[Bits and Pieces] Dragon Age Choose-Your-Path Text Game, Gamergate circles the drain, Blizzard take on TF2 with terrible cockney accent

Happy Sunday!

I was pretty excited when I found out that Bioware had partnered with Failbetter Games (producers of Fallen London, a browser game that anyone who likes gothic storytelling should check out) to produce a text based choose your own path type game for Dragon Age, as part of the run up to Inquisition.

The game, which is called The Last Court, is out now on the Dragon Age Keep! You play the ruler of a small and somewhat isolated region in Orlais and you have to try to steer it through a potentially turbulent time in its history.

Accessing the Last Court

You can access the game via the left hand menu on the Keep website.  Click on the icon just to the left of the word Tapestry to bring the menu up. 

last court - access icon

When you do that, it looks like this (below). Click on ‘The Last Court’ to bring up the game.

last court - access

You get to pick a name for your ruler and choose from two different personalities/ rulership styles and then you are off!

lastcourt1

Personally I think my great grandfather sounds more like an inspiration than a shame!

And if you have played any of the Failbetter games, you won’t be surprised that there are parts where you draw virtual cards. And if you have played any browser game you won’t be surprised that after you have played for awhile, you will have to wait for your resources to restore.

lastcourt2

 

Gamergate even gets called out by Blizzard, that’s how toast they are

Apologies to anyone who feels aggrieved by some of the same things as the Gamergate numpties but “the movement” really is beyond parody now. Zen of Design has a roundup so that you don’t have to read their shit.

The one that made me laugh was that one of their number made up a comically implausible Facebook post purporting to be from the owner of Gawker and some of them bought it. (The italics are from the Zen of Design blog linked above.)

“At the beginning of the week, screenshots were being circulated that purported to show a conspiracy of remarkable breath – if true.  They purported to be Nick Denton, the owner of Gawker, giving his secret facebook group a big ‘thank you’ for stirring up shit to make #GamerGate’s life miserable.  Later, another screenshot came op of a secret facebook followup, where Denton claimed to be very cross with whoever leaked the first.  Seriously, read these and, while you do, keep in mind that people fell for this.”

But really, who would fall for something that obviously daft?

“However, this turned out not to be the case – but the truth is even more hilarious.  Hot Wheels (the founder of 8chan) wrote this spectacular exposeSeriously, read this.”

And in other news, Mike Morhaime denounced GamerGate in his opening speech at Blizzcon; he didn’t specifically name GamerGate but in the interview afterwards, the interviewer did and he didn’t disagree.

New Blizzard IP/ TF2 type game

I cannot be the only person who watched the intro trailer for Overwatch and hoped that maybe they were going for a superhero MMO to fill the CoH sized gap in the market. Alas no, it’s going to be a TF2 style team PvP shooter.

Probably a wise move to stick to the contained PvP style of gameplay that Blizzard does execute so well, and the whole game looks bright, fun and interesting if you like that sort of thing. In another mikedrop to the Gamergaters, Blizzard specifically aimed for a bit more diversity in the lineup and I’m not seeing any obvious sign that this did anything rather than make the game look cooler.

But urgh, did we really have to sit through the worst cockney accent since Dick Van Dyke? This may be one to play with the volume off.

What does good gaming journalism look like?

Given the focus at the moment on gaming journalism and what it shouldn’t be doing, I thought it might be fun to look for some great examples of what good gaming journalism can be.

I’m kicking off with a couple of articles that told me a lot about the games they cover and also were (I thought) wildly entertaining reads.

OK, over to you all. Any recommendations for articles that really stayed with you as good examples of what you like to read in gaming journalism?

[GG] What if … I told you that making online death threats wasn’t normal?

red dot

quickmeme.com

 

It feels like shooting fish in a barrel to mock Gamergate right now.

Once the New York Times, The Guardian, and Le Monde have come out mocking the “movement” and even The Escapist had to pull some “interviews with gamergate-sympathetic developers” because said developers turned out to be idiots with histories of harassment, they’re pretty much going to be the butt of everyone’s humour for the next few years regardless of my putting the boot in.

What can you really make of a movement which claims to be about journalist ethics but which in practice mostly is about trying to shut down sites/ people they disagree with? Apart from POINT. LAUGH. It’s not about safe spaces for guys and/ or geeks – there are other male dominated hobbies which are way less toxic than gaming (sports, some music scenes). My beloved is big into prog rock and goes out with the guys for regular prog curries or beers and off to see bands or go to music festivals, and in their groups the older guys keep an eye out for the younger ones, try to give them decent life advice and make it about their joint interests, not about hating (tbh they can’t even agree which bands they hate anyway). That’s what a supportive male-dominated hobby could look like, if you want it to.

It would all be quite funny if it wasn’t for the death threats, and in the end it was the death threats that overwhelmed whatever else people thought they were being angry about. In truth, the only thing the participants could all see to agree on was that feminists make them so angry they lose their collective minds. That’s what I picked up from talking to GGers, and it’s nice to see I’m not the only one (that link is a reddit comment from a writer from the Boston Globe who was challenged by GGers to go “look at the proof” – he did Smile ).

There is no culture war. General society is moving into the internet and finally we are at the point where acts that would not be acceptable offline (terrorist threats, trolling) are no longer going to be acceptable online either. I would argue they never were. It was never cool to send death threats to developers or forum mods. Never. People didn’t do it because it was their culture, they did it because they thought they could get away with it.

If you’ve seen any of Sarkeesian’s videos about anti-women tropes in gaming, they’re about as mild and inoffensive as you could imagine while making their point (which in an industry where ‘boob physics’ is a thing, cannot surprise anyone.) Normal people can disagree with things without sending their blood pressure into the danger zone, just by comparison.`

No one is going to stop making games that sell several million copies out of the gate, but gaming constantly reinvents itself when some genres get tired or less profitable or when new markets open up. So it always has been, so it always will be. I have a lot of sympathy though for the poor saps who were fooled into thinking that GamerGate represented them as gamers.

Gamers are more than just the shit stirring reactionary death-threat-sending smack-talking hate-mongers.  There are many many good things that come from our hobby. Friendships that last years, innovative ways to manage online communities and interact with people, opportunities for learning and working together with people from all round the globe. And now it’s time for us to prove it.

[MMOs] Farewell Titan: Beginning of the end, or end of the beginning?

Blizzard broke the news this week that they have cancelled development on the MMO they had in development for the past few years, codenamed Titan.

This news does not come as a surprise. For two reasons.

1.  When a project has been kicking around this long, has been through complete redesigns, and the ‘buzz’ we’re hearing about it still doesn’t sound particularly interesting, the chances of it becoming a massive hit are fairly minimal. It would have been an albatross, not the “omg successor to WoW’ that some people were touting.

2. I’m not saying MMOs are finished, but clearly producing huge expensive MMOs  is not the way to bet. There are successful games which involve massive numbers of players, which may have a lot in common with MMOs, but they aren’t based on the classic Diku model, or even the less common EVE model. If there is a true successor to WoW, in terms of being a breakout viral hit that involves millions of people then it is Minecraft, not the large WoW-alikes.

So what changed? The games have become more refined, gameplay has improved, graphics have improved (hugely), lots of new ideas have been tried. The players changed. The internet and social media became more mainstream. People learned that there are large downsides to interacting with massive numbers of people. There are also many many more games on the market where you can interact with massive numbers of players competitively, with carefully designed gameplay, in more controlled ways than just throwing everyone into a virtual world together.

This is a post I wrote on rpg.net about why MMOs are not the in-thing any more:

The genre feels increasingly stale. There are plenty of players with enthusiasm to try new games, but they tend to demand very similar features. They also tend not to want to stick with a new game for more than a few months, which isn’t a problem per se, but means it’s harder to form new communities. They also tend to be much less patient than players were in the past when we were all a bit new to the whole idea.

One reason is that people are increasingly likely to see being around massive numbers of people as a downside, not an upside. You need massive numbers for some mechanics: to simulate an economy and support a quick LFG queue and good PvP ladders. But other than that, actually being in a gameworld with that many people can be frustrating. And ultimately the elitist, more abusive elements have tended to have a big influence on the culture (I know not every elitist player is abusive, some of them are lovely) — it’s increasingly challenging to learn a new game when you have a high chance of meeting hostile oldbies in your groups.

Another is that so much of the discovery about MMOs is probably on neat little websites before the game even launches. And due to competitiveness in the player base there is an increasing pressure for players to have read it. That means the content barely lasts any time at all before it is beaten unless there is an unholy grind involved. Not a problem, but the discovery process was a big part of the appeal of the MMO back in the day.

It’s also about the tendency of open world games with PvP and a full economy (like EVE) to become really cut-throat. It’s great for the players who love it, but there’s a limit to how many of that type of game can fruitfully exist. And they tend to drive out anyone else from their games.

I think there’s a huge future in open world games — but they’ll be partitioned neatly between single player elements, co-op elements (like raiding), PvP elements, massive elements (like the economy), large group elements, and maybe even open world server shards with contained numbers. Something like Diablo3 (with better designed economy) is going to be a better picture;  you can play solo or with friends, or in LFG, or with the economy, and chat on your friends list and share pictures of your armour — and each of those parts of the game is neatly designed for that kind of group of people.

I think there is still a possibility for a more social open world type of game to become a breakout hit at some point, but it will do so by reaching out to people who are not currently core gamers (like Minecraft did). I think there are definitely still possibilities for huge procedural simulationist/ survival type open world games to become breakout hits. But for the rest of the MMO-type genre I think success will be much smaller scale – the pattern of the big influx of players and then drop off after a month or so is too frequently seen to blame on individual games and the days of the huge investment AAA MMO as we know it are done. There will still be successes and opportunities, but devs will have to design around the steady state numbers.

And maybe, sometime in the future, the MU* model of player run shards – which has been so successful in Minecraft – will re-enter the MMO-type area and the cycle will begin again.

Still, we’ll always have Warcraft.

Here’s a couple more blog posts from other people on similar themes, go read them they are good! (Will add more tonight, feel free to suggest links in the comments).

[Wildstar] Game difficulty, player confidence.

“… each struggling MMO is struggling in its own way.”

– Tolstoy (sort of)

I have read a few blog posts this week about Wildstar, and the inevitable subscription drop-off and server merge. I’d be hard pressed at this point to name a recent subscription MMO that hadn’t experienced a drop-off after the first couple of months. Players have wondered whether the game’s difficulty compared with other similar MMOs may be part of the explanation for why the new MMO on the block has failed to break the 3-monther pattern.

I played the game in Beta and wasn’t hooked, but at the same time, when so many other MMOs have trodden the same path it’s hard to pick out anything exceptional about this one. Except that the magical lightning-in-a-bottle MMO factor that will get a game to go viral and grow the playerbase rather than shrinking doesn’t seem to be there. It isn’t doom for Wildstar though – other games such as SWTOR and Final Fantasy 14 have recovered from the slump and stabilised the playerbase at a lower level. At this point no MMO is going to go viral unless its new and different, or appeals to a wildly different audience from the usual crowd. WoW did it. Minecraft did it. Lots of other games were decently successful but without setting the world alight, and that’s fine.

At the same time, if their target core audience was hardcore raiders, that was only ever going to be a small proportion of the player base. And it was always likely that unless those people were very burned out with WoW, they’d be tempted back for the next expansion. It’s certainly possible to raid hardcore in two different games at the same time, but not when one of them has a new expansion out.

I did like Keen’s analysis of ‘the quit wall’ in games. “People reach the wall and they quit.”  It could be a frustrating grind, or a really hard solo quest, or dungeon that it is impossible to find a group for – whatever it is, it becomes so frustrating that players no longer enjoy the game because they cannot see a path to the next goal that looks achievable.

I think of difficulty as being in two types:

  1. Something you could do with time and effort and/or help from other players, but it might take more time and effort (and motivation) than you want to spend.
  2. Something you just can’t do, and you aren’t confident that time and effort would change that.

When you describe it in these terms, 1) sounds like a rational choice. If it takes me 2 hours to run a dungeon and I’d need to run it 20 times to get the tokens that I need, I could rationally step back and think “Whoa, 40 hours for one doodad that will probably be obsolete in the next patch. No thanks.” Sometimes the sheer sticker shock when you realise how much hassle will be involved is enough to put people off even trying.  2) is a judgement call – how long do you try an event/ grind/ etc. before you decide that it isn’t possible?

So our judging difficulty is all about confidence. How good am I at succeeding in difficult things? (Women, incidentally, tend to underestimate this, men are more likely to overestimate – they call this ‘the confidence gap’). If people are already stressed out by other aspects of the game (eg. being yelled at for being a newbie in instances) then they are already likely to be feeling less confident.

So if you put a difficulty wall in a game, the least confident people are most likely to leave first. If your game attracts a crowd who are bullying and elitist, more of the other players will lose confidence and leave. It may be because they are bad players who couldn’t keep up. Or it may be because they lost the will to try or felt they would not be able to learn quickly enough. In either case, the player base reduces.

But still, admitting to yourself that a game is too difficult feels like failure for a gamer. It’s hard to do and even harder to discuss – I think every time I have written a blog post about where I thought part of a game was overtuned, I’ve been challenged on that by people who felt quite strongly about wanting their games to stay difficult.

So this is a tough topic. But does anyone want to share a time when difficulty made them decide to drop a game and how that felt? I never did complete the solo part of the legendary WoW quest this expansion – it was too hard for me and my shadow priest, and I don’t play MMOs because I want to do hard solo content (I’d get Dark Souls if I wanted that). And though I will play the game again, I will always now feel that the designers are telling me it’s too hard for me, and I’m probably not going to raid other than very casually. Because I got the message.

The land of lost content: Lum on the lifecycle of the MMO player

*coff* Is anyone still here? (I love you all!)  I thought I’d catch the Blaugust train before it completely left the station.

This is Lum’s masterful summary of the lifecycle of an MMO player. He’s just looking at the cycle in one MMO, not the part where you try to repeat the experience fruitlessly a few times and then wander off to find some other hobby.

 

collared dove

XL. Into my heart on air that kills

INTO my heart on air that kills

  From yon far country blows:

What are those blue remembered hills,

  What spires, what farms are those?


That is the land of lost content,

  I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

  And cannot come again.

 

Listening to Welcome to Nightvale.

Thoughts on the Steam Sale, also Dust

It’s like Valve read my mind (or blog). I hadn’t really planned to buy much in the Steam Sale but they kept putting up games on my list so what’s a girl to do? Current haul this time around includes: XCom, FTL, Kerbal Space Program, SIns of a Solar Empire Rebellion and Dust: an Elysian Tale. I don’t feel manipulated and am a happy customer (at least now that I’ve figured out how to get XCom to save) but it’s true that I spent more than planned.

I am epically ambivalent about Steam’s strange trading cards thing – is it a game or just a bizarre hook to reel in collectors? Not sure, but it seems popular and I picked up some pocket change by selling my cards on the Steam marketplace to people who (for whatever reason) seemed to want them. It is worth noting that people will also pay pocket change for cards generated by playing the games so if you buy a game from Steam that has a lot of associated cards, you can recoup some of your outlay/put the profits towards your next purchase. This makes it one of the most excruciatingly clever promotions ever seen.

Also I kind of like the design that collectors get rewarded with being able to collect things, and I can still  get rewarded for NOT being a collector (ie. by being able to sell the unwanted collectables.)

Jamie Madigan has spent more time thinking about the psychology of steam summer sales.

So what’s the score with Dust?

I haven’t booted up Dust: an Elysian Tale yet, as am currently too occupied with XCom. But the name does remind me that I haven’t heard much recently about CCP’s Dust 514.

I assume from this that no news is bad news, given that gaming companies tend to hype every minor piece of positivity to the ends of the earth and beyond. So colour me unsurprised that Brendan Drain just slated the game on Massively after trying it last week:

Last week I finally sat down to play the game myself and was thoroughly disappointed with both its 2005-era graphics and fundamentally broken gameplay.

The review a couple of weeks back in Edge Online was also harsh.

Combat has about as much personality as the bleak, dust-blown worlds. There’s none of Halo’s gently exaggerated physics, Shootmania’s relentless velocity or Call Of Duty’s immediacy. There’s just shooting people with guns, albeit while battling against some suspect hit detection and sludgy controls.

It’s in stat-packed menu screens, not on the battlefield, that Dust feels most part of the universe in which it nominally takes place.

I don’t know of any official figures about Dust, but I remember wondering last year how much CCP had invested in developing Dust and what the knock-on effect might be on them if it wasn’t successful. I guess we’ll find out.