Category Archives: Real Life

Rift Panda!

We all went to see Kung Fu Panda 2 last night, and while I definitely liked the first one better, it was great fun. Definitely recommended for the whole family.

As is typical in our household, the introduction of a new movie sparks all kinds of interest from our eldest son; one week he’ll be Thor, swinging his mighty hammer and quoting every line from the previews (we’d never take a six-year-old to that particular show!), the next week its another superhero or the Kung Fu antics of our favorite Fat Panda. One of my favorites was the Inventor phase that came with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs! With that interest also comes a scouring of the Internet, combing through official sites, devouring any and all videos (again, age-appropriate, one must be careful!), and pouring through licensed toy information. LEGO is particularly popular.

Funny thing happened this morning. He was looking through the Kung Fu Panda site, and as is typical he quickly found his way to the games section. The first he chose was the Photo Booth game, which I have to say is very clever and extremely well-built. He started making photos, and you can see the results above. As chance would have it, the last folder Firefox remembered was the folder where I have all of my RIFT screenshots, so he naturally started picking his favorites!

He came and found my wife and I to show of his handiwork, and we all had a good laugh about it. The wonders of the Internet! As far as mashups go, I think this is probably one of the best I’ve seen! I especially like Tigress fighting Ragnoth the Despoiler. Very apropos.

What struck me was how oddly appropriate the setting of RIFT is when joined with the characters of the movie. I’ve always thought that the world of Kung Fu Panda was particularly gorgeous, and would love to see more games with that kind of stylized, highly detailed, magical sensibility to their art. Much like RIFT!

Another Week in the Sun

This week marks our (almost) yearly family trip to Florida, so I’m pretty much out of the loop for gaming. This laptop can run LotRO, but it’s not much good for group activities. Besides, the whole thing is a good excuse to take a break and catch up on some sleep; it’s amazing how different it feels getting a nearly full night of sleep (kids still make the “full night” fairly improbable). Still, smartphones and WiFi mean we aren’t completely cut off, so keeping up with the news is still possible.

Somehow it slipped my attention that I’d be on vacation during the end of the first World Event in RIFT; normally, I’d bemoan the fact that I missed such an event, but it seems that I didn’t really miss anything and, given my gaming schedule, it’s not likely that I would have been able to get in to see the end anyway. I’m a little upset about how the whole thing played out, but mostly from the position of “detached observer”. I was barely able to accumulate enough shardstones to buy the few items I really wanted, and other than that I wasn’t particularly invested in the event. I was more interested in it as a concept – that it seemed technically feasible and demonstrated Trion’s intentions.

I’ve ponied up for the Founder’s Pricing (which, to be honest, is pretty tame compared to LotRO‘s Founder’s deal) and subbed for the next three months, which I would have done even without the River of Souls. However, it seems that Trion really has fumbled for the first time. But possibly not for reasons fully within their control; the “Bring a Friend” weekend was probably planned well in advance, and the unexpected delay in releasing Phase 2 just created a truly unfortunate set of circumstances; despite giving “priority access” to subscribers, once a visitor is actually in the game, I imagine that Trion would not kick them out for a paying customer.

While I agree with Syncaine about the overall response from players (outrageous entitlement and completely undue rage), I do have two points where I disagree. First, technical issues prevented players who wanted to play and were online at the time from entering the game world. That’s not the fault of players, is a pretty straightforward problem, and is an issue that Trion needs to address.

The second issue is much larger, and it’s something that makes me think twice about long-term investment in RIFT – the nature of dynamic events and exactly how far Trion wants to take the “dynamic” nature of the game. Syncaine is right – it’s just not reasonable (but then again, how often are we reasonable in our demands?) for players to laud Trion for providing a more dynamic world, while at the same time screaming about that same dynamic content not being available to them at any time they choose to log in. It’s an issue that Trion will have to work hard to tackle – how do you make a truly dynamic world, one that’s always changing, while at the same time providing equal opportunity and access to all players no matter what time of day/week/month they choose to log in? It would seem that one cannot accommodate the other.

My guess is that there are a lot of conversations about this very topic going on right now; Trion has already acknowledged their missteps and seems to realize the nature of their error. My guess would be that, in the future, “dynamic content” will fall into one of a few categories:

  • World Events – these will come and go, but each phase will last several days or weeks instead of being as brief as the final phases of River of Souls.
  • “One offs” – these will be very short events (days or even hours) that have minimal impact on the world, almost no real benefit (i.e. loot drops/currencies), but provide the “living world” feel and are fun for those who experience them.
  • Rifts/Invasions – these are well established and will continue as they always have.
  • Something else(?)

It will be interesting to see the outcome, and considering that the next World Event is probably right around the corner, I think we’ll see how their design decisions have shifted based on this first event.

In other news (for the games I play!), Turbine announced the Fourth Anniversary Celebration. I’m always a fan of Turbine’s events, but this one just seems like more of the same. Not to mention that it’s apparently quite a grind (when Goldenstar decides to skip, you know there are issues). The mount is nice, and I’ll certainly be working towards it, and I’ve always liked the “Beer Battle” (I still have a title to achieve, if this is the same mini-game as what’s in the seasonal festival), but nonetheless it seems like there is a distinct lack of content to motivate participation. I know that they can’t “hit one out of the park” every time, but after the rather bland Spring Festival, I was hoping for something a bit…more. Four years is an achievement, but not exactly an easy milestone to promote – it’s not a multiple of five. I’m hoping that they really pull out the stops for next year!

That’s about it for now. Back to the beach!

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!

Differing Opinion

"I'm gonna sing the Doom Song now..."

“Wait…why are you attacking them?? They’re just standing around, minding their own business, being…undead, and you wander in and start beating on them! How is that heroic?”

So sayeth my wife this weekend. She’d come into the office while I was grinding Eglain reputation in Garth Agarwen (undead, dark-waters, and bog-lurkers). Four brief sentences and a roll of the eyes;  her take on what occupies such a massive amount of my time. And a friendly, if unintended, reminder to not take these games so seriously. In her defense, she was poking fun; she’s always been understanding of a hobby that dominates so much of what I do, and is as accepting as patience allows (and she’s got a lot of patience).

The remainder of the conversation was fairly predictable in how it played out:

Me: “Sweetie…they’re undead. Zombies. They’re evil.”

Her: “How evil can they be? They’re just standing around. You’re the one who’s trespassing!”

Me: “But they’re minions. Of The Dark Lord.”

Her: “Dark Lord. Sure, but what did they do to you?”

Me: “They’re…MINIONS. Enemies of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth.” (This is where I knew I’d lost.)

Her: “Hmmm.”

Me: “Look. They’re wretched. See? It’s called a Wretched Gloom-Water. I’m putting it out of it’s misery.”

Her: “Uh-huh.” *kiss*

I consider myself fairly good with words, and I can generally hold my own in a debate. But it’s hard to argue in the face of that kind of opinion; she doesn’t actively dislike games, she’s just never understood the appeal or been able to make the logical (or illogical) jump required to immerse yourself in the experience of an MMO. Suspension of disbelief and all that.

At least I got a kiss.

Not-So-Disposable

A comment on Massively caught my attention this morning:

“It is truly amazing to me how the gamers have changed over the years. Now all they do is complain. This is whats wrong with the MMO industry, They have spoon fed most of ya to the point where nothing they do now will impress. too many spoiled gamers!
Give the game a chance, 99% of ya have not even played the game yet. So we all know what assumptions do. Just sayin.”

~Haukeye

It’s not a particularly new comment – people have been stating this for years. And while I do agree with the comment, it’s tempered by the reality of obligations and priorities that I think many of us face in the Real World. Also, I think the assessment of “spoiled gamers”, while probably true in many cases, is also too simplistic.

It’s all well and good to say, “Give ’em a chance!”. Especially because Masthead is an independent studio trying to put out a game that actually takes some chances in it’s design. I want to give them a chance; I would love nothing more than to reward that type of risk-taking. But the comment above is the statement of, I presume, a young gamer; at the least, someone with few real obligations and plenty of disposable income.

For many of us, this kind of attitude just isn’t realistic (especially in this economic climate). Money is tight, and free time is even more precious. After all of my real obligations  have been fulfilled (bills, food, diapers, kids, etc.) the money I have to feed this hobby is pretty limited. I’m lucky in that I don’t have to make any “hard” decisions, but I’m probably in the minority in this regard these days. (Not that “food or games” is a hard decision). Take a look at sales figures for the gaming industry over the last year or so and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Sure, some games are setting all-time sales records. Even MMOs. But overall the industry is suffering just like the rest of the world.

So, yes, Haukeye, I would love to just give Masthead a chance and drop 50 bucks on a game that hasn’t proven itself, or even really sold me on its ability to execute. I’d love to be able to take them on their word that the features they describe are actually in the game, work as they should, and are fun. But I don’t have that luxury; I have to carefully pick and choose where I place my dollars and where I spend my time. And free time is really the catch here – I’m not going to shell out serious cash for a game I’ll never play. I don’t have the funds to just throw money away.

I’m not a “spoiled gamer”; I’m a middle-class husband and father. If a game company wants my money, they better damn well prove the value in what they’re selling.

So far, Masthead hasn’t done that with Earthrise. So, sadly, I have to play wait-and-see. But I’ll be watching, closely.