In this post, I’ll talk the normal best-of 2012, as well as game design ideas I’m calling “faction immersion”, and wind up with what I’m looking forward to in 2013 (Neverwinter, and changes to this blog).
I’m just going to throw all this out there in a concise mess, like a cat getting into a sewing box. I’ll declare an underdog winner for best game, and go into what I’m most looking forward to in 2013.
This topic has percolated in my brain for days, going in all different directions. I’ve been distracted by my break-up issues with LotRO and my most recent flirtation with Fable 3.
The best thing so far about Fable 3 is that it introduced me to Angry Joe through his hilarious review. (Angry Joe is my new game-blogger love, by the way. You’re probably relieved, Justin.) The second best thing about Fable 3 is the DLC (i.e. black dye for $3, and three new dog models being nearly a 400MB download). The Fable 3 DLC is mainly good because it gives me new ways to insult DLC.
Best Game Experience of 2012
A lot of people, like Angry Joe in his video blog yesterday, are calling Guild Wars 2 the game of the year. It probably is, but I can’t call it the GOTY because I skipped it. Why?!? Did I miss my saving roll on intelligence?
To sum up: Rohan and the The Secret World. Then my new computer didn’t arrive until November. There are plant people in GW2 instead of true hot-blooded pointy-ears. Also, I played GW1 to level cap as a Monk. GW1 was good, and GW2 is far better, but the original is still stuck in my head in a way that makes #2 sound not as thrilling as “Kingdoms of Amalur” for example. If ArenaNet had called the game something else like “Legends of Tyria”, that might have helped.
One example of something I don’t like about the GW: the single short skill bar. Justin Olivetti on Massively wrote just this morning about his fear of letting a group down, and recounts when his GW1 guild raid needed him to have his rez skill handy, but he didn’t, to his humiliation. Why didn’t he? Mainly because of the four-inch Guild Wars skill bar. (I’m calling it four inches with tongue firmly in cheek.)
I am also assuming that Guild Wars 2 is on the start of the curve of F2P store oppression, which is yet another reason to avoid a commitment. I can’t speak on treatment of women, except that you can play one in the first place, which is something to appreciate and not to take for granted.
I played a nice little Flash RPG last night called Talesworth Arena. It offers three classes, which only turned out to be all male after I started playing. I honestly thought that psionicist class was a punk lesbienne with girl-chesticles.
Anyway. I can say my peak vicarious GW2 experience without playing the game is watching Angry Joe orate about it. So until I play this supposedly great game, my pick for best game experience of the year is The Secret World.
The Secret World: One Final Blurb
The Secret World was a breath of fresh air. I played the beta and knew I’d buy and play the game. I ordered a new computer to do it. I loved this game for my first month. The graphics are fantastic, which translates into a good-looking character that looked and felt like a tough cookie, even if she wasn’t. This was good for immersion. Killing lots of zombies is also fun.
TSW has nice cutscenes and voicing. There are lots of puzzles, which is very different. Unfortunately some of the puzzles need Google to solve them, and you can spend a half hour trying to solve a puzzle on your own, only to then Google and find out there was no way you could have ever solved that puzzle on your own, so you wasted your time.
I’d like to go on about a lot positive things in The Secret World, like the skill wheel system, but the game is in a state of flux having just gone F2P, so I don’t feel comfortable with the facts. Just go play the game, if you haven’t.
I notice you can get store pay-for-progress boosts of AP now, and movement boosts. Subscribing gives you +100% XP for kills which is pretty normal, like LotRO. So this seems like friendly F2P so far.
I’ve tried to solve the puzzle of this being a one-monther for me. Here’s the most interesting of my reasons and observations.
See my Buddhist graphic above? (First of all, it’s a Buddhist graphic because I have no TSW screenshots because they didn’t work. Known bugs aren’t fun.) So I’m a peaceful Buddhist on a good day and an evil witch on a bad day. Meanwhile, Justin Olivetti (Biobreak) adores The Secret World more than any other game writer I’ve seen.
See his bio link? Yes, he’s a youth pastor, a Christian I assume. That’s fantastic. So what’s the most popular faction in The Secret World, with headquarters in the game’s capital city, London? The Templars, the faction that Justin said he knew he was going to be playing, even before the game launched.
Is there a conclusion here? The Secret World really opened my eyes to the importance of faction immersion to gameplay–feeling like you’re a part of a group. It makes complete sense to me that a Christian would get into a faction that relates so much to Christian history, and they even have gear and overhead symbols with cool-looking cross emblems. Super-cool, if you’re a Christian.
For me, TSW really made their three factions (Templar, Illuminati or “lumies”, Dragon) important to their immersion and story, then failed to write them in an appealing way.
So there I was with two faction choices since I refuse to play Templar. I made a young, blonde Buddhist hippy girl, who tried to join the Dragon. So they grabbed her, threw her out of a van, told her the way it was going to be, shooed her off, and were basically rude. They didn’t make me feel welcome or happy to be a part of them, especially since they are terrorists.
My second character was Rainie “Queensnake” Lee, a Chaotic Good poker player from Las Vegas with a shotgun and a character trait (made-up for RP purposes) for quick figuring of low odds of survival. She joined the Lumies, but totally didn’t fit into their corporate culture. I did feel like a low-level employee, so I guess that worked, at least, but not for Queensnake. She was ready to high-tail it back to Vegas and start drinking.
They gave her an irremovable implant against her will, and lots of orders.
So what I needed was for these factions to be happy to see me. I needed to feel happy to see them, like I belonged in some way. Maybe I needed an occult tattoo from the Dragon, like the hunters in the Hostel movies. I don’t think the Dragon appeals to players who want to play evil. Evil is a lot about ego and stroking, not putting up with rudeness and some kind of divine child king. Yolari and I agreed that the Dragon could have been magic-based, and that TSW needed a faction of magicians and sorcerers.
Is that it? No. Lack of immersion was compounded by the hordes of monsters everywhere. Zombies, sea monsters, insects, demons pouring from hell all within spitting distance from each other. Why? Gameplay reasons, I assume. Justin has played this game for months, and even he apparently still doesn’t know what the fog is about.
For immersion to happen, things need to make sense. As Jack Bickham says in his writing book Scene and Structure, for fiction to be believable, it needs to be even more believable than reality. Readers simply don’t follow when random things suddenly happen with no explanation. “The world is ending, and end times are near! Be scared!” I’m just not scared.
That’s another thing with good fiction, especially in an RPG. It needs to be personal. The factions were impersonal, and the bosses didn’t care about me. I didn’t care about them. I didn’t have a dog, an in-game family or friends (to my character), or anyone for my character to care about in that game.
(Except for Yolari, and I do feel a little bad about calling it on her while she was up for playing the game longer. Yolari then refused to give me her 2012 game of the year comments for this blog, maybe due to shyness, but probably out of vengeance for abandoning her to the giant insects.)
Do MMO RPGs need to cater so much to these RPG tastes? No, but a good story is worth the effort, because it gets a player involved in his or her character. A player who likes their character stays. Some writers aren’t doing it as well as they could, unless they are working for Bioware. Or maybe the writers would like to do more, but unfortunately the game producers and team leads are themselves not writers, and have other considerations, like cost, and mass killing is mandatory as everyone knows.
Looking Forward 2013
Like the graphic above hints, my goal is to go retro in 2013, and play a lot more single player. I’m returning to the RPG roots. I bought Dragon Age Origins:Ultimate from Steam last week, and my goal is to play that again, this time on PC, with DLC and the expansion, and in Spanish. Ditto for Skyrim, which I just bought tonight. I also want to play Baldur’s Gate again, since maybe my favorite RPG ever, Baldur’s Gate 2, is coming out in enhanced edition in 2013. BG2:EE and Neverwinter are my two most-anticipated games of next year.
Elder Scrolls Online is a wild card. I’d really like to see interplanar travel, which I hope to include somehow in my prospective Neverwinter modules. The Planescape Torment experience is something I’ve wanted to relive for years now. I was always hoping Rift would take adventurers into other planes, but not yet, if ever. They added more continents instead. Elder Scrolls, of course, has Oblivion and Shivering Isles, and other realms where gods live.
I’m looking forward to Neverwinter (i.e. their robust player content creation tool) because I want to write games my way. I want to write a great RPG story. I’ve already got dark settings looming in my head while at work, interesting characters speaking in my inner ear, and plot twists involving corruption and evil. In direct response to the failure of Secret World to hold my interest in terms of immersion, my goal is to write a faction that you’ll be working for, and write it well.
A big caveat about Neverwinter is the fact that it is F2P. Wanting to play Neverwinter is like wanting to eat an apple that I know for a fact is laced with slow poison, because I’m hungry.
I’m also still looking for World of Darkness to appear on the horizon. I’ve also started studying Flash programming, so I can make not only better guides, but also maybe write my own little game. I’m on the fence right now about whether to take classes at the local college this spring. I did try to enroll, but my account had an issue, and now the offices are closed.
Also in 2013, I’ve got ideas to design a new website focused on bilingual language learning. This means that I might move Kitty Kitty Boom Boom over to a proprietary domain and work on a blog that is bilingual in Spanish. I’m thrilled that Steam is offering downloads in Spanish, and that a lot of games these days have a Spanish translation.
I’m a serious student, and I study Spanish every day. I’m currently halfway through the Fellowship of the Ring in Spanish translation. Playing Dragon Age and Skyrim on my new PC will be like studying and playing at the same time.
This might be my last post for a bit, unless some amazing news breaks about an upcoming game, like World of Darkness or the SWTOR expansion that I would feel compelled to talk about. Thanks for reading my blog, and best wishes for happy gaming in the New Year!