Thursday, August 22, 2013

Played Lately: Gone Home

  • As an experiment in environmental storytelling, Gone Home is an unqualified success. As a game, depending on your definition, it may pale next to the first person shooters that spawned it. It's not a game that you are going to ever describe as "visceral." But if you ever wondered what it would be like to walk through Rapture or Columbia and take in the world and its stories, The Fullbright Company has served up a dream.

  • Gone Home is the story of Kaitlin Greenbrier, a twenty-one year old woman who arrives at her family's new home after a year abroad. But when she arrives, there is no one home. She must put the story together by exploring an unfamiliar house, seeking clues as to what happened to her parents and sister. But while Katie is the protagonist, her sister Sam is the real main character. Throughout the game, Sam narrates entries from her journal as you dig up clues. Although I was initially thrown by this parallel storytelling, I found that it really paid off in the end.
  • I like what playing the game says about Katie. She is very much a cypher, but your actions actually illuminate the character's personality. We find that Katie is not the type of woman who sits down in the living room, waiting for everyone to return. She is quick to poke around an unfamiliar environment, and even invade her family's privacy if it is necessary. But in some cases, Katie tells us directly when she is uncomfortable with items you discover. She is very curious, upending just about anything, searching every square inch to learn a truth. At one point, you find a find a note from your father dressing Sam down for leaving all of the lights on, "just like Katie." Sure enough, I rarely turned a light off once it was on.

  • Though the main plot line is quite in your face, with Sam reading her journal entries as you explore, there are some amazing little subplots and details that you can only piece together by paying close attention. I loved the strange fate of Captain Allegra's first mate (which I figured out before the big reveal). I really enjoyed watching their father's writing career make some interesting twists, though I did miss the large connection he had with the house.

  • I didn't cry at the ending. I mean, honestly, it's not like this is a Pixar film. But I was very nervous as I made my way to the finale. I had been so drawn into the story that I actually feared what I would find at the end. Not that I'm going to spoil it for you, other than to say that everything in the game comes together by the end. If you can afford to do so (or have access to a friend's copy), you should take the two hours it takes to play through the game. I put that video up there, but don't watch it. Experience the story, one of the best stories in gaming, for yourself.

  • That said, I completely understand why you might be put off by a twenty dollar price tag for what is a two to three hour game. Jayedub and I had a short conversation on twitter the other day about judging games based on their cost. (He tackles some more issues surrounding the game on his blog.) As a work of art and entertainment, criticism of video games should be about their qualities as games. Gone Home is not a lesser game because of its price. But it is valid to make the purchasing decision based on your tolerance for prices. And I understand why that is a concern here. But if you can afford to do so, I think it is well worth the price.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Top Five: Best Things About Ultima Forever

  • Ultima name used for an actual game - I mean, at least they didn't turn it into a crappy online service like they did with the Origin name.

  • Runs better on the iPhone than on the iPad - That has got to be some kind of achievement, right?

  • You don't have to pay for it before finding out how bad it is - Try before you buy hundreds and hundreds of keys!

  • Um, this is a lot harder than I thought - There has to be more. I assume so.

  • Yeah.... - Maybe not.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Random Shots: Misguided

  • One of the things I miss about MMO blogging are the debates that would rage through the community. Debates like that don't come along very often anymore. So when I discover that someone is wrong on the Internet, I must avail myself of every opportunity to pounce on the gormless perpetrator and rip him or her to shreds.

  • At the beginning of the month, Polygon posted an opinion piece by L. Rhodes about the eventual end of World of Warcraft. The author compares this to the decentralized worlds of Animal Crossing: New Leaf. In Animal Crossing, multiplayer games are peer-to-peer affairs, which allows players to connect with other players to explore their towns. The author argues that by taking a centralized server out of the equation, Animal Crossing is much less likely to suffer a world failure than World of Warcraft.

  • Of course what this does not take into account, something that the author even acknowledges in the article, is that these games have so little in common as to make the comparison silly. Animal Crossing has more in common with something like Diablo III, which could actually benefit by enabling peer-to-peer networking. The loss of online worlds is a serious matter and should be discussed, but I don't see how comparing massively multiplayer games to fundamentally single player games serves any purpose.

  • All of this discussion could be for naught anyway. Although his list may not be exhaustive, Syp keeps an excellent list of MMO launches and collapses. Although he lists ninety-eight launches on his timeline, only twenty-seven games have closed. Even more interestingly, only twenty games have transformed to free-to-play or relaunched. That leaves fifty-one games that are, presumably, humming along just fine. Maybe our online worlds are not in as much jeopardy as we might be lead to believe.

  • If there is one valid takeaway from this article, it's that our online worlds survive only at the pleasure of their owners. Only when these worlds are placed in the hands of the players do they have the chance to live on. And who knows, maybe there is a future for Azeroth yet.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Played Lately: World Of Warcraft

  • I've been tinkering with my personal World of Warcraft server again lately. My stated goal when I setup the server was to tune it to provide a single player experience clear through, including instances and raids. I've certainly messed around with various systems to see how well they are implemented, but I haven't tested my modifications in a dungeon. So Sunday night, I decided to do something stupid: I streamed myself playing on my personal private server, making my first foray into the Deadmines.
  • The first thing I realized upon entering the Deadmines is that it is full of Defias Miners who are non-elite. That would be no problem with a five player group. But gangs of non-elite really hurt solos. So even though I had turned down the elites, it was these miners that gave me the most trouble.

  • I'm not all that great of a player, so I actually ended up making several corpse runs (which you will have to sit through if you watch all the way through these videos). Sloppy play got me killed time and again. Although it was not a huge challenge, I still had to work to complete the instance.
  • But even though everything was a little bit off, I actually had a great time. It was so much fun, in fact, that after I shut down the stream, I went and ran the Stormwind Stockade as well. Which means I stayed up way too late on a work night. I have no regrets, though. I haven't enjoyed WoW like this for some time.

  • For the curious, elite mobs are turned to 35% health and damage, which I suspect that is a little too low. I might bump things up to 40% and try again.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Top Five: Personal Reactions To EverQuest Next

  • It was less than a week ago that I was talking about how excited I was (or not) for the upcoming reveal of EverQuest Next. And, amazingly, SOE delivered on the announcement thrills. So here are the top five things that interested me about EQNext.

  • Character Models - I give most MMOs a lot of leeway when it comes to their character models. As long as they aren't hideously ugly, I'm happy to play just about anything. (I even like the LOTRO models, believe it or not.) The models in EQNext are very attractive. Something about the human models reminds me of Bioshock Infinite. I'd much rather they go in this highly stylized direction that try for a realistic style and fail (see: EQ2).

  • Multiclassing? - So, SOE decided that they needed to one-up Rift and Guild Wars 2. I know that I'm weird when I say that I like a strong class identity when playing an RPG. And the last thing we want is a world populated by tank-mages.

  • Heroic Movement - I know it's silly to put much stock in something this simple, but I like what it represents. MMOs have tried to make combat more action oriented. By they haven't yet made traversal as fun as an Assassin's Creed or Prince Of Persia. I'm not saying that EQNext aspires to such heights, but at least it's aspiring to something.

  • Storybricks, er, Emergent AI - Flashback to 1997. Richard Garriott discusses the ecosystem of Ultima Online and how it reacts to player action. Some months later, the system if ripped out of the game because it can't stand up to hundreds of murderers depopulating the world. Now in 2013, SOE makes similar grandiose statements. I understand why the designers want it to work so badly. It could be amazingly cool if it works. But they had better prepare to rain down Armageddon on their servers. Otherwise the players will push them into a constant win state with no way for the enemy to fight back effectively.

  • Voxels! - As soon as I saw this, I thought of the Procedural Worlds blog. It turns out that was for good reason. Adding genuine construction and destruction to the world might be the most interesting part of the announcement.

  • And since EQNext is the most interesting thing to happen to MMOs in over a year, opinions are already thick in the air. No matter what comes of that game, it's not to have something to talk about.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.