Peer pressure and single player games

I’ve seen a few people write that after having played MMOs, they find themselves uncomfortable picking options in single player games in case they pick a poor class/ build.

And it occurs to me that even if you did, as long as you could still play the game and have fun, you might never know nor care if one of the other options was more powerful. Or if you did realise, you’d put it down to poor game design.

These days we’re far more likely to share our single player game experiences with others online than we were in the past. Maybe this will be via blog posts and comments, or posts on a forum. Maybe it will be via Steam achievements or an online high score table that you forgot to opt out of. Increasingly single player games are also requiring an online connection as an anti-piracy measure, and trying to manufacture some social networking via sharing player progress.

I wonder what the effect of this will be in terms of peer pressure. Looking up optimal builds and strategies for every game should be a harmless (if anal) alternative to just playing the darned thing and figuring out something workable for yourself. But if the lessons of MMOs are true, this will become more and more the default playing style, fuelled by social pressure and people not wanting to look like idiots in front of their friends.

[Dragon Age 2] Sorting out the DLC and unlockables

da2_hawke1 Lizzy Hawke leans insouciently against a wall in her shiny dragon platemail – a rare scene when she isn’t covered in actual blood spatters.

Hurrah, my copy of Dragon Age 2 arrived today. Apologies for slow blog updates but (aside from the stupid flu) I have to kick arse, take names, and sort out Kirkwall.

When you load up the game, any unlockable DLC (for example, if you have the signature edition, or got some items for signing up to the newsletter) won’t download automatically.

da2_loading

 

What you’ll need to do is get the loading screen up (as shown above) and log into your bioware/ EA account as part of the process. If you then select either extras/ unlockables or downloadable content, the game will open a browser window for you and it’ll be directed to your account on the Bioware Social Network.

da2_redeem

If you select Profile/Redeem Promo Code (if you have a promo code, for example in the signature or collector’s edition) then you can enter that to tie the DLC to your account. Then if you go to Profile/ Your registered game content you’ll see a list of every item/ DLC registered to your account and next to each one is an info button when you can check how to download it.

I do think they could make this process more streamlined but it’s not actually hard once you figure out that you have to use your bioware/EA account to tie things together.

Happy questing, more on DA2 when I’ve had more time with it. For now, I’m one of those annoying people who likes to play through on ultra-easy combat settings – I’ll leave a more tactical play through for next time!

Solving the birthday dilemma

Arb and I are both very excited about Dragon Age 2, partly because we both loved the first game and partly because both of our birthdays are in March – conveniently for the game’s release.

So the announcement of the new signature edition, available to pre-orders, gave us both good ideas for potential birthday presents.

Do you have any ideas what you want for your birthday next year, because I had a thought …?

DA2? I was thinking of getting that for you too

We could both pre-order and get signature editions for each other

<<pause>>

Shall I just order one and get it sent to myself, and then you can do the same and we’ll pretend we paid for each other?

Interestingly, although unsurprisingly, the signature edition costs more than the regular edition on Amazon. (I’d assumed that all pre-orders would automatically be signature edition but nope.)

Free Middle Earth (US only)! Other single player games I wish I was playing.

I apologise for a bits and pieces post. My husband’s band are launching an album today so it’s all a bit hectic here. (Go check out tinyfish though, they’re a prog band but despite that they are also awesome :))

Turbine has launched an amusing trailer for the Free to Play version of LOTRO. Apparently this will be repeated in TV spots in the US. Sadly for those of us in Europe, our version is delayed.

LOTRO Reporter asks for patience with Codemasters while they sort it out. But I think we can assume that the majority of EU players who are interested in F2P will not be patient and will just go and make accounts on the US servers instead as soon as they realise. That will be a great shame for any existing EU players who were looking forwards to the influx.

Other single player games

I wanted to take the opportunity to signpost a few indie games that have hit the radar recently. If I had time enough, and love …

Minecraft – it’s a sort of building game, and dungeoneering game. There are different modes of play – creative mode for building cool stuff and survival mode which is more of a puzzle game. People have built scale replicas of famous buildings (the reichstag).  If that’s intriguing to you, go check it out.

Recettear – It’s all about being a shop owner in a typical JRPG; so you do some buying and selling, and also sponsor adventurers to go get you more stock. The debt collectors are at your door, so get cracking! Tipa has written eloquently about her experience of the game’s demo. Terrifically silly fun with solid gameplay behind it, and released today via the usual downloading outlets such as steam and impulse. Capitalism ho!

Amnesia: Dark Descent – Billed as a first person survival horror game, you will be spending a lot of your time running away from monsters. Reports I have read agree that it is very scary indeed and extremely immersive. Larisa even wonders whether MMOs can learn anything from this type of play. I may be too wimpy for this type of horror myself, but if it is your thing, the game’s had great reviews.

If you are a fan of multiple choice text adventures, check out the new stories at Multiple Choice Games — choice of the vampire, and choice of romance (seems vaguely appropriate after having mentioned romances in comments on Wednesday). They also have some user submitted stories, including a rather smart one about paranoia. The web versions are all free.

Anyone tried any of these, or any other indie games you’d like to recommend?

[Dragon Age] Season of the Witch (Hunt)

For any fans of Dragon Age Origins who have been living in a bubble, today marks the latest (maybe the last) DLC release for the game. It’s called Witch Hunt, is set a year or so after the end of DAO and … you’ll get to find out what happened to Morrigan. Not only that, but one of the three companions is the Dog. (Or /A/ dog, if your warden didn’t survive or you want to play a different character.)

Bioware promise the chance here for players to tie up the last loose end from the original game. What happened to Morrigan and her unborn child? Personally, I can’t wait to find out.

The original game had a pretty satisfying ending, so I don’t feel that Bioware have been holding out on anything or released an incomplete game. They’ve also been as good as their word about supporting the game with DLC – a mixed bag according to reviews but a nice collection of different takes on how a DLC should play out. (Surprisingly I can’t find a page reviewing all of them but the pick of the bunch seem to be Stone Prisoner, Warden’s Keep, Leliana’s Song). Do you want a quick gear hunt? A chance to play parts of the game through a different perspective? A prequel from the point of view of one of the companions? More golems?

If they have fallen down it’s partly because players expected the same quality from the DLC as from the original game. A tricky expectation to manage when the original was fully voiced (with the notable exception of the main character) and took years to develop. And the other reason is because when you are paying piece-wise for content, the price is always going to be compared against the original game and the original will always look like better value for money. You can buy DAO for about £12 on Amazon at the moment – that’s about 40-60 hours gaming. A 1-2 hr DLC can’t compare with that for price/value.

I’m glad DAO has done well for Bioware, it was a fantastically enjoyable gaming experience for me so anything that encourages them to do more sits well here. And then all that remains is the inevitable game of the year edition with all of the DLC bundled in. Maybe some DLC-bundles for the holiday season too for people who already own the original.

Anyhow, I’m looking forwards to Witch Hunt. Who is with me? And if you’ve played any of the other DLC, what did you think of them?

Gaming News: Starcraft 2 numbers, Torchlight 2, Gameforge buys majority of Frogster, Google Wave ditched

Starcraft 2 sells well, but not as well as WoW

The SC2 numbers are in and they’re good. Blizzard claims best selling PC Game of 2010 with over 1 milion copies sold within the first 24 hours. Kotaku compare this number with WoW expansions, and finds that both TBC and Wrath sold over twice as well in their first 24 hours of release.

I’m dubious as to how much weight to put on the first 24 hour sales with this game, since it’s expected to have a very long tail indeed if it follows after the example of its predecessor.

SC2 fans will probably also enjoy this article by Sirlin about the game’s online ranking mechanism.

In other Blizzard news, the developer has announced intentions to try to police roleplay on one of the US RP servers. Apparently Moonguard US has zones which are notorious for people cybering in public and some hapless GM/s have been assigned the least enviable job in the community management arena by being told to go in and stop people doing it.

So good luck with that then. And in Activision’s Q2 investor call it was confirmed that Blizzard is working on a new MMO with a new IP. (I’m not sure if this is news, I had thought they already said as much but it’s official now.)

Torchlight 2 announced! Not a MMO but will include multiplayer

Runic Games announced this week that they plan to release a sequel to fan favourite Diablo-alike Torchlight, to be released around March 2011. Torchlight 2 will include multiplayer functionality so you can adventure with your friends, and they also intend to offer a free peer-to-peer matchmaking system.

Also overland areas, more classes, more customisation … and so on. We still have no dates for Diablo 3 so this might well beat it to market. I am curious to hear more from Blizzard on how they’re going to differentiate D3 from the increasingly slick looking competition.

Gameforge buys Frogster

Frogster, best known in the MMO community  for distributing Runes of Magic is now majority owned by Gameforge. Massively have some comments on Gameforge’s current portfolio and where this purchase fits in.

Also in commercial news this week, Google picks up social gaming app/ widget maker Slide. There’s no doubt that they intend to be a major player in the social gaming field, I can’t wait to hear more about their plans.

And in the same week, they announced the demise of the much hyped Google Wave.

So farewell, Google Wave

understood by no one.

You failed to make waves.

‘Never seen that before’ MMO news

Gaming News: Lord British takes NCSoft to the cleaners, EQ2 goes free to play, Where will the social gaming acquisition madness end?, WAR comes to the Bioware forums

Lots of business news this week with some ludicrous amounts of money changing hands over ownership of social gaming developers and sites.

In other news, good luck to the folks at the new WoW shaman forum (totemspot.com) and new mage forums at Mana Obscura. You’ll likely see lots of class blogger names that you recognise on both fora.

Also if you are a keen reader of MMO blogs (I am going to assume this will apply to most readers, otherwise why are you here?), check out the new MMO Melting Pot. Their goal is to pick out interesting posts from around the web, with commentary. And they also keep tabs on podcasts et al. As of now, it’s very WoW-focussed.

Richard Garriot wins lawsuit against NCSoft

The sad story of Richard Garriot (aka Lord British) and his dealings with NCSoft finally comes to a close. This is more of an employment law story than a gaming one, but he claimed that he was forced to resign from his post as NCSoft Austin CEO and then to write letters claiming that it was a voluntary redundancy.

This matters hugely in terms of what sorts of payments he was entitled to on leaving. You tend to have more rights to redundancy pay et al if you are fired than if you choose to leave.

A court decided in his favour and awarded $28million in lieu of the lost pay. I’m always happy when I see companies which try to pull a fast one on employees nailed down by employment law, most of which doesn’t represent all that much protection for employees anyway. Hopefully others in the industry will take note.

Everquest 2 Extended

EQ2 is going to offer a free to play payment option, on separate servers from the current ones – I think I’m rapidly preferring non-subscription over F2P for games funded by microtransactions. Their plans confuse commenters who note that the F2P servers will also have subscription options which offer fewer options than the current subscriptions for the same (or higher) price.

I’m not all that certain that EQ2 will really suit the model, but I’m sure lots more people will at least give the game a try when the new options go live. And it’s another step in the seemingly unstoppable trend towards switching from subscriptions to cash shop payment options. Or at least adding different payment options.

This all seems very experimental to me at the moment. But the separate servers and unimpressive F2P subscription options mean EQ2 at least has plans to dissuade existing subscribers who play casually from immediately switching over and paying less. (Ideally you don’t want players to say ‘you know, suddenly my $15pcm subscription doesn’t look like such great value, I only play  a couple of hours a week …’)

Social Gaming Acquisition Madness – Disney buys Playdom, Gamestop buys Kongregate

Only a few weeks ago, Playdom bought Ralph Koster’s Metaplace. Now they in their turn have been acquired by Disney for the heart-stopping sum of approx $560mill; a little less than that for which the mouse house sold subsidiary Miramax earlier in the month. (note: you may have seen the figure $762mil around the place, that part is actually dependent on Playdom’s performance).

So Disney thinks that social gaming is a better bet than Hollywood, and they may be right. They certainly own a vast number of IPs that could prove fruitful for gaming purposes. But that’s a lot of money for a gaming studio that isn’t right at the top of its field. Or even second. The eMarketer blog has a pithy analysis, wondering whether this will go down in history as one of the notorious acquisitions of the decade. In comparison, EA’s $275mil for Playfish last year looks like a bargain.

US chain gaming retail store Gamestop bought PC casual gaming nexus Kongregate this week also. Kongregate is a great site, home to many great tower defence games, The Elements card game, and doubtless many others I haven’t heard of. They are very upbeat about the news in their blog, unsurprisingly.

But as a non-US person, I can’t imagine that Gamestop has a lot to offer me in terms of things to buy with tokens. This is a general problem with going from a bricks and mortar business into the internet – suddenly you are serving a worldwide population who really don’t care about your US based restaurant/ movie/ netflix rewards. It’s likely they’ll concentrate on the US customers, if driving people to their US outlets is seen as the core of their business.

Note: We see the same trend in twitter with their @earlybird offers. I haven’t seen a single one that would be applicable locally. I really think they should call it @usearlybird or just do internet based offers.

Zynga also have evidently decided that the mere 500 million Facebook users is insufficient of a user base and is exploring new opportunities with google, and also in Japan. They also annoyed players this week by shutting down one of their games, with no reason. (I assume the reason is insufficient profit but these games can’t cost all that much to run …)

In any case, with Disney switching from films into social gaming, Warner Brothers recent acquisition of Turbine, Gamestop looking to online social gaming rather than retail … there is a trend here.

Valve (with Steam) and Blizzard (with battle.net) must be laughing.

Warhammer Forums move to Bioware

Speaking of which, the Bioware social network has recently absorbed the official Warhammer Online forums. I love that if you get to the language option screen on the Bioware forum, they use the Canadian flag to represent English. I’m sure the Quebecois are thrilled to bits with that.

None of the blogs I read had much to say about this, I’m not sure anyone was actually fond enough of the Official Warhammer Forums to care. Besides, it isn’t as if they are going away.

In other Bioware news, Greg Zeschuk has decided that his previous figure of 1 million SWTOR players wasn’t enough. Now he says the sales target of all future releases is 10 million units if they are to be considered major hits.

I’m not entirely sure what to say about this. Over the lifetime of a very successful game, 10 million sales is viable. Or maybe he’s just inhaled too much of the Brighton sea air …

Starcraft 2 is live and on air

Starcraft 2 launched this week, and players and reviewers alike seem pretty happy with it. The press were not allowed to review the single player campaign before launch so I imagine there have been a lot of gaming hours poured into the thing. Kotaku report that someone finished the single player campaign in 16 hours.

Gossip Gamer has a cool visual guide to show the difference between SC1 and SC2. And meanwhile, I saved the Norad II in SC1 – go me!

Some guest posts on the way next week

This is not really news but I’m away for a few days next week so you’ll see some guest posts on the blog here. I think you guys will love them, actually.

Thought of the Day: Why do games go out of fashion?

This week, I’ve been playing a variety of older games, or games which are built around unfashionable playing styles.

  • Starcraft 1 (THE old school RTS)
  • Dragon Quest IX (old school RPG, you wander around and kill stuff and get xp)
  • Thief 3 (picked up from the last big Steam Sale)
  • WoW/LOTRO (may be popular but the game model is 5 years old)

SC2 and DQ9 are both current chart-topping mega-sales games. Both of them are polished revamps of types of game which simply haven’t been fashionable over the last few years. Civilisation 5 will also probably be one of the big sellers of the year when it is released, and not because of its innovative game play.

So clearly players love them and are racing out to buy and play. Aside from the question of how Blizzard could afford to ignore a red hot property like Starcraft for 10 years rather than putting out a couple more expansions, maybe we need to think about why we view games as going in and out of fashion.

Some computer games will go out of fashion because they were designed around hardware that no longer exists. Or they were designed around limitations that no longer exist.

Some will go obsolete because of the internet. For example, these days you can assume that anyone who wants to know spoilers, tactics, or walk throughs can just hop online and get them. That affects the types of puzzles which people play.

Some won’t go obsolete precisely but will be refined out of recognition.

Some just reflect the current preferences of game designers or current views by publishers on who their main market/ profit is (Who is the core player? How much time do they have to play? What makes them buy games? What makes them pay more?)

Good design does not go out of fashion.

Dragon Quest IX and some musings on wandering monsters

Dragon Quest IX arrived on my DS this weekend, so if the posts this week are a little slow, you can blame the slimes. I have barely had a chance to scratch the surface of this game but I already love it dearly.

Twitter (140 word) review so far: DQ9 will make RPG fans very very happy. It’s a single player MMO in a box. Slimes adorable. Kill them all.

Since I really can’t write a proper review yet, here is one from The Telegraph. (Insert whine about the difficulty of getting screenshots from a DS unless you are a media outlet who get a special cable.)

The game starts with you doing some customising of your character – you can pick hairstyle and colour, eyes, a face, a gender and a name. Then you are dropped into one of the prettiest little prologues I’ve seen in any game ever. You are a Celestrian (this involves wings and a halo) and the guardian angel of a sweet little village. Your job is to make the villagers happy and keep them safe, even in the afterlife. This is one of the best in game motivations I have ever seen for nudging you to accept lots of random quests from people.

And DQ continues to do a great job with modernising the whole notion of quests. Later on you will be guilt tripped into helping some people, and pointed towards which quests are optional and can be happily ignored. There will be classes to choose from, companions to pick up (and customise), gear to collect and equip, skill points to spend, turn based combat, dungeons and open world areas to explore and (many many) monsters to slay.

There is also the possibility of having other players in your party via wifi, and your character can even learn some emotes to allow rudimentary conversation if you do this.

This is a game which, like Torchlight, just makes me happy when I am playing it. Maybe it’s the mixture of the old school RPG (wander around, kill things and take their stuff, level up), the JRPG storyline (you are a little angel that fell out of heaven and now you have to wander the world and help people), the gorgeous DS graphics, gameplay, and beating up slimes – but I’m having a great time with this one. Recommended to any RPG fans who own a DS.

Also, we need more games which let you play a martial artist who fights with a fan.

Dragon Quest and the numbers game

Apparently (according to wikipedia) DQ9 had 2 million pre-orders when it went live in Japan. 2 million pre-orders. And that’s just in Japan.

It’s pretty much guaranteed to break more records when the western numbers are in too.

The cult of the wandering monster

One of the other interesting notes from wikipedia was that this is the first Dragon Quest game in which you can actually see monsters in the open world before you attack them. It was very much a trope of JRPG (and some regular RPG also) that you would wander around the game world and every so often the game would decide, “Ah, time for a fight” and would launch you into a random fight.

This came straight from D&D, which had wandering monster tables on which the DM could roll if players looked bored. The original idea of the wandering monsters was that a DM could set up two types of fight. There would be static fights with mobs that had been designed into the scenario in advance, and there would also be the possibility for random encounters.

The wandering monster was the most simple of all random encounters. “Roll D10 to see what attacks you.” The aim was to make travelling through the world more interesting, because whilst fantasy epics do involve a lot of travel, it’s not very interesting to RP through it step by step. So instead, travel was modelled as some descriptions of the landscape, punctuated by brief encounters with wandering monsters.

(AD&D also, infamously, had a wandering streetwalker table for when players were exploring cities, “Roll d10 to see if you encounter a wanton wench, a strumpet, a call girl, a pimp, etc.” Even at the time we thought this was very silly.)

Later, scenarios evolved more interesting types of random encounter. It didn’t have to just be a random rust monster that wandered into camp, it might be some brief but amusing encounter (a band of travelling players need help to put on a show, etc.), or even the seed of a mini-adventure that players could choose to follow up or not. Yet in computer RPGs, the wandering monster had the great bonus of being very easy to code so it remained popular.

One of the great bonuses of MMOs, with their persistent immersive worlds, is that players could always expect to see monsters wandering the world before they attacked. There would be no ‘wandering monsters’ coming out of nowhere – although WoW experimented with very large wanderers such as the Fel Reaver, even they could be seen from a distance.

One of the exciting things about games like Warhammer Online and  Guild Wars 2 is that their public quests look to be reviving the notion of the random encounter, quests that just happen in the world as you wander through it and with which you can get involved.