Daily Archives: November 18, 2008

Save Our Scenarios

Aren’t scenarios in Warhammer brilliant? Yes, I went there. I believe the correct response now is for you to say “oh you didn’t”, and then I say “don’t go getting all up in my face”, and then there’s a vague attempt at a fight involving some slapping and hair pulling, and then security get involved, so let’s just take that as given and presume we’ve moved on to the point of glowering at each other while being restrained by burly individuals.

Anyway. Yes. Scenarios. What with fake plastic rocking, rugby watching, comedy gigs and other more tiresome not-playing-WAR bits of Real Life going on, I haven’t had much time to be Bright Wizardly. In the odd half-hour here and there, though, I have been logging in, been *wanting* to log in, and why? If you said “scenarios”, well done, take a cookie. If you said “because of banjo-playing pigs in trees”, no cookie for you, honestly, the clue was in the first sentence. And post title.

They’re not perfect, of course. Individual scenarios can be awful depending on the respective team levels and compositions, and some of the maps and game types aren’t great (evenly matched teams frequently end up in a points-from-kills-only stalemate of a mass scrum). If scenarios were the only thing on offer in WAR it wouldn’t be much cop, just playing a few scenarios here and there is more akin to playing a few rounds of an online FPS (especially now so many FPSs have some persistent unlock type features), so if that’s all I was going to do, I might as well be playing an FPS. Nothing but scenarios, bad. However, UND THIS IST A BIG HOWEVER, I really don’t think heavily devaluing or removing scenarios, as suggested in many other places, would be good for WAR long term. The usual argument, grossly oversimplified, is that scenarios take people away from open world RvR, open world RvR is good, ergo scenarios are bad. My counter-argument is that open world RvR *can* certainly be very good, but can also be very bad, or very dull. As p0tsh0t points out (in an interesting post worthy of pondering more deeply sometime), there’s an imperial stackload of variables to deal with, and while we seem to be pretty lucky on our server in having a good number of players in Tier 4, roughly balanced between Order and Destruction, and fairly frequent RvR battles, there’s no guarantee that something will be happening at any given time, much less something I’ll be able to get to and actually participate in within half an hour (what is going on with zones like Dragonwake and Black Crag? Big zones, with irritating cliffs and plummeting drops such that if you’ve never been there before it’s a right faff just getting from a warcamp to a keep, so you fall off somewhere and die from the drop, and then come back at a camp, start running again from there, find a frikkin’ horde of level 39 mobs wandering around in the middle of the road that you can’t really avoid, and you can’t really kill ‘cos you’re level 32 which is fine for the RvR stuff once you’re bolstered but this is outside the lake, so you try and avoid them and the gitting things chase and kill you dumping you back at the camp and… anyway).

In half an hour, I can log in, hit the “queue all” button for scenarios, then have a crack at a quest or two, or sort out mail and the inventory, maybe do a spot of crafting, check out what’s on auction; a scenario pops up (usually Serpent’s bleedin’ Passage, but I gather they’re working that), play that, then repeat the process if I have more time, otherwise log out. This is a Good Thing. I’d love to be spending more time in game, doing a variety of activities, hooking up with the guild more (unfortunately I’m not getting the time for much past “Hello!” and “Goodbye!” in guild chat), tackling dungeons, taking keeps, but failing that at least scenarios give a quick hit of PvP, some XP and renown, even a bit of cash and loot, everything a growing Bright Wizard needs, and once I get some free time again I can get more involved in the rest of the game. Without scenarios I’d be far less inclined to fire up the client for those odd half hours, lose momentum, maybe be less inclined to log in at all.

I’m not trying to cause a b-big s-s-sensation.

Having just listened to the folks over at Channel Massive lamenting in their podcast #66 the fact that MMOs these days are being perverted and twisted away from their original concept of another world in which to adventure, socialise and immerse oneself, and have instead become all about gaming achievement, I am inclined to take a suppositionary meander down the quiet leafy byway that is MMO Evolution Lane.

You see, it was not too long ago that I foisted myself upon the innocent and upstanding folks of the Van Hemlock podcast in their episode recorded at the Eurogamer Expo, where, as well as repeating the phrase ‘War Twat’ far too often, I also posed the question (about 33:33 in, for the stalkers out there) as to whether MMOs will succeed on consoles.

The answer from the panellists was that MMOs would indeed succeed on the consoles, with a few tweaks to the games in order for them to translate well: “Get rid of the grind”, “Make it drop-in”, “Streamline the UI”, “Must be playing for fun”.

As such, and with the thought that MMOs are apparently being twisted by the player base into something different to what they were originally, my question changes to: will MMOs succeeding on the consoles destroy the MMO as we traditionally know it? Essentially, are MMOs coming to the consoles now purely because consoles have evolved enough to be able to handle an MMO, or are they coming to the consoles because they have (d)evolved to such an extent that they will now appeal to the drop-in, streamlined, Xbox Gamer Card achievement generation?

I have to wonder if we’re about to see the evolution of a genre, or the creation of a new genre at the expense of the old one.

I look at games like GTA IV, Saints Row 2 and Oblivion and I find a glimmer of hope in the future MMOs on the console. These are still sandbox games, adventurous in scope and nature, and they live equally well in the hearts of PC gamers and console gamers alike. The first two games do cater to the achievement crowd though; don’t get me wrong, however, achievements can be a good thing if done well, they can encourage players to attempt feats they may not normally have bothered with, to explore places they may not thought to have looked, but they can also be used to encourage behaviour which is the antithesis of what it means to devote oneself to an MMO.

Console MMOs will undoubtedly succeed, but I am a little concerned as to the nature of their success, and whether it will come at the cost of the genre that I have known and loved, that future MMOs will be little more than glorified clones of Pacman, with players gobbling down pellets of XP as fast as they can in order to achieve the high score.

Events tend to recur in cycles.

Having read posts in the MMO layer of the general blogosphere for some time, it is fairly clear that a cycle exists in the general posting consensus of the time, which goes a something like this:

1) Speculation on next great MMO based on imminence of release date.
2) Derivation/guesswork of game-play mechanics based on obscure developer forum posts.
3) Art style comparison with WoW.
4) Beta hype frenzy, including complaints about NDAs.
5) Positive reports on playing in the new MMO on day of release.
6) General raving about how great the MMO is. Someone mentions ‘WoW Killing’.
7) Initial grumblings about minor niggles with the game.
8) Major flaws highlighted, desperate backtracking over claims made in 6).
9) Unsubscribed from MMO; may return if the game improves in X number of ways.

Say we were at 9) about now, then the next thing that should happen is for us to return to 1).

On an unrelated note: another raft of bloggers seem to be quitting WAR for the time being, and has anyone else noticed the gradual increase in the number of blog posts talking about Chronicles of Spellborn?