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Posts Tagged ‘SWTOR’

Yes, it’s my birthday.  BioWare must care, since they released Star Wars the Old Republic‘s free to play iteration today.

…but I probably won’t play it for a while.  I still want to give Guild Wars 2 a fair shakedown, but my computer is… not up to the task.  Maybe after I get it repaired.

…right after I sell some more of my older games on eBay so I can afford the parts.  (Turns out I need a new case, hard drive, DVD drive and Windows in addition to the new video card I got, which needed a new power supply, and the random crashes my computer still performed required that new motherboard, CPU and RAM that I got that don’t fit in my old case.  I thought I’d wind up with a Frankenstein mishmash of old and new components, but no, I’m just going to have a new computer built from pieces.  Stupid technology.  Don’t buy HP.)

…right after I finish painting the basement.

…right after I finish mudding and sanding it.

…right after I finish helping my friend with the sheet rock.

…oh, and if I had time, I’d write the first novel in the series I have had planned for years now.  It has something to do with this.  (Which I slipped into my Zazzle store a little while ago.)  Yes, I know it’s that NaNoWriMo or whatever, but, well, I’m short on time.

Project Khopesh

So yes, thanks, BioWare, for the birthday gift!  I might get to it next year.

…right after I finish playing all the games I got from Steam, Humble Bundle, Indie Gala, Indie Royale, GoG.com, OnLive and even Amazon Download.

…right after I finish Final Fantasy Tactics on the PSP.

…better make that 2015.

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Trek Tales

As much as I like Star Trek Online, I’m looking forward to finishing it and moving on.  I suspect it’s similar to how I’d approach Star Wars The Old Republic, inasmuch as I want to play the story and then move on to another one.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing, and I’m not burned out on STO (and I still highly recommend it, flawed though it is at times, like any other game)… I just have a lot of other games I want to play, and I need to move on instead of getting stuck in a rut.  This also means I’m less likely to burn out on the game, since I’m not feeling obligated to play past the point where I’m having fun, whether because I’m in a raiding guild or paying a subscription I want to get good value out of.

It’s remarkably similar to how I approach novel reading, actually.  I liked the Harry Potter books when I read them, but I don’t feel much impetus to start over and reread them.  On occasion, I do pick up one of them and just start reading somewhere in the middle, just for fun.  Likewise, I’ll pick up I, Jedi once every few months and reread a random passage, just because that’s the era of Star Wars that I like the most.  It’s a lot like my bookmark system that I wrote about back in my Turning Back Time article, where I can just jump into the narrative wherever I feel like it.  I do similar things with DVDs when I’m working in the evenings; I’ll fire up a movie or TV show I’ve seen but maybe I’ll skip around to the parts that interest me at the moment as I paint or design.

We don’t see that much in games.  Between autosave systems like Batman Arkham Asylum/City and MMOs and their “always on” nature, the biggest games I’ve played lately aren’t all that amenable to replay unless I flat out start over.  Y’know, I don’t always want to do that.  Sometimes I just want to jump into the parts that I loved most the first time through and replay the fun bits, maybe with some tweaks to my approach.

Maybe World of Warcraft is tinkering a little bit with this, as Big Bear Butt suggests over thisaway, by letting players bypass the grind inherent in gearing up alts, but that’s not quite the same thing as replaying some of the narrative bits or trying something as a different class (I’ve argued before for full character respecs, all the way down to class, as I note over at BBBs’ place).  Sure, we can replay a dungeon here and there, but what about the stories out in the world at large?  I don’t think there’s any way to replay a world quest without firing up a new character, and that’s a time sink.

It might be fun, sure, but it’s like starting a novel all over again just to get to that cool part one third of the way in or watching a movie on videotape.  Sure, you can fast-forward a bit, but you can’t skip ahead like you could with a DVD.  We’re totally spoiled by DVDs and their instant access to varied scenes in a movie.  I have a hard time watching movies on VHS these days.  I’d like to see more of that sort of spoilage in gaming.

This is where STO really shines.  I’m convinced that the best writing in the game is in their Featured Episodes, each a handful of missions with some tight scripting and play.  No, there’s not a lot of player autonomy or choice for Bioware-flavored gaming fans, but sometimes that’s OK.  Yes, I’d love to see more simulationist MMO gaming and player choice, but just going along for the ride can still be good fun, especially in bite-sized chunks of time.  (Though I maintain that it’s a Very Bad Fit for subscription MMO gaming, I do love a good Final Fantasy or the like sometimes, just like I love Minecraft sometimes.  They can both be good fun, just different.)

Anyway, the Featured Episodes are replayable pretty much whenever you’d like, so long as you’ve done them once.  They autoscale to your level (and there are three selectable difficulty levels) both in challenge and in rewards (experience aside).  This is fantastic, as I can just go replay the missions I loved most without starting a new character.  It’s simpler in STO, thanks to the instanced nature of missions, but man, it’s a great core design decision.

It also might be worth noting that I could get all the fun I’m getting out of STO if it were a single player offline game.  Sure, I’d need to go online to catch up with Longasc or BlueKae or Tipa in-game (though I’m not so good at that anyway), but I’ve been playing the Featured Episode missions entirely solo since Longasc helped me through one of them some eight months or so ago.  STO is a good game solo, and it’s a good game with friends.

…but it’s about time to move on.  I’ll finish the game, plunk it in my “good game” memory and move on.  Maybe I’ll come back just for fun one of these days (a huge strength of the nonsubscription model), but it will be because I enjoyed it and want to again.  Maintaining that positive mentality toward a game is a Good Thing, methinketh.  I’ll probably play through the new Feature Episodes on the 11th, and then go play Batman Arkham City or Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet.  Tally ho!

Oh, and here are some of my favorite screenshots from my STO play.  I have a LOT more, but these are my favorites.

Obligatory mug shot

Obligatory ship shot

Obligatory away team shot

Obligatory Earth orbit shot

Obligatory DS9 shot

Obligatory Empok Nor shot

Obligatory Enterprise-F Odyssey model shot (only available during the 2nd anniversary shindig)

Obligatory Memory Alpha shot

Obligatory cool planet shot

Obligatory cool space shot

Obligatory space station raiding shot

Obligatory shipping crates shot

Obligatory planetary cityscape shot

Obligatory weird lava planet shot

Obligatory Tribbles shot

Obligatory Gorn shot (my son's character, Sss'anta)

Obligatory noob shot (my daughter's character standing in a fountain, petting a Tribble)

…and a few other random shots.

Romulans experimenting on Borg tech

Reman Base

Broken down

Fire Caves

Blowing stuff up

This illustrates my favorite ground combat trick: my Science Captain’s “endothermic field somethingorother”… basically a nice Area of Effect ground fire.  It’s a blast to use on stationary targets.  It’s also good to use on NPCs, since standing in the fire confuses them, and they don’t use special abilities or move out of the fire.  Then I turn the Cryogun on them for a little fire-and-ice action.  Yeah, I love AoE attacks on targets that just sit there.

Standing in the fire

150 or so over on the Google hivemind.  Resistance is futile.

(4200+ not shown.  Yeah, I take a lot of screenshots.)

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I just wanted to point out a few excellent articles and make a pithy comment or three about this SWTOR game that is much-ballyhooed of late.

First, Raph Koster’s excellent article on Narrative:

Narrative is Not a Game Mechanic

EDITED TO ADD Koster’s followup post, Narrative Isn’t Usually Content Either

Then there’s Richard Bartle’s take on SWTOR:

Bartle’s Notes

aaaand then there’s this little snippet from the WoW guys, who apparently concede that linear, heavily scripted and directed gaming might not be the best approach.

Blizzard Seems to Think That Cataclysm Was Too Linear

I’ve written about these things before.

Death Grip on the Reins

and then there’s this oldie about the business model:

SWTOR Cost?

and my old huge article on MMOs with endings:

The End of an MMO

Y’see, I consider the narrative-heavy “fourth pillar” to be a Bad Idea for MMO play.  To quote myself from Klepsacovic’s place:

Yeah, I should clarify. There’s no problem with devs telling a story, but the structure of MMOs is about playing off of other people in a persistent world (whether through direct or indirect interaction). The most interesting parts of that (the parts that drive interest and retention) are going to be the stories that players are enabled to tell because it’s a unique part of the genre. Those ephemeral moments of Awesome or Weirdness are what sell these MMO gamespaces as somewhere worth visiting.

Sure, you can get your watercooler/blog discussions about how your Smuggler handled that one moral choice in SWTOR, or how your guild downed the Lich King, but you could get much the same thing talking about an offline game. MMOs simply have the potential to *function* differently from other games, so it’s baffling to me that devs seem to want to put the experience on rails. It bothered me in WoW, it bothers me in the core design ethos of SWTOR.

It doesn’t bother me because the dev stories are bad, either (though they may be), it bothers me because they aren’t letting players *play* in these great potential playgrounds. They are just pushing them through the motions.

So when I say that MMOs *should* be about player stories, it’s because I think that’s the unique selling point and strength of the genre. That doesn’t mean devs should be forbidden to tell stories, just that they might be missing the point if they can’t let go of the reins.

Then again, this is a problem I have with game design on a larger scale; way too many devs seem to be frustrated filmmakers, not really *game* makers. It’s a different sort of entertainment, this “game” animal, and it can’t really be expected to function the same way. It’s a spectrum, though, not a binary “sandbox/theme park” dichotomy. *shrug*

There’s a place for barely interactive movies.  There’s a place for story in MMOs.  I just think that MMOs work best with greater freedom and a more malleable world, largely because it’s those crazy moments out in the game’s world that really make them unique.  That’s the legacy of tabletop RPGs that I think MMOs could be poised to inherit.  You can get great scripted narratives in something like Uncharted 3, and that works fine… but it’s not really the point of MMOs.  As Koster notes, there’s a difference between an experience and a game.

There’s a place for great narrative, grand epics and stories with endings.  I just don’t think that place is in MMOs, especially not subscription MMOs that almost of necessity need to be built around grinding and the sense of neverending play.  There’s a strong case to be made that such isn’t really what is best for games in general, but that’s how sub MMOs work, for better or worse.

I don’t want SWTOR to fail (though Scarybooster is right, some have that mean attitude), but dagnabbit, the stresses inherent in shoehorning strong narrative into the MMO mold shouldn’t have been hard to see.  It should be no surprise that players are “finishing” the game and moving on, or that the focus on the storytelling might mean a weaker effort on the “retention” schemes that makes the subscription system work (good comments over at Yeebo’s place).  This is what BioWare does, it makes single player games.  Even if SWTOR as it is might make for a stupidly grindy single player game (hattip to Chris at GameByNight)… I enjoyed Disgaea and several Final Fantasy games, so a long game doesn’t scare me.

…and yes, if they sold SWTOR as an offline game or even series of games, I’d still probably buy in, as I noted in that SWTOR Cost article from months ago.  The game might be grand as a single player game, it’s just… trying to be something it isn’t.

Oh, and incidentally, MMO Melting Pot has a good roundup of some of the commentary, too, found thisaway:

Is SWTOR Screwed?  The EA Stock Fall Edition

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I’m a gamer.  I define that as “a guy who plays games for fun”.  Some might define it as “I play video games for a living”, or “video games are my hobby” or “I simulate wars with little action figures and dice” or “my life is meaningless without video games” or even “I spend all my welfare check on slot machines”.  It’s a very fluid term.  For me, games are something I play in my few bits of free time, just one option among many ways to spend my time.  There are a lot of different reasons to play, though.

Sometimes I want to be intellectually challenged.  This is when I’ll play a Professor Layton game, Brain Age, Portal, Cogs or Safecracker… something in that vein.  I enjoy a mental workout and the joy that comes with figuring something out.

Sometimes I merely want to be entertained.  This is when I’ll play LEGO Batman with my kids, Arkham Asylum/City, Audiosurf, Rock of Ages, A World of Keflings, or World of Goo (or maybe an Uncharted if I had a PS3).

Sometimes I just want to mindlessly plow through bad guys and collect loot.  This is when I’ll play Torchlight, a DIKU MMO, Kingdom Hearts or even a JRPG like Chrono Trigger or a Final Fantasy.  (The bulk of which really does tend to be “grinding” and killing tons of baddies for cash and experience.)

Sometimes I want to explore and take screenshots.  I love WoW for this, but Allods Online, LOTRO, RIFT, Portal 2 and many others are great, too.  (This is one big problem I have with console gaming; I can’t take screenshots.  Yes, it’s possible, I just don’t have the tech.)

Sometimes I want to smash digital stuff.  This is when I’ll play Burnout Revenge or Boom Blox, TMNT 2: Turtles in Time or Super Dodgeball… or maybe fire up a fighting game like Soul Calibur, Super Smash Brothers or Marvel vs. Capcom 2, or even River City Ransom as a weird sort of hybrid game.

Sometimes I want grand adventure, and only a journey to Hyrule can scratch the itch.

Sometimes I want a great story with simple game elements, so I’ll dig into something quirky like Ghost Trick (a fantastic little game with a very well-wrought story) or a Phoenix Wright game, or fire up an old Sierra or LucasArts adventure game (currently playing through The Dig, then the Indiana Jones games).

Sometimes I really want to get creative and tinker, so The Incredible Machine or Minecraft are the best.

Sometimes I want a good card game, so I’ll play Magic the Gathering, the WoW TCG, Rook, Rage, SET, the Monopoly card game or even UNO.

Sometimes a board game is best, so I’ll play Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan, Chess, Mancala, or my new favorite, Blokus.

…and with all of these, there are at least dozens of other games that easily come to mind, but I’m trying to keep it somewhat concise.

There is some overlap, to be sure.  The Portal games are both mentally interesting and entertaining.  JRPGs sometimes have great stories too.  RockSteady’s Batman games are great for exploration, story and fun brawler combat.  Blokus is great for flexing puzzle thinking and having fun with my kids.

Still, even with this wide variety, sometimes I just want to play something I’ve played before, that I know I’m good at.  This is the “fuzzy slippers gaming” from the title.  It’s like that old dog-eared worn out copy of I, Jedi that I read every few years because it’s one of my favorite books.  Sometimes, I just want a familiar game to go play for a while, maybe because it’s about revisiting old, cherished memories that are tied to the game.  Maybe it’s because I won’t have to think too much.  Maybe it’s because I want to share the game with my kids.  There’s something valuable about a game that is worth playing again and again.

So, that Star Wars invocation isn’t an accident.  What of Star Wars: The Old Republic and the familiarity that it’s perhaps trying to invoke?  As Brian Green and others have noted, it’s largely “more of the same”, and can fill that niche of “familiar” for a lot of players.  I think there’s value in that, to be sure.  Not enough for me to pay anything more than $10 for an always-online game, and certainly not enough for me to pay a subscription for.  Also, there’s a distinction between gameplay and the game itself.  I’d happily accept a new Miles Edgeworth or Phoenix Wright game because of how they play; that scratches the “familiar” itch while still providing a new story to enjoy.  Ditto for a new Professor Layton.  Still… I’d get them on sale, simply because if I just wanted the nostalgia, I’d play the older game I already own for free.

Of course, sometimes there are other motivations.  I’d buy an English release of Seiken Densetsu 3 because I loved Secret of Mana and want to tell Square that SD3 is a worthy successor.  I’d buy a new Chrono game because they dropped the ball by stopping with Chrono Cross and Chrono Trigger is incredible.  (It was the first game I wanted to make a direct sequel to, and even wrote up some design documents for it.)  Sometimes I do want to tell companies that their trendlines are good and to keep up the good work, though with a side order of “keep this trend, but keep experimenting around the edges”.  That can be a hard message to send sometimes.

All in all, though, I value innovation and new experiences.  That’s why I play a lot of different games instead of welding myself to a monogamous MMO.  (Even beside the annoyance I have with the subscription model.)  There’s value in familiarity, but if I have to keep paying for it, well… that’s usually something I’m not interested in doing.  Tangentially, this is a great article on Frozen Synapse and their business model; my favorite “single pay” model.

Ultimately, I have other games to scratch that itch for familiar gaming, so I’m not going to buy into a new game that does the same old things but asks a premium for it.

This is also why I strongly resist games that require me to be online to play.  I don’t trust that they will always be available, or that I’ll always have a usable internet connection.   If the idea is to make me want to go back to play the game, I need to be able to do that on a whim.  Similarly, this is why portable games are so great; the low overhead of the DS version of Chrono Trigger means I’ll play it more than my old SNES version or PS1 version, and I played those a lot.  The easier it is to just get in and play, the better, if you’re trying to get me to put your game in that “familiarity” slot.  Otherwise, I’m going elsewhere.

As for why this is important when I’m not a continuing stream of obvious revenue via a sub, well, I do occasionally buy DLC, and I do talk about and cheerlead for games that I love.  I strongly recommend Chrono Trigger, Minecraft, Frozen Synapse, X-Com, Professor Layton, Recettear, Ghost Trick, World of Goo, Cogs and a whole bunch of other great games.  Other people have purchased games I’ve recommended.  I’ve purchased games other people recommend.  If I didn’t have that positive experience with the games, then that free advertising goes away.  Maybe it’s hard to quantify that, but there’s value there, and trying to mine it with RealID shenanigans or subs will make it evaporate instantly.

The last thing I want when I go for familiar gaming, my mental Fuzzy Slippers of Comfort +5, is to be hit up for money or a need to login to a server.

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In news which should come as a shock to absolutely nobody, apparently Star Wars The Old Republic, the new Bioware MMO, is pretty much World of Warcraft with a different coat of paint and voiceovers.  Rock, Paper, Shotgun has a great article up thisaway:

Hands On The Old Republic, Part One

The part that sticks out to me is the notion that SWTOR’s “kill ten rats” quests are different because we somehow care about what is happening.  (Have you ever noticed that the argument is almost always “it’s different this time”, and how uncomfortably close that is to the rationale for going back to an abusive relationship?)  To which my natural question is:

When did you stop caring about what happened in your old MMO?

Y’see, there are quests in WoW that have emotional resonance.  It’s just that the second time through, the effect is diminished.  …and when you get tired of the same old mechanical aspects of the kill and fetch quests.  Then there’s the whole gear-loot scheme that pretty much short-circuits the motivation for questing.  “Yeah, yeah, sure, old man, I’ll go fetch the remains of your lost family by slaughtering owlbears and digging through their remains for a while, but what’s in it for me?

Long story short, I suspect that the quests in SWTOR feel different pretty much only because they are new.  Let’s see how they feel on your third Jedi alt, or after 200 hours of play.  Let’s see how emotionally involving it is to down that raid boss for the fifteenth time because he just won’t drop your wristguards.  At some point, the honeymoon wears off and you realize you’re mechanically doing the same thing you’ve always done.  The emotional resonance wears off because you see behind the curtain.

Window dressing really can go a long ways to selling something, it’s true.  It’s just that there has to be more to a game than the trappings.

I should note that this doesn’t mean that SWTOR won’t be fun, rather, I’m just noting that there’s not a lot there to be terribly excited about, at least mechanically.  It’s more of the same.  That’s not bad either, if that’s what you’re looking for.

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Erwin Schroedinger may or may not have liked cats.  Considering his famous thought experiment, one might detect a bit of antipathy towards the critters, as he willingly thought of them in mortal peril, but then, we don’t really know until we open the box and find out.

Do we really know what Star Wars: The Old Republic will be like?  Do we really know what the next Final Fantasy will be like?  Do we know what the next blockbuster game will be that shapes the game industry?

The future is in a bit of a quantum uncertainty state, especially considering the economic stresses and a lot of shadow play behind the financial scenes.  The game industry as a whole is juggling concerns of used games, digital sales, DRM, legal wrangles, censorship, business models and economic viability, and a butterfly over in the Federal Reserve can create storms for the industry at large.

Each individual game that we don’t know about can be said to be in a similar state.  Until each one of us takes a long, hard look and observe something, can we really be sure what it is?  Perhaps most importantly, do we know what it is for us?  Observation and objectivity are kissing cousins, but in the absence of omniscience, all we have is a set of probabilities and guesstimates, measurements of trust and “weighing the options”.  Numbered “reviews” are just one shallow, biased tip of the informational iceberg that constitutes an informed purchase.

For example, I love the Valkyrie Profile games.  I played the original on a whim, since it was developed by Tri Ace, the guys behind Star Ocean: The Second Story.  (A game I picked up on sale and counted myself lucky to have done so.  It’s a great game.)  I picked up the second Valkyrie Profile (Silmeria) a year or two ago, and have enjoyed it as well.  Prowling around Goozex, I happened to notice a third game in the series, a tangential Tactical RPG for the Nintendo DS.  Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume looked interesting, since I’ve been enamored with Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre of late, so I put in a request for it, and wandered over to GameFAQS to check out the reviews and comments on the game.

It doesn’t have a lot of press exposure (a perpetual problem with the VP series), so there are just a handful of reviews.  They tend to fall into two camps, not unlike Schroedinger’s superimposed cat.  Reviewers tend to either really like the game or really dislike it.  There’s another divisive set of opinions, and it’s curious to me that they don’t perfectly intersect with the “like/dislike” split.  Some reviewers think the game is abusively hard, while others think it’s too easy.  There are very few opinions in the middle.  Some like hard tactics games, but think CotP is too easy, so they rate it poorly.  Some like easy games, but think it’s hard, so they rate it poorly.  Some like hard games and see it as hard, so they like it, and some like easy games and see it as easy, so they like it.

It’s actually a lot like genetics, with a Punnet square mapping out the probabilities of player response to the game across the two axes:  Like vs. Dislike, Hard vs. Easy.  Any given player will have their own phenotypical reaction to the game that can only be experienced firsthand, and is entirely dependent on the player.

I find this sort of review set to be more useful than a universally hailed game that nearly everyone drools over.  The smaller sample and clear delineation of opinions is more useful to me in determining my possible reaction to the game than a few hundred mini reviews worshipping something like GTA3, which I hold only in contempt (due to the subject matter rather than the structure).  Of course, clear writing and explanation of why those scores are what they are is a huge help.

At any rate, even though there is a nice set of quantum probabilities for CotP, and I had a fairly good bead on where I’d sit in the Punnet square, I still had to observe firsthand what the game held before I could really know for myself what my response would be.  I found myself looking forward to what I thought the game would be, and hoping for certain specifics.  The game was in a state of quantum flux, or at least, my observation of the game was in a state of flux.  I was cautiously excited and optimistic.

Sometimes, this is the best part of gaming.

It’s interesting to me that sometimes I like that period of anticipation and imagination better than the experience of actually playing a game.  It’s certain that I have more control over my perceptions at that point, and the game is more a product of my imagination than the developers’ work.  It can be everything I dreamed it to be and more.

This is not coincidentally how game development works as well.  Devs have great ideas about what they want to do, and it’s only as the project moves on through time that the quantum states settle down… sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.  This is why the concept stage of a project can be far more exciting than the production phase.

Hype machines, like that built around SWTOR, are the game equivalent of a flux capacitor, framing the experience in such a way that people can superimpose their own wishes and aspirations on the game and get excited about it.  Even though no two people will have the same genotype, they can still get excited about what the game might be when that box is opened.  Good hype magnifies the flux, letting players rush ahead with their own imagination.  Great hype keeps the capacitor from overloading by injecting just enough stabilizing reality to keep expectations within the reach of the developers, or at least within a few percent of reality.

Of course, with all of this, reality doesn’t always comply.  It’s wise to temper expectations, since reality doesn’t usually measure up to our wishes.  This is why sometimes the heady rush of “what might be” is more exciting and fun than the mundane realizations about “how things really are“.

This is why I love being a creative sort of person.  I spend a lot of time thinking about the “what if” and “if only” aspects of life.  Then I go out and create, making imagination into reality.  It’s a nice mix of dreaming and work that I find very satisfying.

This is also why I keep wishing that games would allow players to control more things about the game, making more choices with consequences that reflect the player’s actions, rather than their reactions to dev-imposed ideas.  The reality of a tightly scripted game on rails doesn’t mesh well with the freeform expectations of many players who succumb to the hype machine.  If a game is designed to give players control and mold the game’s reality into something more closely approximating the players’ dreams, it has a chance of forging a deeper connection with the player.

Not all games can work like that, but I think that the best games will try to give players as much control as possible.  It’s why storytelling in games is more about how the player acts and reacts, and less about what the devs created.  It’s one thing to “play” through a barely interactive movie, it’s quite another to mold a game world to your whim.  (And notably, even in something like FFX or FFXII, players are given significant control over how their characters develop.  That is no mistake or coincidence, and without that control, the games would be significantly weaker as games, and may as well have been movies like Final Fantasy: Advent Children.  It’s a different sort of storytelling.  Both are certainly valid and valuable, but will scratch different itches.)

We may not be able to hold on to that “what if” Schroedinger dream state as we go through life, but the more power we have to make the most of what reality does come our way, the happier we are likely to be.  That usually just means controlling ourselves in the real world, and our reactions to events.  In games, though, where “what if” is a key component of how games work and how the narratives function, players can have extraordinary power.  It is a blessing and a curse of games, part of their unique potential and power, and it needs to be exercised carefully.

*Addendum*  I wrote this in bits and pieces, and since starting it, writing about Role Playing has rippled through those blogs that I frequent.  Wolfshead has a great article up, and Psychochild wrote another great one earlier, and even the Rampant Coyote chimes in, each linking to other ones worth reading.  This is tangential to those concerns, but some of the themes of Role Playing intersect neatly with the ideas here espoused.  Namely, player imagination and power to change the world, since those tend to be huge tools for the player interested in playing a Role within one of these MMO worlds.

I’ve actually always thought that would be the draw of these games, to be able to assume a new identity within a completely fictional world, taking part in and changing things aggording to those “what if” questions.  The reality to date has been somewhat… different, and ultimately, underwhelming in my eyes.  I’m actually not all that disappointed, since such design might have the potential to be even more distracting from the real world, and the current generation of these games is plenty deleterious as is.  Still, current MMO design is so underwhelming compared to what I imagined for the genre years ago (reading ads for Ultima Online) that I can’t help but just be less than interested in playing them much.  Designing them, now… that’s another thing entirely.

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