Friday, 22 January 2010

Rambling about perceptions in gaming...

There have been a few posts lately (in blogs I read) about how the game is percieved. Tamarind wrote a very personal post about how the game affected him and my lovely wife showed off a few of her favourite „good looking“ screenshots.

Of course screenshots always make me wonder what I've got hiding away in my screenshots folder. And their continued rambling about how they both enjoyed doing whatever they are doing – possibly without going for the most efficient route and while enjoying the scenery – got me thinking.

You see... I've been playing MMORPGs for a rather long time now – and computer games in general for even longer. Started practically right after school in the very first year of uni with Ultima Online. It was a unique approach to MMORPGs back then – mainly because there was no real mainstream competition. Of course there were MUDs about – some of them with a rather large number of followers as well – but they did not compare to the sheer genious that was Ultima.

Hmm... I'm beginning to sound like a fanboi. Can't be helped – it really was the first proper online game at the time. You see... Ultima was released in 1997. It is also still open and has a number of subscribers – allegedly there are also still people joining it.

Back then the world was Isometric. Younger readers might no longer be aware of what that even means. The world was accessible in a top down view only – and your viewing distance was limited to the number of squares of movement that fit on your screen (around 15 steps in each direction). Of course this seriously limited the amount of impressive landscape that could fit onto one screen.

On the other hand – back then the most likely internet connection was a 56.6k modem. DSL was a thing of the future, and lag and latency issues were as much a thing of the gaming world as they are now. Still... the world did manage to look bloody impressive now and then.

This is actual in-game graphics. The roof of my pride and joy building to be exact. Player housing was already present back then (with all it's advantages and drawbacks – I'm rather glad it's not a part of World of Warcraft at the moment) and some people spent ages on trying to create „decorations“ from everyday items. An example would be the „hot tub“ in the top left corner of that image, made from died cloth, spiders silk for foam, benches hidden under the cloth to enforce a sitting animation in passing characters and so on and so forth.

Back in the day, I really used to enjoy walking around and discovering new sights. Well... once the character was powerful enough to survive blundering about.

With the player housing also came a lot of player run events – and I loved participating in those back then. In-game weddings, in-game tournaments, treasure hunts, feuding guilds fielding armies to fight each other … it was all there. All kinds of balance issues were also present, obviously – and to people who think Blizzard ruins the game when Deathknights do a little more damage than average, let me link to this masterpiece. Someone managed to crash a server by exceeding the total possible number of monsters on a server due to an issue.

Life clearly was different for me back then – more open minded, for one. I seriously miss the wild-eyed wonder days sometimes.

Eventually Ultima came to an end for me. I think I stuck with the game for seven years in the end – playing on and off.

One of my next stops was Asherons Call. A proper three-dimensional client, this was the first game that had me stop and stare at the sunsets over the mountains. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find my screenshots any more. To give a better idea of the advances of visualization I have stolen a picture of the interwebs (from here).

That game also had the most interesting magic system I have seen so far. You see... every mage had their own components for spells. And they were unknown at the beginning. There was no proper logic to them. Mages had to compose the spell reagents in an order they thought likely and then try and cast a spell. If it worked, you learnt the spell for future use – if it failed you had either missed your casting roll, or the reagents were in the wrong order. Many a cow in “Starter Town of which I forgot the name” was incinerated/bathed in acid/frozen solid in my quest for more combat spells.

An age of exploration. Running wilfully into the darkness to try and find out more things about the world in general, combat in particular … and the specific weaknesses of monsters by trying.

Back then I also scored really really high on the Bartle test under Explorer. Quite high as Socializer and a proud zero as Killer.

Games changed again. Star Wars Galaxies was my next big stop. And this was the definite time of my life for sightseeing. Luckily – in this case I still have the screenshots.

A wookiee enjoying the sunset on Tatooine.

A wookiee and his pet cat watching Yavin4 rise on the associated moon.

A player wedding - held in an imperial base on Yavin4.

Heavy weapons were part of the game - in this case: Flamethrower combat.

Our imperial guild getting ready for a raid - complete with AT-ST pets.

Of all the games in my history, Star Wars Galaxies is the one that left the most memories about roleplaying and player interaction. All my memories are obviously tinged pink (because it was so bloody amazing), so now group conversations in World of Warcraft quickly appear to be rude. Guild events appear stale and have a low turnout. Groups appear to be tiny (back then maximum group size was 20 and we regularily managed to field four groups - of course there were no raids, so this is just cheating - but the fact remains that a group size is much smaller now).

This is also the game I most despise the company for breaking. In two rather sizable "Combat Upgrades" the game was changed completely. This was probably neccessary - due to the utter stupidity of introducing an "alpha" class (Jedi) in a heavy pvp game. You thought deathknights were overpowered at the beginning? Imagine a Jedi in full armour taking on 15 to 20 bounty hunters and walking away without much of a scratch. Imaging also more and more people unlocking Jedi characters. The system was bound to break horribly.

As far as I know the flexibility of the game is completely gone by now. Star Wars has turned into a game of proper "classes" - where you start as a Bounty Hunter or Smuggler and stay the same, leveling up to 90 on the way. Somehow my interest in roleplaying died a little with leaving that game as well.

I distinctly remember enjoying whole evenings spent in a cantina, chatting merrily about the relativ benefits of being a Captain in the imperial army. Nowadays I just tend to walk on when someone goes on too long "in character".

You see (ha.. we are reaching something of a point already): it seems to me expectations and playing styles change over time. I am prone to forgive young players chatting merrily about the new loot they aquired and showing off every shiny purple they got in guild chat - mostly because I still remember doing the same.

I also did boast about the fantastic class abilities of the rogue: I could sneak and scout out the area. And I told my random warlock and warrior elite quest partners such - in detail. I seriously have no idea how much those people knew about other classes back then, but nowadays I think back to scenes like that with a good bit of dread. Was I really that obnoxious?

My current game is a good bit different from everything I have "played" so far. I now value efficiency more than other things. I pick my quests and leveling areas by progress. I read information material on the side, I build templates at work and try to optimize my rotations using a target dummy (well.. on dps classes). For all I care, the graphics could be reduced further to an absolute minimum. In most fights in Icecrown I am zoomed out as far as possible anyway - the looks of someones hat will not even register. If my character was a blue circle and all hostiles were red squares - nothing much would change.

I feel that the expectations about a game change rather rapidly. I love when my wife shows me an amazing screenshot - usually not because I see the beauty, but rather because I can enjoy her having fun in the game. Still drives me mental the way she levels (with no concept or plan) - but I think I am now "wise" enough to accept that there are different ways to enjoy the same game.

Some leave me curious: What do the roleplaying guards at "Northwatch Hold" talk about?

Some leave me utterly bewildered: "I am completely drunk and using a friends character - forgive me for whatever I do, I have never played a mage before!"

All of those have a right to have fun, though, so I begin to react badly to vote-kick requests for players with slightly sub-optimal dps. Well... most of the time. Sometimes I can't remember what I talked about in this post and just get annoyed as well.

1 comment:

  1. SWG was a true "sandbox" and a community like no other that I've experienced. I met my husband at the first SWG fanfest in Anaheim. I've been playing WoW for longer than I played SWG and haven't formed the same type of intense friendships.