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Archive for January, 2009

Color Study Beta

Sorry, I’m light on posts lately.  I’m busy writing other things, and I have an art class tonight.

In the meantime, this is interesting, for anyone interested in web design:

Color Study Beta

How did you do?

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The Escapist magazine has an Indie Spotlight series going on, starting with none other than Auditorium.  I place a lot of hope for innovation and fun in the indie segment of the dev world, and it’s good to see some of these titles getting the spotlight.

Indie Spotlight

Now, if only I were independently wealthy and could make my own startup…

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I was prowling the Escapist’s latest issue, and happened upon this little article:

That’s Entertainment?

One point that Mr. Zacny makes is that game themes have polarized to the dark, immature “M” rated stuff and happy shiny pretty world, with little in between.  I exaggerate a bit, but there’s truth to it.  I have to wonder:  can gamers handle subtlety?  Do they want subtlety?

Framed in MMO terms, currently everyone is a hero (or a scrub who is just training to be a hero).  I touched on this back in Fewer Heroes, MMOre Adventurers.  Where are the games that allow for small, modest, humble lives?  I’d argue that the social framework of an MMO is the best place for such subtlety in games, since you’re dealing with a large variety of players.  There will be those who just want to stake out a mining claim on the side of a mountain, or plant a small crop and build a house, or make a pub and cater to travelers.  They can’t do that in real life, so they do it in a crazy, fantastic alternate world.

A Tale in the Desert and EVE apparently have some of this sort of “low key” activity going on.  Notably, I think that they are possibly the biggest MMOs with functional, in-depth economies.  Puzzle Pirates has a good economy, but isn’t quite the same sort of game.

More and more, I believe that a vibrant, healthy world with room for subtle lives and player creativity will need a strong economic model and a healthy crafting suite.  Yes, there should be opportunities to be the Hero, but sometimes, it’s enough to just go to the digital equivalent of the Cheers pub; a place where everyone knows your name, and it’s OK to just relax and be some dude whittling a new trinket.

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Zombie Redux

Yes, the irony is thick today.  Not only are zombies themselves a bit of a “redux” considering that they are recycled corpses, but I’m writing about zombies.  Again.

I’m a changed man.  I no longer see zombies as completely devoid of value.  I’m not yet embracing the shambling undead, but this little gem of a game has given me pause for how they can be used in interesting narratives.

Sonny

Yes, it’s a Flash game; yes, it’s effectively a “lite” JRPG; yes, the main character is apparently an amnesiac zombie.  I haven’t played all that far into the game yet, but I’ve got to give it major brownie points for being something more than just another zombie gorefest.  I’m actually… curious about a zombie, rather than just being disgusted with it.

I’m still not playing Left4Dead (mostly because I can’t, but even if I could, survival horror still doesn’t work for me), but my stance on zombies as a whole isn’t what it used to be.  Maybe it’s because Sonny hits a sweet spot for my Final Fantasy-addled brain, maybe it’s because the zombie amnesiac is closer in concept to the historic Vodou Zombies, maybe it’s just because I’m a sucker for a well-designed free game.  Whatever the case, I recommend Sonny to those who might enjoy seeing through the eyes of a zombie who isn’t interested in slasher flick tropes.  Is it a perfect game?  Nope, but it’s a fair sight better than some of the full price RPGs we’ve seen over the years.

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T=Machine has a great article up dissecting the demise of Tabula Rasa.  It’s been linked to by Ysharros over at Stylish Corpse, as well as others, so this may be old hat to some of you, but it’s still a good read.

It’s a good reminder that sometimes, failure isn’t just a function of “it’s not WoW, duh”.  The game industry still has a lot of growing to do, and it needs intelligent managers and money people.  It has its visionaries, but more important are the people who make those dreams into reality.

…and no, we don’t want any failed banking CEOs trying to find jobs in the industry.  We have plenty cancer of our own, thanks.

Talking about Tabula Rasa

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Michael Stackpole’s “I, Jedi” book is my favorite novel in the Star Wars Extended Universe.  (Let us not speak of the travesty that they call The New Jedi Order.)  It’s an intriguing look at what it might be like to adopt the Jedi code, and how one adapts to using the Force and living as a Jedi Knight.

I never played Star Wars Galaxies.  I’m not sure if there was a similar sense of responsibility and power that was attached to the Jedi character class.  I hope there was, just like I hope that the lore is treated well in the Bioware MMO, Star Wars:  The Old Republic.  Being a Jedi should mean something beyond having a fancy lightsaber and an emo cloak.  (Yes, this means that I think George Lucas didn’t quite treat the lore all that well, either.  Yes, it’s his baby.  Yes, I’m a fan of what I think it could be, not what it has become.  Too bad.)

I want an I, Jedi experience from Bioware.  I want to know what it’s like to be a Jedi, not just some dude who takes turns trading lightsaber blows with some Sith NPC.  (Seriously, trading hits with a lightsaber?  Am I the only one getting serious Monty Python Black Knight flashbacks?)

I want to build my own lightsaber.

That is, I want to go through the entire process, like Corran Horn did.  I want a personalized piece of machinery, tuned to perfection for my abilities, and suiting my tastes.  I don’t want a generic Trainee lightsaber that I can only tune by swapping in some gems of +5 Rancorslaying.  I want to go hunting down an exotic monster’s horn, hollow it out and put the emitter in it, give it mother of pearl inlay and obsidian buttons, and install a secret compartment or two for when I get my MacGyver itch.  Or maybe scavenge a droid’s arm and make myself a unique hinged lightsaber.  I definitely want a dual phase blade.

In short, I want player-driven crafting in SWTOR, and I want craftsmanship and individuality to mean something.  Surely that’s something Bioware can do, right?

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Challenging Challenge

Shamus has written an article that summarizes others of his wherein he challenges the notion of challenge in a game.

The Need for Challenge

It’s a good read, and prowling back through his archives on the subject is also enlightening.  Specifically of note regarding our recent MMO discussion hereabouts is the idea that “challenge” is something that just doesn’t map well to MMO game design.  The much broader user base of simultaneous players means that “challenge” is something that is often just left up to the players.

That’s one good argument for building instanced dungeons that scale to the approaching party, or even conform to requested parameters.  (Raid leader signs up for “Omega Murder” level Naxx or whatever, instead of “Carebear Cake” level.)

At any rate, I’m very busy, but wanted to keep the discussion going, and Shamus’ article is another piece of the puzzle.

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Balancing Triangles

While we’re talking about the triangle of Tank/Healer/Damage Dealer, and the alternatives to such, what about balance?  What about the balance in PvP?

I’ll admit, I’m not a huge PvP nut.  That said, when I have the itch to play with other people in a test of skill, I like a flat playing field.  The T/H/D triangle just doesn’t work for 1-on-1 PvP.  It might work for small teams, but even then, the artificial Threat/Aggro mechanic doesn’t work on real people.  Their Rogues go for the Healers, not for the tin can calling them names.  Pure healers die in PvP.  Quickly.  When MMO PvP is a Quake Deathmatch with classes, someone will inevitably be the whipping boy. (more…)

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Again, this is just a political aside.  Feel free to breeze on past.

(more…)

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Blow on MMOs

OK, this is old news to regular Gamasutra readers, but it’s germane to the recent discussions around here:

Jonathan Blow, Braid’s Designer, on Games

He’s also quoted in this news article, and there’s a follow up of sorts here:

Blow:  The Next Phase

Long story short, he’s not a fan of MMO design, or of much of game design as a whole.  He believes in the power of games, and that they are great tools, but laments what he calls the “unethical” design of a treadmill-based reward structure.  I like this guy.

Too bad Braid isn’t on the PC.  Yet.

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