Tag Archives: more drama

More Drama: Why Are We Like This?

Not so much a post about MMOs today, as much as about the gaming industry in general…

I’m talking about this:

“Bungie are a very unusual company. They’re probably the last remaining high quality independent developer.”

Bobby Kotick, CEO, Activision Blizzard

And of course, an inevitable response:

“You were quoted saying that Bungie is the last remaining high quality independent developer. As a former executive vice president of Bungie, I need to tell you: If this is true, you’re screwed.”

Peter Tamte, President, Atomic Games

Tamte proceeds to challenge Activision on its vision and ability to innovate, and issues a (ridiculous) challenge. Now, we the gaming public get only pieces of both sides, most likely taken out of context. Kotick may be well-known for making vastly unpopular, broad generalizations and for putting investors and profit before customers and fun (shocker!), but what would prompt anyone to make a statement like this? Being at the top of the heap doesn’t mean you get to piss on everyone “below” you.

And, honestly, why would Tamte even bother to respond? Paying it more attention, and devoting time and energy to a public response just lends validity to that type of behavior. I get the “stand up for the little guy”, and I even agree with Tamte. But the best response is often no response – let it fly by in our consciousness and die a quick death of inattention. Shrug it off; is Kotick’s opinion of your company that critical, or carry so much weight, that you need to do anything other than ignore it?

Why does it always break down to smack-talk? Why is this considered “news” for our industry? (As a somewhat related aside, Manifest Pixel posted a good argument on the validity of the label “Games Journalism” – well worth a read.)

What prompted this post was a response on Kotaku:

“The video game industry is so weird.

It is strange how the constant verbal sparring between companies is publicly disseminated by the game industry, yet it has no effects on the game or the game sales.

[…] It essentially feels like it’s melodrama for the sake of itself. The only value existing in the artificial sense of social interaction with people that are otherwise inaccessible.

I mean we don’t see article’s elsewhere about how much of a jerk the CEO for Hostess is.”

This got me thinking about the video games industry as a whole, and how we seem to be unique in our behavior (both the industry of developers/producers and the fans). You don’t see this kind of behavior in any other form of mass media. Movies, books, television – none of them compare to the drama to which we subject ourselves. Why does the games industry behave in such a juvenile manner? It’s almost as if the stereotypical behavior of their audience has somehow bled into the thinking of these companies; “Our customer are trash-talking teenagers, so we have to be the same way…” I think this is a part of it, but there’s something more to it.

One, I don’t think we (gamers) necessarily see this kind of behavior in other forms of media and art because we’re not plugged into those circles the way we are into gaming culture. If we were heavily involved in movies, we might take notice of this kind of news (if it exists, I have no idea). We have sites entirely devoted to “news” about our hobby, why wouldn’t other hobbies? And because our sites tend to be focused quite narrowly (on average, only covering games) we don’t tend to see any information on other forms of media.

Two (and this one if far more responsible), I think that the games industry is somewhat unique in that it’s relatively young for a form of mass media, and is “growing up” in the age of the Internet. In an age of instant gratification and immediate, ubiquitous access to information, the games industry is saddled with creating products that have budgets similar to movies and television but which require years of development. Combine these factors:

  1. Incredibly complex technology to produce a “leading edge” product, requiring years of work hours to produce, which often leads to:
  2. INSANE budgets that become immense investments requiring mass popularity just to cut a profit
  3. Built by a combination of corporates, artists, and “IT geeks”, often at odds with one another

And you get the melodrama we see on a daily basis coming across gaming Web sites. I’m guessing that a good amount of it is intentional. Maybe not conspiratorial in the sense of developers-playing-the-gamers, but certainly as a means to maintain attention on any given product. How else do you keep your company, and product, in the headlines for months (or years) at a time when your audience has the overall attention span of a toddler?  We may grind our teeth every time Kotick opens his mouth, or facepalm every time David Allen or Derek Smart decide to extend their personal vendettas onto the Internet, but the fact is we pay attention. We criticize, but their antics work after a fashion.

In the end, I agree with Tamte, and I’m not the biggest fan of Activision, or Kotick. If we’re just talking about making good games, they’re mediocre at best; if we’re talking about advancing the art of creating fun games, Activision (not counting Blizzard) isn’t exactly a leader. They are a victim of their own success, and fill a role in the industry that may not be the most exciting or forward-thinking, but is necessary nonetheless. They release solid entries in established franchises. There’s fun there, but ‘change’ for them is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Numbingly slow, but there is change.

But I also see the ability to innovate as a natural part of being in Tamte’s position as “the little guy”; major corporations answer to a host of authorities – from investors to the Board of Directors to the SEC and big sums of money draw huge attention. Yes, companies tend to play it safe when maximum profits are Priority One, and this often becomes (or appears as) laziness. Smaller companies don’t necessarily have these pressures, and can afford to take some risks. As Tamte states, in many ways they need to take these risks. It’s a trade-off.

But does any of the above really require the kind of one-up-manship, character assassination, and verbal sniping that is so rampant in gaming circles? Does maintaining attention on a company truly equate to increased attention for a product, and therefore increased sales? Isn’t it enough to present a product leading up to release, and let the game sink or swim on the merits of its content, instead of on the reputation or notoriety of the company releasing it? One would think so, but if you do you’re not in Marketing.

When I think about the future of the gaming industry, I look at my four-year-old son. For him, computers and the Internet are not things to be learned. They simply are, and he’s never known any different. He learns them the same way he learns to speak – by watching and playing and not being afraid to make mistakes or ask questions. He absorbs those skills in a way that only children can, and now knows more about some things technical than his mother (his old man still has the edge, but for how long?). Because these things are a natural part of his world, he will see things technology can do, and devise things he wants technology to do, that we will never see or imagine. Should he choose to create games, I can only hope that the tools with which he will work will enable his generation to create in such a way that they can put aside the puerile tactics being employed today, and mature the industry.

More Drama: Stepping Back

Just like I imagined

Sometimes you don’t realize exactly how right something is until you’ve had a moment to step back and really take a good, long look at it. I found this particularly true this week. Lots of little, or maybe not so little, things for me in LotRO.

First, I finished out Lothlorien; at least, I finished as many of the non-repeatable quests I could find. Caras Galadhon, while an exceedingly beautiful area, is not easy to navigate, and finding all of the quests was a bit tricky. I’m still not sure I found them all. And finishing out Lothlorien naturally means I found my way to Mirkwood. Not that I couldn’t have headed across the river a long time ago, but I like to take the content in sequence as much as possible, so I left off Mirkwood until I felt comfortable I’d gone through the bulk of Lothlorien’s quests.

On the subject of Lothlorien, I have to say that overall I’m extraordinarily pleased with how the area turned out. Turbine really took to heart what Lothlorien represented in the books, and more importantly for the Fellowship – an island of respite, the last taste of peace before the coming trials and the descent into outright War that followed their departure. The area was truly a respite after the craziness that was Moria (not that I’m done with Moria, but I spend far less of my time there now).

In a very subtle way, Turbine truly nailed Lothlorien, and in a way that I didn’t notice until I was almost through it and looking towards Mirkwood. It is exactly what it should be; it is a place of peace, newly threatened with the first incursions of the Enemy, and, from the perspective of game mechanics, more about lore than about combat. That’s perfection in my book, and it made me feel what I would think the Fellowship felt after fleeing Moria into the relative safety of the Golden Wood. Consider that a majority of the quests were non-combat quests, that they dealt in many ways with the revelation, explanation, or expansion of the game’s lore (and hence, the world’s lore). Very appropriate.

Then, into Mirkwood. I’ve only done the “landing” instance so far. The tension felt when moving through the introductory area was nice and, aided by great music and the outstanding visual design, it really had the feeling of an invasion into a haunted wood. At least, how I’d think the first landing of an invasion would feel. But, again, near-perfect execution by Turbine. And, more important than anything else, Mirkwood looks exactly how I would have imagined it.

What Lothlorien, quickly followed by Mirkwood, has shown me is the genius of Turbine when looking at LotRO from an “eagle’s view”. On a grand scale, they really have captured the essence of the story so far. Eriador is predominantly about beginnings, an emergent threat, and growing dread. Moria is about loss both the kingdom of the Dwarves and for the Fellowship), with darkness rising from the depths, and a frantic escape. Lothlorien is the Fellowship’s respite, where they renew their resolve and receive some powerful help. Mirkwood, while not directly (barely even indirectly) mentioned in the books, is a chance for players to explore a new realm, and to dive back into the fray.

After the craziness of Moria, I have to say that taking a step back from the fighting was a welcome break. Towards the end, I’d had the growing sense that there was nothing but the fighting – the grind, the intense battles, it’s all fun, but it can get tiring. Looking back, I see that I, along with many players, just leaned into it more and more, just to keep moving forward and maintain momentum, like walking through a raging storm. You just lean into it, head down, and keep moving forward as best you can. This is appropriate for Moria, but can really burn us out. Lothlorien is the perfect respite, and a great transition.

I also took a huge step back, and started a new character, on a new server (sorry kin, but the temptation was too great!). I chose a Burglar again, and stuck with the race of Man. Though I don’t think it will become my full-time home for LotRO, I wanted something on Landroval that I could use for attending events.

More than anything else, this particular step back has renewed my love for LotRO and my desire to play. Really. Look at this:

That's only the beginning!

Now tell me, how can you not find that absolutely stunning? How can you not be drawn into a world so gorgeously detailed, so breathtakingly engaging, where sightseeing is a valid (and fun) way to spend your time? I’ve played many, many games, and can honestly say that it would be hard to name a world more enthralling than Turbine’s Middle Earth.

More Drama: Ending Volume 1

It was interesting, and encouraging, to see the kinship’s overall reaction to the Free To Play announcement last week. Some hadn’t heard, a few took a somewhat negative stance (though none as strongly as Keen), but mostly it was brushed off and business as usual. That being the business of having fun. I expected more drama surrounding the announcement, and was pleasantly surprised by the lack thereof.

I managed to finish up Volume 1 early this morning (the kids have a wonderful habit of requiring us to fully wake up when they have no intention of following suit), by finally knocking out Book 15, Chapter 12. As nice a milestone as this is, I wouldn’t bother mentioning it, except for one difference in this particular experience. I decided to invoke “Inspired Greatness” for the first time, running an instance solo when it is intended for a full Fellowship. The buff that comes along with this is incredibly powerful; I’m almost inclined to say too powerful, despite having been toned down after initial implementation. For example, throughout the instance I don’t think I dropped below one third of my total Morale, and Mischievous Glee brought me to full morale almost immediately (I think I saw a +5000-or-so at one point). How’s that for “challenging”?

As a Burglar, I finally got the chance to play as the main tank.

I’m of slightly mixed feelings about this particular mechanic. As someone who does work with alts on a rare occasion, the option to at least complete the Epic quests alone is very nice – it can be tough to find groups when I get the chance and inclination to log into an avatar that isn’t my main. And, while tearing through entire groups of mobs is fun, I can’t say it’s entirely enjoyable. For a player who does not play a DPS or tanking class, it’s just too much of a departure from my normal role. As a Burglar, I’m accustomed to playing in a far more strategic fashion, and having to think out encounters a bit more before engaging. This was just pure slaughter, and the extent of my strategy was to grab the attention of as many monsters as possible, as quickly as possible, to keep them off Narmaleth. Oh, and by the way, without all those nice skills for grabbing mass aggro – good fun!

There are some parts of Inspired Greatness that work very well. In this particular case, it was extremely helpful to have the help provided. I tried running Book 12 close to when it was first released, with full parties of players ranging from level 55 to 60. It was tough; and I was never in a group that finished it, so the quest has been languishing ever since, and I’ve been wanting the Grey Steed that comes as a reward. (It’s so pretty! And now I can truly play out my fantasies about being Gandalf). Also, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t having fun tearing through what would normally be some pretty tough Orcs.

Finally, there was definitely an increased sense of heroism, running alone alongside Narmaleth, and seeing the conclusion to Volume 1 was great. Taking out an Elite Master single-handedly was a blast. As I stated in an earlier More Drama, Turbine has a great piece of technology with the system that allows dramatic scenes using the game engine (as opposed to cutscenes, though I enjoy those too), and seeing my Burglar in the midst of the final scenes was a terrifically engaging experience.

More Drama: Diversions

In order to fill the need for “something new“, I finally decided to take a serious look at Dungeons & Dragons Online. I have a good history with Turbine, and though I tried the original version before it went Free To Play, and found it rather lacking, I had heard a lot of great things about the “reborn DDO”. Considering the very low entry cost (i.e. nothing), and that I’ve gotten used to not paying subscription fees, I figured it was a good match.

Good call. Very good call.

I’m not entirely clear, yet, what Turbine did to make this game so much more appealing to me. Maybe nothing; maybe my tastes or playstyle have changed, or maybe I matured in some way. Maybe it’s the change to the price – free – though I have already purchased some Turbine Points for use in the cash shop. Whatever the change, my experience this time was far, far different and has made me a believer.

I managed to get a Ranger up to level 3 in short order, and I haven’t even left Korthos Island yet (I’m a sucker for completing tasks, such as the extermination “quest” in the explorable parts of Korthos). I knocked out all of the dungeons up to the Hard level in good time, and am really just hanging around for two reasons: one, the aforementioned kill quest (750 kills takes surprisingly little time in DDO…), and two, I want to actually group with some people. So I thought I would try the Elite levels of the dungeons.

A quick breakdown of what I’ve enjoyed so far:

  • Solo Friendly – Obviously this game is not meant to be played solo. But, I have fewer hours to devote to playing, so just having the option to run some content solo is a huge plus in my mind. Even better, when I eventually do get into a group, I can experience the content in a different way, with different rewards.
  • Active Combat – I can honestly say that I’ve rarely used any of my “triggered” skills, and relied almost entirely on strategically attacking mobs; starting with the bow, and finishing them with melee weapons. I realize that I’m probably putting myself at a disadvantage, and missing a part of the combat mechanics entirely. But the skills just don’t seem necessary yet. At least, not in the way that they are in a traditional system such as LotRO. I have no doubt that I will start to use them to a greater degree, but so far I’m having a blast just fighting in a much more active, engaging way than most anything I’ve played.
  • Visuals – The game is very pretty, and I’ve only seen one small area with pretty much one theme – jungle ruins/village. Turbine has worked their magic again, and created a visually stunning world that doesn’t tax the players’ system or require crazy investments in hardware (I’m looking at you Funcom – still after all these years).
  • Cost – It’s hard to get better than free. But the cost I’m referring to isn’t the lack of subscription. It’s the balance that Turbine found for their cash shop. I’ve dabbled in a good number of Free To Play titles, and have always been turned off at about the point where the developer starts leaning on the players for money. Inevitably, and justifiably, there is a point at which the devs would like to make a profit; unfortunately for everyone, the standard FTP model dictates that you charge for something that is, more or less, necessary in order for players to have fun. Sure, I could get by in a lot of FTP games without spending a dime, but would I be having fun? Not really. With DDO, Turbine has provided a good number of options for players to advance and earn and achieve, and only some of them require money. They also found the right types of items for the cash shop – convenience items and adventure packs. If you want to spend the time, you can play, and even earn perks from the cash shop, simply playing the game and never spending a cent. Or you can purchase some items that speed up your leveling or provide other conveniences, getting you to where you want to be a bit faster. Or you can subscribe. And on top of that, they sell chunks of content, completely optional content, at reasonable prices. It’s pretty near the perfect balance.
  • Story! – This is where this post fits into the “More Drama” category. DDO has a lot going for it in terms of story, and engaging the player in that story. Now, maybe it’s just because I’ve been hungry for something more, and a starving man isn’t discriminating. But I couldn’t say I’ve been starving for story. And the Dungeon Master system is a great mechanic for conveying story and moving players along. There are similar prompts in LotRO when moving through instanced areas or quests, but the voice-overs in DDO really add a lot. Turbine hit it out of the park in capturing the essence of PnP gaming.

Will Dungeons & Dragons Online become my primary game? No. Will it become a part of my regular gaming activities? Absolutely yes.

Right now I’m having the most fun I’ve ever had in LotRO, and that’s saying a lot. I’ve enjoyed LotRO since it launched. But DDO is definitely something I will continue to play; if I didn’t have class on Wednesday nights, I’d be sure to join in the Massively guild and their weekly play sessions (‘ll probably try to join anyway and find the time to log in Wednesday nights).

I think Turbine has something really special with DDO; they’ve got the Dungeons and Dragons feel captured fairly well, and they kept enough of the standard MMO mechanics intact to make the learning curve pretty shallow for players. But at the same time, with the combat system, the adventure packs, and the host of other things I’ve yet to discover, I think they’ve deviated from the standard gameplay cliches just enough, and in just the right places, to really make it a lot of fun.

More Drama: Entering Lothlorien

Yes, I’ve been in Lothlorien with my Burglar for some time now (still haven’t made it to Mirkwood yet, though). It’s one of my favorite areas in the game so far, mostly because it’s gorgeous, and because I find it a nice change of pace.

But I was listening to the soundtrack for The Fellowship of the Rings movie last night (yes, I’m that kind of LotR fan!), and it got me thinking. It was at the track The Bridge of Khazad Dum, toward the end where, in the movies, the Fellowship, sans Gandalf, exit Moria and find themselves beside the Mirrormere. It’s a very poignant part of the soundtrack, and the entire scene, with the Fellowship mourning the loss of Gandalf, combined with the music, is extremely memorable. It’s one of my favorite scenes and has always stuck with me.

And I thought back to my personal introduction to Lothlorien:


Welcome to Lothlorien....

Another quest hub, with another group asking for favors. How dramatic!

Don’t take this as a too-harsh criticism of Turbine. As in most mechanics for LotRO, I understand why it was done this way. I even understand the logic behind it in terms of the lore. Moria had to contain a lot of content, and it was ripe for exploration by Turbine. I’d be upset if they hadn’t approached it the way they did, and having the game’s storyline basically run through the aftermath of the chaos stirred up by the Fellowship makes a lot of sense.

I’m not even bemoaning the existence of Mekhem-Bizru. I want it to be there, I need it to be there for many reasons. I just think that Turbine missed a huge opportunity with the transition from Moria to Lothlorien. An opportunity for drama (in the good sense of the word), for immersion, and for engaging their players.

Think back to the first time you read about the Fellowship’s flight from Moria, the fall of Gandalf, and the Mirrormere. Or think about those scenes from the movie; Gandalf facing down the Balrog, falling from the bridge, Aragorn pulling Frodo and the others out of Moria, and the utter grief of everyone sitting beside the Mirrormere. It was powerful. Or the actual entrance to Lothlorien, the humor of Gimli coming face to face with a drawn bow, and the Fellowship being found by the Elves of Lothlorien. Again, very dramatic.

I remember walking out of Moria thinking, “That’s it?”. There was a chance to make this very dramatic, and very memorable for the player, even using the systems that are in place. Two of Turbine’s better tools for this kind of drama – the cutscenes between books, and the in-game scenes they played around with in book 14 or 15 (or both) seem to have fallen by the wayside. I went back and checked – Volume 1 includes 19 cutscenes, where volume 2 includes 9. Less than half. For crying out loud, Volume 1, Chapter 1 alone includes 5 cutscenes. What happened?

And cutscenes aren’t the only method possible. I would have loved for something similar to the changing state of Archet way back at the beginning of the old Man introduction – the village itself changed state. Why not have a short instance at the exit from Moria, with the camp appearing afterwards. That area was perfect for that type of instance anyway, with the “glowing door” between zones. I’m not opposed to instancing, especially when it helps create a dramatic, memorable experience. It could be short, and even be a non-combat instance. Just give me something.

As I said, I understand why things are the way they are, and it doesn’t decrease my enjoyment to a significant degree. And I understand that creating this type of content requires time and effort. But for a game where story is so central to everything we see and do, any opportunities for more storytelling or drama should be taken up. Story is something LotRO really has going for it, and something Turbine has done better than any other MMO I’ve played.