Monthly Archives: March 2011

Playing For Pure Fun

Googling "Pure Fun"...really?

Funny how you sit down every morning intending to get that post written that’s been buzzing around in your head, and every day there’s a new distraction that keeps you from writing it. It’s almost like they expect me to work for my paycheck…

In all seriousness (please don’t fire me!), it’s a combination of two factors which has kept me away from gaming for yet another week. One, being very busy at work, and two, keeping myself extraordinarily busy with personal work while at home – both ending in good, solid results. But not exactly conducive to pursuing hobbies.

The week hasn’t been a total wash for the games, though, as I was able to get a few hours in for LotRO‘s Spring Festival last night, and have spent a good deal of time playing LEGO games on the Wii with my older son. Mostly Star Wars and Indiana Jones – two titles I am more than thrilled that he enjoys, and in which I’m more than happy to invest some quality time. Especially if I can share it with the kids. Even my wife gets in on the action from time to time, but mostly as a helper to figure out the puzzles and occasionally lend a hand when I cannot. Extraordinary! It’s almost as if the system were designed to bring families together…

I have to say that I am in complete and utter awe at my son’s ability to learn and adapt. For a five year old to be playing a platforming game rated ‘E10’ – and beating his parents! – may not be that unusual these days, but it sure is impressive to me. I don’t remember the process I went through towards becoming ‘A Gamer’, or what it was like to attain the skills common to our hobby or learn the conventions we all take for granted. But I do remember that it was a long, lonely journey of many hours with the Commodore 64/Nintendo/Playstation/PC. Eventually my sister was old enough to join me, but we didn’t have anyone to introduce us to video games or help me through the initial learning curve. Only parents who were open-minded enough, and willing enough, to let us play. And, because I knew that eventually he’d want to play video games, I did worry a little about how to help him learn. Turns out that was a completely useless concern.

It’s almost as if my son has no learning curve whatsoever; or, one so shallow that you’d need insanely precise scientific apparatus to accurately measure it. Generally, he only has to see something once to get the hang of it, and can already remember the process for clearing most levels. There are a few parts with which he needs help, but those are becoming increasingly few and further apart. I know I am biased, and that this particular event must be utterly alien to the older generations, but it makes me proud to watch him play. Most times, I have more fun watching him than I do actually playing. Most, but not all! Sometimes the Old Man wants to get in there and swing a lightsaber or whip!

I have noticed a key difference, however, in the ways and reasons the two of us play. And I don’t think I’m alone in this; I think many gamer parents would probably say the same types of things. My son plays for the sheer enjoyment of getting from the Start to the End – go from Point A to Point B, solve the puzzles and getting to the next cutscene or area. That’s it. I play to “complete”, or “beat”, the game – see all the areas and finish all of the achievements. Not that either way is more right or more wrong, just that we each find Fun in different aspects of the game. And, to be honest, I think I enjoy his way more. If only I could get past the instincts 2+ decades of gaming have accrued.

He plays for the pure fun of playing. For the doing, not the finishing. His only reason for pushing through a level is to see what comes next; he’s never finished a game and realized that that’s it. That he can either go back and play it again, or move onto something else. These things are infinite to him, so he doesn’t feel the need to squeeze every last ounce out of them. At some point we, both gamers and developers, crossed a line where the ideas of value and retention – and for developers, profit – became real considerations. The Age of Achievements and Leaderboards and Cash Shop Cosmetics was born. In a way, it makes me a little sad for the Gamer I’ve become; that I’m (clightly) manic about being thorough, and plumbing the breadth and depth of every game I take on. Those can be wonderful things – breadth and depth – but they tend to engender a kind of desperate need to check off every item on someone else’s list.

So I revel in the Gamer that he is right now, and I truly enjoy playing beside him. It occasionally let’s me sink back into the kind of fun I once had. Not that I don’t have fun now, but it’s of a different kind. His is more simple and, in some ways, more vibrant.

I think it would be a good study to take video of my wife and I watching him play (at the very least, it would be mildly amusing). We quietly cringe as he works his way through a level, vocally offering encouragement to disguise our “stress”. Though it’s for two very different reasons. My wife is like my son; get to the end as quickly and efficiently as possible, but she would probably be able to do it a bit faster than he can (for now!). Not for a time-based achievement, but more a “It’s the Destination, not the Journey” thing. It’s why she won’t watch me play, ever.

I cringe because he doesn’t care about points or achievements; he’ll grab silver and gold dots (worth 10 and 100 points each, respectively) if they are in his path, but will quite obviously pass up blues and purples (1000 and 10,000, respectively) that are only a few steps away. He doesn’t care to fulfill the “True Adventurer” or “True Jedi” or “Mad Gamerzzz” achievement for the level, or to find all the treasure chests/power cores/self-validating-booster-thingies.

This drives me up a wall, and more than once I’ve found myself going back through an area to collect dots after he’s handed me the Wii-mote to help him with something small like making a hard jump. He complains, a bit, but I know it’s whats best for him. Or me.

Whatever.

Work > Fun > Work > “Poly-game-y”

I couldn't resist...

Funny how an incredibly busy week equates to a truly slow week for the things you want to be doing. Obviously, gaming has not been much of an option these past few days.  Alas.

The title pretty much sums up my time over the past week or so – (Personal) Work more than Fun, Fun more than (Work) Work, and Work has been better than “Poly-game-y” (trying to maintain two MMO subs at the same time…excuse the very poor joke). I barely have enough time to respectably play one MMO, let alone the two that vie for my attention these days. But RIFT continues to entice, while LotRO‘s op and coming Echoes of the Dead keeps me itching to log in.

But I have to admit – I am not a polygamist (in any sense of the word). I just don’t have it in me; call it a remnant of the whole hunter/gatherer division of instinct. MMOs, which seem so often to require monogamy from their devoted players, actually DO for me. Trying to get (or stay) invested in two worlds just divides my attention too much, and I end up feeling a shallow experience from both. Which might be another reason I haven’t been logging in much the past week. And why I’m writing at 10 PM on a Friday night, instead of playing!

And, for me, if I’m not invested, what’s the point? I play for the stories and the adventure and if I’m not feeling those, I don’t feel the need to log in. Which I haven’t this week. Besides, with a personal project weighing heavy on my mind (and making good progress!), my little free time been spent elsewhere. So the title works both ways – Polygamy has felt more like Work, Work has been a lot more Fun, and what was Fun has become more of a chore, recently.

Not that I’ve given up on gaming or MMOs; a very temporary, and inadvertent, hiatus is more like it.

(Oddly enough, I’ve never had a problem playing multiple single-player games at a time…perhaps because they don’t change while I’m gone? It’s certainly not the “get my money’s worth” thing for MMOs – Lifetime LotRO paid off a long, long time ago, and RIFT is well worth the price!)

They Make You So Proud

"I was born here, you know..."

While playing LEGO: Star Wars (which we finally acquired today) with my 5-year-old son:

Me: “Tatooine! That’s the planet where Luke Skywalker grew up.”

Bean: “Yeah. He was born there, he almost died there!”

Me: “…” <laughs>

So proud, I think I shed a tear. A fatherly, geeked-out-Star-Wars-nerd tear, but a tear nonetheless. At least he’s quoting Empire Strikes Back instead of that other garbage. Now I know I’m raising him right!

Slow Week

It’s been a slow week for me, at least as far as gaming goes; work has been pretty crazy as we ramp up to stay on schedule for some pretty heavy deadlines, and I’ve been playing around with a personal, MMO-related project as well which has sucked up a good amount of my free nights. We’ll see where that one goes, but so far its been a lot of fun – Google App Engine and data visualizations as applied to MMOs? Yes, please!

(Okay, maybe that’s just me…there’s a reason I do this kind of stuff for a living.)

Oddly enough, what little gaming time I’ve had has been mostly devoted to LotRO. Just before RIFT I decided to finally venture into Enedwaith for the first time. I know, I’m terribly late to the party!

I have to say, I’m very impressed with the zone and with the story so far. Some beautiful vistas, and a great blend of cultural influences. I went through the diplomacy session between the Dunlendings of Lanuch and the Emissary of Isengard last night and, even though it was very text-heavy, it was a fun and memorable experience. Really, if Turbine would just jump on the All-Voiceover Bandwagon, LotRO would see a tidy increase in immersion.

My favorite moment of the last week was discovering Maur Tulhau. I was wandering through the northern Gloomglens, looking for quest objectives and not particularly paying attention to where I was, when I came over a rise. The music suddenly changed (and swelled!) to a somewhat familiar tune and I topped the rise to look down on a small town. A Hobbit town! (And I realized of what the music reminded me – The Shire.) It was a great surprise and a really nice moment that rang of discovery and adventure. I didn’t wander into the village, saving that for later.

Overall, Enedwaith strikes me as a great zone that definitely shows Turbine’s experience at creating spaces. There are a lot of nice environmental touches, little details, and nooks and crannies I know I will spend a ton of time fully exploring! I’m impressed with how much diversity they’ve crammed into one space, while at the same time making it coherent.

It makes me that much more excited to see what’s over the next horizon; even though Update 2 doesn’t really release any new zone (does it?), it certainly reworks a good amount of what’s tiresome in LotRO right now (for me, at least). I’m looking forward to the removal of Radiance and the reworking of Legendary Items, if for no other reason than that it allows me to stop grinding content I’m not particulary interested in doing again, and move on into things I haven’t yet experienced. Also, building my own Legendary with exactly the Legacies I want should be a huge help in making me more viable for the new group/raid content coming in Echoes of the Dead.

In the wider world (in case you aren’t already aware), PAX East started this week; I have yet to attend a major gaming conference, and I’ve determined that next year I will at least attend PAX East – it’s only a few hours from home and there are many, many people I’d love to meet (whether they care to meet me is another issue!). Nonetheless, I’m watching the news sites and blogs closely for news, announcements, and other goodies (such as THIS ONE), as there are many games on display during the show and probably some hefty reveals for titles I’m eagerly anticipating. Can’t wait!

 

Anticipation, Detour, Overload

The view from above Silverwood

As much as I said I was going to wait a week or more before diving into RIFT, once that Collector’s Edition box showed up Tuesday afternoon, I knew there was no hope of that. It’s not the biggest, or even nicest, Collector’s Edition I’ve bought (though the 8GB USB drive is very nice!), but the hardcover collection of the comic miniseries was enough to get me super-excited, and nearly desperate, to get into Telara and start exploring. So I decided to brave the crowds and forge ahead!

Like others who have posted on the topic, the few times I came across a server queue (and that hasn’t been but once since the game went “Live”) didn’t really bother me. In fact, given that I just sat there and read the comic, it was actually kind of exciting – my anticipation built and built until I was slavering to get into the game. When the counter hit single digits, I think my pulse jumped a few dozen BPM. I know, it’s a one-time occurrence – the comics heightening my desire to play to the point where I don’t care about the queue – but then again, so are the queues (hopefully). So in the end, it worked out really well and pushed my desire to play RIFT into the stratosphere.

At this point I’ve played all of the classes at least to level 10; Rogue, Warrior, and Cleric on the Guardian side and Rogue, Warrior, and Mage on the Defiant. I’m purposely choosing different souls where I have a class on both sides, and after playing around with various combinations, I found a surprise. I’m really not into the Rogue classes all that much (*GASP*). Which is a HUGE thing for me. I almost always play stealth classes, and this generally means a Rogue-like class. But, for one reason or another, everyone seems to have rolled a Rogue in RIFT; well, not everyone, but enough people that I lost a bit of interest. Once I get to the group content, I’m not sure I want to hang out for hours looking for a spot for DPS.

Where I’ve actually found the most fun is in the Mage and Cleric classes, which really threw me for a loop. I’m generally considered the absolute worst Minstrel in my LotRO kin, and I never roll casters. When I logged in last night and immediately went to select my Guardian Cleric, a little voice in the back of my head started stuttering its objections while trying to pull the mouse towards a Rogue. So maybe its more that I prefer the “Road Less Traveled” and, up until now, that’s been stealthy, stabby Rogues. We’ll see; there are many, many aspects of the Rogue that are tremendously appealing.

Last, but certainly not least, I have to say that while I think Trion Worlds has a winner on their hands, I still think they tried a little too hard to cram RIFT full of content and activities for the players. As I said in a previous post – it’s just a little bit of an overload. Between quests, the dynamic content, and peering around every corner and under every rock for Artifacts, I’m having trouble containing my OCD-like tendencies to try to do everything. It’s fun, no doubt, but it’s a little overwhelming. Which is a great thing about which one can complain! But sometimes I just want to get stuff done, and I really want to get out of Silverwood/Freemarch.

I think I’ll wait to do a more comprehensive write-up until after I get everyone out of the starter zone (not the tutorial), but I will close with this: RIFT could be an altaholic’s wet dream (or their worst nightmare, depending). For someone like me, who has limited time to play, it’s a dream come true. Because of the soul system, and the fact that eventually I can have FOUR different builds (combinations of souls) per character, RIFT makes it so that I don’t really need to roll more than one of any given class. Maybe two, if I want to see both the Guardian and Defiant side (which I do!) and be able to play absolutely every aspect of a class. It’s like the best of WoW’s Talent Trees combined with Tabula Rasa’s cloning mechanic; no more grinding through old areas over and over just to get a different class “up to speed”.

Brilliant!