonish” graphics the game I would use as my primary example is World of Warcraft. Though with the upcoming release of Wildstar I’d say that this title may soon be transferred. When I talk about “realistic” design I’m talking about something that looks like Elder Scrolls Online.

When I look at graphic styles I tend to look at three main characteristics, character design, and color palette. I can’t really count world design in this because I have never seen a game that didn’t have what I’d call standard terrain. Character design and color palette are a bit more unique depending on the look that the game is going for. Now when I talk about character design I’m not talking about “Eastern vs Western” character designs, I’m talking about design.

When you compare character design between Wildstare/WoW to Elder Scrolls Online you can see the obvious differences. Body proportions and physical appearance. It’s hard to describe this in words so screenshots.  The biggest difference that can be spotted is the hands.

WoWScrnShot_051114_103140 Screenshot_20140511_103922

The other noticeable difference is the color palette. Just saying a game is cartoony based on brighter versus darker colors is not entirely accurate. I think this more of a personal opinion than any definitive proof, but when I think realistic I think of a lot of shadows and darker tones. When I see bright colors I think of all the cartoons I watched growing up in the late 80’s & 90’s.

So this whole thing boils down to what do you, as the player, prefer when you play a game. Personally I would go for a middle ground. I like the brighter/cartoony colors, but I like my characters to be more realistic. I think the most accurate representation of what I would like graphics wise is Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn, and from what I’ve seen of ArcheAge. The character models are what I would consider realistic. Neither of these is a make or break factor for me though.  I prefer the realistic models over the cartoony ones, so if you offered me a choice between one or the the other I’d pick the realistic one.

A Wild Podcast Appears

So to close this up, I have a special treat. I’ve mentioned my friend Belghast a few times, and if you follow me on twitter I’ve been linking his podcast. So this past Friday I was laying around watching Netflix when I got a chat message from our friend Rae asking me if I’d fill in for them. Two of their regular co-hosts were out this weekend for family stuff and could not make it. So I got to be on their podcast. We talk about a lot of different topics, and I had a really good time. So feel free to go give it a listen.

On The Importance of Character Creation

So this morning my friend Belghast made a post discussing his first impressions of the ArcheAge alpha, part of which was covering the character creation system. This made me think about what kind of things I look for when playing an MMO for the first time, and how important the customization was when creating a character.

Most of the MMO’s that I’ve played in the last few years offer at least some amount of character customization. Whether that is the basic amount of information such as race, sex, hair color, or allowing details that most people don’t even think about such as nose length, depth and things like that. The question is how much detail should be required as the bare minimum and how much is to much?

Personally I think a good example of what I would consider “bare minimum” would be World of Warcraft. The character creator there allows you to pick race, sex, hair style, hair color, face and a couple other things. There are not really any sliders, except maybe height, so you can’t get super detailed with your personal character. On the other end of the spectrum is Elder Scrolls Online that gives you a lot of options to personalize your appearance. This makes me wonder if there is any kind of middle ground that is more than minimum, but not so detailed that you don’t care.

Facial Customization

Don’t get me wrong, I like the ability to be that detailed, but I don’t tend to spend a long time on features that are going to be covered up. I would say extreme amounts of individual limb customization might be a bit much, but I would say that extra detail when customizing a face would be something I’d want. Back to previous references, Warcraft only lets you pick a standard face, and some features such as hair, facial hair and jewelry. Elder Scrolls allows you the same options but you can customize your face with even greater detail. Both games allow you to hide your helmet slot allowing you to see those details. So in this instance to much detail is the right amount.

The one thing that bothers me about all MMO character creators is hair. Depending on the genre of the game (Medeval, Fantasy) the hair styles tend to vary but the options are always limited. I know that you can’t really allow that much customization here, but I just never really like the hair styles. They never seem to fit the character that you’re wanting to make.

The same can be said about the facial hair, what kind of options do you expect? The article that I linked above talks about not having the ability to make a full/thick beard. I’d tend to agree with this, I would think that it if you are going to allow beards, you should be able to have a Santa Clause beard if you want.

Body Build Customization

This is where you get in to more of a personal preference area. I think that you can easily allow to much detail here that doesn’t really matter. Personally all I need is a height modifier and build selection. I’d be okay with some extra amount of sliders here though, just to tweak the exterior appearance to make sure everything fit. But I don’t need options like torso length or foot size. Bare minimum would be just picking defaults, anything less than that I wouldn’t be okay with.

Now would I skip over a game because of any of these things? I guess that depends. If a game has more customization than I think I’ll need that wouldn’t stop me from playing it. That is there for the people who want such things. Just because they are there does not mean I have to use them. Now, if a game has less than I would consider bare minimum, I can’t say I would play it either. The game itself would have to be able to make up for the lack of customization whether from content, or exterior customization options such as gear or vanity items.

Personally I don’t know where newer games like ArcheAge or Wildstar fall on this spectrum yet. The only customization I’ve seen for ArcheAge was facial features, and I have not had a lot of time to look over the Wildstar character creator yet. From what I’ve seen of ArcheAge though I think that I would probably be absolutely fine with the options available.