Why i love reading your MMO blog

Professional Blogging

Have i mentioned how much i like the Global Chat column on Massively Overpowered? I think it was the first one that started featuring blog posts of “regular people bloggers” on the more respected sites relating to our genre. Liore did something like that on mmorpg.com a while back, but i think that this column was discontinued- it’s hard to tell with mmorpg.com’s way of organizing their content. Then there were Murph and Belghast, doing their thing on MMOGames.com, but i think that one was discontinued, as well.

Massively Overpowered, MMOGames.com and MMORPG.com- what do they have in common? They’re more or less branding themselves as “professional bloggers”, if you will. Their staff gets paid (i think) for their posts and they have a big audience. The strengths and weaknesses of each one of these sites can very well be a post on its own (one i started to draft several times already).

In short i would say MMOGames.com has the most potential of the three and has taken several great bloggers in, but its informational structure simply isn’t quite there yet. Still, the site reminds me of reasons i used to really love Massively in 2010/2011: its’ authors are bloggers who love their games and are quite stable in their selection of MMORPG they play. With a little more continuity and a better structure/home page and less crappy games on their sidebar, this site could be great.

MMORPG.com is a mess- the site looks outdated, i can see no structure in their content and navigation whatsoever. It’s even hard to discern which games they cover, as they have adopted RPGs along with multiplayer games. While i do like some of their authors and commentors, this site needs a do-over badly. They promised being close to launching a new layout when Massively closed last year- possibly as a way of trying to catch some of that audience, but it still hasn’t happened.

As for Massively Overpowered, it’s the most professional of the three. The layout (despite being at least based on a free WordPress template) is clear and functional, as is the navigational and informational structure. The authors know how to write and, at least in my opinion, have a very professional stance. However, i feel it has developed to a news site more than a “blogger site”. Even their game-specific columns are oftentimes more about news relating to the games than, well, describing gameplay experience, the lore or whathaveyou (exceptions being Anatoli’s old Guild Wars 2 column and the new Black Desert column by Matt Daniel).

Are bloggers full of themselves?

All the more happy i am when Massively Overpowered does something “bloggy”, like featuring content of “regular people bloggers”, highlighting podcasts or something similar. I am, of course, happy if/when i or someone else i’m close with gets a mention there, but i’ve read some interesting comments in the last two i was mentioned in, as well.

It must have been the topics at hand (future of MMORPGs and Black Desert impressions earlier), with the latter seemingly counter to popular opinion- the quotes, despite being well-chosen, made the impressions seem worse than they were- so we got a lot of “how dare these bloggers have a different opinion than i?” comments and the former with being positive outlooks on the MMORPG genre as a whole or Daybreaks…stuff…in particular, where we got the “why are bloggers perceived as special?” and “why do they think they’re special?”-treatment.

Well, i’m kind of new in this whole thing, not very deeply connected to others from the blogosphere and not a popular blog by far, especially here on the new site, so these comments still kind of get to me- no, i don’t think i’m special or my opinion matters more than that of, say, a commentor on Massively Overpowered or on a forum or reddit. I’m simply adding one layer of personal enjoyment and community building on something i enjoy without that part. And i’m pretty sure that’s more or less what every one of them does- adding something, in this case writing, to their hobby.

Why i love reading your MMORPG blog

Perspective

MMORPGs can be played in many different ways- maybe you enjoy dungeon runs, or roleplaying, or questing. Maybe you care about the lore, the quest-givers, your guild, pvp, gear or costumes. Maybe your thing is the economy, crafting or even horse-breeding. Whatever it is that gives you the most enjoyment in these games, chances are that it’s not exactly the same thing that i enjoy most. But maybe i’ll like to read about it or try dabbling in it myself to see if i might enjoy it. Or you’ll give some inspiration regarding ideas i could use in our small guild.

Opinion

Is the MMO genre dead? Could Daybreaks hickups result in something good for Everquest 2? Is that game/ingame shop/game “pay to win”? Is pay-to-win even possible? I don’t know, but i sure have an opinion on most of these topics. Some Oftentimes it’s not a well-founded or 100% thought through opinion, so i love reading what other people think, especially when it’s about games of minor interest to me.

Games

Speaking of games, some of you are seducers, writing great posts about games i might have crossed off my list or didn’t have on my radar, and your excitement is contagious. Maybe i’ll send you a bill for the next purchase 😉 But you could be playing a game i love to read about or i didn’t keep in touch with and i’m wondering what impact some new feature/expansion/content has on players who stuck with that game and you’ll offer some insight. It’s really not about the game someone’s playing, as they’re in the same genre anyway and some stuff that works in, say, World of Warcraft, might be transferrable to a similar experience in Black Desert, for instance.

Personality

Some of you, i can only admire for your writing capabilities. I tend to babble a lot- many of you are able to write short, concise blog posts and still inflict your personality and character into your posts. There are bloggers who cut their content’s word count by half and their posts seem to be of the same or better quality, and have the same amount or more personality and character as before. Sometimes, you’ll even share some aspect of your real life, and some of you make it a point to blog about your real lives quite often and in the same posts you deal with your gaming life.

Community

As i’ve said, i’m not deeply connected. Sometimes i think that’s my fault, for not being able to put personality/character in writing, sometimes i think it could be a location/time-zone/server location-issue. But i can see connections all over- people commenting on each others’ blogs, ping-ponging blogging topics, creating guilds, organizing blogging events and so on. And i’ve also made a few connections via blogging that i do value very much.

So that’s why i love reading your MMORPG blog and hope you enjoy writing it as much as i do reading it.

And i’d like to point you to my Blogroll– i’m not sure if i’ll stay with this one, but it is the one i like the most right now because i can include as much as i want. It might still need some configuration, but this is just too good a moment to let it pass.

Travel Log: China (overview)

Yesterday we’ve returned from our annual trip to China. This year was good for a lot of reasons: everybody was doing quite ok, nobody was in hospital and we have actually done some interesting things like seeing a “Venice-like” village, visiting a bamboo forest, taking a boat trip on the West Lake, Hangzhou and went to Shanghai for a night. The downsides were the air quality- Hangzhou is preparing for the G20 summit that happens in september and i think they’re quite literally rebuilding the whole city for that event, so there were a lot- and i do mean a lot- construction sites that, aided the usual traffic chaos in terms of dusty air. But that was all, really- everything else was great.

In fact, it was so interesting that i decided to do more than one post on the subject- but i wanted to get something quick out while recovering from the jetlag. As an appetizer, here are a few pictures i took while being in China. I’ll get to everything in more detail soon ™.

Dual Wielding: is it dead yet?

Dual Wielding: A series featuring two bloggers writing on one topic and answering the question, “If the pen is mightier than the sword, what happens when you dual wield?”

Make sure to check out Ironweakness’ take on the subject.

Introduction- did that just happen?

When Ironweakness and i decided to pick our Dual Wielding series back up, we also decided for two topics, to be published on a monthly basis. The last one has been about Negativity in the MMORPG community and this one was to be an outlook on the genre. We figured it might be a good time for that post, so shortly after the release of Black Desert Online and The Division (as well as the Thieves Guild DLC). Little did we know what was bound to happen last friday- namely the cancellation of Everquest Next and layoffs at Carbine. Since these news broke, the question whether the MMORPG genre is dead has been tackled countless times, by bloggers as well as MMORPG-related Outlets and even general gaming sites.

I’d like to be brief here, because this post is about looking ahead, not at the past. I’d like to say, however, that both news didn’t come as much of a surprise, i guess, to people who were watching these games closely. We haven’t heard anything from EQ Next since what seems like forever, Landmark hasn’t seen significant developement during that time, either, and Wildstar clearly failed to get much attention, players and most of all money following the shift to free-to-play. Here’s what i think both of these news have in common and give a little hint at what’s coming next: the WoW days are finally behind us, and i do think this is a great thing.

Not in Azeroth anymore

Wildstar is basically “WoW in space”, and that’s not just relating to the art style. Sure, it has more features, but the whole thing is still very close to the WoW generation of MMORPGs. Everquest Next, as it was envisioned, was to be an evolution of the same thing- it still took the WoW-style MMORPG as a blueprint for what they thought should be improved in the genre- and furthermore, they took a Triple-A approach to that whole thing.

The MMORPG genre chased WoW numbers for 12 years now and threw evergrowing budget at their games. The idea was, of course, to build something “mainstream” enough to make the success of World of Warcraft repeat itself. While it was clear quite early on that simply copying World of Warcraft wasn’t enough, the thought that it might only take a few iterations on the concept lingered in the newer games of the genre.

All the while one thing has been mentioned but didn’t find consideration in game design: WoW was also that big of a success because the basic feature of MMORPGs- laying with hundreds/thousands of other players- was quite new at that time. That feature alone was enough to inspire awe in players. But with years gone by, contacting other people through the web has become normal- and we, the players, found ourselves isolated more and more, choosing to play with friends or people we already knew instead of with strangers from the web.

We all know now that throwing money after that problem doesn’t work, either. And we’ll be better off for it going forward.

Alone together

Playing alone together still is interesting and unique enough, but one has to see there still are technical limitations to what developers can do if they design a game around thousands of players playing at the same time- gameplay-wise, few if any MMORPGs are very compelling and i know for a fact that on the one general gaming site i read (Rock Paper Shotgun, you should, too!), players and authors alike pity MMORPG players because of the games’ repetetive, grindy and boring gameplay. So it seems unlikely that the normal, persistent, shared world MMORPG would be able to gather the masses for quite some time. Investing here really was and is throwing good money after bad. But designers came up with a solution.

Alone together in Guild Wars 2
Alone together in Guild Wars 2

There’s my MMO in your shooter

The Crew, Destiny and The Division are three games where you’ll find MMO elements as well as a semi-persistent world combined with a single player or simple multiplayer game. These games incorporate most of the “mainstream” elements of MMORPGs while offering a different kind of gameplay. Think about it: there are hubs where you see other players (the “alone together” part of open world MMORPG play), you can also join a few friends and tackle content together (similar to going into MMOs with your friends or doing some guild activities) and even grouping up with random players (just as you’d do with Dungeon Finders and the like). These games are basically an essence of what MMORPGs have become, but they shed a few shackles that put them in gameplay or feature-constraints.

When you think about it- maybe ArenaNet did it the wrong way around- releasing the hub-centric semi-MMO Guild Wars in a time when persistent, shared worlds were popular and then releasing Guild Wars 2 in a time where, maybe, stronger gameplay and storytelling would have won them the day.

There’s also Elite Dangerous and the upcoming Shroud of the Avatar, Shards Online and all these survival games where you can rent/create your own server where it’s possible to play the same game either totally alone, with friends or in a shared environment. While these are a different sort of game than the titles i mentioned earlier, they all give the option to scale the “Massively” part to comfort.

We have only seen early entries here and i think this is where you’d need to look in the future if Triple-A MMO-ish design is what you’re looking for. We should all be happy, because the “mainstream” will go in that direction and there will be huge hits releasing in that “semi MMO” genre.

Welcome back into my MMO, RPG!

On the other site of the fence we have “classic” MMORPGs- but fans of persistent, virtual, shared worlds can be happy about the demise of the triple-A MMORPG, as well, because now, the masses are chased elsewhere. We’ll be getting more niche products more fitting to our respective playstyles- think about Shroud of the Avatar, Shards Online, Camelot Unchained, the Repopulation, Crowfall and others. They mark the return of the classical western MMORPG. I have to cite something here, because i think this is spot-on.

The very problem was using AAAs as a measure of stability, success, and fun. AAAs broke us. Why be sad when they pack up their tents and move on? Clearly the core MMO playerbase will still be catered to; it’ll just look more like the early 2000s than like 2012.
– Bree Royce, Massively Overpowered

We’ll continue to get new MMORPGs, and if the current crop doesn’t meet your preferences, chances are the next wave will, because for once, after 10 years, we’ll be getting games that do something new or concentrate on a particular part that made MMORPGs great in the first place. Then again, if you want Triple-A MMORPGs, they are still going to come, but from the east instead of the west. And, to be frank, they always have. I think Lineage might just be the MMORPG that’s “really” the most successful- released in 1997, i think, it’s still the best earner for NC Soft in Korea. Black Desert Online shows how the next iteration of a shared, persistent, “alone together” world looks like, there’ll probably be others.

It’s not

As you can see, i’m really looking forward to future developements in the genre- all in all, it seems to me that it has matured and evolved into more specialized subgenres- we have MOBAs, the semi-MMOs like Destiny, we have Survival games and we have the classic MMORPG, and i probably missed something along the way. All these subgenres will provide players with different parts of what makes MMOs great, with different amounts of “massively” in their multiplayer options. The classic MMORPG will return to its genre-bending roots while also being specialized.

Fishing in Black Desert Online
Fishing in Black Desert Online, one iteration of “next gen” MMORPG

In the coming years, we’ll be better off and happier with what’s out there. If we like the current crop (as i do- i love Elder Scrolls Online), we’ll be happy to, again, stay with the titles we love for the longer term instead of always wanting to check out the new shiny. If we were unhappy, the next generation will provide more specialized experiences. And if we liked parts of what MMORPGs offered as a whole but disliked other parts, there will be games offering that, as well.

I wanted to touch on more than that- the shift in business model (buy-to-play is becoming the norm) and design (MMORPGs can’t afford putting the fun behind a grindwall anymore), but i’ve gone on rambling long enough (and really need to pack). I might get on these other topics another time, but in essence, i view both of these as getting better now, as well.

We’re not in our last moments here, we’re entering a new era in our genre and should be excited for it!

Five things i’m looking forward to in China

On tuesday, we’ll go to Hangzhou, China. It’s the home town of my wife, so it’s a family visit more than a travel occasion. While i am not a big-city-type and it’s quite hard for me to be there in summer because of the temperature and humidity, i’m really looking forward to go.

Family

In germany, we have no family. When my mom died in 2011, that was my family. In China, we have lots and lots of family. My father-in-law has three brothers and his father is 90 and it’s a joy to be around him (he laughs a lot) while my mother-in-law has two sisters and both her parents are also still alive. Then there are my wife’s cousins and their children, friends of the family and so on. If we were to put them all in the same room, it would easily amount to 30 people. We can’t, because her parents also divorced, so it’s basically divided in two parts.

Street close to Great-grandfather's home
Street close to Great-grandfather’s home

Our chinese family is really easy to be with. Family can be very needy and quite complicated, but i’ve never felt that way in china. I have felt some pressure last year, when we were with a cousin’s family for three weeks and they were trying to be nice and didn’t want me to go out by myself. That lead to three weeks of company for a person like me who needs to be alone to recharge batteries. It was stressful. And also, quite far away. We had to ride the bus for an hour to reach the rest of the family. So this time, we’re back into an appartement hotel, we’ll have privacy and we’ll be very close to large parts of the family.

It’s also great for our son, of course, because he gets to see how family life should be. His grandmother is also doing ok now and isn’t in hospital anymore (she was the last time we were there), so he and she will get to spend some quality time together, which is great.

And our son can hear more chinese and will hopefully begin speaking it, as well. He understands everything, but to him, chinese is “english” and german is “correct”. And maybe, i can improve my chinese at least a little bit.

Food

Now there’s a reason to love China. The food is so diverse and so good that it alone would be reason enough for me to go. I really can’t tell you how good it is. I guess in the US, you are probably lucky enough to have more authentic chinese restaurants, but here in germany, there aren’t many. Authentic, that is. Chinese restaurants, there are a lot. But they serve germanized chinese food.

I like almost everything, although sometimes, a little bit of caution is advised to at least ask what kind of meat something is. I’m not very eager to eat cow stomach, chicken feet or something like that, but i’ll try it nonetheless. Still, it’s difficult to share favourites, but one thing you can make almost everywhere are Jiao-Zi.

A more normal view on the city.
A more normal view on the city.

Food experience is made even greater with the fact that we are able to eat in almost every conceivable way- at home (all parts of the family have a different way of cooking and eating), in small, “normal” restaurants that resemble cantinas more than what we’re used to see as restaurants (they’re great and i often like the food here more than in the more expensive restaurants), even chains or more expensive restaurants up to foreign food (japanese, korean etc.)

Jingci Temple

I’m not a religious person. However, i feel close to buddhism, albeit in a quite shallow way, as i haven’t made the effort yet to really dive deeper here. Belief is all about world-view, in my opinion. Everyone should follow the faith he or she deems right and, well…believes in. While i know the basic “philosophy” of buddhism and find it strangely close to my own world-view, i haven’t really made a connection to the religious part. In Hangzhou, there are a few buddhist temples, of course, but in the end, Jingci is the one i prefer to visit- and i’m making a point in visiting it each year.

In a city full of people, here's some much-needed calm.
In a city full of people, here’s some much-needed calm.

Jingci is more than that, though. It’s positioned right besides the West Lake, a tourist attraction in a city counting 6 million people. The city is loud and alive, in summer it’s hot and humid. There are many, many people in chinese cities and the West Lake area in particular, because the tourists go there. And then, enter Jingci. This temple is not a tourist attraction- there are a few dozen people, but you’ll have plenty of room. It’s peaceful and quiet- to be honest, it’s the most calm place i’ve found in the city yet, with the exception of a particular coffee shop.

City life

Despite me really not being a city person, i do like what they have to offer- all the more in China, because, while the cities in China are not particularly diverse in their architecture, they aren’t the homogenic cities we know; in germany, there are all these chains in the city- you mostly know what kinds of shops there are in a city. While China has, of course, its own chains, i don’t know them very well yet. There’s a supermarket chain i deem “trustworthy” and that’s it. There are more, of course- restaurant chains i don’t recognize and there is McDonald’s and KFC, sometimes Starbucks. They are vastly outnumbered by all the small shops, restaurants, supermarkets. Mom-and-pop shops are still a thing in Hangzhou.

Around the corner from my favourite coffeeshop
Around the corner from my favourite coffeeshop

Another reason the city feels so alive is that the people are actually quite positive- you can see they’re expecting their financial and personal situation to improve in the coming years, something that is not as apparent in germany.

Taking a break

No PC, no active work, no MMO gaming for two weeks. Well, “no PC” isn’t entirely correct, of course we’ll take a notebook. But it’s different. In these last years, it have always been trips to China where i am able to take a step back and think about the life i’m living vs. the life i’d like to live. What kind of person am i? How can i change a few things up professionally? For once, there’s not always something to do- and it’s helped by the fact that we’re not alone in looking after our son. Now, we stay with him all the time, but it’s still a great relief knowing that other people have an eye on him while we’re visiting relatives.

So, if you don’t hear anything from me after tomorrow in the coming two weeks, it’s because i’m enjoying my time taking a breather.

Quick Notes: Hew’s Bane, EQ Next & Wildstar

Hew’s Bane and Abah’s Landing

Yesterday’s guild evening began shortly after the news of Everquest Next’s cancellation broke, and i’m happy to report that we’ve been four players with two “regulars” missing- one sick, the other one surely on some other task, otherwise i know she would have been there. So my fears didn’t come true and we’re not out of our rhythm. The entry into the Thieves Guild DLC proved to be so exciting that i didn’t think of taking screenshots, so i can’t do a “Travel Log” yet. But as someone who hasn’t stolen one thing since it became illegal in Elder Scrolls Online and someone who avoids playing rogue-type characters at all costs, i can tell you it was huge fun. Sneaking into houses and stealing stuff in Elder Scrolls Online reminds me very much at The Secret World’s sabotage missions- only, it’s better, because your steps make sounds people can hear and i feel the reactions of the NPCs are more…realistic, somewhat. In the few sabotage missions i did in TSW i felt as if i was trying to avoid MMO mechanics- aggro range, for instance. In ESO, it feels much more like sneaking around. There’s also always the price at the end and, of course, whatever you care to steal on your way.

Great that you'll earn a costume by completing the first quest
Great that you’ll earn a costume by completing the first quest

Of course, being four people doing these missions, we were often seen and we haven’t managed to do even one mission without killing someone, but it was fun anyway and i’m happy to see this DLC being one i’ll be eager to play as soon as i’ll return from china.

I’ll probably write more about that, but i’d like to take a quick stab at why i think ESO will still be my number one MMO come april, regardless of how i feel about BDO: it’s because of me. I tried to cover that in my earlier post– if i were the same person i was four or five years ago, it would be Black Desert all the way. And i can understand the many, many positive impressions people have- i’m the same. But despite it offering almost everything, there’s something missing that i’m still finding in ESO- i guess it is about “connection”, or attachement. In ESO, i feel a connection to my character and the world and i miss that in Black Desert. Maybe that will change, maybe i should pay more attention to that black spirit thing, but right now, this is how i feel. I can still see BDO playing a huge role in my game rotation this year.

Everquest Next’s cancellation & Wildstar layoffs

I’m going to be brief here, because two months ago, when Ironweakness and i were planning our continuation of the Dual Wielding-thing, we set up two topics: negativity in the MMORPG community and the second one, to be posted on tuesday, about the future of the genre. Obviously, the cancellation of Everquest Next and the layoffs at Carbine will make an impression in that post. Suffice to say, i wasn’t really surprised, we kind of expected exactly the cancellation of the game to be the next thing we heard about it, as the silence before was deafening. So, remember my old blog, Party Business? I fired it up with the coming reveal of EQ Next, and i started it up with the intention to topically cover my search for a new MMO home i expected to find either in EQ Next, the Repopulation or ArcheAge. Great. One is now cancelled, the second one needs to move to a new engine and the third one was killed by its publisher and developer.

Gallows

For the Carbine layoffs, i feel sorry for the people affected and do hope they’ll find new jobs soon. But it’s also not really unexpected. The revenue numbers weren’t very good, even shortly after the transition to f2p and they’ll probably go down from there. I really kind of expect Wildstar to be the next big shutdown, maybe even as soon as this year. I think one reason for why it hasn’t already happened is that NC Soft knows full well that its popularity suffered under the closures of Tabula Rasa and City of Heroes. They don’t want to shut this one down, but in the end, they will. But this is just my guess.

So the genre? Commenters on Massively Overpowered seem to think it’s entering its grimdark times now. I both agree and (strongly) disagree- more on that on tuesday.

The Division

I can’t tell you much about that one yet- as said, i had a quiet week and have only reached my base of operations. I like it, but i was shocked to see that my pc doesn’t seem to fulfill the requirements. I can play, but i have to turn down the graphics by quite some degree. I’m not used to that- my pc is four years old and i started to notice that i just can’t put everything on “highest” since about a year or so, but having to put it on “low to medium” hurts. Still, it’s fun and oviously great to launch up and play a mission or two. It will also be the game i’ll be looking forward to see when i buy a new PC.

Personal notes and plans

For me, the following games are of interest right now:

  • Elder Scrolls Online
  • Black Desert Online
  • The Division
  • The Secret World
  • Blade & Soul

ESO will be the constant, Black Desert Online will be the “second choice”, everything else will be launched when the mood strikes me. Tomorrow evening, i plan to run a dungeon in ESO and i invited guild members to be there if they’d like to do one, as well.

Then there’s the now so timely post in the Dual Wielding edition on tuesday, and that will be it for march, gaming-wise, as we’ll be leaving for china on tuesday. From there, i might be able to post something (i think wordpress.com is blocked there, but not homepages run on the blogging software), but i doubt it will be gaming stuff.

Remembrance of Earth’s Past by Cixin Liu

I can’t recommend Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of the Earth’s past-series high enough. Now, i do have ties to China (my wife’s chinese) and as such, i’m quite interested in reading chinese novels, wuxia or otherwise, and it saddens me that it is so difficult to buy these things in paper-form. You can read fan-translated versions on the net in droves, but really professional publishings are rare. And if something’s available, it can set you back a ridiculous amount of money (60€ for a book). So i was quite happy when i discovered the first in Cixin Liu’s series, The Three-body problem. It won more than just one award, it was translated and it was available on Audible.

Here’s the blurb:

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

The Cultural Revolution serves as an introduction and i think it explains why someone would behave in a manner like that woman who gets into contact with the aliens does – she ignores a warning from one friendly alien and sets up humanity for extinction by giving away the existence and position of Earth. There’s another twist here: it will take the aliens 400 years to reach earth, so there is time to react to the threat. Unfortunately, much earlier, so-called “sophons” arrive and limit human research by way of messing things up with experiments like the particle accelerator. So we can make progress in currently available technologies but can’t develop new ones and it’s quite obvious that the aliens are superior and will almost certainly win the war.

It is an interesting and new take on the quite common “aliens invade earth” theme, and even from the point of view of a different- chinese- culture, which is good, because “non-western” views on topics like that tend to be surprising. And this one is- it’s not very heroic- many humans will believe in defeat and think about escape, if they think at all, and there’s even an organization that welcomes human extinction. It’s an interesting mind-game that’s very enjoyable to read/listen to.

One thing of note: i don’t know why, but i’m really having trouble with many english audiobooks. With the exception of Roy Dotrice, who reads the Song of Ice and Fire books, i find it very hard to follow most narrators because they are reading quite flat and emotionless. It took hours before i got used to the narrator here and started to notice differences in voicing different characters or moods. I’d really rather read, but these days, it’s much easier for me to listen to audiobooks instead.

This week, i listened to the second book of the series- The Dark Forest, and i’m glad to see that the author maintains the quality of the first one. The third and final book will release in english this year and i’m really looking forward to the conclusion- so if you like that kind of sci-fi, i really recommend you pick it up.

A quiet week

This week should have been big- really big. The Elder Scrolls’ Thieves Guild DLC launched, The Division launched and it is only week 2 of Black Desert Online. So there were three games i really like that needed my attention. And then…i decided to let it all pass me by.

It was a voluntary decision only in parts. I had planned a nice and fun guild activity for sunday evening and was looking forward to playing ESO with our small-but-still-growing community, when i woke up on sunday morning only to vomit six times in a row. I don’t know why i did, maybe i ate something icky, but i know it knocked me out. The rest of the day went by in a blur, i basically slept the whole day, got sick a few more times, tried to read some stories to our son and subsequently fell asleep doing that. At one point i managed to get up and post a message on the guild’s forum that i couldn’t make it- a message of two sentences, which is very unusual for me, and went back to bed. While i did get better on monday, i still didn’t feel too well and chose to go to bed early. This continued throughout the week- i did take a look at The Division but i’ve only managed to get to the base of operations by now. In this hugely exciting week i chose to take a break from gaming, and get good night’s sleep and rest. Today, on friday, i feel good. Just in time- tonight we’ll be taking a look at Hew’s Bane in Elder Scrolls Online. If someone turns up, that is.

The Guilt

One thing that has been a constant throughout the several attempts at creating and starting a guild up is that i love scheduled activities. When i log into a game, i’m usually not a very group-friendly player, because i need a few days to be in the right state of mind and in the right environment to set aside a fixed amount of time for being in a game. I love socializing in MMOs, but i do it in an “organized” manner by submitting an idea to the guild, setting a date and time, plan a bit and then make it happen. Usually, these events are received very positively by other guild members and frankly, i think they are what holds such a community together. The problem is this: in almost all cases, i’m the only one organizing these events and this fact leads to me feeling a lot of pressure. I’ll try and set these things up weekly/biweekly, but when something happens and i can’t make it, there’s a lot of silence. And when i need to cancel something, i feel like it sends a message to the other guildmembers, namely that “this isn’t important”. While it is true that i don’t really care if three, four or eight people turn up for a night of gaming, when people receive that message, it will at some point happen that no one turns up- or only one other person. Often, i haven’t been able to “bounce back” after such an event.

thieves_guild

So that’s what worries me right now- that, after i got sick just before the last two events – on the first occasion, i did turn up but had to shorten it quite a bit, tonight only few people will turn up. With our family going to China for two weeks on tuesday, this low attendance event might be followed by two weeks of silence. I’ll have to see how to pick things up again when i’m back. Or maybe i’m wrong, as i can also totally see 4-6 people logging on tonight. We’ll have to wait and see tonight.

After returning from China, i set up a dungeon running night- and that’s a strange one for me, because usually i plan these nights for all levels and all numbers of participants- and i can’t do that with dungeons, because the group size is four. But with the new grouping tools Elder Scrolls Online now supports, i think it is time to start the dungeon-delving.

Other than that, things are going great in the community- we took two recruits in as members and recruited two more players into our ranks- we are now just one player short of the guild bank. In terms of speed and amount of growth, it is turning out just as we hoped it would, which is nice.

Travel Log: Reaching Velia

I have switched to the Valkyrie and have arrived in Velia. And i have to confess, since then, i’m in love with Black Desert Online. The Valkyrie proved to be so much fun that i simply cut my way through the Beetles, Weasels, Foxes, Wolves and Imps surrounding Olvia- reaching level 10 was a matter of 20 minutes. I decided to claim my preorder goodies for her, but they haven’t arrived yet. With the preorder pack i chose, i could select a whole set of furniture (i went with fleece) and a pet. Normally, i am a cat person- but there was no cat resembling our RL cat, and i think it’s not really in cats’ nature to follow people around wherever they go, i went with a dog. I chose the “Naughty Dog”, because i thought it’s a basset hound (not convinced anymore but there’s some similarity, at least) and i’m a huge fan of the tv series “Columbo”. I might call him “dog”, too- but i won’t carry him around like Columbo did.

Naughty-Dog

columbo

It seems i can’t take quests with an Alt that are currently “active” on another character- besides the main storyline, of course. The Valkyrie didn’t do the same quests as the Witch did before her, for whatever reason. In the end, it made her progress much quicker. Arriving in Velia, i realized that everything before was more or less a tutorial. Velia was the first place where my quest log rose above five available quests. It was also the first village where i got a fishing quest and a trading quest. I got more contribution points while spending half an hour there than in all that time leading up to it. Now i actually have some left to spend.

And it was sprawling with people. Unfortunately i didn’t take a screen of it, but the coastline with all these players fishing was a sight to be seen. The roads are busier, too. Not only with players- there are men transporting…something. They’re NPCs and i’ve seen them before, but now? The roads are full of them- so i guess this is player-influenced. These guys either transport trade goods or materials- or are someone’s workers- or they transport players’ stuff from town to town when they move. It’s the first time i think the game is “opening up”, and it’s great to see. As is the general art design- these villages actually seem like villages, beaches look just like they’re supposed to look and the water…well, jumping in you can almost feel the refreshment in provides in the heat of a mediterranean afternoon.

I’m still not far along and don’t understand much, and until i do, i’ll reserve judgement. But for now…BDO remains very immersive and interesting- as BDO does so many things different than other MMOs, it’s a joy to feel lost and explore (land and mechanics) again.

Black Desert Online and the missing need for a saviour

For years- it must be six now- i’ve been looking for that “one” MMORPG experience. Some times, i thought i had found it- in Guild Wars 2 and ArcheAge, for example. That was pre-release, of course, as games are often perfect on paper and rarely on screen. What i was looking for is simple- an MMORPG that gives reason to living in the world, offers the opportunity to simply being a crafter or trader, removes instanced content completely and has regionally different pricing of goods as well as item decay. Were i still in that exact spot in my life both real and virtual, i would rejoice right now and welcome Black Desert Online as my new MMO home. I don’t, though, and it’s not the fault of the game. I’m still early in this (~7 hours /played) and my current situation is still the same Syl describes, but i have to say if that itch was still itching, BDO might just have made it stop.

Of course i’m wary- i was before release and still am. What if all these systems are actually quite shallow, as i’ve read somewhere (of course)? What if the cash shop gets worse? Actually, that’s not a question of possibility but time, in my opinion. As far as i know, all cash shops get “worse” over time. I can’t think of any example where a cash shop that started decent held this position forever. Elder Scrolls Online comes close, but in the end of march, it will introduce assistants- a banker and a merchant you can buy in the cash shop that will come out in the wild for you. In a game where inventory management still is a huge part of the gameplay experience, this is, of course, convenient and not pay-to-win, but it still signals a parting from only selling cosmetic stuff. But i’m not worried about all that- i don’t play any game competitively, so i don’t care if you need to buy stuff from the cash shop to be in the top 1%. But still, it might happen.

Before release, i didn’t really look into Black Desert Online. First it was because it was only announced in Korea and i didn’t want to put my hopes up like i did with ArcheAge and wait 3 years for the game to be released. Then, when it was clear it would come in the forseeable future, it was because i didn’t want another ArcheAge. It seems BDO avoids the mistakes that made ArcheAge sour for me: hacking, landgrabbing, cheating. I didn’t care for the business model, not even for the pay-to-win stuff that was available shortly after launch- what killed any desire in me to play it was the fact that, in the end, i was paying a sub to being able to craft and own land without the possibility to do so, because other players were cheating.

In BDO, housing is instanced and hacks don’t seem to play such a huge role. I also don’t need to subscribe to be able to craft or own houses. So by my accounts, it’s fine.

Not looking for the saviour anymore

What it comes down to is this: my expectations are different now. I don’t expect MMORPGs to provide that whole virtual world experience anymore. Sure, i prefer it, but it can come in so many varieties nowadays that i can’t point a finger on something and say: THAT’S IT! Take Elder Scrolls Online, for example- it’s not a sandbox by any means, but compare it to my feature-wishlist, it’s only really lacking in the non-combat-department. Instead, it offers interesting stories while questing, the ability to build the character in almost any way i want, not an open world, but very open zones and an interesting crafting system. It also encourages social activity by removing global auction houses.

And i'd love to play The Secret World, as well.
And i’d love to play The Secret World, as well.

It was surprising to me, but i’m happy in Elder Scrolls Online and like the experience it provides very much- this is a game that i like better on screen than on paper. I think this is key in the whole “manage your expectations”-theme: if you read something, you’ll inject your own ideas into vague marketing/hype statements. In your mind, you’ll make it seem even better than what the devs actually tell you (this goes the other way, too- if you dislike something about an announcement, you’ll make it seem worse than it is). ESO fits into everything- my available time to play, my playstyle, my favourite pacing.

This week, when i was able to play, i had to make the difficult decision on whether to play Elder Scrolls or Black Desert Online. I’ve played multiple MMORPGs at the same time pretty much since free-to-play became a thing, but sometimes it was feeling more like the choice of a lesser evil- i’m exaggerating, of course, after all nobody forces me to play MMORPGs, or games. This time, it feels different, because i want to play both (and more, but to a lesser degree- looking at TSW and Blade&Soul here) at the same time. It’s different than last year- last year, i switched games because i was unhappy/not having fun with one for a longer period. This year, it seems there are too many choices where i do have fun.

My view on MMORPGs has pretty much shifted to me perceiving them as normal games instead of the special entity they used to be for me in the years past. And i think this is a compliment for the devs- at least a partial one. I’ve never found an MMORPGs gameplay very enticing- it sold its whole package to me. But with games like ESO and BDO- and soon even The Division- i think fun made an appearance in the genre (Guild Wars 2 and Blade&Soul also do fine in this regard).

All i’m saying is: i’m not looking for that saviour anymore- the game i’ll play exclusively in the coming 5 years, because i value diversity in the genre now. If i was, though, i think Black Desert Online would come close- on paper as well as what i see on screen right now.

Black Desert Online – earliest impressions

I can’t even do an “early impressions” post yet. Others are better in doing that, anyway. A few things i noted in my time with BDO so far:

  • the game doesn’t do a very good job in introducing you to its systems- for instance, i do know i can talk (it’s a conversation minigame, by the way) to NPCs, but i don’t really know why i should bother
  • this encourages exploration and wonder, so actually, i love that it doesn’t make everything so clear
  • the quests you do at around level 12-15 will offer a slow introduction to crafting
  • you can’t dry stuff when it’s night or cloudy – this game is highly immersive
  • there’s no fast travel- but there’s autorun; it’s the combination of these two elements that make this work
  • The night is dark and full of terrors (mobs are stronger and more aggressive in the night)
  • combat is fun- even with the Witch. Can’t wait to create my Valkyrie
  • you need to switch on all quest types in your Questlog (standard key: o ), elsewise the game will only mark NPCs with kill quests
  • inventory management. I carry all available tools with me- not a good strategy because i only have like 5 free inventory spaces when i venture out
  • it’s a beautiful game and a beautiful world that’s fully worth exploring

Conclusion? Right now, i love Black Desert Online and hate it for this love at the same time. As soon as possible, i’ll hook up with Massively Overpowered’s guild- my guess is that will improve the experience even further.

And next week, there’ll be The Division. Oh my…

Travel Log: Entering Greenshade

Last week i started venturing into Greenshade, but only entered Marbruk and did some guild quests there. Then Black Desert Online happened, so i gave it two nights to play around a bit. Yesterday and today, i wanted to venture out in Greenshade. It turned out that i didn’t get to quest at all yesterday because of a very active guild chat (we have two new recruits, raising our count to 9), so it had to be today. I did a main quest and then set forth to explore Greenshade a bit. After the amazing wood-zone of Grahtwood, the more open design in the beginning of Greenshade is a welcome change. Just like all the other zones, Greenshade seems to be beautifully designed. I like how the zones in Elder Scrolls Online are open and “realistic” while still being breathtaking almost all-around.

I have the task to bring these Bosmer clans here under the umbrella of the Aldmeri Dominion, so i went out to the first village and see what they wanted. They wanted me to drive an orc clan away. Difficulty is ramping up here- i wasn’t in any trouble, not by any means, but that orc clan area was quite full of orcs- don’t pay attention and you just might pull too many of them. I think it’s funny that Belghast did the same thing a few days ago and wrote about it yesterday, although i think he’s doing it in Veteran Ranks. Then i went and talked to that Wilderking of theirs. He’s strangely curious about someone who’s coming to kill him.

So for today i’ll leave you with a few screenshots of the area.

Does it have to be a sandbox?

The MMORPG industry is a slow one. When a trend emerges, it takes time for developers and/or publishers to react and release games incorporating said trends. The heavy years of “WoW clones” were 2007-2010 while for the players, at least those vocal enough to put their thoughts into writing, it was clear since 2009, at the latest, that they wanted something different. Back then, we weren’t all too sure about what we wanted- we wanted “different but familiar enough”, a vague statement. Games like Star Wars: the old Republic, The Secret World, Guild Wars 2 and Wildstar tried to find a comfortable spot. Since 2012, maybe 2013, with the announcement of ArcheAge and Everquest Next (haha), it seemed clear that players want MMOs to return to sandbox design. Slowly, this new batch of MMORPGs arrives: with ArcheAge last year, now Black Desert Online and soon Shroud of the Avatar, Camelot Unchained, Star Citizen, Shards Online, Albion, the Repopulation 2.0 and so on. MMORPGs seem to be going back into a niche and are happy for it, while MMOs are going ever more mainstream (The Division).

With Black Desert Online, there’s this odd discussion whether it truly is a sandbox or just a glorified themepark with a lack of content.

What is a “Sandbox”, anyway?

I’ve read that a “true sandbox” has to offer its players more freedom in terms of building structures in the world (although we all know that if they’d do that, we’d live in Dong-land).

The discussion about whether or not an MMORPG is a sandbox is quite old and done, really. Everybody who tackles this topic- and me too, will throw the definition of “sandbox” (Wikipedia even redirects to “open world”) out there: it’s about an open world instead of linear level design. Taking this definition verbatim, there are many MMORPGs that are a sandbox- namely all MMORPGs taking place in worlds without artificial barriers and invisible walls. That would be true for Rift or Wildstar, for example. While we all have different views on that, here’s the part of the definition that gets me:

Their main appeal is they provide a simulated reality and allow players to develop their character and its behavior in the direction of their choosing. In these cases, there is often no concrete goal or end to the game.

No concrete goal or end to the game. Let that sink in and think about the reaction something like this would get from MMO players- we’d be telling each others about missing endgame and a pointlessness of the leveling process and we’d be asking where the content is. On the other hand, having no concrete goal or end to the game is also standard operation for MMORPGs- you can play World of Warcraft for battle pets only, or for good-looking armor, or for achievements the auction house and so on. There are as many motivations to play this game as there are players. You could argue, of course, that you beat the game by beating whatever content is the “most difficult” in the game right now- but this still is not a defined ending.

I need to figure that focus-thing out for future screenshots.
I need to figure that focus-thing out for future screenshots.

Now, i do know that when MMO players debate about a game being a sandbox/themepark, they’re not talking about that definition shown above- because that definition doesn’t allow for much discussion in MMO space. I know that when we talk about “Themepark”, we talk about developer-created content taking the front seat. When we’re talking about “Sandboxes”, we think about player-created content and “emergent gameplay”, whatever that means. But even if we’d draw the lines there, things get blurry- is Neverwinter a sandbox, then? Because players can create content there- or are these players simply hobbyist-content-developers?

In the end, if you walk away from that Wikipedia definition of open world, no end, no goal, you will never come to an objective observation whether one game is a sandbox or not, with one exception: when a game gives players almost complete control of their environment (while providing some rules instead of content) like EVE does. But we don’t want EVE- at least the majority doesn’t, not even the majority of the vocal minority, while most of them state they do want a (pve-)sandbox. Giving players freedom also seems to include the ability for players to ruin other players’ enjoyment of a game.

I think the key here is in a small part of the definition cited above: simulated reality.

Simulated reality and options

Sandbox or Themepark doesn’t matter, really. What matters is if an MMORPG is trying to build a simulated reality / virtual world and provides players with options in how to spend time in the game: things like pve, housing, crafting, trade, fishing, pet and mount collection, character looks, character builds and yes, even pvp- they need to be central to the design of an MMORPG, because, MMORPGs are good because they provide all that- they’re basically a gaming genre-mix. When you take this into account, you will find that Everquest 2, an MMORPG of the “Themepark” subgenre, in the end offered more ways to play it than Darkfall or Mortal Online, both “Sandboxes” do.

Is Black Desert Online a Sandbox?

Is BDO a sandbox? For me, it’s too early to tell. Right now, i get the feeling that the best course of action would be to continue questing to finally arrive at a few quests that might teach me BDO’s many systems. A real sandbox would have to offer a significant player economy, as well- at least in MMOs. You’ll have trade as an option in Black Desert Online- trade, that is- as in ArcheAge- about transporting special goods from one place to the other and buying/selling to NPCs.

The furniture merchant in Olvia
The furniture merchant in Olvia

I’m only level 11 and i’m already able to trade, go fishing, collecting, milk cows (a daily quest), go mob grinding or questing or simply explore the world. However, i do feel that i need to reach Heidel City for the game to truly open up. And i think Black Desert is a game where having Alts makes life a lot easier. So these are my plans in that game for now: reaching Heidel City through questing with Nuria, the Witch and then go and create the Valkyrie. Although i feel “on rails” in this part of the game, i’m convinced that by the time i reach level 50 at the latest- and it seems to only take a double-digit number of hours /played- i’ll be free to play the game in the way i want to.