Category Archives: Play
A recent blog post over at TAG got me thinking about the role of down time in MMOG’s. Something a lot of (but not all) gamers complain about. It seems that if a game is not chalk full of action, it is often deemed boring or not very good. Over the years, MMOG’s seem to have fallen into this mindset as well, making quests faster (and easier imo), combat is swift, recovery time often little to non-existent, and corpse recoveries that used to take hours turned into a respawn or resurrection…Some people like the fact that the pace of MMOG’s have gone the way of an action-packed, single-player game.
The TAG post mentions that a colleague disliked SWtOR game because there was “no gameplay/no challenge” and the response to this is that he is right …. but the post goes on to say:
But that’s the point… I felt that familiar tedious rhythm of questing in MMOs return. That steady pace, ever incremental, always one more thing on the horizon… time slows, workdays are neglected, worries recede.
And what’s this? Time to ponder, time to think, time to reflect. Playing SWtOR, like all MMOs, brackets time and space — its a virtual world excuse to chat and socialize for some and it’s time alone for others. But what is the nature of this time alone? You are occupied at the keyboard but barely occupied cognitively… this is why MMO players are great multi-taskers. You can play the game while chatting on the phone, watching television, doing email and even playing other games, or… you can ponder and muse about stuff.
Time to ponder and think indeed. For me, the gaps in the gameplay brings mmog play back to its social roots… it is what the waiting is for…… see, back in the day (for me, this starts with EverQuest in 1999), mmog’s were known for long pauses between action, everything took forever to do, even finding a group and getting to the agreed upon location. But they were also known for the close bonds and relationships among guild and group mates because you had nothing to do but hang out and chat while waiting for mana to regen. as mmo’s developed, but as early as Dark age of Camelot gameplay started to shift to exclude the social bits. The big thing was closing the gaps between battles, speeding up the regen time, eventually moving to insta-recast, etc. While this made gameplay more ‘fun’ and action packed for some, what got lost was the available moments for sociality. It didn’t take as long to level up, you didn’t need as many people to help for quests, and battle could rage on almost non-stop as long as you could stay alive. But it came at a cost.
For me, this idea that mmog gameplay should be quicker and there should be less ‘waiting’ is actually what ruined my mmog experience. There was no more time to chat even about in-game stuff; little time to strategize during combat. Every moment had a purpose, unless you consciously chose to sit somewhere and be social, it didn’t happen. See, a lot of people aren’t social by choice (especially in video game play). They don’t want to say “hey, instead of killing mobs and leveling my avatar, I am going log into the game, and go sit in a city or safe place and have a chat with my guildmates, or heck, with random players”. This is not to say that people don’t do this, but having the space to socialize within structure of play is different.
But when the waiting is designed INTO the gameplay then eventually, people talk. They strategize, tell stories of past battles, get to know each other but not “on purpose” … they socialize. Not many people like silence (at least when in a group) – even digital silence – when in a group. It was always just a bit awkward to sit in a group of 6 in EQ back when (or in WoW when I did play) where everyone just sat there, waiting for the mob to spawn or someone to have enough mana to continue… So people chose to fill the silence – the waiting - with social bits… Even people who couldn’t care less about being social, ones who, when you talked to them about it later (as I did for my MA research) didn’t see the value in it as an end within itself, would talk about how these moments, over time, became the social glue that bound a group or guild together. To me, judging solely on the TAG post, it sounds like SWtOR brings that old “waiting” mentality back to mmog’s, slowing the action down and returning to a sort of ‘social’ (or potentially social, some people will just sit in silence, or choose to play alone, etc…) gameplay.
I was always furious when people could not see the value in those downtimes. It is where trust and bonds are made that lead to better gameplay experiences (I say imo, but I know this at least from my experience of interviewing ppl during my MA and just being an MMO player over the course of 5 different mmo’s- of a certain era of course – I stopped playing when the first WoW expansion hit, but still – there are so many stories of bad PUGS, people you will never see again, not only because they were horrible players, but because you didn’t have to bother getting to know who you were playing with. There was hardly time to do so. When you can sign your name to an automatic list for a group, get picked up solely based on your class, get insta-ported into the location, and get into battle within a short period of time, there is no sense of obligation to the group or the individual players. If a group sucked, it was nothing for many players to feign getting booted out of the game to rid themselves of a bad group. But when it took you an hour to get something going, the process of getting your foot into a group through chatting up your skill set and accomplishments, taking the time it takes to travel to the camp spot, when you get there and a group sucks, you stick around if only for the time you’ve invested in getting into the group.
Don’t get me wrong, in EQ back in the day, there were bad pick up groups, there was always that person who could never quite play their class right, or what have, but because you got to know people over time (smaller servers helped of course), and you had already committed so much time in getting the group together, you stuck it out (maybe even just a bit more). And while there will always be crappy groups, in my experience, I’ve found that if you have time to talk about things, even if its just strategy, the group usually gets better. But when the game forces you to be in action 95% of the time, there is less time for the glue to gel. Of course, the addition of VoIP enabled players to have these discussions ‘while’ fighting, but in my experience, voice chat never quite enabled the same type of bonding (I have many theories on that, but I will reserve them for another day).
In the end, I think that all the epic feats talked about among elite players would never have happened (here I am referring to EQ specifically, but it is transferable) or not with the same amount of pride that many elite players have when recounting their stories. In my opinion, without these ‘waiting’ times designed into the game – people would not develop the same levels of attachment to the game, to their avatars and to their fellow guild/group mates, for these epic battles to be successful (and fun), there needs to be a level of trust and camaraderie in place. And trust has space to develop in these moments of waiting….I could go on about this, but I will restrain myself…
This came to my attention today via a friend on facebook, and thought it was worth sharing. It is nice to know that change can (and does) happen.
Worth the read – even if it hurts the eyes =)
“Straight Male Gamer” told to ‘get over it’ by BioWare
BioWare adopted a (sadly) very special and very principled stance in designing one of their recent games, Dragon Age 2. Their stance was simple: relationships are for everybody, whether gay, straight, or anything else in between. You can also have have more than one romance at a time with the game’s characters. In this game, everybody is equal. Too equal, it seems, for one particular straight male gamer who was upset to be on the receiving end of a little flirting from another male character in the game. The reaction of this Straight Male Gamer?
click the link to read the rest of the article:
And the bioware forum link:
Was SOOOOO happy to hear that they were releasing YDKJ for Xbox – I used to have all the cd’s for my pc – OoOOo how I’ve missed the smart-ass comebacks when I got a question wrong.
I recently purchased a PS3 to add to our console collection (currently, the family consists of an Xbox360, Wii, Ps2 & N64 … really regret giving our SNES up for adoption so many moons ago!). Of course, I could not simply purchase a console with nothing to play on it (it would get lonely that way of course!). It came bundled with God of War III (which made me happy – as I quite like that game), I also bought Little Big Planet, Ratchet & Clank and Uncharted. GoW is exactly what I expected – that’s good; and LBP is the very happy surprise. I know the game has had a lot of fan fare since its release, but I really am astounded at the creativity put into it (and it has an awesome soundtrack!). We have not ventured into the level building bits yet, nor played any player-made content yet, but for now, I am really impressed by the game (and will make LBP2 a worthy purchase I am sure). My daughters are also in love with the game, saying it really feels like they put a lot of thought into it… The loser in the bunch is Uncharted. It says it won game of the year (in some context, I cannot remember at the moment, and am too lazy to go check the box…) but it is kind of clunky, and the controls are unnatural (some bad button-mapping choices on the part of the designers…. not enough play-testing perhaps?). It is not so bad that I won’t consider Uncharted 2 at some point, but the beauty of buying a console this late after release, is that there are tons of games we have never heard of (or bothered to look into) since we didn’t own the console – and so many of them at great prices (yay for classics & clearance bins!). That being said – any suggestions for games is always more than welcome!
While I am supposed to be diligently (re)playing a few certain titles for my dissertation, unfortunately, the gaming world will not hold still for me, so I have been dabbling in other games for the sheer pleasure of it (I suppose this is necessary and related to some form of sanity maintenance or other…). After reading about the game Limbo in Edge Magazine a few months back, I was happy when I returned from my summer holiday and my husband had told me he had bought it on Xboxlive for me as a surprise.
First of all, the game is beautiful. Using every shade of grey, along a spectrum of sharp and muted variations that give the game world texture and depth. Stunning is the first word that comes to mind. In terms of the audio – I had read that the designers really did not want to use a soundtrack as such, feeling that music is often used to indicate to the player how they should be feeling at particular points in the game. While I welcome the odd, eerie, distant sounds that almost linger in the background – it really made me feel apprehensive. I could not read what was going to happen; if I would be attacked at any point, etc. The first time I died, I didn’t even realize that I was supposed to jump over a small spike-laden ravine. My little guy simply fell into the hole, was awkwardly impaled, and his limbs fell off. It was only then that I realized that I had to jump instead of run.
The controls are quite simple. Using only two buttons for all actions. Simplicity is good for the most part, but it does make game play a bit more challenging in that – especially in the beginning – I was not sure what I was supposed to do besides run and jump. I spent a good 10 minutes at the first bit where I thought I was supposed to jump up and climb a structure, when I was actually supposed to pull the handle of an old cart so that I could climb on that first. Once I figured it out, it was simple, but I never really thought of “pulling” when in my head I was only thinking “run” and “jump”…
I only played for about an hour or so so far (grrr to sharing the Xbox! lol). But so far I applaud the designers of the game for creating something that feels so on the edge of simple, yet pulls you in and holds on to you in a most (addictive?) way.
I really thought that I would get a lot of work done this summer. I have always been able to write while visiting my family for the summer on the east coast (Canada). For whatever reason, this summer I have not been able to write. At one point, I just had to accept it, and get on to the vacation part of my annual “working vacation” (coupled with the decision to head back home early to actually get some work done).
My nephew (7) is a very creative, bright little guy. He loves math and numbers (was sad that they did not do division in grade 1!). When I got here at the end of June, he was excited to show me a board game he had made – on looseleaf paper. We played a few times, and then decided that we should make our own, full scale board game. We spent the first few days just chatting about what kind of things he finds fun (prefers math and word games over drawing and acting of stuff). We spent a few days talking about what we wanted the board to look like, how many squares, what the goal of the game would be, etc. etc. In the end, we ended up with a game that had challenge cards (both math and word challenges), wild cards (called DK cards, since the game is called DK10 – standing for the first letter of my name and my nephew’s and 2010 – the year we made it… ) which allow you to move an opponent back, switch places with an opponent and other standard board game moves. We went to Staples (office supply store) and bought all the supplies we needed. Since it is designed to be a ‘kids’ game (but fun for all ages ), we bought snap-able containers to keep the cards in, velcro tabs to stick the card boxes to the actual game board; the board itself is a large 2×3 ft foam-core board. The instructions were written out by hand (my sister doesn’t have any ink in her printer…). I bought a plastic document cover that I taped to the back of the board to keep the instructions in. A lot of effort went into finding ways to keep the game pieces together and durable (how many times have I gone to play a game when I was a kid and half the pieces were missing?!). Designing the board was the biggest challenge (or rather, drawing it out). The 75 squares spell out DK10. It took some fancy thinking in order to make the game play from square to square flow and keep things interesting (instead of a snakes and ladder layout). We bought stickers to jazz it up a bit. My nephew loves cars and roads – so there is a street theme to the game. When you land on a square that has a police car sticker, you lose a turn; when you fall on a square with a postal service truck, you get to pick up a DK card; two taxis that ‘slide’ you over to the next part of the board, etc.
We did a trial run (play test) once it was all done, and realized, no matter how much planning went into it, there were inevitable glitches that had to be reworked (from reward and penalty distribution to the difficulty level of the challenges that would make the game ‘fun’ for the whole family to play). Play testing is an important part of any game design . I spent the last few days plastifying the game cards (my nephew is 7 after all). When we started the project at the first of the month, I didn’t realize how much went into making what I thought was a simple children’s game. But as we got into it, my nephew was adamant that he wanted a game he could play again and again. It was definitely learning experience – trying to balance fun and innovation. While relatively rudimentary(my artistic skills have decreased significantly over the years).
Ahhh, summertime – while I did not get to write as much as I would have liked, I don’t think I would trade this experience with my nephew for the world – heck, we even got an inside offer to front us some hedge money if we ever wanted to make this game for the rest of the world.
Picked up Borderlands last night. A little late to the party of course, but at least we showed up! So, we pop it in, waiting for the ‘intro’ .. waiting … waiting… and then I pipe up with a “are we going to hear the story?” – and no sooner than those words were out of my mouth, did the narrator kick in with “so, it’s a story you want eh?” (not sure about the eh, but I am Canadian, it’s how I remember things). The contextual intro was very brief, and in sketches. Different. One of the things that lured me to the game is the animation of it – I really enjoy games that go for something other than the “let’s look as real as possible” thing.
Anyways – after a very brief context setting, no rest for the wicked plays in the background (really like the song, so it was a nice bonus) – in comes the bus of reject warriors. I really like the way they introduce the characters – an animated select screen of sorts – again, different. I like it. When the gameplay gets going (and to be fair, I am talking about the first 30 minutes here) the one thing that I find really jarring – and really not liking – is the ‘guardian angel’ that guides you, much in the same way as Mercury’s radio voice in Mirror’s Edge.
The guardian angel is not animated in the same style. She looks like she was plucked out of another game. When I first saw her face, I thought of Fatal Frame for some reason (could be ‘static’ they have over her voice).
But I found it really jarring that the animation was different; like they were actually trying to connect with the player and not the character through the aesthetic. I don’t know – maybe there is a reason she looks different (made me think of an article I recently read for my CGSA presentation actually on different animation within the same piece to denote documentary ideas in a fictional context…. but I won’t get into that here).
Giving the work I am doing at the moment (as described plenty below), I think this might be a worthy example to draw on…
Now I know why gamers have been relegated to playing in the basement… On such a sunny day outside, I have to close the curtains and turn on only one meager lamp for light in order to see where the heck I am going in the sewers of Mirror’s Edge – imagine if I were playing a horror game!!
Or at least trying. As my gamer boyfriend reminded me again last night, I was never a very good console gamer – all that dexterity and such. I am much better with a mouse and keyboard configuration. But alas, my research is on to console gaming these days, so I have no choice. As I have mentioned in my last two posts or so, I am playing Mirror’s Edge, and keeping a play journal in light of my working theoretical framework. When I first started, I thought I would have no time to scribble notes since I imagined being so embroiled in gameplay. But the reality is, I spent over an hour last night stuck on the same spot in the second chapter. Pathetic really. I KNOW what I am supposed to do. Where I am SUPPOSED to go – but getting my hands, fingers, and eyes to coordinate with Faith’s hands and body is a larger feat than I had anticipated. So far, I have spent way more time trying to master the controls (over a ridiculously long period of time actually.. I am embarrassed to admit how long) – let’s just say long enough to feel that each bit of advancement seems only relevant to my sense of self-worth and not in any way tied to any sort of progression in the game.
The thing with Mirror’s Edge, is that some of the controls – and what you are supposed to be doing – is tied to this control mastery. In order to successfully make your way across the rooftops, it requires a speed and agility to make the leaps and slides longer. If you cannot accumulate enough speed along the way, you miss the jump (or get squished repeatedly by the closing gate). If my sense of navigation and vision (LS + RS simultaneously) wasn’t so bad, I might have a hope in hell. Instead, I am painfully making my way inch by creeping little inch across the game’s landscape. And so, my identification with Faith, and any hope of getting ‘into’ the game is dampened by my unskilled hands.
Another thing I noticed over the last two weeks of gameplay, is that I am A LOT more patient when I am alone. When I am the only one in the room, I can die and reload a hundred times (thanks to a very quick reload, and close save points – hundreds isn’t a far off count!) – no stress. But when my partner or daughter are in the room watching, I suddenly get agitated quickly at my lack of skill. It doesn’t help that my partner keeps telling me where to go – what direction to head towards; or that my daughter keeps asking me if I want her to take over, and help me across whatever section I am struggling with. Needless to say, I don’t play very long when they are in the room.
On that note, the house is empty, best log in a few more hours of ‘play’ time before someone comes home and offers to ‘help’ me.
After much mulling (and many months), I have finally come to the place where I can actually see what my dissertation will look like. Of course, my proposal was written over 3 years ago – and I am happy to say that it hasn’t changed significantly (only the necessary tweaks and updates). But after finally submitting my first piece of ‘writing’ yesterday to my advisor (will hold off on a full celebration of intellectual dam-breaking until I meet up with him later this month) – I can finally see the shape that this work will take – not just a proposal of things I “will” do, but “how” I will do them – present them – as well. This is a big step for me. I tried to write the first bits in so many different ways, finding the one that fits – that flows, is a big step forward.
Now to keep whatever momentum that bit of productivity started rolling will be the key to getting my first draft done by January. Off to play some more Mirror’s Edge (yay Chapter 2!)